The Case for Celibacy

I Corinthians 7:1-9, 25-40

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2010

We have been studying the Book of I Corinthians. We come to the seventh chapter in the book. It starts the second part of the book. The first part of the book deals with problems in the church that Paul brings up. The second part deals with Paul’s answers to questions that the Corinthians had.

The Corinthians had some questions and wrote a letter to Paul asking him a bunch of questions. We do not have their letter but we have his answer to their questions.

Notice how the chapter beings – Now for the matters you wrote about (7:1). It is the second longest chapter in the book. The longest chapter is I Corinthians 15. Let’s read this chapter together.

Tonight I want to answer one question, Is it better to be married to be single? Today we will look at the case for celibacy. Next week, we will look at the case for marriage. What Paul says about celibacy is very important and is rarely heard in our day today. You never hear sermons about this.

Paul gives us in I Corinthians 7 a case for celibacy, especially in the beginning and end of the chapter. He tells why those who are single (unmarried, widows and virgins) should remain single. We have some single people in this room, so this applies to you. What did Paul say about celibacy? He makes three points in this chapter.

Singleness is Good

Notice what Paul says in I Corinthians 7:1, literally, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (KJV). What does he mean, “It is good not to touch a woman? Touch is a euphemism.  A euphemism is when we use a softer word, rather than a harder word. We use them all of the time. We do not say that someone is old.

We say that they are “senior citizens”. We do not say that something is “used”. We say someone “passed away” instead of died. We say that we are going to the “restroom” rather than the bathroom. We say that it is “pre-owned”. We do not say that someone committed “adultery”.

We just say that they had “an affair”. What do we call a sort that sells pornographic magazines and books? We call it “an adult bookstore”. The Bible uses euphemism as well. Jesus used euphemism. He said that Lazarus was not dead. He was just sleeping. The Bible uses a lot of euphemisms for sex.

In Genesis 4:1, it says, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain”. You have to do more than to know someone to make a have a baby and you can get pregnant without knowing someone at all but this is just a euphemism for sex, because it is the most intimate way two people can get to know each other.

Leviticus 18:6 says, “None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the LORD” (KJV). The NIV paraphrases, rather than translates the word. That is another euphemism for sex, because that is usually done by two people who do not have any clothes on. In I Corinthians 7:1 we see another euphemism.

Paul says, It is good for a man not to touch a woman” and he is not talking about holding hands or hugging a woman. It is a euphemism for sex and it is used in other places in the Bible (cf. Genesis 20:6; Proverbs 6:29 [“whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent” – KJV]; Ruth 2:9 [“have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?”– KJV].

Paul says that, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”. He does not say “It is good for a husband not to touch a woman”. He says, “It is not good for a MAN to touch a woman”. Here he is talking about the unmarried. What does Paul mean that it is GOOD for a man not to touch a woman?

Does he mean morally good? If it is morally good to be single, does that mean that marriage is wrong? That is what Jerome believed. Jerome wrote, “If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one: for there is no opposite to goodness but badness”.

He simply means that it is not wrong to be single. Most people tend to get married and we sometimes think that everyone should get married and if you don’t get married, there must be something wrong with you. If you don’t get married, people think you’re gay. Many think that everyone is getting married and if you don’t get married, you are going to be miserable.

To marry is to live happily ever after. Not to be married is to live a life not worth living. Our culture teaches that the most important thing in all of life is to be married.

We put a stigma on singles but Paul says it is perfectly fine to be single and never get married. Jesus never got married. John the Baptist never married. Paul never married, as far as we can tell.

Misreading of I Corinthians 7

Many in the church have completely misinterpreted what Paul says in this chapter. Notice what Paul does NOT say.

1. Paul does NOT say that you are more spiritual if you are single than if you are married.

He does NOT say that being single is morally superior to being married. The Roman Catholic Church has glorified celibacy.

Monasticism was a big deal in the Middle Ages (monks and nuns) and even today Roman Catholic priests cannot get married, because they believe that a man is holier if he is single.

Many of the church fathers believed that marriage came with sin.  Some even  taught that it began after the Fall. They believed that Adam and Eve were virgins. We will see next week why this is wrong.

Incidentally, I don’t know why we call them the “Church Fathers”. None of them had any kids and they were all screwed up in the area of marriage and sex.

The Church Fathers believed that you were holier if you were single. John Chrysostom, for example, in his treatise “On Virginity” said that “virginity is superior to marriage as heaven is to earth or as angels are to men”. Did Paul believe that? No.

