Gift of Singleness

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Andreas Kostenberger has a thoughtful post on singleness in the Bible. I especially found one observation noteworthy. He finds a trajectory across salvation history with regard to singleness and marriage. Marriage is part of the creation order, part of God's original intent before the fall. It isn't until Jesus comes along to initiate the new covenant that you get any sense at all that there's anything but marriage as the norm, with singleness as an extraordinary exception (e.g. widows, serious illness). But Jesus indicates that some will be single by choice, and Paul even argues that the kingdom is more greatly served (in certain kinds of situations?) by those who are single, and therefore what was once the exception becomes something especially useful.

But Jesus also indicates that there will be no marriage in the resurrection. That means the intermediate phase between the initiation of the new covenant and its ultimate fulfillment in the resurrection is in tension between the marriage norm of the old covenant and the singleness norm of the resurrection. Seeing this according to a trajectory makes so much sense of how Paul can have such a high view of marriage and yet also view singleness as something for some to strive for. This doesn't (as some have argued) imply a lower view of marriage but simply reflects the tension between these two norms, one eventually to be replaced by the other but both having value in the in-between time. But Kostenberger does take marriage as a sort of norm even in this age, citing Matthew 19 as evidence. It's just not a norm in the fuller sense of when most everyone would be expected to get married.

One thing that occurred to me while reading his post is that there's an ambiguity in the expression 'the gift of singleness'. I think I've now come to think of that expression as referring to at least two different things, and people often use it without thinking of both senses. One gift of singleness is someone's being especially gifted by God to be better suited for a life of celibacy. Paul does seem to speak of some who are gifted to singleness in this way. He speaks of those who would burn as not enabled in this way. There's some debate among scholars about whether that simply means burning with passion or if instead it is about burning in hell for not being able to maintain faithfulness to God because of sexual desires, but either way there seems to be a distinction between people especially gifted in what not being married requires.

At the same time, Paul seems to me to speak of singleness itself as a gift. This is a gift possessed by everyone who is single. Everyone has this gift at some time, of course, but some people have it longer than others, and some have it their whole life. Some have it after having been married for a time. The fact that someone is single allows for kinds of ministry that are not possible or much more difficult for married people to engage in. That is indeed a gift, and as it's a means of God's grace I can't see why it shouldn't be counted as a spiritual gift.

A third meaning of 'the gift of singleness' might be what Kostenberger calls the calling to be single. Since a calling in the NT is usually just something all believers are called to, I don't like using that term for some specific task or purpose God has assigned to an individual, but I'll let that slide for the purposes of this post. The calling to singleness in this sense seems to be something other than the special strengthening to be single that some people have, and it also seems distinct from merely being single. Now it may be that in many cases all three go together, but that doesn't seem to me to be true of some cases, and people might mean any of these three when they speak of the gift of singleness. All three count as gifts, and they are not the same gift as each other.

A lot more can be said about this issue of course, but this was what occurred to me as I was reading Kostenberger's post. Speaking of his post, have you gotten this far in my post without reading his? If so, what are you waiting for? Go read it.

29 Comments

I'm going to subscribe for a while and see what's going on, but I get the distinct impression I'm coming in on the middle of the conversation on that one.

However, I have to beg the question that Jesus' description of the final state is anything more than superficially related to the modern state of singleness. Singleness, at least in this life, has a strong component of isolation. I'm not so sure that this is to be expected at the resurrection.

I don't think this is the middle of any conversation, but he does make his points more succinct that I suspect is true in the book, and he probably leaves out some of the nuance.

Do you think singleness in the church should have any component of isolation? I don't see how the church as presented in the NT should allow for any real isolation within the church. Maybe you mean a sense of feeling isolated, but I don't think that's the same thing. But either way I think singleness in the church should not look like the modern state of singleness.

Jeremy, here's a good opportunity for me to share some heretical thoughts. I am not sure on this so just take this as thoughts in process but is it possible that there will be something akin to a marital relation in heaven?

I realize that seems to go directly against a prima facie reading of Matthew 22:23ff but here are a couple of thoughts on that.

Could it be that Jesus' words in Matthew 22:23ff have reference to the intermediate state, not the eternal state? I know that's weak, the only thing that gives me pause to think that way is that in verse 30 Jesus says that we will be like the angels in heaven. The angels are spirit beings and it makes sense that, during the intermediate state we are like them because our souls are separated from our bodies. But the eternal state is to be an embodied state. Of course, I understand that in Matthew it may just be the case that we are like the angels in regard to the marriage relationship.

Also, in Isaiah 65:17ff there is the bearing of children in the New Heavens and New Earth (v. 23). I'm showing my eschatological hand here, as an amil I believe this refers to the eternal state, not a millennial state. A millenarian could easily put this in the context of a millennium. I also understand a weakness in my comment here is that Isaiah 65 also indicates there is death in the New Heavens and New Earth, thus we can't take things too literally.

