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According to the 'Paul Was A Married Dude All Along' Version...
The algorithmic elves have been busy populating my social media feeds over the last few days with posts, tweets and threads about the little-known historical “truth” that the Apostle Paul was a married dude. Surprise!
In all fairness, it’s not exactly a new argument. But for one reason or another, it seems to be having a bit of a moment.
And look, the thing is, it might even be correct. The Apostle Paul may indeed have been married at some point in his life.
Before his conversion, Paul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6, Phil 3:5), and tradition has it that Pharisees were typically married. So perhaps he had been married but had been widowed by the time he was writing his epistles?
Or maybe Paul the Pharisee had been married to a good Jewish woman who was absolutely appalled at her husband’s conversion to that horrific little cult he had previously been set on eradicating from the face of the earth, and so she divorced him (cf. 1 Cor 7:12-13)?
Or perhaps Paul had been an exception to the Pharisaical tradition and wasn’t married before becoming a Christian, but he got hitched later in life? Some argue that his phrase “true yoke-fellow” in Philippians 4:3 references a supposed wife. Others disagree.
So maybe Paul was married at some point in his life? Before his conversion? After his conversion? Widowed? Divorced? The reality is that I don’t think we can know for sure.
But I want to suggest that there is one thing we CAN know with a high degree of confidence. The Apostle Paul was NOT married when he wrote the letter we call First Corinthians.
But first, some background.
Paul planted the church at Corinth sometime around AD50 and probably over a period of about 18 months. Some years later (likely somewhere between AD 54-57 while he was in Ephesus) he wrote some follow-up letters to them. Two of them are preserved in the Bible. We call them First and Second Corinthians (or, if you are an Aussie like me, you more likely call them One and Two Corinthians).
OK. So what does all this have to do with the question of whether Paul was married and if so, when he was married? Well, the argument that is having a new moment in the sunshine not only claims that Paul was married at some point, but that he was a married dude all through the course of his ministry. In other words, its proponents claim that Paul had a wife at the time he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians.
According to the ‘Paul Was a Married Dude All Along’ argument, following his conversion, the Apostle left his wife at home to travel around on his 20-year-long triple missionary journey. He’d also been doing quite a bit of travelling and itinerant preaching and church planting for at least 10 years before that. And even that was was preceeded by a few years of his chasing Christians around Jerusalem and Judea.
So according to this theory, Mr & Mrs Paul would have essentially spent very little time together for a period of 30+ years. And then Paul died. Essentially they would have had a marriage characterised by long-term separation and sexual abstinence. (Some suggest they were in a “spiritual marriage” — i.e., a recognised marital tradition in which both husband and wife mutually renounce all sexual activity with each other in order to live celibately while married. However, this is an anachronistic claim. The development of “spiritual marriages” as a recognised —though I think the Apostle himself would suggest, dubious—Christian practice emerged sometime in the following century.)
All of this means that according to the ‘Paul Was a Married Dude All Along’ argument, when Paul wrote about marriage and (what we today call) singleness in 1 Corinthians 7, he was writing as a married man.
Right. So, here we have some people claiming that Paul was married when he wrote 1 Corinthians and its (in)famous chapter 7. And here am I claiming that we can know with a high degree of certainty that the Apostle was quite plainly not married when he penned that chapter and verse.
On what basis can I make such a confident claim? On the basis of the biblical text itself.
Simply put, 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (not to mention other parts of the chapter) would make absolutely no. logical. sense had Paul written it as a married man.
To illustrate my conclusion, I’ve copied and pasted the text of 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (NIV) below with some… editorial insertions. The bits in bold italics represent a series of logical explanations and argumentative clarifications that we would need to read into the text if we were to understand that the Apostle Paul was writing this passage as someone who was married. And even with them in place… well, you’ll see.
Here it is.
1 Corinthians 7:1-9 - The PWAMDAA (‘Paul Was a Married Dude All Along’) Version
1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 Except for me and my wife. We’re an obvious exception to this general exhortation that I’m giving the rest of you (oh, and also all Christians throughout time). The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. Again, except for me and Mrs Paul. Our covenantal relationship is clearly exempt from such marital duty.
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Again, this applies to Christians who aren’t me and my honey-bun. We’ve agreed to deprive each other. Indefinitely. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. At the risk of repeating myself, my missus and I are obviously exempt from troublesome matters such as struggling with sexual self-control. Satan would be totally wasting his time trying to tempt either of us so he doesn’t even bother. The rest of you are fair game though.
6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. To clarify, I mean I wish that all of you were married. Just like me. But also married and not living together, not doing life together and not having sex together. Just like me. Yeah I know that last bit contradicts everything I said above. But don’t over think it. Though, while I have your attention, let me give you a quick heads up that what I’m about to say is not going to make any more sense than what I just said. But…just run with it, OK? But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 8 Mine is to be married while basically not ever having sex with or doing any part of life with my wife at all. You may not have the same gift. C’est la vie.
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay
unmarried,as I do. Ok. So here is where I might really be at risk of losing you. I mean, I’m addressing those of you who aren’t married, right? The unmarried and the widows. And I’m telling you to remain as I do. Except that we all know that I’m married and you’re not. You guys are not at all in the same situation as me. So actually, you can’t stay as I do. But hey, don’t let those pesky details bother you. As I was saying, it’s good for you to be as I am and stay as I am even though you aren’t actually as I am and so can’t stay as I am. Moving on now.
9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Ok, so yeah, I get it. I’m still not making any sense. I’m telling you to remain as I am even though you can’t remain as I am because I’m married and you’re unmarried. But now I’m telling you unmarried peeps that you should remain as I am—married but not having sex with my wife—while also telling you that if you can’t stop yourself from having sex you should get married precisely so you can have regular sex with the spouse that I’m saying you should refrain from having sex with so you can be and stay like me. Got it?
Ok. So yeah this argument has gotten a bit complicated hasn’t it? Hmmm. Right. Well, there is only one way to fix this—subject change time! Unmarried and widows, just sit there and try and make sense of all that while I turn my attention to the married folks. Cause in the next verse I’m gonna tell them that they shouldn’t’ separate from their spouse. Even though my wife and I are separated indefinitely…
Friends, if Scripture interprets Scripture, then the plain reading of this text (and also of 1 Cor 9:5) is clear. Paul was not married at the time he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth.
As you were.
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