Why We Must Teach On Marriage In the Church

Tuesday Pastor-Teacher Focus

Before I get to far into this series, I need to explain why I think we need to teach on marriage in the church, in light of the same-sex “marriage” controversy. I don’t want you to think it’s primarily a political thing. For me, that’s pretty far in the background. Not that I’m unaware of it, but it’s not the main thing motivating me. My guess is that if it were only about politics, it would be a hard thing for many pastors to gear up for. But it isn’t. Let me suggest several other reasons to teach about marriage.

Addressing the Underlying Problems

Same-sex marriage is a symptom. The underlying problems affect us all. One of those is with marriage generally speaking: marriage between men and women, that is.

We have lost track of what marriage is, and what it’s for. In Genesis we discover that it’s for companionship (“It is not good for the man to be alone”), for unity (“the man will be united with his wife, and they will be one flesh”), and for procreation (“be fruitful and multiply”). In the Song of Songs the Bible affirms the physical pleasures of marriage. In Ephesians 5 and 6 we see that marriage reflects the relationship of God to his people, the church.

It is a high and glorious picture the Bible gives us. Virtually cultures in history have recognized the truth of most of that picture, based on what it means to be humans living in society.

In particular, marriage has always been tied to procreation; and speaking of “tied,” marriage has typically been societies’ way of keeping the male with the family to help raise his children.

There was a time when marriage meant children. Contraception and abortion changed that, and for the first time, marriage could be about “you and me, babe,” with no young crying babes in the picture. Marriage became for many a means to personal fulfillment, in an inward-looking sense that couples can hold on to but parents never can. There’s nothing quite like having children to make you aware of others’ needs and wants beside your own.

You and Me, Babe

A childless marriage can be very outward looking, if that is the character of the couple. But a marriage with children cannot be merely inward looking, for the couple’s mutual satisfaction alone, unless the couple’s character is very weak indeed.

So marriage for many now is about “you and me, babe:” not quite self-oriented, for there are two people involved, but certainly self-oriented in the sense that the two are in relationship primarily for each other, to meet their own needs.

And with that kind of relationship available for men and women, why wouldn’t same-sex couples be envious? Why wouldn’t they ask for the same thing? If that’s what marriage is, then why should they be denied it? I can see the logic of their demand, can’t you?

They call for equality. What they want, obviously, is not equality with marriage as it once was for almost everyone, where babies were expected to be part of the picture (medical difficulties aside). They want equality with the kind of marriage many men and women are modeling: marriage of and for the spouses’ mutual benefit alone.

Anger at Marriage?

And I can’t help wondering if there’s some anger underneath it all — anger at marriage, that is, for so many people growing up in recent decades have been so deeply hurt by their parents’ failed marriages. I would be surprised if there weren’t a lot of anger there. My parents stayed married until death did them part, so I can’t enter into the sense of loss, disappointment, and frustration that must come when one’s parents split up. But it must be awful. On that emotional level I can see why there could be a motivation to take aim at the institution of marriage and to re-make it.

And so the demand for same-sex “marriage” is a symptom of deeper issues in the culture beyond gays and lesbians. I’ve only scratched the surface. I could go on and speak of more obvious issues like the general approval culture gives to sexual immorality.

Teaching the True Picture

You may have noticed that I titled this “Why We Must Teach On Marriage,” not, “Why We Must Teach Against Same-Sex Marriage.” My guess is that if men and women hadn’t gotten marriage so mixed up, gays and lesbians wouldn’t be pressing for marriage today. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future: we must teach our young couples, and our younger, future husbands and wives, what marriage is for.

But I want to remind you what I’m saying about the role of same-sex “marriage” in this discussion. It’s a signal. It’s a sign, a symptom, of an institution gone sour. That’s the only way many young people can see the institution, for they live in the same culture that produced same-sex “marriage” campaigns: campaigns that make a lot of sense to a majority of them. What will their marriages be like? What vision of marriage do they hold? What can they hope for?

They — we — need a bigger picture and a better hope. That’s why we must teach on marriage.

Comments

  1. John Moore

    You write, “We have lost track of what marriage is, and what it’s for.”

    I think most people just have a basic gut feeling that marriage is a serious long-term commitment to each other that two people make when they love each other. That’s just what the broad cultural background tells us. Even a lot of Christians might be surprised to learn that marriage also requires the lovers to have different sexes.

    Similarly, most people don’t give much thought to what marriage might be for. Does it have to be for something? Why can’t two lovers make their commitment just because they want to? That’s the basic sense most people have, I think.

  2. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    That “broad cultural background, ” John, is actually rather narrow. It’s based on a sample covering only a few decades out of all human history.

    I agree that most people haven’t given a lot of thought to what marriage is for. Now that it’s all in question, though, it’s time to give it that thought. A “basic sense” is inadequate to times like these.

  3. Debilis

    I just wanted to interject the thought that the greatest sign that there is something wrong with modern marriages is divorce.

    It feels as if the church has simply given up on this front, when many people are seeing the horrible pain and loss caused by a change that was pitched as freeing people from painful situations.

    I think this is a massive moral, spiritual, and social issue that isn’t receiving much attention.

  4. JB Chappell

    I wonder why there is the constant reference back to Genesis for the original purpose(s) of marriage – namely, “be fruitful and multiply” – when both Paul and Jesus basically discourage marriage. Paul only allows it if someone is going to be overcome with passion. In other words, for Paul, marriage serves as a morally safe outlet for sex.

    Both Paul and Jesus were convinced the world was coming to an imminent end. Supposedly, Christians are supposed to live like this. One would think in such a world there actually would be a de-emphasis of marriage.

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    All of that is wrong.

    Paul encouraged marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 (though with qualifications, certainly) and Ephesians 5 and 6. Jesus never discouraged it in any way whatsoever, and he re-affirmed the Genesis passage when he was asked about divorce.

    Jesus specifically did not say the end was near; in Matthew 24 he speaks quite the opposite. There would first be wars, rumors of wars, false Christs, and (vs. 14) the gospel reaching every ethné (tribe, language group, cultural group, people group, etc.) in the entire world before the end would come. He reiterated that by way of a command at the end of Matthew.

    His cryptic remark about some disciples seeing the Kingdom of God coming in power was apparently (and quite plausibly) fulfilled in the Transfiguration.

    Paul told the disciples in Thessalonica that they should not just live as if the return of Christ was coming any minute, but to work, to plan, while of course always carrying the expectation and hope of Christ’s return, and while recognizing each of us would die and meet God in his time. In that personal sense, the end is indeed imminent or at least unknown for every person.

  6. JB Chappell

    Paul specifically says that it is GOOD to remain UNmarried in 1 Cor. 7. He recommends marriage ONLY if someone cannot control themselves. Ephesians 5 simply provides instruction for marriage. It is a concession for him.

    Why would he hold such a view? Because he felt they were in the last days (as has pretty much every other Christian for the last 2000 years). The “we” and “our” language in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 makes that pretty clear. Yes, Paul did say in the last passage that they should not behave as though the world was going to end, but that was only because he didn’t think the antichrist had come yet. By the time of the epistles of John, this has changed. James also thought the Lord’s return was imminent (James 5:8). Peter refers to his days as the “last times” (1 Peter 1:20) and perhaps offers the strongest statement of all: “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7). My guess is he didn’t have a couple millenia hiatus in mind when he wrote that. And of course by 2 Peter (the authorship of which is fairly disputed) they are already developing apologia for why the return of the Lord is taking so long (2 Peter 3:8). 1 John is already making note of the antichrist and the last hour (1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:3). So we’ve got Paul and the “three pillars” (if you accept the traditional attribution of the epistles of John to the apostle) all thinking they are living the last days, with the Lord’s return imminent. The author of Hebrews does as well (Hebrews 1:2; 10:36-39). Where on earth would they have gotten such an idea?

