In this two-part article, we will explore two important biblical teachings surrounding singleness. Namely, that the Bible never places single people into a single category, and that the New Testament places equal value on singleness and marriage. This is so important, but often overlooked and easily forgotten.
There are more and more christians posting blogs and articles on the internet about singleness. They talk about their experience, and why we should’t see singleness as a burden, or as second best, or as a waiting period for marriage. They also try to shed some light on the challenges and struggles they face as single people in Christian contexts.
These are all great and really important.
Reading about people’s stories and experiences is very helpful. But what does the Bible actually say about singleness? As Christians, surely we want to make sure the Bible is moulding our thinking as well as all of these helpful and relevant blogs.
My aim here isn’t to outline everything the Bible says about singleness, or try to list every verse which talks about it directly or indirectly. My aim is rather to highlight two important teachings that the Bible outlines about singleness, to hopefully add to the conversations that are happening, and help us think through what all this means for our discipleship.
In this first article, (Read Part 2 here) I want to focus on the massive shift towards singleness that the New Testament brings to the people of God; where singleness and marriage are both seen as equally good.
The Old Testament Was About Tying The Knot
On the whole, in the Old Testament, it was all about marriage and making a family.
At the very start of creation God says: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18). This was broadly interpreted (rightly or wrongly) to mean that people should get married.
It was interpreted like this because Adam and Eve get married (Genesis 2:22-23) and so this is what humanity was designed for, and how to overcome the ‘not good’ state of being on your own. (I personally think the Genesis story teaches us about community and the need for all relationships, and not just romantic ones. Read ‘Reflecting God’s Image Is Found In Plurality’)
Adam and Eve were also commanded to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1:28). It was therefore expected, and the cultural norm, for people to settle down and start raising kids.
Jeremiah is the only real clear example of God commanding life-long singleness as part of his purposes in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 16:1-2). Moreover, not having kids was seen as a curse and undesirable (E.g. 1 Samuel 1).
However, in the New Testament, all of this changes.
The New Testament Is A New Approach
In the New Testament, single people are now:
- A Big Part Of God’s Mission
- Singleness is Valued and Elevated
A Big Part Of God’s Mission
There is story after story of single people being part of God’s family and God’s mission. Many of these stories include key figures. For example, John the Baptist and Paul the Apostle were not married (although some argue Paul may have been in his early life, nevertheless this would have been before his christian ministry).
The Ethiopian eunuch (someone who was born without, or no longer has, their genitals) is brought into God’s kingdom as a single man. (Acts 8:26-40)
Anna was given the title of prophet, and had been married for seven years but was then a single widow until she was 84. So she was single for most of her life, and it said she worshiped God daily, and was one of the first people God revealed the significance of Jesus to (Luke 2:36-38).
Jesus himself never married, never had sex, was single all of his life, and had the biggest impact than anyone in human history.
Singleness is Valued and Elevated
These stories and accounts of single people in the New Testament are not only recorded and celebrated, but Jesus and Paul both openly teach that singleness is good and should be pursued where possible.
‘[Jesus said] For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’
‘Now to the unmarried and the widows I [Paul] say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.’
1 Cor 7:8 (See also verse 32-35)
Some argue that because of this teaching, singleness is now better than marriage. However, in light of the whole New Testament, marriage is still upheld and not undermined (E.g. Ephesians 5:21-33)
The key thing to remember is singleness and marriage are both valued and seen as having benefits and challenges. Singleness is not seen as second best in the New Testament. When we forget this, we can weaken relationships and our discipleship. (Read ‘Why Single People’s Relationship Advice Shouldn’t Get Rejected’)
You can read Part 2 here insert link, where we continue to explore what the Bible says about singleness. Particularly, the fact that the Bible never places single people into a single category, and why this is so important.
But for now, whatever our relationship status, imagine if we reflected on the value, and struggles of both singleness and marriage, and created communities where we elevated singleness and marriage, where we all asked ‘What can I learn from their situation?’ or ‘How can I make them feel included?’
(This article was originally published on the Naked Truth Relationship website, and has been updated for this discipleship website.)