My wife has been in a coma for many months and may never recover. Does this force me to live a celibate life?

Someone emailed:
Your book on remarriage and divorce should be required reading in all seminaries and no pastor should ever be allowed to counsel without first reading it. Perhaps you can help me.

I am a 45 yr male studying for the ministry and I am struggling with a very serious moral and spiritual dilemma.

My wife has been in a coma-like state for 9 months and is seriously brain injured.
It is a long time to lie awake at night thinking. I am struggling with my future desire to again find the love of a woman and share in a loving relationship.

Help me to understand how I am to reconcile the need to be loved and find a help-meet and partner with my commitment to my wife. I do not ever want to divorce her. I will not divorce her... but how can I live Scripturally correct in my desire to know again the love of a woman?

Paul [not his real name]

Reply: [I didn't know how to answer this so, with Paul's permission, I emailed the people who have asked to be kept informed on Divorce & Remarriage. The following were some of their replies. I think they represent a significant set of responses to the ageless problem of suffering and the fallenness of this world. Some are blunt, some are sensitive and some are insightful. All are interesting. I start with my favourite: someone who said he didn't know any answers but gave a very practical response - he promised to pray! I'm sure that many of us have been impelled to pray for Paul and for others in such difficult situations.]

All I can say is that I will pray for you and him. I don't have an answer either, other than God always does what is right and will give the strength (& grace) to sustain him until in 20/20 hindsight he can look back acknowledging how God's sovereignty has been at work in and through him.


As unschooled as I am in theological issues, I have a simple answer for this man. How is his situation any different than the person who has a physical handicap, but still has desires just as strongly as anyone else. We all know people who are in that very situation. The answer for that man is the same as it is for them - they must yeild to God's sovereign will for their lives (their "lot" as Elizabeth Elliot speaks of), and look to Him for the ability to be content in their situation. He has to be the one to meet their needs and desires. Although it's not an easy thing, he has an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord as a result - more so than one who is relying on the companionship of a wife to satisfy his desire for intimacy.


If I were counseling with my brother here, I would tell him that God has him in a place of spiritual challenge, where he is going to have to die to self and to his flesh, until and unless the physical expression of his love is able to be experienced again with his wife, or until God would mercifully take her home, leaving our brother free to remarry. I think we have to remember that the God given desire for sexual intimacy is restricted to the bounds of marriage by a wise and loving Father. There are times in a persons life when circumstances cause us to set aside sexual intimacy in marriage. A soldier who is away from his wife on active duty for an extended period of time is called upon by God to restrain his desires. A woman whose husband is paralyzed from the neck down is called by God to be a celibate wife and to die to self in that area.

While the gift of sex is a source of joy and physical pleasure, God intends for it to be an expression of our love for one another, and our focus is to be on how we can show love to another person, not on how we can receive love from another person. In this case, I would suggest that it is not an unfair application of the promise of God to be a Husband to the husbandless and a Father to the fatherless to suggest that the love of a woman that our brother seeks here should be a desire that fuels his intimacy with God.

It's always a challenge to give this kind of counsel to a brother when we aren't being called to walk in his shoes and to die to self in the same area. But I can't see any other biblical answer to this. I think of Hosea when Gomer was gone. God did not free him to find the love of a woman elsewhere. In fact, it would have violated what God was intending to picture here - the kind of faithful, covenant keeping love that Christ has for His bride, even when we are unfaithful or spiritually unresponsive.


The primary question, from the medical perspective of a Christian doctor, is: "is she alive or dead?". Medicallly, we declare brain death if certain conditions are met: flat EEG, lack of brain stem reflexes when the body is at a normal temperature and drug toxicolgy is negative for sedative narcotics or benzodiazepenes. When a patient is in this condition, there is NO hope for recovery and life support is allowed to be removed if the family so chooses. Medically and ethically, I believe that life support at this point prolongs the death process rather than supports the life that God has granted us. Harvesting organs for transplants are legal at this point. Death was alot simpler before machines.

Unfortunately, there are states in between: chronic vegetative state in which the patient may not have a "full life" but may be still be partially aware of his/her environment even though s/he may not be able to communicate fully. S/he might even need a feeding tube because of inability to use the needed muscles. This person needs all the love that family may provide.What does "in sickness and in death" mean to us? In chronic vegetative states, the patients can frequently make their needs and emotions known ... especially to those who spend significant time being their care-takers. She might answer his dilemma for him in time, encouranging him to move on. But I have seen instances in which after taking care of a loved one for months/years, the care-taking spouse is not willing to leave and the vegetative patient is more than joyful at his/her choice. If she is truly comatose, she will not live long if she is only being given "comfort care". The body cannot survive long without the regulators of the brain.

I believe this man is worrying too much about his future (Matt 6:25). This is one question that I believe the Spirit will reveal and empower as the need arises. "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet" (not a lighthouse that lets us see too far, but a lamp to lead to the next step). There are no easy answers.


