What Does the Bible Say About Living Together Before Marriage?

Our society has accepted the idea of couples living together before marriage so universally that few people (including Christians) question whether it is right or wrong. People live together out of wedlock for different reasons. For some it has become an acceptable form of “trial marriage” which is believed to give the couple an opportunity to make sure they are compatible before making the “big commitment.” For others, it’s simply a way to enjoy the blessings of marriage without having to make any of the promises. For still others, it’s done for financial reasons.

But is living together wrong, from a biblical standpoint?

It would appear from the strong evidence of God’s Word (the Bible) that a legitimate marriage is one in which two people have made a covenant (or binding agreement) to love and commit themselves to one another. (Biblically, such covenants were always made in front of witnesses.) An illegitimate marriage would be a union between a man and a woman in which there has been no covenant and no commitment.

Scriptural Insights

In the following passages, the Bible speaks of those who violate their marriage covenant.

[Wisdom] will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. (Proverbs 2:16-17 NIV my emphasis)

Notice in the passage above, the woman who engages in sexual activity outside of her marriage is called an “adulteress,” and the Lord charges her with “ignoring the covenant she made before God.” (Obviously the Lord considers this a serious offense.)

And...

...the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. (Malachi 2:14 NIV my emphasis)

In this passage, God speaks of the violation of a marriage covenant as “breaking faith” between two marriage partners. These passages underscore the importance that God places upon a marriage covenant.

But while we’ve shown that God recognizes and honors a marriage commitment, is there any evidence that living together outside of marriage is wrong—even when the couple has made a commitment of their own?

Below is a conversation that Jesus had with a woman who was living with a man outside of wedlock.

[Jesus] told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:16-18 NIV)

This is a fascinating passage, because here, Jesus lovingly confronts a woman living with a man, and He uses her own words to confirm to her that the man she is currently living with is not her husband. In other words, Jesus did not recognize her “arrangement” as a true marriage, and therefore did not consider her live-in partner as her husband.

Once again, a marriage covenant is a promise made by a man and a woman before God, to love and care for one another. When this promise is given and witnessed (2 Corinthians 13:1) God considers the couple properly married and free to enjoy all the blessings and benefits of marriage. When a man and a woman refuse to come together under a marriage covenant, they are not considered properly married before God and, therefore, are in violation of God’s Word.

Blessing or Judgment?

The writer of Hebrews said it this way:
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4 NIV)

In this single passage we’re told that God honors the institution of marriage to such a degree that when an individual chooses to engage in sexual activity outside the boundaries of the marriage covenant, such activity will ultimately come under God’s judgment. For those who are Christians this is a serious issue. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is God's will that you...should avoid sexual immorality; For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1Thessalonians 4:3, 7 NIV)

There is no blessing when we are walking contrary to God’s revealed plan for life. If you are living with an individual outside of a marriage commitment (be they Christian or non-Christian) then you have placed your relationship and your home in the place of judgment. (That’s not a good place to be!)

Walking in Blessing

God greatly desires to bless your home, your marriage and your life. As we surrender to the guidelines and wisdom of God’s Word as recorded in the Bible, we open ourselves to that blessing in a wonderful way.

If you are currently in a situation where you are living with someone outside of a marriage commitment, I strongly encourage you to do one of two things. Either move out immediately, or make a commitment to the person with whom you are living and get married. (Remember, if you’re a Christian and the other person is not, you would be best off to remain unmarried—and celibate—while you pray for their salvation and wait on the Lord.)

But what if a couple is engaged, (i.e intending to be married soon) and feel compelled to live together for financial or other personal reasons? Does the Lord still look on this in the same manner? My response is yes. Outward circumstances never supercede the Word of God. The Lord will never present a couple with circumstances in which they are forced to violate His Word and His heart toward marriage. There are always options. If you feel you are being forced into living together before marriage, go and speak with your pastor and find out how he can help. As Christians, our desire to obey the Lord ought to take precedence over every other consideration.

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