2

1 Corinthians 7:8 (NIV): Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.

Genesis 2:18 (NIV): The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

What is the relationship between Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians and Moses' teaching in Genesis 2:18? Is Paul:

  • oblivious to Genesis 2:18?
  • consciously contradicting Genesis 2:18?
  • suspending Genesis 2:18 because of extenuating circumstances?
  • "fulfilling" Genesis 2:18 by super-saturating Genesis 2:18 with nuance related to the matters of the Messianic Age (IE: the first century)?

Is it good for a man to be alone, or was Eve necessary for all to be good?

It seems to me that Moses could have had Adam suggest that all was not good and complete, and castigate Adam for implying that fellowship with God through his Messenger wasn't enough. But Moses seems to have God readily admit that it really wasn't sorted until Adam had a mate.

Is there intended by Paul a congruence with the ambiguity of the Genesis 2 account? "It's good for a man to maintain his virginity, sure, but then again, wouldn't introducing a sexy mama (who also cooks) also be maybe even better?"

Or rather, "Marriage is good, but being single is better".

3
  • 1
    Interesting question Ruminator, following (+1). You might want to take in consideration Jesus' words in Matthew 19:9-12 too? Jan 9 at 14:25
  • 1
    Yes, that should be relevant to any answer provided. Sexuality is intrinsically thorny and so are the scriptures!
    – Ruminator
    Jan 9 at 14:28
  • 1
    The difference I see is that back then no woman existed, which is not the case when both Jesus and Paul spoke Jan 9 at 14:31
4

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18) [ESV]
ויאמר יהוה אלהים לא־טוב היות האדם לבדו אעשה־לו עזר כנגדו

"Helper" is עזר, one who helps; other than Genesis 2:18, 20, it is never used to refer to only a woman or wife. The term is used 21 times and 16 are in reference to God as helper. Thus the emphasis here is not one of sexual relations or procreation, rather helping the man. If the context is literal, then she is to help with the care and keeping of the garden (2:15). The LORD God was concerned about companionship and a "helper" and sex is implied, but it cannot be made the sole, or even primary purpose.

On the other hand, Paul's main focus is on the issue of sexual immorality:

1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7)

No where does Paul advocate for being alone and as it is impossible to be tempted to engage in improper sexual relations if one is alone, it is obvious man is not alone. Paul reaffirms what is stated in Genesis in that it understands a man will not live by himself and since he will live in the presence of women, he must not engage in sex outside of marriage, or adultery if married.

Paul's reference to his celibacy states it is a gift from God. Similar to the first man, celibacy is only received as a gift from God. In other words, if one has not received this gift, they should not try to be like Paul; rather they are to marry and avoid sexual immorality.

For those who have the gift, Paul understands the purpose of celibacy is to be able to be fully devoted to preach the Gospel. Even that cannot be taken as "being alone." Just as Paul can call Timothy "his son" preaching the Gospel will bring new believers into the family of God. In this way, even those who are celibate can be fruitful and multiply.

9
  • So would you say that Paul was addressing the current situation, and isn't really thinking about Moses' teaching at all? IE: Apples and oranges?
    – Ruminator
    Jan 9 at 22:47
  • @Ruminator Not sure I am following you. Yes he is addressing the current situation and yes he is following the Law in giving instruction against against sexual immorality. Jan 10 at 0:05
  • Would Paul be congruent with this?: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/119455/… Paul seems to think being single rocks.
    – Ruminator
    Jan 10 at 0:07
  • @Ruminator Paul says celibacy as a gift. For a Christian I would understand that as a gift of the Spirit for the purpose of advancing the Gospel. I believe that is the proper understanding of what Paul says. IOW He understands the gift of celibacy as a gift to preach the Gospel more, unencumbered by the requirements that come with marriage. OTOH if one does not have the gift one should marry as that is the Biblical means to satisfy sexual desire and to have children. Jan 10 at 1:31
  • Okay, well if you put that comment into your answer I can at least upvote it. I haven't totally warmed up to any answer so far, though all were valuable, and am still hoping to identify whether Paul was embodying in his teaching something specific in the Torah.
    – Ruminator
    Jan 10 at 1:35
3

In Genesis 2:18, God spoke to Adam specifically and to mankind in general at the beginning of human history.

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

1 Corinthians 7, the context is the last days.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not;

The "unmarried" in verse 8 is given a choice:

8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

The time was different. The focus was different. Even back in Genesis, God did not force everyone to get married. There is no undoing of Genesis 2:18.

8
  • Are you perhaps a preterist in you eschatology? So was there some advantage to remain a virgin, as Paul seemed to think there was? Or was it simply a practical concern? It sounds to me like Paul thought, "The more virgin the better" as an intrinsic good.
    – Ruminator
    Jan 9 at 16:45
  • I do not hold any position in eschatology. I try not to hold any position in anything. My goals are logic and objectivity in any discussion.
    – Tony Chan
    Jan 9 at 16:50
  • So do Paul's words apply to us today?
    – Ruminator
    Jan 9 at 16:54
  • Yes, choice is applied to us today until I'm persuaded otherwise. Objectivity is a freedom.
    – Tony Chan
    Jan 9 at 16:58
  • So would you say that in all generations, it is best if a man never gets involved with a woman, and retains his virginity, as Paul seems to be saying (unless there are outside pressures)?
    – Ruminator
    Jan 9 at 17:01
2

This is an interesting observation that compares two situations that are so different.

In Gen 2:18 we only have ONE man and God has recently created the world and needs to propagate the human race. In His wisdom, he has chosen to use sexual rather than asexual reproduction; therefore, God needs both man and woman and MUST provide both for anything to occur.

