Fooling Around with Celibacy in Marriage

October 19, 2012 at 9:45 am | Posted in Biblical Marriage, I Corinthians | 3 Comments
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Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

I Corinthians 7:1 (emphasis added)

The expression “touch a woman” in this verse is mostly a euphemism for sexual touching. Taken literally and out of context it would mean no male doctors could examine female patients. No male police officers could apprehend law-breaking females. Men wouldn’t be able to hug their moms or sisters. They couldn’t even hold their wives’ hands! However, even with the understanding that “touching” is a euphemism for sexual contact, the verse still poses a problem if taken out of context. After all, a “wife” is, of necessity, a “woman.” So the verse has to be understood in context. Both the context of the verse within the particular subject addressed in this passage of Scripture, and the meaning implied by the Greek word translated as “touch,” cause us to understand that what is being prohibited is the sexual touching of a woman by anyone other than her husband.

The reason, though, that I stressed the expression as being mostly euphemistic is because it does have some literal practical application. Too much man-woman touching (even just literal touching) is not good outside of a lawful relationship (such as blood relatives and spouses.) Obviously in marriage it is not evil to touch the woman who is your wife. In fact, touching in that arena is both honorable and undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).

So here is the point being made in I Corinthians 7:1: It is good to be single. Now, if you don’t apply logic, you will think that “it’s good to be single” means “it’s bad to be married,” but I’m a big believer in applying logic as part of interpreting Scripture. After all, God is the One Who created logic.

Premise: X is good.
Conclusion: Non-X is bad.

That conclusion seems to make sense, but it’s not technically logical because more than one thing can be good. Some things can be good in certain contexts and bad in other contexts. I Corinthians 7:8 expresses the same sentiment: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” (Emphasis added.) When something is good, its alternative is not always bad. Furthermore, X can be good in a certain context, and not always be good.

It is good to be single – if you are single for the right reasons. What is a good reason to be single? To concentrate on a life dedicated to serving the Lord. What are some reasons for being single that are not good, even though the world today (and in the Apostle Paul’s day) tells us they are good reasons?

1. To be free from commitment
2. To enjoy inordinate affection (Colossians 3:5)
3. To enjoy multiple partners in intimacy
4. To escape responsibility
5. To avoid adulthood
6. To avoid having children in order to avoid trying to make disciples for Christ
7. To become more focused on self
Those are wrong reasons for seeking to remain unmarried as an adult.

But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

I Corinthians 7:32-35

Married people owe duties and responsibilities to their spouses, so there is a sense in which a single person is free from being a servant. This is not really a freedom from slavery – it is really the freedom to be a slave to Jesus. The reason these points about “singleness” are relevant in a Bible study about marriage is so we can see that singleness is a good gift from God, but that, if you are married, you do not have that gift! It is a gift that entails celibacy, and, as a Christian person who is married, I am not to “fool around” with celibacy!

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

I Corinthians 7:7

Without the gift of celibacy, there was only one option for me: getting married.

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

I Corinthians 7:2

Faithful monogamous marriage is the only Biblical, obedient, God-ordained, and Christ-honoring option for the person without the gift of celibacy.

Now, let’s get logical again. Marriage – according to I Corinthians 7:2 – is an alternative to fornication. Therefore, is a desire to fornicate a good reason to get married? (We’re differentiating here between the alternatives – the escape routes – and the motivation.) Yes, in a sense, it is an escape route from the temptation to fornicate, but, in another, truer sense, the best motivation for marriage is to be a living revelation of the mystery of the love and submission between Christ and His Church.

Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Ephesians 5:24-25

The mystery of marriage is revealed to be a “selflessness,” more than a last resort to avoid desperate sexual urges. After all, we are not talking about a dog in heat which has to rush and find the first thing that will copulate with him. We are talking about human beings – the image-bearers of Almighty God. A person in danger of succumbing to the temptation of fornication should not hurry to find the first person who will marry him or her, thinking that otherwise fornication will be inevitable. In I Corinthians 7 we are addressing a situation where marriage is already being contemplated for the right reasons.

But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

I Corinthians 7:36-37

The Apostle has in mind a prolonged engagement which causes temptation that can be remedied by having the wedding.

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  1. […] a previous lesson I looked at some verses from I Corinthians 7, as they relate to remaining single or getting […]

  2. […] Marriage 32. A C.A.L.M. and Merciful Marriage 33. The Right Kind of Rejoicing in Marriage 34. Fooling Around with Celibacy in Marriage 35. Having a F.I.N.E. Marriage 36. Getting Busy in Marriage 37. Smart Phones and Marriage 38. […]

  3. […] a direct quote from Jesus, even though He still wrote with inspired authority. This goes back to the beginning of I Corinthians Chapter 7: given the persecution faced by the Christians in Corinth, and, really, throughout the early […]


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