Question 243:

St. Paul writes that single people should not marry. Would that not be the end of mankind?



The question refers to the statements Paul makes in chapter 7:1-40 in his first letter to the Corinthians. Our question is based largely on the relevant exegesis Norbert Baumert published in 2007 in his book: “Sorgen des Seelsorgers: Übersetzung und Auslegung des ersten Korintherbriefes”. [Pastoral Care: translation and exegesis of the first letter to the Corinthians] Würzburg: Echter, 2007, p. 77-113). Block III, C, 6,12-20: Die Würde des Leibes [The dignity of the body] ; Block IV: 7,1-40: Schutz der Ehe [Protection of marriage].

The question is based on the wrong premise: Nowhere in this letter does Paul pronounce a general recommendation not to marry, nor does he issue a general prohibition for single people to marry.

The most important sections of the text for our context are:

7:8 - Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do [i.e. unmarried for the sake of Christ]; But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry.

7:26-39 - Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.

7: 39f. - A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgement, she is happier if she stays as she is — and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

N. In a summary of is exegesis Baumert writes: Regarding the main intention of 6:12-7, 40: The Redemption of Sexuality

[...] It has something to do with the incarnation of God that the love of God has since captured people more completely and therefore redeems from sexuality and changes it in its consummation in marriage as well as in celibacy. The not really having which must be common to all Christians, may be lived by some people in the visible: truly not having. In celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom they can show the world that Christ is the deepest fulfilment of every person. Its not that only the celibate can live in complete devotion - every Christian should do this - but that they live this complete commitment in a specific manner. Because of the kind of relationship they have with Christ their calling is to live their deepest personal relationship only with Christ. Their ability to love has been touched and fulfilled by Christ in such a way that they do not wish to live in marriage with a human partner. In the right circumstances they are entitled to choose this way of life. Paul had to create acceptance for such a way of life first. Others, on the other hand, recognise precisely from their relationship with Christ that he points them to a partner; they may then express their love of God in married love. This, at least, is the basic structure of the two callings. [...]

Before one therefore attempts to motivate young people to religious callings who could easily say whom God chooses? - all young people should be told that any choice, whether of marriage or of celibacy must come from God. The first task is to guide all young people to place their lives into Gods hands, that is to choose God as their first option (this can be called handing over one’s life, and it can happen in the form of a personal renewal of the Baptismal vows). This is the basis for recognising in which way the individual person is to live their complete commitment: one within marriage, the other within celibacy (cf. 1 Cor. 7:7). Experiences of a calling to the one as much as to the other usually also include the invitation to full commitment, whether this way or that way (7:6). [...]

When Paul tried to create space in the early Church for celibacy with care and spiritual reverence it was something new and it did not arise out of resentment. As a faithful Jew he was neither hostile to the body nor did he fear sex. Neither did he sublimate sexuality and strip it of its natural character in order to put a spiritual (or other) process in its place. This could easily lead to repression. Rather, Paul believed that people could be captured and penetrated by the Holy Spirit to such an extent that their sexuality, which is merely a part of the whole after all, also becomes an integrative location and expression of the Spirit (1 Cor. 7:33f). Where this is not the living centre, there is no celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, and such a bogus claim can even result in stunted growth, bitterness, vicarious satisfaction or a breaking away. (...)

Redemption of sexuality takes place when people see it completely based on their relationship with Christ, when they do not push it out of their life with God but take it into this life. People should show everything that moves their hearts or their imagination to the Creator so he can teach them how to see it with his eyes. If people know themselves to be accepted and loved by God at the deepest level, the closeness of the relationship gives them more and more strength to shape their marital commitment from this basis or to give themselves wholly to God, in temporary or permanent renunciation of this human fulfilment, without becoming bitter. This often means a painful process of maturing. But those who face this process increasingly learn that they are completely secure with God and precious to him, that they can become one with him in the Holy Spirit and that Gods glory shines in their bodies. (ibid. p. 111-113)

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