(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version)
Priests have been with us right from the beginning of mankind. They are a link between men and God, standing in the gap for the people and atoning for sins and iniquities, in order to reconcile people back to God. Initially, priests were household or family heads who were authorised to approach God on behalf of their families. Later, God established the Levitical priesthood when he adopted Israel as his own people, separating the tribe of Levi to be priests for the rest of the nation. After Jesus Christ came and died as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of himself, the Levitical priesthood was abolished, with the Melchizedek high priesthood of Christ established instead, wherein every believer in Christ is a priest unto God, with Christ being our High Priest. At each stage in the evolution of the priesthood, certain criteria were laid down as mandatory qualifications for priests, including their marital status. In this article, we shall examine the issue of enforced or mandatory celibacy of the priesthood in the light of the Bible. Can a priest lawfully marry and have children? Is it biblical to condemn priests to a life of enforced/mandatory celibacy? These are the questions this article seeks to answer.
Right from the beginning when priests were family heads, marriage for priests was a given, seeing a single man could not be a family head. For a man to have a family to rule over spiritually, he has to have a wife and children. That could only be possible in the context of marriage and procreation. Later, when the Levitical priesthood was established, Aaron and his sons, to whom the priesthood was given as an inheritance, were given specific instructions concerning marriage and the perpetuation of the priesthood. Nowhere was it forbidden for the Levitical priests to marry. Rather, they were mandated to marry and bring forth children who would perpetuate the lineage of priests. The only restriction they had in terms of marriage was that they could not marry non-Jews, prostitutes or divorcees, while the high priests were to marry virgins only. In fact, castrated men and those with missing or damaged testicles were automatically excluded from the priesthood, as they could not father children! Thus, celibacy was not allowed for priests under the law!
Leviticus 21:5 “’Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies.
Leviticus 21:6 They must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the food offerings to the LORD, the food of their God, they are to be holy.
Leviticus 21:7 “’They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God.
Leviticus 21:8 Regard them as holy, because they offer up the food of your God. Consider them holy, because I the LORD am holy —I who make you holy.
Leviticus 21:10 “’The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes.
Leviticus 21:11 He must not enter a place where there is a dead body. He must not make himself unclean, even for his father or mother,
Leviticus 21:12 nor leave the sanctuary of his God or desecrate it, because he has been dedicated by the anointing oil of his God. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 21:13 “’The woman he marries must be a virgin.
Leviticus 21:14 He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people,
Leviticus 21:15 so that he will not defile his offspring among his people. I am the LORD, who makes him holy.’”
Leviticus 21:16 The LORD said to Moses,
Leviticus 21:17 “Say to Aaron: ’For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God.
Leviticus 21:18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed;
Leviticus 21:19 no man with a crippled foot or hand,
Leviticus 21:20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.
Leviticus 21:21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the LORD. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God.
Leviticus 21:22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food;
Leviticus 21:23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.’”
Leviticus 21:24 So Moses told this to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ, the High Priest of God under the Melchizedek priesthood, did not need to be married to perpetuate his high priesthood, seeing he’s alive forever more, unlike the mortal high priests under the law. Christ thus has a permanent high priesthood, by virtue of his eternal existence. But the priests of the New Testament (including ministers of the Gospel) are not prevented from marrying and procreating. Most of the original apostles of the Lord, including Apostle Peter, were married and had children. We’re told in the Scriptures of Peter’s mother-in-law being healed by the Lord Jesus of a fever, after which she ministered to Jesus. Philip the Evangelist is also recorded to have four daughters who were prophetesses. The few ministers who remained celibate, like the Apostle Paul, did so out of personal choice, and not by compulsion or law. In fact, Paul made it clear that he had as much right, as Peter and other apostles of the Lord who were married, to take a wife, have a family of his own and be supported by the church. That he forfeited that right out of personal choice in order to have undivided attention for the work of the Lord does not mean that others must follow in his footsteps as a matter of law. Paul enjoined each believer to follow his or her own grace and calling, in deciding whether or not to marry. Above all, Paul made it abundantly clear in his letter to the Corinthians that it was better to marry than to burn with passion and commit sexual immorality as an unmarried person.
