There is heated debate these days on whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry. Some priests have felt so strongly that they should be able to marry that they have left the Catholic church and become Episcopal or Lutheran. All Protestant denominations allow their ministers to marry, but these are the closest in ritual to Catholicism.
So, let us look at examples from the Bible, so that we don’t rely upon our own understanding (see Proverbs 3:5) Christians learned about God from the Jews, so it is fitting to look at the Hebrew Testament to see what Jews understood was God’s plan for their priests. Their traditions became the blueprint that the early Christian church started with.
The rules for what renders a person fit to be a priest are in Leviticus. Among rules such as not touching a dead body except that of a close family member and not shaving the edge of his beard, we find these specific rules about who they aren’t allowed to marry –
“They are not to marry a woman defiled by prostitution. They are not to marry one divorced by her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.” (Leviticus 21:7)
By spelling this out, we know that there are allowed to marry other people.
Then there are instructions about their daughters in 21:9. We can logically infer from this that the daughter was legitimately conceived – hence the priest was married.
Verses 13-15 give more information as to who a priest is allowed to marry. 13 “He is to marry a woman who is a virgin. 14 He is not to marry a widow, a divorced woman, or one defiled by prostitution. He is to marry a virgin from his own people, 15 so that he does not corrupt his bloodline among his people, for I am Yahweh who sets him apart.”
This further proves that priests are allowed to marry. Why say who they can and can’t marry if they aren’t allowed to? Thus, marriage is appropriate and allowed for priests in Judaism.
These instructions are repeated and added to later in Ezekial 44:22. “He is not to marry a widow or a divorced woman, but must marry a virgin from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.”
God does not want us to be alone. It isn’t part of God’s plan for us. In Genesis 2:18 we read 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.”
One of Jesus’s early miracles was healing the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. From this we must conclude that he was married – he wouldn’t have a mother-in-law otherwise. Remember this is the person that Jesus built his entire Church upon (See Matthew 16:18). He wouldn’t have chosen someone for so important a role that was doing something he thought was wrong.
“As soon as they left the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus and the disciples went into Simon Peter’s house. His mother-in-law was in bed with a high fever. They asked Jesus to help her. He went to her, and taking her by the hand, he rebuked the fever. Immediately she was healed and she began to wait on them. Later that evening, people began bringing those who were sick and possessed to him. He healed them by laying his hands on them and he drove out demons with a word. Those who were possessed had demons who were shouting “You are the Son of God!” But he told them not to speak because it wasn’t time yet for this to be known. What was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled with his actions. “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Isaiah 53:4)” (MT 8:14-17, MK 1:29-34, LK 4:38-41 Condensed Gospel)
Paul, in giving instructions to Titus, says in Titus 1:5-9
“5 This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, 6 if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. 7 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; 9 he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”
These elders become bishops – leaders over others. They are allowed to marry – but only once. But they are allowed to marry.
But – all of this is irrelevant. Jesus didn’t want priests to be different from the congregation. He wanted us to all be equal, like brothers. To have any group of people separate from the rest of the Body of Christ is to go against Christ’s teaching.
Luke 22:24-27 24 Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. 25 But He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’26 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. 27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves.
(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible unless otherwise noted)