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Christian Single Man

I am a Christian man in my 40s, and I have never been married. I always feel awkward when I meet someone in a church setting, and they ask if I am married. I feel as if just saying, “No,” and moving on, is not sufficient. I feel as if I owe them an explanation for why I am a defective degenerate who has never settled down and raised a family. On the other hand, the camp of Christians who believe that a man is a selfish degenerate if he is not married by the time he is 30 does not represent all Christians. There are also Christians who say that being single is a great opportunity to serve God better, as if single people do not have anything better to do than volunteer to teach in children’s church or stack chairs every Sunday at church. There are also people who want to celebrate singleness in and of itself, as if marriage is not the norm for an adult Christian and as if marriage and singleness are equal, from a normative value standpoint. I have problems with each of these positions.

My biblical theology of singleness is something like the following. In the beginning, God made humans as male and female. He made men and women to complement each other. “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). Immediately following creation, there is a wedding between the first man and the first woman. Marriage is a good thing instituted by God.

The first marriage is the beginning of human society. Is the beginning of the first family. The family is the basic building block of society. It is the most fundamental human institution upon which all of civilization is built. “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28). Adam and Eve would have children, and their children would get married and have children, and so on, forming a web or network of families that would populate the earth.

But then something happens in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve sin against God, and God curses the whole creation. Among other things, God curses relationships between men and women. “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16). This curse on the relationships between men and women has continued to this day.

Furthermore, all of creation is subjected to futility due to the curse of sin. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). The consequences of sin permeate every part of life, including our social systems and institutions, as well as the hearts of individuals.

The apostle Paul addresses singleness in 1 Corinthians 7. I have studied this passage at some length, consulting various commentaries, and it is a somewhat confusing passage. Some commentators, such as John Calvin, believe 1 Corinthians 7 is saying that single people should get married, to avoid temptation to sin sexually. Other commentators, such as N.T. Wright, take it to mean that Paul is not necessarily prescribing that single people get married or that they stay single, but rather Paul’s point is that either singleness or marriage is okay, and that as Christians living in a pagan world, we have other things on which to focus.

Another passage related to singleness is Matthew 19. Jewish legalists come to Jesus to ask him a tricky question about divorce, and Jesus refers back to the first wedding of Adam and Eve. He then responds that Moses had allowed the Israelites to divorce because of their hardness of heart, and that married couples should stay together except for cases of adultery. The disciples then remark that this is a difficult teaching, and Jesus replies by saying some weird stuff about eunuchs.

Without getting into detailed exegesis, my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19 is that both passages are in the Bible because the ideal of marriage as it is introduced in Genesis 2 is marred and corrupted by the effects of sin that are introduced in Genesis 3. Singleness is not a sin, but singleness is an effect of sin. In Matthew 19, Jesus mentions three types of eunuchs: those who are eunuchs by birth, those who have been made eunuchs by men, and those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. To expand this to a systemic level, there are forces in society that make it difficult for some people to get married. These forces may or may not be the own person’s fault; they may or may not be a result of the person’s own sin. However, they are a result of sin and the consequences of sin that are embedded in our social systems.

So, I do not agree that if a man is not married by the time he is 30, it is because he is selfish. There may be many reasons. It may be a complex combination of the effects of his own sin, the sins of his family, the sins of his church, the sins of his community, and the sins of the greater society of which he is a member. However, at the same time, I do not believe that a 40-year-old bachelor is every bit as “normal” as a 40-year-old man with a wife and kids. Unless a man intentionally stays single in order to serve the Lord in ways that a married man would be unable to do, something has gone wrong if a man is 40 years old and has not gotten married and started a family. In the most basic terms, it is the result of living in a fallen world. However, that does not mean that a man should feel guilty if he is single. He does not necessarily have a “duty” to marry, just for the sake of marrying.

To return to Romans 8:21, Paul looks forward “… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” The consequences of systemic sin, as we live in a fallen world, do not have the final word. Revelation 21 and 22 describe the final wedding, in which God’s people will be united to Jesus in a marriage that will last forever. Sin, and the effects of sin, will be a thing of the past. There will be no further need to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). No one will be alone or lonely. All our needs will be met. God the Son will be our husband, and we will be his bride.

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