Also, I have generally seen the New Heavens and the New Earth as the restoration of Eden. Since there were marital type relations in Eden, could there be something similar in the New Heavens and New Earth?

Just a few unfinished and confused thoughts - I thought I would try to get your opinion on them.

If Jesus meant the intermediate state, then wouldn't the Saducees' objection to the resurrection still apply in the final state? Whose husband would she be? Jesus has to be saying that there will be nothing like the exclusive, monogamous kind of marriage that we now have. Otherwise the Saducees' objection stands. It's possible that it allows for something like marital relations that are all shared amongst the whole community, since his argument doesn't rule that out, but that's mere speculation and seems contrary to the original intent for such relations to be exclusive. But Jesus' argument alone doesn't show anything about that. He seems to be saying that she won't be anyone's wife, not that she will be a wife to all of them or to everyone.

Fair enough - I couldn't swallow the idea that she would be everyone's wife as that would be analogous to polygamy.

Like I said, I was just thinking. I think we tend to underestimate the continuity between the present state and the eternal state so I was just thinking how this continuity would apply in regards to marital relations.

Kyle, to respond to your comment about isolation, it's my view that scripture holds out the hope that loneliness is never intended for believers. To back that up, I'd point to an argument I wrote that Genesis 2:18 (ever heard someone say "it is not good for man to be alone"?) does not refer to loneliness at all [http://gloriousgain.blogspot.com/2006/06/does-singleness-loneliness.html]. Furthermore, I'd say that God promises happiness to believers - not just some kind of "joy" that doesn't correspond to real feelings [http://gloriousgain.blogspot.com/2006/06/does-god-promise-happiness.html] . As a person who's chosen celibacy, I rejoice in the joy that comes from the closer relationship with God I'm able to have as a result.

David and Jeremy,

Are we not married to Jesus in heaven? Not sure if you've seen it, but Dr. Kostenberger now has a second post on this topic. In response to his two posts I have written this open letter requesting clarification.

Thoughts?

I just skimmed through the second part, and I don't see much relevant to this. There is one interesting bit, but I'll have to wait until I can look at it more carefully. He seems to me to be saying that the distinction I'm making between different gifts of singleness are variations within what Paul is talking about. I don't think it makes much difference to what I said or what he said, but it's an interesting point that I'd have to look at the passage more carefully to have a view on.

As for your own point (here), I would certainly affirm that we collectively as a body of believers are the bride of Christ. The church as a whole is Christ's bride and thus is his wife. But that isn't the same thing as saying that any individual member is married to Christ. I've never seen anything like that in scripture. I do think it appeals to single women in the church, but I don't think it's true (or appealing to most men).

On to your letter. I suspect Kostenberger would agree with almost everything you say, and I definitely would. When you come to the gift as being an unusually high level of continence, that's when he (rightly in my view) would say that you're engaging in a limited view of the gift. Judging particularly by what he says in his second post, it seems that he thinks the gift is multifaceted and manifests itself in many ways. Some have the permanent gift because they are particularly continent. Some have the permanent gift because they have not developed the traits necessary for being a good husband or wife, and God is holding them back. Some have the permanent gift because they simply have not taken advantage of opportunities that might have led them to marriage. Others just have temporary gifts. I don't think he limits the permanent gift to the special enabling to be celibate. Unless I'm misreading him, he includes the mere fact of being single as one way of having the gift, and if that happens to be lifelong then it is the lifelong manifestation of the gift.

As I said, I'll need to read his second post more carefully. It is very long, and I'm not sure I even read the part thatr seemed most relevant carefully enough. But those are my initial thoughts.

I have read around several of these threads, and everyone keeps saying that 'marriage will be abolished' in heaven. Have we forgotten 'the Bride of Christ'??

Far from being abolished, marriage will be permanently established in heaven once for all. For it is written:

2And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

and

29He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

and

17And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.

and

Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. 10And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

Yes, Von, that's a good point, provided you don't take it to be marriage between individuals. What marriage ultimately looks forward to is the marriage between Christ and the collective church. Marriage also represents in some fashion, though not as directly, the relationships between the Father and the Son. That is also not ended.

But neither of those things is marriage in the form we have it, and that does in fact seem to be removed in the resurrection.

Jeremy, exactly! (altho I don't know of any Scriptural support for the father/son thing). And this makes a mockery of this idea of a 'trajectory of singleness'. Instead we see that Jesus in the New Covenant takes marriage to a whole new level, with his new defn of adultery, his condemntaion of divorce, and finally this whole idea of permanent, glorified, heavenly marriage. His first miracle was at a marriage, and many of his metaphors.

