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date: 08 December 2023

chastity, Christianlocked

chastity, Christianlocked

  • Christopher Rowland


Christian Celibacy and asceticism are endemic to Christianity and are typical of the distinctive outlook on life which runs throughout much of early Christian literature. The practice of holiness, which, at least in general terms, Christianity inherited from the Hebrew Bible, required the fulfilment of certain norms of sexual and marital behaviour, though abstinence was not typical of Jewish life, except in certain circumstances, e.g. ascetic practices were a central part of the apocalyptic tradition of Judaism (e.g. Daniel 10). The level of purity demanded by the Qumran sect reflects the regulations with regard to sexual activity in Leviticus, and the requirements laid upon men involved in a holy war in Deuteronomy 20–21 probably explain the reference to virginity in Revelation 14.4.The life-style of John the Baptist, and the canonical gospels’ portrayal of the apparent celibacy of Jesus, set the pattern for subsequent Christian practice. While the influence of Greco-Hellenistic ideas cannot be ruled out, the background of this form of religious observance is to be found in the ascetical practices of certain forms of sectarian Judaism. The centrality of eschatological beliefs for Christianity meant that from the earliest period there was a significant component of Christian practice which demanded a significant distance from the values and culture of the present age. The hope for the coming of a new age of perfection, in which members of the church could already participate, meant that baptized men and women thought they could live like angels (cf. Luke 20.35), putting aside all those constraints of present bodily existence as well as the institution of marriage. Paul's approach in 1 Corinthians 7 in dealing with the rigorist life-style of the Corinthian ascetics is typical of a compromise that evolved in which there is a grudging acceptance of marriage and an exaltation of celibacy. The emerging monastic movement, therefore, drew on a long history of ascetical practice, which was taken to extremes in some Encratite circles. See asceticism.


  • Christianity
  • Gender Studies

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