Does God make marriage and having children an option for men and women or are we commanded by God to pursue marriage and having children? Some would answer this question with New Testament passages that extol the virtues of celibacy and they conclude based on these passages that both marriage and having children is a choice that God leaves to each us.
But is the pursuit of marriage and having children really a choice God has left to us? I would argue that those who point to passages extoling the virtues of celibacy do so in ignorance of God’s first command to men and woman:
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Genesis 1:28 (KJV)
The command to “be fruitful and multiply” was God commanding men and women to pursue marriage and pursue having children. Marriage and having children was not an option or left to men and women’s individual choices.
God created woman for man to bear and care for man’s children and his home and to be his helpmeet in marriage
“Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
I Corinthians 11:9 (KJV)
God tells man that when he finds a wife – this is a good thing and he obtains the favor of God in doing so
“Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.”
Proverbs 18:22 (KJV)
God tells us that children – which he commanded as his first command to men and women are also his gift to them.
“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”
Psalms 127:3 (KJV)
These Scriptures I have just presented prove that God commands the pursuit of marriage and having children.
However we find elsewhere in the Scriptures that not all men will find a wife or will be able to obtain a wife. Not all women will be able to find a husband and even if they find a husband some women may not be able to have children. But men and women are commanded by God to pursue marriage and pursue having children even if they may ultimately fail in both those pursuits or be hindered in some way from their pursuit.
Christ gives us three reasons that MEN are exempted from God’s marriage mandate
In the New Testament Christ explains to us why some men may be hindered in their pursuit of marriage or why they may not seek out marriage at all:
“11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. 12 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. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
Matthew 19:11-12 (KJV)
Before we expound further on Christ’s words on celibacy in Matthew 19 we need to point out that when it comes to marriage and sexual matters gender matters. Christ’s entire discussion of divorce before this point was centered on the question the Pharisees asked him in verse 3 of this chapter – “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”
If you do not know the question being asked then you will not properly understand the answer. Christ’s entire discussion from that point forward was in answer to that question. He was speaking to MEN about reasons they could divorce their wives and reasons why MEN may not marry women.
His disciples show that they understood he was ONLY referring to men as to reasons they could divorce their wives and he confirmed again he was only speaking to men in these words:
“10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. 11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.”
Also the fact that Christ then uses the term “eunuchs” which can only refer to men because there was no such thing as a female eunuch confirms further that this is only speaking to men on the subject of celibacy.
Therefore those who apply this passage as if it is equally speaking to men and women are using a faulty interpretation method. It is speaking ONLY to men.
With that said we will now dive into the reasons Christ gave for men not marrying.
Biblical Allowance for Celibacy #1
“For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb”
This is referring to men who are deformed in some way which physically prohibits them from entering into marriage and having sexual relations. This would refer to lame men, retarded men or men with genital deformations. These men would either be incapable of having sex with a woman or if they were capable of having sex because of the other physical deformities they would be unable to perform the duties of a husband in leading, providing for and protecting his wife.
We must remember that all forms of physical deformation whether it be those who are crippled, retarded or deformed in other ways are caused because the corruption of sin in this world.
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Psalm 51:5 (KJV)
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:”
I Corinthians 15:42 (KJV)
This does not mean that people who were born in these ways are cursed by God or that they or their parents sinned in some way. It is simply caused by the general corruption of sin.
Biblical Allowance for Celibacy #2
“there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men”
The second reason some men are exempted from God’s marriage decree is because men made them that way. Now I believe this refers not only to men being physically castrated as true eunuchs were but it also refers to slaves who were forbidden to marry unless their master allowed it. So some people were forbidden because of their social status from marrying.
Biblical Allowance for Celibacy #3
“there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”
The third reason some men are exempted from God’s marriage decree is because God supernaturally grants them the gift of celibacy for his service and thus overrides his marriage mandate. These are men are not born celibate, but instead God supernaturally grants them this gift for his service “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake“.