    Well, it seems pretty plausible that they got it from Jesus Himself. Jesus tells the High Priest that he will not only see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God (a reference to what happens after His ascension) AND “coming on the clouds of heaven” (a reference to His return). And even if we grant that Jesus’ statements about the Kingdom of God coming in power (Mark 9, Luke 9) are fulfilled in the Transfiguration, this does not solve the dilemma of His later pronouncements (Matthew 24:34; Luke 21:32), which happen well after the Transfiguration. Yes, they do say that many things have to happen – and He also says that they would all elapse before their generation passes. These, of course, are what C.S. Lewis described as “the most embarrassing” verses in the Bible.

    Given that He expected this to occur relatively soon, and that He pronounces “Woe”s upon women bearing children in the last days, it is not surprising that one would then encourage people NOT to have families. Jesus, in Matthew 19, implicitly agrees with those who says that it is better not to marry – although, like Paul, agrees that not everyone can live that way.

    Bottom line: to say “if you can live alone, you should” is a far cry from “it is not good for the man to be alone”, much less “be fruitful and multiply”. Something has changed. This is best explained by Jesus and His followers thinking the last days were upon them, and the fact that they thought that has ample support. It is true that Jesus used the passage from Genesis to support marriage, but only in the sense that it was binding. Simply put, there is plenty of reason for thinking that, even from a Biblical perspective, the nature of marriage has changed significantly.

  7. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Paul specifically says that it is GOOD to remain UNmarried in 1 Cor. 7. He recommends marriage ONLY if someone cannot control themselves.

    Paul writes it is good to remain unmarried not that it is better to remain unmarried. To expand – it is good to be married and it is good to be unmarried but it is not good to be unmarried and having sex with someone. I hope this clears that up for you.

  8. JB Chappell

    Melissa, Paul does indeed writes it is good to remain unmarried. That part cannot be under-emphasized, because – as I mentioned before – it’s a far cry from – “it’s not good for man to be alone”. Something has changed. However, your assertion that Paul does not state that it is *better* to remain unmarried is incorrect. 1 Corinthians 7:6-7:

    “I say this [getting married] as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

    Paul wouldn’t wish for everyone to be single if he didn’t think it was better. And you dismiss this as merely Paul’s opinion (after all, he does say it isn’t a command), then you also dismiss the supposed ban on pre-marital sex here as merely Paul’s opinion as well.

  9. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    “I say this [getting married] as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

    The getting married is your insertion. The sentence directly proceeding this talks about people having self-control. The most natural reading is that Paul wishes everyone had his self-control, which is why his next sentence is about people having different gifts. Self-control is one of the gifts of the spirit.

  10. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    From the Bible Knowledge Commentary:

    7:5. Some in Corinth were trying to practice celibacy within marriage. Apparently this refraining from sex within marriage was a unilateral decision of one partner, not a mutually agreed-on decision (vv. 3-4). Such a practice sometimes led to immorality on the part of the other mate (v. 5b; cf. v. 2). Paul commanded that they stop this sort of thing unless three conditions were met: (a) The abstention from sexual intercourse was to be a matter of mutual consent on the part of both husband and wife. (b) They were to agree beforehand on a time period at the end of which normal intercourse would be resumed. (c) This refraining was to enable them to devote themselves to prayer in a concentrated way.
    7:6. Paul presented this possibility for temporary abstention from sexual intercourse in marriage as a concession if the preceding stipulations were met. He did not want his advice construed as a command. The suggestion that Paul was referring to marriage itself as a “concession” is unlikely in view of Genesis 1:28, the first command to mankind in the Bible, and in view of Paul’s Jewish background where marriage was obligatory for all men except the sexually impotent (Mishnah Niddah 5.9).
    7:7. Paul, however, did not want any stigma to be attached to the single state, so he affirmed, as he had done earlier (v. 1), that celibacy was good. Paul, in fact, thought it to be an excellent state, and wished that everyone could see the benefits of celibacy from his point of view. He realized, however, that marriage or remaining single was more than a matter of weighing alternative benefits; each was a gift from God. It is God who enables each Christian to be married or single (cf. Matt. 19:12).

    From the IVP New Bible Commentary:

    7:6-7 The gift of singleness and marriage:
    In the statement I say this as a concession and not as a command, this refers to vs 6-7 and not vs 1-5. In vs 2-3, and 5 he issues six commands—‘should’ in the NIV translates verbs of command. 7 He wishes that all men were as he is i.e. unmarried. But, which is the emphatic Greek form here, he recognizes that each person has his gift, charisma, from God, i.e. one is single and another married. Singleness in some societies is the subject of cruel innuendo. At times in the church it has been either over–valued or under–valued, in each case contrary to God’s word. It, like other gifts, is a personal one to an individual from God.

    From Jamieson, Fausset, Brown:

    7. even as I — having the gift of continence (Matthew 19:11, 12). This wish does not hold good absolutely, else the extension of mankind and of the Church would cease; but relatively to “the present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26).

    From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary:

    1 Corinthians 7:1-9. The apostle tells the Corinthians that it was good, in that juncture of time, for Christians to keep themselves single. Yet he says that marriage, and the comforts of that state, are settled by Divine wisdom. Though none may break the law of God, yet that perfect rule leaves men at liberty to serve him in the way most suited to their powers and circumstances, of which others often are very unfit judges. All must determine for themselves, seeking counsel from God how they ought to act.

    Those are several highly regarded commentaries on the NT. None of them conclude that Paul devalued marriage. I think that the JFB reference to “the present distress” is especially telling. The whole chapter is wrapped around a certain set of contemporary circumstances. There’s nothing about this that’s globally negative toward marriage.

    JB, your interpretation is plausible only if taken out of historical and literary context.

  11. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    And even though the point has been corrected, I hope, by other means, I feel a need to respond to this:

    Paul wouldn’t wish for everyone to be single if he didn’t think it was better. And you dismiss this as merely Paul’s opinion (after all, he does say it isn’t a command), then you also dismiss the supposed ban on pre-marital sex here as merely Paul’s opinion as well.

    JB, this is not how one reads a document to determine what the writer meant. Note that what I’m saying is not about it being the Bible, it’s about how to read anything at all, and to read it carefully and with the intent of discovering what’s there rather than reading in.

    Did Paul treat singleness and sexual morality in totally parallel ways? No. In 1 Corinthians 6 he placed morality in the context of fundamental principles having to do with our relationship with God in Christ through his redemption (“bought with a price”) on the cross.

    Whenever Paul writes that way, grounding behavioral instructions in deep, broad, and timeless principles, he intends that behavioral instruction to be taken as from the Lord; except in rare cases where he also introduces cultural context, which is not so here in 1 Cor. 6.

    In 1 Corinthians 7 he changes the subject, he changes his tone, and he makes reference to different underlying principles. The parallelism you seem to see there doesn’t exist.

  12. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    bigbird,

    I’m going to be back some time next week with a very extended analysis of what you’ve written.

    d,

    You have something here that I need to respond to, which I will also return to later.

  13. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Also, JB,

    I’d be a lot more interested in what you had said in #7 if I hadn’t already rebutted it hours earlier in #6. In many cases what I wrote in #6 was a specific counter to what you tried to say in #7. You could have at least said something to indicate you had read it and had some reason to disagree with what I’d said. As it stands, it appears you just disagreed, without any reason whatsoever, and without any attention to reasons I had given.

