For centuries, even millennia, the Catholic church has maintained a position of monks and nuns who take a vow of celibacy to never marry. This vow is premised on the founding of a doctrine – a doctrine not actually found in the Bible.
Today, Christianity is fundamentally impacted by this ideology. The idea is founded on an interpretation of one of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, in which some modern interpretations state that it is better not to marry. However, this interpretation is based merely on the doctrinal beliefs of the interpreters, and in fact did not exist when the idea of celibate priests, monks, and nuns came into being.
The original King James Version English translation is probably the most accurate English translation of the original text in existence, although it does have its own flaws. A careful study of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reveals the truth to this theological fallacy perpetuated throughout the ages of Christianity.
The origins of a corrupted theology
The theology begins in 1 Corinthians 7:1 which states, in the King James version, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Some months ago I read an article which provided a compelling interpretation of this; however, in fact I do not believe it to be entirely accurate, but it does make a valid point: the modern scriptural interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:1 is not scripturally sound.
The idea presented by the other author is summed up in the following excerpt:
“The word that most Bibles translates ‘marriage’ is really synonymous with ‘sexual intercourse’ … So when Paul says not to touch a woman or not to marry, he is actually saying ‘it is good for a man not to be involved in sexual immorality.'”
If you are interested in reading more on that perspective, it can be found here: Is It Better Not To Marry? by Tim Challies. However, I am not going to take Tim’s approach to refute the false modern interpretation we have today, although the argument presented by him does perhaps have some validity.
Rather, I am going to directly take the Bible and explain why this is not merely a word issue such as a different meaning of the word marriage, but in fact a complete misreading of the entire chapter resulting in the Catholic church’s fallacious interpretation that it is “better not to marry”, which is unbiblical.
In order to set about refuting this interpretation I prayed that God could provide me discernment to see the truth. Almost immediately, I was shocked by what I saw in the very first verse that I had not seen before.
Refuting common arguments against the idea of biblical celibacy
So let us begin with 1 Corinthians 7:1 regarding the phrase “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” A possible interpretation and surely the one held by Tim is that this is not meaning to abstain from any sexual intercourse even in a marriage, but rather only abstaining from sexual relations outside of the marriage. While this is a possibility, I will explain why this is entirely irrelevant.
You may also be surprised to read why I am about to point out. It seems that when reading that verse, people have forgotten the first half of the verse. These are not Paul’s words. That is correct, Paul never even said that. The first part of the verse says, “concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me” – Paul was merely reiterating what the people from the church at Corinth had written to Paul.
Paul was not stating that this was valid, by no means. Paul merely restated what the people had written to him about, and then proceeded not to validate it but immediately contradict and refute it. The immediately following verse begins with the word “Nevertheless”, prose preparing for a refutation. The dictionary defines “nevertheless” as “in spite of what was just said”. In fact the original Greek uses the word “δὲ” which means “however”.
To summarize, while Paul stated “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”, he was not saying this was correct, but only saying that the Corinthians had mentioned that they thought that. Immediately Paul rebukes this false ideology by stating that “to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” Paul did not even once here validate, but instead wholly refuted this ideology.
Paul clearly stated that “every” man should have his own wife. Not some, not most, not everyone except priests and ministers, no. Everyone. A close and absolute reading of the scripture, even comparing with the original Greek, provides the clear and absolute conclusion that Paul did not say that it is better not to marry, and also did not say that not having sexual relations were in any way better than having them (within the confines of a marriage).
Rather, it can be clearly concluded that not only is it okay to get married, but we are in fact commanded to marry. Paul is gently rebuking the Corinthians in their false ideology that it was better not to ever have sexual relations even in a marriage. Paul refuted and rebuked this false ideology and told them that every man needs to have his own wife. Paul encouraged and commanded marriage, and in doing so told them that they were wrong by believing that it was better not to marry.
However, this first and second verse are not the only verses used in support of the ideology of “it is better not to marry”. A common further misinterpretation and misreading of the Bible comes in verse 7 of the same chapter in 1 Corinthians 7:7: “For I would that all men were even as I myself.” A commonly stated meaning for this phrase is that Paul was not married, so the idea is that he was suggesting that he wishes all men were unmarried. Foolishness!
A careful reading of the remaining part of the verse reveals that this interpretation is not Biblical, but solely rooted in a worldly and unscriptural ideology. Verse 7 continues on to say, “But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” It is probable that in this case, Paul was referring to his capacity for self-control, not to his marriage status. Paul therefore was saying that he wished that all men had the level of self-control that he does. However, he elaborated, not everyone has this gift.
It can be simply and easily explained that Paul was merely referring to spiritual gifts, and not to marriage or celibacy. Celibacy a gift of God? Then to what is marriage, a curse? No, celibacy is not a gift, but a curse. Any unmarried mature person can easily tell you how difficult being unmarried is. Marriage is a gift, not celibacy. Surely, marriage is by no means easy either, but a godly marriage pays for itself many times over the alternative of being alone.
