For Those Given

The Idealization of Sexual Abstinence in the New Testament

by Cato Gulaker (Author)
©2022 Monographs XVI, 226 Pages
Series: Studies in Biblical Literature, Volume 178


This book provides a literary analysis of New Testament texts on marriage, sex, family, and celibate ideals. It seeks to explore if, how, and eventually to what extent the New Testament favors sexual abstinence. The core of this study consequently consists of fresh perspectives on the issue of sexual abstinence in the New Testament through close readings of 1 Cor 7, Gal 3:28, Matt 19:10–12, and Mark 12:18–27/Matt 22:23–33/Luke 20:27–40, with a keen eye to the many ambassadors of abstinence in the texts—characters exhibiting sexual abstinence given a favorable characterization and function.
As a comprehensive literary analysis of these texts from this perspective lacks precedent in contemporary biblical scholarship, the study is a valuable contribution to the ongoing scholarly debate on the biblical views on sex and marriage.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Editor’s Preface
  • Abbreviations
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The Scope of This Study
  • 2.1. Purpose and Aim
  • 2.2. Methodological Premises
  • 2.3. Text Selection
  • 2.4. Justification of the Study
  • 3. Particular Gifts of God: 1 Cor 7
  • 3.1. The Function of Chapter 7 in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians
  • 3.2. The Structure and Rationale of 1 Cor 7
  • 3.3. Detailed Analysis of the Argument for Sexual Abstinence
  • 3.3.1. To the Married
  • 3.3.2. To the Unmarried
  • 3.4. Excursus: Ambassadors of Abstinence—Virgins
  • 3.5. Excursus: Ambassadors of Abstinence—Widows
  • 3.6. Concluding Remarks
  • 4. For Those Given: Matt 19:10–12
  • 4.1. The Function of Matt 19:10–12 in the Gospel According to Matthew
  • 4.2. The Structure and Rationale of Matt 19:1–12
  • 4.3. Detailed Analysis of the Argument for Sexual Abstinence
  • 4.3.1. Marriage and Divorce
  • 4.3.2. Eunuchs and Those Given
  • 4.3.3. Excursus: Ambassadors of Abstinence—The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:27–39
  • 4.4. Concluding Remarks
  • 5. Un-familial Kingdom: Asexual Heaven
  • 5.1. The Markan and Matthean Version
  • 5.1.1. The Riddle
  • 5.1.2. The Answer
  • 5.2. Lukan Reworking of the Tradition
  • 5.2.1. The Answer
  • 5.2.2. Distractions from the Great Banquet (Luke 14:20)
  • 5.2.3. The Cost of Being a Disciple (Luke 14:26; 18:29)
  • 5.2.4. Blessed are the Sterile (Luke 11:27–28; 23:27–30)
  • 5.3. Concluding Remarks
  • 6. Un-Familial Kingdom: The New Social Order of Paul (Gal 3:28)
  • 6.1. The Literary Context of Gal 3:28
  • 6.2. Detailed Analysis
  • 6.2.1. Structural Comments
  • 6.2.2. Content
  • 6.3. Excursus: Ambassadors of Abstinence—The Barren
  • 6.4. Concluding Remarks
  • 7. The Familial Kingdom: The Old Social Order in Letters like Paul’s
  • 7.1. The Household Codes of Eph 5:21–6:9, Col 3:18–19, and 1 Pet 2:11–3:7
  • 7.2. The Pastoral Letters
  • 7.3. Hebrews 13:4
  • 7.4. Concluding Remarks
  • 8. Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

←xii | xiii→

Editor’s Preface

More than ever the horizons in biblical literature are being expanded beyond that which is immediately imagined; important new methodological, theological, and hermeneutical directions are being explored, often resulting in significant contributions to the world of biblical scholarship. It is an exciting time for the academy as engagement in biblical studies continues to be heightened.

This series seeks to make available to scholars and institutions scholarship of a high order, which will make a significant contribution to the ongoing biblical discourse. This series includes established and innovative directions, covering general and particular areas in biblical study. For every volume considered for this series, we explore the question as to whether the study will push the horizons of biblical scholarship. The answer must be yes for inclusion.

In this volume, Cato Gulaker explores the development of the idealization of sexual abstinence in the New Testament. In so doing the author begins with an examination of the Genesis creation of male and female and what he argues is the twofold reason for such creation, namely the importance of populating the earth and attending to the damaging effects of loneliness. It is on this basis from the Hebrew Bible and the later development from Second Temple Judaism which likewise emphasized what the author terms a “family oriented theology” and “creational order” that the study pivots and stands over and against the New ←xiii | xiv→Testament texts. Gulaker proceeds with a literary reading of the texts as opposed to the historical background and extratextual interfaces. In this regard, the arguments are based on what the texts say. The author argues that the New Testament in general and the Pauline corpus in particular changes the emphasis on sexual abstinence as the ideal.

The result is a copious and detailed study that will assuredly add to the rich texture of these narratives. Gulaker’s pronouncement and commitment to reading the text as a first-century Christian reader in the Roman Empire will almost assuredly also become a further aspect of the platform for further discussion on such a possibility. This study is certain to generate ongoing discourse, and will not only further expand the biblical horizon, but will do so in a direction that invites further conversation.

The horizon has been expanded.