This period may be orchestrated by God to test and try his faith ,,,, I personally know of a Professor at my last college whose wife went into a diabetic coma and has been prayed out of that coma on more than one occasion.

The issue here is the vows to uphold in sickness and in health,,, richer and poorer etc. the only case he has in scripture is the case of exodus 20 and the bondslave who takes a wife, and must not deny food clothing and marital relations.

What i would suggest for this man to do is this,,i would commit to a season of prayer, and seeking god healing or will concerning his wife's condition

A season such as a year, pray and fast,, and ask others to pray,, seek god and then only then after a year or a pre agreedupon season approach this question again and base the question upon his wifes condition and circumstances and her possibility of recovery,,, 9 months is entirley too short,,,,the honorable , the noble, the right thing to do is to wait a season and pray hard for her recovery..... and then reconsider the question in light of his wifes medical condition,,, but regardless of his wifes condition,,,, the honorable thing is to remain with her..for a long enough season and until circumstances are such as no hope or possibility of recovery exists


It may be a bit presumptuous but I think some of following passages from Paul might be worht thinking about.

2 Cor 11:29 "Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (NIV)

1 Cor 7:1-9 (same verb used in verse 9 as in the verse above). In this passage Paul, I believe, states that most people will marry because they do not have the gift (charisma) of singleness. Verse 7 (I wish that all mean were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that" is Paul indicating that he has the gift of singleness (though he is not unaware of sexual desire) while at the same time hinting that most of the Corinthians do not have the gift of singleness and so they should marry. Verses 36ff are Paul's preferred option but he realises and acknolwledges that mkost do not have the gift of singleness.

The verse form 2 Cor may indicate that although Paul had the gift of singleness he still had to struggle with 'inwardly burning' in a society where sex was portrayed at every corner.

2 Cor 12 refers to God's strength available to Paul in his weakness (same cognate as in 2 Cor 11:29)

Although it may sound 'pious' The Paul who contacted you should be encouraged to pray for god's strength. I also think it is not out of line to pray for the gift of singleness if it will turn out that his wife will live for a while or to pray that his wife may go to be with the Lord (depends what 'seriously brain damaged' means. He is proaably aware of the cases of people who have suddenly woken up from coma.

As an example you could cite a sailor who is at sea in the Middle East many months from his wife. how does a Christian man cope in that situation? What about men from Chian who left heir fmailies behind for eyars in search of a future overseas only to go back and visit their wives and families after many, many years.

Not an easy question to answer becasue we are not in the situation oursleves. but that's my tuppence worth of suggesitons.


My heart goes out to a brother who has a wife in a coma-like state. We can all express our sympathy but cannot really understand what he is going through as his experience is very personal to himself. I have been in the ministry for 15 years. I have a wife who is a faithful partner in ministry, one who loves the Lord and has blessed me greatly. We have two terrific children.My situation is different and in some ways similar to Pauls... My wife has always seen sex as a duty and means of pro-creation, but no more. Ill health over the past several years has made it worse. For over 10 years (in my 40's) I have lived a celibate life to maintain harmony in the home. For years I thought about how much easier it would be to live a single life.

Isn't it easier to do without something if it is not always "in your face"?I have a normal desire to be close and intimate but I know that I can't. I had to spend years in prayer before I had any degree peace with simply accepting the fact that my wife is not just unwilling but unable to respond. When I accepted that she is 'unable' I had to lower the bar of my expectations of marriage, for me anyway. I went through a grieving period that my marriage could never be what I would like it to be, but the Lord has given me the peace to accept this. In a very real way I have to look at my wife as having a disability. If one was physically disabled and could not walk you would not expect them to walk, you would not pressure them to do something they were incapable of doing. This is not easy and I still feel that something special is missing, but I have a peace about it. I am a counsellor and minister, I am working on a D-Min in the area of divorce recovery. I still struggle if a client discusses sexual dysfunction, I refer at this point.What I can say to Paul is that he really needs to ask the Lord to give him a peace about this situation, I am sure that he will. He needs to accept that is wife is unable, I am sure that he has done this. He needs to avoid situations that can pose temptations. There is no magic fix! I have subsequently found others that live with a woman, have a lifetime committment to this woman, sleep next to her, eat across the table from her, but maintian a platonic relationship.

God does give the strength but out expectations of marriage simply do not remain the same as they may have been in courtship and even in early marriage.


I can´t imagine myself being in Paul´s shoes, it is really a very difficult situation. However, if he really wants to live scripturally he has to give up secular psychological concept of need. Erik From, Maslow and others did not take from the Bible the teaching that man needs to be loved. The Bible teaches that we must love unconditionally. Say to Paul that he should talk with Paul, the apostle. In his letters Paul deals with this matter of "needs". Look at Phillipians 3:7- 14, 4:5-8, 10-13.


