Would you please explain Matthew 19:12. Does Jesus teach the concept of compulsory celibacy; that is, that ministers or priests must not marry?


When the disciples heard that marriage was for life, and that it can only be dissolved under very limited circumstances, they responded, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). Jesus answered that “all cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given” (verse 11). He continued, in verse 12:

“For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

Most commentaries are in agreement that Christ was not teaching “compulsory celibacy” for anyone. The Nelson Study Bible explains the meaning of the passage as follows:

“Jesus indicates [in verse 11] that remaining unmarried is only for a few people… Some people do not marry because they were born with no sex drive. Others do not marry because they are castrated. Still others forgo marriage for the sake of serving God. Some have been given the spiritual gift of celibacy in order to do this (see 1 Cor. 7:7).”

The Life Application Bible points out:

“Couples should decide against divorce from the start and build their marriage on mutual commitment. There are also… reasons for not marrying, one being to have more time to work for God’s kingdom… Some have physical limitations that prevent their marrying, while others choose not to marry because, in their particular situation, they can serve God better as single people. Jesus was not teaching us to avoid marriage because it is inconvenient or takes away our freedom. That would be selfishness.”

The Broadman Bible Commentary adds the following observations:

“The alternative to marriage is celibacy. Jesus made room for both as honorable and proper to discipleship. He warned, however, that the demands upon celibacy are high, just as they are upon marriage. Some are incapacitated for marriage because of physical impotence or impairment. They are those who are ‘eunuchs who have been so from birth,’ or those ‘who have been made eunuchs by men.’ In royal courts, especially, there were slaves who were made eunuchs through surgery so that they would not be a threat to their masters’ household. Those who ‘made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ are those who forego marriage with a view of life given more fully to the service of Christ.”

To interject, some have taken this statement literally [“there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”]; apparently, Origin castrated himself in obeying this “supposed obligation.” This is, however, NOT what Christ meant. He had already mentioned the category of literal eunuchs who had become such “by men.” The third category of “eunuchs” for the sake of the kingdom of God deals with those who VOLUNTARILY forgo marriage. Christ did not imply that they ought to literally castrate themselves.

The Broadman Bible Commentary continues:

“As Jesus spoke of marriage and celibacy he did not say that one was morally higher than the other… Each is an honorable choice to be made on an individual basis… ”

Jesus did not teach supremacy of celibacy over marriage. At least some of the apostles were married, including Cephas or Peter, as well as the believing brothers of Jesus (compare 1 Corinthians 9:5). Paul adds in Hebrews 13:4 that “marriage is honorable among all.”

It is correct that Paul seems to be giving celibacy a preferred state over marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1, 6-8, 32-33, 40. But we must realize the context–it is because of “the present distress” (verse 26), prompting Paul to say that even those who have wives should be as though they had none (verse 29). He said this because of the ensuing persecution, which would cause married couples “to have trouble in the flesh” (verse 28). Christ said, in Matthew 24:19: “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days”–immediately preceding the Great Tribulation. He also stated in Luke 23:29: “For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!'”

On the other hand, Paul did not teach that it was ever sinful to marry, even in times of great physical distress, and he added that for some, it was necessary to marry even then. He stated in 1 Corinthians 7:9, 28: “… if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion… if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.”

To clarify, the Church of the Eternal God in the USA and its corporate affiliates in Canada and Great Britain do NOT advise to forgo marriage because of the soon-coming return of Jesus Christ. We simply don’t know the exact time of Christ’s return. At one time, many felt that Christ might return in the early 1970’s. Now, after more than 30 years, He still has not returned. If people had forgone marriage in the 1970’s because of their anticipation of Christ’s return, which will be preceded by the Great Tribulation, just imagine what they would have missed–including seeing their children and grandchildren growing up.

Proverbs 18:22 tells us that “He who finds a wife finds a GOOD thing, And obtains FAVOR from the LORD,” and God said at the beginning, after He had created man, that it was NOT GOOD for the man to be alone. He then made the woman to be the man’s companion and helpmate (Genesis 2:18). It is true that those who will, in the future, enter the Kingdom of God as immortal spirit beings, will not marry nor are given in marriage at that time (Matthew 22:30), but this is not to be applied today to mortal human beings on a physical level.

As can easily be seen from the very wording of Christ’s sayings in Matthew 19:12, He was not teaching that anyone MUST forgo marriage to enter the kingdom of heaven. He was clearly talking about a VOLUNTARY individual decision, without coercion from anyone. Biblical examples of those who decided for themselves, not to get married for the sake of the Kingdom of God, were Jesus Christ Himself, as well as John the Baptist. As a former Pharisee, Paul would have been married, but his wife apparently died, and he decided not to re-marry, but to remain a widower.

Since the Bible does not teach coerced celibacy, why is it, then, that the Catholic Church teaches compulsory celibacy for their priests–prohibiting them to get married?

An interesting explanation is given by James Hastings, in his “Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,” Vol. 3, pages 272-273:

“Two influences contributed especially to the rise of sacerdotal celibacy… To the Gnostic…, ‘marriage and generation are from Satan… marriage [was pronounced] to be corruption and fornication.’… To these we must add the influence of the religion of Isis and the worship of Mithra… both of which were wide-spread throughout the Roman Empire and had a powerful following in the 1st and 2nd century. The former had its… tonsured men and women–emblematic of a higher purity. The latter had its grades of initiation and its companies of ascetics and virgins… Catholic Christians were not to be outdone by heretics and heathens in self-renunciation… the outcome was inevitable. The highest type of Christian was the celibate… Christian teachers praised virginity, and marriage came to be in their eyes only a secondary good for those who were unable to preserve continence… [Ultimately,] superiority of virginity or celibacy to the marital state [had become Catholic Church doctrine]. Anathemas [being accursed from Christ] were pronounced on all who held to the contrary. This remains the law of the Roman Catholic Church…”

As we can see, the Catholic Church came to teach mandatory celibacy for their priests in direct or indirect consequence of Gnostic teachings and the worship of Isis and Mithra. This teaching was not derived from Scripture. On the other hand, Protestants have mostly rejected the concept of compulsory celibacy. Hastings continues to explain, on page 275:

“The Protestants vigorously denounced clerical celibacy… Luther, as early as 1520, advocated allowing pastors their freedom in the matter, and denounced compulsory celibacy as the work of the devil… he said that the celibacy of the clergy was ‘a popish innovation against the eternal word of God’… Calvin… denounced the ‘vile celibacy’ of the priests and the interdiction of marriage to priests as contrary to the word of God and to all justice… Ulrich Zwingli… condemn[ed] vows of chastity… [The] Anglican Church… asserts that ‘Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are not commanded by God’s Law either to vow the state of single life or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge…’

“The attitude of Protestants and Catholics has remained practically unchanged to the present time, and the subject is unlikely to be touched UNLESS A PROPOSAL FOR UNION BE MADE” (emphasis added).

As the fruits have shown over the centuries, coerced celibacy is a very bad concept. Some who wanted to become Catholic priests and were forced, as a consequence, to take the vow of celibacy, have either been having their “affairs” with unmarried women, including nuns or their “housekeepers,” or they have been having homosexual relationships, sometimes even with minors and altar boys. Human regulations and man-made restrictions, which go beyond or contradict the Word of God, bring forth unnecessary and avoidable pain and suffering. Compulsory mandatory celibacy is one of those wrong concepts, which is clearly not taught in the Bible.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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