Singleness in the New Covenant


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Where does a single person “fit” in the Bible amidst the abundant blessings of fruitfulness, fertility, and family? The answer is found by tracing the concepts of marriage and singleness throughout the covenants. In this article, I will briefly lay out where intentional singleness fits in to the new covenant age.

Beginning with Marriage

Marriage is not only created and ordained by God but also it is the most intimate of human relationships that we can experience in this life. Furthermore, by the means of marriage God has instituted the family, which is the foundational building block for human society, and by which we fulfill the purpose of our creation “to be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28) and “to put everything under [our] feet” (Ps. 8:6b). No wonder, Scripture is greatly concerned about the sanctity of marriage, its protection, and the ongoing importance of the family. Human society cannot function apart from marriage and the family’s success, and the rejection of both of these inevitably and necessarily leads to the unraveling and destruction of the fabric of societies.

However, given the significance of marriage in creation, it may seem surprising that Jesus teaches that human marriage comes to an end in the new creation. In fact, when asked about marriage in the resurrection, Jesus reminded his questioners that “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). Thus, as central as marriage is to God’s creation purposes along with our human flourishing, ultimately marriage is created to function as a means to a larger end, but an end that is truly glorious, namely God’s relationship to his people. Thus, God intended that human marriage and the family would only be temporary since in the end, marriage was designed to typify and reveal the greater and permanent covenant relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:32).

As the Bible’s story unfolds the typological nature of marriage is gradually revealed. The Noahic covenant continues to uphold the significance of marriage and the family for all human societies (Gen. 9:1); indeed, it reminds us that these creation-order institutions will continue to the end of the age (Gen. 8:22). This is the reason why all people ought to value and protect them—at least if they do not want to commit societal suicide. The same is true in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants. In fact, under the Mosaic covenant, marriage and the nuclear family is protected, encouraged, and assumed (Ex. 20:12–17; Lev. 18; Deut. 6:1–9). For example, one sees no discussion of intentional or unintentional singleness. Everything under the Mosaic covenant assumes the ongoing significance of marriage and having children. In fact, many of the curses of the covenant are directed against the norm of marriage and the family; Deut. 28:18 says, “the fruit of your womb will be cursed,” and we read that marriages and families will come to ruin for covenant breakers (Deut. 28:30, 32-33, 41, 54–57). However, on the flip side, blessing results in their marriages and families flourishing so that “the fruit of [their] womb will be blessed” (Deut. 28:4). In other words, the default under the Mosaic covenant is marriage and the family, thus fulfilling our creation task of ruling over creation. If Scripture ended here, it would seem that marriage and family would continue forever, and that any singleness is a suboptimal anomaly.

However, in the Old Testament, and specifically in the Prophets with the promise of a new covenant, God reveals that there is more to marriage and the family than simply its ongoing continuation. Instead, we begin to see that human marriage typifies and reveals a greater relationship between God and his people, as made known in Christ’s relationship to his church. God is the bridegroom to his bride, and the Messiah to come, our Lord Jesus Christ, will be given a people who will be his faithful bride (Jer. 31:31–34), unlike Israel of old (Jer. 3:1–13). This is why Paul can speak of Christ’s relationship to the church as a mystērion (Eph. 5:32)—a “mystery” or “revelation” that was hidden in the Old Testament yet gradually revealed, which is precisely what occurs due to Christ’s coming and his ratification of the new covenant.

