CHASTITY. This word is a derivative of the Gr. word ἁγνός, G54, tr. “chaste” in 1 Peter 3:2. The primary meaning of the word denotes moral purity. In some parts of the ancient world, moral chastity or purity was not synonymous with religious chastity. However, the moral and religious connotations are fused in the Biblical usage of the term.
The Scriptures emphasize chastity and moral purity in religious devotion in both Testaments. Israelites were called upon to lead lives that would reflect moral purity or chastity. Such chastity was expected to stem from their religious devotion to Jehovah and was to mark them as being separate from the practices of the surrounding nations (Lev 20:21). Departures from the standards set forth in the OT resulted in a variety of unchaste behavior among the ancient Israelites (Gen 38:15; 2 Sam 13; Ezek 22:11).
Chastity in the OT did not include celibacy, as both the priests and individuals holding the Nazarite vow were not forbidden to marry (Num 6:2-5). In fact, later Jewish tradition held that while moral purity was to be desired highly, a man with no wife was “not a proper man” (Seder Nashim).
Likewise in the NT, chastity was stressed but was not to be confused with asceticism or celibacy, although in certain instances Christ taught that a man or woman could forego marriage in his service to God (Matt 19:10-12). At the same time Christ taught the sanctity of marriage and gave His tacit approval to the marriage ceremony both in His attendance at such ceremonies and by frequent allusions to marriage in His parables. (See John 2:1-11; Matt 19:3-6; 22:1-14; 25:1-13.) In addition, Christ’s activities at such occasions as the marriage supper in (John 2) would lead one to believe that His teachings concerning chastity did not involve avoidance of social gatherings and related festivities. However, His social activities at times were the grounds for accusation and condemnation by His foes (Matt 11:19). Evidently the religious leaders of His day expected Him to be more ascetic than He appeared to be. In spite of frequent involvement with the culture surrounding Him, Christ manifested a style of life which revealed self-control and impeccable moral purity.
Both the Hebraic and Christian religions were expected to be distinguishable from the world around them by their chaste practices and emphasis on moral purity in religious devotion to God. See also Sex; Virgin.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)