I wouldn't say it makes a mockery of it. It rather makes more sense of it. The trajectory is from seeing marriage as the norm for humans to seeing it as something that looked forward to the marriage of Christ and the church but will be gone. We live in the tension when that marriage is not yet here, when the relationship is already but not yet. During that age, the trajectory of singleness is also in a mixed state, when it is still a norm in the sense that most Christians do get married, but also in which Christians are single for a higher purpose rather than in lacking something truly necessary, as it was in the old covenant except in far more rare cases. The trajectory is indeed confirmed in this point, not made a mockery of.

The Father/Son thing is most clearly represented in I Cor 11. There is a triple analogy: Father to Son, Christ to husband/man, husband to wife/woman. It's fully debated exactly what that analogy amounts to, but it's definitely there in Paul's inspired thinking.

Jeremy,

The confusion created by the three different meanings of the "gift of singleness" that you've aptly described in your first post would seem to be good enough reason for everyone to just abandon the term altogether.

The "gift of singleness" is a term that appears nowhere in the Bible. Nor does "the gift of celibacy". When I posted my concerns about the problems created by the "GOS" on Kostenberger's blog, they were removed (along with others, particularly those that questioned whether or not he had actually read Maken's book, since he seemed to suggest that it was about blaming women, when the blame was really more heavily directed towards men).

Free speech. Academic freedom. Do any of those things have any meaning in the minds of theologians? Here’s one of my posts, you can critique my thoughts on “the gift of singleness” as well as the question of censorship while you’re at it:

Unfortunately, I must vehemently disagree with the glowing reviews in the posts above and object to this mischaracterization of Maken’s book. She does NOT say “women who are in their late 20s or in their 30s and still unmarried have got only themselves to blame for lack of effort”. If anything, she lets the women off the hook and blames single men and faulty church teachings for the current epidemic of protracted singleness among Christians. Maken’s critique of the man situation would have been better if she had not indulged in an imbalanced “man bashing” and if she had acknowledged the severe shortage of men in our churches (which is indeed the greatest cause of protracted singleness among the female faithful). However, her indictment of problematic church teachings was ABSOLUTELY GROUNDBREAKING, especially in “rethinking the ‘gift of singleness’”.

With all due respect, there’s no such thing as “The Gift of Singleness”. The original biblical texts use no such term. “GOS” first appeared in the Living Bibles of the 70’s, and later in The Message, perhaps to mitigate or update the Catholic notion of “the gift of celibacy” (also not biblical). 1Cor7:7 in the NRSV reads “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.” Paul states his own preference regarding singleness/celibacy (scholars have debated for years which one) and makes a aside about the uniqueness (”IDIOS”) in how God gifts us (”CHARISMA”: grace gift, not ’spiritual gift’ per se) using a phrase common to Greek speakers to this day “HOS MEN HOUTO DE HOS HOUTO”, which has an INDEFINITE meaning: “like this and like this (and like this, etc.) It’s meaning is NOT either/or, as in “gift of marriage” or “GOS”, it’s less specific than that!

In light of “the present distress” (v.26) the option of singleness/celibacy is presented by Paul as a RECOMMENDATION, not a “gift”. Likewise, in Matthew 19:12, Christ makes no mention of gifting or calling, but puts singleness/celibacy in the context of PERSONAL CHOICE by saying “some MAKE THEMSELVES eunuchs” for the kingdom…so allow or make space for them (”choreos”) if they are so inclined.

According to 1Cor7:8, it is KALOS, meaning “good” (NOT “better”, as it has sometimes been translated) to be single/celibate (and essential to be celibate for as long as you are single). But we don’t need to call singleness a gift to keep it from being deemed a second-class or undesirable status. If anything, the proliferation of the vaunted “gift of singleness” teachings since the born again boom of the 70’s has had the effect of treating the ones who desire marriage as inferior Christians! See my Amazon book reviews for examples of the worst offenders.

Maken’s book and “The Freedom to Marry” by Ellen Varughese give numerous examples of singles who, as a result of these teachings, feel they have to cover up their anxiety or grief as time slips away. They have been given so many contentment messages that create the impression that being intentional about mate-finding effort is somehow sinfully “getting ahead of God’s will”…despite the fact that previous generations of Christians who enjoyed the ordinariness and universality of marriage would have thought these inhibitions to be preposterous!

Andreas, you are on the right track when you say that singleness can be “self-inflicted” and apart from God’s plan for an individual’s life. But it can also be corporate and “other-inflicted” as well, which is the real story in Maken’s book (where she discusses the epidemic of protracted singleness in the church in terms of generational sin as we have absorbed the world’s way of postponing marriage) and Varughese’s book as well (where she discusses the “eunuch making effect” of these teachings). But these larger societal factors GET MISSED, when everyone’s singleness is interpreted only in individual terms, as if it’s God’s will or plan for each of them that all these women end up single! Instead, we need to step back and repent that we have gone off course as a result of this extra-biblical rogue doctrine if we are to find solutions.