Perhaps we should consider the restoration of Biblical polygamy for cases like this. It would be difficult (to say the least) to conform to the laws of the secular state, but does this make it impossible to consider? Perhaps even the State could allow polygamy in exceptional cases like this, if the Crown or the the designated Minister of the Crown made a special exception. Polygamy would allow this poor man to remain committed to his comatose wife, and yet find the companionship which he surely needs.

It would take great compassion and understanding on the part of the second wife. She would have to enter in with full knowledge and with readiness to support the man's caring for his first wife. She would need, as his help-mate, to be willing to positively support the injured wife in whatever her medical outcome might be, and whatever state of rehabilitation she might eventually achieve.

This would allow the man to keep his protector/husband role for his first wife, as he undertook in the marriage ceremony, but also allow him to fulfil his calling in life with a functioning wife by his side.

Some may object that this is an unfair solution because if the roles were reversed, there is no Biblical model of polyandry, so a wife with a comatose husband would have to divorce him if she wanted to remarry. My only answer is yes, she would, but is this so unBiblical? Her divorce of him would be justified by Biblical principles: he was unable to function as a husband (his comanionship, intimacy, provision and protection would all be absent), and she could not perform the wifely role of help-mate. A comatose person does not need a 'help-mate' (the wife's role)'; whereas a comatose person could surely be said to still need a protector and provider (the husband's role). I know these role distincitions are not agreed on by all Christians, but in my view, they are clearly found in Scripture, and to me they seem pertinent to the case of a comatose spouse.

What would happen if a miracle occurred and the comatose wife achieved a full recovery? How would the man live with two fully functional wives? How would the women live having to share a husband? There are no easy answers here, but surely, with Christian love, a solution could be found. The two options that occur to me are that the second marriage could be entered into on the contractual basis that if the first wife made a full recovery, any one party was free to call for a divorce of the second marriage. Or the three of them could move to a part of the world where polygamy was socially acceptable. I know neither of these options look all that inviting, but nothing is easy about this case from the very beginning.

Where polygamy was acceptable in the Jewish culture, marriage of a second wife would have been the obvious choice for a man who loved his first wife, but she was unable to perform all the functions of a wife. Ephraim, Peninnah and Hannah are possibly an example of this.

Your correspondent could read William Luck's book on divorce (unfortunately out of print) which has the best discussion of polygamy from a Christian perspective that I know of.

[Note from David Instone-Brewer: Jesus clearly teaches against polygamy -this was part of OT society which the OT tried to limit and the NT forbids]


What an enormously unhappy situation and my heart goes out so strongly to Paul. I have to say the first reaction that popped into my head is that - although it is not as a result of a hardened heart - Paul's wife is withholding fundamental marital rights from him through incapacity.

I don¹t believe there is a black and white, wrong or right about this situation. What I know is that we have a compassionate God who is just as interested in Paul's needs and comfort as he is about his distaste for divorce. This certainly falls into the category of "grey". What I do believe is black and white is that while he remains married to his current wife he would be in sin to have a relationship with another woman.

Having said that though my thinking is this. I believe he has a right to divorce - although without neglecting the needs his wife might have of him to ensure her care - because she is withholding from him his rights inside a marriage. I don¹t mean for this to sound harsh but it would seem that she has a fundamental need for medical care that must be provided some how and he has an obligation to her to ensure that happens and to provide her with "brotherly" love but it would seem she no longer has need of him as a husband.

It would seem that the greater sin here would be for him to have a relationship on the side rather than to divorce and then be free to remarry.
If his wife has no chance of moving beyond her current state and he can sensitively deal with any family who might be genuinely hurt by his divorcing his wife, he should do so and be free for another relationship.

I would however say that he might want to consider a reasonable period of waiting to see if there will be an improvement and then a reasonable period of waiting before pursuing another relationship after a divorce to give other loved ones affected by this tragedy a chance to come to terms with his moving on. This would be especially so where children are involved.

It would seem to me that so long as he deals compassionately with his wife and family and does not neglect her medical needs and what ministry he can give her he should move onto another life.

Anyway that is what my conscience could bear - you never know what goes on for others.


This is where polygamy would help but he's studying for the ministry & has to be a husband of one wife. Plus you've argued convincingly that Jesus outlawed polygamy i.e. marrying a second wife, not getting rid of wives if one is already a polygamist.

I can't see the answer he'd like. He's right not to divorce her (unless you justify it on the basis she cannot fulfil her conjugal obligations). Anyway he doesn't want to do that. This seems a clear case of 'for better for worse' and has happened many times before. Obviously as a man he feels sexual desire & the desire for the warm love of a woman, but his case is much the same as a man called to celibacy (God gives them the gift & grace to stay single but I'm sure they still experience sexual desire & longing) and to a lesser degree the single man who wants to marry but can't find a woman or the right woman. His case is also similar to the Christian man who has got divorced for a biblically illegimate reason & thus biblically may not remarry.

