Biblical dread game is founded on the husband’s authority and right to take another wife or a concubine. There’s nothing immoral about it (God had 2 wives, are you going to claim He did something wrong? See Jeremiah 31:31-32), nothing in the NT forbid it, and it’s still an allowable marriage option for men today. Note- I’m not making a defense of polygyny here, just stating that as fact.
Because modern Christianity teaches monogamy is the only permissible form of marriage and refuses to acknowledge men have the authority and right to more than one wife, the definitions of words like lust, fornication and adultery have become feminized and equalized, resulting in a huge negative impact on church doctrine. Probably the worst impact is in the modern doctrines concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage.
As a rule, as soon as the subject of dread game comes up the whole “sex before or outside of marriage is forbidden” objection comes up when talking about husbands flirting (or going further) with women they aren’t married to. The problem is such a prohibition cannot be found without making a reference to fornication or adultery and you might be surprised at what those words mean and don’t mean. Modern churchians don’t have a good definition of either of those terms because they ignore what the Law says (and more importantly, doesn’t say) as well as the critical point that a man is allowed to have more than one wife. I discussed this a bit in “Pot… Kettle… Black” but I’ll get a bit more in depth in this post to demonstrate the extent of ignorance Christians have about the Bible.
The only thing necessary for a marriage to occur with an eligible virgin is sex. With the act of penetration the man is making his commitment to marry her and neither her commitment or consent is required. It is good to get the approval of the father first, because if she is still living at home her father can annul the marriage later if he doesn’t approve. With a woman who is not a virgin but eligible to marry, her consent to marry is required in addition to sex (Numbers 30:9; 1st Corinthians 7:39). In Genesis 2:24 the authority to initiate marriage was given to the man, there is no prescribed ceremony required to initiate marriage and the authority rests solely with the man. With that in mind, look at Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which are “The Law” concerning pre-marital sexual relations between a man and woman eligible to marry each other.
In those passages we see no prohibition or condemnation on a man seducing a not-betrothed virgin, but there is a judgment: With the consummation of the marriage already accomplished, the man is required to pay her father what he is owed (the bride price) and live with the woman as husband and wife. The judgment isn’t about punishment but rather the requirement of the man to meet his responsibilities; with the additional restriction that because he has “humbled” his wife he can never divorce her. Because the father is in authority over his daughter, he has the right to refuse to allow the marriage (that would REALLY be punishment for the woman, who would be publicly known as damaged goods) but he still gets to collect the bride price from the man. There is no distinction between a married man and a single man because it doesn’t matter- married or single they can still marry her. However, with no prohibition or condemnation, the sexual activity cannot be called a violation of the Law (sin) and thus cannot be called “sexual immorality” which is a sin.
We know this because that is exactly what Romans 4:15 and 5:13 tell us. Where there is no Law, there is no violation and without a violation there is no sin imputed. That last word “imputed” is critical. If God doesn’t call something sin, who are you to do so?
Since I’m already throwing sacred cows on the BBQ I may as well deal with a married man using a prostitute, which reinforces the point I’m making. There is no prohibition or condemnation of a man using (having sex with) a prostitute in the Law and it isn’t a sin for a non-Christian. A close study of Samson’s story confirms this. Samson was a Nazerite and the Spirit of the Lord was with him. The Law of the Nazerite is found at Numbers 6:1-8 and if you read that passage you’ll notice that part of the Nazerite vow was to remain holy and not become unclean. Yet, we see Samson going into a prostitute (Judges 16:1) but he remained holy and the Spirit of the Lord remained with him until he violated the Nazerite vow by having his hair cut. Having sex with a prostitute was not a sin and cannot be considered sexual immorality- and the Spirit of the Lord stayed with him because sex with a prostitute didn’t violate the Nazerite vow.
I said sex with a prostitute wasn’t a sin for non-Christians, and this is why: 1st Corinthians 6 contains a prohibition on Christians having sex with prostitutes, not because it’s sexual immorality (Paul did not violate Deut. 4:2 and claim it was) but because Christians are specifically forbidden to join the members of Christ to a whore by having sex with them. Following that Paul said to flee from immorality, but he did not use the word “porneia” but rather the word “hamartéma” which is defined as “a fault, a sin, an evil deed.” Paul made it clear he was talking about sexual sin and said the immoral man (one who violates God’s Law) sins against his own body. However, the instruction is specific to Christians because the non-Christian cannot join the members of Christ with a whore because he is not one with Christ.
Some claim 1st Corinthians 7:1-2 specifically forbids sex outside marriage, but there are three problems with that. First, that isn’t what the text actually says. Second, if that is what Paul really meant then Paul is guilty of a violation of Deuteronomy 4:2, adding to the Law. The third problem is that exegesis hinges on the definition of porneia, which would only work if porneia could be defined as any sex outside of marriage.
“Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch (Greek word “haptomai” meaning to have carnal knowledge of) a woman. But because of immoralities (Greek word “porneia” meaning violations of God’s Law), each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.”