Jeremy, two things:
1) I see the movement from 'physcial' marriage to 'spiritual'marriage; from 'temporary' marriage to 'eternal' marriage. I don't see 'singleness' as a relevant category at all; thus my (perhaps unfortunate)language of 'mockery'.
2) I don't see what you seem to in I Cor 11; there is no explicit or implict comparison of 'husband/wife' to 'God/Christ' at all. The analogy is of Father to Son to wife and is one that even works now with our families (or would, if we allowed for the Father authority and Husband authority). These are two distinct relationships, they are just both hierarchical and familial.
When my son take a wife, we will have that same relationship of Father to son/husband to wife... but in no way will my relationship with my son be analgous to a marriage.

Gortexgrrl,

Freedom of speech is when the government doesn't interfere with when you use the resources you have to speak. It isn't when you insist that other people allow you to say whatever you want on their own forums. I delete comments when I don't think they ought to be on my site, and that does not interfere with free speech. Anyone can go get a blog of their own. I'm not sure it's always good to delete comments when it might be better just to respond to them, but that doesn't mean it's a violation of free speech.

In fact, I was of half a mind to delete your comment here, since it's mostly not about this post but about how to interpret a book I haven't talked about here or read, and part of it is addressed to someone on another blog post entirely.

Now I will address some things you said that are relevant to my post and the discussion here. You seem to be thinking of gifts as restricted to the ones Paul uses that kind of language for. It's pretty clear that no gift list is intended to be exhaustive, and it's relatively certain that not all the gifts are called gifts in the NT. The way Paul uses the term, they seem to refer to anything God uses to build the church. Isn't that exactly what Paul says about all three things I've discussed (the state of being single, the special endowment to live a life of singleness, and what is, not to my liking, called a calling to singleness)?

Also, you seem to be misrepresenting Kostenberger on at least one issue. He says that in some cases singleness is better than marriage. That means for those people in those contexts it is indeed better, which means marriage is inferior. But what he specifically denies is that singleness is always better for everyone, which means that marriage isn't always inferior. It's just inferior in the contexts and for the people that it's inferior for.

Your conclusion that he is minimizing the value of marriage simply doesn't follow from what he has said, and it strikes me as showing a serious lack of familiarity with his views in general. I'd be careful about accusing people of not reading something they discuss when you don't show a very careful understanding of the work of the person you're criticizing. Kostenberger has a very high view of marriage.

Finally, there's the issue of whether something self-inflicted or other-inflicted can be a part of God's plan and will (and thus a gift of God). Scripture is very clear that human choice is within the purview of divine sovereignty, even when it is sinful. See Isaiah 10's clear discussion of the king of Assyria, who carries out God's purposes through sinful actions that God righteously condemns as evil.

So when Kostenberger acknowledges that someone's self-inflicted singleness can be outside God's will, what he means is that it can be a result of sinful choices. What he doesn't (and cannot as a Calvinist) mean is that it is outside God's plan of providence. I'm very sure that he would consider this sinfully brought-on singleness in these cases to be part of God's plan for this person and thus a gift in the most general sense. The consequences of our sins are clearly tools in God's hands to bring us to change. In that sense, the singleness is still a gift.

Then you bring up others-inflicted singleness also, and the same holds for that. It is still within God's plan of providence, which is not frustrated by human sin. That means that it is still a gift of God for the carrying out of his purposes, even if sinful actions led to it. This is so if someone is widowed because her husband is killed or if someone is prevented from marriage by parents who sin in doing so. The fact that it is a sin does not mean that it's not God's plan for the person to be single at that time. In the sense of God's providential will, everything that happens is God's will, and no matter how bad something is, it's still part of God's providential will if it does happen.

Von, I think of I Cor 11 in the light of Eph 5. When you put the two together, it seems to be pretty clear that the husband/wife relationship of I Cor 11 is the same one of Eph 5. Thus when the Christ/church relationship is compared to the husband/wife one in Eph 5, it's not too much of a stretch to take Paul to be doing something similar with the husband/wife and Father/Son relationships in I Cor 11.

I'm not sure where you're getting the human father/human son thing. Neither passage gets into that, and thus neither implies that your relationship with your son is anything like a marriage. That doesn't undermine the point that something of the husband/wife relation represents something of the Father/Son relation in the Trinity.

Thank you for honoring the spirit of free discussion and posting my comment. It is indeed relevant to here because, after all, you are encouraging people to link over to Kostenberger's article that he wrote in response to Maken's book.