So as we can see here Christ shows celibacy is an exception to God’s rule that men should marry and be fruitful and multiply.
Celibacy for men is only allowed under very specific circumstances. Unless a man is born deformed in some way that precludes him from marriage or he is forced to be a eunuch by men(such as being a slave) or God calls him to be celibate for the kingdom of heaven’s sake then he is still under the requirement of God’s first command to be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, he must marry and have children.
Does God Allow Women to be Celibate?
So we have just shown that God allows some exceptions to his rule that men are to marry and have children. But does God grant this same exception to women? The answer is yes. But the answer is not found in Matthew 19, but rather in I Corinthians chapter 7 where Paul writes:
“7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”
I Corinthians 7:7-9 (KJV)
This passage, unlike the passage we just discussed from Matthew 19 is clearly dealing with BOTH men and women and the topic of celibacy. The Apostle Paul reveals further revelation from God on this subject. He calls celibacy a “gift of of God”. This is where we rightly get the phrase “the gift of celibacy”.
He confirms what Christ said to Disciples that “it is good” not to marry but ONLY if they have this gift of God. He gives a warning that is “better to marry than to burn” – in other words burn with passion and desire for marriage and children.
He later in this passage gives some more reasons why he advocates for celibacy if the person has the gift of God in this area:
“32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.“
I Corinthians 7:32-34 (KJV)
Again we can see from the above passage that unlike Matthew 19:12 where Christ is speaking specifically to men regarding celibacy here Paul is speaking to both men and women on the subject. He speaks to the purposes for which God gives the gift of celibacy. Christ told men in Matthew 19:12 that some men become Eunuchs “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake“. Paul tells us that God gives the gift of celibacy, to both men and women, so “that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction’.
So the gift of celibacy is meant for “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” that a man or a woman might “attend upon the Lord” or serve the Lord with their life without the distraction that a family would bring to this special type of service.
Is Asexuality The Same As The Gift of Celibacy?
Asexuality is when a man or a woman has no desire to have sexual relations. But is asexuality the same as the gift of celibacy that Paul alludes to in I Corinthians 7:7? The answer is no. Asexuality may be one component of the gift of celibacy but this gift has more to it than that. Remember that Christ said that men became eunuchs “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” and the Apostle Paul said the gift of celibacy was given so that one could “attend upon the Lord” without distraction.
So if you as a man or woman have no desire for sexual relations with the opposite sex this by itself does not give you an exemption from God’s command to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” in Genesis 1:28 or in other words marry, have sex and have children. This issue of asexuality is just one of many conditions that are NOT reasons for which God exempts us from his mandate to seek out marriage and having children.
4 Reasons that are NOT exemptions to God’s marriage mandate
- You don’t want to be saddled with a spouse or kids – you want to live your life for you.
- You have no sexual desire but also do not want to live your life in full service to God. You don’t get to choose a middle ground. Either you use your celibacy in life dedicated to service to God (mission work of some kind or ministry of some kind) or you get married and have kids.
- You are afraid because of your upbringing that you may turn out to be a bad spouse or parent. Again fear is not exemption from God’s mandate of marriage.
- You don’t think you could play out the gender role God has given you (or you don’t want to) either in being a man that leads, provides and protects his wife and kids or as a woman that is called serve her husband, to bear children, care for those children, and care for her home.
God’s first command to men and women was and still is to marry and have children. God provides only three exemptions from his mandate of marriage. These are if a person is born with mental or physical disabilities that would preclude marriage, if a person is forbidden from marriage because of their social status (such as being a slave or a prisoner), or if the person is given the gift of celibacy.
For those who either have selfish reasons for not marrying, no sexual desire, have fear of marriage or do not want to assume the gender roles God has given them in marriage these people need to ask God to change their hearts and change their desires and take away their fears if they have them. We must obey God’s marriage mandate unless he exempts us from doing so, we do not have the right to exempt ourselves from his command.