When Paul said, “I wish all men were like me”, Paul was clearly referring to his spiritual gifts, most likely in this case his capacity for self-control; for he immediately explains what he meant – each person has a gift from God, and there are many. Celibacy is not a gift of God. Marriage, however, is. The only reason why there is suffering in marriage is because of sin.
The following verses are also used in support of celibacy, “8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). However, again this is a misreading of the scripture.
Hermeneutical analysis of 1 Corinthians 7:8
In order to understand this verse, one first must define “unmarried”. The glaring interpretation of this which is also wrong is that “unmarried” refers to women who are not yet married. This is false. The word used in the original Greek is ἀγάμοις (agamois). A hermeneutical analysis of this word shows that it has a masculine ending, meaning it cannot refer to women but to men.
Kulikovsky Online explains this well – unmarried here does not refer to women who have not yet married, but in fact to widower men. In other words, “verse 8 would be better translated ‘Now to the widowers and the widows I say…'”. You can read more about the hermeneutical analysis here regarding the phrase “unmarried and widows”, which means, “men and women widows”.
Paul never said that unmarried people should remain unmarried. What Paul said was that it was better that people who were formerly married but their spouse had died, to have a high level of self control. Once again, Paul said that it is better for those with deceased spouses to have the level of self-control that Paul has. However, Paul elaborates, if they cannot have that level of self-control, then they should get married so they are not taken astray by their carnal urges.
Never once did Paul say not to marry, but many times Paul elaborated why being married was actually better. Without the false presupposition of Paul’s intention, if one reads these verses from a clean and undamaged context, it can be clearly noted that Paul never intended anyone to not get married; but rather, Paul commanded every person to get married. Moreover, not only did Paul want every person to get married, but he also said that some who were previously married but had spouses who passed away, should also get married – again.
1 Corinthians 7:27 – “Loosed from a wife” is not “never married”
A further verse that may be used in support of the fallacious doctrine of religious eternal celibacy is found in verse 27. However, once again, this is clearly misinterpreted from the same unfounded premise. Verse 27 is as follows: “Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.”
One might interpret this verse as, if you are unmarried you should not get married. However, that is not what Paul said. What Paul said is if you are “loosed from a wife”. The original Greek word is “λέλυσαι (lelysai)”, which means “released”. Can you be released from a wife you never had? Absolutely not. You can only be released from a wife if you have already been married. In this case, this refers exclusively to divorcees and widows (male and female).
Paul merely said “if you are married, stay married. If you are divorced or widowed, do not look for another spouse”. However, to the widowed, “only if you cannot control yourselves, then marry again to avoid temptation”. Paul never said that those who were never married should not get married. Rather, Paul commands those who have never been married to get married. Everyone.
God designed marriage – and it was good.
God’s original design for marriage began in the first book of the Bible, where God Himself said, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'” (Genesis 2:18).
Not a single translation gets this one wrong – every single translation clearly says, “it is not good for man to be alone”. If God said with His own words that it was not good for man to be alone, and therefore it is better for a man to marry a woman, then how could Paul have implied the opposite of what God Himself said? The answer, of course, is that Paul never said this.
The only way that anyone could interpret 1 Corinthians 7:7 to imply Paul advocating celibacy, is solely because they already had the idea in their head that celibacy is good. Where did they get this idea? Not from the Bible. They got this idea from the church, from teachers who falsely propagated this false interpretation of the Bible to say things that it does not, either because they did not believe the Bible, or because they did not know the Bible. It is likely the latter, because in listening to doctrines they are taught without properly validating the doctrine with scripture, they do not know what the Bible truly says. If they did, I am sure that many would change their tune.
God created marriage, and then God said “it is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Before marriage, God said it was not good for man to be alone. After God created marriage, God said it was good. Therefore it can easily be shown that God clearly views marriage as better than celibacy. If God thought celibacy was better, God would not have ever made woman. Why would God create something that was worse than what He already created? He would not. God created marriage in the creating of Eve because God believed marriage to be better than celibacy.
Besides the topic at hand, a lesson to be learned from this is that when reading scripture, you must be sure to leave your doctrine and what you have been taught by other people at the door. You need to read the Bible with an open lens, not one clouded by various doctrines passed down through the ages and corrupted by false teachings. You need to further erase the false preconceptions about scripture that are based on these unfounded doctrines that twist the Bible to say things that it does not.
Another argument many may present in regards to marriage is the fact that Jesus never married during his time on Earth. However, is this true? I assert that it is not. No, I am not saying that Jesus found an earthly wife and had a traditional wedding. Of course not, that is not biblical and is untrue. However, Jesus throughout his ministry continued to use the analogy of marriage in the context of Jesus being wed to the Church.
