Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catholic Priests and Celibacy

Anonymous asked: Why is it that Catholic priests are required to be celibate, when priests in the OT were not?

Unfortunately, I am not as knowledgeable in Catholic tradition as I am in understanding Scripture, so I can give you an answer, but would be either wrong, or incomplete. I have, however, run a quick internet search (key phrase: why are Catholic priests not allowed to marry?), and found a few sites that might answer your question. I include them below.

A more fundamental point, I think, should be made regarding your question. You cite correctly that Old Testament (Old Covenant) priests were married, and then you ask why New Testament era (New Convenant) priests are not. I think there is some danger in trying to make one-to-one theological correlations between the two covenants.

The Holy Spirit stated in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that a day would come when God would make a new covenant (testament) between Himself and Israel. The New Testament writers made the point over and over that with Jesus, God was instituting that promised new covenant.

For example, when you have time, read the first 10 chapters of Hebrews in one sitting (to get a good handle on the context of the book).  In it, the writer refers often to Jesus as "better" than Moses, the new covenant better than the old. He even makes the case that the Old Covenant religious and ritualistic rules are no longer operable under the new covenant (see Hebrews 7:11-28, with verse 12 specifically).

The Lord Jesus makes a specific comment, about the New Covenant (for example, Luke 22:20) and St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:6.  And then, of course, is the scene in Acts 10 in which God orders St. Peter to break the Old Covenant dietary laws from Deuteronomy and Leviticus and eat 'unclean' animals (Acts 10:9-17).

There are many other examples in the New Testament writings illustrating the New Covenant has replaced the Old, which is why I thought to caution you about comparing the two and trying to equalize them.

Thanks for asking the question.



  1. Holly sent me via email this comment: ". . . priests of the new testament were married. Priests, Bishops and Popes. I think it was this way up until the 10th century. Peter was also married."

    Yes, I knew that. Some of the links I provided (above) address that as part of Church early history. In fact, St. Paul writes to Timothy (1 Tim 3:1-13 that bishops (overseers) and deacons (and one may assume presbyters -- from which I am told we get the modern term "priest" -- were all married. Actually, it seems from the text they were required to be married. And, of course, we know St. Peter was married from the comment in the gospels about his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14).

    I did not address this in detail in my original note because I interpreted the person's question as referring to modern priests in the Roman Catholic Church (modern, at least since the 11th century or so).

    While I'm addressing the subject, it is also important to remember priest celibacy is not a doctrine of the Church. It is a tradition. That means that it is not set in concrete. Case in point, priests in the eastern Catholic can marry, and Protestants who become Catholic priests (and are already married) remain married.

    Anyway, thanks for asking me to clarify. I should have in the beginning.


  2. My short answer which satisfies about 90% of the askers is: Imitation of Christ.

  3. Hi, Christian. Wow, your comment surprised me. I had forgotten I even had this blog. You will notice the last time I posted was in March of 2011. I stopped posting mostly because no one asked me any questions :(