First of all, where do I draw the "conclusion that he is minimizing the value of marriage"? Read through my post again. I correct his misunderstanding of Maken's position, refute the biblical grounds for "the gift of singleness" (a term he uses), AND THEN alerted him to the cumulative effect of many “gift of singleness” teachings since the born again boom of the 70’s (that "it has had the effect of treating the ones who desire marriage as inferior Christians"), NOT singling him out as an instigator of those effects, but providing other examples instead.

Despite the conflicting definitions of "the gift of singleness", it just seems like there is no room for discussing the consequences of any of these teachings. Even a merely academic questioning of whether or not singleness is biblically considered a gift seems to be taken as a threat to the sovereignty of God, or a lack of trust in Him.

Sure, something caused by sin (possibly protracted singleness) is within the sovereignty of God, and so it "does not mean that it's not God's plan for the person", but who's to say that it is? Would you really go to that widow and say "it's God's will" or gift? I think you'd want to just respect the mystery of God's sovereignty, having faith that He will work all things to the good, etc., without glossing over the reality of the role sin and its consequences. Ditto for those dealing with the spectre of unwanted protracted singleness (and the losses that inevitably go along with it).

Faith in God and the mystery of His purposes is one thing, but requiring people to call every misfortune in their lives "a gift" is quite another. I know some people find comfort in that, others do not. The word "gift" can be applied too broadly and then it loses it's meaning because familiarity breeds contempt. The "gift of singleness" has become a cliche of sorts, and has now become the butt of parody. This is what happens when the warning signs are ignored.

You said:

But we don’t need to call singleness a gift to keep it from being deemed a second-class or undesirable status. If anything, the proliferation of the vaunted “gift of singleness” teachings since the born again boom of the 70’s has had the effect of treating the ones who desire marriage as inferior Christians!

In context, it sounded as if that was intended to apply to Kostenberger's statements along the same lines. In fact, he makes it clear that he wants to resist exactly the conclusion you're giving here.

I have no problem discussing the consequences of teachings, but the specific claims I saw seemed to have the problems I was pointing out. That doesn't mean the very prospect of raising such considerations is ruled out. I'm happy to discuss whether singleness should be considered a gift. But in doing so, I'll present my reasons why I think it should be. Those reasons have to do with how "gift" language is used in the NT and my views on God's sovereignty.

In your widow case, I would want to be careful to distinguish between different senses in which something can be in God's will, but yes I would affirm that nothing surprises God or keeps him from effecting his sovereign will. You have to be careful about the metaphysical views behind such statements. I don't want to think of God as a cause of sin in the same sense as my own being a cause of sin, but there is a sense in which God's sovereign plan is not frustrated when someone's spouse dies but is in fact fulfilled, and I would say this about every single event that occurs.

Jeremy,

In regards to that quotation, I really don't know how you could have misread me here. I was clearly affirming Kostenberger's efforts to portray singleness as good, not second class, not undesirable. Despite his best intentions, he's most likely unaware of a lot of the baggage comes along with a lot of those "gift of singleness" teachings. They mean well, but they know not what they do!

I do agree with you that nothing surprises God and that His sovereign planS are not frustrated by anything. But there is also the possibility of presuming too much on God, particularly in areas of our lives that require our participation. M. Blaine Smith has an excellent article on his website "Should I Get Married" that warns how Christians can get "sidetracked by speculative notions".

And I do think that Maken has some excellent points about how calling singleness a gift keeps us from look at how we got to this place where so many Christians are struggling to find spouses. In this regard, do you really think the epidemic of protracted singleness that we're currently seeing right now is "a gift" in the NT sense, something that "God is using to build the church"? Or is it something that is eating at the fabric of the church as marriages and birthrates decline and people fall back into sin in their discouragement? Fortunately, reformers asked these same questions about the gift of celibacy 500 years ago.

The teachings that stem from "the gift of singleness" aren't the only contributing factor, but they certainly have had their impact on people. And again, we need to ask if how we are asking people to rejoice in their sufferings is compassionate. Here's another one: would you consider things like barrenness or war to be gifts? The Bible doesn't seem to. Certainly those things fall under God's sovereignty and good may come out of them. But just as we have to be careful not to presume too little about the sovereignty of God, we must also not presume too much about what He considers "gifts".

There are sinful things that do not serve to build the church immediately but undermine the purpose of the church to some extent. That doesn't mean it's not being used to build the church. The monastic period you're referring to has been used to build the church in serving as an example of what not to do. I would ultimately not want to limit God by saying that something cannot serve the church simply because its immediate effect is harmful.

War is a gift in several biblical descriptions of it. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem was not just a judgment but a gift to God's people in showing them humility and providing a context for the return from exile, which had not just an immediate impact on the community but looked forward to the return from the exile of sin that Christ initiated. War against Canaan was also a gift of God to his people in providing them a land. Even the judgment element of war against Israel and Judah can count as a gift, because some judgment has in mind the repentance and salvation of the people being judged.

