The Bible’s Viewpoint
Married or Living Together—Which?
“WHEN shall we get married?” As little as 35 years ago, this question might have been pondered by couples in love who were getting engaged. Today, however, there is a good chance that such a question would be raised by two persons who have already been living together. Times have changed and so have attitudes toward marriage. Which course is better: Get married, or move in with the person of your choice?
Studies indicate that in Brazil, France, Sweden, the United States, and many other countries, living together without marriage is in vogue. It may be in line with modern mores, but it is not new. What is new are the attitudes toward the practice. What was once considered to be living in sin is now condoned or approved by many as perfectly proper.
Living Together—Are There Advantages?
Some people argue that the live-in arrangement is reasonable, since it enables the couple to get to know each other well before entering into the more permanent bond of marriage. Other advantages some point to are: It enables the couple to cut down expenses by sharing the rent; it gives them independence from parents; it provides needed companionship, including a sexual relationship. Older unmarried couples say that by living together they do not forfeit government social-security payments.
Nevertheless, one strong argument against living together without marriage is this: Either party can terminate the arrangement at any time by simply walking out. In fact, the French daily Le Monde reported that in Sweden and Norway, half of the live-in relationships do not last two years, and from 60 to 80 percent break up in less than five years.
Marriage—The Better Way
Those who advocate the live-in arrangement might refer to the marriage certificate as just a “piece of paper,” something that is of no practical value. This attitude is also implied in TV soap operas and movies, as well as in the private lives of celebrities. Therefore, let us now consider the true value of that “piece of paper.”
When you enter into a business partnership or buy a piece of property or lend money to someone, why do you have the terms written down and even notarized? One reason is that a commitment has been made by both parties, and it is to the advantage of both to have the terms in writing. For instance, if one party dies, disappears, or simply loses his memory, the terms are still legally binding. The same is true in a marriage. In the event of the death of one mate or of both, the law in most countries makes provision for the surviving members of the family. This is usually lacking in the live-in arrangement. It is this commitment that makes the difference between living together and marriage. And the marriage certificate is a reminder to the couple of that commitment to love, honor, and cherish each other and of the legal implications of the marriage vows.
One married woman put it this way: “Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but the commitment to marriage makes me feel more secure.” She echoes what God said when he brought together in marriage the first human pair: “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.”* (Genesis 2:24) A unique oneness! Thus, “one flesh” is possible only in a complete, exclusive, legal, lifelong relationship—nowhere else.
Some people argue, though, that they know of couples who live together without marriage and yet have a strong relationship.
“Let Them Marry”
The Bible gives the best reason for couples not to live together without marriage. “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers,” states Hebrews 13:4. The Bible plainly and simply says that living together outside of marriage is fornication. Just what is meant by “fornication”? One dictionary describes it as “human sexual intercourse other than between a man and his wife.” For us to have a good conscience, this Bible counsel must be followed: ‘God wills that you abstain from fornication.’—1 Thessalonians 4:3.
But suppose some have a problem with restraining their sexual impulses? The apostle Paul wrote: “If they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.” And again: “But if anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, . . . let them marry.” (1 Corinthians 7:9, 36) Note that Paul did not say to ‘do what they want and move in together’ but, “Let them marry.”
Not that marriage should be viewed only as a means to satisfy sexual desires. Couples should get to know each other before they marry. But how can you do so unless you live together? An honorable courtship provides ample opportunity for that. You should determine what you expect of marriage and of your mate. What are your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs? Will the person you have in mind as a possible mate help you fill them?—Matthew 5:3.
After considering the above, you will no doubt agree that of the two courses—living together or marrying—the latter is better. Couples living together in marriage do so without guilt or fear, and they enjoy the respect of friends and relatives. Their children will bear no emotional scars for having been born out of wedlock. And most important, such couples please God by showing respect for his arrangement of marriage.
The Hebrew word da·vaqʹ (“stick”) “carries the sense of clinging to someone in affection and loyalty.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) In Greek, it is a cognate of the word meaning “to glue,” “to cement,” “to join together tightly.”
[Picture on page 26]
Peasant Wedding, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century
With kind permission of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna