The Gift of Singleness – A Mistranslation and a Poorly Used Cliche’
A lot of times, Christians like to toss the phrase “gift of singleness” at singles, though I have seen some intriguing arguments online that most Bible translations get the phrase wrong.
It’s also interesting to note that one seldom hears Christians refer to marriage as “the gift of marriage.” Christians apparently feel a need to sugarcoat singlehood, because some singles are not happy or comfortable being single.
The problem with the “Gift of Singleness” rhetoric is that there is a sizable percentage of Christians who wanted to be married, and who expected to be married, but who remain un-married into their late 30s, 40s, 50s, and older.
The majority of Christians who are in this position do not regard singleness as a gift, nor has God lifted their sexual desire, nor has he removed their desire for marriage. It is quite insulting and a slap across the face to such singles to tell them God has “gifted” them with singleness.
(This is a post for those Christians, the ones who wanted to be married, but it never happened. This is not a post for the ones who frequently pipe up when this discussion comes up: “Oh but golly, I’m fine with being single, and I do think it’s a marvelous gift!” If you are one of those singles, I beg of you, please don’t chirp in with how gifty you consider singleness, otherwise, you will be one of those Christian singles I’ve blogged about before: (Link): Types of Christian Singles Whom I Find Annoying)
I have seen various arguments put forward that Paul was not saying that singleness is a gift, not in the sense American Christians make it out to be.
Here are links to other sites, blog pages, or comments by everyday Joe’s who are commenting on the “Gift of Singleness” teaching:
From the blog, “Single, Unexpectedly”
Before I get to the links: I find it a tad amusing that the woman who writes it is already lamenting being single at 30 years of age: I’m in my early 40s! I’ve run into marriage minded Christian women who have never married and are in their 40s. If you think it’s bad at age 30, try being early 40s or older. Here are the links from “Single, Unexpectedly”:
Excerpt from the above page:
… the GoS [Gift of Singleness] doctrine is a relatively new doctrine, a Johnny-come-lately interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:7. It is not how this text has traditionally been understood through the annals of Christian history but has come up only in the last forty years or so to try to explain the recent explosion in singleness among adults. // end of excerpt
Regarding the next link or two: they mention Debbie Maken. Please note that I do not agree wholly with Debbie Maken on each subject: from excerpts of her books I have read, she goes overboard on the topics of marriage and singleness, where she denigrates singlehood, and where she’s into blaming and shaming singles for being single.
Maken acts as though if you just go out a bit more often, or sign up for a few more dating sites, you will get a husband. She is wrong. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much effort a single woman puts into getting a spouse – she can try and try and go out all the time – and still remain single.
Where Maken gets things right is where she criticizes Christians and churches who over-sell, or over-spiritualize, singleness, and who discourage or shame singles who want to be married from trying to get married.
Here’s the Maken link (remember, Maken gets very much into a “blame the single for being single” perspective, so really think if you want to read this – it may be more offensive than uplifting if you are a single):
That page references this one:
Here are just a few comments I’ve seen from around the internet:
Bill Combs – August 18, 2006
You say that Paul calls singleness a divine gift in 1 Cor 7:7. It appears to me that looking at the context through v. 9, the gift is continence, freedom from sexual desires, not strictly singleness per se. So I wonder if this is really a verse that can be used to teach a positive gift of singleness? I wonder if Paul is not saying that those who have the gift of self control need not marry, but I would think that those who do not have this gift (self control) should normally seek marriage.
Source for the above comment:
I would encourage you to read the rest of the reader comments on that page, many of which were written by never-married Christians who are in their late 30s, 40s, and their 50s.
There is one guy in the comments on that page arguing that “men have stronger sex drives, so it’s harder for them to remain celibate for long as it is for women.”
Uh no, dude, just no. Women have strong sex drives too. Stop listening to the male preachers who keep coming up with these rigid gender stereotypes that women are emotional and have no interest in sex, while men are “visual” and want sex all the time.
Here’s another page that takes a bit of an odd, roundabout way of arguing against the “gift of singleness” teaching:
Some of the people who started or visit this next blog are buddies with “Captain Sensible” who, is well, IMHO, a bit far out – she approves strongly of Debbie “It’s Your Fault You Are Still Single” Maken, who supports “marriage mandate” teaching. So I offer this link with a caveat:
(Link): Return the Gift of Singleness
From that blog, a link to this:
(Link): THE GIFT OF SINGLENESS IS DEAD!!! (newer Bible translations are omitting the phrase because it is not accurate)
The next link is another one I offer with a caveat.
