Is cohabitation marriage in the Bible, and when does grace end? We will start by defining marriage, do some horizontal studies and consider some customs before we apply the principle to our context. Then we will show when grace takes leave.
When God created Adam, he told him he needed a helpmeet (Gen 2:18). Why help meet? Because God has given him the garden to take care of. Now He needs someone to help him in that field, and that person was not among animals (Gen 2:20), so God made a woman (Gen 2:21 -23). Thenceforth, the man will leave his mother and father and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24).
So then, does God sanction cohabitation, after all the mere definition of marriage means cohabitation? The mistake many people make is that, they end on this definition of marriage. The word marriage has about four definitions. It means cohabitation or dwell together as used in Ex 21:10. In this passage, it refers to the institution. Then it could mean clear or agree or matching as used in Ps 78:63. It could also mean custom or act as used in Matt 22:30, and I Cor 7:38. In our context, we are talking about the institution, which means cohabitation.
To have a good interpretation, we must do some horizontal studies by asking some questions. If Marriage is mere cohabitation, then why does God call some sex adultery (Mt 5:27 -28), fornication (Jn 8:41) or sin (I Cor 6:18 -20) in plain language? As such, we have to go back to some customs especially the Jewish custom to arrive at our conclusion.
In Israel, for anything to be considered marriage, parents must approve it (Gen 21:8). It was on that ground that parents were paid the dowry or bride price; price for a wife (Gen 34:12; Ex 22:17; I Sam 18:25; Deut 22:29). At times, the bride's father made the gifts or paid the price (Joshua 15:125-19; I kings 9:16). After the bride price has been paid, or the gifts given, then there was a ceremony which was organized by the bride’s family (Gen 29:22). It was on this basis that Jesus attended the one in Cana where he turned water into wine (Jn 2:10). At times, the party could also be organized by the groom’s family too (Judges 14:10). The climax of the ceremony came with the pronouncement of the benediction (Gen 26:60; 28:1-4). In every marriage ceremony, there must be witnesses (Ruth 4:1-11, I Sam 8:1-3). Considering the custom, we realize that the two people had to come before the council and even disvirgin the girl with a white cloth placed underneath to collect the blood that will drop out from breaking the hymen ( Deut 22:13-21). Therefore, that again annuls the existence of elopements or mere cohabitation. Yet, shall we then just apply the Jewish tradition? Not at all!
Considering that no theological statement was made in a cultural vacuum, we then want to assimilate the principle of custom approval to our situation. For instance, a relationship is considered marriage in the US when the two have signed papers in court or have lived in a situation of lawful Common Law Marriage (CLM). Anything short of that is illicit relation. Thus, boyfriend and girlfriend having sex or living together is sin. Notwithstanding, CLM is practiced only in 11 States in the US . In those states where CLM is accepted, I believe God accepts it too because the law of the land accepts it and the concept is morally sustained. The place of the church is the same token of the benediction that took place, yet the benediction was based on the belief that these same people making those pronouncements were worthy of them.
In Africa, you finish with the customary marriage before you go to the court, then finally the church, before you start to consummate your marriage. In that case, if you have signed the court papers without even celebrating it in church, you have the divine approval to “enjoy”.
Therefore, because we are and must be subjected to the law of the land if it agrees with the scripture (Rom 13:1-4), which this one does, then we must respect the fact that marriage can only be considered when both parties have a marriage certificate.
However, if we do sin in fornication when non-Christians, the Bible says there is forgiveness because it is considered a time of ignorance (Acts 17:30) for which the blood of Jesus pre and post blots out (Eph 1:7; 2:13, Col 1:20; Heb 9:12). But if we fall in sin, and we confess, God will forgive us (Prov 28:13; I John 1:9). Nonetheless, as you know, cohabitation is not falling in sin; it is practicing sin. That is living in sin! Consequently, grace is not tantamount to perpetual sinning (Rom 6:1-2; Heb 10:29). As such, there is no longer any sacrifice for perpetual sin (Heb 10:26) because we will be crucifying the son of God the second time. To obtain forgiveness for that sin, the perpetrators must break up.
When we believe, it means we are dieing to sin and then resurrecting to a newness of life (Rom 6:4-6). That means, we have to bring forth fruits worthy of our confession. The fruits of this confession are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, self control and perseverance (Gal 5:22-23); thereby, excluding the works of the flesh which include illicit sex because them who practice (not fall into) illicit sex will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
The concept of saved by grace (Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9) does not negate a righteous living, for we are called Christians (Acts 11:26); which means little Christ. Therefore, we are representing Christ when we are called ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20). As Ambassadors, the code of conduct obliges us to be an example and cohabitation is not a good example for anyone representing Christ.
Until then, let us live to the honor of God our maker.
Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk