Is Marriage a "Good" Thing?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Generally, marriage is looked upon by the world around us as a good and acceptable institution. Since the commencement of time, the universal law has been that marriage is proper and beneficial. On the very day that God created the first man, He stated: “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18); thus He created a wife for Adam (2:21-24). Everything God had created and examined up until that point had been “good” (1:4,10,21,25). The one thing He stated as being “not good,” however, was man’s lack of human companionship. Therefore, God created woman to be man’s helper and lifelong companion. It was only after her creation (at the end of the six days) that we read for the first time His creation was “very good” (1:31).
Although other biblical passages confirm that “marriage is honorable among all” (Hebrews 13:4), and that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22), some have questioned the reliability of the Creation account in light of Paul’s assessments of marriage in his first letter to the Corinthian church. In this epistle he wrote the following:
“It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (7:1).
“I wish that all men were even as I myself [i.e., not married— EL]” (7:7).
“I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am” (7:8).
“It is good for a man to remain as he is” (7:26).
It is alleged by some that Paul’s analysis of marriage is in opposition to the view found in the Creation account. Whereas God said, “it is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18, emp. added), Paul told the Corinthian church that “it is good” to remain single. Can these two views of marriage be reconciled? Or is this a legitimate contradiction?
As is often the case, the verses in 1 Corinthians only present a problem because the context of chapter 7 has been overlooked. The reader must understand that Paul is responding to questions he received in a letter from the Corinthians (7:1). Obviously some of the questions pertained to marriage, and whether or not the apostle deemed it advisable. What many people overlook is that the questions were asked, and Paul’s responses were offered, in light of “the present distress” that the Corinthians were facing. Likely, the members of the church at Corinth had asked him whether or not it was proper for a Christian to marry in their present circumstances. In 7:26, Paul wrote: “I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress —that it is good for a man to remain as he is [single—EL]” (1 Corinthians 7:26, emp. added). Exactly what “the present distress” was at this time is unknown, but it likely involved oppression and persecution at the hands of the Romans (possibly Emperor Nero).
Whatever the precise “distress” was in Corinth, it is clear that God inspired Paul to write that it was in their best interest to remain unmarried. Perhaps he wanted to spare them situations like someone telling them they would have to either deny Christ or see a family member put to death (cf. Jeremiah 16:1-4). Even today, if a person is aware that severe persecution is imminent, he likely will delay getting married and having children. When Jesus spoke about the “great distress” that would come upon Jerusalem, He specifically warned “those who are pregnant” and “those who are nursing babies” (Luke 21:23). Jesus informed them that they would have greater difficulties surviving “the edge of the sword” that would come upon Jerusalem (Luke 21:24; cf. Matthew 24:19-21). Similarly, Paul advised those in Corinth to remain unmarried “because of the present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26).
The Bible teaching on marriage is clear to the unbiased reader: marriage is indeed “ honorable among all” (Hebrews 13:4), and since the beginning it normally has been “good” for mankind (Genesis 2:18). In certain instances, however, it might be inadvisable. The apostle Paul mentions one such case in 1 Corinthians 7.