A recent conversation about singleness on a podcast I listen to called The Reformed Pubcast[i] sparked some consideration in my mind with where I stand on that matter. Specifically the tension that there seems to be in conservative Christian circles between Paul’s writings on the issue in I Corinthians 7 and the Genesis 1 & 2 command that a man should cleave to a wife and be fruitful and multiply.
The direction that is often taken, especially in the setting I grew up in, is to respond to Paul’s words in one of three ways:
- We “hmm-haw” about it and tend toward the side of Genesis 1.
- We use 1 Corinthians 7 as a comfort for those that are “unfortunate” enough to not be able to find a husband/wife.
- We take the heretical approach and state that Paul was simply speaking his opinion here and these words are uninspired (please don’t do that!)
I think that there is a real danger in not simply taking Paul at face value, as difficult as it may be to swallow.[ii] And further, I don’t think there is a tension here between Paul and Genesis. And the best way to see that a tension does not exist is to view the issue of singleness through theological lenses.
Let me lay out that theological lens which must be considered. First, it is my view that the Scriptures reveal that God interacts with his Creation through various covenants. And second, I am also “baptistic” in the sense that I believe that under the new covenant the covenant “children” are those that are born-again, exhibiting repentance and faith, thus making them the rightful recipients of the covenant sign, which is baptism.[iii] You may be wondering what that has do with Genesis, 1 Corinthians 7, and singleness. But trust me! We will get there.
The Bible teaches that, from my viewpoint, Adam was under a covenant.[iv] Like all covenants, this one had terms[v] and responsibilities[vi]. Among the responsibilities was that man was to be fruitful and multiply.
Had Adam not transgressed the covenant by eating from the forbidden tree, his children would have been covenant children – fellows in this mission to fill and subdue the earth. The same seems to be the case with the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, where children born to families under those covenants were given the covenant sign of circumcision and were expected to “be fruitful and multiply”.
Now we come to the New Covenant, ushered in by Christ and sealed with his blood, where there is an important shift. Children are no longer born into the covenant people “by the will of the flesh, nor the will of man” but are born “of God” into the covenant people.[vii]
Just as God in Genesis 1 gives authority to man to subdue the earth and commands him to be fruitful and multiply, with the dawning of the New Covenant God gives authority to his covenant people –the church- and also commands them to be fruitful and multiply.[viii] There has been a shift in categories of covenant offspring from the strictly biological to the spiritual[ix] and therefore a shift in the paradigm of “be fruitful and multiply.”
So now we get back to Paul in I Corinthians 7. Paul, I believe, understood this distinction in what makes someone a child of the covenant. Just read Romans and Galatians. Paul even refers to Timothy as his “true child in the faith.”[x] Paul believed that in his singleness he was obeying the covenant duty to be fruitful and multiply. Just like Old Testament saints he understood that just as God opens and closes the womb he also opens and closes the heart[xi] and he made it his aim to “procreate”. Paul saw, under the New Covenant, that he could better pursue fruitfulness as a single man because he would be freer to scatter the seed of the Gospel which God may be pleased to spring to fruit.
Under the new covenant, therefore, there is a dignity and a purpose to singleness like never before. Our union with Christ and his church means that we are not robbed of meaningful fellowship outside of marriage. We are not defined by our ability to have sexual intimacy, but rather by our inseparable, intimate marriage to Christ as a member of his bride – the church.
What this means is that marriage is good. Marriage is honorable. Marriage is pure. But it is not better than singleness in the eyes of God. The new covenant removes that tension.
So if the Lord has called you to singleness this is my admonition: Jesus is enough. Now, pursue fruitfulness and multiplication by sowing the seed of the Gospel in broad and daring ways that you never could if God had called you to be a husband/wife, father/mother.
The command stands. The paradigm has shifted.
[i] A Christian podcast about theology, pop culture, and beer. [ii] I speak as someone who is happily married and wish many were as I. [iii] I don’t have time to get into all the details of this. For more info message me and I can suggest some reading. [iv] Hosea 6:7 [v] Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16) [vi] Subdue the earth and be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28) [vii] John 1:13 [viii] Matthew 28:18-19 [ix] I understand this is something my Presbyterian brothers will disagree with. [x] 1 Timothy 1:2 [xi] Genesis 29:31, Acts 16:14