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Living Together Without Marriage: Sexual Cohabitation & the Bible

Living Together Without Marriage:
What Does the Bible Say about Sexual Cohabitation?

What does the Bible teach about living together without marriage, sexual cohabitation, domestic partnerships or companionships. And what about fornication and adultery?

Many couples now live together without marrying. Cohabitation is called a "trial marriage" or "domestic partnership." Instead of speaking of husbands, wives, and spouses, we hear about partners, companions, significant others, and meaningful relationships. The New Morality, sexual liberation and "free love" movements have popularized premarital and extramarital sexual relations. But what about fornication and adultery? What does the Bible teach?

Note carefully: No teaching anywhere on this web site is intended or should ever be construed to justify or to in any way incite or encourage personal vengeance or physical violence against any person.

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Introduction: 

Increasingly, couples in our society are living together without marriage.

Some say marriage is "just a piece of paper," a legal formality. Others have a "trial marriage," saying they want to know if they are compatible before they make a commitment. Others justify sexual relations for those who are just dating as long as they care for one another and have a "meaningful relationship." Still others get married but then have a lover on the side.

The 2000 US Census counted nearly 4 million couples living together without being married. [That compares to 56 million married couples living together.]

When I was young, occasionally unmarried couples were known to cohabit, but people generally viewed it as shameful and immoral. People who did it were ashamed to admit it. Yet in a single generation it has become socially acceptable. Everyone knows people who do it. Those who are involved speak of it casually and without shame.

Our language and social customs are changing to accommodate the practice.

Instead of using terms such as "husband and wife" or even "spouse," businesses and advertisers speak of "partners" and "companions." Instead of "getting married," couples talk about "being together." Couples who live together without marriage are called "domestic partners" - which may be people of the same or opposite sexes.

Businesses and governments are pressured to give "domestic partners" the same benefits as to married couples. The entertainment industry almost never pictures couples as married or getting married; instead they are simply portrayed as living together.

A major social change has occurred during our lifetime. It has accompanied the acceptance of other changes in sexual and family values such as divorce, homosexuality, abortion, coed college dorms, coed gym classes, etc.

The purpose of this study is to examine the practice of couples living together without marriage.

I. Is Living Together Beneficial?

Does the evidence indicate that this practice offers benefits that some people profess? Is it more beneficial than marriage?

One major result of cohabitation is children born out of wedlock.

Of the 4 million cohabiting couples in the 2000 census, 2/5 had children living with them. But these couples often break up leaving one parent, usually the mother, to care for the children alone. Along with divorce, this has led to "single-parent families."

The 2000 census found that nearly 1/3 [31%] of families in the US are single-parent families [12 million families]. Obviously, not every single parent is to blame for these circumstances, but generally the problem results because one or both parents lacked commitment to marriage. In the 2000 census, 5 million single parents had never married, and another 4 million are divorced.

It is estimated that 3/4 of children born to cohabiting couples will eventually live in a single-parent family. ["Dan Quayle Was Right," Barbara Dafoe Whitehead; Atlantic Monthly, 4/1993]

What is the effect on children of a missing parent?

One effect is unstable marriages. Children of single parents are more likely to have bad marriages or to become single parents themselves. Daughters of [white] single parents are 92% more likely to themselves get a divorce and 164% more likely to have a premarital birth. [Whitehead]

Sociologist David Popenoe said, "I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole, for children, two-parent families are preferable to single-parent and stepfamilies" [quoted by Whitehead, above].

Children are often innocent victims whose lives are tragically affected by their parents' choice to live together without marriage. Marriage, by comparison, is a blessing to children.

Some try to justify living together before marriage on the grounds that it helps a couple know if they are compatible, so they will stay together if they do get married.

But USA Today reported a study showing that couples who live together before marriage are 50% more likely to divorce than couples that do not live together before marriage (via AFA Journal, 1/94). So cohabitation actually increases the likelihood of divorce.

C. Effects on Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

A study by the Heritage Foundation concluded that mothers who have never been married are more than twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse as married mothers [32.9 instances per 1,000 unmarried mothers, compared with only 14.7 per 1,000 for married mothers].

Furthermore, the rate of child abuse is 20 times higher for cohabiting-biological families, compared to families with married, biological parents [FRC CultureFacts, 4/18/2002].

So cohabitation is physically dangerous for women and especially dangerous for children. Marriage, in general, is better for women and far better for children.

D. Effects on Sexual Relationships

Living together without marriage is one consequence of the "sexual liberation" movement. People think that, by eliminating sexual restrictions, people will be more satisfied sexually.

But the Family Research Council reported a study showing that people who strongly believe in restricting the sexual relationship to marriage end up nearly twice as likely to view their sexual relations to be satisfying as do those don't oppose sexual relations outside of marriage [72% compared to 41% - Family Policy, 2/1994].

