Paul and Marriage
C. Wilfred Griggs
I get the impression from reading 1 Corinthians 7:7—9 that Paul was not married and was against marriage in general. How can his views be reconciled with the revealed truths of eternal marriage?
C. Wilfred Griggs, assistant professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University. Many people believe that Paul was antagonistic toward marriage because of the passage, “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
“But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor. 7:7—9.)
But this belief does not account for all the other statements that Paul made concerning marriage. Paul’s teachings, as recorded in letters that were sent to churches and saints in various stages of spiritual progression, reflect the character and experience of a man who understands family relationships and can speak with authority on the subject.
In the first place, Paul himself was likely to have been married because of his Judaic background. In his defense before the Jewish crowd outside the Roman barracks of the Antonian tower, Paul states that he was taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers and was zealous in living that law. (See Acts 22:3.) Again, in his defense before the Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul claims that he is a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. (See Acts 23:6.) To the Galatians, Paul had written that he was more zealous in fulfilling the requirements of his religion than others of his time. (See Gal. 1:14.) The emphasis that the Jews put on marriage as part of their law and tradition would certainly have been used against Paul in view of such statements if he had not been married.1
Further evidence that Paul was married is found in the likelihood that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. One of the qualifications for becoming a member of that body was that a man must be married and the father of children,2 which was thought to make him more merciful in dispensing justice in the courts. Paul (Saul) was one of the official witnesses of the stoning of Stephen (see Acts 7:59), an action ordered by the Sanhedrin. He also gave his vote with the Sanhedrin against the Christians prior to his conversion. (See Acts 26:10.)3 Further evidence of Paul’s position is found in Acts 9:1—2 where Paul went before the high priest and requested letters authorizing his “official” persecution in bringing Christians to trial and imprisonment. In view of these evidences, most non-Mormon scholars do not argue that Paul had never been married, but that he was either divorced or was a widower by the time he wrote to the Corinthian church.
But let us take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 7 to see if the evidence supports this last conjecture. At the outset, Paul refers to a letter the Corinthians wrote to him: “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Although the King James Version does not make it clear who makes the statement, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” the Greek text and the Inspired Version both make this a statement of the Corinthians. We do not know the context of this statement, because we do not have the Corinthian epistle to Paul. The only context we can supply is Paul’s answer and, fortunately, that does give us some clue as to their problem. Paul wishes (see 1 Cor. 7:7) that all men were as he was. But what is that? Could it be that he wishes all men were divorced or that all had lost their companions in death, or does he simply wish that men would be so dedicated to the work of the Lord that they be as though single?
Evidence of the latter possibility can be found later in the chapter. In verses 10 and 11, Paul does not tell the married saints to become separated, but if they are separated, he suggests either that they remain that way rather than marry someone else or that they become reconciled. Paul even enjoins against separation in part-member families if the husband and wife are compatible (verses 12—14), because the member may someday be able to help save his spouse (see verse 16). Some scholars conjecture that Paul was divorced as a result of a “mixed” marriage, but the Corinthians would have thrown this advice right back to him if such had been the case.
One reason Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning these matters is found in verse 29, where he states, “this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, thatâ€¦they that have wives be as though they had none.” He further states (verse 32) that the unmarried saints (and those who are as though unmarried) care for the things of the Lord, but too often a married person puts other things before the work of the Lord (verse 33). Paul is simply reminding those who have been called to God’s work to put that calling first, even before earthly matters.
In the Inspired Version, Joseph Smith made an important addition to 1 Corinthians 7:29 that supports this interpretation: “But I speak unto you who are called unto the ministry. For this I say brethren, the time that remaineth is but short, that ye shall be sent forth unto the ministry. Even they who have wives, shall be as though they had none; for ye are called and chosen to do the Lord’s work.” Contrary to generally accepted interpretations, Paul is not condemning marriage in this chapter but is evidently replying to a problem regarding missionaries who desire to become married. His advice is that while they are on their missions (and he declared that the time for missionary work is short) they should be concerned with the work of the Lord and not with family or personal matters.
Concerning the importance of marriage for a member of the church and the relationships of family members toward each other and the Lord, Paul exhorts the saints to be followers of himself, especially in the ordinances of the church. (See 1 Cor. 11:1—2.) He teaches that the husband is to honor the Lord as his head and the wife is to honor the husband as her head, and that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:11.)
What sense would these statements make if they came from an unmarried man? In view of all that Paul has said on marriage in 1 Corinthians, it is quite unlikely that the Corinthians would accept his epistle and his arguments if he had been divorced or separated from a wife. The message of 2 Corinthians 7, however, is that the first epistle was accepted and many Saints repented.
It is evident from the frequency of Paul’s counsel on marriage and family that he placed great importance on the subject. Paul exhorts the women in the Ephesian branch of the church to submit themselves to their own husbands (literally, become subject or obedient to), as they would to the Lord, comparing the husband and the family to Christ and the Church. (See Eph. 5.) But he also charges the husbands to love their wives (see Eph. 5:25) as their Savior loved the church, so that they might sanctify and perfect their families through love. Paraphrasing one of the great commandments—to love one’s neighbor as oneself—Paul says, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” (Verse 28.) A husband is not to rule as a tyrant over his wife but is to preside in love. (See verse 33.)
Paul’s letter to Philippi deserves special cOnsideration in pursuing this subject. Philippi was the first European city in which Paul preached and was one of the most righteous branches of the church at that time of which we have record: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absenceâ€¦” (Philip. 2:12.) During Paul’s missionary travels and while in prison at Rome, the Philippian church was the only one to remain in constant communication with him by courier, sending gifts and necessities to their beloved apostle. (See Philip. 4:15—18.) In his letter to this faithful group, Paul addresses some of the sisters: “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.
“And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women who laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers.” (Philip. 4:2—3; italics added.) Gnesie syzuge, the words translated “true yokefellow,” are here taken as feminine, and is a noun that means “wife.” Ancient commentators believed that Paul was addressing his wife (e.g., Clement of Alex., Strom. 3:53:1, and Origen, Comm. in Ep. ad. Rom. 1:1), and this is the most sensible translation of the Greek in this context. If he were married at the time, one would expect Paul to leave his wife with a faithful group of saints, where she would least suffer from want and lack of support during his absence. Both her presence in Philippi and the love of the members there for Paul would account for the constant communication with the apostle, and, if this interpretation is true, it is natural that Paul would ask his wife to assist some of the women who had done so much on his behalf.
Finally, in Paul’s last epistles, which were written to Timothy and Titus, he places further emphasis on the desirability of marriage. In listing the qualities necessary for a bishop, Paul includes being married (see 1 Tim. 3:2) and being a good leader over his house: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5; cp. Titus 1:5—9). Even those called “deacons” in that day (the Greek literally means “one who serves” or a “helper”) were to be married and have orderly households. (See 1 Tim, 3:10—13.)
The evidence of Paul’s writings leads to the conclusion that he not only tolerated marriage among the saints, but encouraged and exhorted them to marry and bear children. He indicated that marriage is an essential part of the gospel framework, and asserted that one of the signs of apostasy in the last days would be teachings against marriage. (See 1 Tim. 4:1—3.) Certainly Jesus was foremost in importance to Paul, just as he should be in the hearts of men today, and on occasion Paul had to remind men called to the ministry to be fully dedicated to the Lord’s work. Nevertheless, Paul understood and taught that in the presence of the Lord, the man will not be without the woman, neither the woman without the man.