Tuesday
Sep132011

Peter, Paul, and Marriage

The apostles Peter and Paul, both magnificently and appropriately chosen for high office by Christ himself, are a study in similarities and contrasts.

Most notably, of course, Peter was a believer from the beginning, showing up early in the ministry of Christ and assuming both office and prominence right away. Paul, on the other hand, conscientiously objected to the messianic claims of the Nazarene, eventually becoming a foremost persecutor of the faith he would later champion.

Peter was, by trade, a fisherman; Paul was a scholar before taking up arms against the dangerous sect of Christians. Peter’s impetuous nature leaps off the pages of the four gospels that record three years of his life, warts and all. By contrast, Paul became the most prolific New Testament writer, penning a dozen or so epistles to churches and fellow believers, writing with a passionate, but measured, demeanor. Where Peter would rebuke even Jesus, asserting himself ahead of his fellow apostles, Paul was humbled by the hideousness of his past, counting himself chief among the sinners he hoped to see redeemed.

When their paths at last crossed, they did not choose to create an intimate partnership in the gospel, but understood they were most valuable operating in different spheres of the kingdom (see Galatians 1:11-2:10). While they embraced one another and enjoyed the right hand of fellowship, Peter continued to focus upon preaching to the Jews while Paul felt a compulsion to reach out to Gentiles in the Hellenized cities and states he knew so well. Their mutual affection should never be in doubt – to Cephas, the former Saul of Tarsus had surely become his “beloved brother Paul,” whose missives were new covenant scripture (see Second Peter 3:15-16).

 

Celibacy and Marriage

 

The contrasts extended even to their personal lives. Peter was a family man while Paul was a confirmed bachelor.

The three-year ministry of Christ upon the earth required a great commitment from men like Peter, a sacrifice that sometimes affected their families very deeply. Peter, whose mother-in-law Jesus had cured of fever (see Matthew 8:14-17), had to spend a great deal of time away from home while ministering with Jesus throughout Judea. In a moment of hubris, he even reminded he Lord, “See, we have left our homes and followed you” (Luke 18:28). Indeed, the presence of his wife or children along the route goes unmentioned. If there was any sense in which Peter left his wife, it was not through divorce or abandonment, but a temporary physical parting that he might work at fishing for men (Luke 18:29-30).

More evidence for Peter’s marriage is found in his subsequent appointment to some local church’s eldership, a position that was never synonymous with the apostleship, but which still exists today wherever congregations maintain a scripturally autonomous form of organization. Peter was a fellow elder to those he addressed in his first letter, tasked with  others in shepherding the congregation of which they were members, just as the men in Ephesus had done (compare First Peter 5:1-4 to Acts 20:28).

Paul, despite his prolific pen and mighty presence, could not have served in the same pastoral capacity, for he lacked an essential quality that he himself described in letters to Timothy and Titus. To be appointed, an elder must be the husband of one wife (First Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6); Paul, despite writing those words, was the husband of no wife.

It was not that he had no right to marry; perhaps it was that Paul believed married life would distract him from his ministry and so he chose to remain single. Due to the intense first-century persecution of the saints, Paul even believed that most people should have forgone marriage. “I wish that all were as I myself am,” he would tell the Corinthians when they asked about sex (First Corinthians 7:1-7). He continued, 

 

I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.(First Corinthians 7:26-28)

 

Although not definitive, some of Paul’s words to Timothy seem to indicate a cautiousness about getting involved in relationships that might lead to marriage for the young minister. The bachelor apostle urged him to treat the young female church members “as sisters, in all purity” (First Timothy 5:2). “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” he would then write. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (Second Timothy 2:3-4). Far from forbidding marriage, however, Paul had an interest in helping Timothy remain chaste as a single man (Second Timothy 2:22).

Although he did not exercise his right to marry, Paul contended that he had one, just as much as the other apostles and preachers, including Peter: 

 

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?(First Corinthians 9:3-5)

 

Peter, although married, wrote very little about the institution; Paul, although single, wrote much by way of inspiration about the home. 

Paul described a model family in which the husband would nourish and cherish his wife, where she would respect and love him, and where their children would be not only submissive, but deeply loved and not discouraged (see Ephesians 5:22-6:4, Colossians 3:18-20). He sought to uphold the teachings of Christ regarding the permanence of marriage and to make divorce uncommon among the saints: 

 

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. (First Corinthians 7:10-11)

 

The apostles’ writings overlap at the point where first century Christians sometimes found themselves married to unbelievers, even as they do today. Paul asserted that unilateral post-marital conversion was not ground for the Christian to resort to divorce, even if the incompatibility of beliefs complicated the union. In a stroke of realism, he conceded that there was little a believer could do to maintain the marriage if the unbelieving spouse threatened to leave or abandoned the home (First Corinthians 7:12-16).

Peter’s words were entirely directed to a Christian woman married to an unbelieving man; he offers practical advice on making that marriage work. “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (First Peter 3:1-2).

 

Conclusion

 

A study of Peter, Paul and marriage reveals perfect harmony in the things they taught, even a complementariness in their writings, but also a contrast in their personal lifestyles. That contrast indicates that, in ministry, both the married and celibate lifestyles are authorized and conducive to the work, depending upon circumstances and personalities. Single Paul was able to travel the world, putting himself in harm’s way, sacrificing much of his income, without a thought to dependents. Married Peter travels as well, but at some point, settles where he can shepherd a local flock of believers. Both were bold and effective, even though their gifts differed.