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Sean Mitchell wrote:

Hi, guys —

Within the past year I have started to develop faith in the Catholic Church. I used to be an atheist, then I started to realize the presence of God. I hastily got baptized in a Methodist church without even being concerned as to weather their teachings were truthful. Then I started to learn about the importance of truth from one of my teachers at school and I was drawn to the Catholic Church. For a little less then a year now, I have been attending Sunday Mass and sometimes even week day Masses. I have experienced an abundance of God's joy and have been so satisfied with what the Catholic Church has to offer. My faith in the Church has grown and grown to the point where I am going to become Catholic. However, the other night I read something in my Catholic approved bible that made my heart drop. Timothy 3:1-5 states:

The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?

This really through me off, It appears I've been following a Church for a while now that claims to have the fullness of truth and the absolute correct interpretation of the Scriptures, yet,
the Catholic Church does not allow bishops to get married.

  • Could somebody PLEASE give me a solid interpretation of what St. Paul meant in his letter to Timothy?

I am by no means stupid enough to just give up following Catholicism because of one thing that
I read in the Scriptures, and I have faith that someone can provide me with the true interpretation of this passage.

So please, give me what you got!

and please pray for me!

Sean

  { I'm an atheist being drawn to the Catholic Church but don't understand why bishops can't marry? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Sean —

I am so pleased to hear that God is working in your life and calling you into the Catholic Church. You are certainly welcome.

As for Timothy 3:1-5, I think the interpretation is simple. One, the bishop must not be polygamous (or possibly remarried). It does not mean that he has to be married, only that he can be married only once. St. Paul was a bishop, and he was unmarried. If he has children, he is to rule them well. No one would argue that a bishop is required to have children in order to be a bishop.

It's interesting that those who use this to argue that bishops must be married would never even suggest that a married man without children should not be bishop. The point is that based on the evidence you see in his family, you should see signs that he is living the Christian life, not that he is compelled to be married and have children. That is not the point of the passage.

Early bishops were married, because Jewish culture frowned strongly on bachelorhood. Fairly quickly, however, it became clear that a family was too much of a hindrance to the exercise of the ministry, especially with martyrdom, so bishops were taken from the unmarried ranks.

Eric

John replied:

Hi, Sean —

I'd like to add a few thoughts to Eric's fine answer.

Paul's letter to Timothy is one of the pastoral epistles. That is to say, it is full of pastoral advice regarding disciplines and practices. It differs from Romans and Galatians which were primarily doctrinal epistles. That said, we need to look at Paul's advice to Timothy in a different light than we would discuss Paul's explanation of justification.

The Church has from time to time changed disciplines for pastoral reasons. To this day, it still ordains married men in Her Eastern Rites. It will also make exceptions, in the West, for certain Protestant clergy who wish to convert and also become priests.

That said, even the discipline of ordaining married men (in the East) changed over the early centuries of the Church. As we read the Scriptures, we see that in the first century priests (presbyteroi) were almost all bishops (episopoi). In fact, in the Scriptures, the words were used almost interchangeably. Later, the Church stopped ordaining so many bishops and decided to only choose celibate priests to elevate to the office of bishop. So in the Eastern Catholic Church, none of the bishops are married or have children, whereas, many of the priests are married.

But all these decisions were made based on what was best for the congregations. The Church imposed celibacy in the West, because it felt a celibate priests could best serve the people.
At a future date, the Church could change this discipline.

Finally, I'd encourage you to visit our data base of answers. We've dealt with many similar questions and given helpful responses. I encourage you to read them.

John

Mike replied:

Hi, Sean —

I used to run a free program that sent Catechisms to seeking Protestants and non-Christians but no longer have the financial or operational means to do this anymore. Nevertheless, if you wish to go deeper, consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn everything we believe as Catholics.

If you, or any visitor, has been helped by our work at AskACatholic.com, consider financially supporting us today. If you can't right now, check out our Click To Support program.

Mike

Mary Ann replied:

Sean,

You quote the Scriptures saying:
The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household

The Catholic Church does not allow bishops to get married, but it allows men who have been married to become a bishop. Even the Eastern Rites forbid the episcopacy to married men, as a bishop is considered to be "married" to his diocese. In any case, this rule about married priests and bishops is a human law, not a divine one.

Mary Ann

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