Was it only me who was surprised to see specific counsel about sex in the Bible?
“Let the husband render to [his] wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to [her] husband. The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not be depriving each other [of it], except by mutual consent for an appointed time, that you may devote time to prayer and may come together again, that Satan may not keep tempting you for your lack of self-regulation.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)
I just didn’t expect to see it there—maybe I should have—and it cemented my opinion that the Bible was a very practical book.
The apostle Paul, who was not married, recommended singleness as a way of life: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman; yet, because of prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband....However, I say this by way of concession, not in the way of a command. But I wish all men were as I myself am. (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)
In the single state, one can more readily give “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction,” he wrote at vs 35.
So from time to time, the Witness organization dutifully recommends singleness as a way of life. Few take them up on it—perhaps because those doing the recommending are almost always married themselves. Instead, they employ the “escape clause” at verse 36: “But if anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth, and this is the way it should take place, let him do what he wants; he does not sin. Let them marry.” They even push the “bloom of youth” phrase to almost mean two minutes past the bloom of youth. Many of our people go in for marriage when quite young. Many of these later come to say that they entered marriage too young.
Is there anyone other than the apostle Paul who gives such advice? To my surprise, there is—and he is a big name by historical standards—Francis Bacon, a philosopher of the 16th century who advocated for scientific investigation, recognizing its potential to change the world. From Aristotle’s time, science had been mostly based on deduction. Bacon changed it to be based on induction. Rather than ‘downloading’ ‘settled science’ and deducing from it, he advanced the notion of ‘uploading’ observations and experiments, and using that to modify existing science, so that it should never become like calcified religious dogma. Michael Hart ranks him #90 on this list of the 100 most influential persons who have ever lived. (Paul is #6)
His preference of singleness (though, like most who ‘recommend’ singleness today, he was married) is for the same reason as Paul’s: one can do more in that state: “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public.”
This is not necessarily true of the unmarried—that they make great contributions (“Some there are, who though they lead a single life, yet their thoughts do end with themselves, and account future times impertinences”)—but it could be more readily true of them, by reason of having fewer distractions.
Watch out the traps of marriage!—and I am not sure here whether he is lampooning those who run from it simply for the sake of self-centeredness, or if he advocating forsaking it for the contributions one can thereby more easily make to humankind: “But the most ordinary cause of a single life is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds, which are so sensible of every restraint, as they will go near to think their girdles and garters to be bonds and shackles. Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects; for they are light to run away; and almost all fuginves are of that condition.”
He even agrees with Paul’s specific application for remaining unmarried: “Single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground were it must first fill a pool.” How well that ties in with Paul’s: “The unmarried man is anxious for the things of the Lord, how he may gain the Lord’s approval. But the married man is anxious for the things of the world, how he may gain the approval of his wife, and he is divided” (Vs 32-34)
That is not to say that either Francis or Paul did not concede the tempering effect of marriage on personality: “Certainly wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity; and single men, though they may be many times more charitable, because their means are less exhaust, yet, on the other side, they are more cruel and hard-hearted (good to make severe inquisitors), because their tenderness is not so oft called upon.”
Still, all things considered, Bacon refers to “one of the wise men, that made answer to the question, when an man should marry—A young man, not yet, and elder man not at all.”