Marriage as a metaphor for intimacy with God
It is important to remember that Jesus on many occasions equated human marriage to the marriage of Jesus and the Church. Therefore, it can be asserted that human marriage is a symbol of our eternal marriage.
On multiple occasions Jesus expressed this, such as in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. I believe that marriage in this life is a preparation for our true marriage to Christ. If this is true, as it appears from the scriptural analogies, then it means that marriage is a sacred parallel to our next life which is our eternal life.
Even when God created humanity He had this in mind, for He created the first wife, Eve, as a metaphor for the End of Days which will follow with a glorious wedding of Christ to the bride, Holy Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-10), which is likely the church.
To shun marriage under the belief that being alone and separated from the other parts of our body (the church is often referred in the Bible to as “the body” with many parts) in order to attain a solitary relationship with God, is unbiblical.
Moreover, this is not only a biblical ideology, but God demonstrated this reality through truths that are evident from looking at life. Statistically, married men and women are happier than unmarried men and women. However, they are not just happier. They are also more successful, more fulfilled, more well-adjusted, more socially adept, healthier physically, live longer with less disease, and are able to get through difficulties much easier. God did not design us to live alone, unmarried.
Challenges of marriage as a preparation for eternity
Of course, in a bad marriage all of these things tend to move the opposite direction. However, God clearly defines a healthy marriage in the Bible, and to attain a healthy and holy marriage by following all that the Bible tells us, is to achieve one of the many gifts God has designed for us humans. And to attain a healthy marriage is to be able to more successfully achieve all that God has planned for us here on this earth in this life. God will be able to more easily work through us, move through us, teach through us, grow us, and shape us when we marry.
While marriage certainly is not without its challenges, God never intended for us to never have any challenges. On the contrary, God shapes us through difficulties and turbulence. However, a holy man and woman in marriage can get through every situation, and come through to the other side stronger than ever. And in doing so, gain spiritual strength and perseverance that goes beyond our earthly struggles. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says,
“6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Marriage can be like a crucible used to refine and shape us in ways that we never could have been shaped alone. Marriage brings about a certain maturity in mind and in spirit that when one comes out of the fire, they are more pure and strong than when they went in.
It is possible that this theological ideology that “it is better not to marry” came from none other than Satan, the great deceiver, who sought to separate man from the tools God created to help shape us and refine us into the people that God wanted us to be.
Marriage as a pastoral example
Titus 1:6 says that a pastor should be “the husband of one wife”. Of course, you could imply this is not a command for all pastors to be married, but for them to only be married to one person. 1 Timothy 2:3 says the same, that a pastor (or church leader/overseer) should be “the husband of one wife”.
Among the many qualifications for church leadership, Titus 1:8 says a pastor should be “self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined”; and 1 Timothy 3:2 says “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable”. Anyone who has ever been married can tell you that a wife is perhaps the easiest way to make a man humble, sober-minded, self-controlled, and disciplined (or perhaps the contrary for those not following God).
Likewise, among the laypeople, which is the majority, marriage will provide the same benefit – humility, self-control, and so many other elements which, not-so-coincidentally (by design) have a direct reflection on a person’s spiritual life. God used this life to train us for the next life – those few of us who will make it there.
The real consequences of rejecting marriage
If marriage can provide such tremendous personal and subsequently spiritual growth, it is no wonder then that Satan has been working overtime in the past century working to completely obliterate the family, especially in the West. Between abortion, feminism, divorce, miscegenation, and so many other tragedies, rampant unchecked liberalism has become a favorite tool of Satan to help obliterate the family (among other things).
If God did not want us to marry, why would Satan be working so hard to make sure that more and more people do not get married, or so they become single as quickly as possible through divorce? The obvious reason is because Satan knows the godly benefits of a holy marriage among a Christian man and woman; and because God designed marriage as a place for goodness, growth, and love. By destroying the family and polarizing and ostracizing traditional gender roles, Satan is destroying one of God’s most powerful tools for growing and using His people for His glory.
Therefore, marriage is good, and marriage is holy, when set about under the correct motivations and contexts. Paul never said it was not good to marry, or that celibacy was better than marriage – this was a fallacious and nonbiblical interpretation propagated by religious leaders of long ago, who were perhaps even influenced by Satan himself in order to assist in destroying what God intended to be good. Rather, Paul suggested that it was in fact better to marry, except only for those widowed, who have already been married but lost their spouse.
Marriage is good, and a powerful tool for God to help to grow us and shape us and mature us in this life and in the next. Marriage is a gift, a gift which God designed from the very first humans. And most of all, marriage in this life is a metaphor for eternal intimacy to Christ in the next life, which is eternity. Under this biblical context, it can be seen the true beauty of marriage, and why God wants all people to get married who can. The only thing to be wary of is getting too caught up in lust or the idea of marriage that you forget what marriage is really all about; and what marriage is ultimately all about is our eternal relationship with God, for those few who are truly saved.