Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Because of the present crisis" gets followed by "the time is short" people

Let's look at what Paul's arguments for the unmarried life actually are and they aren't based on persecution or famine. Paul says in favor of marriage that for those who do not have self-control regarding sexuality and risk sexual immorality that it is good that they marry. He warns that they will have many cares and be distracted from wholehearted devotion to the Lord (let's consider that, again, in connection to Timothy's stay at Ephesus and Paul's propensity to judge others pursuing worldly goods as loving worldly things). Marriage is not sinful but it is not preferable in Paul's estimation. Those who have self-control would do well to remain unmarried.

Paul grants that "because of the present crisis" it is good for people to remain as they are. This does not merely refer to being married or single but to status as a slave. It also refers to not divorcing an unbelieving wife or preventing an unbelieving spouse from leaving you. Paul urges the Christians in Corinth to remain the place in which they were called. He concedes that it is no sin to marry, though it would be preferable to avoid so as to not distract a person from following Christ.

Even those who are married should live as though they were not and those who had possessions as if they did not really posses them. Why? Because the appointed time is short. Now this could simply be a reference to the brevity of life but it can also be interpreted as an eschatological argument. Paul is not saying "avoid marriage unless you absolutely can't keep your pants on" because there was persecution. Even when his letter was received in Corinth no one would construe him as arguing that they should avoid marriage because of persecution. He'd just said they could if they wanted and it was advisable if they couldn't control themselves sexually.

But it WOULD make sense to urge them to not rush into marriage because life is short and the coming of the Lord is sooner than when we first believed (Romans 13:11-14 comes to mind). Urging that widows only remarry in the Lord and that Christians marry Christians is, arguably, not just a concession that marriage is fine but also a reminder that a marriage should not be a distraction from following the Lord. Certainly many, if not most, people benefit from marriage in seeking the Lord.

Of course in the age to come no one will be married at all but that manages to not be a major preaching point in the church circles I've been in. Most of the homiletic case leans on explaining away "because of the present crisis" and skipping entirely "the time is short". That way any argument Paul could be construed as making in favor of not marrying can be skipped over by conservative Protestant pastors who can make sure that they drive home the idea that everyone should be married, preferably as soon as possible. Now seeing as Harold Camping just had his miscalculation or Rapture time I can grant that it's preferable to assume Jesus will never come back in your lifetime and teach Christians to marry because most them should. But let's not skip past Paul's eschatological argument for why marriage is at most a temporary arrangement.


Anonymous said...

But it WOULD make sense to urge them to not rush into marriage because life is short and the coming of the Lord is sooner than when we first believed (Romans 13:11-14 comes to mind).

Then why do Rapture Scares trigger compulsive epidemics of weddings? The guy over at Cerulean Sanctum once related that during the Edgar Whisenhaunt ("88 Reasons") Rapture Scare of 1988, most of the single student body of a local Bible college got hitched en masse (like something out of the Moonies) to beat Whisenhaunt's Rapture Date. (He wondered how many of those emergency marriages actually lasted.)

And how does this differ from "The World's Coming to an End! I Don't Wanna Die a Virgin!!!"?

Is "Getting Married" Christianese for "Getting Laid"? Marrying just to legalize the sex?

Headless Unicorn Guy

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

You're very good at asking rhetorical questions, HUG.
I happen to agree with where those rhetorical questions, go, though.