These facts may not prove cohabitation is wrong, but I hope they will open people's minds to consider other more important evidence. The fact is that, in general, marriage is better in every way than cohabitation, including the areas in which people think cohabitation might be better.

II. Are Fornication and Adultery Morally Acceptable?

A. By What Standard Should We Settle Moral Issues?

Many people decide their beliefs by human standards.

* Many assume that, if the government allows a practice, then it must be acceptable. But the Bible says we should obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

* Others think a practice must be all right if large numbers of people approve of it. But God often opposes the majority view. Jesus said most people are on the road to spiritual destruction (Matt. 7:13,14).

* Other people justify a practice if they have some loved one involved in it. But Jesus said we must disagree with loved ones if necessary in order to please Him (Matt. 10:34-37; Luke 14:26).

* In sexual matters, many people simply do what seems right according to their own human wisdom. But the Bible repeatedly shows that what seems right to people is often wrong (Proverbs 14:12; Jeremiah 10:23). We must be willing to sacrifice and deny our own desires in order to please God (Matt. 16:24; Rom. 12:1,2).

Man's will often differs from God's, so we should seek to know what God wants us to do. (Isa. 55:8,9; 2 Cor. 10:12,18; Luke 16:15,18)

The Bible is the only sure standard of right and wrong.

Acts 17:24 - Right and wrong are determined by the Creator of the Universe. Because He made us all, He has the right to rule over all.

John 12:48 - We will be judged according to whether or not our lives conform to His will.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 - The Bible reveals God's will, so we must let it be our moral standard.

We do not here have time to consider the evidence, but there are clear and convincing reasons to believe that God exists and the Bible reveals His will for man.

To learn more about the evidence that God exists and the Bible is His word, we urge you to study our free articles on that subject on our Bible study web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct  (see the section about God/Deity).

[1 Cor. 14:37; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:21]

B. The Bible Clearly Opposes Fornication and Adultery.

Mark 7:20-23 - Jesus taught that fornication comes from the heart and defiles a man.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - The Corinthians had been fornicators, adulterers, etc. Those who engage in such practices cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:3-6 - Fornication should not even be named as existing among God's people, for those who are guilty have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

Revelation 21:8; 22:14,15 - Fornicators are among those who will not enter heaven but will be in the lake of fire.

These passages should settle the issue: God approves of marriage but forbids cohabitation. But some may still lack understanding, so let us consider further.

[Exodus 20:14; Galatians 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-11; Hebrews 13:4; Proverbs 5:1-23; 6:23-7:27; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8]

III. What Constitutes Fornication and Adultery?

The above passages clearly forbid fornication and adultery, but what do these terms mean? Fornication is a general term referring to any sexual union between two people who are not married to one another. Adultery is somewhat more specific and involves sexual relations in which one or both parties are married, but not to one another. So, adultery is a form of fornication, but both involve sexual relations outside marriage. Note the evidence:

Hebrews 13:4 - Marriage includes the right to have the sexual union only with the companion with whom we have a Scriptural marriage commitment. To have relations with anyone else is "fornication" or "adultery."

Note that the sexual union is not inherently bad or evil. Within marriage, it is good and holy. But the passage also defines "fornication" and "adultery" to be sexual union ("the bed") outside marriage, and says that God will judge those who so practice.

1 Corinthians 6:16-18 - Fornication is wrong because it constitutes being "one flesh" with someone other than one's lawful spouse. "One flesh" refers back to God's original marriage plan, which places the sexual union in marriage (Gen. 2:24).

1 Corinthians 7:2-4 - To avoid fornication, one should satisfy the sexual desire only with "his own wife" or "husband." For each person there is only one other person who has the power to provide the affection that avoids fornication. That person is one's marriage companion.

Understanding this makes the sexual relationship a beautiful expression of love and devotion for the one person with whom we have chosen to live and love for a lifetime. But this also proves that satisfying the sexual desire outside marriage constitutes fornication.

Sexual relations before or outside marriage are wrong, no matter how much we care for the other person. It is wrong, first because it violates the command of God, and second because it perverts the sexual union so that it ceases to be the beautiful expression of love for ones lifetime companion, as God intended to be. It is a failure to save ourselves for our marriage companion.

If we really respect God and if we really love and care for another person, then we must save the sexual union till marriage and make it an act of supreme love and commitment to our lifetime marriage companion.

[Jude 7; Ezek. 23; Jer. 3; Prov. 5:15-20; 6:29,32; 7:18-20; Ezek. 16:32; 1 Cor. 5:9,10]

IV. What Constitutes Marriage?

Again, the passages we have studied should settle the truth about cohabitation before marriage. However, I have had people claim that they were "married," even though they had never entered a legal or Scriptural marriage bond. So consider what the Bible teaches about the nature of marriage.

A. The Origin of Marriage

The passages

Genesis 1:26-28 - God created man, including the sexual union. In particular, God created both male and female and gave them the responsibility to reproduce and populate the earth. As our Creator, God has power to make the rules that govern us and that govern sexual activities.

