Is 1 Timothy 4:3 referring to the Catholic Church?

Many who oppose the Catholic Church state that 1 Tim 4:3 which states “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Is referring to the Catholic practise of celibate priests and abstaining from meat on Fridays.

How does the Catholic Church view this scripture?

I wrote this article in response to questions like this.
Priestly celibacy is unBiblical. NOT!

Thanks, your a Godsend, I’ve been debating with a couple of Protestants on Facebook, and that will come in quite handy.

Good question. That is a legitimate concern.

I inquired about this “forbidden to marry” issue some time ago. I was told there was a group of believers who did forbid marriage, in general, on some sort of premise that they were anticipating the second coming. I dont remember the group, but I believe they were found to be heretical in these beliefs by the Church. The Church doesnt forbid marriage, but in these times, requires celebacy for her priests.

As for the abstaining from meat, we are free to eat what we wish. The “no meat on Fri.” practice is a corporal fast during the season of lent, not because meat is unclean, but because it is something we are free to eat and enjoy, yet we fast for a time to do without in order to strengthen our devotion to His Spirit.

If we look at this passage, 1 Tim 4:3, from a modern, American perspective, it does seem to point uniquely to the Catholic Church because we are one of a handful of institutions that practices both fasting and celibacy. But we also must note that the passage does not describe the practices in the Church today - where the Apostle warns against those who forbid marriage, no one in the Church is forbidden to marry; indeed, dozens of weddings will be celebrated this summer at my parish! And when the Apostle cautions against abstaining from meats, every Catholic is allowed to eat meat 359 days each year - when we abstain we do not do so to disparage the good that the Father provides us, but out of discipline in accordance with a fast.

However, if we lens the passage to Paul’s initial audience, primarily Timothy but also his mission church, who were 1st century Jews and Greeks in Ephesus, we have to widen our perspective to include groups other than the Church because both celibacy and fasting were commonly practiced by Jews, Christians, Gnostics and others. We already know (Acts 15) that some Jews within the early Church caused trouble by demanding adherence to the Mosaic Law, and they were not the only group to attempt to demand more, or preach a different Gospel, than what the Apostles taught.

Paul’s caution in 1 Tim 4:3 was not against fasting itself, since fasting is Biblically-warranted, for example: Joel 2:12, Mt 6:16-18, Ez 8:23, and notably - since it describes the early Church - Ac 13:2. We do not always have a description of how the fasting took place, but it is not unrealistic to think that abstaining from meat during particular fasts was part of it.

Likewise, celibacy was taught as a virtue and as a calling within the early Church. Hence Paul commands (in 1 Cor 7) that men are better to not marry, that widows should remain unmarried, but that those who cannot refrain from lusts should marry to avoid sin. We cannot say that Scripture supports a reading of 1 Tim 4:3 that would forbid a Church from preaching celibacy; rather we are to be cautious of a Church that would forbid marriage, which goes beyond preaching the virtue of celibacy to binding it upon all believers.

So who would fit the proscriptions in 1 Tim 4:3? Sects known as Gnostics, or more radical aesthetes who not only shunned worldly pleasures such as wine, meat, and marriage, but taught others to find salvation in the same path. Irenaeus, writing in the late 2nd century, names one such sect, the Encratites, but these weren’t the only ones who practiced such, either before or since. The various Cathari heretical groups, including Albigensians and Bogomils, who were active in Europe between the 12th and 14th centuries, sought spiritual perfection through complete avoidance of anything of a sexual nature, including marriage and eating animals (themselves the products of sexual union). Note that even today such groups exist - notably the Heaven’s Gate cult, some of whose members underwent castration in order to avoid any impure desires altogether, while many cults embrace vegan or vegetarian lifestyles as a matter of theological mandate.

So we should take Paul’s command in 1 Tim 4:3 to caution against a doctrinal mandate towards excessive asceticism, for such is not necessary to be saved and it is false to require it for salvation. We should not take it to forbid a practice or discipline that is either voluntary or limited, especially in light of Scriptural support for both voluntary celibacy and for fasting of various forms.

