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SINGLE AND CONTENT: Was Paul for Marriage or Singleness In 1 Corinthians 7? Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

Sometimes married folks say to me, "Consider it a blessing that you're not married."  Then they quote Paul in 1 Cor 7:8 "But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I."  And sometimes they cite verses 32-33, "One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord…. But one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife."  If all I had were these quotes, I'd believe that neither Paul nor married people are really in favor of marriage—after all, it takes time to love and care for your spouse. 


However, Paul might have had something else in mind.  If Paul is saying in 1 Cor 7 that marriage isn't really all it's crack up to be, then he disagrees with the rest of Scripture.  And since I believe that the entire Bible is God's inspired word, I can't accept the way most people quote Paul on marriage and the "blessings of singleness."


Didn't God say of Adam in Gen 2:18 that it wasn't good for him to be alone?  Granted, Adam was alone in a way that most single folks aren't today (we do have other humans to interact with), but, people today still get lonely.  And because people desire companionship as Adam did, then God grants them the privilege of marriage (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31).


Too often people overlook what Paul says in 1 Cor 7:26 and 28 about a time of distress or trouble.  Could it be that Paul mentioned remaining single in light of persecution that had fallen upon the church?


Too quickly people quote 1 Cor 7 and Mat 19 without paying attention to the context.  Jay Adams was onto something significant when he said, "The general rule of Genesis 2:18 applies to most people, and (in general) has always been true.  The exception given in 1 Corinthians 7…applies to extraordinary circumstances ("Because of the impending crisis"—1 Cor. 7:26)" (Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, 10).  In other words, Adams is saying we should pay more attention to Paul's phrase "Because of the impending crisis."  Apparently persecutions and such were making marriage unwise at the time.


If Paul wasn't a big fan of marriage, we're left with this contradictory idea about marriage: It is a good thing from God (Pro 5:18-19; 18:22; 19:14; Heb 13:4), with Paul saying, "No, it's not really all that great."  We do married folks a disservice when we declare that it's more spiritual to be single than married.  It's like we're saying, married people are weak because they caved into God's second-rate plan—marriage.  And we don't help singles either by telling them that their God-given desires for marriage are less than God's best. 


In 1 Cor 7, Paul says there are particularly hard times that had come upon the church that warranted avoiding marriage.  That's why he says in verse 27, "Are you bound to a wife?  Do not seek to be released.  Are you released from a wife?  Do not seek a wife."  Marriage is binding so Paul didn't want spouses leaving each other because of persecutions or other hardships.  But he wasn't opposed to marriage.  Paul says in verse 28 that "if you should marry, you have not sinned."


Nonetheless, some will quibble with me, "Doesn't Paul say in 1 Cor 7:1 that it is good for a man not to touch a woman?"  Yes he does.  However, he could have been quoting what the Corinthians had said to him.  Verse 2 clearly resounds Paul's true opinion about marriage: "But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife…."  Although verses 7-8 indicate that Paul was fine the way he was (presumably single), Paul was definitely for marriage (see 1 Tim 4:3-5).


In 1 Cor 7: 9, Paul essentially says, "What's the point of being single if all you do is smolder in lust…get married."  In this verse Paul admits that sexual fulfillment is a good reason for marriage.  For some, this may sound unspiritual, but Paul was okay with it. 


Now let's take a look at 1 Tim 5:11-12 where Paul might seem to look unfavorably on marriage.  It says, "But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge."


Although 1 Tim 5:11-12 may at first glance lead us to believe Paul's not all that crazy about marriage, it's possible that the "incurring condemnation" isn't because the younger widows wanted to be married, but for their "sensual desires in disregard for Christ."  Verse 14 shows that Paul thought married life, with all of it's pleasures and responsibilities, was a good solution for keeping these young widows out of trouble.


This is not to say that marriage is perfect or that married people never struggle with lust.  But God designed marriage to fulfill many of our longings for human companionship, as well as to give us a picture of his union with us.  Married people should keep that in mind the next time they're explaining to a single person why he or she should rejoice in the gift of singleness.  Not everyone has the gift of celibacy that Mat 19 or 1 Cor 7:7 talk about.


For those of us who are single, we do need to learn contentment, just as married folks have to learn to be content with the spouses they have.  But that doesn't mean that single folks shouldn't hope to marry.  After all, if marriage really is the good thing that God says it is, shouldn't singles want to get in on the action too?


Aug 2002


Kevin is now happily married and believes he has gotten in on a good thing.

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