“For it is better to marry than to burn,” 1 Corinthians 7:9 Apostle Paul wrote in response to questions the Corinthian church posed to him.
The questions were about the place of marriage in a world that was supposed to be on its last legs. He counselled that celibacy was the preferred option. 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 However, he feared that Satan might exploit the inability of humans to contain their libidinal impulses. He therefore exhorted to marry.
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:2
That teaching reduced marriage to a ‘get out of sin’ card. A tool to avoid the snare of the devil, a place for sanctified ‘release’.
According to him, marriage was an earth-bound, avoidable distraction from a striving for heaven.
“But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” 1 Corinthians 7:32
Not that the man of God was averse to marriage. He employed the institution as a metaphor in a number of his exegesis on the relationship between Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:22-33 However, when it came to the service of God and a striving for heaven, marriage was a dispensable quantity.
According to St Paul, marriage was an earth-bound, avoidable distraction from a striving for heaven.
That Pauline take on marriage needs to be re-visited. Sometimes it is necessary to wrestle with our fixation with heaven for the sake of our heaven. His teaching in that scripture sits in tension with the basis on which God arranged the first marriage in Genesis Chapter 2.
Adam did not seek a wife. If he ‘burned’, he’d have no clue how to understand the current coursing through his members or how to put out the ‘fire’. When scripture said that God decided that it was not good that Adam was alone, it was in the context of the work Adam was doing.
“And the LORD God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him. And out of the ground, the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” Genesis 2:18-20
On a second occasion and another context, God revealed another purpose for the bed of marriage. Priests treated their wives as disposable ornaments whenever the bed of marriage grew cold, or when they acquired the capacity to plough ‘lusher’ shrubs. Heaven closed on them and God ceased to take pleasure in their services. God’s reason:
“Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” Malachi 2:13-15
In the first instance, God established the institution, not because of any desire that the first man might have had, but that the man might have the support God saw that he required in the pursuit of a divine service. In teaching that marriage would distract from commitment to divine service, not only did St Paul appear to disregard the revelation in Genesis, he also showed his ambivalence towards women having ecclesiastical positions in the new faith.
God established the institution of marriage that man might have the support God saw that he required in the pursuit of a divine service.
In addition, he left his theology with a palpable tension. Having taught that Christ came to redeem what was broken in the Garden of Eden, 1 Corinthians 15:22 he nonetheless blamed Eve for the transgression in the Garden of Eden and therefore recommended a limited ecclesiastical role for women. 1 Timothy 2:12-15 Eve, and by extension, women did not partake fully of the grace of redemption!
In the second revelation by Malachi, God is contemptuous of anyone that gives the marriage sacrament less gravity than God accords it. Moreover, God insists that marriage is central to his plan for creating and sustaining a peculiar and sanctified world. Marriage is not simply an inn established for satisfying basic instincts. It is a divine initiative for the pursuit of divine purposes.
This piece is not just a rejoinder to Pauline sentiments towards marriage or women. It takes to task the Church’s enthralment to the idea of a world in which nothing of great consequence is worth pursuing because we’re in the ‘end time’.
Over 2000 years ago, St Paul wrote:
“But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.” 1 Corinthians 7:29
This ‘end time period’ has lasted slightly longer than the period between the times of Abraham and the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. If the entire monotheistic revelation were approached as an age, the end time has lasted longer than both the beginning and middle times combined. If the Church had given St Paul’s exhortation on how she should approach a world that was on its last legs more regard than she’s done, the Church would have committed hara-kiri. Project Jesus would have gone the way of other ancient near Eastern religions.
Marriage is a divine initiative for the pursuit of divine purposes.
However, thanks to God, the divine vision by Christ did not suffer such a fate. The task is for the Church to collaborate with God for the establishment of that vision. It was a vision first announced when the angels visited Abraham. It is the pillar around which the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant pivots.
In Genesis 18:19, the Lord said: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgement; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.”
That is the vision of God for the world. It is towards this end that Christ taught the church to pray and work. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 The validity of this revelation will not cease simply because humanity fail repeatedly. There will be no heaven until the prayer of Christ Jesus is established in the earth. God’s vision will not fail to find traction.
However, it’s not a vision that will achieve its advent in amphitheatres filled with 10,000 souls praying and sweating for the rapture. God intended this sacred vision committed to the patriarch to begin to find expression within families and then spread throughout the world. The vision started with one man and his wife to become a Judean faith, then Judaism and then Judeo-Christianity. Through the Prophet Isaiah, God reminded us that the role of wives and mothers in His vision is inalienable. When the children of Israel strayed from the kernel of the covenant faith God said:
“Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” Isaiah 51:1-2
That Adam and Eve failed God did not detract from the holiness and the unique calling of the marriage sacrament.