Indeed, due to Christ’s new covenant work, we begin to see the transformation of marriage and the family in ways that reveal both their temporal nature and their intended purpose to typify the greater, more permanent relationship of Christ and his church. This is not to say that marriage and the nuclear family fade away due to Christ’s coming; both of these creation realities continue until the end of the age. In fact, instructions are given for Christian marriages and how to raise children in the Lord (Eph. 5:22–6:4). Yet, in contrast to the Old Testament, intentional singleness for Christ’s sake now surfaces as a “gift from God” (1 Cor. 7:7), and one’s family is now prioritized in terms of the family of God. In fact, we see in Mark 10:29 that for the sake of Christ we may have “to leave father and mother” (our biological family) even as we gain “brothers and sisters and mothers” (our spiritual family). Moreover, Jesus’s family members— his “mother and [his] brothers”—are those “who do the will of [his] Father” (Matt. 12:49–50). What this reveals is that human marriage, as important as it is, is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

The Place of Intentional Singleness

As noted, this is where intentional singleness shows up in the New Testament in a different way than the Old.[1] Why is singleness never presented in ideal terms in the Old Testament, yet in the new covenant intentional singleness is a “gift from God” (1 Cor. 7:7)? For this reason: due to the coming of Christ and the new covenant age, the new creation has begun to break into this world, both individually (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17) and corporately as the church (Eph. 2:14–22). Although the end is not yet here in its consummated fullness, the realities of the new creation are presently here which are now beginning to transform the present. Marriage and the family continue until Christ’s return, but both are now transformed. Israel was a mixed covenant community constituted by “you and your children”—that is, comprised of believing parents and unbelieving children—but the new covenant community of the church is comprised of those who have repented and believed in Christ. What marriage ultimately typifies is now here in the coming of Christ, so that the Christ-church relationship takes on greater prominence than even our own biological families. Furthermore, the full emotional satisfaction of human relationships is not merely experienced in marriage but it may also be experienced in our relationships in the church. Instead of singleness being viewed as an anomaly, intentional singleness is now viewed as a gift given by God for service unto the Lord. Again, this is not to downplay the importance of marriage and the family, but it is to remind ourselves that even these important created realities are coming to their end, and giving way to that which is permanent in Christ.

1. I use the language of “intentional singleness” to reflect the unconstrained deliberate choice made by a single person in 1 Corinthians 7:37 to remain single for the Lord’s sake, in contrast to those who would like to marry but never have the opportunity for a variety of reasons.


So what preliminary conclusions may we draw regarding singleness and the new covenant? Probably many points could be said but here are at least five. First, intentional singleness is one example in the new covenant where the new creation has already begun to dawn. What was before an anomaly is now a gift of God in great service to the church. Second, although marriage continues until Christ returns, singleness reminds us that human marriage is not permanent. This created and earthly institution ultimately gives way to the greater, more permanent relationship of Christ’s relationship to his people. Third, it also reminds us that if a Christian never experiences marriage in this life, they are not a second-class citizen, since marriage—as important as it is—is not an end in itself. Fourth, singleness also helps us gain perspective on our families in the present era. Until Christ returns, if we are married and have children, we are to value both as very important. But we must never forget that what is most central is that our marriages reflect something of Christ and the church, and that our biological children become spiritual children in the Lord. Under the new covenant, our biological children are not “in” the covenant until they repent of their sins and place their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is this point that we must never forget. Fifth, although singles may not have biological children of their own, in a far more important sense, by their proclamation of the gospel, they gain spiritual children in the Lord. By the proclamation of the glory of Christ, and the discipleship of Christ’s people, spiritual children are built up in the Lord who forever will enjoy God’s glory and the permanency of the family of God.

In the end, what singleness in the new covenant reminds us is that we must have a proper biblical and theological perspective on marriage, the family, and our children. As our society implodes around us due to its rejection of God’s truth about marriage and the family, Christians must uphold and value both, but even more, must find their hope in the truth of the gospel and what it means to live as God’s new covenant people as we await the coming of our Lord.



  • Stephen Wellum

    Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous essays, articles, and books. He is also the co-author with Peter Gentry of Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd edition (Crossway, 2012, 2018) and the author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Crossway, 2016).

Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous essays, articles, and books. He is also the co-author with Peter Gentry of Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd edition (Crossway, 2012, 2018) and the author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Crossway, 2016).