This is hard & I am not unsympathetic to him but I can't see a way he can either get married again or have a non-marital sexual relationship with another woman. It is a case of living by grace, tough grace.

While he might have to struggle for a while God may be gracious & take his comatose wife (or even heal her - but being brain damaged this could be worse).


From my own perspective, I first want to say beyond any "biblical" teachings, I believe our G-d calls us to be compassionate as well as grounded in law. Erring on the side of compassion seems to be needed here. But, along with the 9 months, did doctors already tell this man that his wife is going to be in a vegetative state permenantly now? If so, Ok, realistically he should be free to pursue a supportative relationship with someone else, in time. I would however like to know the prognosis long term. Nine months, the amount of time our mothers carried us in the womb, seems fairly short to me on this matter. And considering the path this man's life is leading in the work of a minister himself, he may want to be more patient, for numerous reasons.

Our lives are already so complicated today by modern medicine's advances we can hardly know what to do on any matters ethically, anymore. But I hope this man will take a few more months to move on with is life. Practically speaking, he is doing a wonderful thing by asking for thoughts and guidance of those he can respect. So hopefully he will take to heart those very thoughts.

God's expectations of all of us are beyond our ability to comprehend. But we have to at least try to live up to them. No one is promised any particular "quality" of life when we come into this world. We each have our, "crosses to bear", for lack of a better term. So maybe this is one to bear a bit longer than is hoped for??? I will only hope and pray this couple's life can be made peaceful. No one should have to bear these trials for too long.


I heard a story last year of an American Seminary Professor who's wife was in a similar state. He resigned his seminary position to care for her and his colleagues begged him to reconsider. They said things like, She does not know or recognise you.

After thinking a little while he said. You are right she does not know me, but the proble is that I know her and I promised before Almighty God to care for her for better for worse, my resignation stands!


This is a tough one... since I have been a roman catholic pro life activist before I turned anglican/episcopal, I know both sides of the issue at stake.
Many moral dilemmas arise as a result of the progress of medical science... doctors succeed in keeping humans alive against all odds, but the price we have to pay for this can sometimes be rather high with cases like this one.

The whole discussion in the Netherlands about euthanasia about a decade ago when it was more or less 'legalised' / condoned was permeated by similar dilemmas.
If medical science can keep humans alive where they would have died without all this high tech medical equipment, then is ending the life of people in an unending coma on a life support machine murder/euthanasia or just respecting the course of nature without interfering with it anymore?

What is more respectful, to save human life at all costs or to accept our earthly fragility and tragedy inherent in our fallen state, i.e. of being mortal?
I have no bible verses for this man to help him overcome his tragedy, because I don't believe they do exist... maybe the general outline of the bible that we should respect human lives could be approached in a new way adapted to our day and age.
The specifics of such an approach should be decided by medical scientists and politicians and I don't know what is possible in the country this sir is living in.

If ending her life support is not an issue, it becomes even more difficult.... ending it of course if it is evident that the chances of her waking up are minimal (we never know for sure if she wouldn't have woken up of course).
We shouldn't forget that until about a century or so ago, the average life span was about 35 years and that our lives were difficult and harsh. These problems didn't exist then.

I think that considering a divorce could be possible, but I don't know anything about the possibilities of divorcing a wife in coma... so legal advice would be needed also.

To be quite honest, this is the best I can come up with... I hope other people will have better practical knowledge and insights into this problem.


I am sorry to hear of your wife's unfortunate state and my heart goes out to you. However, it has only been 9 months and brother, that is not a very long period of time. You say you do not want to divorce her yet you inquire as to how to reconcile the need to be loved and to find the love of a woman. What if she were totally conscious yet bedridden with a terminal disease? Would that change your situation? How do you know that our loving Messiah will not bring her out of this coma? It is my humble opinion that you are "struggling with my future desire to again find the love of a woman" much too early in the scheme of things.

You do not state whether or not she is "brain dead" or what a "coma-like state" is. There should be no "struggle with future desires" in the present. Perhaps you nights would be better spent on your knees for her rather than worrying. I am sorry if this sounds non-compassionate but I believe you could be way out ahead of your heavenly Father on this.

I can offer you my experience although quite different. I lived without the love and intimacy of my wife for over ten years while struggling with what to do. After reading Dr. Brewer's wonderful book, I realized that I did in fact have scriptural grounds for divorce ( when a spouse refuses to provide conjugal love). However, even with that knowledge, I struggled an additional 2 years before taking that step. That is 156 months, brother. My heart goes out to you in this very difficult time; however, I believe you will know what to do in His time and not yours.


I think he needs to stay with his wife - the vow he took is in sickness and in health till death us do part. If he wants to remain true to biblical principles he will stay by his wife until the day she dies. The love of a woman/man can be an idol and often is in our society. We are called to be different as Christians and our first love must be the Lord. Then, we love our spouse - but must be true to our marriage vows. He is in a very difficult position and it is heart-wrenching - but then life often is!! Many godly people are single and would love to be married, but embrace singleness until the Lord changes their position. Many married people would love to be single but as Christians are called to honour their marriage vows. Sickness/coma does not release him from his marriage vows - he certainly should NOT divorce his wife!!


This feels similar to when a family is faced with "pulling the plug" on a loved-one who is on life support. We have the privilege as believers of seeking direction from God. As a pastor, I've stood with family members when we've felt that God is saying, "Don't pull the plug. There's more to come." I've also stood with family members when God seemed to be saying, "It's all over. This body is being kept alive by machines, but your loved one is gone. It's okay to pull the plug because that's not going to be the cause of this person's death."

If I were this man's pastor, I would not even try to tell him what to do. I think it's going to be through his struggling to know the heart of God in the matter...and I would be supportive of his difficult decision. I don't have a principle that would dictate what he should do. It's going to be day by day...bobbing along in the river of God and seeking God's mind in the matter.

Interestingly, I do know a minister here in Southern California who was in the middle of a divorce when his wife had a severe stroke. He did proceed with the divorce, but has made provision for her to be cared for in a medical facility and tends to her welfare. So does his son, I believe. He has remarried and his current wife is a part of the support team as well.

Paul's response to these replies:

Some of your group members wanted additional information. I think some misconstrue what is taking place. Until one begins this process of traumatic separation, a person doesn't typically think about these things. These are agonizing questions of the heart, mind and spirit.

Like I said, 3am comes quickly with all the night demons. I hope this helps and you will provide this information to the group so that those who needed to know more have what they need.

1. I am not looking to start up a relationship. I think my moral crisis is misunderstood by some. I know someday I would want to have a relationship. Months of lying in bed is a lot of time to think.

2. My wife had a significant global anoxic event and is in a persistent vegetative state and will probably remain like this for the rest of her life. Her prognosis is poor and she is on a feeding tube only. I used the term coma-like because many do not understand "coma". It wasn't a stroke. It was a total anoxic event. She went into cardiac arrest and was left in that state for a prolonged period of time. She has no volitional movements. Basically she is trapped inside herself. We believe there is some level of cognitive awareness.

Many have advised on remaining celibate. Scripture teaches that the call to celibacy is strictly for those who can receive it. Reference the teaching to eunuchs. But there was no condemnation for those who could not receive such counsel.

My understanding is that Paul taught the primary purpose for marriage in the NT was to avoid sexual immorality and nowhere can I find that God intended man to be alone save for those who could receive such doctrine.

One man mentioned a wife who is paralyzed from the neck down, but they are still equally yoked and able to express their eros love one for another.

Another stated that there are times when sexually intimacy is to be set aside. But Scripture says by mutual agreement and only for time and in that time both are to be given to prayer and fasting, lest Satan be given a strong hold.

There were a few who said that a grounds for divorce exist. They are correct. The Solomonic riddle here involves 2 scenarios:
1. There was a man who's wife was in a coma. She had been that way for many years. Unable to deal with the human experience, he withdraw from his wife. He was unable to visit or see her in such a state. He went home, raised their children, never entered a relationship or divorced.He died single.
2. The 2nd man same scenario... brought his wife home. He loved her, cared for her, tended to her. Over time he found a new love. He divorced his comatose wife, but continued a life long commitment to his covenant to care for, love her and provide for her while enjoying the fruits of his new marriage.

Question: Which one fulfilled his vows/covenant?

I can feel this man's pain through the written words. I am reminded of I Cor 10:13: God will not test us beyond what we are able to bear by His grace. If celibacy is not his gift, God will not demand this of him. However, we should not look for quick cook book answers from the Church to release us from the responsibilities we feel. I believe that in issues that appear grey, God will judge us according to what our conscience convicts us (just like eating meat offered to idols). I whole-heartedly agree that nine months is too early to worry about this issue. Focusing on God may help find His plan in all of this. Trust, faith, endurance are some of the issues - not celibacy; that is only the result of the former. Why is wrongly placed sexual desires any different than any other sin? It is common, it is forgivable, but we should not test the grace of God by purposely sinning. But if we fail, is it so bad that we cannot come to God afterwards? Why dwell on this and make one's desires worse? Is there a father who would give his child a stone when he asked for bread? Will our Heavenly Father ignore our physical needs when we cry out to Him?

