I have heard people say over the years that it is likely that the Apostle Paul had been married at some point, perhaps prior to his conversion. However, there doesn't seem to be any biblical evidence to this end. What, then, is the evidence in support of this position?
The evidence for Paul being married is fairly scant.
- He writes in 1 Corinthians 9:5:
"Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?"
The implication could be made that Paul was complaining about leaving some wife behind.
- In Galatians 1:14, Paul says:
"I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers"
One of the traditions, especially if he was a member of the Sanhedrin (which he never outright claimed), is that eventually he would be married. That said, there is nothing to say that he had necessarily progressed far enough to require a wife.
On the other side (that Paul was not married), the evidence is far more convincing
1 Corinthians 9:5 clearly implies there wasn't a woman travelling with him.
1 Corinthians 7:1-7 has Paul declaring that he has the gift of celibacy.
1 Corinthians 7:8 has Paul directly saying that he is not married -
8 Now to the unmarried[a] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.
The tense of the verb is ambiguous as to whether he was at one point married, however. As an aorist verb, the tense is de-emphasized in any event. In at least the NIV, the ‘[a]’ is a reference to a note that the Greek word is also used for ‘widower’. Of the 4 occurrences of this word in the NT (all in this chapter) this is supposed to be the only nonadjective form and is supposed to include a masculine suffix. Here and also at verse 40 in the context of widows, Paul personalises the message. When read as ‘widowers’ this chapter has a natural flow of topics but as ‘unmarried’ there is repetition.
In any event, however, it is clear that even if Paul had been married at some point, by the time he had been to Corinth, he no longer was.
I had not previously heard that there was a debate going on about whether the Apostle Paul was married. I found an excellent resource here at Denny Burk's Blog about the subject.
Mr. Burk seems to indicate that the Greek word (agamos) that Paul uses in his writings and the way in which he addresses those that are married, unmarried and virgins seems to suggest that Paul is making a distinction for those that have been married previously, but that are no longer married. He clearly indicates that he is unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7:8.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
The author also points out that a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5)
5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;
would have more than likely have been married as was the custom.
There is no definitive evidence that we can ascertain from the Scriptures except that he was not married during the time of his writings, but very well could have been previously been married and widowed.
Apparently some of the church fathers believing he was married. I'm reading "The History of the Church" by Eusebius and he quotes Clement in saying "And Paul does not hesitate, in one of his epistles, to greet his wife, whom he did not take about with him, that he might not be inconvenienced in his ministry.". This book obviously isn't Scripture, but the mention is interesting nonetheless.
I have heard some people say that the following scripture suggests he was once married.
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. (1 Corinthians 7:8 KJV)
They say that because he mentioned widows, and then stated "even as I". However it's not terribly compelling evidence.
I think that generally speaking, it's just a guess, and not really spoken of.
The argument I have heard is from his speech to Agrippa where he says:
I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. (Acts 26:9,10 NIV)
The claim that he "cast [his] vote against them" suggests he was a member of the Sanhedrin which was a role normally reserved for married men. I don't know whether this was an absolute rule or whether it would just have been very unusual.
The main argument I have heard is that Paul was a Pharisee, and being married was a requirement for being a Pharisee.
(I have heard others claim that since he referred to Timothy as his son, that meant he must have been married, but that is clearly not what Paul meant by calling Timothy his son in the Lord.)
The Scripture did not clearly state whether Paul was single in his entire life nor have been married and widowed. What was clearly stated is that Paul was single at the time of his writings of the letter to the Corinthians. The final answer will surely be known when we all get to heaven. What is important is that being married or ""single-blessedness"" is not a sin. What would be sin is that you are single but having sexual affairs with others. Also, with married people, it is a sin to have extra-marital sex.