The Surprising Biblical Truth About Marriage and Why Living Together Falls Short

  • Dr. James Emery White
  • Published May 15, 2024
The Surprising Biblical Truth About Marriage and Why Living Together Falls Short

I have long believed that two things undermine bringing the Bible to bear on contemporary issues. First, a failure to understand why culture is embracing a particular idea or practice, and second, a failure to present the Bible’s alternate vision in a winsome and compelling way. Understanding “why” helps you build bridges of connection and empathy, and presenting an alternate vision moves beyond the dead end of mere judgment to the promise of evangelism.

Let’s take a rather tame example, such as the abundance of people living together outside of marriage. Statistically, 95 out of 100 people will get married or are planning to. More than 70% of those who marry live together before marriage.

Why are they choosing to do that? There are several reasons that, from their perspective, make perfect sense.

First,  it seems like you have everything to win and absolutely nothing to lose. It’s like taking a car for a test drive. Who wants to buy a car they’ve never sat behind the wheel of? It seems to make sense you would want to live together for a season first to see whether you could live together for life. If you didn’t live together first, and then found out during the first week of marriage that you couldn’t stand living together, well, that just seems like a recipe for divorce.

Second, isn’t it a natural, almost organic progression in the relationship? You date, you live together, and then see whether marriage is for you. Step by step into increasing levels of commitment, or at least step by step into seeing whether there can be increasing levels of commitment.

And then, third, there’s all the practical, logistical matters of life. I need a roommate to share the rent, so why not live with the person I’m dating? I’m moving to a new city for a new job, and we don’t want to break up, so she moves with me. And it’s too expensive to have two separate apartments.                  

That’s just a taste of the thinking behind living together before marriage. So how best to respond? Well, what if you began by acknowledging the common-sense nature of their perspective and then instead of condemning it, cast an alternate vision that is more engaging? The Bible certainly has one.

If you know why they are living together, you can talk about those reasons in a way that is much more helpful and enlightening. For example, think about the “test drive” reasoning. Research finds that people who live together first and then eventually marry actually increase their odds of getting a divorce.

But what is the alternate vision?

The first thing the Bible says about marriage is that it is the first and most foundational of all institutions. God created us a race of men and a race of women for more than just procreation. He dreamed of marriage, weaving it into the creation narrative itself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraced his wife. They become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Msg).

Marriage was ordained by God and set apart by God before children, before the family, before government, before the Church, at the very onset of creation. It is the foundational institution for all that God has created and designed. That’s why the Bible says that when people get married, the idea is not a legal contract nor a social contract. No, instead the two become one. 

The Greek word in the Bible that we translate “becoming one” was the word kollomenos, and it literally reads “glued together.” Marriage needed to be that strong of a foundation. Why? Because everything else would be resting on it. It couldn’t be seen as transitory, superficial, plastic or weak. If everything rested on it, it had to be the most solid and strong institution of all.

Second, marriage depicts the supernatural union between Jesus and the Church.  

God created us, and instead of returning that love, we went into rebellion mode. Yet His love never relented. Though our sins deserved separation from Him, He kept reaching out to us out of that love. God loved us so radically that He came to planet Earth in the Person of Jesus to not only lay down His life for ours, paying for our sin, but also to then call us back into relationship with Him.

That’s where the Church comes in.

The word “church” is from the Greek word ecclesia. It literally means the “called out ones.” We’ve been called into a relationship with Jesus, and then through that into a relationship with each other. Which means the relationship between Jesus and the Church is what history has been about. We were created to be in relationship with Him, and He’s done everything He can to reach out, so when it’s actually consummated, when it actually happens, when someone actually enters into that relationship, it’s everything.

So how does the Bible talk about that incredible moment? When somebody comes to Christ, what could possibly be holy enough, special enough, sacred enough, honored enough, to capture the love dynamic between Christ and those who have come to Him as Leader and Forgiver, Savior and Lord? What could describe His love that would die for us, and our love that would repent and return to Him?


It’s the only word strong enough, encompassing enough, deep enough, compelling enough, to capture it. As the apostle Paul wrote: 

“... as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior... just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... and to present her to himself as a radiant church... we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:23, 25, 27, 31-32, NIV)

A third biblical teaching about marriage is that marriage is the event that God has selected to consummate all of time. This is what John records in the book of Revelation about what is going to happen at the end of time for those of us who are followers of Christ:

“After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven, shouting: ‘... Salvation and glory and power belong to our God....’ [All] fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne.... Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘... For our Lord God almighty reigns.... For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.’” (Revelation 19:1, 4, 6-7, NIV)

At the end of all time, when the final chapter on this life is closed and the first chapter of eternity is opened, at the grand moment when those in Christ are united with Christ to enter Heaven, it is not going to be done through a coronation. It’s not done through a graduation. It isn’t done through an installation, inauguration, or initiation.

It’s done through a wedding.

Because nothing speaks to the supreme union and intimacy between human beings and God more than that institution.  

From this, the Bible finally and simply declares that marriage is to be held in the highest honor (Hebrews 13:4).

Kind of makes just living together seem like a very cheap substitute. And that’s the goal: not condemnation,

... but conversion.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Sandy Millar 
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on XFacebook, and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.