In the previous post, I introduced the topic of professing Christians “shacking up”, or cohabiting before marriage. I brought up a few common arguments for why professing believers may think about “the shack up”, and then I laid the foundation on which there can be some sort of positive resolution to the issue: the authoritative word of God.
So if we can meet on that foundation, let’s spend a little time in the scripture. We’re going to address some specific questions that will fence us in for arriving at an answer to the question of whether or not Christians should we move in together.
Question 1 – Does the Bible mention cohabitation?
Answer 1 – Not in the contemporary sense, no.
If we’re being honest, we don’t want to read anything into or out of the silence of the Bible on the issue, since arguments from silence aren’t exactly arguments.
Now one could attempt to stretch the text in some places to attempt to speak to the issue, like Ruth 3:13. In Ruth 3:13, when Boaz wakes up and finds Ruth at his feet, he tells her to stay the night. Still, in Ruth 3:14 it reads “So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, ‘Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.’ ” So, if one were trying to stretch that passage, one cannot miss that both Ruth and Boaz knew how it would look if she was seen coming out of his threshing floor early in the morning. That recognition of appearances is, in itself, suggestive, but not exactly a firm statement on the topic at hand.
There are a few other texts that a person could attempt to stretch, but the result is the same. The harder you stretch a text, the farther away you get from the meaning of the text.
When you’re looking for a biblical position on an issue, it’s best to look at the passages of Scripture that directly address the topic, or the issues, at hand.
This brings us to the next question.
Question 2 – Does the Bible mention sexual morality?
Answer 2 – You bet!
This should be absolutely no shock to anyone who professes to be a Christian. The Bible talks about adultery, divorce, homosexuality, and various other issues related to sexual conduct and sin, but we’re not looking for some general statements about sexual morality. We’re looking for something directly addressing the question of pre-marital sex…because if that’s out, then the question of shacking up is pretty much done.
Well, that is unless you’re one of those people who think anyone would believe that you’re going to be living together without sleeping together.
And that’s the real A-Team van too.
That leads us to our next question.
Question 3 – Does the Bible mention premarital sex?
Answer 3 – Yes indeed, though it doesn’t use the phrase “premarital sex”.
The Bible does lay out a framework that addresses the concept though. Let’s take a serious look at one specific text that definitely addresses this issue. Our text is Ephesians 5:1-5, which reads,
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Eph. 5:1 gives the general command. In light of what has come before in Eph. 4 (the forgiveness extended in 4:32, the sealing for the day of redemption in 4:30, etc.), the professing believer should live as an imitator of their heavenly father. This is befitting of a child who is loved and cared for (all children copy their parents, but good parents are worthy of emulation). Christians should copy God, but how?
Eph. 5:2 gives a framework for answering the question of “how” Christians should copy their adopted father. They need to “walk” in love, or live a life that is marked out by a continual pattern of love. This isn’t an emotional expression of affection either, but is rather an active giving up of self for others. Christ also didn’t just give himself up in part. Rather, he offered himself “for us” as a ” fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. In other words, Christ laid down his life for believers. In this way, Christ has modeled the love that Christians should exemplify.
Christians shouldn’t just occasionally help one another. Christians should put their lives (meaning their own desires and well-being) aside for the benefit of others. That is how Christians should copy their heavenly father.
Then, after laying out that general command in 5:2 that is an expansion of the general command in 5:1, Paul gets painfully specific in describing what sort of “laying down your life” he’s talking about. In Eph. 5:3 Paul gives three commands when he writes,
” But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints”
3a. The first command is that is “sexual immorality…must not even be named among you.” The phrase “sexual immorality” (sometimes translated “fornication”) is translated from the Greek term porneia and is used to refer to any sexual relationship outside a marriage covenant, where as “adultery” is translated from moicheia (which is not in Eph. 5:3) which refers to any sexual relationship in violation of a marriage covenant. Adultery involves sexual intercourse that is contra-marital and where as “sexual immorality” involves sexual intercourse that is extra-marital. It is worth noting that both terms refer specifically to physical sexual intercourse.
Just because there is a lot of confusion about porneia out there, let me pound out a quick but comprehensive word study. Porneia occurs 26 times in the New Testament: Matt. 5:32, 15:19, 19:9; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Acts 15:20, 29, 21:25; Rom. 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:1, 6:13, 6:18, 7:2; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3; Rev. 2:21, 9:21, 14:8, 17:2, 4, 18:3, 19:2.