First of all, such prohibitions do not refer to the discipline that priests be celibate. This discipline is in the Roman Rite only - priests in Eastern Rites are allowed to be married before they become priests. In addition, married priests who are converts from Anglicanism (think Fr. Dwight Longedecker) are allowed to remain married. Also, the Church can change this discipline at any time (the current discipline is only from the 1100’s anyway - before that, priests could be married if they were married prior to being priests, though celibacy was encouraged). The teachings that St. Paul was talking about were pre-gnostic teachings. The gnostics believed that everything in the material world (including marriage, sex, etc.) was inherently evil.

St. Paul also speaks about the great benefits and holiness of celibacy in another letter. Was he referring to himself? Of course not. This passage was aimed at certain people who taught that the material world was evil, so they forbid marriage and other practices.

The priesthood isn’t required, and no one is required to be a priest. Marriage is open to anyone who wishes to choose that vocation.

And abstaining from certain foods on Fridays is abstaining for a small period of time, it is not forbidding people to eat those foods ever.

This makes certain sense according to the customs of the time that St. Paul was addressing. There were certain groups that considered the body to be sinful and that having sex was bad as well as sinful. Hence, Paul was saying no to that reasoning. Abstaining from meats was also a Jewish thing in that they were not to eat port or shellfish. That was under the old law which the ceremonial conditions were not necessary anymore.

It makes perfect sense to the Jews at the time.

Catholic Answers apologist Tim Staples wrote a blog entry on this topic about a year ago:

didn’t think the use of religious slurs was allowed on this forum. reported.

I took it to be an abbreviation for “Protestants”. Is that a slur?

Well, Cats on this forum ought to respect non papists… :wink:

I knew exactly what you meant. Many times when we get into discussions with people who are not Catholic we don’t know what group they are coming from and protestants are a generic term. That is a problem with groups that have split from the Church.

I understand that you were not using a slur but an abbreviation. However, since you have disturbed a member of the forum with it I suggest you or I do not use it again. But I can see how texting gives rise to abbreviations.

Psst… I’m not the OP… :wink:

To respond to the OP (again):

1 Timothy 4:1-4 seems to be dealing with persons who forbid marriage for everyone, and demand dietary laws for everyone. They base this on the idea that the end times are coming soon, and so everyone should be getting ready for them, not fooling around with silly things like marriage. There may also be a denigration of the goodness of the physical body (1 Tim 4:4), such as we see in gnostics and docetists.

If they are denying that material things can be good, that is a heretical notion, and whatever follows from it is heretical. In this case, it cannot be a reference to the Church, since we believe that the material world is, by nature, good from its creation by God.

Then there is the blanket forbidding of marriage, and the universal demand that certain foods be avoided. Again, its the universal nature of these requirements that is the problem: they cannot apply to the Catholic Church because the Church has never made such requirements universal. Yes, some are called to celibacy–but that is a choice we make for ourselves. Nobody is required to be a priest or religious, just as nobody is required to be married. We can choose for ourselves–and our choice of vocation is the offering we make to God. It is not at the bidding of someone else.

Similarly, abstinence from meat is only for a time–whether for the 40 days of Lent, or for Fridays, or whenever. It is not a blanket forbidding everyone to eat meat all the time. We also have days when we feast! So again, this verse (1 Tim 4:3) does not apply to the Church.

A correction – it wasn’t the OP, but another poster, who made the statement that lantheria took offense to… :blush:

Lol! :thumbsup:

That’s “Caths”- I’m allergic to cats.

Off topic posts have been removed.

:rolleyes: Also, please try not to be so thin skinned, or use terms that some will find offensive.***

Please carry on…

Very good explanation.

Upon further thought, the Church decided on celibacy for priests and the sacrifice of not eating meat on Friday many many years later after much discernment. To conclude that the epistle was talking about things decided even centuries later is not understanding the purpose of the writer intended.

This may be a point to bring up for evangelization purposes I hope.

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