Hemchand Gossai

Series Editor

←xvi | 1→



Already from the first chapters of the Hebrew Bible,1 we find sex to be an essential part of the divine ordering of things (Gen 1:28; 2:23–25). The sexual relationship between man and woman is presented as part of the solution to the damaging effects solitude, or loneliness, might have on humankind (Gen 1:18, 20–25). From the very beginning, the main rationale behind the creation of the two sexes was that it is not good for humans to live alone. Furthermore, not just anything or anyone would do to remedy the situation. It had to be someone of one’s own kind—of one’s own flesh. The carnal aspect of the solution to the problem of solitude is found in the final verses, closing off the whole issue, and is dedicated to the two bodies becoming one flesh (בָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד)—a naked union devoid of shame. In addition to solving the initial problem, the reader is provided with detailed information on the earlier exhortation as to how, exactly, humankind is to be fruitful, multiply and thus fill the earth (Gen 1:28). In other words, sexual ←1 | 2→relations are presented to us as at least fulfilling two important functions in the divine governing of things: populating the earth and preventing the damaging effects of loneliness. These two texts of creation, long assumed by biblical scholars to have been edited into the corpus we refer to as the Pentateuch in the sixth century BC, serve as an introduction to both the Pentateuch itself and later on to the Tanach in its entirety. Furthermore, such a positive outlook on sex is confirmed in the historical narratives of the Hebrew Bible, which views procreation as a divine blessing and as a necessary way of furthering the plot (i.e., consider the functions of Hagar, Tamar, Ruth, Rahab to their respective narratives). In poetic and sapiential literature, the blessings of sex and good wives (note the androcentric perspective) are considered a natural part of divine creation and are subsequently found shoulder to shoulder with texts of praise and lament to the deity (cf. Ps 45; The Song of Songs; Prov 5:15–19; 31:10; Sir 26:1–4, 13–18; 36:21–26). In Second Temple Judaism, these views are confirmed and expanded. Even the ascetically inclined Essenes of the Qumran sect found interest in the Song of Songs and the need to regulate familial relations inside their group (cf. CD 4:21; 5:10; 7:6–7; 4Q502). These textual traditions are considered part of or related to what the author of 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to as inspired by God and are considered helpful to a great many things, among them an upbringing to life in righteousness. Such a view could very well represent the majority view the first generations of Christians had on the holy scriptures of Israel.

However, even though the scriptural traditions of the Hebrew Bible were held in high esteem by the early Christian movement, one can detect some tension with this part of its content in some of the earliest Christian texts. Clearly, when we read the words of Paul that one would be better off without sexual and marital relations, something has changed. It is good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Cor 7:1); all would be better off if we were living sexually abstinent like him (7:7); and because of the perilous times we live in, even if one were married, one should live like one were not (7:26–31). Part of the argument with which he backs up this exhortation is that since we are living in the last days of this age, we have better things to do than mundane and, thus, less important matters such as forging and nourishing man-woman relations. It seems important for Paul, though, to emphasize that he does not consider sex and marriage to be sinful (7:28, 36), but rather a distraction (7: 34–35), exhausting, and a downright burden (7:28), in light of the end that is coming. Paul concludes this rather lengthy section on the matter by stating that the one who marries does well (καλῶς), but the one who does not, does better (κρεῖσσον, 7:38). To Paul, the ideal is not to marry but to live in abstinence in order to fully be able to dedicate one’s life to ←2 | 3→the service of Christ. Despite his clarity on what the ideal and preferable way of conduct in these matters should be, he is also very careful to emphasize that this is not for everyone. Not everyone is given to abstain from marital relations, but only those having been given so as a gift from God (χάρισμα ἐκ θεου, 1 Cor 7:7). Still, whoever that is able should embrace such a life (1 Cor 7:12). As such, he describes the ability to abstain from marital relations by using the same term he uses when he later writes instructions regarding the gifts of the spirit, provided as a foretaste of what eventually will be a reality for everyone in the coming age. This age is about to pass, and with it, the ways to sustain life as we know it, since in the coming age these carnal ways of sustaining life will be superfluous.

The teachings of Jesus, as reported in the Gospel of Matthew, seem to reflect a similar train of thought. When the disciples discover that the only valid reason for obtaining a divorce is fornication (πορνείᾳ, Matt 19:9) on behalf of the spouse, they agree with the conclusion of Paul that the best thing is probably to avoid getting married in the first place. However, like Paul, Jesus is careful to make sure that everyone understands that this path is not for everyone to pursue, but only to those given (οἷς δέδοται, Matt 19:11). Jesus does not protest the conclusion of the disciples but adds that this is not obtainable for everyone—at least not for the time being.

In another scene where representatives from the Sadducee party approach Jesus with matters concerning Moses’ teachings on levirate marriage, we are given further information on the matter (Matt 22:23–33). The problem is sketched out as follows: seven brothers have all been married to the same woman in their earthly life. The question that subsequently presents itself if one believes in an afterlife is this: Which one of them will be married to her in the afterlife? In his answer, Jesus envisions an afterlife devoid of marital relations: one neither continues being married nor gives in marriage (οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, Matt 22:30), but will be like the angels of heaven. In this way the teachings of Jesus align with that of Paul: in the eschatological coming age, marriage, and thus sex, is a non-issue because in Christ the social entity of male and female does not exist and is deemed irrelevant (Gal 3:28). It follows from this that it is to be expected that some of the gifts of the Spirit given as a foretaste of this coming age reflect this reality.


XVI, 226
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Family gender sexuality celibacy procreation ascesis Bible New Testament Body Desire For Those Given The Idealization of Sexual Abstinence in the New Testament
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XVI, 226 pp., 20 b/w ill., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Cato Gulaker (Author)

Cato Gulaker is Assistant Professor at Ansgar University College and Theological Seminary where he currently serves as Dean of Studies. He received his PhD from MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society. He is the author of Satan, the Heavenly Adversary of Man: A Narrative Analysis of the Function of Satan in the Book of Revelation.


Title: For Those Given
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244 pages