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Marriages & families in the Bible

Bible passages opposed to marriage

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The Christian Scriptures (aka New Testament) contains a few passages which promote celibacy either as an alternative to marriage or as a superior lifestyle.

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Matthew 19:9-12:

Jesus is recorded as promoting celibacy, but only for those who can handle it. It was a teaching added onto a statement about divorce:

"And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery."

"His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry."

"But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given."

"For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

Jesus identifies three groups of males for whom the unmarried state is better:

bullet Those men without functioning genitals capable of impregnating a woman.
bullet Those who have been intentionally castrated.
bullet Those who voluntarily abstain from sexual relations with women.

Charles Laymon's "The Interpreter's one-volume commentary on the Bible" suggest that at least the third option was added by later writers and scribes and is not something that Jesus advocated. Laymon comments that the words:

"Eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven have [occasionally] been taken literally. This was true in the case of Origen, the learned biblical scholar of the church in Alexandria in the early 3rd century. But the saying likely reflects the growing tendency of the church, even by the end of the first century, to regard abstinence from the marriage relationship as a sign of holiness. The passage tells us about the early church; it reveals nothing about the attitude of Jesus towards marriage."

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1 Corinthians 7:1-2, and 7:7-9

Paul writes to the Christian church at Corinth about marriage. That group was composed of former Jews Roman Pagans and Greek Pagans -- each with their own marriage customs. He suggests that celibacy is a preferred choice.

1 Corinthians 7:1-2: ...  It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

1 Corinthians 7:7-9: For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.

But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

He does not promote the unmarried, sexually inactive state as a general principle, but only to those to whom God has given the gift of celibacy.

His opinion might have been influenced by his belief that the end of the world would arrive in his immediate future. Thus, any lifestyle arrangement would be strictly temporary. The prevalence of persecution may also have been a factor. He gives heterosexual marriage is an option for those who would otherwise burn with sexual lust.

He appears to have given no consideration to same-sex marriage. He would have certainly been unaware of the concept of sexual orientation which was first suggested in the late 19th century and not seriously studied until the mid 20th century. He was probably unaware of loving, committed homosexual relationships.

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Revelation 14:1-5:

This passage discusses 144,000 singers during the end times, who seem to be given an preferential status because they are virgins who were "undefiled with women." They follow Jesus wherever he goes. "And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God." The implication is that sexual activity is polluting.

Some theologians have suggested that the 144,000 were free of spiritual fornication -- e.g. accepting some heresy or practicing some form of idolatry. However, this seems like a stretch, because verse four specifically mentions being undefiled with women. These verses probably reflect the growing anti-sexual movement in the early Church near the end of the 1st century CE when the Book of Revelation was probably written.

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It would seem that the Bible teaches that most people are happiest in a loving, supportive, committed marriage relationship. However, if a person can handle celibacy, then is is an alternative and perhaps a preferred option.

The anti-sexual message of Revelation seems out of sync with the rest of the Bible. But then, so is its portrayal of God as a wrathful, hateful, vindictive deity bent on revenge, which is seen throughout the book. These may have been the themes in Revelation that caused Martin Luther to reject the book, and relegate it to the appendix (along with James) of his German translation of the Bible.

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Copyright 2001 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-3
Latest update: 2007-JUN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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