  14. JB Chappell

    Melissa, it is true that Paul is referring to self-control – no question there. But it’s quite obvious from the context that he isn’t referring to self-control *in general*, but in a specific way – sexually, as in: marriage (or the lack thereof). And please not that this is not *my insertion*, as you put it, as the Bible commentaries that Tom was kind enough to cite also draw the same conclusion.

  15. JB Chappell

    Tom, re: comment #14, I’m not sure I understand the nature of your complaint. I did, in fact, read your comment (#6); and I did specifically address points that you made. The references to the Transfiguration, Matthew 24, etc., were all addressed.

    Re: comment 12, you don’t really point out anything wrong with my methodology, you just simply say it is wrong. It’s not clear to me what you’re taking issue with. My point with Melissa was that if you simply dismiss what Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians 7 as his opinion, then you also dismiss a critical text that people use to say that pre-marital sex is immoral. You seem to be referring back to 1 Corinthians 6 for some reason (it’s not clear to me) to show that Paul uses certain principles for sexual morality, and different ones are cited in 1 Corinthians 7. Fine, fair enough. But if you are connecting pre-marital sex with “sexual immorality”, that isn’t a connection Paul draws in 1 Cor. 6, it’s one that he (possibly) draws in 1 Cor. 7. So to claim 1 Cor. 6 clears up Paul’s stance on pre-marital sex would, it seems to me, be assuming the very thing in question.

    If, on the other hand, your point was simply that Paul is not drawing timeless principles in 1 Cor. 7, due to the “present crisis”, then fair enough – I agree. The question is what the “present crisis” is. I have built my case that I think Paul is thinking that it is the end times. It makes perfect sense to urge people not to get married and have kids if you think the world is going to end soon. It doesn’t make sense to suggest this if the present crisis if people were practicing celibacy in marriage.

    Which brings us to comment #11. I appreciate the references cited. I hope you can see that they pretty much affirm almost all of my points. The Bible Knowledge Commentary even acknowledges the connection between the “concession” Paul mentions and marriage. The connection is dismissed on spurious grounds, as if Paul wouldn’t dare go against the grain of Gen. 1:28. You know, because Paul would never go against the grain of the OT elsewhere.

    That none of the commentaries conclude that Paul “devalued marriage” kind of misses the point. The point is that if one would read Gen. 1:28 and/or the rest of the OT, one would not come to the conclusion that “being single is good”. Again, something has changed. What I have said and what the commentaries say are pretty much in agreement up to that point. I think where we part ways is in acknowledging that Paul views marriage as a concession, and why. We may agree that it is due to a “present crisis”, but perhaps not what the crisis is. But it seems pretty obvious to me that someone who says “well, I guess if you can’t control yourself, you better get married” is seeing it as a concession.

    None of this is to say that Paul thought marriage was crap. I’m not trying to say that he thought marriage was bad. Like I said, it just seems to me that if we go off of what Jesus and Paul had to say about it, in addition to what they and the early church believed about the last days, there are adequate reasons for re-thinking what marriage is for.

  16. Post
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  17. JB Chappell

    Tom, I did not say they drew the same conclusion. I said they “affirm almost all my points.” If bias is needed in order to say that much, then I guess you got me. But I think we both know there is a significant difference between the two statements.

  18. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    JB,

    You say,

    The references to the Transfiguration, Matthew 24, etc., were all addressed.

    Here’s what I wrote about Matthew 24:

    Jesus specifically did not say the end was near; in Matthew 24 he speaks quite the opposite. There would first be wars, rumors of wars, false Christs, and (vs. 14) the gospel reaching every ethné (tribe, language group, cultural group, people group, etc.) in the entire world before the end would come. He reiterated that by way of a command at the end of Matthew.

    Here’s how you “addressed” it:

    this does not solve the dilemma of His later pronouncements (Matthew 24:34; Luke 21:32),

    Well, actually that dilemma is easily resolved by re-thinking the antecedent of “this” in Matthew 24:34. From the Matthew 24:32-33, it’s quite likely that the generation in question is the one that sees the signs coming to pass that indicate the approach of the end.

    I don’t know whether C.S. Lewis was embarrassed about those verses you mention (do you have a reference?), and I don’t know whether he remained in that embarrassment or wrote a good resolution to it (if he was indeed embarrassed). I do know that you have taken Matthew 24:34 out of context, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if you had done the same to Lewis.

    Meanwhile the fact remains that your oblique non-contextual reference to Matthew 24:34 is spoken in complete disregard for that which you now try to claim that you addressed. In other words, you didn’t address it at all.

  19. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    JB @#18:

    What you wrote in #15 was,

    And please not that this is not *my insertion*, as you put it, as the Bible commentaries that Tom was kind enough to cite also draw the same conclusion.

    Now you say,

    Tom, I did not say they drew the same conclusion. I said they “affirm almost all my points.”

    If I am to be corrected now by you for saying you said they drew the same conclusion, then I confess to being flummoxed as to how to interpret what you write.

  20. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You also say,

    Re: comment 12, you don’t really point out anything wrong with my methodology, you just simply say it is wrong.

    If I had simply said, “it is wrong,” I would have been able to do so in just three words.

    I would have been able to do so without pointing do as I did in pointing out that where methodology was wrong with respect to its false use of parallelism.

    I would have been able to do it without explaining that the one leg of your attempted parallelism (the moral passage prior to 1 Cor. 7) is of a certain sort, and the second leg (in 1 Cor. 7, on marriage) is of a relevantly different sort.

    I would have been able to do so without explaining that the first leg is grounded in a timeless and transcendent principle whereas the second leg is tied to different, culturally connected underlying principles.

    I would have been able to do it without having to worry about you catching what I wrote in the paragraph virtually immediately preceding all this, at the end of #11, where I pointed out what was significant about the cultural situation in this context.

    What I’m trying to say, JB, is that you are wrong when you say that I didn’t point out anything wrong with your methodology. I didn’t just say it was wrong.

    I hope that’s clear enough on the second go-round.

  21. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I can try to alleviate your concerns (in your comment #16) about my use of 1 Cor. 6, by pointing out that the chapter divisions weren’t part of the original text. The paragraph in 1 Cor. 7:1-5 belongs thematically with what comes before. You say,

    You seem to be referring back to 1 Corinthians 6 for some reason (it’s not clear to me) to show that Paul uses certain principles for sexual morality, and different ones are cited in 1 Corinthians 7. Fine, fair enough. But if you are connecting pre-marital sex with “sexual immorality”, that isn’t a connection Paul draws in 1 Cor. 6, it’s one that he (possibly) draws in 1 Cor. 7. So to claim 1 Cor. 6 clears up Paul’s stance on pre-marital sex would, it seems to me, be assuming the very thing in question.

    But Paul refers to sexual immorality in 6:13, 6:18, 6:19 and in 7:2, so the connection is drawn quite clearly; the subject matter flows across the (artificial) chapter line quite clearly.

    The break comes in 1 Cor. 7:6, not so much in subject material but in what he begins to use as his basis of reasoning, which culminates in “the present distress.”

  22. JB Chappell

    Tom, re: your comment #20, what I was referring to when addressing Melissa was something she had specifically addressed in her comment #10. She claimed that the concession here was not “getting married”. She did not really elaborate what the concession was, just that it was my own incorrect interpretation, and that Paul previously had been referring to self-control – which is true, just over-generalized. My response was that the commentaries, with the exception of the Bible Knowledge Commentary (which acknowledges the possibility, but dismisses it as unlikely because of something Paul didn’t write) draw this same conclusion = that the “concession” refers to marriage. My apologies for missing the quote you were drawing attention to; I thought you were referring to my reply to you (#16). What we were discussing was (I thought) different.

