Does the Bible say singleness is better than marriage? When you read through 1 Corinthians 7, at first glance this seems like an easy question to answer. Yes, singleness is better than marriage. For example 1 Corinthians 7:38 states, “So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.”
However, to just say, “Yes, singleness is better than marriage,” would be an oversimplification of what 1 Corinthians actually says. The context of each verse in 1 Corinthians 7 is crucial. If you pull one verse out, like 1 Corinthians 7:38, it will seem like singleness is better. But if you pull out just one other verse, like 1 Corinthians 7:2, you can make it seem like everyone should be married, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”
The key is to keep each verse in context and factor in all the variables that 1 Corinthians 7 discusses when trying to answer, “Does the Bible say singleness is better than marriage?”
Singleness Is Better Than Marriage In General, Not Specifically For Individuals
The main point I hope to prove in this article is that 1 Corinthians 7 isn’t prescribing singleness or marriage but rather telling Christians to make the choices that help each of us most glorify God. Each individual is made different by God, thus singleness may be better for some and marriage may be better for some. Glorifying God, however, is the main point.
When you take individual needs out of the equation and you simply look at marriage and singleness in principle, singleness is better. Again, this does not mean singleness is automatically better for every person, but when you subtract the individual factors that come into play with real people, singleness is better than marriage in general. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, 38 states this truth:
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. . . . So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.”
When people argue that singleness is better than marriage, these Bible verses are what they refer to. Clearly after reading these verses it is plain that singleness is better than marriage. I don’t know how else to interpret what Paul said.
However, Paul, again, is speaking about marriage and singleness in general without a specific person in the equation. Paul was not talking to Sammie, Jane, or Carlos. Singleness is better than marriage in that singleness eliminates other responsibilities which can distract people from serving God. But we can’t end here. We now have to talk about marriage and singleness on the individual level because that’s what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 7.
Singleness Is Not Better Than Marriage On an Individual Bases
Paul never said singleness is better for everyone. His point was that singleness is better than marriage in general. If singleness was always better for every individual human, God would command every individual human to be single. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 states:
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Now Paul said, “it is better to marry.” But why did he say that? He said that because there are now other factors in the equation. Singleness is better than marriage when no individual factors come into play. But when there are individual factors in the equation, marriage may be better than singleness for that individual.
For example, as we just read in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, one sign that you are called to singleness is that you do not have a sexual desire. If you do have a strong sexual desire this is a sign that you should pursue marriage. In John Piper’s article titled, Married or Single: For Better or Worse? he explains:
The “compelling” comes only from the right combination of internal realities and objective truths about God’s design for marriage. When the right combination is not there, marriage is not compelling and should not be. I would say the same thing about singleness.
There is more to marriage and singleness than I have mentioned. But the point is to show that neither I nor the Bible means to say that either is compelling in and of themselves. That is why Paul says, “One has one gift and one another” (1 Corinthians 7:7). I think he means: The internal reality of one person finds one of these powerfully compelling and the internal reality of another finds another powerfully compelling. And I would add: This can change from one season to another.
As Piper notes, what is better for someone may change over time. Singleness may be better for you when you are in your early 20s because God has placed a desire on your heart to serve in the army. But perhaps when you get out of the army you really want to serve God by loving a wife and a family. Then marriage would better for you. The examples are endless here. The point is that seasons of life bring in different factors that affect if singleness or marriage is better for an individual.
Singleness and Marriage Are Not the Main Point of 1 Corinthians 7. Serving God Is the Point
In short, singleness is better for you if you have the gift of singleness. Marriage is better for you if you have the gift of marriage. But all gifts from God have a specific purpose. They are to be used to serve and glorify God.
The main point I hope I have made in this article is that 1 Corinthians 7 isn’t prescribing singleness or marriage but rather telling Christians to make the choices that help each of us most glorify God. The common command for all Christians is to do whatever you need to do to obey and honor God, whether that is singleness or marriage. Singleness and marriage are not pleasing or displeasing in and of themselves. Rather, Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 7 is that singleness and marriage are tools that we must use to serve God. Which tool you need will be based upon what needs you have. A shovel is not better than a hammer unless you need a shovel to accomplish your tasks. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, 35 states:
29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. . . . I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Paul says a lot in 1 Corinthians 7, but here we have the main point. He just told married people to live as though they are unmarried. Obviously this does not mean we should neglect our spouses because this would directly contradict 1 Corinthians 7:5, “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.”
Paul’s point is that those who are married should live as though they are single in that they focus on the Lord with all their heart. All Christians should take the general benefits of singleness that make it better than marriage and live to please Christ in all things. Paul says, “From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”
Rejoicing, mourning, buying goods, or not buying goods is not the main point of 1 Corinthians 7 just as singleness and marriage are not the main point of 1 Corinthians 7. The main point is that we all should serve God to our greatest ability, “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). In John MacArthur’s article titled Is Singleness Better than Marriage? he states:
Although celibacy is good for Christians who are not married, it is a gift from God that He does not give to every believer. Just as it is wrong to misuse a gift that we have, it is also wrong to try to use a gift we do not have. For a person who does not have the gift of celibacy, trying to practice it brings moral and spiritual frustration. But for those who have it as God’s gift, singleness, like all His gifts, is a great blessing.”
Jesus told the disciples on one occasion, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12).
Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that the celibate life is not required by God for all believers and that it can be lived satisfactorily only by those to whom God has given it.
Is Singleness Better than Marriage According to the Bible?
So the Bible does say singleness is better than marriage, but it does not say singleness is better than marriage for every individual. When certain factors are at play, marriage is better. If you have the gift of singleness, singleness is better for you. If you have the gift of marriage, then marriage is better for you. What is best for every Christian is that we use the gifts God has given us for his glory.