Celibacy and Marriage
1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.…

Hitherto the apostle has been treating of abuses in the Church at Corinth, which had come to his knowledge, either through the household of Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11) or through common report (1 Corinthians 5:1). He passes now to deal with certain matters regarding which the Corinthians had asked his advice by letter; and the first of these is marriage, with other related subjects. While treating the whole chapter homiletically, the preacher will do well to exercise a wise delicacy in introducing many of the points to a mixed congregation.

I. CELIBACY. The preference apparently given to celibacy in this chapter calls for careful consideration.

1. In what sense is it called "good"? It is not good in the sense of being in itself and always superior to marriage. Elsewhere Paul speaks of the married state with the greatest respect, as an image of the union between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:23-25), and gives it as a mark of the false teachers of later times that they "forbid to marry" (1 Timothy 4:3). The law of consistency, then, bids us interpret his statements here as in no sense depreciatory of the Divine ordinance of marriage. A single life is good in the sense of being in itself honourable, and in certain circumstances expedient. The apostle's "good" here must always be read in view of the "not good" of Genesis 2:18.

2. When is it to be preferred to marriage? Leaving out of view considerations of physical health, which in some cases may render marriage imprudent or even culpable, three answers to our question may be gathered from this chapter.

(1) In circumstances of peculiar distress (ver. 26). Such trouble had either come upon the Corinthians or was near at hand, that Paul judged it better for them to keep clear of such engagements as would only increase their suffering. In times of persecution or dearth it may be wise not to marry.

(2) When called to some peculiar service for the Lord. This was Paul's case. Other apostles, indeed, were married, but in view of vers. 32, 33, we may suppose that the apostle of the nations judged it best for his peculiar mission to remain unmarried. Celibacy may be preferred "for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Matthew 19:12).

(3) Both these considerations must be taken along with a third presented in ver.

2. If a man has not the gift of continency, there is in that a clear indication that it is his duty to marry (ver. 9); if he possesses this gift, then he is free to give weight to other reasons which may turn the balance in favour of celibacy. Even then, however, the higher ends of wedlock are not to be overlooked.

3. It is not to be made obligatory. The Church of Rome ascribes a peculiar excellence to the celibate state, as fitted to promote greater sanctity. Hence her cultivation of monastic and conventual life, and the imposition of celibacy on the clergy. There is no warrant for this in the teaching of the apostle here; while experience testifies to the dreadful evils to which it leads.


1. Marriage is a safeguard against incontinence. The apostle is not here treating of marriage in general or presenting it in its higher aspects and bearings. The pure union of man and woman in wedlock is a communion of soul and body in love, a fulfilment of the Divine intention clearly expressed in our nature. Husband and wife thus united "in the Lord" - the one being the complement of the other, and set "like perfect music unto noble words" - are joined by a bond so holy, so exalted, so mysterious, that it is the earthly reflex of the spousal union between Christ and his Church. Still, the use here referred to by the apostle is not to be overlooked, especially in view of such licentiousness as prevailed at Corinth. God never bids us eradicate any natural appetite, as asceticism does, but provides for its gratification in a way consonant to our nature and destiny.

2. It implies the rendering of conjugal duty. (Vers. 3, 4.) The one party exists for the other, and for the other alone - the twain having become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

3. Marriage is a union between one man and one woman. In polygamy the true idea of marriage is lost. The original appointment was the union of two persons only, Adam having only one Eve; and the departure from this was due to sin. The testimony of Scripture, alike in precept and in its purest examples, is all in favour of monogamy (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4, 5; 1 Timothy 3:2); and the statements of the apostle here take this for granted. The domestic bliss of which poets sing is not to be found in the homes of polygamy.

"Here Love his golden shafts employs, here lights
His constant lamp. and waves his purple wings,
Reigns here and revels."

(Paradise Lost,' 4:763-765.)

"Domestic happiness, thou only bliss
Of Paradise, that has survived the Fall!...
Thou art the nurse of virtue; in thine arms
She smiles, appearing, as in truth she is,
Heaven born, and destined to the skies again."

(Cowper's 'Task.') B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

WEB: Now concerning the things about which you wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman.

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