God, Singleness and Lust?

A Response to “Arguments Against Marriage”

In Argument Against Marriage, the author effectively claims that the Bible teaches that singleness is superior to marriage. I would like to make a few clarifying points, with the disclaimer that there is a large diversity of interpretations of the Bible within Christendom and, while I may think mine is correct, I am human and subject to error. I cannot possibly represent the beliefs of all Christians on these matters. Additionally, I am Protestant, rather than Catholic, though I do not closely identify with any one denomination beyond being fairly conservative.

Regarding Christianity “work[ing] its way into marriage,” the author states that “the Catholic church was well aware marriage was man-made and did not put any claim on marriage as a sacrament until the 1200s.” The author cites his source, though I believe that a better place to start research into this might be the Wikipedia page, “Marriage (Catholic Church).” The “History of marriage in the Catholic Church” section of the Wikipedia entry reads, “Marriage is acknowledged in the New Testament scriptures. The first recorded miracle by Jesus is at a wedding feast in Cana, and the Catholic Church believes this signifies his approval of the institution of marriage…” with a provided citation. This, however, is tangential.

As a (Protestant) Christian, if I’m trying to decide whether or not the union of a woman and a man is sacred, divinely ordained/regulated, etc., my first source is not Catholic Canon Law, but rather the (Protestant) Bible itself. To start, I look back to the account of Adam and Eve and the establishment of the nature of a holy union as given in Genesis 2:24-25. What I see here is that before the formal establishment of religious sects, the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible designed holy unions (later to become formalized as “marriage”). Therefore, saying “religion… has worked its way into marriage” isn’t exactly inaccurate… but if you accept the Bible as truth it is not entirely accurate either. I will not pursue this topic further; the subject of the divine authority of Scripture is not within the scope of this particular piece.

It is (somewhat) accurate to claim that Paul endorsed singleness as “an ideal that Christians should strive for” (though technically the citation should be I Corinthians 7:7-9). However, it might be worth reminding readers that within this context, if there is no marriage there is absolutely no sexual intercourse. It’s also worth asking why, and I feel reasonably sure that Paul’s reasons are not the reasons the author is presenting. In Matthew 19:12, Jesus said, “there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Note that “eunuch” here is, at least in my experience, widely accepted as being a metaphor for one who chooses to remain celibate and does not refer to a literal eunuch.) The benefit of singleness presented here is the lack of distraction that comes with marriage and family, for the singular purpose of allowing people to better serve God. If either Jesus or Paul cited other reasons for singleness, I am not currently aware of them.

The flip side of this is the question, “Does this mean the Bible says I should only get married if I have lust problems?” I don’t think so, but if you’re craving sexual satisfaction than singleness might not be for you (just sayin’…) That said, I cannot emphasize enough that sex should NOT be the singular (or primary) reason for getting married. In this respect, I support many of the things the author wrote, such as the author’s denouncement of marriage as a problem-solver and fulfillment of social expectations. I particularly liked it when the author wrote, “People want to have someone to love, because love is a beautiful thing. People want to have someone love them back, because love is a rare thing.” I think the experience of a committed union, with all its ups and downs, is beautiful and can make a person grow in ways singles can’t even imagine and can teach us more about what it really means to love than we would ever expect. The commitment is important, partially because it forces personal growth. You could say that we choose monogamous, committed marriage not because it is easy, but because it is hard. I will stop here; when it comes to the topic of love, it would not be difficult to fill an entire issue of Frankly Speaking. I will also entirely avoid the topic of arranged marriage, though I will say that I much prefer the choose-your-own-spouse method and suspect that God prefers it, too.

The last item I would like to address is the author’s use of Luke 20:35 as a citation for the phrase “Jesus taught that it was better to be unmarried and celibate.” Matthew 19:12 can serve as an alternative citation that at least approaches the claim that it is better to be celibate. The actual meaning of Luke 20:35 makes it an inappropriate citation for this claim. In Luke 20:35, Jesus is speaking about what happens to marriages after the Resurrection of the Dead, a future event when everyone who has ever died will be resurrected. Long (and admittedly strange) story short, what we learn here is that marriage is exclusively a blessing for this life and has no place or applicability in the life to come. You can learn more about this by Googling “Christianity and the Resurrection of the Dead” and reading Luke 20:27-39 and Romans 7:1-3.