The Bible doesn’t say anything directly about living with someone before marriage, but it offers much wisdom and guidance for navigating dating and engagement in the modern age. Though the Bible says nothing about it, most Christians today would say it’s unwise.
Living with a partner before marriage, or cohabitation, is becoming more and more commonplace in the US and around the world. Somewhere around 16% of all unmarried men and women in the US live with their partners. In Bible times, cohabitation was rare. But in a world where it’s becoming normal, how are we as Christians to navigate the issue? Is it okay for us? What does the Bible have to say?
Cohabitation in the 21st Century
Cohabitation in the US has steadily been on the rise in recent decades. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of unmarried people living together has tripled since the late 1990s.
Today, more than 18 million unmarried Americans are cohabiting with a partner. This trend is driven in large part by the changing social norms that have made cohabitation more socially acceptable and more financially attractive. Additionally, cohabiting couples are increasingly starting families together, with an estimated 2 million cohabiting couples reporting children living with them as well. Depending on the state, common-law marriage may or may not be recognized.
It goes without saying living with your partner is becoming increasingly common. In some communities, it may even be weird to have been in a dating relationship with someone for a few years and NOT be living together. You may even feel insecure to be in a long term relationship and still living separate.
Living with a Partner Before Marriage in the Bible
As mentioned in the introduction, there is no mention of any couple in the Bible living together before marriage. Times were different, and even those who weren’t devoted to God or following Jesus held more conservative values when it came to relationships.
In Genesis, we see Jacob work for Laban for fourteen years before being allowed to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. At no point during that time did they live together – it wasn’t really a question.
Have people cohabitated in the past? Almost definitely. But we don’t see it in the Bible.
With that in mind, does the Bible say anything at all about living with someone before marriage? It has a lot to say about sexual and relational purity. What does the Bible say about sex:
- “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (1 Corinthians 5:1)
- “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
- “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality…” (Galatians 5:19)
- “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Ephesians 5:3)
The Greek word for “sexual immorality” used in most of these passages is porneia, or “unlawful lust.” The Bible makes it clear that followers of Christ should steer as clear as possible of anything that might be immoral, or lead to sexual immorality. It’s clear that sex before marriage is sinful.
But living in the same place as someone isn’t necessarily sinful, so why do so many consider it so?
Is Living Together Before Marriage a Sin?
Living together before marriage isn’t explicitly stated anywhere in the Bible. The words aren’t used. But as we see in the sample of verses from above, God takes sexual immorality and impurity very seriously. This isn’t just limited to sexual intercourse, but includes:
- Oral sex
- Anal sex
- Heavy petting
- … and a lot more
So while cohabitation itself isn’t necessarily a sin, it takes a couple down a dangerous road full of temptation. Paul uses language like, “Don’t even let sexual immorality be named among you,” and, “Flee from sexual immorality.”
Living with a partner is the opposite of fleeing immorality. It’s running right toward it.
On top of opening the door for sin, living with your partner before marriage dishonors the marriage bed. It makes little of things reserved for marriage.
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”Hebrews 13:4
And lastly, living together before marriage can harm your witness. Whether you’re actually abstaining from sex or not, most around you will assume the worst. Our lives should offer a compelling reason to follow Jesus. Your commitment to purity and obedience down the stretch of your dating relationship can be a powerful testament to your satisfaction in Jesus.
Approaching Dating and Engagement Wisely
Making the choice not to live with a partner can be tough. Perhaps it would make a lot of economic sense. Maybe one of you has a lease ending as you’re pursuing marriage. But it’s so worth it to abstain.
If you’re considering marriage with this person, you should be seeking to sow good things early on in your relationship. Build your relationship on obedience, purity, and holiness. Allowing sin and disobedience to take root can have consequences in the future. Date wisely. It’s worth it. Strive to be respectful husband. Strive to be a respectful wife.