What does the Bible teach about priests and celibacy?

BibleAsk Team


The Bible nowhere requires celibacy for priests or for those serving in positions of church leadership. The Bible clearly teaches that elders, priests, bishops, overseers, and deacons are encouraged to be married “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2,12; Titus 1:6), “he must manage his own family well” (1 Timothy 3:4,12), and “his children obey him with proper respect” (1 Timothy 3:4; Titus 1:6). Certainly Paul here condemns the mandatory celibacy of the clergy. When churches go against the Biblical teachings in this area, the consequences are adultery, fornication, and the sexual abuse of children.

Paul includes this in his counsel regarding bishops because a married man would be more adequately prepared to understand many of the problems arising among the families of the church. The companionship of husband and wife is one of God’s ordained means for the proper spiritual development of both, as Paul himself declares (Ephesians 5:22–33; 1 Timothy 4:3; Hebrews 13:4).

The verse 1 Timothy 3:2 doesn’t mandate that a priest must be married either. This would cause difficulty in harmonizing with Paul’s statement encouraging men to live as he lived, that is, without a wife (Corinthians  7:7, 8). However, Paul’s encouragement for men to stay single was due to the “present distress” of persecutions (1 Corinthians 7:26, 28). Paul does not belittle the divine order of the home, which God instituted in Eden.

Paul teaches that in some instances, celibacy has a positive impact on ministry, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs — how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world — how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). And Jesus mentions some men becoming “eunuchs” for the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:12). Thus, celibacy is definitely allowed for church leaders but it’s not a requirement for service.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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