No matter where you are in the world, attitudes and beliefs about marriage differ. This has resulted in many couples living together without being married. Many Christian couples are now deciding that they will do the same. The reason for this is unclear, but one thing is for certain, Christians are adopting the beliefs and practices of the world in increasing numbers. With this in mind, Christians should know the answer to the question, “Should Christians live together before marriage?”
The description of marriage according to Jesus
Defining marriage from a Christian perspective requires that we look at what God says about marriage. Jesus clarified God’s position on marriage in Matthew 19:3-11 as follows:
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it (Matthew 19:3-12).
The conversation was about divorce, however, Jesus provided context to His answer by describing the foundation of marriage (Genesis 1:26-2:25). He described the history and basis of marriage by referring to the creation of Adam and Eve. He also described the reason for marriage by referring to a man leaving his parents and cleaving unto his wife, which joins the two into one flesh. He concluded by saying, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Jesus then clarified God’s doctrine on divorce. He said that Moses allowed divorce for various reasons because of the hardness of their hearts, but that from the beginning God did not want divorce. Jesus clarified that the only valid reason for divorce was fornication, which leads to adultery.
Upon hearing this, the disciples then stated that if this is the case, it would be better for a man not to marry. Jesus replied that all men cannot receive this saying except those who are given the gift of being single. He went on to describe different types of eunuchs, of which one was a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He closed by saying whoever is able to stay single, let them stay single. Paul makes reference to this in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9.
The physical part of marriage
The very terms marriage, matrimony, and consummate refer to the joining of flesh. Marriage means the joining of two separate things to create one. Matrimony means one woman or matron. Consummate means to consume, or take, through mating. The “mate” of consummate comes from the ancient Greek term gamete, meaning wife. The medical term gamete refers to a fertilized egg cell from the union of a male and female. Using these definitions we see that unless there is a joining of flesh between a male and a female a marriage cannot be consummated. This leaves a lot of questions when it comes to laws allowing for the annulment of a marriage because the marriage was never consummated.
Using Jesus’ statement, we see there are three parts of marriage. The first is the union of flesh. In many accounts in the Old Testament, a joining of flesh for the first time through sexual union created a marriage (Genesis 16:4; Genesis 29:23, 29; Genesis 29:30; Ruth 4:13; 2 Samuel 12:24). Of particular note is Genesis 29:9-30 where Jacob agreed to work seven years for a man named Laban, for the permission to marry his daughter Rachel. After seven years Laban held a marriage feast, but when it came time to consummate the marriage, Laban slipped Rachel’s older sister, Leah, into the tent. Jacob had sexual relations with Leah and when he woke up in the morning he realized it was Leah with whom he had sexual relations (Genesis 29:23). Despite the marriage feast with Rachel, Jacob was married to Leah.
We are told in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 that the wife’s body belongs to her husband and the husband’s body belongs to the wife. The husband and wife must provide each other’s physical needs. They also are told they should not withhold their bodies from each other unless it is with consent for a short time for prayer and fasting. This withholding also required a planned time of reuniting physically so that they are not tempted to commit adultery.
The Spiritual part of marriage
Ephesians 5:22-33 gives us clear instruction that the marriage between a man and a woman is an earthly model of the relationship between Christ and the Church (believers). Through this passage Paul makes comparisons of how husbands should treat their wives like Christ treats the Church (believers). He also make comparisons of how wives should treat their husbands like the Church treats Christ. See also Colossians 3:12-21.
Spiritually our relationship with Christ, as his bride, does not end because we have a covenant with God that does not end. A covenant is different in that a person’s commitment to keep the agreement does not end if the other person does not hold up their end of the agreement. God does not want our earthly marriages to end either. So, Biblically a marriage entails a covenant (Malachi 3:4) just like the covenant we have with Christ. If our spouse does not live up to their end of the agreement, the marriage does not end. This then make our efforts at reconciliation all the more important.
The emotional part of marriage
The third part of a marriage is the emotional part. We are told in Ephesians 5:25-33 that husbands are to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. This means that a husband should provide for his wife’s physical, spiritual, and emotional needs like Christ does for ours. We see examples in Scripture where husbands comforted their wives (Genesis 24:67; 2 Samuel 12:24).
If we can rely on Christ to provide and comfort us it enables us to trust Him. We love Him, however, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Likewise, a husband must first demonstrate his love for his wife no matter what, which enables her to love her husband. When a husband ignores his wife’s emotional needs, it undermines her ability to love him and respect him. It prevents her from being emotionally invested in him.
This is important in that when there is no emotional attachment left in a marriage, both are vulnerable to the emotional attraction of others. This is the most common factor in divorce, the loss of emotional attachment and the establishment of emotional attachment to someone else.
The problems with living together before marriage
There are so many problems with living together before marriage. First, there is no up-front commitment, which creates trust. In my experience as a Biblical counselor, every couple that came to me that were living together without being married suffered from trust issues. The reason is simple; if a man and woman cannot stand up publically and state that they are committed to sharing their life together in a one flesh relationship that is honorable to God, then there is no foundation of trust. Some say they do not need a piece of paper to say they are married. They may be right technically, but realistically, how committed can someone be without a public profession of marriage?
Second, practically speaking, the marriage ceremony does not make one married. We saw that with Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. However, the marriage ceremony is to marriage as baptism is to salvation. Baptism is our public testimony of our new found life and identity in Christ, so a marriage ceremony should be our public testimony of our new found life and identity with our spouse.
Third, living together before marriage ignores the symbolism of marriage according to Ephesians 5. It places both parties in a situation where you have the physical marital access to one another, without the emotional or spiritual commitment. It is like someone saying they enjoy the music and food at fellowship dinners, but want nothing to do with Bible study, preaching, or prayer. Sadly, many couples will even admit that they are living together to see how things work out. The vast majority of them do not work out, but by the time this happens, the physical commitment becomes nothing more than selfish gratification of the flesh.
If children are produced, this makes matters worse. The children do not have assurance that the parents are committed to being there for them. While some say kids do just fine, we know that the number one cause of poverty is single parenthood. Likewise, a vast number of studies have demonstrated numerous detrimental effects on children who live in single parent households. While some children appear to do fine, experts will admit that every child will suffer in one way or another from not having a committed mother and father in the house.
If God says the only reason for divorce is fornication or adultery, then how can we say that fornication is okay before marriage when God tells us to flee fornication (1 Corinthians 6:18-19)? If we can’t trust that the other person is privately and publically committed to being together for life, how can we trust the emotional investment of ourselves and our children that the other person will be around when life gets difficult?
Finally, using the Ephesians 5 example, how can we model our relationship with Christ and His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) if we are in a relationship subject to the other person leaving and forsaking? The answer is simple, living together before marriage is not in keeping with God’s will.
Dr. Michael L. Williams is a pastor, author, Christian educator and Biblical counselor who has served in ministry since March of 2000. Dr. Mike holds under-graduate through post graduate degrees in Christian Education and formerly worked as a nurse. Dr. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Selah Mountain Ministries, which he founded in March of 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA (selahmountain.org). In addition to counseling, he teaches how to overcome life issues Biblically on topics such as anger management, marriage, addictions, and other subjects typically referred to as mental illnesses. Dr. Mike is also a writer at What Christians Want To Know. Dr. Mike lives with his wife Pamela Rose and adult daughter Hollie Rose. He and Pamela have other adult children and several grandchildren as well. Learn more about Dr. Mike at his personal ministry web site Wisdom4Today
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version