2. Paul does NOT command people to be single.

It is his advice for people to stay single. Paul recommends celibacy but Paul is very clear that this is not a command (7:25, 40). It is Paul’s opinion.

3.  Paul was NOT against marriage.

He does not say that marriage is evil or sinful. How do we know this?

  • Paul says that if you get married, you do not sin (7:28).
  • He calls marriage a χάρισμα or divine gift (7:7).
  • He used the marriage relationship as a picture of our relationship to Christ in Ephesians 5:28-33).
  • One of the requirements listed for elders is that they are “the husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3:2).

Paul assumes that they would be married and have kids (3:4-5). This would not be a requirement for elders if there was something unspiritual about marriage.

4. Paul says that to forbid marriage is a doctrine of demons (I Timothy 4:1-3).

It is a sign of the apostasy when people say this. Most of the Apostles were married (I Corinthians 9:4-5) and Paul never condemns them for this. Peter was married, because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39). You have to be married to have a mother-in-law.

Catholics believe that Peter was the first Pope. He was not but, if that’s the case, then, the first Pope was married. Popes today cannot get married. The Pope is not the head of the church. The Bible says that Christ is the head of the church.

Certain cults have forbidden marriage. The Shakers believed that marriage was incompatible with the Kingdom of God. They believed that you cannot be a Christian and be married. That group, which started in the 1700s, eventually died out.

Singleness has Some Advantages

Paul says this in 7:32-35. Of course, there are also some disadvantages to being single, but for not, let’s think of some of the advantages. What are some advantages to being single?

1. More freedom and independence.

You can do what you want when you are single. If you want to throw all of your socks on the floor, you can do it. If you want to come home at three in the morning, you can. You have no curfew. In some cases, you have more of a freedom to minister.

Paul could not have done the kind of ministry he did, traveling from town to town and exposing himself to constant danger, if he were married and had a family. This is not always the case. Some ministries can be done much better in the context of marriage.

This small group is one of them. This is a ministry that Anne and I do much better together than I could ever do on my own. You are also free to take some more risks when you are single. If you want to be a missionary in some dangerous part of the world, you can do it.

The contemporary Christian musician Rich Mullins once said that the difference between being married and single is that when you are single, you can pick up hitchhikers. It is not worth taking a risk if you have a wife and kids but if you are single and someone slits your throat, it doesn’t matter.

2. Less responsibility.

You only have to cook for one. You can do what you want when you are single. You are not accountable to any other human. You are only accountable for yourself. This can actually be a bad thing. Marriage has a way of making people grow up. Being married and having kids makes you more mature and more responsible.

3. More control over your money (financial advantages – lower cost of living).

4. Not having to tolerate another person’s annoying habits (pick their nose, passes gas or snore).

5. There are certain circumstances in which celibacy would be more of a blessing, than a curse.

Paul said, “Because of the present crisis or distress, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is” (7:26). There are certain circumstances in which it would not be good to be married (war, persecution, Holocaust). The Tribulation period will be the greatest period of distress that the world has ever seen (Matthew 24:21).

Jesus said that it will not be good during the Tribulation Period to be pregnant (Matthew 24:19). That may explain why in Revelation, there are 144,000 people in the Tribulation Period who are set apart to God and are single (Revelation 7:3-4).

God said that the Prophet Jeremiah could not get married or have kids. Why? He lived at a time when judgment was coming. Jerusalem and the temple were about to be destroyed. A military invasion was about to take place (16:1-4).

There is no special crisis in America which would prevent people from getting married. In Paul’s day, there may have been one. What are some other advantages?

Singleness is Not for Everyone

Both Paul and Jesus said this. Paul was single. He loved being single and wished that all of the Corinthians were single (7:7). However, Paul also knew that singleness is not for everyone. Why not?

Why Celibacy is NOT for Everyone

Celibacy requires a special GIFT from God (7:7).  God does not call people to a lifetime of celibacy unless He gives them the gift for it. You either have gift of marriage or the gift of singleness. Not everyone who is single has the gift of celibacy. Some are single by circumstances, rather than by choice.

Do You Have the Gift of Celibacy?

The real question is, What is YOUR gift? How do you know if you have the gift of celibacy? What are some signs that you may have this gift?

A. If you have the gift, you have no interest in marriage.

You can be single and be perfectly happy. The fact is that not all single people want to be married. The gift of celibacy is the special ability that God gives to some people to remain single and enjoy it.

B. If you have the gift, you do not struggle with sexual lust (7:8-9) or are able to control your desires.

C. Celibacy requires a special CALLING (7:17-20).

It is something that God leads some people to do. The questions here is, What has God called YOU to do. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 19:10-12.

