Redeeming Singlenessexpounds a theology of singleness that shows how the blessings of the covenant are now directly mediated to believers through Christ.
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About the Author
Barry Danylak (PhD, University of Cambridge) is community pastor of single adult ministries at Centre Street Church and adjunct professor of theology at Rocky Mountain College in Calgary, Alberta. He holds graduate degrees in mathematics, Christian thought, and New Testament, and is the author of several reviews and articles. He has a passion for ministry to single adults and regularly speaks and teaches on biblical singleness.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.
Read an Excerpt
Begetting from the Beginning
Procreation, Marriage, and the Blessing of God to the World
When I have occasion to speak before various church groups on questions of singleness and marriage, I often begin the discussion by asking, "Can anyone tell me what is the first commandment in the Bible?" After some momentary blank stares, generally one or two individuals are brave enough to assert themselves and faithfully quote Matthew 22:37, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
"Ah, yes," I respond, "you have faithfully cited the first and greatest commandment. But I actually only asked for the first commandment in the Bible, as in the first one we would find if we began reading it from page 1."
At this point I encounter more quizzical stares. After all, most Christians do not pay much attention to the order of biblical commandments, and even when we do, we struggle to agree on what constitutes a bona fide command.
If I were addressing a circle of Orthodox Jews, my audience would probably not have been tricked by the question. They would likely have known of the work of the twelfth-century Jewish sage Maimonides, who codified all 613 commandments of the Torah. The first of these 613 to appear chronologically in the Old Testament is the commandment, "Be fruitful and multiply," in Genesis 1:28.
Once the answer is given, it seems painfully obvious. So I press the audience with a further question: "And to whom was this commandment first given?" If there is silence a second time, it is because the question appears too obvious to answer. Once again the question is a bit of a trick, because the commission to "be fruitful and multiply" is first given in Genesis 1:22 on the fifth day of creation, to the sea creatures and the birds, when God says, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." The mandate is given again by God to human beings on the sixth day: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen. 1:28).
In the Beginning ...
The First Commandment
Reflecting upon this double occurrence in Genesis 1 of the mandate, "Be fruitful and multiply," is instructive. It underscores that reproducing oneself is a fundamental and natural task, commissioned by God not only for human beings but for the whole created order. The procreative mandate is given even before human beings are created. It is woven into the very fabric of the created order that God fashioned before human beings were on the earth. What differentiates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom is not found in the reproductive commission but in the distinctive that they were created in the image of God and have an additional mandate to subdue the earth and have dominion over it.
Jewish tradition, from the rabbinic interpreters of the New Testament era onward, has not questioned interpreting "be fruitful and multiply" as a divine command of the Torah. The Jewish Mishnah makes it explicit: "No man may abstain from keeping the law, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' unless he already has children." The rabbis were explicit that the duty of procreation falls on the man and not the woman.
Some of my Protestant friends, on the other hand, have questioned the presumption that "mandate" need be understood as a commandment at all. Is it not rather a divine blessing? Genesis 1:28 makes the association between begetting and blessing explicit:
God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
The imperative to "be fruitful and multiply" expected of the first human beings goes hand-in-hand with the act of God's blessing them. Procreation requires that a human act be carried out, but the results of the human act are efficacious only through divine provision. We already have perhaps a hint of the forthcoming drama found later in Genesis where the offspring of the covenantal blessing arises not simply through the human procreative act but as a result of God's supernatural act of provision.
While the act of being fruitful and multiplying is thus a divine-human act, in actuality the Hebrew author sometimes stresses one aspect more than the other. By examining whether blessing is mentioned in the immediate context of the reference, and by looking at the subject and form of the verb, we can get a relatively good sense of where the dominant emphasis is being applied. Table 1.1 provides a list of all the occurrences of the couplet in the Old Testament (it never appears at all in the New Testament). Of the twelve Old Testament references to being fruitful and multiplying, only five are clear imperatives upon humans or creatures (bolded in the table). It is given as an imperative to human beings only in three instances: to the first human beings, Adam and Eve; to Noah and his family; and to Jacob. At first it might seem surprising that it was given to Jacob and not also to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob's sons, or Israel as a nation. But it does make some sense when we consider that Adam was the progenitor of the human race, Noah was a second Adam, and Jacob was the immediate progenitor of the nation of Israel. Each of the three was father to a human race of critical importance.
From the table it seems surprising that the mandate is given twice to Noah, and in the second instance it is issued without the blessing. However, as Genesis 9:1–7 forms a single text unit, the command, as given in verse 7, may be nothing more than an emphatic reiteration of verse 1. Maimonides cites Genesis 1:28, 9:1, and 9:6–7 as proof-texts for including "be fruitful and multiply" among the commandments of the Torah. Whether Maimonides was correct to include it among the divine commands for all human beings is debatable. What we can conclude from the creation account is that procreation is part of the pattern of the created order, it is associated with God's blessing, and it was an explicit divine commandment given to Adam, Noah, and Jacob.
The Provision of Marriage
While marriage is not explicitly mentioned early in the creation account, it is certainly implied in the concluding clauses of Genesis 1:27: "In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." The biblical etiology (an account of something's origin) of marriage as a divinely sanctioned human institution does not appear until the final scene of the creation account in Genesis 2:18–24. In this latter episode we find no mention at all of procreation as the basis for marriage; rather, here the motivation for the account is the initial observation by the Lord God that "it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen. 2:18).
With this initial pronouncement God puts Adam to sleep, takes his rib from him, and creates Eve. The didactic function of the episode is made clear in the concluding pronouncement in 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." So while an implied purpose for marriage in the creation account is to enable fulfillment of the divine mandate to "be fruitful and multiply," the explicit purpose the account gives is for companionship and assistance.
Here we see emerging a seminal theology of marriage. The wife serves both as relational companion and as provider of material assistance to the husband. The husband in turn functions in a complementary role for the wife. The separation of the two incidents perhaps serves to highlight the author's point that marriage was intended to provide more than the mere need to procreate legitimate heirs; it was also the foundation of the new institution of relational support in the human family unit.
In Jesus' discussion with the Pharisees about divorce, he cites as the basis for marriage Genesis 1:27, "male and female he created them," which he conjoins with the conclusion in 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." In the context of Genesis 2, the "therefore" of verse 24 follows from the man's condition of first being alone (v. 18) and subsequently receiving the woman as "flesh of my flesh" (v. 23). Jesus, however, links the conclusion not to the man's need for companionship but rather to God's ordained pattern of creation as constituting them "male and female."
Maimonides also lists "taking a wife" through contractual arrangement among his 613 commandments of the Torah but cites a casuistic legal precept in Deuteronomy 22:13–15 rather than Genesis 2 as the basis of the commandment. Maimonides' understanding of marriage as a commandment of the Torah would have resonated with the earlier rabbinic tradition, which presumed marriage to be a requirement as the means to fulfill one's lifelong procreative duty to "be fruitful and multiply," illustrated well in the second-century rabbinic tractate 'Abot R. Nathan:
Marry a wife when you are young, and marry a wife when you are old, beget children when you are young, and beget children when you are old. Do not say, "I shall not get married," but get married and produce sons and daughters and so increase procreation in the world. "For you do not know which will prosper, the one or the other, or perhaps both of them will survive, and they shall both turn out well. In the morning sow your seed and in the evening keep it up" (Eccles. 11:6).
The presumed close tie between marriage and procreation was a common concept in the ancient world. Prescribing them as codified legal mandates was also common, beyond mere Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament. The idea of state-instituted laws requiring marriage was also common amongst Greco-Roman political theorists. In Plato's later discussion of political theory, given in his Laws, for example, he recognizes that the foundational building block of any political state lies in the partnership of marriage. Thus, it follows that the state's first legal enactment should be the institution of laws requiring a man to marry. Plato was not alone, for, as we shall see later, similar ideas were common to other ancient writers.
In exploring the close connection between marriage and procreation in the ancient world, we begin to see clearly the distinctive view of marriage given in the Genesis account. First, we are struck by the immediate prominence of God's blessing on the whole created order through procreation. Marriage is acknowledged implicitly from the very beginning in God's creation of humans as male and female. Marriage thus provides the means to accomplish God's initial blessed mandate to human beings to "be fruitful and multiply." But in providing a secondary account of the institution of marriage at the end of the creation story, the biblical author emphasizes that marriage has been ordained by God to be more than just a provision for procreation; it is also the means for companionship and support through a couple's unity in forming a new family unit.
Offspring and the Fall
Having already seen the prominence of procreation within the creation account, it is not surprising to find that offspring emerges as a recurring theological motif through the development of biblical history. The Hebrew term used for offspring is the word zera', which can be translated into English as "offspring" or "seed" or other words, depending on the context. Just as the English word seed can refer botanically to the seed sown by a farmer, the semen of a male animal, a single physical offspring of a human or animal, or the aggregate descendants of a human being, so too a similar range of usage applies in the Hebrew. Although the once ubiquitous King James Version nearly always translated zera' as "seed," modern translations tend to translate the term into a range of contextually specific English equivalents such as "seed," "semen," "offspring," "children," "lineage," or "descendants."
Even before the narrative moves out of Eden, we encounter the importance of offspring in the account of the fall. The text of Genesis 3 portrays three separate culpable agents. The Serpent deceived Eve with a lie. Eve listened to the Serpent, disobeying God. Adam listened to Eve, disobeying God. In God's pronouncement of judgment upon the Serpent, two references to offspring occur:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)
The judgment upon the Serpent is that there will be constant enmity between his offspring and the woman's offspring. At one level, we could have here a biblical etiology of why snakes bite men, and why men try to kill snakes. But as Gordon Wenham points out, this is a judgment against the Serpent, not the woman. The serpent is at a tactical disadvantage. Moreover, a wound to the head is more likely to be fatal than a wound to the heel. Likewise, a personified speaking serpent in the account suggests that it represents more than a suborder of reptiles but rather the personified power of evil hostile to the plans and purposes of God.
In short, the enmity between two sets of offspring points to the future continued struggle between human beings (the offspring of the woman) and the personified forces of evil in Satan and his cohorts. Whereas the forces of evil will inflict harm upon the offspring of Eve, the offspring of Eve will eventually fatally crush the forces of evil.
Patristic authors from Justin and Irenaeus onward have regarded Genesis 3:15 as the protoevangelium, the first Old Testament prophecy of Christ. The patristic authors employ the ambiguity between the collective offspring and a singular offspring in making the assertion. Paul tells the Roman church, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Rom. 16:20). If this is an allusion to Genesis 3:15, it suggests an image of God crushing Satan through his people, i.e., the church. So perhaps there is a sense in which both a particular and an aggregate sense of seed are simultaneously in view.
The next reference to offspring in Genesis occurs in Genesis 4:25 as part of Eve's response when she bears her third son, Seth. The dominant storyline of Genesis 4 concerns the contrast between Abel's acceptable sacrifice and Cain's unacceptable sacrifice, Cain's accountability before God for his subsequent murder of Abel, and the portrayal of how Cain's violent disposition is subsequently passed down through his progeny, as represented by the figure of Lamech. From the foundation of human history we can observe two distinct lines of progeny coming from Adam and Eve — one represented by Cain marked by violence, which was eventually destroyed in the flood, and the other represented by Abel and Seth, which was marked by obedience, sacrificial death, and new life.
While the traditional contrast of the chapter is between Cain and Abel with Seth only mentioned in the concluding two verses, when we look at the description of the birth accounts it is Cain and Seth that form the interesting parallel, while there is only passing mention of the birth of Abel. The births are described as follows:
... and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD." (Gen. 4:1)
... and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, "God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him." (Gen. 4:25)
In each case Eve bears a son, names him, and makes a declaration to the Lord commemorating the occasion; but in two instances the subject, verb, and object are different. In the first instance the act of producing a child is Eve's. Eve "gets" for herself a "man" with the "help" of the Lord. To commemorate her act, she names her son Cain, meaning "possession," a wordplay on the Hebrew verb qanah meaning "get."
In the second instance God is the subject and Eve is the indirect object. This time Eve acknowledges that God appointed another offspring. She names this son Seth, meaning "substitute," which is also an apparent wordplay on the Hebrew verb shith for "placing" or "appointing." The contrast in the type of birth is expressed in the names of Eve's sons. Cain is the result of Eve's own act of getting a man, whereas Seth is God's provision of an appointed offspring. In her effort, Eve bears sinful progeny of violence and ultimate death. But God provides through her another offspring that ultimately brings life and hope.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Redeeming Singleness"
Copyright © 2010 Barry Nicholas Danylak.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations,
List of Figures and Tables,
Foreword by John Piper,
1. Begetting from the Beginning: Procreation, Marriage, and the Blessing of God to the World,
2. Living in the Land: Why Every Israelite Man and Woman Married,
3. Prophetic Paradox: How Failure of a Nation Brings Blessing to the World,
4. Good News for the Gentiles: How Abraham's Offspring Come from Jesus Alone,
5. The King and the Kingdom: Jesus' Surprising Statements on Singleness and Family,
6. A Charisma in Corinth: Paul's Vision of Singleness for the Church,
What People are Saying About This
“Finally! I’ve been hoping and praying for a book like Redeeming Singleness for years. With insight and clarity, Danylak has presented profound biblical and theological truth that can revolutionize the church’s understanding and affirmation of singleness. This book is a gift to God’s people, and the impact could be nothing less than incredible. Read it and rejoice!”
—Steve Brown, Host, Key Life Radio Program; author, Three Free Sins: God Isn't Mad At You
“Immensely helpful! Amidst extremes of celibacy versus marriage in Christian traditions on the one hand and today’s proliferation of sexual noncommitment on the other, Danylak gives us a thorough-going biblical theology of singleness. He unfolds themes of marriage and singleness from both Old Testament and New Testament with essential, delightful applications for all of us.”
—J. Scott Horrell, Professor of Theological Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
“Barry Danylak’s book on singleness is now the most thorough and helpful book on the subject. He treats directly the main difficulty in grasping the new covenant view—the strong Old Testament emphasis on procreation and its importance for establishing and carrying forward the old-covenant people. The change in the nature of the blessing of God for the human race that comes with the new covenant is the key new perspective for understanding Christian singleness, a perspective too often missed in discussions of singleness and voluntary celibacy in the Christian life. Danylak’s careful exegesis sustains his overarching view well.”
—Stephen B. Clark, Director of Research (retired), National Secretariat of the Cursillo Movement; author, Building Christian Communities
“Barry Danylak not only presents a deeply penetrating study of the New Testament teaching on singleness but also shows how this teaching fits the entire storyline of the Bible. Far from being a book just for single people, Redeeming Singleness demonstrates how marriage and the single life give a complementary witness to the gospel in the modern world. This is a hugely important and timely book for all Christians.”
—Daniel Keating, Associate Professor of Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary
“Barry Danylak's work has been a great help to me in understanding the distinctive role of singleness in God's new-covenant people. His writing provides a clear framework of biblical theology, which I found deeply valuable for drawing together the intuitions I had about the meaning of singleness. There is much that the church as a whole, and not just single people, can learn from this.”
—Lydia Jaeger, Academic Dean, Institut Biblique de Nogent-sur-Marne
“I like the way Danylak methodically and progressively turns over pieces of the biblical jigsaw and assembles them to reveal a thoughtful perspective on marriage and procreation. From the New Testament he firmly grasps the nettle of exegetically difficult passages, and with reference to the cultural influences brings a redemptive perspective to singleness for the contemporary world.”
—John D. Wilson, Missiologist and mentor (Southeast Asia), World Team
“In this long overdue review of the biblical stance on singleness, Danylak looks at the biblical attitudes with great care and manages to affirm both marriage and the gift of singleness. Working through the in-depth analysis will bear much fruit for those looking at this issue on a personal level or seeking to teach or advise on a pastoral level.”
—Jeremy Sewell, Pastor, Slough Baptist Church, Berkshire, UK
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although I did not read every word of Redeeming Singleness, I did skim it thoroughly before passing it along to a friend for her review. It appeared to be well written and easy to follow. Most of the chapters end with a helpful "Wrapping Up" section which summarizes the content of the chapter, enabling the reader to better follow the flow of the text.I must say that Redeeming Singleness was not what I was expecting. Therefore, I think it is helpful to clarify the intentions of the author and purpose of the book. This book is not about living as a single or tolerating singleness. It is a book that expounds upon the Scriptures in order to affirm the single life as a valid and God-honoring choice. In the author's words:"This book is also not a how-to manual either for living the single life well or for most expediently relieving oneself of the status¿The starting point for this book is to reflect on the purpose of biblical affirmation of the single life by exploring how singleness itself fits into God's larger purpose of redeeming a people for his glory" (pg. 15).It must also be clarified that this is not primarily a book for singles. It is a book from which all in the church are intended to benefit. As Mr. Danylak writes:"¿the church should encourage all those who can to receive the challenge of both Jesus and Paul to remain single and free for the kingdom of God as a visible testimony of Christ's sufficiency in the present age and the true inheritance yet to come."We all have a part to play in reflecting the glory of God and the work that He is doing. Redeeming Singleness helped me to realize afresh that God has uniquely gifted all of his children and that marriage and singleness are equally important callings in His Church. One of the ways that Redeeming Singleness challenged me was that it spurred me on to consider how I might minister to singles that they might be able to serve more freely (ex. inviting them to supper routinely so that they don't have the burden of preparing a meal for themselves). Furthermore, Mr. Danylak states that, "There are many possible living arrangements for single Christians" (pg. 215). While he didn't expound much on this notion, I think this bears consideration in our highly individualistic culture.I was also encouraged and excited by Mr. Danylak's high view of singleness. He writes: "¿singleness anticipates the age to come in which marriage itself will be obsolete. Singleness visibly heralds the coming of the new age" (pg. 172).Additionally, he states:"Christian singleness is a testimony to the supreme sufficiency of Christ for all things, testifying that through Christ life is fully blessed even without marriage and children. It prophetically points to a reality greater than the satisfactions of this present age by consciously anticipating the Christian's eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God. Christian singleness lived as a testimony of this gospel truth is a redeeming singleness" (pg. 215).Redeeming Singleness appears to offer a lot of "food-for-thought" for the Christian community. It is full of Scripture and seeks to adorn the Gospel. I look forward to thinking more about the questions that it raises and considering ways which the Lord might have our family serve Christian singles in our local church.*Many thanks to Crossway for supplying us with a copy of this book in exchange for our honest opinion!