The present paper examines the social context that Paul was addressing in Corinth on the question of marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7 and argues that contrary to the prevailing assumption of most commentators, Paul was not engaging an ascetically motivated form of singleness in Corinth, but a secular from of singleness motivated by self-interest.
To frame the investigation of the Corinthian context on the question of marriage and singleness, we employ a cross-cultural demographic study that seeks to explain why individuals choose to marry or refrain from marriage. The study examines populations based on three primary variables corresponding to availability of mates, the desirability of marriage, and the feasibility of marriage. Each of these were arguably valid factors in the situation Paul addresses in Corinth. Evidence from material sources such as the Egyptian census returns suggests that men likely would have out-numbered women in cities like Corinth resulting in a relative shortage of available female marriage partners. The desirability for marriage was shaped largely by the prevailing viewpoints of the various philosophical schools with the Epicurean perspective standing most notably in opposition to marriage. If the Corinthians were influenced by Epicurean perspectives, for which there is some textual evidence, they would have likely been predisposed against marriage. Feasibility would have been largely governed by the cost of available food sources. If the ἐνεστῶσαν ἀνάγκην of 1 Cor 7:26 does refer to a food shortage, the Corinthians would have had economic reasons to refrain from marriage. The paper concludes in observing that the Corinthian culture of non-marriage has parallels with today’s increasing secularized culture that provides greater appreciation for Paul’s response and fresh insight into its corresponding application for our modern world.