Today and Friday we field two questions about premarital pregnancies, one involving a believer and an unbeliever, and another scenario with two professing believers. First, this one: Does a premarital pregnancy nullify the ‘unequally yoked’ prohibition? The question arrives from a listener named Patrick, a pastor.
“Hello, Pastor John, thank you for how this podcast serves me as a pastor. A young couple at my church is unmarried, and they have a child together. They are now living in a state of chastity, apart. The man is not a believer. She is. They plan to marry, though I have advised her not to marry him unless he becomes a believer (based on 2 Corinthians 6:14–18). Categorically speaking, am I correct here? Or does the bringing of a child together into the world override Paul’s ‘unequally yoked’ principle?”
Only in the Lord
I think Patrick’s interpretation and instincts are correct. I would simply add a few passages of Scripture and draw out some practical implications.
“Having sex before marriage or even giving birth to a child before marriage does not change Paul’s instructions for Christian marriage.”
Patrick refers to 2 Corinthians 6:14, where Paul calls believers not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Even more direct to this issue of marrying an unbeliever is Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” That’s Paul’s explicit statement. Christians marry only people “in the Lord” — who are Christians.
Of course, behind these two commands for believers to marry only believers is the wisdom that marriage ought to be built on the foundation of faith in Christ with all the challenges and goals of marriage shaped by the lordship of Jesus Christ. This can’t be in a union where one does not submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
I think these commands from the apostle stand as the perpetual guide for marriage in the Christian church, and the fact that a person has had sex before marriage, or even given birth to a child before marriage, does not change this instruction.
Creating a Covenant
Now, in support of that conviction, I would point to 1 Corinthians 6:15–18:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh” [that’s a quote from Genesis 2:24]. But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality.
Now, it seems to me that we can infer from this warning against sex outside marriage that Paul does not believe that such a sexual union creates a covenant. This is all the more striking, isn’t it, because he says it does create a kind of one-flesh union, even with a prostitute: “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?” (1 Corinthians 6:16).
Then he quotes this amazing text that applies to marriage: “for the two will become one flesh.” If anywhere Paul is going to say that a person is bound to marry someone with whom they have had a one-flesh union, this would be it. “Say it, Paul. Don’t you mean that?” But he doesn’t. He doesn’t mean that.
Sexual union is precious, unique, and profound. It is intended by God as the consummation of a marriage covenant. But by itself — isolated out there in some brothel or in some house at the beach as teenagers — it does not create a covenant. Isolated from the marriage covenant, it doesn’t create a marriage covenant.
I think we can go one step further. If a one-flesh union does not create a marriage covenant, then the fruit of that one-flesh union — namely, a precious child — does not create a covenant either. It doesn’t create a marriage.
It seems to me that the biblical instruction to marry only in the Lord stands, even though there has been a sexual union, and even though there has been the fruit of that sexual union — a child.
Consequences of Sin
Now, of course this raises enormously difficult issues. The couple that Patrick refers to have already evidently walked through some of these difficulties. They’ve kept the baby alive and evidently are publicly known as having had sex together to produce this child, all of which, of course, must have been painful.
“There are no easy answers to the circumstances created by sin.”
Now there are legal issues, of course. There are moral and legal questions: Who will be the primary parent of this child if they don’t marry? What kind of financial responsibilities are there for the parent who’s not immediately raising the child if they don’t marry? What kind of access will both parents have to the child if they don’t marry?
But here’s the greatest pastoral challenge, perhaps: Can you help this couple, especially the Christian woman, see twenty or thirty years into the future and what a twenty- or thirty-year marriage with an unbeliever will be like? Whether the marriage will even survive?
The present problems look much bigger to them right now than those distant problems. They’re not. They’re not.
It is very difficult, probably, for this Christian young woman to imagine two or three years from now falling in love with a different man who’s a Christian and having a fifty-year marriage of unity and common faith with him. But that is what she should dream about — or if not, then waiting prayerfully for the Lord to give new life to this child’s father.
There are no easy answers to the circumstances created by sin. May God give you, Patrick, great wisdom as you counsel them, and may he give this Christian woman, especially, grace and courage and far-seeing vision to act wisely.