Did Jesus recommend celibacy?


When addressing divorce and celibacy, Jesus said, “And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Then His disciples said, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” Then Jesus responded, “But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matthew 19:9-12).

Did Jesus recommend celibacy in the above passage? The Bible answer is no. The words of our Lord in Matthew 19, if understood literally, would go against what the Bible teaches about the purpose of the marriage.

From the very beginning, God ordained marriage to be a blessed institution. Jesus said, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:5, 6).

Jesus never recommended celibacy, either for Christians as a whole or for Christian leaders. The Lord instructed that “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, 12). Likewise, the elder should be “the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination” (Titus 1:6).

The formation of character is more effective when people are bound together by marriage and not “alone.” In the intimate, day by day relationships of marriage, the couple can learn to develop the heavenly traits of love, sacrifice, kindness, understanding, patience and unselfishness. Celibacy is not the ordinary, normal state, and it does not lead to a superior state of holiness as some claim.

Among the Jews, celibacy was shunned, and it was practiced only by extreme ascetic groups such as the Essenes. Priests who were born with this defect could not serve in the priestly office (Leviticus 21:20). Those who were eunuchs were objects of pity by the Jews (Isaiah 56:3–5). The Scripture record states specifically that Peter was married, and probably the other disciples were as well (Mark 1:30).

The Bible clearly states that enforcing celibacy on spiritual leaders is one of the signs of the end. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy forbidding to marry…” Paul, here warns against fanatical concepts that were first introduced into Christianity by the Gnostics and promoted by the monastic system.

The Gnostics believed that the human body, being material, must be denied, therefore, marriage was sinful. But the Bible is clear that marriage is a God-given institution that should be honored (1 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 13:4).

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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