Why Can’t Catholic Priests Get Married?

To answer this question I am posting a discussion I had in the comments section of Priesthood of all believers.

Peter’s style in the comments section was casual/IM…thus, without punctuation or capitalizations. This is normal in those venues and does NOT mean he doesn’t know how to punctuate or capitalize. I didn’t make all of the corrections needed to make his comments and questions formally correct b/c it would have been a lot of work. I thought he had very good and honest questions, representative of the questions many people have so I decided to put them in a post. So, here is our discussion:

Peter: i think you are dead right about presbyters (being the word translated “priest” in English). that is why some are placed into positions of leadership (like james the just or peter and paul, etc). however, these leadership positions are extensively talked about by paul in timothy and other places. in timothy, paul says that presbyters are to be husbands of but one wife and their kids are to be respectful because if they can’t control their family they can’t control the church.

so now tell me, how can a claim be made that presbyters are supposed to be celibate? there is no mandate that presbyters are celibate. in fact, the exact opposite. paul says that they should marry if they can’t control their passions.


You are absolutely correct. There is no Biblical mandate that Priests are to be celibate. In fact, we know since Peter had a mother-in-law that he must have been married, at some point. The normal discipline of priestly celibacy could be changed to allow priests to marry. Celibacy is a discipline in the Latin Rite Catholic Church it is not an unchangeable doctrine or dogma. Eating fish on Fridays, similarly, was a discipline in the Church but it was changed and priestly celibacy might be changed, could be changed, theoretically. But it probably will not be changed any time soon. So disciplines can change but dogma does not change.

There are many good reasons to keep celibacy but the best is because the celibate Priest most closely models Jesus Christ, who was celibate. He also, stands in Persona Christi in most of the sacraments and since in Heaven there will be no marriage, the priest also models life in the age to come. In the Eastern Orthodox churches and even some non-Latin rite Catholic Churches married men are ordained to the priesthood. But the married ones cannot become Bishops. And people in these churches prefer the unmarried priests to the married ones for the obvious reason that an unmarried priest can be married to the Church as he is called to be, and a more available father. But they must marry before ordination; they cannot afterwards marry. And in the Latin Rite Catholic Church Deacons can be married but if their wife dies they may not remarry. These are the disciplines of ordination.

Peter: so why should we discount the ministry of a man simply because he has chosen marriage?

BFHU: The ministry of a man who marries is not discounted by the Church. It is his vocation just like priesthood is a vocation. The married man is purified through his marriage and models the loving union of the Trinity-Man/Woman/child. The fruitfulness of their love brings new life. And he fulfills his priesthood of believers by being:

a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

And the priest, also, is purified through the difficulties of his vocation. The fruitfulness of the Priest’s love of the bride of Christ brings new life, born for eternity in Heaven.

Peter: don’t we learn many otherwise impossible lessons through oneness with our wives? isn’t that why JB, JC, and paul all spoke of the relationship between man and wife as an allegory for Christ and the church?

BFHU: Absolutely accurate there! Thank you for your polite and excellent questions.

Peter: thanks for the response. i agree with you about your points, minus one problematic thing i have always disagreed with the church on. why if the word presbyter is the only word for “priest” do we think that now a priest SHOULD NOT be married.

BFHU: It is not a matter of “should not” but it is a matter of discipline for those who wish to shepherd the church of God, to give up marriage and family in order to devote all attention to the Bride of Christ. The Church does not forbid marriage to any one. All who feel called to the vocation of marriage are free to marry. Part of the discernment for the priesthood is, Am I willing? Am I able to give up marriage? Most are not called to the priesthood. It is a gift.

I Cor 7:1 It is good for a man not to marry…An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs —how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided.”

Peter: i understand there are some whom God calls to live celibate lives, but most of us burn with passion if we aren’t married.

And as St. Paul said, ” it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

BFHU:Very true and then they should marry but as Jesus said….

Matthew 19:12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”


besides that we are supposed to follow Tradition as it is passed down to us. the very earliest traditions (not only in the New Testament, but also in church history) there were many priests and bishops who were married.

BFHU: Please read I Cor 7 and realize that the Catholic Church takes Paul’s advice much more literally than most Protestants. The New Testament is the earliest Tradition. And we follow it. The Catholic Church still has married priests and celibate priests. The unmarried more closely follow the example of Christ in this matter.

Peter: so what do you do with the fact that peter (and others seemed to be married)? peter, according to the catholic church, is the first pope. what a precedent to set for popes who have the “discipline” of celebacy. we are to go by tradition, the church just seems to pick and choose which traditions it likes.