His answers might surprise you. God surprised ME! When I cried to God to grant me the intimacy I wanted from my husband, He led me instead to Dr. Instone-Brewers writtings inadvertently (I was looking for an out-of-print book when I came across his web site). I was not seeking a release from my marriage vows but He made it clear that I did not have a marriage and that He knew my needs. He sent other messangers too, before and during my marriage!!! (eg a christian friend who was divorced and wanted to know what the Bible said about remarriage caused me to research the subject). There was much more (it was a living hell), but suffice it to say that after almost 20 years of marriage, I had to admit my sin in ignoring God's multiple messages because I had an idea of what I thought He meant. I would not change my mind even though I was dying from the inside and my children (artificially acquired) were dying with me. He knows what you need: a partner in intimacy, or celibacy for a time to develop your focus on HIM.Let me encourage you to come to Him for you answers and not to men (or women). I will keep you in my prayers and I cry with you. I will keep your wife in my prayers, I try to fix people like her every day. In the process of my struggle, God drew me to Himself for true intimacy with the Almighty! I bear the scars of my battles, but I would not trade them for the world-they taught me soooo much.

PS I am not a theologian or a Pastor.


I think we have problems with celibacy because we condemn masturbation. If you allow sperm to build up, the normal human (and animal) consequence is a corresponding build-up of physical desire, because the body thinks it is time to reproduce. Instead, why don't we treat the expulsion of sperm as doing a 'number three' in the toilet. Poor Simon Stylites, sitting on his column, was plagued by sexual fantasies, but only because he was suffering from sperm constipation.

The only possible scriptures against masturbation are the story of Onan and 'lusting after someone in your heart'. The story of Onan is about the command to give children to your dead brother's wife, which he was refusing to fulfil. Jesus' teaching about lusting being like adultery is talking about coveting a specific person. Anyway, masterbation doesn't require sexual imagery if there is a build-up of sperm.

Celibacy becomes possible when we don't suffer from 'number three' constipation, though it is still very very difficult because our society doesn't have much room for warm hugging relationships which don't involve sex.


Wow what a can of worms!!!! I have been twisting my brain around this proposition of Celibacy - especially in marriage as one of your responders has accepted as his lot in life and once again I can see no black and white answers to this question. The gift of celibacy is rare and in all the years I have walked as a Christian I have met only one true celibate that I know of (excluding enforced celibates i.e. priests and nuns).

Whilst I feel that it is unnatural to be celibate and totally wrong inside marriage except in extreme circumstances (even with quite severe physical disabilities couples can still fulfil intimate sexual desires - maybe not intercourse but that isn't the be all and end all of sex in any case), there are periods of time when abstinence is necessary. Paul's situation is one of those cases.There seems to me to be a difference between celibacy i.e. a life calling or choosing of no intimate/sexual relationship with a partner and times of abstinence.

I have been married for 21 years and both I and my husband have at times through injury and illness or distance have had to abstain from sex. The longest period was 2 months after I had some serious surgery and was incapable of physical relationships. My husband was in a forced abstinence at that time but it wasn¹t celibacy.

Abstinence rather than celibacy is also the biblical direction for single people until they find a marriage partner rather than celibacy. Abstinence is an obedience issue i.e. it is sinful to fornicate in this case rather than a calling.

So getting back to Paul's dilemma yes I think there are periods of abstinence in a marriage relationship and sometimes because of injury there might never be intercourse but that shouldn¹t prevent sexual relationships in other ways. If I relate it to the Solomonic riddle my answer is both men were right as they did what their conscience could bear and it is up to the individual as in my view is no black and white answer to this riddle. Personally I would choose the latter, I believe it is more compassionate and realistic and a greater fulfilment of the marriage vows than the first - but that is my conscience speaking.

I wish Paul well in his quest for peace and guidance on this matter and pray that he gets real support during this difficult time.


As stated in my first reply to you - I have been foreced to be celibate because of my wife's inability to accept sex as a normal and pleasurable aspect of a relationship - not something that must be just tolerated as a means of reproduction - or endure under duress to meet some Biblical standard but consciously or unconsciously harbour anger for afterwards. I don't believe that this grounds for divorce. Like Paul, I have longed for an embrace, touch and intimacy - I'm sure just as much as he does.
But I have to accept that this is not possible for me, God has given me the grace to accept it although I do wish things were different. Like Paul, I do not believe that I have the 'gift' of celibacy... I have no clear answer - I live daily with the question.I have had Christian colleagues tell me that it would be OK to go out and have a private friend. One psychologist recommended what he called an alliance that all parties knew about but accepted, maybe a woman in a similar situation, he called a "F___ Buddy". Societally I have had the green light but before God it would be wrong.


First, the ethical standard of "chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage," a standard which I believe is an adequate, though understandably difficult, one to apply in this case, is, nonetheless, the ethic of Scripture. I see no reason to start making exceptions now.

