A Question I Was Asked:

Why Does Paul Mention the Desirability of Being Unmarried?

The Question:

Why would the apostle Paul recommend being unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7:8? He says, "... It is good to stay unmarried as I am?"

UK Apologetics Reply:

It is true that Paul states that,

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8),

But in the very next verse he does add,

But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:9).

In 1 Corinthians 7:8, the Apostle Paul was writing at a time of persecution, plus God may well have revealed to him the even greater persecution which would come from Nero within just a very few years of his writing these words. At such a time when the Gospel urgently needed to be preached, it might well have been better to be single. It is also possible that Paul believed the time was short until the Second Coming when he wrote 1 Corinthians (one of the earlier epistles). In contrast, when Paul wrote his later epistles to Timothy, he seems more concerned about the future functioning of the church, possibly having accepted that the Second Coming may not be that close and that the church would need to ‘dig in’ for the long haul. Although he accepted that Timothy was unmarried, he does mention that marriage and family life is a good state for church leaders to be in in 1 Timothy:

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Timothy 3:2).

A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. (1 Timothy 3:12, NIV throughout).

In First and Second Timothy, Paul is now looking to the future and giving Timothy advice about the functioning of church congregations; he now nowhere mentions the desirability of being single athough this was very close to the Neronian persecution.

Almost certainly, Paul had once been married and his wife had either left him or had died; this is because it is believed that he had been on the Sanhedrin Council of the Pharisees which was only open to married men. If his wife had indeed left him, it is possible that he was still feeling a little bitter towards women.

Nevertheless we must always remember that God fully approves of marriage but we might accept that at a time when serious persecution upon the church was just around the corner, marriage may not be the ideal state. However, the New Testament still states that :

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure... (Hebrews 13:4a).

Robin A. Brace. December 7th 2010.