BFHU: Have you done any research to understand how and why the Church has made the decisions she has? I have experienced over and over thinking, “OK, now there can’t be a good explanation for this! But, once I looked into it, the explanation was beautiful and absolutely sublime. For instance, when a Jewish Levitical Priest was chosen to go into the Holy of Holies,as Zechariah father of John the Baptist was, they had to remain celibate for a month. Celibacy was a discipline for entering into the presence of God just one time on one day. But our priests are in the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist every day. Therefore, perpetual celibacy is a fitting fulfillment of the OT law. For more information, you might be interested in this article about the History of Celibacy. Also, and excellent book Clerical Celebacy is summarized herre–>Clerical Celibacy. Additionally, Tradition with a capital “T” refers to the unwritten teaching of the apostles. And the Catholic Church is as bound to follow that teaching as sacred scripture. Tradition with a lower case “t” would apply to the traditions of men, family traditions, ethnic traditions etc. Celibacy is a Church discipline, as it was passed down from the disciples and is what you WILL find today in the Catholic Church to this day.

5 Responses

  1. Dear BFHU, and whoever may be concerned:

    OK. You claim that your Traditions are the Traditions of the Disciples of Christ, however, Paul said that if a MAN, any Christian MAN, desired the office of a Bishop, he had to possess certain qualifications. One of those qualifications is that HE must be a MAN, women are not supposed to teach men (please consider seriously the ramifications of this. See 1 Timothy 2 and 3), and two he MUST BE the HUSBAND of one wife, along with several other qualifications that no man can set aside (1 Tim 3: 1-2). What God hath established, let no man put asunder.

    Now consider this, Paul said that if any man came preaching or commanding some new and different thing, even if he claims having been sent by the Apostles, even if he claims Apostleship, even if he is in fact an Apostle, even if he is Paul himself, or even if he is an Angel from Heaven, he is to be accursed because he is a liar and not from God, and he is deceiving the Church (Galatians 1: 6-9). The things they established in the first century were done so by the authority of God and no man can alter them, not even Paul or Peter, not even an Angel from Heaven. All of your reasoning, justification, and wresting with the Scriptures is in vain. You have been deceived, no matter how beautiful the deception may seem to you. Your Tradition cannot possibly be from God or the Apostles.

    The things Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7 are to the general members and not to bishops. If, for the sake of argument, he were speaking to bishops in that chapter, he would be accursed for attempting to change the fact, established by God, that men may not be ordained as bishops unless they are married men and meet all of the other prerequisites for qualification for that office. What other qualifications can we do away with? Please notice also that in context, Paul is telling the Corinthians that while it is good if a man chooses to remain celibate and to focus on evangelism, no one should ever compel people to remain celibate, warning that sexual immorality is likely to result when you pressure people to remain celibate. Can you think of any examples as evidence of this throughout history or in our life times? I can.

    Much more could be said, thank you for your time and consideration. Please choose to trust God rather than men or women, and please learn to test all things in the light of the Scriptures.

    • Dear Joseph,
      In I Tim 3, Of course, it could legitimately be interpreted the way you are interpreting it but your interpretation is not mandatory.

      It does not say that he MUST be married to one wife. This means not married to more than one wife which was common back then.

      • Hello BFHU,

        I do sympathize with the difficulty you are having in accepting these truths. After having been taught the things you have been taught and accepted them and accepted that the men teaching you these things are truly good an holy people, it must be near impossible for you to believe that they could be wrong. Please know that the Bible warns of such men in prophesy (1 Tim 4: 1-5). Furthermore, we cannot use our trust in a man’s holiness as our measure of Truth. We must use God’s Holy Word as our only standard of Truth, because we know that it is true. Additionally, if we love father or mother or son or daughter more than Jesus we are unworthy of Him. If we do not die to ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow Him, we are not worthy of Him. Therefore, we must hear His words and obey them. I say this to your benefit.

        The present active indicative in 1 Timothy 3:2 (MUST BE) is being applied to each and every essential prerequisite qualification for the office of bishopric in the list given in that very sentence. They all must be possessed by the man who desires the office before and during his consideration for candidacy. Therefore, yes, the man cannot have more than one wife, and no, he may not be unmarried.

        For your study, here are the words of brother Clippard:

        It is true that no imperative exists in the text of 1 Timothy 3:2, but there is a good reason for this… verbs in the imperative mood are given to be followed and realized by the hearer. They convey an action that must be obeyed or a state that must be entered into. In other words, imperatives take a person from one place to another. For example, in Acts 2:38, the hearers asked “What shall we do?” In response to this inquiry, Peter told them to repent and be baptized. Why? Because they had done neither. Thus, both repent and be baptized are imperatives that must be obeyed because they are not yet realized.

        The verb translated “must be” in 1 Timothy 3:2 is a present active indicative. Whereas an imperative gives a command to fulfill what is lacking (e.g. repent and be baptized), the present active indicatives indicates the requirements that must already be present and continually possessed by the candidate for bishop. In this usage, the indicative carries the same sense of obligation as an imperative. The text does not command men to possess the qualifications in the sense of not possessing them at the time, but rather demands the qualifications already be in possession by the candidate at the time of his appointment.

