Please clarify what the Bible says about living together without being married. Since I was a kid, getting married meant going to the courthouse, followed by a church blessing. Recently I moved to the United States, met someone, and we live together now. My partner is not a Christian, but I am. We would like to get married but are not able to do so yet because of our immigration status, but we are committed to each other. My dad says that what I am doing is not acceptable to God. In the United States, though, I’ve met several couples who are not married and live together and are accepted by their church. When I read the Bible, my impression is that there was no marriage back then, at least not like today. I believe the concept of marriage has changed over time depending on the circumstances. I also believe marriage is optional, although we would like to get married at some point in the future. Can I consider my current living arrangement as a marriage and have a real wedding later? Thank you for clarifying this matter.
Thank you for taking the time to write to us about such an important and personal issue. In direct response to your question, nothing has changed in the Bible about God’s original intent for marriage, family, and sexuality, regardless of how people—in and out of the church—might be living and behaving these days. A good rule of thumb for the Christian is always to check with the Word of God, rather than copying the lifestyle of people who may profess to be followers of Christ.
In Genesis 2:24, 25 the Bible shares the account of the first couple who were created by God and married by God, when it says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”1 Subsequently, if we go to the New Testament—long after the book of Genesis and the remainder of the Old Testament was written—Jesus quotes this very passage of Scripture to the Pharisees in Matthew 19:4-6: “And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female” 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”? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’”
So, despite hundreds of years between the writing of the book of Genesis and the book of Matthew, we can clearly see there were no changes in God’s expectations for marriage. In fact, the apostle Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 7:1, 2: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (ESV).2 Again, this biblical passage unmistakably indicates that for people to be a couple and live together lawfully in God’s eyes, they should be married or risk living sexually immoral lives.
We believe God loves you and wants to save you and your partner regardless of what has happened or is happening in your lives. And the fact that a Christian church may accept into their fellowship a couple that is living together and not married doesn’t necessarily indicate they are condoning their behavior. Rather, by being welcoming to such a couple the church is showing interest in their salvation and is nurturing them to understand and accept the ways of God. On this note the Bible says in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
You are in our prayers as you accept God’s will and power in your life to be able to live to honor Him in all that you do.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Willie Oliver, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, family sociologist, and certified family life educator, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, a licensed clinical professional counselor, educational psychologist, and certified family life educator, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries.
You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org or at HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.
The original version of this story was published on Adventist World in October 2022.