There’s an intrinsic wisdom in God’s instruction that’s easy to miss. What may seem like arbitrary, antiquated rules are divine insights that protect us and position us for blessing.

For example, Scripture forbids chambering (Ro 13:13), co-habitation1, sharing the same bed like husband and wife without the formal commitment.

If anything is selfish, acting like we’re married without getting married is. It’s saying, “I like being with you, but I’m not so sure about you; you’re still on trial. I’m not in for the long haul just yet; I might find something better.” This certainly isn’t love.

We might rationalize and say we’re saving on rent and utilities while we make a trial run, but how is this helpful? Living together can’t show us what a committed relationship’s like because that’s not what we have; we can’t see what that’s like until we’re actually in one.

When we invest deeply without the foundation of trust grounded in a formal marriage commitment, we’re building our house on the sand. (Mt 7:26) We force upon ourselves the unnatural and awkward process of sharing expenses and responsibilities as business partners without a contract, rather than in the permanent, God-ordained synergy and interdependence of marriage.

And as we normalize halfhearted commitment in cohabitation limbo, we’re preparing ourselves more for divorce than for the devotion and security of marriage. Without a sure foundation, when (not if) difficulty comes, the stress and strain of life can easily overwhelm and destroy a relationship. (Mt 7:27)

And while we’re doing this to ourselves, by default we’re limiting our freedom to find stable, permanent relationships; each year invested with someone who’s unwilling to make a formal commitment is lost, one less year we have in this short life to become one with another. (Ge 2:24)

And if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no less difficult to disentangle ourselves and get out of harmful, dysfunctional, transient relationships without doing even more damage to our hearts in the process. We simply aren’t designed to live this way.

If our partner isn’t going to be our husband or wife, and someone else is, aren’t we defrauding our true spouse while we experiment with someone else? Until we’re actually married to the person we’re living with, that’s the chance we’re taking with the most important relationship on earth. (Ep 5:24-26)

God calls us to purity in all our relationships (1Ti 5:2), not to using each other for our own pleasure; the essence of any healthy relationship is in the giving, not the taking. (Ac 20:35) Leveraging extended family and community to vet potential mates is much wiser than yielding to chemistry and convenience; those who know and love us can almost always see what’s best for us. (Ep 5:21)

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The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage: Jay, M; The New York Times, April 14, 2012.

6 thoughts on “Chambering”

  1. The word chambering is from the Greek koite (koy-tay), meaning couch or bed. If it be argued that this isn’t a reference to cohabitation, in which there is evidently some level of commitment, but to fornication in which there is no appearance of commitment, I would say this is irrelevant. When the level of commitment is unstated, informal, the relationship is uncertain and self-serving, contrary to the spirit of God’s design. When a relationship is permanent and other’s-centered, it’s inappropriate for this to be unstated and informal.

  2. Tim,

    One would like to see the NYT print about 100 articles like this 🙂
    The point about selfishness — makes one look in the mirror a bit harder. I’d never noted the word chambering before.


    1. Thanks Stephen. Yes, it is an important word that I had not carefully considered as well.

  3. As my (physical and spiritual) brother wisely points out, if we’re living together to find out if we’re compatible for marriage, we’ve already started out on the wrong foot. The things that should be deal breakers in marriage, such as character, temperament, world view, work ethic, spirituality, can easily be learned without living together by engaging with each other in the context of close community and extended family.

    The irritating things we discover about a person by living with them are the things we overcome in marriage through our commitment to each other; men and women are vastly different and need to work together through these things to make a good marriage; there is no marriage that does not have these little irritations to overcome. (“But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.” 1Co 7:28)

    When we enter a live-in relationship looking for these kinds of things to put ourselves at ease in making a commitment, without having already made the commitment, we’re likely setting ourselves up for frustration and failure.

  4. To be complete, when defining chambering or living together outside of wedlock, we must carefully consider the definition of marriage itself.

    Can two people make the permanent commitment of marriage to each other as individuals before God without the sanction of the State or Church? While the wisdom of this type of informal relationship may rightly be questioned, it does beg the question of what actually constitutes a marriage.

    Does the State or Church actually create a marriage by proclaiming a man husband and wife? or do they just bring formal recognition to a marriage which already exists? If we are being careful, it is the latter: the scripture defines no role for either the State or Church in actually forming a marriage.

    The roles involved in forming a marriage comprise the groom and the father of the bride — when the bride is still dependent on her parents (“and the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;” De 22:16); mature women who no longer depend on their parents for provision may make this commitment as individuals. (“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” 1Co 7:39)

    So, Scripture condemns sex outside the permanent commitment of marriage (He 13:4), but not between two people who have this commitment but disvalue the approval and acceptance of their families and communities. This case is still unhealthy, but should be handled by counseling them to make their permanent commitment to each other public. If they are reluctant to do so, this is likely evidence they are not truly committed; a godly reason to keep their marriage a secret is difficult to imagine.

  5. Once we define marriage correctly, it becomes obvious that a marriage cannot be formed in a public ceremony, it can only be recognized and celebrated. What then should a husband and wife do once they have made this commitment, but before they plan their public wedding ceremony and celebration? Should they start living together and having sex beforehand?

    While this may not be unscriptural in the sense of it being cohabitation or fornication, it is disrespectful and confusing to community for two people to start acting out their marriage before it is formally and publicly recognized and celebrated.

    While such behavior technically falls within the boundaries of marriage by definition, when we ignore local customs and protocols we’re being unwise, shortsighted, selfish and unloving. Most people don’t have a biblical understanding of what actually forms a marriage and should be considered “weaker brothers” here; they will not understand what we are doing and will be troubled by it.

    Further, when we appear to be living in fornication, even though we aren’t, we’re inviting rumors, accusations, offenses, misunderstandings and all sorts of unhelpful concerns and confusion; it is not the ideal way to start a marriage relationship. We might even be encouraging others to cohabit who have not made this permanent commitment to one another, encouraging them by our example to sin against themselves and God. (1Co 8:9)

    We should avoid the appearance of evil (1Th 5:22), both for our own sakes and for the well-being of others. (Ro 14:19)

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