Catholic Church upholds the dignity of marriage at the forefront of her concerns. But in the first two centuries of Christianity, marriage was attacked from a variety of standpoints as incompatible with full Christian commitment. According to Richard M. Price, “the best documented attack came from the Encratite movement which held that all Christians are called to a life of sexual abstinence” . Pauline first letter to Corinthians 7 was taken by the proponents of above movement to state their position. In the 17th and 18th centuries the so-called Libertinism got prominence by stating ‘sexual communism’. These two thinking should be considered as extremists who have gone wrong path in defining the true nature of marriage.
The old teaching that marriage is inferior to celibacy was enunciated by Pope Pius XII, that is clear with his encyclical ‘Sacra Virginitas’ insisted on the traditional teaching of the superior excellence of virginity over marriage. But the Second Vatican Council was not ready to cope with the traditional teaching which balanced the status of married and unmarried members of the church.
In the early two centuries of Christian life was seen more attached the way of celibacy than marriage due to the radical character of the challenge of the gospel of Jesus and with the implications of Pauline message found in the letter to Corinthians. There are many questions remain unanswered like, what did Paul mean when he wrote ‘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’ (7, 35)? In what way marriage becomes a distraction? Is celibacy a guarantee for a life of perfection? Can all lead a life of abstinence? There was a debate that Paul was influenced by the notions of ritual purity present in both in the OT and in the Greek culture.
1 Corinthians 7 is to be considered as the one of the most enigmatic NT passages for debates regarding Christian marriage and celibacy. Thus our study on the celibacy and marriage could enlighten with the Pauline views on the topic. Firstly it should be noted specifically in 7, 1a ‘Now concerning the matters about which you wrote’ where Paul is intending to answer some of the problems raised by the Corinthian community. He is not intending to make a theological exploration on the topic but takes the role of a practical pastor who misses no theological content. He addresses married and unmarried believers which again subdivided with married believing couple, married with unbelieving partner, unmarried believers, believers who are intending to marry, and widows. According to M. M. Mitchell, Paul uses the deliberative rhetorical method which will be studied in the first chapter. Paul wants to erase all misinterpretation of his gospel regarding the Christian life to expose a correct way of life to the true believers in Christ according to each one’s state of life.
In the first chapter of this study, we spend much time to understand the historical and literary contexts of the letter and to settle our topic as ‘marriage and celibacy’. This will be made easy with the use of rhetorical tools employed by Paul. He is not following every aspects of the classical rhetoric but adapts them to his own fashion. The propositio is stated in 7, 1b-2 will takes the audience to the discussion. The geographical position of Corinth with its social contextual analysis makes clear the importance of the theme to be discussed. Roman occupied city under Greek cultural background has variant thinking patterns on the matter which extended to two extremes. In this chapter we will deal with the authorship, audience, purpose which ends with a final outline of the whole letter. Then we progress towards the topic in detail where we make some philological study based on propostio that helps to find out different arguments of Pauline persuasion.
In the second chapter we make a deeper exegetical study on the different arguments on the topic. Paul starts with marriage where he presents four argumentations on the subject. Here he states two important principles on marriage which are: mutuality and indissolubility. In between Pauline concern for practical problems are to be noted. He is an optimist that expressed in saying; ‘Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? (7, 16).
The apt positioning of digressio in Pauline rhetoric is specially noted in the exegetical study. Paul states his principle on the way of life in the digressio as, ‘So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God’ (7, 24). Pauline statement of this principle occurs thrice in the digressio with two clear examples from the Jewish background and Pagan background. Soon after the analogies made in the digressio Paul pass on to celibacy on which we could trace five arguments. We could find an eschatological tone in all the arguments which expresses the Pauline preference to engage in the affairs of the Lord rather than the worldly experiences.
In the third chapter of our study we pass on to theological implications of the topic where we will deal with only three important questions such as marriage as a way to avoid fornication, can celibacy avoid worldly distress and is celibacy superior to marriage. The detailed study on the questions helps us to reach the real mind of Paul on the topic of our study which is numbered in the general conclusion of this thesis.