Barrenness, too, serves God's purposes. It is God who opens and closes the womb. Barrenness in the case of Sarah demonstrated that God does what he says he does, even if it seems impossible.

Scripture sometimes tells us purposes of such events, and sometimes it doesn't. But the Bible does clearly state that God does have purposes for every event that takes place. This is the point of several of Paul's statements in Romans 8. I don't see how it's presumptuous to affirm what scripture says. God has purposes for everything that happens. What is presumptuous is to think we can know what the purpose is all the tme. I'm not going to tell you what God's purposes were in any given event, but I can tell you what kinds of purpsoes God has for such events in general as reported in scripture.

"There are sinful things that do not serve to build the church immediately but undermine the purpose of the church to some extent". Yes, God can work all things (even the bad stuff) to His glory. And indeed, consequences can serve as an example of what not to do, and we can look back and be glad that things unfolded in the way that they did. Something good may come out of this season of widespread protracted singleness, or the obesity epidemic, or global warming, etc., etc. Or would requiring everyone to call those things "gifts" result not only in lack of compassion towards those who suffer? Or lack of responsibility and repentance? There has been this complacency around looking at the situation of protracted singleness because we can sit back and say, oh well, "it's a gift".

"War is a gift in several biblical descriptions of it" Actually, no. The Bible does NOT call war a gift. God may convict people to go to war, have certain purposes in allowing war to happen, choose sides/gifting people with whatever is needed to fight, rewarding or judging accordingly, etc. Again, trust and gratitude is are His due because indeed some of these things may be in God's will-- that doesn't make them necessarily "God's gift". There's a difference. Just as there is no such thing as "the gift of singleness", there's no "gift of war" (even saying the phrase sounds ludicrous!)

"What is presumptuous is to think we can know what the purpose is all the tme." Exactly. But that's the rut we've gotten into with "the gift of singleness". It presumes far too much, and projects causality too specifically into the life of the individual (it's his 'gift' to you) without dealing with the larger (often knowable) reasons of why things happen. It doesn't lead to trusting more in God, if anything, it leads to too much time spent on tail-chasing "why God? musings, at the expense of true wisdom and discernment.

BTW- I don't mean to say that all "why God?" musings are tail chasing. Lord knows, we all do it...and certainly many of the Psalms have that theme running through them.

I didn't say the Bible calls war itself a gift. I did say that the Bible is a gift, which means the things that make something a gift are true of it.

I don't see how seeing singleness as within God's will involves too specific a causality if everything is within God's will. That the reasons are unknowable in some cases does not mean that there are no reasons. Also, it need not lead to tail-chasing as long as one is humble about our ability to know what those reasons are.

"the Bible is a gift, which means the things that make something a gift are true of it". Interesting that you should say this. God gave us the Bible and there's a lot of wonderful things you could say about it, but that doesn't mean that it's "a gift". There's a thought: not everything that God gives us is necessarily "a gift". For one, the Bible doesn't refer to itself as such, I mean, when was the last time you heard the ten commandments referred to as "a gift"? The are COMMANDMENTS, not gifts, that God has given us. (tho' as Christians, we'd be glad that He did!). Likewise, marriage is not a gift from God, it's a covenant, a vow, a promise, made with God.

You run into all kinds of hermeneutical problems when you start calling everything a gift. The word loses its meaning. And this is what has happened with "the gift of singleness". People have caught on that it's not from the Bible, and they are finally realizing that all kinds of stupid notions have flowed from this term...

...stuff like: "Before you can determine whom to marry, you must first answer an preliminary question: Does God want you to marry anyone, ever?" (Don Raunikar) or Tim Stafford's suggestion to young people that "God might want you to be single" and if you think this is the case, you should swear off dating for six months to see if you're "called to singleness"! I mean, how are they to know? You're not supposed to "lean on your own understanding" or base anything on human feelings (despite the fact that God obviously designed them to be important signals that tell us with some accuracy if something's right or wrong). What you want doesn't matter, it's what God wants that counts, right? And then Kostenberger, the great friend of singles, says "it is impossible to know for certain whether or not one has the gift of singleness until one dies". This is ridiculous. It's impossible to know if you have this gift because it's does not exist: it's a figment of modern singles writer's imaginations!

People are realizing, after having been sent on these kinds of errands of frustration, that this stuff doesn't even exist in the scriptures, which almost always speaks of marriage and singleness as a practical matter of personal volition (i.e. a man “finds a wife” in Proverbs 18:22, or “takes a wife” in 1 Cor 9:5 and 1 Thess 4:4, or "if you cannot contain then get married" in 1 Cor7:8, and "made themselves eunuchs" in Matt 19:12).