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (NIV)

Let’s look at what Jesus says and what he doesn’t say. Jesus says there are three kinds of people who should NOT get married. Jesus describes three types of eunuchs.

Three Kinds of Eunuchs

The first type are those who were BORN EUNUCHS. They are hereditary eunuchs who are born with a physical problem and they are incapable of having sex.

The second type are those who have been MADE EUNUCHS by others (surgical eunuchs). This could be done to punish people (slaves). Boys before puberty were castrated to keep them singing at a higher pitch (castrati).

This took place during the Baroque period (1600-1750). Seventy percent of opera singers of the Baroque Period were castrati. There have been cases of voluntary castration. Sometimes it is done for medical reasons (prostate cancer).

It would be great if we could do this to convicted sex offenders. The testes produce testosterone, which in turn produces sex drive. That is why castrated men were used to guard the harem.

The third type of eunuchs are there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (religious or eunuchs). They MAKE THEMSELVES eunuchs, not physically but spiritually. This passage raises a few questions.

Did Jesus glorify celibacy? No. Jesus did NOT say that all people should be eunuchs but the people who have the gift to do this should do it. Jesus says, “If you are able to receive it, you should”. What’s the implication? If you are not able to receive it, you shouldn’t.

Is Jesus talking about homosexuality? That is a common view today in some circles. Jesus mentions eunuchs who are born that way. Many homosexuals think that they were born that way and that Jesus is talking about them but this is simply not the case.

What is the definition of a eunuch? It is someone who does not have their testicles or someone who has been castrated. A homosexual has his sex organs. The problem is not that they do not work but that they are used on the wrong sex.

4 Responses to The Case for Celibacy

  1. Gladys says:

    K so new question, I know that we were talking about how our thoughts are considered diffrent from our words in a biblical since, but are our thoughts diffrent from our actions as well, For instance I think there is somewhere in the bible where we are told to be chast, now I have never read this scripture myself but I was taught that that meant to not have impure thoughts. To be honest I took that for face value, but at work most of the people I know had premarital sex and no one at work is shy about sex they talk about it, not in a dirty way but they dont mind mentioneing it, and they all know I am religious but the thought occured to me, if someone had an unchast or impure thought isnt that just as bad as actually having sex? Or dose the being chast scripture mean something diffrent?

    • admin says:


      You said “The thought occurred to me, if someone had an unchaste or impure thought isn’t that just as bad as actually having sex?” The answer is Yes and No. To answer this question, you have to understand two biblical truths. Both are taught in Scripture.

      One, there are degrees of sin. Some sins are worse than others. They are not all equal. In the OT, some sins resulted in death and some did not. Mental adultery is not as bad as physical adultery. In the OT, adultery was punishable by death. It was a capital crime. Lust was not. In fact, it was not a crime at all. It was a sin but not a crime.

      Two, mental sins are still sins. God cares about mental purity, as well as physical purity. Jesus said that the one who thinks about an illicit relationship in his or her head is committing a form of adultery (Matthew 5:28-29). It may not be quite as bad as physical adultery but it is still adultery.

      His point is that if you are pure on the outside but impure on the inside, you are a hypocrite. You are like the Pharisees who looked great on the outside but terrible on the inside. It also shows that outwardly moral and religious people are still sinful and are still in need of salvation. That is why works cannot save a person. I hope this answered your question.

  2. Gladys says:

    I think it answer my question. I mean I get that its not as bad as actually having sex but you say that they are still in need of salvation, but even saved people have this problem. Mostly boys I think, but still arent impure thoughts more a matter of harmones than anything, I know a boy named ricky who has an impure thought or two but he is I think 24yrs old, he is a Christian. Wether its a sin or not, isnt it kind of a natural response that many cant controll at the age Ricky is. I kind of alwayse figured an impure thought was more like a dream, it something that sometimes you cant prevent from popping into youre head sometimes.

    • admin says:


      Great question. You are correct that the problem is not limited to unsaved people. Saved people often struggle with lust. The difference is that saved people will exercise more control on their thought life than an unsaved person who would not even think any type of lust is even wrong. The saved realize that it involves a battle to be fought. Sometimes they win the battle and sometimes they lose but they are always fighting it. You are also correct about another point. The natural sex drive is not wrong. God created it. Acknowledging someone is physically attractive is not wrong but deliberately looking at someone who is not your spouse and lusting is sin. We cannot control the thoughts that enter our head but we can control what we do with those thoughts. Martin Luther once said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.” I hope this helps a little.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *