What does the Bible say about singleness and celibacy?

July 18, 2018

During the Protestant Reformation, the great thinkers of that era like Luther and Calvin harshly criticized the mandated celibacy that was imposed on priests in the Catholic church. At the same time, they extolled the goods of marriage while remaining relatively silent on the goods of singleness. This, along with the criticism of celibacy, left a generally negative impression of singleness within the Protestant tradition that is still in the process of being corrected in most modern churches.

In most churches, many sermons are preached on marriage, but very few, if any, sermons are preached on what it means to be single, how to serve the Lord in your singleness, or have celibacy elevated as a legitimate calling or vocation in life. Singleness is often treated as an undesirable calling or vocation, analogous to a disease for which marriage is a cure.

Yet, this is not how Jesus or Paul talked about singleness and celibacy. In fact, both of them, being unmarried themselves, extolled its virtues. Two passages, Matthew 19:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, best exemplify this. Though addressing very different situations, three principles regarding singleness and celibacy emerge from both of these passages.

First, marriage and celibacy are equally worthy callings and vocations.

In Matthew 19:12, Jesus mentions various types of eunuchs, including “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” This has generally been understood to include individuals who deliberately remain celibate. The very mention of celibate individuals from the lips of Christ is of great comfort to those who face this as a daily reality. But more than anything else, the very fact that Jesus was celibate himself should carry the greatest weight in this conversation. Jesus never married or had sex, and yet he embodied what it meant to be truly and fully human more than any other person who has ever lived.

In 1 Corinthians 7, the language Paul uses regarding singleness would almost seem to suggest that he views singleness as superior to marriage (See 7:7, 38, 40). Yet, this is due to contextual factors within the Corinthian church, not the ontological natures of marriage and singleness. Paul refers to both singleness and marriage as gifts (charisma), the same word he later uses in chapter 12 when describing the other spiritual gifts. Jesus and Paul were both celibate vocationally, yet acknowledged the goods that marriage offers (See Matt. 19:4-9, Eph. 5:22-33).

Second, celibacy is a gift that some have the capacity to live out and other do not.

In Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus twice mentions that not everyone will be able to accept what the disciples had previously mentioned about remaining unmarried (Matt. 19:10). Most people, because of their sexual desires, cannot accept a celibate lifestyle and are better served and sanctified by being in a marriage. Paul affirms this principle throughout 1 Corinthians 7 in verses 2, 9, and 36.

It’s worth saying, though it may be obvious, that if you are currently unmarried, then you have the gift of singleness, even if it’s only temporary. If you are able to discern a calling from the Lord to remain single for an extended period of time (perhaps even your whole lifetime), then that is the gift of celibacy. Whether you have the gift of singleness or celibacy, both are gifts that the Lord will give you the grace to steward well.

Third, celibacy is given for the purpose of service to God.

In Matthew 19:12, Jesus affirms that eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs did so “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Paul also upholds singleness as a means of securing an “undivided devotion” (1 Cor. 7:35) to “the things of the Lord,” (v. 32) as well as developing understanding in “how to please the Lord” (v. 32) and “how to be holy in body and spirit” (v. 34). Celibacy and singleness cannot be viewed simply as an abstention from sex, but ought to draw all singles into a lifestyle of undivided service to God and to others.

Marriage and singleness in light of eternity

In Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus is being questioned by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. Who would a woman be married to in the resurrection if she had been married to multiple men during her life? Jesus makes an astounding claim in verse 30 when he says, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Marriage is an earthly institution and will not carry over into eternity. When we meet Christ face to face, we will meet him as single individuals.

At the same time, though, Scripture affirms that there will be marriage in heaven. Yet, it will not be between men and women, but between Christ and his church (Rev. 19:7, 21:2). Paul describes earthly marriage as a reflection of this heavenly marriage (Eph. 5:31-32).

So, whether one is married, single, or celibate, each person has to remain aware of the heavenly realities that transcend our earthly lives. If married, remember that in the resurrection, earthly marriage will cease, having fulfilled its intended purposes. If single or celibate, have the mindset that you are not yet married to the perfect husband, the Lamb of God. Everyone can take comfort in the fact that in the heavenly kingdom, we will have perfect communion not only with one another, but with the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ our Savior.

Neal Hardin

Neal Hardin grew up in Murrieta, CA before getting his BS in Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Utah in 2012. Following that, he worked as an engineer for 4 years at a steel mill before the Lord called him to pursue a seminary education in 2016. Neal is currently a … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24