Thoughts on Sex, Marriage and Celibacy

Remaining unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom is a good and noble thing, but for anyone to require it of someone else is evil and demonic.  The Apostle Paul warned:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:1-3, emphases mine).

Each of us has his or her own gift and calling from God: some are called to be married; some are not (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:7). But there is no connection between the calling to a single life and the holding of an office in the Church.  This is so clear in Scripture:  not only did the Apostle Peter have a wife who traveled with him (1 Corinthians 9:5), but a successfully performed married life is listed as a requirement for a person holding the office of bishop in 1 Timothy 3.

“Therefore an overseer (bishop, Greek: episkopos) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:2, 4, 5)

The Virgin Mary ceased to be a virgin in the biological sense at the moment she gave birth to Christ; the miracle was the virgin conception, not perpetual virginity.  It is very plain that after Mary and Joseph observed the forty days of sexual abstinence commanded in Leviticus 12, and offered the mandatory sacrifice (Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:24), they went home and consummated their marriage.  Matthew 1:25 informs us that Joseph honored Mary’s virginity only until she had given birth to the Lord Jesus—he did not “know her,” meaning he did not consummate their marriage, “until she had given birth to a son.”

Mary went on to bear other children after the Lord Jesus.  The Bible mentions these folk in a number of places.  For example, Matthew 13:55: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?”

In Galatians 1:19, Saint Paul refers to James the Just (not the brother of John who was martyred earlier) as “James the Lord’s brother.”

While biased scholars offer other explanations, such as these people being Joseph’s children by another marriage or their being Jesus’ cousins, there is no historical evidence for such conjectures whatsoever, and they fly in the face of the biblical evidence.

If Mary had remained perpetually a virgin, she would have been living in sin because the Bible requires regular sexual activity between married people.  This is explicit in the Word of God.  Even a cursory look at 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 makes this unmistakably clear.

1 Corinthians 7:1 ‘Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”’

Here Paul is telling us that abstinence from sex is a good thing, but he quickly adds in verse 2:  “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

We notice, then, that marriage and sex are not simply for the purpose of procreation but for the purpose of avoiding sexual immorality: “because of the temptation to sexual immorality.”

He writes further, 1 Corinthians 7:3, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.”

Had Mary refused to open her body to Joseph for sexual intercourse, she would have been a wicked woman, because regular sexual intercourse is a basic element in marriage.  The moment that a person says, “I do,” he or she forever forfeits the right to say, “No:”  “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does” (1 Corinthians 7:4).

Notice how this is true both of the husband and of the wife.  Saint Paul was not a misogynist; on the contrary, he taught that the husband forfeited the rights to his own body, too: “Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4).

While no one can say for others what constitutes regularity in terms of sexual intercourse, surely it should not be measured by the year or month, but by the week.  1 Corinthians 7:5 is quite clear: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

If a person feels called to go off for a period of prayer and fasting in order to seek the Lord, he or she is not permitted to do so without the blessing of the spouse.  Furthermore, even with spousal blessing, this should not be for an extended period of time, “so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Some people have received a special spiritual gift of a single life (1 Corinthians 7:7), but this is not everyone’s gift, and it has no connection with Church office whatsoever.  While men have studied clever arguments to enhance the idea of avoidance of marriage, the failure to marry for a person who does not have the gift of a single life is a deadly snare.  Asceticism appears to be a holy thing, but it is of “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh:”

‘If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh’ (Colossians 2:20-23).

While sex outside the bounds of marriage is sinful and destructive, sex inside marriage is very holy and good.  

The root of sin is not in the body, but in fallen human nature.  The physical body was created by God to be sexually attractive; he intended for a woman’s body to stimulate her husband.  It is good, holy and pious for him to enjoy looking at his wife’s naked body.  Her breasts should be delightful to him and touching them should give him pleasure.  Husbands are commanded by God to “rejoice in the wife of your youth,” and to “let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18, 19).

Even a casual study of human anatomy presses a person to conclude that God designed the bodies of men and women not only to complement each other in reproduction, but also to give pleasure, designing corresponding clusters of nerve ganglia in such a way as to maximize the sensual pleasure of intercourse.

Ephesians 5:32 makes it plain that marriage and the marriage act are a picture of Christ and the Church.  This sanctifies the beauty and holiness of sexuality in marriage, including foreplay and intercourse as they are celebrated in the Song of Songs.

1:2, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.”

2:3-6, “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste, he brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!”

4:2-7, “Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”

4:11-5:1, “Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits. I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!”

The above is subtly erotic but not pornographic.  It is God’s Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat on the delights of human sexuality.  A single life devoted “to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” is a wonderful thing (1 Corinthians 7:35), and the Community of believers must honor single people, granting them full fellowship in the life and ministry of the Church.  Neither the married state nor the single state should ever be lifted up as sole model of holiness nor must either ever be made the standard for ordination.  Such is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture and must be repudiated as diabolical.

Self-denial as a Holy Spirit led, voluntary expression of love for God and ones neighbor is the essence of the Christian life, but forced standards of holiness, not based on Scripture but on the arrogance of self-made religion is wicked.  Sadly, carnal men have often been forward to impose their rules on others: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  Where liberty is taken away, there is hypocrisy and bondage to sin.  May God Almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, deliver us from the wickedness of man-made rules and false asceticism, for “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).

Bob Vincent