Singleness Lessons I Learned from the Early Church – The history of Christian celibacy is more complicated than we’d like to think by Dani Treweek

Singleness Lessons I Learned from the Early Church – The history of Christian celibacy is more complicated than we’d like to think by Dani Treweek

(Link): Singleness Lessons I Learned from the Early Church – The history of Christian celibacy is more complicated than we’d like to think by Dani Treweek


by Dani Treweek
December 2, 2021

Lately, Christians have cast their minds and social media musings back to the early church on the topics of singleness and sexuality. Much of the conversation centers on past spiritual practices of celibacy and claims about what early church leaders taught about singleness.

Some suggest that early church leaders enthusiastically ‘tore down’ the centrality of marriage within the church. Others argue that the way we understand the (so-called) “gift of singleness” today is a direct inheritance from apostles and the church’s earliest centuries.

As a history nerd, practical theologian, and never-married Christian woman, I may not agree with every supposition, but I’m delighted by the revitalized discussion about how we can see ancient ideas about singleness in a new light.

After all, church history is our history, and this ancient era is ripe with fascinating insights (and quite a few conundrums) about singleness—many of which are still relevant to discussions on faith and church life today.

The lessons we can learn from the ancient church about singleness are many and mighty, but they are neither simple nor straightforward.

In fact, early church leaders do not offer us a singular narrative about being single. …

…We must keep in mind that the early church era spanned almost 500 years and multiple continents. In that time and space, there was a great diversity of thought on being unmarried as a Christian.

There was lots of agreement, but there was also strong disagreement.

For instance, consider the response to the fourth-century ex-monk Jovinian, who dared to suggest that “virgins, widows, and married women, who have been once passed through the laver of Christ … are of equal merit.”

This affirmation of Christians’ shared equality in Christ, regardless of their marital status, eventually contributed to Jovinian being declared a heretic at multiple early church synods during his lifetime.

…In the recent evangelical re-popularisation of the term “celibacy,” contemporary discussions often define celibacy as a distinct, lifelong, and perhaps formalized commitment to a particular kind of singleness.

Some who make this claim consider celibacy a direct inheritance of ancient historical practice. And yet in its original context the word celibate, from the Latin term caelebs, simply meant “unmarried”—which is the functional equivalent of our term single.

…Not only were the earliest expressions of the unmarried Christian life much more varied, but some of them were also considered theologically problematic.

…We must recognise that the present cultural context of singleness is remarkably different from that of the early church.

For example, today’s Christian singles have a degree of personal autonomy in their decisions about why, who, and when to marry.

Such marital independence would have been unimaginable for our ancient counterparts. To them, marriage was essentially a social construct and economic necessity—often initiated by their elders or family members, whether they liked the arrangement or not.

In fact, most unmarried Christians in the earliest centuries were not ‘never-married’ virgin adults, but rather widowed husbands and wives.

In other words, long-term celibate status largely emerged out of previous marriage!

…While we might be tempted to draw a straight line between singleness now and then, there is far more discontinuity than continuity.

And when it comes to “the gift of singleness,” (Link): there often wasn’t a single standard interpretation. Even when and where there was, we still need to be convinced from the Word of God that both ancient and modern readers truly got it right.

Read the rest of that piece on (Link): Christianity Today here

Related Posts:

(Link):  The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers Who Have Been Written Out of Christianity’s Early History by A. Mar

(Link):   Jesus Christ Removed the Stigma, Shame From Being Single and Childless – by David Instone Brewer

(Link):  The Myth of the Gift – Re Christian Teachings on Gift of Singleness and Gift of Celibacy

(Link): There is No Such Thing as a Gift of Singleness or Gift of Celibacy or A Calling To Either One

(Link):Singleness Is Not a Gift

(Link): Rome’s Vestal Virgins: Rome’s Most Powerful Priestesses by E. Biggi

(Link):  Instone-Brewer: Ancient Jews Expected All to Marry, Was Illegal to Remain Single in Ancient Rome

(Link):  Ever Notice That Christians Don’t Care About or Value Singleness, Unless Jesus Christ’s Singleness and Celibacy is Doubted or Called Into Question by Scholars?

(Link):  Really, It’s Okay To Be Single – In order to protect marriage, we should be careful not to denigrate singleness – by Peter Chin

(Link):  “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” – one of the most excellent Christian rebuttals I have seen against the Christian idolatry of marriage and natalism, and in support of adult singleness and celibacy – from CBE’s site

(Link): Salvation By Marriage Alone – The Over Emphasis Upon Marriage (and “family”) by Conservative Christians Evangelicals Southern Baptists

(Link):  Are Marriage and Family A Woman’s Highest Calling? by Marcia Wolf – and other links that address the Christian fallacy that a woman’s most godly or only proper role is as wife and mother

(Link):  No, Christians and Churches Do Not Idolize Virginity or Sexual Purity or Modesty

(Link): Is The Church Failing Childless Women? by Diane Paddison

(Link): Lies The Church Tells Single Women (by Sue Bohlin)

(Link): Christians Who Attack Virginity Celibacy and Sexual Purity – and specifically Russell D. Moore and James M. Kushiner

(Link): Stop Telling Adult Singles and Adult Virgins That Their Virginity and Singleness is “For God’s Glory” – just stop it already

(Link):  When Adult Virginity and Adult Celibacy Are Viewed As Inconvenient or As Impediments

(Link): Why Some People Become 30 Year Old Virgins (Article / Study)

(Link): The Netherworld of Singleness for Some Singles – You Want Marriage But Don’t Want to Be Disrespected or Ignored for Being Single While You’re Single

(Link): Southern Baptist Al Mohler Intimates That Childless And Childfree Adults Are  Not Human (2019) – and He Thinks This is a Good and Biblical Worldview

(Link): Loving the child-free people in your church by S. Burden

(Link): The Irrelevancy To Single or Childless or Childfree Christian Women of Biblical Gender Complementarian Roles / Biblical Womanhood Teachings

(Link): Why Are So Many Single Women Leaving the Church? by K. Gaddini

(Link): Single Adults – Why They Stay and Why They Stray From Church – Book Excerpts

(Link): Baby Making Fixation at Christianity Today Magazine Online – Shaming Women For Not Procreating, or For Delaying Motherhood, or For Limiting the Number of Children

(Link): Consider The Source: Christians Who Give Singles Dating Advice Also Regularly Coach Wives to Stay in Abusive Marriages

(Link):  Getting Married Is Not an Accomplishment by N. Brooke

(Link):   Single Adult Christian Pressured Into Marriage by Her Church – And Regrets It

(Link): Marriage Has Become a Trophy by A. Cherlin

(Link):  What If Marriage Is Overrated? – A social psychologist has been chipping away at many claims about marriage changing one’s life for the better

(Link):  Many Single People are Quite Happy that Way Researchers Discover (2015 study)

(Link): Typical Incorrect Conservative Christian Assumption: If you want marriage bad enough, Mr. Right will magically appear

(Link):  Craigslist confessional: I’m in my 40s, never married, and a virgin—but I’m happy by Abigail

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