Hebrews 7:14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
Hebrews 7:15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears,
Hebrews 7:16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.
Hebrews 7:17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Hebrews 7:18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless
Hebrews 7:19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath,
Hebrews 7:21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ’You are a priest forever.’”
Hebrews 7:22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
Hebrews 7:23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office;
Hebrews 7:24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Hebrews 7:26 Such a high priest truly meets our need —one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
Hebrews 7:27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Hebrews 7:28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
St. Matthew 8:14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
St. Matthew 8:15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
The Acts 21:7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day.
The Acts 21:8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.
The Acts 21:9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
1 Corinthians 9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?
1 Corinthians 9:2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 9:3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.
1 Corinthians 9:4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink?
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 ?
1 Corinthians 9:6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?
1 Corinthians 9:7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?
1 Corinthians 9:8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing?
1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned?
1 Corinthians 9:10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.
1 Corinthians 9:11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?
1 Corinthians 9:12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?
1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
1 Corinthians 9:15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.
1 Corinthians 7:1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
1 Corinthians 7:2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.
1 Corinthians 7:3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.
1 Corinthians 7:4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1 Corinthians 7:6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.
1 Corinthians 7:7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
1 Corinthians 7:8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.
1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
The qualifications laid down for bishops and elders in the Scriptures also made reference to their marital status. The bishops and elders are to be husbands of one wife, and are to have well-behaved children, making it clear from the Scriptures that bishops are not mandated to be celibate, but can lawfully marry and have children, if they so wish. In fact, forbidding men of God to marry as a mandatory requirement for the bishopry is roundly condemned in the Scriptures. The origin of this doctrine is traced to demons! Thus, the practice of enforcing celibacy for priests is a doctrine of devils, propagated by hypocritical liars whose conscience have been seared with a hot iron! This doctrine is not Biblical and it does not come from God! That’s what the Scripture says! God does not forbid any group of people to marry, as that is a direct violation of his commandment to mankind to replenish and populate the earth, in order to perpetuate the species. Although some men may voluntarily make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God (by remaining celibate like Paul), nowhere in the Scriptures is celibacy to be enforced on any group of people, including priests. In fact, enforced celibacy of the priesthood is prophesied in the Scriptures as one of the signs of the falling away from the true faith, which is predicted to happen in the endtime!
1 Timothy 3:1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
1 Timothy 3:3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
1 Timothy 3:4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
1 Timothy 3:5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
1 Timothy 3:6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
1 Timothy 3:7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (NKJV).
Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
Titus 1:6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
Titus 1:7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,
Titus 1:8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,
Titus 1:9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict (NKJV).
1 Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
1 Timothy 4:2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1 Timothy 4:3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
1 Timothy 4:4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,
1 Timothy 4:5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:6 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
In conclusion, from inception of the priesthood till date, priests have been mandated to marry and have children, like all other men, as we’ve seen from the Scriptures. The Old Testament forbade men who couldn’t be fathers (by having damaged testicles) from being priests. In the New testament, one of the qualifications for bishops and elders is that they must be husbands of one wife and have well-behaved children. Bishops are supposed to rule their own families well, before being appointed to rule over the church of God. Most of the apostles of the Lord, including Peter, were married men who had their own families. A few like Paul, who had the self-control and chose to be celibate, did so out of personal choice, in order to have undivided attention for the Lord and his work. Paul was careful to stress the fact that his choice of celibacy was personal and not a law to be imposed on others. He recognised the fact that not all men have the self-control to abstain from sexual intercourse for life, and taught that it was better for a single person, including priests, to marry and have lawful intercourse, than to burn with passion and commit sexual immorality. Furthermore, the Scriptures roundly condemn enforced/mandatory celibacy of the priesthood as a devilish doctrine propagated by hypocritical liars whose conscience have been seared with a hot iron. That erroneous teaching is prophesied in the Scriptures as one of the signs of the falling away from the true faith that would happen in the endtime. Thus, enforced/mandatory celibacy of the priesthood is unbiblical, satanic and a heretical deviation from the original apostolic faith.
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