What does the Bible teach about shacking up?

What does the Bible teach about shacking up?

By Wesley McCarter | February 2022


The phrase “shacking up” has a long history in Christianity and in American society to convey the idea of cohabitation before marriage. This is often what Christians think of when using the term “fornication,” and sometimes the idea is simply referred to as “living together.” The phrase “shacking up” is used in a disapproving way because most Christians view this behavior as sinful. However, the question to ask is: Does the Bible teach against shacking up?


Many argue that shacking up is standard fare in the culture today. “Plenty of folks have done it with success,” they say. “Everyone should test the waters, take a test drive, try it out first,” are all common analogies to support the behavior. These are all pragmatic responses to what is a critical question. Christians are not pragmatists, however, on matters to which God has spoken directly. Christians are people of the Book, and the Lord is to be obeyed in all matters. He has given order and taught godliness to mankind.


The Scriptures are clear about the importance and holiness of marriage. Marriage is God-ordained for his own glory and for human flourishing. In a day when marriage is not viewed as a covenant but simply as an arrangement, Christians need to return to the Scriptures to see what God has revealed about the institution. Contemporary culture demeans marriage, at times, and often perceives it as trivial at best. Divorce is rampant. Shacking up is commonplace. Many have redefined marriage in such a way that it now has no meaning. The government has even contributed to the demise of marriage in American society. Nevertheless, Christians have God’s word for knowledge and wisdom on the subject. 


What does the Bible teach about shacking up? Starting from the beginning will help to orient God’s people to his will. The Scriptures record in the first book what God says about marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The Lord Jesus Christ echoed this creation mandate with the words: “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” (Matt 19:4-6). In light of what God had done, a man and a woman would become one from that point forward. Moving in and living together is a sign of marriage (“leaving and cleaving”). From the beginning of creation, two have become one. This is what God intended. After ruling out in his paragraph all other distorted forms of man-woman relationships, one commentator writes, “[T]hat God intended monogamous heterosexual life was shown by God’s creation of one man and one woman” (Bruner). Marriage was not an arrangement but was, and still is for the Christian, a covenant between a man and a woman. Included in the covenant language are the ideas of pledging oneself to the other, responsibility, loyalty, and unity.


The most robust argument that the Christian teacher or mentor might make from the Scriptures on this subject is the holiness of marriage. Men and women should not pretend to be husband and wife without actually becoming husband and wife. Shacking up is essentially “playing house.” This flies in the face of God’s design for men and women and makes a mockery of God’s law. Cohabitation over against marriage is a perversion of righteousness. God’s will for men and women in relationship is revealed in both natural and special revelation. Thus, the inspired author announces: “Marriage is to be honored by all, and the marriage bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13:4). This is the Christian, biblical view of the matter. Hence, Cockerill repeats, “The pastor would have them to do nothing that violates the marriage bond or belittles marriage,” and comments, “‘by all’ means none are exempt from this command—married or unmarried, young or old.” The commentator continues, “By beginning with the covenant of marriage rather than with individual chastity, the pastor confirms the fact that sexual misconduct is not merely a matter of private concern but has implications for the common life of the people of God” (Cockerill).


Marriage is to be honored by all for numerous reasons but primarily because of two. Already mentioned above is the God-glorifying, human-flourishing, creation order of marriage. If that was not enough, ideas from Ephesians might also be added. The apostle writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22), and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph 5:25). Why should wives submit to husbands and husbands love their wives in this thoroughly Christian way? The apostle testifies: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). Not only is marriage to be honored because of the creation mandates, but it is also to be honored because of the witness it has to Christ and his church. A mystery is something that was previously obscure but has now been revealed. This happens through a new revelation. A God-designed marriage between a man and a woman points to the greater reality of the relationship between Christ and the church. In turn, the relationship between Christ and the church becomes the pattern for flourishing marriages.


To reiterate, shacking up flies in the face of God’s design and law. Marriage is to be honored among all. So, any relationship between a man and a woman outside of marriage that resembles, replaces, mocks, or rejects it is dishonorable and will not bring the blessing of the Lord God. Shacking up is a cheap knockoff of the beauty, wonder, holiness, and blessing of marriage.


Additionally, a Christian ought to consider his or her witness before others with this aberrant behavior (Rom 14:13). He or she should consider the many warnings of Scripture to flee from the very appearance of evil (Prov 3:7; 1 Thess 5:22; 1 Tim 2:22). Not only that, but cohabitation almost always leads to premarital sexual relations which are expressly forbidden in Scripture (Rom 12:2; 13:14; 1 Thess 4:3; 5:22; 1 Cor 6:18; Col 3:5). Consider the seventh commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod 20:14). Inherit in this foundational command is the honor of marriage and the condemnation of any and all forms of sexual relationships outside of the God-ordained covenant of marriage. Shacking up, premarital sex, and any form of fornication is damaging to relationships, people, families, and churches in emotional, mental, and spiritual ways that one may not even realize (and sometimes physical ways as well). Disciples of Jesus, then, should guard each one’s dignity, calm his or her own emotions, temper one’s own appetites, protect oneself from temptation and sin, practice patience, and pursue righteousness. Christian men and women should pursue marriage, as defined by Scripture. Getting married is the best course of action to prevent against God’s displeasure, hurting others, damaging one’s witness, or falling into immorality (1 Cor 7:2, 9).


For those who have done things their way rather than God’s way, there is hope for renewal. You can be restored to holiness. The Gospel declares the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus. Sincere repentance before God will be met with forgiveness and cleansing. Repentance, for some, may look like moving out until the wedding takes place, or for others it may look like getting married this week, or for yet others it may mean breaking off the relationship. The one (or two, if both are believers) shacking up who repents must determine what the fruits of that repentance will be. God will forgive.


May marriage be honored by all and the marriage bed undefiled.