Redeeming Singleness views singleness as a gift. But doesn't scripture sing the praises of marriage and love, even providing specific guidelines for it? To bring clarity, we asked Barry Danylak to share some of the main points of his book.
Explain the basic take home message of this book.
The basic message of this book is that the New Testament's affirmation of singleness does not result from practical indifference over the status of being married, but is an outworking of the distinctive theological message of the New Testament. The conclusion is that whereas in the old (Sinai) covenant, marriage and children are fundamental blessings of the covenant, in the new covenant they are not. All the blessings of the new covenant come to us via Christ alone, and a life and calling of singleness testifies to this truth.
How do you reconcile what you claim is the Scripture's affirmation of singleness with the Genesis creation account (Gen 2:18) that says it is not good for a man to be alone?
In 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul says, "It is good not to touch a woman." Here he suggests that not marrying and remaining sexually chaste is also something good. But Paul is not contradicting Genesis—that is he is not say that it is good to be alone. Paul does not envision a life of singleness that is a life lived in isolation, but a life lived in close community and fellowship with the new family of God in Christ. If we look at Paul and Jesus as examples we find that neither lived their single lives in lonely isolation but as individuals closely connected to a spiritual community of brothers and sisters.
Some would also say that Paul's perspective in 1 Corinthians 7 is very male-oriented (i.e. go get married if you can't handle your sex drive) and that he doesn't seem to have much appreciation for a female perspective on the issue at all. What do you say to that?
Paul is responding to questions raised to him by particular individuals, who appear to be men (as evident from 7:27-28). In the new Testament era men exercised comparatively more power over the decision to marry than did women, who were typically married as the result of an agreement between the woman's father and the potential groom. What is important for us to understand is that Paul is counter-cultural in the mutuality with which he speaks of males and females in this chapter. Thus, for example, in marriage the wife has authority over the husband's body just as the husband has authority over the wife's body (7:4). Paul appears to grant the woman more authority over her own decision to marry or remain single than might be expected.
There are a lot of people who would say that Paul advised the Corinthians to stay single because he believed in the imminent coming of Christ. So 2,000 years later, do you think that what he advised then has any relevance to our world today?
That Paul believed in the imminent coming of Christ need not imply that he believed that Christ would necessarily return in his own generation. Paul first advises to the Corinthians to remain single if possible on the basis that it is a gift for service to the kingdom. He also indicates that the opportune time is short and that living singly is consistent with a radical reorientation of living in anticipation of the coming return of Christ. I do not think he is suggesting we should remain single because the end of the world is coming so quickly that there is no point in having children. Nor do I think that his message would be substantially different if he were speaking to us today.
What exactly is the biblical role of singleness? Some now say it is simply the status of a single person. Do you think that is what it is or is there something more? Is marriage also a gift?
I do not think that the gift of singleness equates simply to the status of being single, but rather speaks to a Spirit-enabled capacity for living singly. I define it as “a Spirit-enabled freedom to serve the King and the kingdom wholeheartedly, without undue distraction for the longings of sexual intimacy, marriage, and family.” The gift of singleness builds and strengthens the church not only by the means of the more dedicated service to the kingdom that it can offer. It also strengthens the church in visibly demonstrating to those inside and outside the church the complete sufficiency of Christ in every circumstance. As Christians and members of the new covenant, we are now completely blessed in Christ irrespective of whether we are married or single, rich or poor, healthy or sick, etc... Paul’s implication in 1 Corinthians 7:7 is that we all have a spiritual gift, some have singleness and some have another gift. If his implication is that the only alternative gift is marriage, it would put singles not yet married who feel they do not have the “gift” of singleness in a strange position. More likely Paul is saying here that some have the gift of singleness while others have other spiritual gifts such as those listed in 1 Corinthians 12.
Learn more about Redeeming Singleness.