    Back to comment #12 and your clarification in #21, I confess I still can’t make heads or tails out of what you are trying to say. If what wasn’t clear enough in my earlier response (#16), what you are trying to explain here is making no sense at all to me. My apologies if I’m simply being dense. Specifically, you’re saying that I’m making use of false parallelism. Could you please point me to where I’m doing that? Because it’s not at all clear to me that’s what I’m doing. Again, you keep referring back to what comes before 1 Cor. 7, when I never did that. Or is that the problem? Either way, it seems to me that you’re still not actually addressing *my* methodology.

    Additionally pointing out that chapter breaks are artificial does not help alleviate that confusion. While I understand that chapter breaks are artificial, “Now concerning the matters you wrote about…” certainly seems to me to be a transition away from things previously mentioned. At the very least, Paul has moved from discussing things very generally, to things specifically and contextually relevant.

  23. JB Chappell

    Tom, re: your comment #19, the C.S. Lewis reference is an essay called “The World’s Last Night”. See p.98 (and the rest of the text) here: http://bit.ly/11N3Xal I’ll let you decide for yourself if he offered a good resolution or not. But it seems plain that he accepts as obvious that Jesus, the apostles, and the early church thought the world’s end was imminent (hence the essay title). But I don’t want to make it sound as if I’m trying to appeal to authority here. I just think it’s interesting.

    If I understand you correctly, you’re basically trying to change “this” to “that” generation in Matt. 24:34. I see at least two problems with, as you describe it (to be more fair), “re-thinking the antecedent”. The first is that Jesus was not speaking conditionally. By that I mean, He belies His own expectation when in v33 (part of the antecedent you want to re-think), He states “WHEN you see all these things…”. If I’m leaving open the possibility of others finding all this out, I say “IF you see all these things, THEN you will know…”. But Jesus, specifically addressing His disciples after they ask a question, states “WHEN you see all these things…”.

    The second problem I see is the result of an inductive study of Jesus’ usage of the phrase “this generation”. How often do you think Jesus uses that phrase to refer to a generation other than His own? “None” would be the correct answer, as far as I can tell. Every time He uses that phrase – and He does it often – He’s address the people standing in front of Him (more or less).

  24. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Melissa was something she had specifically addressed in her comment #10. She claimed that the concession here was not “getting married”. She did not really elaborate what the concession was, just that it was my own incorrect interpretation, and that Paul previously had been referring to self-control – which is true, just over-generalized.

    I think the concession was allowing married people to remain celibate for a short time for the purpose of prayer and fasting, which is what he is talking about directly preceding this sentence. There are many scholars who agree with me but I don’t dispute that there are others that think the concession is getting married. It seems you are trying to justify your statement that Paul discouraged marriage based on a single, disputed interpretation of one text. You haven’t offered any reasons to prefer your reading over mine except an appeal to authorities that agree with you while dismissing those who don’t. Your dismissal of the BKC is just that, a dismissal, not a refutation.

  25. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    JB, maybe I put in too much background information. You wrote,

    Paul wouldn’t wish for everyone to be single if he didn’t think it was better. And you dismiss this as merely Paul’s opinion (after all, he does say it isn’t a command), then you also dismiss the supposed ban on pre-marital sex here as merely Paul’s opinion as well.

    This translates to the form,
    if you dismiss x then you must dismiss y, because (implied) the principle by which you dismiss x also applies to y.

    But this depends on,
    The principle px supporting x, by which you feel free to dismiss x, is equal or relevantly similar to the principle py supporting y; such that, if you take the freedom to dismiss x on the basis of px you must also dismiss y on the basis of py.

    What I’ve been saying all along (though now I’ll use the symbols I’ve introduced here) is that the principle py supporting y, the ban on premarital sex, is one thing; and the principle px supporting x, Paul’s opinion on marriage, is relevantly dissimilar, not equal or similar.

    The principle px supporting the ban on sexual immorality in general is given at the end of chapter 6, and I’ve already discussed that above. And although Paul begins in chapter 7 to answer a specific question about it, he isn’t changing the subject in the first few sentences at all.

    The principle py supporting his opinion on marriage is based in cultural and social contingencies, esp. the present distress, which all of them were experiencing so they didn’t need him to remind him of it right up front, and which he actually did mention later in chapter 7.

    So one could reasonably dismiss the statement on marriage as opinion while not dismissing the teaching on sexual immorality in the same way.

  26. JB Chappell

    Melissa, I think it more likely that v6 is referring to what comes after it, not before. The reason I say that is because it seems more consistent with his style. Note verses 8, 10, 12 & 25: They all begin with some form of “I say…” or “I give this command…”, and all refer to what comes *after* that preface. The ESV has a footnote after 7:6 that says ” Or I say this:”. The colon there would be fairly critical.

    Is that disputed? Sure it is. Very few verses aren’t! But I have reasons (good reasons, IMHO) for interpreting it that way – not just this one text, as you put it. Read on in the chapter: does it make sense to say that Paul is allowing for brief sexual hiatuses as a “concession”, when later on he says that people should remain as they are – that single people should not seek to be married? Does it make sense to say that “the appointed time is short” and “the present form of this world is passing away” if “the present crisis” is simply people wanting to be celibate within marriage. Not to me. But it makes perfect sense if Paul thought the world was going to end. And if you thought the world was going to end, it does make sense to encourage people to avoid starting families.

    So, even if you want to dispute v6, I think the rest of the chapter is pretty enlightening on what he intends with his instruction. If I haven’t given you any reasons before now to accept my own view, hopefully these last few paragraphs do serve that purpose.

  27. JB Chappell

    Tom, thanks for your patience and for the additional clarification. That last comment was more clear to me. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that Paul lays down in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7:1-5 would apply to pre-marital sex, and has a different underlying principle than what follows v6. Obviously, feel free to correct me if that is incorrect.

    What I stated earlier, I think, still applies: there’s no obvious or implied mention of pre-marital sex in 1 Corinthians 6 or 7:1-5, so assuming that the principles there apply to what follows v6 is to do the very thing (I think) that you’re accusing me of. What I’m saying is that what Paul says from v6-9 is not based on inviolable principles, but his own discretion. He identifies it as such (although that certainly doesn’t make it wrong). Therefore, to dismiss the marriage-as-concession assertion due to this being opinion would also be to dismiss v9 as such, which (in many people’s minds) serves as a critical text in determining pre-marital sex to be wrong.

    The fact that there may be different underlying principles between the two issues in general is, I think, irrelevant here. Paul explicitly states that he’s offering concessions, not commands. So, even if there are other texts that would affirm a command against pre-marital sex, I think those who would make such an argument AND dismiss marriage-as-concession as just Paul’s opinion are obligated to not use 1 Cor. 7:9 and to use those other verses.

  28. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Thanks for expanding your thoughts on this matter.

    Melissa, I think it more likely that v6 is referring to what comes after it, not before. The reason I say that is because it seems more consistent with his style. Note verses 8, 10, 12 & 25: They all begin with some form of “I say…” or “I give this command…”, and all refer to what comes *after* that preface. The ESV has a footnote after 7:6 that says ” Or I say this:”. The colon there would be fairly critical.

    Your reasoning on this point does have some merit but in v35 the “I am saying” refers to the previous verses so it’s not quite as straight forward as you make out. If v.6 is referring to what comes after, in the same way as verses 8,10,12 and 25, then the concession would refer to being single not being married.

    You’ll note also that I did not argue that “this present crisis” refers to people wanting to remain celibate in marriage, that would be absurd. I don’t think anything Paul has written in these passages amounts to him discouraging marriage in principle. Maybe you could expand your reasoning on why you think these passages should be read as a general teaching against getting married rather than just as a response to the difficulties the Corinthians faced in their particular environment at the time.