Second, while divorce for conjugal neglect is permissible according to Exodus 21, it is clearly directed to intentional neglect prejudiced by a competing love interest. While this does not appear to be the case for Paul, it appears it may become the case for his now comatose wife. And while St. Paul's counsel in 1 Corinthians 7 allows for brief separations within marriage, he is not envisioning nor addressing comatose spouses. Neither text argues grounds for divorce for Paul in my opinion.

Third, in Paul's "Solomonic riddle," neither man fulfilled their marriage vows, though the second was trying harder to fulfill the spirit of the law than the first, though in a very hypocritical way. Has he not colluded by finding "a new love" his own "grounds for divorce," something akin to the old days when people in London would take the train to Bristol for the weekend? Which is why, by the way, secular courts adopted a "no fault" approach. They were tired of the hypocrisy of these shame trials and legal fictions undermining the integrity of public law.

Fourth, marriage as a public good must not be reduced to merely an instrumental good that carries and upholds individual rights/duties. It is preeminently a spiritual good that has enduring moral obligations that transcend the mere calculation of our personal interests. Regardless of the individual benefits which may or may not accrue to us within our individual marriages, marriage itself must not be evaluated purely through the lens of a merely utilitarian or pragmatic analysis. Such a breakdown of the spiritual meaning of marriage inevitably leads to "...a very specific loss of the ability to see the interconnection of bios and person and thus may lead one to degrade one's partner to the status of a mere function-bearer in this one area of sex." (Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex, p. 24)

Thielicke has many insightful comments to offer about sex and marriage, not the least of which is his insistence on the being of the partner and the indivisible unity of their whole personhood. I recommend this as a reading for Paul and for the group with respect to Paul's case.


Answer to the Solomonic riddle: BOTH have

The question here is what action has ended the marriage. what grounds have permitted the " un " bounding, obviously it is the inability to fulfill the marriage covenants. One who chooses to marry cares for the things of the world and how to please his mate. the question here is what emotions are driving the desire to remarry, or is it the unaccustomedness of dealing with the same temptations one once dealt with in their youth before marriage,, I will grant they are more difficult after having experienced physidal onenes with another. But Gods promise is still the same,, to not tempt us beyond what we can stand and always provide us with a way out of that temptation,,Last i read that produces Character, strength, and tempers our faith. Is this to be missed or avoided? this is a question to be answered? But does God have lessons to be learned, more preparations to be made in your life to be the one who GOD would want you to be,, GROWTH to be a even better catch for the angel of a Lady he will give you one day,, I do believe it ( the scriptures ) regards contentment in our present circumstances to be a blessed state, does it not,, Paul address this to some extent

BUT let me pose a third example A man, broken and experiencing struggles because of his wife's Coma, Continues to care for his wife, unknowing what God plans to do with his wife , whether he desires to take her home to glory or to leave here here on this earth, This man prays and seeks God, Gives his struggles to God and seeks his strength and his lessons to be learned, Grows through this experience closer to God, takes the time to understand the struggles his single and single again, and single parent brothers and sisters experience, grows in his empathy towards their condition, spends his time preparing to be the Man God called him to be regardless of marriage, wife, or circumstances. This same man later discerns and also learns through Prayer, Circumstances, and Confirmations of God that God does not intend to revive his wife, and later that same God does provided another help meet who is prepared to aid him in his ministry, Which he has done all along during this time of waiting, growing in his empathy and passion towards all of God's children in their circumstances, Just as Jesus was, This man marries again after divorcing his comatose wife, and they both continue to provide care to his former wife.

Not only does this man provide for his wife, care for his former wife, But God has used his time of Celibacy to renew his faith, Strengthen his character, and by this mans devotion to God and seeking Gods understanding over his own, has grown in Virtue in Mens and God's eyes. for this man can empathize with the Married, the widowed, the divorced, the single parent, the single again, the never married, the fatherless or motherless child. he can minister to all, not just the VMP's ( Very Married Persons- who have always been married other than childhood) This man developed a compassion and passion to serve ALL men and women regardless of their maritial status ( considering heaven, WE WILL NOT HAVE A MARRIAGE STATUS THERE) so this man will not practice any schism in his service towards the church because of Marriage status. This man will be able to relate his sermons towards all of his congregation from his own experiences, and not favor just the married audiences.

So i ask you the apostle Pauls riddle,, who has done more virtuosly, the first man, the second man or the third.
Paul understood all three, single, married and Single again

May God richly bless you and cover your heart and mind with his Holy Spirit as you seek his Path through this time of your life


Just because someone was a eunuchs does not mean that they were celibate. They may have only been castrated and had their testicles removed, though that does not render them a celibate life it just makes them not able to have kids protecting the blood line of the king. There desire may go down to nil as well. I don't believe we are called to be celibate but on maybe the most rarest of cases and the grace is probably already there and the desire gone. But if you have a desire you only are going to get yourself in trouble by building it up and ending up in a destructive faze trying to live up to expectations your body was never meant to meet.