        Please choose to love and obey God and His truth more than any other, thank you.

  2. Joseph,
    Even as a Protestant we viewed this as meaning no more than one wife.
    There is no imperative that marriage is a must for all men or that in order to be a religious leader one MUST be married. St. Paul was not married. St Peter had a mother-in-law but his wife seems to have died so he was not married at the time of Jesus or thereafter, as priest and bishop and Pope. We hear nothing of the wives of the twelve, specifically. Were all the OT Prophets married?

    Your interpretation of the I Tim 3 verse is, as i said, an interpretation, but it is NOT mandatory, obligatory, excluding all others. The Holy Scriptures are inerrant and true, but they do not affirm, support, or even hint at your doctrine of Sola Scriptura. There is not even one verse that can accurately be interpreted as affirming this new doctrine of the Protestants.

    • Dear BFHU, Pam, and whoever may be concerned:

      Please understand that I am saying these things for your own good. I understand that Protestants have their creed books and Catholics follow the Popes teachings and the Traditions of the “Church” but these are really not things we should point to in order to discover truth. We are commanded to test all things and to hold fast to that which is proven good (1 Thessalonians 5: 21). We know that the Scriptures are true, so we should compare all other things to them, just as the Bereans did and were commended by the Spirit of God (Acts 17: 10-11).

      I am not 100% certain of your meaning when you speak of Sola Scriptura, but it seems to be a “Straw-Man” argument. I did not mention Sola Scriptura; you brought that up. I spoke of what the Scriptures do in fact say. In addition to the above important statement about testing all things and searching the Scriptures daily to see if the things we are being taught are true, they teach us that they give us all that we need to be perfect and complete unto every good work (2 timothy 3: 16). What need then for your Traditions? Especially when they teach things contrary to the Scriptures that we know are true.

      Consider infant baptism. Without faith, one cannot enter into the New Testament Covenant. The New Testament Covenant is not for those who do not or cannot understand, and know and believe God. Note Jeremiah 31: 31-34,

      “31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,[a] says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 NO MORE SHALL EVERY MAN TEACH HIS NEIGHBOR, AND EVERY MAN HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR THEY SHALL ALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST OF THEM, SAYS THE LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

      Hebrews 8 and 10 also quote this passage. So, both the Old and New Testament affirm the truth of this passage.

      Please note that in order to enter into the New Testament Covenant one must hear and believe the Gospel, and thereby come to a knowledge of the Lord. However, infants must still be taught about the Gospel and come to believe it. Therefore, they cannot enter into the New Testament Covenant. In light of the above Word of God, it is not possible for an infant to be in the New Testament Covenant because they do not know the Lord, they must still be taught. Infant baptism is efficacious for nothing. Even your practices reveal that you do not put much confidence in infant baptism as you have what I believe you call a “Confirmation” later on. One false practice leads to another.

      Furthermore, we know that a man must believe and be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16: 15-16), and that it is by the message preached that men are to be saved (1 Corinthians 1: 21). Baptism is necessary for those who are able to understand our need and what God has done, but your religion does not tell men that they must be baptized when they believe because they claim that they were added to the Covenant when they were sprinkled with water as an infant (Biblical baptism is an immersion in water rather than sprinkling, by the way).

      In light of these truths and the fact that we have no Biblical example of such a vain practice as infant baptism, what reason could there possibly be to continue in it? But this is just one example of how we would test all things by comparing them to the truth contained within the Scriptures and to hold to what is true. We can have no confidence whatsoever in infant baptism, therefore we ought not hold to it or to trust those who teach it. Is this the Sola Scriptura you mention?

      Regarding the Catholic and Protestant take on 1 Tim 3, it may be true that you all see it that way, even as it is true that some Protestants and Catholics believe that women may be Pastors, Bishops, and Priests and that they may teach men, but they are simply wrong. The original Greek tells us that a man must be a husband in order to be considered for the office of a Bishop, just as he must posses all of the other prerequisite qualifications in that sentence. If you disagree, what other of the qualifications listed in that sentence can we ignore or cast out or erase from the list and still say that we love God’s Word?

      Remember that the Jews also played fast and loose with God’s Word when they claimed that God’s promise was to them as Abraham’s seed, but Paul corrected them by telling them that the promise was to Abraham and to his seed, not seeds as of many, but as of one, “…and to your seed…” who is Christ (Galatians 3: 16). So the promise was to Abraham and to Jesus Christ rather than the Jews as they thought. They missed this because they “interpreted” the Scriptures, playing fast and loose with them as you do. We ought to trust God when He specifies that a man must be a husband. Wrest with the Scriptures if you choose to, but know that it is unto your own destruction when you do so, Sola Scriptura not withstanding (2 Peter 3: 16). Please hear wisdom.

      Much more could be said. Thank you for your time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: