The Roman Catholic Church requires its priests to practice celibacy. This has not always been the case, though. In fact, it was not instituted until the 11th century.

Protestant churches have no requirement of celibacy. So, what is the reason for this? Specifically why do Protestant churches, which began well after the practice had been instituted in the Catholic Church, do not require this of their pastors?

  • 2
    Two important distinctions might clarify the context a bit. #1: Men who have already been ordained have never been permitted to marry, in East or West -- what has varied by time, place, and circumstance has been the practice of allowing already-married men to be ordained. #2: It's one thing to be celibate (i.e., remain unmarried) and it's another thing to be continent (i.e., refrain from sexual relations even if married). In the West, it seems that continence has been required of married men after ordination for a very long time.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Apr 29 '13 at 20:25

I would like to add a few other Biblical reasons Protestants in general will allow for married Pastors.

Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. -Mark 1:30.

Simon Peter having a mother-in-law necessarily meant that he had a wife. If one of Jesus's own apostles had a wife, then right there is pretty good evidence that pastors today can likewise have wives.

Here's an argument Paul makes about the matter in 1 Corinthians 9,

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas[a]? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

As we already know that one of the other apostles had a wife, we can safely say that Paul isn't being sarcastic here, but rather stating a very straightforward argument. The apostles were allowed, among other things, money and the right to marry; however, the apostles would at times choose to give up their rights for various reasons, as Paul and Barnabas did with wives, and others did at various points with money among other things (see 1 Cor. 9:12).

Just because some honorably chose to give up those rights, doesn't in any way mean they didn't have those rights in the first place, as Paul states here.

As Protestants don't follow the headship of the Catholic church, they likewise don't observe the things that the Catholic church claims to have "loosed" or "bound," and the scriptural evidence taken without that external input supports a pastor who has the full right to marry if he so chooses.


Protestants take the priestly celibacy as unbiblical or unnatural.
They claim that every man must obey the biblical injunction to "be fruitful and multiply"(Gen. 1:28) and Paul command that "each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband"(1Cor. 7:2). They also argue that celibacy somehow causes illicit sexual behaviour or perversion or at least correlates with higher incidence of it.

Although most people are at some point of their lives called to the married state, the vocation of celibacy is explicitly advocated as well as practiced by both Jesus and Paul. Paul actually endorses celibacy for those capable of it. (1Cor. 7:8-9).He specifically clarifies:

1 Cor. 7:6-7 I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that everyone was as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one this way, another that.

Paul prefers celibacy in 1 Cor.7:27-34) and

1 Cor. 7:38 So then, the one who marries his own virgin does well, but the one who does not, does better.

After Jesus teaching in Mat. 19 on divorce and remarriage, the disciples exclaimed, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry (Matt. 19:10). This remarks prompted Jesus' teaching on the values of celibacy "for the sake of the kingdom"(Matt. 19:11-12).

Protestant reject celibacy considering it as a dogma or a doctrine of Catholic Church and maintain that priestly celibacy was made mandatory much later in the Church history:

It is taken by protestant as a central and irreformable part of Catholic faith, believed by Catholic to be coming from Jesus and the apostles and their objection is that, since Peter was married (Mark 1:30) there cannot be basis for this in Bible.

In reality the celibacy is not the rule for all Catholic priest even today. In Eastern rite Catholics, married priest are the norm, just as they are for Orthodox and Oriental Christians. In Eastern churches married men may become priests, unmarried priest may not marry, and married priests, if widowed, may not remarry. In western or Latin-rite Church the tradition has been for priests as well as bishops to take vows of celibacy, a rule that has been firmly in place since the early Middle Ages, with exception to those who are married priests in Latin-rite, who are converts from Lutheranism and Episcopalians. So all these variation in Catholic church indicates that priestly celibacy is not an unchangeable dogma but a disciplinary rule. Just as the Peter was married so also any of the nearest pastor of Maronite Catholic Church and both are not contrary to what Catholic faith teaches.

Protestants argue that only a man who has demonstrably looked after a family is fit to care for God's Church and an unmarried man is somehow untried or unproven. This is what Paul taught in 1 Tim. 3:2, 4-5.

This is a literal interpretation of the scripture which leads to further absurdities. With the next verse it implies that only those who have children can become bishops. Further to this it implies that only those who can keep their children submissive and respectful in every way can become bishops and so on.