  29. JB Chappell

    Melissa, you make a good counter-point with v35. I hadn’t noticed that originally. So, as you say, it’s not as simple as I originally presented. Nevertheless, if there’s a trend, it seems that what follows such a phrase is what he’s referring to. It’s also notable that there’s no footnote on v35 indicating that a colon can be placed after it.

    Regardless, I don’t think my case depends on the “concession” in v6 referring to verse 7-9. Let’s assume it refers to verses 2-5, as some others hold. If that’s the case, what the “concession” is would still seem to be determined by what follows v6. By that I mean, when one reads verses 2-5, it wouldn’t be clear just from that text what Paul is “conceding”. Is it that each man should have his wife/wife her husband? That they should come back together after refraining for a time? Well, if we think about it, both of those things actually seem to refer to the same thing: married people having sex. Is marital sex a “concession” for Paul?

    You asserted that it was the time apart that was a concession, not the getting back together. But verse 7 states “I wish that all were as I myself am” (i.e. not having sex). Thus, it would certainly appear that Paul is “conceding” that not all are as he is – he is conceding (some) people need to have sex, not conceding the separation.

    By extension, that would make it appear as if marriage would also be a concession – at least, if it involved sex. There is plenty in chapter 7 to make that determination aside from these first few verses, though.

    v8-9. Good to remain single. Only marry if you are going to “burn with passion”.
    v11. those women who separate from their husbands should remain unmarried
    v26. Good to remain as you are – even if you’re engaged/betrothed
    v28. wants to spare folks the “worldly troubles” of marriage
    v38. those who refrain from marriage do “even better” than those who marry.

    The latter two verses especially seem pretty obvious “please don’t get married if you can avoid it” exhortations.

    The question, of course, is why he would say all this. You ask me “why [I] think these passages should be read as a general teaching against getting married rather than just as a response to the difficulties the Corinthians faced in their particular environment at the time.” Well, my response is that I don’t think this is an either-or situation. He is responding to specific questions asked of him by Corinthians (signified by his “Now concerning…”). But the guideline in which he chooses to measure his responses is “this present crisis”, which by the end of the chapter is clearly portrayed as the end times/last days (however you want to refer to it). That particular situation is by no means unique to the Corinthians – it’s not “last days” for them, but “life goes on” for the rest of us. Thus, I see no reason to think that Paul wouldn’t have responded similarly to anyone else, had they been asking the same questions.

  30. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Melissa, you make a good counter-point with v35. I hadn’t noticed that originally. So, as you say, it’s not as simple as I originally presented. Nevertheless, if there’s a trend, it seems that what follows such a phrase is what he’s referring to. It’s also notable that there’s no footnote on v35 indicating that a colon can be placed after it.

    I realise I really wasn’t clear in my previous comment. I think your analysis concluding that v6. is referring not to the preceding verses but to the one following is strong but not completely certain (due to v.35). I hadn’t considered that Paul may be introducing a new subject because of the position of the paragraph breaks, but the punctuation and breaks are not part of the Greek text anyway so often these reflect the translators interpretation of the Greek text rather than something that was necessarily there originally. As I said before, if this is the case then the permission or concession that Paul is giving is for people to be as Paul is (unmarried). It is not a command for people to be single but permission to be single in spite of the overwhelming cultural and religious pressure of the time to be married. He then affirms both marriage and singleness as gifts from God.

    Regardless, I don’t think my case depends on the “concession” in v6 referring to verse 7-9. Let’s assume it refers to verses 2-5, as some others hold. If that’s the case, what the “concession” is would still seem to be determined by what follows v6. By that I mean, when one reads verses 2-5, it wouldn’t be clear just from that text what Paul is “conceding”. Is it that each man should have his wife/wife her husband? That they should come back together after refraining for a time? Well, if we think about it, both of those things actually seem to refer to the same thing: married people having sex. Is marital sex a “concession” for Paul?

    Marital sex is not a concession for Paul. He says “do not deprive one another except by mutual consent and for a time so that you may devote yourself to prayer” (v.5). He is allowing them to deny each other only under certain conditions. The norm is to satisfy each other but it is okay to abstain temporarily for the sake of prayer. We have right there a concession but not a command. They don’t have to abstain to devote themselves temporarily to prayer but they may if they wish. Therefore if v.6 is referring backwards, to the concession Paul has already given in v.5, then v.7 is not referring to the concession but is an initial summation of his thoughts on the Corinthians statement “that it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (v.1). He prefers that all should be unmarried but each state is a gift from God.

    In v. 10-11 Paul is reiterating the teaching of Jesus. The reason why a wife who is separated must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband (you left that second option out) is because otherwise she commits adultery.

    Overall Paul’s teaching in this chapter affirms the gift of singleness, counsels people to consider carefully whether they should marry and acknowledges that singleness is not for everyone. Both states are gifts from God.

    I think though, that we are disappearing down the rabbit hole here. Your original comment that sparked this discussion was:

    I wonder why there is the constant reference back to Genesis for the original purpose(s) of marriage – namely, “be fruitful and multiply” – when both Paul and Jesus basically discourage marriage. Paul only allows it if someone is going to be overcome with passion. In other words, for Paul, marriage serves as a morally safe outlet for sex.

    Both Paul and Jesus were convinced the world was coming to an imminent end. Supposedly, Christians are supposed to live like this. One would think in such a world there actually would be a de-emphasis of marriage.

    Tom referred back to more than just one Genesis passage in the OP. I wonder in particular why you picked “be fruitful and multiply” and not “the man will be united with his wife, and they will be one flesh”. Did you know that Paul refers to this very passage in his discussion of marriage in Eph5:31? Your characterisation of Paul’s view of marriage as “a morally safe outlet for sex” is incomplete. He also considers it, as we have seen, a gift from God (1Cor7:7), and an echo of the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph5:22-33). I’m sure these statements do not come close to exhausting Paul’s views on marriage.

  31. JB Chappell

    Melissa, you’re argument makes no sense to me. How is it a “concession” for Paul to allow singleness, when he states that we wishes all were like that? If that is his preferred state, how is it a concession? Furthemore, you are actually ignoring the “cultural and religious pressure”. The pressure that Paul was addressing was NOT that people wanted to get married, but that people were not wanting to have sex. Thus, they were uncertain of how to proceed with marriage & betrothal relationships. I do agree that Paul is not commanding people to be single – that much is plain. In fact, that is his concession – that not everyone will be as he is.

    —He says “do not deprive one another except by mutual consent and for a time so that you may devote yourself to prayer” (v.5). He is allowing them to deny each other only under certain conditions.—

    Yes, that is true. He also is urging them to get married only under certain conditions. Everything is conditional here, so this argument is a wash. Don’t you think it would be odd for Paul to claim that a mutual “sex fast” for devotion to prayer would be a “concession”? Especially given what he says later on in the chapter about attentions being divided? Seems clear to me that Paul likes the idea of the sex fast, but is cautious about it only because it has been demonstrated among them that some will start to look elsewhere for sex. So, again, the concession is that people need to have sex.

    He does affirm both married and single life as being blessed. Again, I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to claim that Paul thought marriage was crap. Clearly, he did think marriage held a special significance. It is also clear that he thought avoiding it was *better*. But, again, I also want to emphasize that Jesus and Paul’s endorsement of solitude was a radical departure – and certainly not something that would have been understood in light of the Genesis passage that both Paul and Jesus endorse (at least in part).

