Was Paul Single?
NCW 21, July 1995
Q. Was Paul unmarried? And did he encourage other Christians to remain unmarried?
Paul was married. As a Pharisee he must have been married because there were no single Pharisees.
No, he did not encourage Christians to be single save in critical times when having a settled married life was impossible.
Some say that Paul taught that permitting married life was a "concession" and that it would be better to be single. But this is faulty exegesis. In commenting on marital relations, he urged husbands and wives to separate for a while to spend time in prayer, by mutual agreement. He also advised them to "come together again" so that Satan would not tempt them. He continues: "I say this by way of concession, not as a regulation. I wish all men were as I am, but each person jas his own gift from God, the one in this direction, the other in that" (1 Cor.7:5-7, RBV).
Did Paul wish that all were single as he was? Or was he saying that he wished all men could have control over their passions as he did so that they could be apart from their wives for extended periods of time for the sake of the Gospel? I am inclined to the latter belief because Paul was never a single man. Whether his wife was alive when he was an apostle, whether she died, or whether she remained faithful to her Jewish faith and they were separated or even divorced, is not clear. But we know there must at the very least have been long periods when he was alone.
Paul is a defender of marriage, like Jesus and the other apostles, none of who ever advocated celibacy. He did say: "To the single and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain as I am; but if they cannot restrain their passions, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be consumed by passion" (v.8-9). On the face of it this passage could be interpreted to mean that singleness is better than marriage, but whether that is general advice or given because of the conditions that prevailed at that time in Corinth is impossible to know absolutely. I expect that because Paul thought the Second Coming was imminent he was of the opinion that time was best spent evangelising than in raising families, especially as the time was one of persecution for Christians.
Paul was, I believe married, though it seems likely he lived as a virtual single because of circumstances and not because he regarded the single estate as being a superior or a more spiritual condition than marriage. His singleness was a practical condition, not a doctrinal one. There is nowhere any hint that celibacy for the Priesthood is to be enjoined, as Catholics maintain.
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