The thesis on ‘marriage and celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7’ was an effort to confront the real mind of Paul on the topic which has unending implications up to this time. This effort was based on the historical-exegetical analysis of the letter which got its primary appearance with the audience of Corinth. Its value cannot be limited with the Corinthian context but extends to the spheres of catholic faith. Pauline teaching on celibacy and marriage marked as a precious stone which cannot be passed untouched in determining the way of life of every Christian. The chapter is profound with meaning which paved way for much debates on marriage, divorce, singleness, remarriage etc.
As a conclusion to our study we may propose some points that emerged from our analysis. They are listed as below;
Marriage and celibacy are parallel ways of life: Paul presents marriage and celibacy are two different ways of life which are not to be contrasted. Paul is sure on the divine purpose of marriage which expressed in v. 10 which states, ‘To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord…’ The added emphasis on the divine commandment recollects the creation story (Gn 2, 24). Paul presents marriage as the natural or common way of life appropriated by the divine will. It is not something inferior to celibacy but the will of God. He is aware of the fallibility of human desires and advices marriage as the real way of perfection not to be burned in the passions of the body (v. 9). The conjugal rights in marriage are considered obligatory (v. 3) for it is the part and parcel of married life which again attested with the concession for a limited period of time (v. 5). Again marriage is presented as a life-long union that expressed in v. 10, the high command against divorce and in v. 39 says that, ‘A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives…’ Celibate life is presented as another way of life for those who have the gift from God (v. 7). In the sub-propositio Paul wants to explain singleness as another way of life. Pauline sayings with ‘well’ and ‘better’ is used to present the nature of singleness rather than putting it in a superior position.
Marriage is mutual: Pauline view was appreciated much on the mutual responsibility in marriage. Gender inclusive statements expressed by stating wife-husband, man- woman are specially noted for it made a radical change in the traditional patriarchal society. Paul values both gender equally and forbids inferiority of either. Marriage is a life-long union of persons where the authority over body is shifted. Personal authority on body is exchanged in marriage (v. 4). This is a radical shift from considering wives as a personal property of man. In Christian marriage both the partners are real partners and not possession of either of them. Again this equality and authority expressed in the conjugal rights where it is an obligation not a charity.
Marriage is indissoluble: Another astounding nature of Christian marriage is its indissolubility. Divorce is not intended by divine will (v. 10) and also by Paul. It is a life-long union between two persons. Though Paul counts marriage among the worldly experiences (vv. 29-31), he consider it as indissoluble (v. 39). Paul proposes a mutual sanctifying life in Christian marriage (v. 14). Paul is an optimist that believing partner could lead the unbelieving partner into faith (vv. 14. 16). Paul is not unaware of the possibility of divorce but he highly recommends not to divorce with the use of imperatives (vv. 12-13).
Paul makes a preference for celibacy: it is quite clear from our study that Paul makes a preference for celibacy but it does not devalues marriage. Paul considers celibacy and marriage as a gift (v. 7) but cannot be valued as more prominent. His preferential quotes made with kalon sayings must be considered as one of his rhetorical skills to advice his audience to reach a decision by themselves. Paul proposes a maxim not a simple opinion (v. 25) that may help the believer to examine himself. Pauline arguments for celibacy like brevity of time, anxieties of the world, practical advices to virgins and widows comes from his ardent passion for the gospel of Christ. That is why he says, ‘I wish that all were as I myself am’ but recognizes soon the variant gifts given by God to each one.
Principle of calling as the basis of distinguishing the way of life: The underlying principle to choose between marriage and celibacy lies in the Christian vocation. The status of the believer does not matter before God (vv. 17-24). The principle of calling stated in the middle of the discourse where we trace the nature of calling. In v. 17 we read, ‘…let everyone lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him’. Now the problem arises how one can distinguishes his way of life. The answer can be concluded from vv. 36-37 where an unmarried is well advised to choose his status.
Thus the thesis on marriage and celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7 was a journey to find out the Pauline view on Christian marriage and singleness. He is quite sure about the appropriateness of both ways of life. He calls his audience to embrace their way of life according to the gifts that they have been given. By stating the obligations of marriage Paul raises the status of marriage upto celibate way where extremists thought singleness as the perfect way of life. Pauline rhetorical maxims and techniques achieve good results by proposing both ways are suited to Christian life but according to the nature or gift of the persons. Thus, in Pauline thinking a particular action might be appropriate for one and not for another. Pauline maxims do not prescribe celibacy or marriage as a moral good to be achieved by all but they tell believers how they ought to choose between them as appropriate to one’s life. This does not mean that one is better than another rather both are ways to achieve the same end.