Genesis 2:24 - Woman was created to be a companion for man. God then ordained marriage, saying man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Man and woman were to become one flesh.

Conclusions

1) Marriage is a relationship defined and ordained by God. Therefore, it must follow His rules. Man has no right to change those rules or to violate them.

2) Further, marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman: male and female.

3) It is a relationship between one man and one woman: the two become one flesh.

4) It is a new relationship, separate from parents' families: they leave father and mother.

5) It is intended to be a permanent relationship: the two cleave to one another. The new relationship is stronger even than the man's ties to his own parents.

6) The sexual union is to occur within this marriage relationship: the two become one flesh. God told the man and woman to reproduce, then He gave a relationship within which they are to participate in the act the results in reproduction.

Whenever the sexual union occurs there is the possibility that a child will result, and children need the security of a father and a mother to raise them. Here is another reason for reserving the sexual union for marriage: so any children that might be conceived would have the benefit of being raised by two parents who have a lifetime commitment to the family.

Does cohabiting fit this Bible teaching? When a couple lives together before marriage, do they intend to form a marriage: a new family unit separate from their parents' family unit? Do they intend to "cleave" in a permanent relationship, even more permanent than their family relationship with their parents? If not, then they are not abiding by God's rules for marriage and have no right to the sexual union.

Let us consider other passages that explain further.

B. Other Passages

Romans 7:2,3

In marriage the woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39). The marriage "bond" is a lifetime commitment, and God holds people to the commitment they made, even if later they try to break it. This is what is God meant by "cleaving" to one another.

If the woman (or man) who is married seeks to leave the marriage and have the sexual union with someone else, that person is guilty of adultery. Adultery involves having the sexual union with someone other than the one person with whom you have a lifetime marriage commitment.

When a couple simply starts living together, do they have a lifetime commitment? Do they intend to keep themselves sexually only for one another for life? If not, then they are not obeying God's command for marriage, and they have no right to the sexual union at all.

Matthew 19:3-9

When a man and woman are joined in marriage, as described in Gen. 2:24, they are not to end that bond for any reason other than because their spouse has committed fornication. God has joined them and they must not separate. This is what is meant by "cleave to one another."

When a couple simply starts living together, have they committed themselves to a bond they will not separate? If not, they are not Scripturally married and have no right to the sexual union.

Malachi 2:14-16

God hates putting away (v16). Again, divorce is contrary to God's will. Why? Because marriage is a covenant (agreement) between a man and his wife (v14). God is a witness to that covenant, and He holds them to it (v14). If a man violates the covenant, he is dealing treacherously with his wife, and God will hold him accountable. [Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8]

Though this is an Old Testament passage, it shows us the definition of marriage, which Jesus said has not changed. Marriage is, by God's definition, a solemn mutual commitment between a man and woman to live together as husband and wife for life. God holds them to that bond and will not free them from it, even if people declare them to be free.

When a couple simply starts living together, do they have a mutual commitment to be man and wife for life - a commitment that they enter with the intent to never break it? If not, they are not obeying God's law for marriage and they have no right to the sexual union.

Romans 13:1-5

Just as God ordained marriage, so He ordained civil law, and He requires us to obey it (unless the rulers command us to do something sinful against God's law - Acts 5:29).

All civil governments have laws defining what constitutes marriage. God commands us to obey those laws. It follows that we have no right to consider ourselves married until we have obeyed civil laws that define us to be married.

Obviously cohabiting couples have not obeyed the civil requirements for marriage. Therefore, they are not married and have no right to the sexual union.

It follows from all this that people who merely live together are not married. Therefore, their relationship constitutes fornication or adultery. God will judge them for their sin.

[1 Peter 2:13,14]

Conclusion

We began by citing evidence that cohabiting without marriage creates problems.

But there are reasons why this is true. One major reason is that married people have made a serious lifetime commitment to do what is best for one another. They may sometimes fail to live up to their commitment. But unmarried people don't even have such a commitment! They have far less reason to treat one another by God's rules of marriage - they have not even agreed to follow those rules.

But the main reason that marriage is better for people is not a matter of statistics or human studies. We can be sure marriage is best because God says so. God always knows what is best, and He reveals what is best in His word. So when people make a commitment to follow God's word, the result is best for everyone involved.

People who are guilty of fornication or adultery can be forgiven.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - Some in the church in Corinth had been guilty of fornication and adultery, but they were washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus. But note that this required them to cease their sin. [Luke 15:30; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25]

Specifically, repentance requires those who are committing fornication to cease it. If they are living together without marriage, they must cease living together without marriage. They must bring forth the fruits of repentance (Acts 26:20). [Eph. 5:1-11; 1 Thess. 4:3-8]

You too can be forgiven, regardless of your sin. Will you believe in Jesus, repent, confess Christ, be baptized, and live a faithful life?

(C) Copyright 2011, David E. Pratte
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