In Matt. 5:32, it’s clearly referring to extra-marital sexual intercourse (if a man divorces his wife for sleeping around, she’s already an adulterer). The term carries the same idea (extra-marital sexual intercourse) in the rest of the passages with (i.e. every usage in 1 Corinthians is unquestionable), though a few may look confusing on the surface.
When it appears in “sin lists” (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; Gal. 5:19), it almost always appears alongside “adultery”. I’d suggest that this is because adultery and sexual immorality cover all possible occurrences of sexual intercourse exterior to the covenant of marriage. Like I previously said, adultery is sexual intercourse in violation of the marriage covenant and sexual immorality is sexual intercourse outside the marriage covenant. Think along the lines of contra-marital and extra-marital.
The only other confusing passages are Rom. 1:29, Col. 3:5 and Rev. 9:21. In Rom. 1:29, “adultery” doesn’t appear there at all and I’d suggest the reason lies in the people group being discussed (see 1:26-27). In Col. 3:5, the list is similar to the one in Eph. 5:3 and includes similar terms/concepts, though in a less focused list. In Rev. 9:21, it seems pretty easy to point out that the passage takes place during the Tribulation; a period of time when people won’t exactly be concerned with making any sort of marriage vows before God. Outside of those three unclear passages, every other passage where porneia appears is discussing physical sexual intercourse.
So porneia “must not even be named among you”, since that is proper for someone who claims to follow Christ. In other words, don’t do it. Ever. There shouldn’t even be suspicions of it, nor should there be questions about it nor believable accusations of it. It’s that dangerous because it leads to porneia, and porneia is deadly serious.
Deadly serious? Really?
Don’t worry. We’ll get to that.
This then leads to the second term in Eph. 5:3.
3b. The second command is that is “impurity…must not even be named among you.” The second term comes from the Greek term akatharsia (translated “impurity”) and this term speaks of something that is “unclean”, as in morally stained. The term appears alongside porneia in 2 Cor. 12:21, Gal. 5:19 and Col. 3:5 as part of a list of various sexual sins, and also carries a sexual idea in Rom. 1:24 and 1 Thess. 4:7. In the other four occurrences in the New Testament (Matt. 23:27; Rom. 6:19; Eph. 4:19; 1 Thess. 2:3) it carries a more general idea of being unclean. I would strongly argue that the term carries a sexual tone (though it also suggest more than just sexual impurity) here as it does a majority of times it occurs in the writings of Paul. Akatharsia covers the bases (pun definitely intended) outside of porneia, which would basically mean all the physical actions that would lead a person to porneia.
Without being crass, this basically refers to all the physical stuff that would ever give the wrong person “mixed messages”.
Again, akatharsia “must not even be named among you”, since that is proper for someone who claims to follow Christ. In other words, don’t do it. Ever. It’s that dangerous because akatharsia is deadly serious.
Again? Deadly serious? Really?
Don’t worry. We’ll get to that.
This then leads to the third term in Eph. 5:3.
3c. The third command is that “covetousness must not even be named among you.” The third term is pleonexia, which refers to a “desire for more”. In the only other mention in Ephesians, it refers to a general sort of “desire”, but in this passage I would argue that the term is referring to a desire for more of something of a sexual nature. Now if I’m being honest, the term is only used with a sexual connotation elsewhere in 2 Pet. 2:14. The common usage of the term is of a general sort of “desire”. So why do I suspect it has a sexual nature here? Well, the meaning of porneia is clear and the meaning of akatharsia is also relatively clear, but Paul anticipates a practical question and preemptively addresses it in the following verse. The question is “where do I start in order to stop myself from falling into porneia?
Paul doesn’t leave the church in Ephesus hanging. Paul unpacks exactly what sort of manifestation of pleonexia he’s thinking of, and gives his readers three concrete places to “nip sin in the bud”, so to speak. In Eph. 5:4 Paul writes, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.“
4a. The term “filthiness” comes from the Greek term aischrotes, which only appears here. That is significant because when Paul manufactures or imports a term, he desires to get a very specific idea across to his readers. The term comes from aischyno, which occurs five times in the New Testament (Luke 16:13; 2 Cor. 10:8; Phil. 1:20; 1 Pet. 4:16; 1 John 2:28) and is translated as some form of “shame” each time. In other words, the idea here is that Christians shouldn’t talk in a manner that would cause them shame if they were discovered. Everything you say to someone of the opposite sex should be able to be said in front of the whole church without bringing yourself shame.
