1 Tim 3:1-12 question on celibacy


1 Tim 3:1-12. The context certainly cannot mean that a Bishop must be a married man, for the reason that St. Paul himself was never married. The sense of the text, as all tradition testifies, is that no candidate should be elected to the office of Bishop who had been married more than once.

I quoted the statement above in a forum and got this response that I posted below. How do I respond to this?

You are confusing the choice not to marry with the choice to marry as being solely on the individual not the church’s. Peter and the other apostles were married and took their wives along with them. Paul was an apostle but unmarried by his choice not a man made edict.

Let’s look at Paul’s words in context so people can see for themselves the church is overstepping its bounds.

Qualifications for Elders
1 Timothy 3:
2An Elder then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
Here is the reason an elder must be married according to Paul
5(For if a man knows not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
Also for deacons 12Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

How can you say this means anything other than it says in context?


He’s confused about the meaning of 1 Cor 9:5. Paul isn’t making an argument about the marital status of apostles, but rather, about the rights of apostles.

Paul was an apostle but unmarried by his choice not a man made edict.

And yet, in Mt 16:19, Jesus said that the ‘man-made edicts’ of the apostles would “bind and loose” in heaven. In other words, the “man-made edict” hullabaloo is a red herring – it’s not a real issue at all, and in fact, points us to the validity of edicts made by apostles and their successors!

Let’s look at Paul’s words in context so people can see for themselves the church is overstepping its bounds.

How can you say this means anything other than it says in context?

How can one say that, by exceeding Paul’s requirements (i.e., no remarriage for clerics), the Church is contradicting his requirements?


**Matt. 19:11-12 **- Jesus says celibacy is a gift from God and whoever can bear it should bear it. Jesus praises and recommends celibacy for full-time ministers in the Church.

Matt. 19:29 - Jesus says that whoever gives up children for the sake of His name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. Jesus praises celibacy when it is done for the sake of His kingdom.

Matt. 22:30 - Jesus explains that in heaven there are no marriages. To bring about Jesus’ kingdom on earth, priests live the heavenly consecration to God by not taking a wife in marriage. This way, priests are able to focus exclusively on the spiritual family, and not have any additional pressures of the biological family (which is for the vocation of marriage).

1 Cor 7:1 Paul teaches that it is well for a man not to touch a woman. This is the choice that the Catholic priests of the Roman rite freely make.

1 Cor. 7:7 - Paul also acknowledges that celibacy is a gift from God and wishes that all were celibate like he is.

1 Cor. 7:27 Paul teaches men that they should not seek marriage. In Pauls opinion, marriage introduces worldly temptations that can interfere with ones relationship with God, specifically regarding those who will become full-time ministers in the Church.

**1 Cor. 7:32-33, 38 **- Paul recommends celibacy for full-time ministers in the Church so that they are able to focus entirely upon God and building up His kingdom. He who refrains from marriage will do better.

1 Tim. 3:2 - Paul instructs that bishops must be married only once. Many Protestants use this verse to prove that the Church’s celibacy law is in error. But they are mistaken because this verse refers to bishops that were widowers. Paul is instructing that these widowers could not remarry. The verse also refers to those bishops who were currently married. They also could not remarry (in the Catholic Church’s Eastern rite, potential priests are allowed to marry before holy orders; celibacy is only a disciplinary rule for the clergy of the Roman rite). Therefore, this text has nothing to do with imposing a marriage requirement on becoming a bishop.

1 Tim. 4:3 - in this verse, Paul refers to deceitful doctrines that forbid marriage. Many non-Catholics also use this verse to impugn the Church’s practice of celibacy. This is entirely misguided because the Catholic Church (unlike many Protestant churches) exalts marriage to a sacrament. In fact, marriage is elevated to a sacrament, but consecrated virginity is not. The Church declares marriage sacred, covenantal and lifegiving. Paul is referring to doctrines that forbid marriage and other goods when done outside the teaching of Christ and for a lessor good. Celibacy is an act of giving up one good (marriage and children) for a greater good (complete spiritual union with God).

1 Tim. 5:9-12 - Paul recommends that older widows take a pledge of celibacy. This was the beginning of women religious orders.