This literal interpretation creates another contradiction. Paul himself was eminent Church leader, was single and happy to be so. Unless Paul was hypocrite he could have hardly imposed a requirement on bishops that he did not himself meet. The point of Paul's requirement that a bishop be "the husband of one wife" is not that he must have one wife, but that he must have ONLY one wife. Conversely, Paul is saying that a bishop must not have unruly or undisciplined children(not that he must have children who are well behaved), and must not be married more than once(not that he must be married).

Lastly Protestants argue that by requiring at least some of its clerics not to marry, the Catholic Church falls under Pauls condemnation in 1 Tim.4:3 against apostate who "forbid marriage".

1 Tim.4:3 They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

In fact Catholic church forbids no one to marry. No one requires to take a vow of celibacy and those who do so take it voluntarily. They renounce marriage (Matt.19:12); no one forbids it to them. Any Catholic who doesn't wish to take such a vow doesn't have to, and he is always free to marry with Church's blessing. The Church simply elects candidates for the priest hood from among those who voluntarily renounce marriage.

Paul was actually referring to Gnostic sects through the ages that denounced marriage, sex and body as intrinsically evil. Some early heretics fit this description as did the medieval Albigensians and Catharists.

Celibacy is an eschatological sign to the Church, a living-out in the present of the universal celibacy of heaven: "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angles in heaven"(Matt. 22:30)

  • Good answer, but it seems you are not simply answering the question, but arguing against the legitimacy at every turn.
    – Narnian
    Apr 29 '13 at 12:00
  • @Narnian You framed your question in a way that asks for a comparison to the Catholic view, and said some things that might be misleading. If you just wanted the Protestant reasons without that backdrop (or the biblical reasons, which exxodus7 gave), you shouldn't have brought the Church into it. This is a good answer. It explains several important biblical points, and even argues that "there cannot be basis for this in Bible", which is exactly what you want to hear.
    – Alypius
    Apr 29 '13 at 23:45

Institution and codification are not the same thing. Surviving documents dating back to the 5th century "consider the practice to be an ancient and timeless tradition" (source, see footnotes). Wikipedia talks about the codification in the 11th century, but even the early 4th century Council of Elvira passed a law against conjugal relations, with the penalty of being removed from the priesthood.

Protestant churches don't require celibacy because they don't follow Canon Law, and many don't have anything remotely like Canon Law. Some are not large enough to need it, and some are opposed to any sort of "earthly" authority or regulation whatsoever. There's no direct prohibition in Scripture, and for them there's no ecclesiastical prohibition, so they don't uphold the practice. It's really that simple.

If you want the details, here are the practical and theological Protestant points against the Catholic view and practice:

  1. The Catholic view of sex is that it is not a "bodily need" that needs to be satisfied, but something that can be entirely avoided by some people, and that celibacy (like fasting) strengthens the will and character. The opposing idea is that nobody should be deprived of something they "need". Some go as far as to say that being deprived of this "need" might even lead to serious psychological disorders (scientifically this is nonsense, but that's the intuition).
  2. In Catholicism, the job of a priest is to say the Mass and to administer the Sacraments, and there are a huge number of support groups for personal or family issues. In some other denominations, a pastor must fill the role of a spiritual counsellor, and some believe that if a priest/pastor is married, he'll be able to do an even better job of relating to the problems of his community.
  3. Some communities simply wouldn't be able to find someone who is committed to being celibate just to be a pastor. People willing to give up the possibility of marriage are pretty rare.
  4. Luther, who had made a vow of celibacy as a priest, abandoned that vow and marred a former nun. Zwingli, also a priest, secretly married shortly before petitioning his bishop to abolish the requirement of celibacy. Calvin was also married, and argued in the Institutes (4.13.20) that vows made concerning things that "God does not at all require of us" are invalid.

The basic idea in that last point is that if I make a vow to smack you over the head, and you don't want me to do that, then I'm "loosed" from my vow. Obviously, whether a priest (like Luther, or Zwingli) were "loosed" totally depends on whether God would say it was a vow worth making and keeping. Catholics think that St Peter and his successors have the ability to "bind" and "loose" people according to tradition, and Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Protestants in general don't think anyone has that ability.


Clerical Celibacy was not instituted in the eleven hundreds, it was established 800 years before by Emperor Constantine I at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Canon 3

The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.

  • One's wife and children are not strangers in one's (and their) own house.
    – Lucian
    Jun 22 '20 at 15:54

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