    That Paul affirmed other aspects of marriage is true; I do not wish to to deny that. Nevertheless, whatever else he affirms about it (such as the “mystery” of the Christ-church connection), it is clear that isn’t why he *encourages* it. In other words, simply because something is both true and special about something, does not make it always worth pursuing. Paul definitely seems to discourage marriage, even while acknowledging it is both good and special. Why? Because of the last days. It is this understanding which makes him re-think marriage, and I think Jesus as well (given his endorsement of being single and implicit acknowledgment that it is better not to marry), and why I wonder why modern Christians wouldn’t do the same.

  32. bigbird

    Paul definitely seems to discourage marriage, even while acknowledging it is both good and special. Why? Because of the last days.

    Some suggest that “the present crisis” was actually a time of local famine or persecution – not the last days.

  33. Post
    Author
  34. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Melissa, you’re argument makes no sense to me. How is it a “concession” for Paul to allow singleness, when he states that we wishes all were like that? If that is his preferred state, how is it a concession?

    You are reading concession as grudging acceptance but it could just as easily be read as the granting of a permission or right. Paul gives permission for people to be as he is in spite of the mandate in Genesis.

    The pressure that Paul was addressing was NOT that people wanted to get married, but that people were not wanting to have sex.

    Yes, I realise that is the stance that Paul is responding to in v1-5 but we’re assuming for this argument that the concession refers to what comes after not before. The Corinthian church is full of divisions because people have different positions.

    Don’t you think it would be odd for Paul to claim that a mutual “sex fast” for devotion to prayer would be a “concession”?

    Not at all.

    In other words, simply because something is both true and special about something, does not make it always worth pursuing.

    You’re changing the subject which was your incomplete characterization of Paul’s view of marriage plus implying I put forward an argument that I never made.

    Paul definitely seems to discourage marriage, even while acknowledging it is both good and special. Why? Because of the last days. It is this understanding which makes him re-think marriage, and I think Jesus as well (given his endorsement of being single and implicit acknowledgment that it is better not to marry), and why I wonder why modern Christians wouldn’t do the same.

    There is no evidence that, as a general rule, or even a recommendation for the majority, that marriage was discouraged in the early church ( in fact the evidence would lean in the opposite direction). Why do you think Christians should conduct ourselves differently in this matter?

    That being said, I think modern Christians (especially Protestants) generally do place too much emphasis on marriage, in the sense that we fail to affirm properly our single brothers and sisters state, not that we should be actively discouraging those who want to be married from being married.

    I’m not sure though what this had to do with the OP

  35. JB Chappell

    @bigbird & Tom: there is evidence of famines in Corinth around this time, but as far as I know, they don’t specifically know when. Perhaps ironically, even if there were famines, it quite likely would have reinforced the perception that “the end is nigh”, given that Jesus predicted that famines would precede the last days.

    Regardless, there is no reason to think that the text refers to a famine, and every reason to think that Paul is referring to the end of the world. If it was a famine, what is the advantage to telling a widow to remain unmarried? What difference would it make if you sought release from an engagement or not? Beyond that, Paul actually elaborates on what he means by “this present crisis” in v29-31:

    —“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”—

    “The time is short”, if he were referring to a famine, would actually be good news – not reason to avoid marriage.

  36. JB Chappell

    Melissa, you are correct that I am reading “concession” as a grudging (more or less) acceptance. This doesn’t necessarily come from the Greek, but from the context. By “grudging” I would mean that he holds to a certain ideal, but understands not everyone can accept it. Note that this is what Jesus affirms in Matthew 19. Paul is simply affirming that as well here. What the ideal is here, is continence. From the beginning of the chapter to the end, Paul affirms what is “better”: not being married.

    When one understands what his (and the Corinthians) ideal is, it’s far easier to understand what he might be conceding. Sorry, but it makes zero sense for Paul to grant people permission to do something that Jesus had already affirmed and that they were already doing. It makes much more sense for him to concede that they might not be able to live up to their ideals – and this certainly seems more consistent with his message in the rest of the chapter.

    Once again, I think you’re actually ignoring the cultural context. Appealing to the Genesis passage as if that were providing the social pressure, does not make sense in the Corinthian context. It would make more sense in Jerusalem. Consider that Corinth would have been mostly a Gentile church. We know that they did have Jewish Christians visit, but no idea what their influence was. We do know that they wrote to Paul saying “it is good not to touch a woman”, which would have been entirely in line with Stoic thinking.

    I’m not sure what you mean about either changing the subject or implying a straw-man. I was acknowledging that Paul affirms other things about marriage and simply showing why it doesn’t matter in the context of this conversation.

    Explain to me what evidence you are considering when you say that it “leans(s) inthe opposite direction.” Because it seems to me that you already have evidence of Paul discouraging it at Corinth – which, if I’m not mistaken, was part of “the early church”. Then, you have to consider the rise of ascetism within the early church. I don’t know you wouldn’t consider holding sexual abstinence as such a high ideal, which so many of the early church fathers did, as not at least implicitly discouraging marriage. I know that Tertullian and Jerome considered marriage to be a distraction from Christian duty (and interpreted Paul here to think the same), and I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure St. Augustine also thought similarly.

    In any case, even if they didn’t, what does that prove? Probably that sex is a more powerful motivator than apocalyptic threats.

    I just find it so interesting that Paul affirms that the last days are here – as do so many other evangelical Christians – and on the basis of such reasoning says that people should remain as they are. Single folks should remain single. Engaged folks should remain engaged, but should marry *only if* they are going to “burn with passion. Methinks not too many pastors ask this question when counseling spouses-to-be.

    The last days marks a shift in thinking. Jesus affirms that marriage is binding, but rejects the hitherto-understood obligation to get married and have children, and – what’s more – implicitly affirms that it’s better not to get married. Paul does the same. So many evangelicals, while affirming we’re in the last days, seem to either ignore or reject this re-thinking of marriage.

    The reason this is relevant to the OP is because Tom insists that the underlying problem for SSM advocates (and others) is that “We have lost track of what marriage is, and what it’s for.” I think that if one truly believes that we are in the end times, like Jesus and Paul did, then at the very least the procreation aspect of marriage can be re-thought (given what Jesus had to say about nursing mothers and that both he and Paul reject the obligation to have children) and certainly consider – as Paul did – that it’s at least partially for letting folks not “burn with passion”.

    Especially when we consider the latter aspect and the rejection of procreation as an integral part of marriage, one has to consider what implications that has for SSM arguments in the Christian community.

  37. JB Chappell

    Melissa, I meant to edit what I said before about you “ignoring” the cultural context. Clearly, you weren’t ignoring it. Obviously, we disagree on what the nature of it was. I meant to say something more along the lines that you were misplacing it or misunderstanding it. My apologies.

  38. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Appealing to the Genesis passage as if that were providing the social pressure, does not make sense in the Corinthian context. It would make more sense in Jerusalem. Consider that Corinth would have been mostly a Gentile church. We know that they did have Jewish Christians visit, but no idea what their influence was. We do know that they wrote to Paul saying “it is good not to touch a woman”, which would have been entirely in line with Stoic thinking.

    “it is good not to touch a woman” is more in line with Cynic thinking, but as I said previously the Corinthian church had many divisions. The Cynic-Stoic marriage debate gives the necessary cultural background for Paul’s remarks. We can see that the Stoic’s support of marriage as an obligation to state could easily be bolstered by the mandate in Genesis.

    I thought it might be useful to summarise what I see as your main points and where I disagree so that we make sure we are understanding each other.

    1. Jesus and Paul both reject the hitherto-understood obligation to get married and have children.

    Agreed.