I would say to anyone contemplating a celibate life, if you have to ask about it and's not for you don't go there. Those that have a call of celibacy know it and have it and don't need to talk about it to confirm it.


I sorely disagree that this issue deals with celibacy at this point, unless we want to bring the discussion down to fleshly issues instead of spiritual ones. Paul's (the apostle) comments about celibacy had nothing to do with this situation whatsoever.

They had to do with remaining single over against marriage. Paul has a covenant relationship with his wife. My bigger answer is a question back to Paul and the respondees: Did Hosea seek after Gomar because none other could meet his sexual needs/desires or for some other compelling reason? I can just see the enemy smirking as this gets pulled down and away from the more faithfull call. I cheer Paul on as a fellow brother who too battles for his heart, to remain faithfull to the call of God that is on it. Paul, most likely, has a much bigger hill to take than most of us, so far, and God's grace surrounds him whether, in sincere effort, he reaches the top or not. Battle on Paul, the war rages around us, and we need each other desperately.


I think it sounds like Paul is not hearing the answer he wanted and is now searching for a way to get it. Celibacy is NOT a death sentence. It is a challenge, for sure, but for a man going into the role of ministering to others to be so set on his own needs, I think it's time to ask whether or not he is ALREADY in a new relationship and is looking for justification for it. [He has denied this - David IB] My heart goes out to all involved.


Jeff "Paul" Russell said...

This is "Paul". It has been 4 long years and I wanted to inform all my wonderful brothers and sistersin Christ of what has happened. My wife died on March 21st 2007. During those 4 years I struggled with sexual and emotional intimacy. Thankfully, I have a wonderful church family. During those 4 years I grudgingly accepted remaining abstinent. While I spent 40 of those months in abstinence I did fall for a period of 4 months and tried to justify it. now that my wife is gone i regret it more even now then when I was in the middle of it... Funny... we indeed are children. When I was told I couldn't have candy I wanted it even more... now that I can have it I don't want it..

Everything and everyone that has taken this journey with me contributed to me staying abstinent for those 44 months.. I couldn't have done it without all the support and loving conviction.

So here is my advice for future circumstances: The greatest of all gifts a man can give his wife in a loving relationship is to be able to sit at her death bed and know that he has been faithful, monogomous and pure to his marital bed.

If this happens to another who seeks our counsel, share with them the "death bed" gift... we are to remain married in all ways until death do us part.

I am sorry for my selfish carnal failings during this time.

Thank you all.

Jeff Russell

David IB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David IB said...

Thank you for sharing your news, and thank you for your humble advice for others in similar circumstances.

Recover From Divorce said...

Man, I don't envy your situation. Reading posts like this really makes me grateful for the good fortune I've had in life.

Gus G. said...

I am very sympathetic to this dear brother. I am disturbed by many of the comments in previous posts. I saw an unscriptural view of marriage, which was very close to Romanism. Marriage is not a sacrament it is an ordinance of God. If you dont know the implications, research "Marriage and Annulment in Romanism". Besides the Romanist view of Marriage, there was an exaltation of celibacy, and in many post very visible belief that the Scriptures are not "black or white" that this is not clear, etc.

It is very clear, its just we live in a culture which involves fuzzy thinking, is irrational, does not know history, etc.

To sum things up, IF we can justify divorce (and the implied right of re-marriage) for abandonment we can justify it biblically in such an extreme situation. The Reformers of the 16th century were confronted with this very situation. Believing spouses could be lost at sea, lost in war, plagued with life-long illnesses such as blubonic plague, leprosy, etc., which required radical and permanent isolation in leper colonies, etc.

The Scripture is clear, that were providentially we can not remedy the absence in soul and/or body of a spouse that spouse is dead, and we are free (though not required) to divorce and remarry.

Paul, a member of the Sanhedrin was married, and yet he remained celibate--he chose not to remarry. Whether the end of his marriage was due to death, or divorce, instituted by him or her, nonetheless he chose to dedicate himself to God. See: 1 Cor 7; 2 Cor and Acts 8.

Is an innocent victim required to stay married to a former Christian who becomes either an unbelieving apostate or a member of a false religion? Is this not the worst kind of abandonment? Is not marriage in the Lord, which means that Christian marriage must always be centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ?

Individuals who counsel lifelong celibacy are ignorantly encouraging victims by a misplaced pietism to suffer, for sufferings sake. Why suffer when God has remedied?

(Ezr 10:3) And now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the women, and such as have been born of them, according to the counsel of the Lord, and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God. And let it be done according to the Law.


(Ezr 10:19) And they gave their hands that they would put away their women. And being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their sin.

I am not arguing for "easy divorce" nor am I arguing for not making any kind of sacrifice central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that we can be credible witnesses to the world AND honor our heavenly father.

What I am arguing for is that we do NOT emulate the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned for laying heavy burdens on other people.

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