I offer it only because someone else who is reading this post may enjoy it; it’s basically one of those, “I’ve finally just learned to embrace my single status,” one of those somewhat overly-spiritual, “Jesus is all I need, and I’m okay with that” type posts (written by a woman in her late 40s at the time, I don’t think she ever married).
I offer this link as another example that there are tons of Christian singles out there who wanted to get married but it never happened; many times Christian preachers will argue that “if you have a gift of singleness, God will remove all sexual and marital desire from you.” This is not true. Here is the link:
Said someone named Shelly at the “From the Pew” blog (and I completely related to this),
Singleness is not a gift in the sense of other gifts. Singleness is a season (for some it is much longer and may even last an entire life) and I am learning that regardless of my martial status I must live TODAY for His glory (in my singleness), tomorrow is in His hands if it be single or married.
There is an attitude from people, even well meaning, doctrinally sound believers who are critical of my singleness. They outright state that I am not doing enough or “getting myself out there” or that something is wrong with me. Comments and attitudes like these hurt my heart and I must go to my Savior to assist me. There is so much that I have done to “get myself out there”. Along with internet dating, church singles events (have much to say about both of these but that can be for another time), I am faithful to God’s church and His people, I know many of folks who might know a good Christian brother who they think might be a possible match.
Another attitude that other’s try to share with me is that almost any man will do. As you know and as you posted, any person will not do. There is so much involved with God bringing a man and woman together. I will not settle for a man that I don’t feel God is calling me to. Then the attitude comes across that I am too picky. There is no truth in this at all.
People need to be very careful and sensitive in their efforts to assist a single person to find a spouse. I am not saying that they should not assist because I know God may use some of my married friends to introduce me to a wonderful godly man. In fact, I would highly regard the recommnedation of a friend to consider a godly man.
Here is another post at the From the Pew blog that I could relate to a bit better:
(Link): You Only Have The “Gift of Singleness” if You Want to Be Single – From the Pew blog
Here is an excerpt from that entry:
I not only agree with her [Jennifer Vaughn – (Link): thoughts on 1 Corinthians ], I would take it a step further and say that the repeated telling of single Christians that they have the “gift” of singleness, when in fact they have a strong desire to be married, can be a very damaging thing. It’s like saying that to have sexual desires or the desire to marry is a slap in the face of God. Refuse a “gift” given you from God? That’s like biting the hand of the one who feeds you.
But notice the words of Jesus above. He only lists three categories of eunuchs. Those who were eunuchs from birth (i.e. those without the correct plumbing, anatomy, hormones, etc.), those who were made eunuchs by men (i.e. male slaves who were castrated as part of being taken as prisoner of war, etc.) and those who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom (i.e. remaining single by personal decision). Those who are involuntarily celibate (i.e. haven’t found the right match, a quirk of providence, etc.) aren’t listed.
Another post from From the Pew (addresses cruddy dating advice conservative Christians give to singles, stereotypes against singles by Christians etc):
(Link): More on Singleness
The comments by gortexgrrl on this page:
“The Gift of Singleness……and my mistakes.”
Singleness is never identified as a gift in the Bible — neither is marriage for that matter. It’s an erroneous assumption that stems from an out of date mistranslation of 1 Cor 7:7 in the Living Bible which used to read:
…”But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. But God gives to some the GIFT OF MARRIAGE, and to others the GIFT OF SINGLENESS.”
…to now read: “But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.”
The current editors of the Liiving Bible (now called the New Living Translation) and also the Message recently changed it due to complaints that the earlier translation was not only inaccurate in comparison to the original Greek, but also gave the false impression that Paul was saying that if you are single, then you have “the gift of singleness”. Paul was more likely referring to his innate gift of sexual self control, as he goes on to say in verse 8 and 9:
“8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that(J) it is good for them to remain single(K) as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control,(L) they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (ESV)
Note that the language of this passage is entirely about wise advice to the individual, to making a wise decision for themselves about whether to marry or remain single, particularly temporarily in light of “the present distress” that he mentions in verse 26. Therefore, singleness is not a gift, but a state in which an individual is free to remain, if they have the gift of self control.
By your track record, it doesn’t sound like you have that gift. You may be abstaining at this time, but who’s to say that you won’t lose self-control in the face of future temptations? You family shouldn’t subject you to unbearable criticism, but perhaps they are accurately discerning your vulnerability to sin.
I am directing you to this page not so much for the main entry at the top, but for the back and forth exchange in the comments at the bottom of the page:
(Link): What is the Gift of Singleness?