But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. But God gives to some the gift of marriage, and to others the gift of singleness. So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust. But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.1 Corinthians 7:7-11
Many interpreters from the era of the early church fathers held to the view that Paul was an aesetic and marriage was only to avoid fornication. Tertullian (200 ad) wrote that he believed Paul was saying it was evil for a man to touch a woman. Paul is often accused of being misguided in his advice on sex and marriage. Some say Paul gives his grudging approval to marriage. Others see there is nothing positive said in this chapter about love and marriage. There are others who think that Paul’s reason for getting married was just to have sex. It leaves one thinking was Paul just against marriage full stop.
Some suggest that Paul was once married. Paul was supposedly a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin which required that each member be married. If that is so then all those bad marriage jokes apply to Paul; it means he is rubbishing marriage having once experienced it. However, Paul never stated that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. He definitely seemed to be on the path, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14). However, there is no clear statement in Scripture that Paul became a member of the Sanhedrin. He was certainly numbered among the Pharisees. The Bible never says whether Paul was married or not, nor that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Some think that he was married at one time based on what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:5, “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” In fact this reference is not conclusive proof that Paul was married at one time. If he was then his wife likely passed away considering he never mentions her in any of his writings. Don’t forget Paul declared that he had the gift of celibacy in 1 Cor 7:1-7. Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 gives evidence that he was not married, at least at the time of his making this comment: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion”. Clearly, he was not married at that time, but whether he married afterward is also a matter of speculation. So, was the Apostle Paul married? Anything we come up with is all conjecture. I don’t believe Paul was married, to me the strength of his statements indicate he was not married. Furthermore we hear nothing about his wife, Mrs Paul at all.
How can we reconcile his comments about marriage in the context in which he is giving them. Paul is most likely speaking about men who are visiting prostitutes. Remember again the cultural context in Corinth at the time of Paul’s letter. It was a highly charged sexual environment. Initially he is talking to the Corinthians about curbing their dirty thoughts in the midst of a dirty world. For that reason he offers the advice, if there is too much pressure then marry to save yourself from the immorality of sex before marriage. But then adds the comment about whether you should marry or not. I feel the nature of the Corinthians initial question was likely to lean more toward should we marry or not? Hence Paul’s comments.
I believe his comments relating to not marrying or remaining single, are not meant as one state being better than the other, for everyone, but as a matter of whichever makes an individual more productive to their calling in this life. Some are more effective Christians married, while others are more effective Christians single. We will expand this thought in the following Gem.
As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take which course he will, he will be sure to repent.Socrates
By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.Socrates
It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I’m just a kid. I don’t need that kind of trouble. (when asked if it’s better to be single or married)Kenny, age 7