    2. Paul and Jesus affirm that the ideal situation for every believer is to be unmarried.

    Disagree. Jesus said only those to whom this teaching is given can accept it. Only some have the gift of celibacy.
    Paul says but each one has a particular gift from God.

    3. Paul and Jesus give a grudging concession to allow marriage.

    Disagree. Paul would not grudgingly allow believers to accept a gift from God.

    4. The only reason for that concession was a moral deficit.

    Disagree. Sexual desire per se is not a moral defect.

    5. Paul and Jesus affirm singleness because of the last days.

    I don’t think the present distress does refer to the end of the world, but we can’t discount that his thinking was influenced by his anticipation of the imminent return of Jesus althouh he counsels the believers in Thess. to settle down. Jesus on the other hand constantly affirms the marginalised so there is no need to invoke the last days to justify what he says in Matt 19 it would be reading into the passage what just isn’t there.

    6. Since there is no need to produce the next generation if the end of the world is near, we do not need to consider procreation as an essential aspect of marriage.

    Disagree. What marriage is, is not dependent on temporary conditions.

    Especially when we consider the latter aspect and the rejection of procreation as an integral part of marriage, one has to consider what implications that has for SSM arguments in the Christian community.

    I’m not sure what latter aspect and rejection of procreation as an integral part of marriage you are referring to. Certainly there is nothing in what Paul wrote that amounts to a rejection of procreation as an integral part of marriage.

  39. JB Chappell

    Melissa, we do know that the Corinthian church had many divisions, true. We do not know that they were divided on this particular issue (nor do we know that they were not). We do know that they were having issues with sexual infidelity. The Stoic stances on marriage were varied, so perhaps you are correct that a Cynic approach might be more reflected in what Paul is addressing. Regardless, I think it is misguided to appeal to something (Genesis) as a social pressure for Corinthians that would have been far more concerning for a Torah-observant Jew. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Hard to justify.

    Regarding your summary of points, we agree on 1. We both disagree on 2, because that has never been my contention. In general, Paul makes it clear his preference is for people not to be married – but obviously acknowledges it is better to marry than to “burn with passion”. Thus, if one is in such a state, it is not the “ideal situation” to remain unmarried.

    So, for #2, I would just leave it as “Remaining unmarried is better than being married, if one can handle such a life” (disregarding one’s desire). Jesus was addressing a statement to the effect of “It is better not to marry”, and he didn’t bother to correct it; made it pretty clear elsewhere (much like Paul does) that family can complicate matters; and pronounces woe on “nursing mothers” during the end times, which he clearly thought were imminent – if not already there. Paul explicitly states that marriage is not ideal, and that remaining single is better.

    Re: 3, the “grudging” aspect is not clear from Jesus’ point of view. What is clear is that marriage would not have been encouraged as much as remaining single. Note this a marked departure from the modern church.

    Re: 4, of course sexual desire is not a moral deficit. It is not wrong to have sexual desire; it is wrong to not control it. Hence, if one does not think that they have the ability to control it, then they need to get married. The moral deficit is not sexual desire; it is the inability to control or overcome that desire. I wonder how many pastors, when counseling marriage prospects, ask them if they have the ability to control their sex drive, and if they do, refuse to marry them.

    For Paul, there is a gift of continence. If one has this gift, then getting married would be spurning it. No one nowadays, that I know of, even considers whether they are spurning this gift when contemplating marriage. In fact, I’d argue that the blanket assumption is that most people do not have the gift – which is somewhat ironic, given that most Christians are expected to control their desire when it is most difficult.

    Re: 5, I agree as you present it. I would love to know why you think that “this present distress” does NOT refer to the last days, especially given the clarification that follows. You are correct that he counsels the Thessalonians to settle down , but it is notable that this is only because the Anti-Christ has not appeared, not because none of the other signs have. It is also notable that his letters to the Thessalonians are generally agreed to precede those to the Corinthians, and that by the time 1 John was written, apparently at least some thought that the anti-Christ had arrived.

    Nevertheless, I do agree that there is no reference to the last days in Matt. 19. The question, I suppose, is whether there needs to be, given that pretty much everything Jesus did was in preparation for the Kingdom, which is not only affirmed as “here”, but also that terrible things were imminent.

    Re: 6, I would change this. I would simply say that due to the terrors foretold about the last days, which supposedly we’re in, it would be *better* not to have children, as it is simply a distraction (per Paul) and may simply add heartache (per Jesus). Given that, it is clear that temporary conditions to change the functions that marriage serves. For Paul (while he also affirms other things), marriage serves as a morally safe outlet for those who cannot control sexual desire). For him, those who can control it, simply should. If one adds “morally safe outlet for sex” to what marriage “is”, then subtract an expectation of procreation, the implications for SSM are pretty clear.

    If Jesus and Paul affirm that there is no obligation to get married (which would have traditionally included having children per Genesis), then presumably there is no obligation to have children either. It doesn’t make much sense to say that once one gets married, then children are expected, but in general no one is obligated to have children. This is especially the case in the context of the end times.

    Biblically speaking, it is impossible to defend the assertion “what marriage is, is not dependent on temporary conditions”. Incest was permissible (allegedly) because of temporary conditions. Polygamy was permissible (allegedly) because of temporary conditions.

    —“I’m not sure what latter aspect and rejection of procreation as an integral part of marriage you are referring to. Certainly there is nothing in what Paul wrote that amounts to a rejection of procreation as an integral part of marriage.”—

    The “latter aspect” was simply that Paul seems to consider an integral part of marriage to be a means of preventing sexual immorality. This, it seems to me, would have been considered a “re-thinking” of marriage, especially to Jews. Paul, I admit, does not *explicitly* reject procreation as integral to marriage. And, like marriage, even if he would rather not see it, he does acknowledges the “good” of children. Nevertheless, v29-35 seem like a fairly easy way to justify not overly dividing our attention from God, which would include having children. In other words, it is easy to see that Paul justifies marriage as a way for someone to have a safe outlet for their sexual desire AND that he doesn’t people to be overly distracted = thus, easy to see how procreation would not be considered a desirable outcome, especially given Matthew 24:19.

  40. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Regardless, I think it is misguided to appeal to something (Genesis) as a social pressure for Corinthians that would have been far more concerning for a Torah-observant Jew. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Hard to justify

    I’m puzzled as to why you think it is hard to justify the likely influence of Greek philosophy and the Old Testament on the thinking of the Corinthian believers.

    What is clear is that marriage would not have been encouraged as much as remaining single. Note this a marked departure from the modern church.

    That’s depends on what percentage of people in the church have the gift of celibacy. Jesus leaves them impression that it is a select group. Note also that a view of the goodness of celibacy varies between denominations.

    In fact, I’d argue that the blanket assumption is that most people do not have the gift – which is somewhat ironic, given that most Christians are expected to control their desire when it is most difficult.

    Given the passage in Matt. I think the gift would more rightly be termed celibacy.

    I would love to know why you think that “this present distress” does NOT refer to the last days, especially given the clarification that follows.

    I think v.29 is a clarification of 28a and not directly related to the “Present distress”

    You are correct that he counsels the Thessalonians to settle down , but it is notable that this is only because the Anti-Christ has not appeared, not because none of the other signs have. It is also notable that his letters to the Thessalonians are generally agreed to precede those to the Corinthians, and that by the time 1 John was written, apparently at least some thought that the anti-Christ had arrived.

    Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians precede the book of 1 Corinthians by 4 or 5 years. There is no evidence in 1Corinthians that Paul thinks the anti-Christ has arrived in the intervening years. 1John was written 20-30 years later than 1 Corinthians.

    I don’t think we are going to reach agreement but it really doesn’t matter because your reasoning at 6 is not sound anyway.