It is far more reasonable to read the text for what it actually says. If we try to get a deeper meaning from it, perhaps it that Paul is saying that because of the temptation of porneia around us, each man is to have his own wife (rather than the wife of another man) and each woman to have her own husband (and not any other man). Keep in mind that Paul was a Pharisee who was well trained in the Law and he knew what sexual immorality was… as well as what it wasn’t. He was also well aware of the prohibition on adding to the Law.
The Greek word “porneia” is translated into English as either “fornication” or “sexual immorality” and is clearly a sin but what we think of as fornication isn’t specifically defined anywhere in Scripture. The word can describe both physical sexual sin and thus encompasses adultery, bestiality and incest; as well as idolatry, which is giving that which properly belongs to God alone (worship, praise, authority) to anyone or anything else. AGAIN, we know from Romans 4:15 and Romans 5:13 that where there is no Law there is no transgression and no sin imputed. In other words, if God didn’t forbid something in His Law, it isn’t a SIN (forbidden for all time for all people).
I realize just how uncomfortable that is for most Christians, which is probably why pastors don’t teach about it. Since there is no prohibition or condemnation of the extra-marital sex mentioned in Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29, such sexual activity cannot be porneia (fornication), which is a sin. There are consequences to such behavior (don’t have sex with a woman you are unwilling to marry) but it isn’t a sin and to claim it is a sin when God didn’t do so is to violate Deuteronomy 4:2 (you shall not add to the Law or subtract from it).
(NB: This gets a bit complicated for Christians because that which is not of faith is sin and if one knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it, that is sin to him (Romans 14:23 and James 4:17). There are also restrictions placed on Christians that go beyond what the Law required, such as the prohibition on using a prostitute in 1st Cor. 6 and the prohibition on divorce between married believers in 1st Cor. 7, but there is no specific restriction on pre-marital sex in the NT even though Christians really wish there was.)
To get to the definition of fornication we should also look at Hebrews 13:4, which says the marriage bed is to remain undefiled (Greek word “amiantos” meaning “undefiled, untainted, free from contamination”) and describes two sins that defile the marriage bed: adultery and fornication. As seen above, a man can have sex with a woman that’s not his wife and not be in sin, but if a married woman has sex with anyone not her husband it’s adultery. Adultery requires a married woman and a man can only commit adultery if he has sex with another man’s wife. The definition of the Hebrew word we translate as “adultery” applies equally to both illicit physical unions and illicit spiritual worship. In the physical sense the word carries with it the connotation of illicit sexual activity that can produce an illegitimate child, which means a penis in a vagina.
However, the word in Hebrews 13:4 that is translated as “fornicators” (“pornos,” not “porneia”) refers to a man who indulges in unlawful sexual immorality. What is unlawful sexual immorality? For that we have to go back to the Law and we’ve already seen that a man isn’t in sin because he had sex with a woman he wasn’t married to as long as she wasn’t married or betrothed to someone else. The word translated as “adulterers” is defined as the man who commits adultery. Thus, both the husband and wife are able to defile the marriage bed, the wife by introducing the adulterer and the husband by engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse (adultery, homosexuality, incest, bestiality, etc.), but this passage also points to things like the husband and wife having sex while the wife is menstruating. That is forbidden and in the same category of sins as adultery, bestiality, idolatry and male homosexuality.
What illicit activity doesn’t reach the bar of being adultery? The word “pornea” includes any illicit (unlawful) sexual activity from incest to bestiality, or as mentioned above, having sex with the wife while she’s menstruating. When Christ interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-3 in Matthew 19, He specifically used the term “porneia” and said that was the only reason for which a man could legitimately divorce his wife. It can even be argued that idolatry was grounds for divorce under what Jesus taught. After all, that’s why God divorced Israel.
Examining the words we translate as adultery and fornication using the teachings of the Law and the NT, we must conclude (leaving aside homosexuality, incest, bestiality and other perversions) that within marriage, what we like to think of as adultery and fornication are specific sins that require the presence of a married woman; with the term fornication being a broader descriptor that includes infidelities on the part of a wife that would not rise to the level of adultery.
This goes further than most Christians would imagine. Given the teaching in Matthew 5:27-32, a married woman who deliberately dresses provocatively or immodestly in order to garner the sexual desire (lust) of men could be described as a fornicator. However, a woman eligible to marry who dressed provocatively or immodestly in order to garner the sexual desire of men could not be described as a fornicator because she isn’t married (or betrothed) and any desire she stimulates on the part of the men is not lust because the man’s sexual desire for her can be legitimately satisfied by marrying her.
The objections of the modern Christians to dread game are not supported by the Bible because if a husband is not in sin for having sex with a woman that isn’t his wife (as long as she’s not married or betrothed) then he certainly isn’t in sin if he’s flirting with her. The teaching of the modern church concerning monogamy robs the husband of an extremely effective tool, the legitimate threat of taking another wife if the one he has refuses to honor, obey and please him.