God willing something to happen (or not happen) and God allowing something to happen are two completely different things. And you know, another thing the Bible doesn't say is "everything happens for a reason". The verses in Romans 8 that you've mentioned speak more along the lines of God working things to the good of those who love him and for his purposes, and I would agree with you that nothing can frustrate those purposes. So within the dynamic tension between God's work and whatever we have in the way of free will, He has His reasons and purposes (and reasons and purposes within those reasons and purposes), some we know about, some we don't-- and that seems like quite enough. Isn't that what trusting God is about?

Even if you do declare that at some level, everything that happens is "God's will", the term "gift" does imply a reason (that God is "gifting" you with something), when His reasons on certain things might not have anything to do with you.

gortexgrrl, I like what you are saying about volition in the process of choosing a married or unmarried(single) life.

After reading through the essay link to Kostenberger what struck me in all the discussion of "giftedness" etc, is that in the example that the Lord Jesus gave about those born to be eunuchs or those who choose that sort of sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom...there is a sort of necessity for grace to live the life of singleness. I think this is rooted in the fact that our physical bodies are programmed for reproduction with the attendent desires. That needs grace. Then there is the original need (it is "not good" for man to be alone) to have companionship on that level of intimacy... again grace is needed to delay that for eternal purposes.

In whatever choice we make, and to whatever degree we submit this choice to God's guidance, there is a sense of "giftedness"... but I agree that it has been bent all out of shape to mean things that then cause so many life difficulties for people.

Whenever teachers take things to extremes like promoting married state over single or vice versa, problems arise. The historical example I think of immediately is John Wesley. Beside the individual situations there are also historical situations(war and persecutions,etc), which makes this not so much a black and white issue as one with gradations of the individuals seeking God and being supported in their choice.

I have always seen the eternal state as one that Jeremy describes, though I find others who disagree- again I find the larger view of relationship to be the answer- God has worked creation and history toward relationship within and with Himself... it is not the vehicle of marriage, or of nation,per se, but the process and result of relationship that is the eternal goal. That leaves room for all the variations we find in the human state, I think.

...but these are just the meanderings of my mind this noon.... not terribly careful.

Hi Ilona,

Thank you for bringing up the eunuchs piece! What a coincidence, I was just talking with someone about that this morning!

Kostenberger's "called to singleness" interpretation of Matthew 19 in his book is one that I challenge, because "to whom it is given" is such a vague reference as far as "a gift" or a calling is concerned, it barely even signifies God as the giver or caller. We could safely assume that God is the giver here, but perhaps Christ was not wanting to emphasize God's role in this passage, but rather put the onus on personal choice.

For example, the verse 11 preamble to the saying ("logos") in verse 12 reads: "but he said unto them, all cannot CHOREOS (meaning "yield to", "make room/space for" or "receive", NOT "hear", as claimed by those who make this verse out to be about "hearing a calling") this saying, except those to whom it is given".

Verse 12 goes on to say" "For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from [their] mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have MADE THEMSELVES eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. DUNAMAI CHOREOS CHOREOS which the online Blue Letter Bible translates as "He that is able to receive [it], let him receive [it]". In other words, make space for those who make space for this saying. Again, there is no identification of any specific "gift" or "calling" from God, but rather the identification of an OPTION available to those who are inclined (but not under compulsion, let alone from any direct calling from God in this case).

But there is no suggestion from this passage that undertaking this option will automatically mean that you will be granted the grace to be celibate. I think that it where the Catholic church has made a mistake, in assuming that all of their priests have "the gift of celibacy", just because they are celibate. History has proven otherwise.

But people do manage to cope with celibacy, voluntary and involuntary, whether part of a vocation or not. And that, I think, is the wonder and mystery of God's grace.

Jeremy, I am confused when you combine: “Marriage also represents in some fashion, though not as directly, the relationships between the Father and the Son.” And then “I'm not sure where you're getting the human father/human son thing” and then “neither implies that your relationship with your son is anything like a marriage.” And then “something of the husband/wife relation represents something of the Father/Son relation in the Trinity.”

I agree fully with your statement that my relationship with my son is nothing like a marriage, and I therefore disagree fully with your statement that something in the father/son relationship is ‘represented in’ the husband/wife’ relationship. So I don’t know whether we are coming or going.

But this is, I think, off the main point; which is that human marriage, far from being replaced by some ethic of singleness, is a pale shadow of the eternal, spiritual marriage of Christ and His church. There is no ‘trajectory of singleness’. There is, au contraire, a trajectory of marriage. ‘Singleness’ is nowhere mentioned in Scripture, tho celibacy, virginity, and marriage are.

