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Q. Living Together And Marriage?

Question: I Am A Christian, And I Am Living With A Woman Who Also Professes To Know Jesus As Her Savior. Is This Wrong? Do I Need To Have A Wedding To Be Married Since We Are Already One Flesh? If We Do Marry, What Restrictions / Prerequisites Might I Expect From A Christian Pastor?


First of all, let us be clear that sex outside of marriage is sin:

Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body”– but the immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, NET).

Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints (Ephesians 5:1-3).

Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers (Hebrews 13:4; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).

Living together will almost certainly lead to sexual sin, or will at least give the appearance of sexual sin. I would say this to those who would say that they wish to “live together” but remain sexually pure. I’ve not seen that happen yet. But even if this were the case, there would be the appearance of immorality (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV).

Now, a further question: “If this couple has already had a sexual relationship, then would they be “one flesh” in God’s eyes, and if so why is there a need for a marriage ceremony?” What difference does “a piece of paper” make, or a wedding ceremony?

Just because a couple has become “one flesh” by having sexual relations, does this constitute a marriage? The short answer is “No.”

The expression, “one flesh,” first occurs in Genesis 2:14. So let’s ponder this text for a moment. It seems to me that one could be reading this passage like this: “Adam and Eve were naked, and were not ashamed, and so they had sex, and this constituted marriage – no ceremony here, just a sexual union.”

But that is not really what the text says. We should read this text more carefully, an in the light of subsequent references to the same event, and the same text:

21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:21-25, NAU).

4 He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH ‘? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).


Note what Jesus said about this union: First of all, God made Adam and Eve for each other. Then He added, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). My point is that there is a sequence of events described in this first “one flesh” event in Genesis chapter 2, and later in the New Testament. A number of things preceded becoming one flesh. Both Jesus (Matthew 19) and Paul (Ephesians 5:31) spell this out. First God joins the two together (Genesis 2:22; Matthew 19:6), then there is the matter of the leaving of father and mother (this, in my opinion, requires some formal, public process). The two are joined together (cleave) to become husband and wife. And then (last of all) they become one flesh. The matter of becoming “one flesh” is the conclusion of the marriage process, not the beginning of it, nor is it the sum of what marriage is. But apart from this concluding sexual union, a marriage may not be officially recognized as legitimate.

One might mistakenly equate becoming “one flesh” with “marriage. It is true that when a couple marries, they (subsequently) become one flesh through a sexual union. But it is not accurate to say that every sexual ( “one flesh”) union constitutes a marriage. Think of those illicit unions with prostitutes which Paul condemns (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). Or think of the implications for a young person in this sexually permissive culture who has experienced a great number of sexual liaisons. These can’t all be marriages. Thus, becoming one flesh by virtue of having sex is not synonymous with marriage.

Beyond this, I believe that marriage is a public event, it is an event where a couple makes vows (Malachi 2:14) for all to hear (and to hold them to). The weddings Jesus speaks about, such as in Matthew 25, are clearly a public event, not a private one. So, too, the marriage supper of Revelation 19:9. It is not just a cultural concession in the Bible. It is a public testimony of leaving and cleaving. It is not unlike baptism, which publicly proclaims a break with the world, and a joining with Christ. Can you imagine someone privately baptizing themself?

One final point. I’m not sure about the wisdom of having a protracted “waiting” time in cases where a couple has been living together. Paul writes that it is “better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9). I think a protracted time of separation is impractical, and it puts the couple in a position where they are more likely to fail. (Consider Paul’s warnings to married couples, who wait too long to have sex – 1 Corinthians 7:5). I do believe that in the period between “engagement” and marriage the couple should remain (visibly and truly) separate, both in terms of their living arrangements and in terms of sexual relations.

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Marriage, Sexual Purity, Sexuality

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