2 Tim. 2:3-4 - Paul instructs his bishop Timothy that no soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim his to satisfy the One who enlisted him. Paul is using an analogy to describe the role of the celibate priesthood in the Church.

Rev. 14:4 - unlike our sinful world of the flesh, in heaven, those consecrated to virginity are honored.

Isaiah 56:3-7 - the eunuchs who keep God’s covenant will have a special place in the kingdom of heaven.

Jer. 16:1-4 - Jeremiah is told by God not to take a wife or have children.


He didn’t mention 1 Cor 9:5 by name.


[quote=Sword Brethren]I … got this response: “Peter and the other apostles were married and took their wives along with them.”

“Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Cor 9:5)

He may not have mentioned it explicitly, but it’s what he’s referring to… :wink:


I believe there is reason to believe that Paul had been married, but his wife had died sometime prior to his conversion.




On what could you possibly base such a belief?


It is likely that Paul was a widower because he was a member of the Sanhedrin. In antiquity, in order to be a member of the Sanhedrin marriage was a prerequisite. So when Paul says he was celibate, this was true if he was a widower or never married given Jesus’ teaching on marriage which Paul already knew.


Wives is not necessarily the correct translation. It could be women or sister in the Greek. Peter is the only one of the twelve we know who had a wife and children. Although, even in that verse, it could have referred to Peters mother in law. But that is just quibbling on my part because it has no bearing on the celibacy requirement for the Roman Church because Peter was married before the Lord called him.


There several issues here.

Where do you get the information that marriage was a prerequisite for being a member of the Sanhedrin?
Scripture does not say Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. Being given authority to persecute Christians does not mean he was a member.
Paul was a Pharisee which does not mean he was a member of the Sanhedrin.

I’m not saying you are wrong because we will never know if Paul was a widower but I would need something more substantial to consider it.

Just found this in the Jewish Encyclopedia about requirements for members of the Sanhedrin and marriage is not listed as a requirement.

Appointment and Promotion of Members.

According to R. Jose b. Ḥalafta, the members of the Great Bet Din were required to possess the following qualifications: scholarship, modesty, and popularity among their fellow men (Tosef., Ḥag. ii. 9; Sanh. 88b). According to an interpretation in Sifre, Num. 92 (ed. Friedmann, p. 25b), they had also to be strong and courageous. Only such were eligible, moreover, as had filled three offices of gradually increasing dignity, namely, those of local judge, and member successively of two magistracies at Jerusalem (Jose b. Ḥalafta, l.c.). R. Johanan, a Palestinian amora of the third century, enumerates the qualifications of the members of the Sanhedrin as follows: they must be tall, of imposing appearance, and of advanced age; and they must be learned and must understand foreign languages as well as some of the arts of the necromancer (Sanh. 19a).


Hi Thistle. Yes, we don’t know for a fact if he was part of the Sanhedrin. Its seems reasonable to believe he was. While he was not one of the chief priests, he says he cast a vote.

“And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.”
Acts 26:10


Let’s go with him being a member just for discussion purposes. That does not mean he was married. You have presented nothing to support your claim that being married was a prerequisite for being a member while I have given you something from a Jewish source that lists the requirements and being married is not one of them.


Hi Thistle,

As for the marriage pre-req…it was commented on by Maimonides saying that a Sanhedrin member could not be childless. This would not happen outside of marriage. In fact, it is much more strict than just requiring marriage. You had to be fruitful like God’s commandment in Genesis. Of course, this again is not proof of what happened in Paul’s time. But it does make it a reasonable position to take.


He’s talking to Herod Agrippa here, and providing proof of his status among the Jews. Why, then, would he mention only that he was a Pharisee, and not that he was a member of the Sanhedrin? Wouldn’t that assertion solidify his case more effectively before the king?


Perhaps. Either way, I don’t think it really matters. Since Paul’s marital history before becoming an apostle does not impact the Church’s celibacy argument.


If this were true, then Paul would also have had children, another feature of his life not mentioned in Scripture.


Right. Very little is mention of the earlier lives of most of the apostles.


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