Celibacy – Is this what Paul is encouraging the saints to do?
From a quick reading of 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, it seems as if Paul is saying to the widows and those unmarried, that “it is good for them if they abide even as I” (1 Corinthians 7:8). This seems as if he is counseling these saints to be single. For in the next verse he says, “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:9) This verse reads as if for some reason these saints cannot control their sexual desires that they should marry so that they do not commit fornication.
I believe that these verses were used as justification for the idea that celibacy is a higher form of Christianity. We see celibacy throughout Christian history. What do these verse mean? Was Paul single at the time? Was he a widower? Was he divorced? These are questions that scholars have struggled with over the years.
Bruce R. McConkie
“Many who practice celibacy do so out of an excessive religious devotion and with the idea in mind that they are serving their Maker. In reality they are forsaking some of the most important purposes of their creation for a man-made, uninspired system. Indeed, Paul says of this practice of celibacy that it consists in ‘giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.’ (1 Tim. 4:1-3.)
“In this connection it is interesting to note that it is to Paul that advocates of celibacy turn in a fruitless search to find scripture justifying their unnatural mode of living. Paul himself was married. Of this there is no question. He had the sure promise of eternal life; his calling and election had been made sure (Teachings p. 151) – which, according to God’s eternal laws, could not have been unless he had first entered into the order of celestial marriage. (D&C 131:1, D&C 132:1.)
“However, Paul wrote some things to the Corinthian saints which have been interpreted by some to mean that he was unmarried and that he thought it preferable if others did not marry. It may well be that his expressions on marriage, as found in the King James Version of the Bible (1 Cor. 7), have come to us in changed and perverted form, as compared to what he originally wrote. Some changes and clarifications have been made in the Inspired Version. But even as the record stands, it does not support celibacy; and when it is read in harmony with the rest of the scriptures (which always should be done in interpreting passages), it is found to teach quite the reverse.
“It is apparent that the Corinthians had written Paul and had said to him, ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman.’ Paul replied, in the Lord’s name, writing by way of commandment, ‘Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.’ Then he announced that the Lord had ceased to speak and that he would give some personal opinions, in an attempt to solve some difficult cases. He does not record what the cases were; obviously they had been in the letter the Corinthians wrote him; and to get a fair perspective of his answer, we would need to know the exact questions involved. However, from latter-day revelation we do know that the questions pertained to circumcision, the law of Moses, marrying out of the Church, and the false tradition that little children are conceived in sin and hence are unholy. (D&C 74:1.)
“Paul then gives it as his opinion (plainly saying that it is a personal view and not the voice of the Lord) that certain persons should not marry. It may be that he was referring to some particular persons for whom it would have been unwise to contract marriages. Knowing what he did about the doctrine of celestial marriage and exaltation, it is unthinkable that he would have counseled against marriage, except in some peculiar circumstance. There might be cases today in which individuals should not marry, but it is not the general rule, and the principle of not marrying is not the doctrine of the Church now any more than it was in his day. (Inspired Version, 1 Cor. 7.) If we knew the situation about which Paul wrote, and had a full transcript of his actual words, there would be no ambiguity as to his meaning and doctrine.
“Indeed, it is to some of Paul’s other writings that we turn for direct confirmation of the everlasting principle of eternal marriage, as for instance his epigrammatic statement, ‘Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 11:11.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 119-120.)