The Pursuit of Marriage: Part 1, Marriage Mandate
This is the first in a series of posts considering the issue of choosing to pursue marriage. Evangelicals treat this issue in various ways. The traditional view is that there is an obligation to get married (except for those gifted to remain single), such that single men must pursue marriage with a sense of urgency, and single women should cooperate in being pursued. While this is not taught much these days, it seems to be gaining a resurgence, and with that, new opposition. In this post I will briefly consider the argument made for this position based on 3 key bible passages, Gen 2:18, Matt 19:10-12 and 1 Cor 7.
The foundation for this view lies in Gen 2:18, It is not good for the man to be alone. This is interpreted as a mandate against singleness and for marriage. While the statement in Genesis is being given as a reason for the creation of Eve for Adam, it is viewed as applying to all adults with few exceptions, mandating that they should not be alone, but should instead be married, and that there is urgency to do what can be done to escape the aloneness (mainly directed at men, who have a more proactive role to play).
The exception to this mandate is to be found in the New Testament, though the exception is still seen to be at play before this, since certain Old Testament prophets did not marry. Matt 19:10-12 is said to list the only people who are not bound by that mandate, some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The final category are generally the focus and are taken to be those who are given (v11) the gift of celibacy, that enables them to remain single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
The gift of celibacy is said to also come up in 1 Cor 7, where Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. is taken to mean that those not burning with passion should marry, and that not burning with passion is ther gift that Paul refers to in v7, so that those who have the gift should remain single and those who do not have it should marry. The purpose of the gift is further seen in vv32-35, undivided devotion to the Lord. These interpretations of the New Testament passages can be made without the accepting the marriage mandate view of Gen 2:18.
Verse 2, It is good not to marry (literally it is good not to touch a woman: KJV) appears to contradict the idea that It is not good for the man to be alone as applied to all people. This is dealt with in 2 main ways, first it is said that it cannot contradict Gen 2:18, so it cannot mean that singleness is generally good, and it is also said that Paul is quoting the Corinthians (now regarding the things you wrote about) and that he does not agree with the statement.
Also Paul’s endorsement of singleness later in vv25-28 is said to not apply now as it is based on the present distress which is said to be something like persecution or famine, a situation that no longer or rarely exists.
The gift of celibacy is considered a Spiritual Gift, the same type of gift as those mentioned in 1 Cor 12, such as the gifts of healing and prophecy, something given by the Holy Spirit to serve others (1 Pet 4:10). The gift is said to be for life, so a person who has it should never marry.
There are variations on the view. While it is usual to consider the gift to be sexual control, contentedness with being single is also included or substituted. The purpose for remaining single may be for better and/or more service for God, or a stricter view may be taken that it is for ministry that could not be done by a married person (such as missionary work in a dangerous country).