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The Apostle Paul on Marriage and Singleness

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Does the Bible consider marriage a kind of second-class state?

As a single adult, I resent the Christian community putting so much emphasis on the importance of marriage. I think that our modern prejudices blind us to the significance of the apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:7, “I wish that all men were even as I myself” — in other words, single. To me, that sounds like singleness is the ideal.

 


ANSWER:

Marriage isn’t for everybody. And yes, from the biblical point of view there’s a lot to be said for the advantages of single life. But we don’t agree that “marriage is a second-class state” or that “singleness is the ideal.”

If that were true, why did God say from the very beginning that it’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)? Why did He purposely make humans male and female (Genesis 1:27)? Why did He create a helpmate for Adam  (Genesis 2:18)? Why did He bless Adam and Eve with the words, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)?

Those statements make it clear that marriage is anything but a “second-class state.” On the contrary, marriage is vital to the design of creation. It’s central to the Lord’s original intentions for the human race.

Along those lines, there’s an important difference between singleness and a genuine spiritual calling to celibacy. We have to be careful not to confuse the two.

The difference between singleness and celibacy

Singleness is circumstantial. It happens to people for all kinds of reasons: not being able to find a mate, death of a spouse, difficult family situations, medical or financial difficulties. The list goes on and on.

Celibacy, on the other hand, is a vocation. It’s a rare gift that God grants only to a few special individuals (see Matthew 19:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:7). And the charge of living a completely asexual life is a difficult standard (and an asexual life is what celibacy implies for a serious Christian). That’s why we consider marriage such an important part of the divine plan for the average believer (1 Corinthians 7:2).

Paul doesn’t pull any punches in this regard: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

The practical application? If you’re single and aren’t convinced that you have a clear calling to the celibate life, you should think seriously about exploring the option of marriage.

Objectively, we cannot know ahead of time whether marriage or singleness will sanctify us more or honor God more. Does the internal reality of our heart lean us into the designs of marriage or the designs of singleness? (Married or Single: For Better or Worse)

Is marriage better than singleness?

Whether married people are somehow superior to singles really isn’t the point — because the truth is that singleness can be a good thing in many situations and for a number of different reasons. However, we still believe that singleness is the exception to the rule. That’s the assumption underlying Paul’s entire discussion of the subject in 1 Corinthians 7.

In this passage, Paul is careful to distinguish between commandments from the Lord and pronouncements based on his own opinion (see verses 8, 10, 12, 25). He’s also clear that his ideas about advantages of the single life are largely a response to the practical necessities of the immediate historical situation (i.e., persecution and hardship — see 1 Corinthians 7:26). Whatever else he may be saying, it’s not that singleness is the norm for human life.

Marriage was instituted by God and is the norm for man–woman relationships, and it is a great blessing to mankind. But it is not required for believers or for anyone else. [Paul’s] point was: If you are single that is good, and if you are married or get married, stay married and retain normal marital relations, for that is of God. Spirituality is not determined by marital status. (Is Singleness Better Than Marriage?)

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