In 1 Cor 7, Paul is providing a series of proposals about sex and marriage for the general functioning of church members, whether single or not. This is in the context, the opposite of Gen 2, of there now being no essential requirement for procreation. Let me summarize Paul's instruction:

  • V1-6: If people are married, then they should not deprive each other of sex except by agreement for a "short time".
  • V7 - in the current age, it is NOT essential to be married - but that is a personal choice based on the giftedness of the person
  • V8, 9 - it is better not to marry but marriage is acceptable
  • V10-14 - If you are married, do not divorce; if single do not be in a hurry to marry; both states are acceptable.

Thus, I cannot see Paul "undoing" the instruction of Gen 2:18, except to say that, unlike the beginning of creation, it is now not essential to marry - that is now a personal choice.

However, Paul does say that the natural urges that God inserted into humanity at the beginning cannot be denied and if one wants to fulfill them, then as far as Christian doctrine is concerned, that is acceptable.

The distinction between Paul's time and a single, unreproduceable man (without the woman) in Eden cannot be ignored. Paul is now recognizing that people are not uniformly the same and some people do not need or even want marriage or sex. That is OK. Most do, and that is sufficient.

2
  • I upvoted this and marked it as the answer, but then immediately received a response to my related question: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/119455/… So really, it seems Paul is in fact upending the Mosaic/creation narrative requirement. I need to give this more thought.
    – Ruminator
    Jan 9 at 22:52
  • Why did you stop at verse 14? 25-40 give the full context of the chapter!
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 11 at 6:31
1

Paul is writing to a church he considers to be living in a crisis:

1 Corinthians 7:25-28 (NIV): Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

There are many theories about what this crisis is, from a famine, to religious persecution, to the "crisis" of living as a follower of God in these Last Days. But even if there was a particular local crisis in Corinth, I think we should read Paul's words here as applicable in every age of the church. So as he goes on to say:

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (NIV): hat I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Verse 31 in particular makes the most sense if Paul sees the church living in time a cosmic upheaval, not a mere temporal event like a natural disaster or a time of human brutality.

Paul goes on to say why it is "good" not to marry. He does not point to earthly concerns, like difficulties feeding your family, or the risks of imprisonment or martyrdom, but the concerns of someone seeking to serve God in their life. Again, this leads me to interpret the "crisis" as being Paul's emphatic way of showing us that Christians aren't about living The Good Life the world tells us to persue.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (NIV): 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.

So to your question: I think in part we should think of Paul's instructions as being due to "extenuating circumstances", but those extenuating circumstances are ones that apply to all of us who live in this church age, the Last Days. Every Christian serves a role in God's mission, we are not passive adherents. So Paul calls us citizens of heaven, and Peter says that we're "exiles" in this world. The Apostles want us to think of ourselves as not truly belonging to this world, as envoys from a foreign king, here to fulfil a task before we return home.

This makes the most sense of Paul's advocacy of singleness in this chapter. Getting married and having children is never wrong for God's people, and we shouldn't begrudge Christians who do so any more than we would refugees or diplomats who start families outside their homelands. But whereas the vision of the Hebrew Bible, starting from Adam and Eve in the Garden through to Israel in the Promised Land, is of setting down roots and growing godly families, the vision of the church is costly, sacrificial service to the Gospel, taking God's message of his own costly, sacrificial love to every people and nation in the world. The specific mission God has prepared for some of his people will be to marry, have children, meet and befriend the families of their children's schools, and share the Gospel with them all. The specific mission God has prepared for others will be to stay single, to concern themselves with "the Lord's affairs", to be free to uproot themselves at a moment's notice, or to willingly go to dangerous places to tell the Gospel to people who don't want to hear it. There are many societies in the world where a single person will be most able to befriend a segment of the society that a married person would find it hard to break through to.

Lastly, we cannot make the mistake of thinking the only antidote to loneliness is a marriage. Adam was truly alone, the only human in a world of animals. But God does not call his servants into isolation, but into community. If a Christian chooses to follow Paul into singleness they should do so knowing that their church will truly be there to support them at all times, good and bad, as a new family. Christians who do marry must likewise remember that they too are part of this community and they cannot sequester themselves away with their partner.

7
  • So for the last 2000 years it has been unadvisable to marry because the Church Age is one long extenuating circumstance of crisis?
    – Ruminator
    Jan 11 at 12:44
  • @Ruminator No, neither Paul nor I would say it is "unadvisable" to marry. But it is now "good" to, if you can serve God through your singleness, in a way that perhaps it was not in Israel's time. It remains good to marry, for those God leads into marriage. Whether you should marry or not remains an important and serious question!
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 11 at 12:47
  • I think that your answer has some sound elements to it but its fundamental supposition that "the current crisis" Paul refers to is "the Church Age". I know you have no appetite for full Preterism, but don't you think that perhaps the brewing civil war with Rome might be an important part of the crisis? I don't know of anyone that doesn't admit that at least a lot of Biblical eschatology relates to the destruction of the temple.
    – Ruminator
    Jan 11 at 12:56
  • @Ruminator That's definitely an option, and one we should consider seriously. But I don't see how it would make sense of verse 31 or verse 32. I guess for verse 31 it would take "world" to mean the social/civilisation world rather than the physical world, but even then, it wasn't like the Roman Empire was passing away soon, it would be many centuries - up to 14 for Corinth! (Though it may have been conquered before Byzantium fell, I don't know that part of history well.) And verses 32-34 really is focused on spiritual matters, not politics.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 11 at 13:00
  • So are you saying that the "extenuating circumstances" are really just what occasioned his teaching about the general principle that being single is better than marriage in the last days/Church Age (which you seem to equate)?
    – Ruminator
    Jan 11 at 13:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.