The state of being unmarried. In the beginning, after creating the man Adam, “Jehovah God went on to say: ‘It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.’” (Ge 2:18, 21-24) Thereafter, marriage was the normal way of life among mankind, and exceptions were rare and were for special reasons.—See MARRIAGE.
One such special case was that of Jeremiah. He was under divine command to remain single and not to father children, since there were desperate circumstances coming on that nation in which children would be ruthlessly slaughtered by a cruel conqueror. (Jer 16:1-4) Jephthah’s daughter was another exception. Out of respect for her father’s vow, she willingly remained single in full-time service at Jehovah’s house.—Jg 11:34-40.
The apostle Paul discussed the benefits of singleness, provided one is not under excessive pressure, not “inflamed with passion” and therefore in danger of committing fornication. The course of singleness is “better” in that it allows one to serve God “without distraction.” (1Co 7:1, 2, 8, 9, 29-38; 9:5) Whether the four daughters of Philip the evangelizer married later in life is not stated, but at the time Luke wrote his account they were mentioned as “virgins, that prophesied.”—Ac 21:8, 9.
Christ Jesus, like Jeremiah, remained unmarried. In conversation with his disciples about the question of whether singleness was to be preferred over the state of marriage, Jesus said, “Not all men make room for the saying, but only those who have the gift . . . and there are eunuchs that have made themselves eunuchs on account of the kingdom of the heavens. Let him that can make room for it make room for it.”—Mt 19:10-12.
Singleness, then, is a gift having as its basic advantage the freedom afforded the possessor. Jesus here used figurative language. Men “make room for it,” not by literal self-emasculation, but in their hearts, by willingly resolving to keep themselves physically in the unmarried state, whether for a lifetime or for a more limited period of time, maintaining this status by self-control.
The teaching and practice of compulsory celibacy by certain religious sects, however, finds no support in Scripture. On the contrary, it is written, “In later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, . . . forbidding to marry.” (1Ti 4:1-3) Notably, many or most of the apostles were married men. (1Co 9:5) What keeps those with the gift of singleness from marrying need not be a vow of celibacy but their desire and ability to apply themselves to the service of God in the single state.