Does Luther Condone Premarital Relations for Engaged Couples?

Discussion in 'Church History' started by C. M. Sheffield, Mar 22, 2019.

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  1. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    I found this oddity from Luther in my reading...

    Secret intercourse of those betrothed to each other can certainly not be considered fornication; for it takes place in the name and with the intention of marriage, a desire, intention, or name which fornication does not have. Thus there is a great difference indeed between fornication and secret intercourse after the promise of marriage.—Martin Luther (W 30 III, 226f—E 23, 123—SL 10, 781)​

    What possible Scriptural justification can there be for such a position?
  2. hammondjones

    hammondjones Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think he is just defining "fornication" as having some sort of debauchery/licentiousness attached. I don't think he is condoning it; I suspect he would call it sin (adultery).
  3. Kinghezy

    Kinghezy Puritan Board Freshman

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  4. James Swan

    James Swan Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for posting this old link of mine (Wow, ten years ago, tempus fugit). I went in and edited a bit (fonts, links, awkward wordings). Just a little background: ten years ago I was heavily involved with interacting with Rome's defenders, and this particular entry was just that, so it was heavily polemical... They were using this Luther quote to prove Luther's "lax morals." The context though demonstrates a very complex situation with regulating marriage- that was a big problem in the Reformation period. The Reformers had to wade through all the rules of marriage the Roman church had and try to figure out how to regulate marriage.
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  5. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I have not checked the fuller context of what Martin Luther is arguing, but, at a guess, I think that he is saying that one sin is worse than another.
  6. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    There would be none, as regardless of their intention, until the couple is officially marriage in the sight of God, sin is still sin.
  7. James Swan

    James Swan Puritan Board Freshman

    See LW 46, "On Marriage Matters" pp. 259-320. The quote is found on page 293. The context is about secret marriages. It's complicated, but basically: if a man has a secret engagement to a woman, promises her the moon and the stars, has his way with her, but then has a public engagement to another woman, that previous woman should not be considered a harlot. Luther says of the secret couple, their "lying together in secret in anticipation of betrothal cannot be reckoned as whoredom" because "it takes place in the name and with the intention of marriage." That is, to punish her as a societal whore is totally unjustified. She was not selling sex, she was enticed by a man with a promise of marriage. Luther then hypothetically argues a man would never sleep with a woman and promise her marriage if he knew that his private engagement would nullify his public engagement. That is, only a scoundrel would do such a thing, and he should be forced to marry the woman to retain her honor.
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  8. Kinghezy

    Kinghezy Puritan Board Freshman

    I didn't know I was sourcing someone on here!
  9. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    James, thank you for all the long, tedious hours of work you've done throughout the years to respond to Roman nonsense. We are all the better for your efforts!

    I recall some years back sitting down with you over a cup of coffee in NJ - it was one of the most delightful experiences of my life! May the Lord bless you James!
  10. James Swan

    James Swan Puritan Board Freshman

    DTK: Great to hear from you! Your mentoring will never be forgotten. Thank you!
  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I had my own face-to-face meetup with DTK. Good memory.
    Thanks for the hospitality, David.
  12. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I read Plass' 'What Luther Says' many years ago on the subjects mentioned. His reasoning seemed to lack one thing in my understanding. The headship of the maiden's father would be violated in a premarital (covenant binding) situation even during the engagement. The father is the one who gives the bride away, or his representative if he is incapable.
  13. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Good to see you again sir.
  14. James Swan

    James Swan Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm not sure what criteria Plass used when compiling this anthology. It must have taken quite a lot of work since Luther's collected writings are so broad. Nor do I have any sort of exhaustive knowledge of Luther's comments on marriage. Luther's concerns were often in regard to the problems involving forced celibacy and arguing in favor of marriage.

    However, I think parental approval is implicit in the comments from Luther provided by Plass.

    For instance: In the same section on marriage, see entry 2791. There again, the issue of secret marriages come up. Luther states,

    "So that no one begin a dispute at this point, I would state that I call that a secret engagement which takes place without the knowledge and will of those who have a controlling hand in this matter and possess the right and power to bring about a marriage, as father, mother, and whoever may be in their place. For although a thousand witnesses were present at a secret engagement, entered into without the knowledge and will of the parents, the thousand are to be considered as only one witness, since they have helped to get this matter under way with treachery, under cover, and not out in the open, without consulting the regular and public power of the parents..."

    Then Plass continues this section from Luther with a long comment about the protection of a daughter from the "rascal" that attempts to steal away a daughter in a secret marriage.

    Then Plass provides a section in which Luther discusses parents that won't allow their daughter to marry for selfish reasons (entry 2794).
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2019
  15. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Thank You James. I appreciate the solid reference and help. That calms some of my concerns. But I still find much lacking. Partaking in sexual union before marriage covenant binding shouldn't be taken as lightly as Luther seems to have done.
  16. James Swan

    James Swan Puritan Board Freshman

    I suspect I'm belaboring this discussion.... but.... a footnote in LW 46 states,

    "Over the centuries the old Roman law and practice expanded to accommodate other national customs, particularly those of the Germans. According to German custom, an agreement to marry in the future (i.e., engagement) followed by intercourse constituted a marriage."

    LW references a book I do not have Paul Hansen, Engagement and Marriage, a Sociological Historical and Theological Investigation of Engagement and Marriage (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), p. 65. It would be interesting to read the discussion surrounding this. If that was indeed the custom of the Germans, it certainly sounds bizarre and contrary to scripture. If you read through Luther's "On Marriage Matters" in LW 46, it becomes apparent that Luther was interacting with the tangled marriage mess of his day, and this was an aspect of it.

    Where I find Luther's concerns over marriage most interesting, debatable, and troubling, is that Luther wanted marriage regulated by the state and not the church. Rome's handling of the institution of marriage had made quite a complicated mess. Luther thought that marriage could be reformed if it was primarily (but not entirely!) in the hands of the secular authorities. Had Luther been able to see into the future and take a peek at what's going on today with the state being in control of marriage, I suspect he wouldn't want the state to regulate marriage in any sense!

  17. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Personally I think the state ought to be the regulator. Now in saying this I on no way believe the state ought to force a pastor to perform a marriage, between a man and women, but it could enforce the church to recognize a marriage it (the state regulates).
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