    I would simply say that due to the terrors foretold about the last days, which supposedly we’re in, it would be *better* not to have children, as it is simply a distraction (per Paul) and may simply add heartache (per Jesus). Given that, it is clear that temporary conditions to change the functions that marriage serves.

    Your conclusion doesn’t follow. If it is better not to have children then the remedy is to not have sex. The functions of marriage stay the same.

    For Paul (while he also affirms other things), marriage serves as a morally safe outlet for those who cannot control sexual desire). For him, those who can control it, simply should. If one adds “morally safe outlet for sex” to what marriage “is”, then subtract an expectation of procreation

    It wouldn’t have made sense to subtract the expectation of procreation from marriage for Paul. For Paul sex within marriage was expected (an obligation) and children follow naturally from sex except in the case of infertility. The reason why marriage is a “morally safe outlet for sex” in the first place is because marriage provides the best and most secure environment for the children that result.

    Biblically speaking, it is impossible to defend the assertion “what marriage is, is not dependent on temporary conditions”. Incest was permissible (allegedly) because of temporary conditions. Polygamy was permissible (allegedly) because of temporary conditions.

    Given Matt 19 we know that what is permitted in some contexts does not change the essence of marriage.

  41. JB Chappell

    Melissa, I do not think it is likely that the OT served as a social pressure for the Corinthians, because all indications are that they are Gentiles. In the churches that Paul influenced, he obviously adamantly resisted any Judaizing. If there’s no pressure to become circumcised, follow the Torah, etc., then there’s little reason to think that Genesis would have acted as a social pressure to get married.

    Whether one attributes the “gift” Paul refers to as continence or celibacy strikes me as an unimportant point. Would not someone who is celibate be exercising the gift of continence? It seems to me odd to think that someone is perfectly capable of abstaining from sex for 25 years, but it just isn’t feasible to think that it could occur for another 25, or another 25 after that.

    I disagree that Jesus gives the impression that only a select few can avoid marriage. He only says “not everyone” can. That hardly means “almost no one”. He then goes on to say, “He who can accept this should accept it.” Interestingly, that statement immediately follows his observation that some *choose* to live like this for the Kingdom’s sake. I would think that the obvious follow-up question to this is: if you cannot accept this way, why not? Because you don’t have the “gift”, as Paul puts it? How would one know that? Because one has desires, or because one cannot control these desires? And if one knows that they cannot control them, then we should be getting them married, not prolonging their single-ness state. And if they can control them, then according to both Paul and Jesus, they should.

    —‘I think v.29 is a clarification of 28a and not directly related to the “Present distress”’—

    I think it’s pretty obvious that v29 does nothing at all to clarify v28a. How does “the time is short” help clear up “But if you do marry, you have not sinned”? The more obvious connection is that “the present crisis”, “the time is short”, and “the world in its present form is passing away” are all referring to the same idea. And that idea is quite obviously the end of the age.

    You are correct that there is no evidence that in 1 Corinthians, Paul suddenly feels the anti-Christ is present. That was not my point. Rather, the fact that Paul seems to be pointing to only the arrival of the anti-Christ seems to indicate that the other signs aren’t exactly excluded form having occurred. In other words, just because “the Day of the Lord” has not come, does not mean that “the last days” were not considered to be upon them. Also, the fact that there is a time delay between the epistles allows for some development in his thinking. He is human, after all.

    As for #6, and my supposedly unsound reasoning, you offer the following rebuttals:

    a. If it is better not to have children then the remedy is to not have sex. The functions of marriage stay the same.

    b. For Paul sex within marriage was expected (an obligation) and children follow naturally from sex except in the case of infertility.

    c. The reason why marriage is a “morally safe outlet for sex” in the first place is because marriage provides the best and most secure environment for the children that result.

    d. Given Matt 19 we know that what is permitted in some contexts does not change the essence of marriage.

    Regarding (a), it’s pretty obvious that Paul is performing a moral calculus here. I think he’d agree that it’s better not to have sex (that much is obvious), but that it is NOT better to commit sexual immorality. That’s obviously his non-negotiable. It seems to me pretty obvious that if Paul is willing to make concessions on one front, he would be willing to do so on another.

    As for (b), agreed that sex was expected and an obligation. I would even concede that there was probably a general expectation that children would result from the union. Regardless, the idea if it can be avoided, it should, means that it is NOT necessarily an essential component. And let’s not pretend that there weren’t any (however less effective) means of preventing conception.

    Re: (c), you don’t know this. The idea of a stable environment for children was, Biblically speaking, never used as a justification for keeping sex within marriage. The idea of “one flesh”, however, was.

    Finally, with respect to (d), you do not know this either. What we do know is that there is at least ONE aspect of marriage that was intended from the beginning, per Jesus, and that was permanence… but even that is conditional. If even that one aspect is conditional, there is no reason to think that the rest (assuming there are other essential components) is not conditional. We also know that God does allow for moral exceptions, even if they aren’t ideal or weren’t this way “from the beginning”. Once that is recognized, there is no reason to think that NOTHING but x, y, & z can be considered “marriage”.

    So, once again, we have adequate reason for thinking that the conditions for what “marriage” is considered to be can change. We also have good reason for thinking that both Jesus and Paul did, in fact, re-think the notion of marriage within the context of the end-times.

  42. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Melissa, I do not think it is likely that the OT served as a social pressure for the Corinthians, because all indications are that they are Gentiles.

    That is the second time you have misrepresented my position. If you wish to respond to my actual position you’ll find it in #39, first paragraph, last two sentences.

    Whether one attributes the “gift” Paul refers to as continence or celibacy strikes me as an unimportant point. Would not someone who is celibate be exercising the gift of continence? It seems to me odd to think that someone is perfectly capable of abstaining from sex for 25 years, but it just isn’t feasible to think that it could occur for another 25, or another 25 after that.

    Continence is refraining from sexual activity in thought, word and deed. Chaste celibacy obviously requires continence but just because someone is able to abstain from sex does not necessarily mean they have been given the gift of celibacy.

    I think it’s pretty obvious that v29 does nothing at all to clarify v28a.

    That was my mistake. I meant 28b.

    Now onto 6.

    The point you have labeled a is just a statement of my overall position, argued for by way of subsequent points.

    agreed that sex was expected and an obligation. I would even concede that there was probably a general expectation that children would result from the union. Regardless, the idea if it can be avoided, it should, means that it is NOT necessarily an essential component.

    Paul’s position is that it is better to remain unmarried so as to avoid distracting them in their service to God and also to avoid additional troubles due to the suffering of their families in times of trouble. The way to avoid those things (according to Paul) is to remain unmarried. He doesn’t offer another alternative. There is just no evidence to suggest that he was advocating that married couples should avoid having children or that is was in anyway redefining what marriage was.

    you don’t know this. The idea of a stable environment for children was, Biblically speaking, never used as a justification for keeping sex within marriage. The idea of “one flesh”, however, was.

    We can know things that are not in the bible.

    What we do know is that there is at least ONE aspect of marriage that was intended from the beginning, per Jesus, and that was permanence… but even that is conditional. If even that one aspect is conditional, there is no reason to think that the rest (assuming there are other essential components) is not conditional. We also know that God does allow for moral exceptions, even if they aren’t ideal or weren’t this way “from the beginning”. Once that is recognized, there is no reason to think that NOTHING but x, y, & z can be considered “marriage”.

    The problem with this line of thinking is that although men were allowed to divorce and “remarry”, Jesus’ position is that the second “marriage” is not actually marriage.

    To sum up: there is no evidence that Paul was looking to redefine marriage. What marriage is (per Jesus) has it’s foundation in creation ethics.

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