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1 Corinthians 7:

1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. ...
6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Is Paul talking about the gift of celibacy? How is that a gift? Is it the same as a calling from God?

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  • Does this not go against Elohim's 1st instruction for humanity in Genesis 1:28? Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 14:39
  • Excellent point! Please elaborate :)
    – user35953
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 15:00
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    I am afraid elaborating on the contradiction of 1 Corinthians 7:1 with Elohim's commandment to humanity in Genesis 1:28 would be downvoted by moderators since it would be seen as a critique of Paul's inspired wisdom for the Corinthians. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 15:05
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    @חִידָה Answers don't have to assume a text is inspired. But they do have to try to help us understand them better.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 22:56

2 Answers 2

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There are several matters here that should be treated separately.

1. Spiritual Gifts

In 1 Cor 7:7 Paul certainly calls celibacy a "gift" (χάρισμα) using the same word as in 1 Cor 12:4ff for spiritual gifts. This confirms the teaching of Jesus found in Matt 19:12 -

"For there are eunuchs who were born that way; others were made that way by men; and still others live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Thus, there are some who are given the spiritual gift of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. (This doctrine is unpopular in some circles but some groups appear to have no trouble accepting it exactly as Jesus predicted.)

2. Contradiction with Gen 1:28

The original command, part of the so-called "Edenic Covenant" (this is questionable) is found in Gen 1:28 -

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.”

There are actually several commends here, plus a divine blessing. However, in this question we are only interested in the commend to "be fruitful and multiply".

That mankind has done this in an arguably over-complete way is now beyond doubt! The fact that our first parents were given a command to fill the earth does not mean that all humans must become parents because:

  • this would contradict the clear instruction of Jesus in Matt 19:12
  • it would make sinners of some who die too young to have children
  • it would make sinners of some who by reason of situation or biological malfunction cannot have children.
  • it would reduce the gift of sexuality to mere reproduction which is patently false as 1 Cor 7:1-4 makes clear as well (to say nothing of the love poem that is Song of Songs)

Thus, the command to "be fruitful and multiply" is a command to humankind generally and not individuals. As stated above, this command is one of the very few that humankind has obeyed.

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God wants us to be fruitful and multiply, but again like all the commandments, they must be understood through the life of the spirit rather than through the death of flesh. God does not want us producing more little Adams after the flesh, anymore than God is not upset if we press elevator buttons on the Sabbath. God's commandments are to be understood in spiritual terms, not according to the flesh:

1 Cor 7.17-24

But to each one as the Lord has apportioned. As God has called each one, thus let him live—and thus I order in all the churches. Was anyone called after being circumcised? He must not undo his circumcision. Was anyone called in uncircumcision? He must not become circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Each one in the calling in which he was called—in this he should remain. Were you called while a slave? Do not let it be a concern to you. But if indeed you are able to become free, rather make use of it. For the one who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedperson. Likewise the one who is called while free is a slave of Christ. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Each one in the situation in which he was called, brothers—in this he should remain with God.

Thus ignoring the flesh includes even things like whether someone is a slave or is free, whether someone is circumcised or uncircumcised, whether someone is single or married. Each of these Paul puts into the "flesh" or "commandments of men" bucket, as opposed to the commandments of God. Everything in the "commandments of men" bucket is neither good or bad. It's just irrelevant. It "counts for nothing". Thus we should pay as little attention to it as possible, as our focus should be on doing the work of God.

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4.24 (ESV)

Indeed we are told:

Matt 3.9 (ESV)

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

And that's what God wants when it comes to being fruitful and multiplying - to raise from the stone of Christ children for Abraham through faith, and from the followers of Christ, little stones, more children for Abraham. That is, he wants us to produce more spiritual offspring. Here is Paul again in 1 Cor 4.15:

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

So it's clear that Paul (and the early Church) understood that the commandments of God are spiritual commandments, not for the flesh, and the commandment for believers is to multiply by creating spiritual offspring. The seed that we are to spread is not our seed after the flesh, but the word of God:

Matt 13.1-9 (ESV)

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears,[a] let him hear.”

But while we are trapped in the tents of flesh, we still have some practical needs to consider, but for Paul this was clearly a concession for expediency, because marriage interfered with the work of the gospel:

1 Cor 7.29-23 (LEB)

But I say this, brothers: the time is shortened, that from now on even those who have wives should be as if they do not have wives, and those who weep as if they do not weep, and those who rejoice as if they do not rejoice, and those who buy as if they do not possess, and those who make use of the world as if they do not make full use of it. For the present form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be free from care. The unmarried person cares for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But the one who is married cares for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. And the unmarried woman or the virgin cares for the things of the Lord, in order that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But the married woman cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. Now I am saying this for your own benefit, not that I may put a restriction on you, but to promote appropriate and devoted service to the Lord without distraction. But if anyone thinks he is behaving dishonorably concerning his virgin, if she is past her prime and it ought to be thus, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin. Let them marry. But he who stands firm in his heart, not having necessity, but has authority concerning his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin, he will do well.

Thus Paul allows some ministering to the flesh in order to avoid sexual immorality, which would also interfere with the work of God.

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  • Just out of curiosity, how does one "undo" their circumcision? Always wondered what that meant.
    – moron
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 3:07

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