Eunuch, virginity, and marriage are all ‘marriage’ words. ‘Marriage’ is obvious, ‘Virginity’ is ‘not yet married’, and a ‘eunuch’ is someone who cannot, or in the case of Paul’s example, has been given the gift of being able to not get married.

But nowhere in Scripture is ‘singleness’ held up as an ideal. Paul’s example is very similar to the passage that speaks of not defrauding one’s spouse, where it says that sexual relations must be without interruption, except for a short time, mutually agreed upon, that is given to prayer and fasting... and one that must be quickly ended.

Some rare individuals, for a short period of history (quickly ended), being specifically dedicated to advancing the kingdom of God by being the given the gift of ‘being a eunuch’, are in no way part of a ‘trajectory of singleness’… the entire Word of God speaks instead of our being prepared for the eternal “marriage” of the Lamb.

Perhaps the problem is that the word ‘single’ can include two things: 1) the rare individual who has indeed been given the gift of ‘being a eunuch’ for the kingdom of God and 2) the overwhelming majority of young adults who are ‘burning rather than being married’. Our society has denigrated, and hedged about, and bastardized marriage to such an extent that we now speak of ‘teenage pregnancies’ where we once spoke of ‘unwed mother’… as if the age of the mother was important and her marital status is no longer. Not even taking into account the blasphemous word ‘significant other’.

I'm not sure what statement of mine you're referring to when you speak of my "statement that something in the father/son relationship is 'represented in' the husband/wife’ relationship." I don't believe such a thing, so I would be very surprised if I said it. What I said is that something of the Father/Son relationship is represented in the husband/wife relationship. That doesn't mean anything of the father/son relationship is represented in the marriage relationship. I'm not talking about human fathers and sons. I'm talking about the Father and the Son, persons of the Trinity. For marriage to represent something of that relationship it need not also represent something of a human father/son relationship. I don't think that at all.

What you call your main point seems to me to be a different way of saying what I'm saying. I affirm what you are saying positively and deny what you are saying negatively. The two are perfectly compatible statements. The trajectory of singleness and the trajectory of marriage are simply different perspectives on the same phenomenon. The trajectory of singleness is merely the moving away from human marriage to thinking of our relationships in non-marriage categories. The final stage of this is in the consummation of the one body's marriage to Christ. (Never is an individual believer described as married to Christ. An individual is only one person among the many who make up the bride.) Another element of this trajectory is the special calling for singleness that Paul seems to highlight for those more seriously dedicated to certain aspects of building the kingdom. Since this is certainly more common than in the old covenant, this is indeed a trajectory.

People who speak of teenage pregnancies are counting the number of pregnancies, not the number of mothers. Teenage pregnancies can occur more than once for the same person. The proper analogue to the archaic term 'unwed mother' is 'single mother', which does not replace marital status with age. It replaces an archaic term for singleness with a contemporary term for singleness. It's true that it takes the focus off of what she is not and puts it on what she is, but that's the most apropriate term in contemporary English at this point. We don't describe people as wed or unwed unless we want to sound archaic.

What's blasphemous about 'significant other'? There's nothing divine about it or about what it replaces. It simply is a stand-in for a much longer expression that no one wants to repeat, something like 'husband or wife or fiance or fiancee or girlfriend or boyfriend'. Who wants to go around saying that?

You said:
I'm not sure what statement of mine you're referring to when you speak of my "statement that something in the father/son relationship is 'represented in' the husband/wife’ relationship." I don't believe such a thing, so I would be very surprised if I said it. What I said is that something of the Father/Son relationship is represented in the husband/wife relationship.

I had to read this three times before it stopped sounding like you were merely repeating and contradicting yourself. And I must say I still hear it that way. You seem to make a distinction between the 'Father/Son' relationship and it's human counterpart. This seems to me to stand the whole reason for the heavenly metaphor on it's head, and I would be interested in where you find the distinction in Scripture.

As to 'teenage pregnancies' perhaps I was not verbose enough. The phrase 'the problem of unwed motherhood' has been replaced with 'the problem of teenage pregnancies'. As I have heard it used, the difference is made in order to focus on the 'age' as opposed to 'marital status'. Most of the (non-Christians in particular, but the same emphasis has crept in in the church) people who use this phrase would not be 'caught dead' saying 'the problem of unwed mothers', because it is not supposed to be a problem! Whereas the patriarchs would not even have understood the phrase 'the problem of teenage pregnancy'. In all probability Jesus himself was a 'teenage pregnancy'.

There certainly is something 'divine' about the word 'husband' or 'wife'. Indeed that is what much of the discussion is about... the bride of Christ, our earthly marriages being a reflection thereof, etc. 'Signifigant other' is blasphemous because it combines that divine category with the sinful category of 'girlfriend/boyfriend' (who happen to have had three children together) or 'gay partner' etc. and makes out as if there was no difference between the categories... as if one was as good as the other.

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