Forbidding Marriage

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

1 Timothy 4:1-3

Paul wrote this to Timothy around A.D. 62-64.  Note his Spirit-inspired prophecy that at a later time, some, following “doctrines of demons,” would forbid marriage.

Fast forward to A.D. 305 and the Council of Elvira, a meeting of nineteen bishops and twenty-six presbyters.  Interestingly, the New Testament refers to bishops and presbyters as the same thing, as a Greek word study of these passages shows (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  However, by the time of the Council of Elvira came about, man had departed from the teachings of Scripture concerning church organization to the point where bishops and presbyters were considered different offices. 

During this council, eighty-one canons were recorded.  Interestingly, the New Testament had specifically commanded that nothing be added to it in any way (Galatians 1:6-10; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Revelation 22:18-19).  Regardless, these new rules were made.  Among them was Canon 33, which read:  “It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not begat children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.”

Fast forward eighty-five years to A.D. 390 and another council, the Council of Carthage.  They too decided to add to God’s Word (in spite of biblical commands not to do so like the one in Proverbs 30:6) by decreeing Canon 3:  “It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep…It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.”  Around this same time period, Pope Siricius declared that sexual abstinence was an apostolic practice which must be followed by ministers of the church.

Yet when one studies the Scriptures, one sees that marriage was not foreign to the apostles.  True, the apostle Paul was not married (1 Corinthians 7:8).  Yet the context of that passage makes it clear that he was not commanding abstinence (1 Corinthians 7:6-9).  Indeed, he also cited how he and “the other apostles,” including “Cephas” (Peter), “have the right to take along a believing wife” (1 Corinthians 9:5).  Peter was clearly married, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus miraculously healed his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15).

Peter referred to himself as a presbyter and bishop, by the way (1 Peter 5:1-4).  According to the New Testament, bishops/presbyters MUST be married and have children (1 Timothy 3:1-4; Titus 1:5-6).  So must deacons (1 Timothy 3:11-12).  Not only that, but God inspired Paul to specifically command that husbands and wives NOT be sexually abstinent except by mutual consent and only for a short period of time (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).  According to God, the “marriage bed” is “undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). 

So the decrees issued by these councils actually command exactly the opposite of what is commanded in the New Testament concerning marriage and marital intimacy.  As Paul foretold to Timothy centuries earlier, some would depart from the faith by listening to doctrines of demons, and as a result forbid marriage.  (They would also forbid certain foods, as the 1 Timothy passage also says.  That reminds me of Lent.)

Does it matter what God said in his Word?  Not according to those who want their itching ears scratched.  God inspired Paul to also write to Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).  Do you want to follow truth, or follow myths?  If you want truth, stick to the Bible and the Bible alone.

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