I was reminded again of the modern church’s unbiblical views on marriage. If one were to believe in a Christ-like life, you could look to Jesus as an exemplar, and say that men and women should not marry because Jesus did not marry. But of course this is weak evidence. One might also say that people should not wear polyester because Jesus did not wear polyester. I think there are many places that modern Christians are the opposite of Christ-like, but that’s not the strong Biblical evidence against marriage.
The strong evidence is that the Bible explicitly says that marriage is not a particularly good thing, but if you’re too weak to be celibate, then marry so you won’t fornicate. This is very different from the idea that marriage is a sacred Christian institution. Let’s look at what the Bible tells us in Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, chapter 7:
1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband… 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
And why is it better to stay unmarried? Because time is short (v29). Paul teaches that the Kingdom of God is imminent, and so Christians should not distract themselves with earthly affairs.
32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
I’ll reiterate Paul here: I’m not saying that marriage or sex within marriage is sin for Christians. That’s not what Paul is saying. He’s saying that it is best to be celibate, but if you can’t manage to live fully for God even for the short time ahead of us, then it’s acceptable to marry rather than fornicate. But clearly it is not something the Church should be celebrating, let alone “defending” (I’ll leave the absurdity of defending marriage against those who support it for another time).
Might we think that Paul is simply giving his human opinion here, that these words don’t count as “God-breathed?” No. Paul is very careful in this passage to delineate those parts that are his personal opinion (v12, v25, v40). Given his care to call this out in v12, it is clear that v1-11 are supposed to be God speaking through Paul if we are to believe that the Bible is God-breathed except where it says that it isn’t (v12).
This raises an interesting corollary. If Christian marriage is primarily an outlet for our natural passions, then what of children? If the needs of a wife distract a Christian man from pleasing God, how much more so children? Reading 1 Cor 7, we can see that children may be the natural outcome of verse 3 (“the husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband”), but still this is all in the context of a church who should be anxiously waiting for the imminent end of the world (v29). What do we think Paul would say to modern Christians worrying about college savings accounts? How often does he have to say time is short, focus on Heaven, not Earthly concerns?
Lest there be any confusion, I am a big proponent of marriage. I think it’s one of the more important institutions humans have and a symbol of the kind of divine interconnectedness that we should be striving for. I just don’t see any Biblical reason for Christians to agree with me. Paul is clear; Chrisitans should be teaching celibacy as the ideal, and abstinence before marriage only for those too weak to make a full Christian commitment. Raising children would seem rightly to be the furthest thing from a Christian’s mind.