4b. The phrase “foolish talk” comes from the Greek term morologia, which is a compound word of moros (from which we get the English “moron”) and logos (which is the Greek term for “word”). The term only appears here and again, that is significant because Paul manufactures or imports a term to get a very specific idea across to his readers. The idea here is that Christians shouldn’t talk in a moronic or foolish manner. Everything you say to someone of the opposite sex should be able to be said in front of the whole church without bringing yourself accusations of being a fool.
4c. The phrase “crude joking” comes from the Greek term eutrapelia, which is a compound of eu (which means “well”) and trope (which means “turning”). The term only appears here and again, that is significant because Paul manufactures or imports a term to get a very specific idea across to his readers. The idea is that Christians shouldn’t talk in a manner that turns words, and every single teenager knows exactly what this is all about. This is the teenage art of turning anything into an allegory for something sexual. Everything you say to someone of the opposite sex should be able to be said in front of the whole church without bringing yourself accusations of having a dirty mind.
So as a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t say it in front of your church, don’t say it to someone of the opposite sex.
This fills out the picture of what to avoid and how: Porneia refers to the physical act of sexual intercourse, akatharsia (in this passage) refers to the physical actions that lead to porneia, and pleonexia refers to the desire (as manifest in one’s talk) to participate in akatharsia toward the end of porneia. This means that you shouldn’t talk with the opposite sex about subjects that are sexually charged in nature, or make jokes that involve twisting an innocent meaning to make it into something sexual.
In other words, the battle for sexual purity is won or lost at the level of your tongue. The questions of physical issues (kissing, petting, etc.) aren’t even on the table.
Finally, Paul gets to the big question of why. In Eph. 5:5 Paul says, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Here Paul restates the three terms of Eph. 5:3 and states why they “must not even be named among you”. This is the “deadly serious” part. The reason is simple: people who are marked by sexual immorality, impurity or covetousness don’t get any part of the kingdom. To say it another way, people who are sexually active outside of marriage, or who are marked by getting physical with the opposite sex, or people who are marked by sexually explicit talk, aren’t going to end up in Heaven.
To say it more crassly, the guy who sleeps around and claims to be a Christian is a liar.
The girl who’s the youth group skank most likely isn’t a Christian.
The guy who makes dirty jokes around the youth group skank because she’s the youth group skank (with hopes of being her next skank) most likely isn’t a Christian either.
You bet they’re hard words.
Stuff like this reads like absolute insanity to every single human being who isn’t operating on a biblical worldview where the scripture is actually the very word of God. Then again, everyone working outside of a biblical worldview would stop reading at Eph. 5:2. Christ calls everyone who follows him to give themselves up for others, and that goes against everything that the unregenerate world stands for. With regards to a believers relationships with the opposite sex, Eph. 5:3-5 is what giving yourself up looks like. If Eph. 5:3-5 seems like absolute crazy talk, the problem isn’t with the morality of the Bible. The problem is with your moral compass.
So then, let’s wrap this up a tad.
I’ve only gone through one specific text of scripture, but it’s a pointed text that gives a framework from which to evaluate the topic at hand. Ephesians 5:1-5 seems fairly clear that sexual immorality (being understood as any sexual intercourse outside of a marriage covenant) is completely off the list of options, as are the two steps that lead to sexual immorality. People shouldn’t even be able to make substantiated accusations of such things against Christians.
The same goes for impurity (meaning all the physical stuff that precedes sexual intercourse) and covetousness (meaning all the ways a person uses their tongue in efforts to pursue impurity or sexual immorality). So the question then remains:
Does moving in together make covetousness, impurity or sexual immorality more likely or less likely?
Does moving in together give people reasonable basis for accusations of covetousness, impurity or sexual immorality?
Can you still do it?
Well, think of it this way. The apostle Paul lays out an option for you:
You can choose to share a place with someone you’re not married to, but that choice means you’re also choosing to not share a place (namely “the kingdom”) with Christ.
In other words, “Christians” who move in together are openly declaring they’re not really Christians.
I said it.
Unless my exegesis is wrong, God said it.
This post has gotten more than long enough, but there’s most certainly a whole lot more said about these issues in the scripture. Here’s a few passages to investigate further (but it’s certainly not a comprehensive list):
Gen 2:18-25; Ex 22:16; Lev 19:29; 21:9; Deut 22:20-29, 23:18; Matt 19:1-9; 1 Cor 6:13-20, 7:2, 7:8-9; Eph. 5:1-21; Col 3:5-6; Heb 13:4; 1 Thess 4:1-8, 5:22.
Also, there are plenty of questions and conundrums, and I’m guessing that you have more than a few. I’ll address a variety of questions and conundrums in the next post.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Let the comment craziness begin” Unger