The Bible’s View on Matters of Sex
FOR many sincere Catholics, the very thought of Mary’s having sexual intercourse with her husband Joseph is inconceivable and shocking. This is because the entire attitude of their church toward sex has given the average Catholic the impression that a person cannot really be holy if he or she has intercourse, even within wedlock. But are marriage and holiness incompatible? What does the Bible show?
In ancient Israel, God required priests to be holy, and yet marriage was proper for them. (Leviticus 21:6, 7, 13) In the Christian congregation, Peter—whom the Catholic Church views as the first pope—was a married man, as were the majority of the apostles. (Matthew 8:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5) Within the Christian congregation, an “overseer” (“bishop,” in the Catholic Douay Version) could be the “husband of one wife.” (1 Timothy 3:2) And “older men” (“priests,” in Douay) could be married. (Titus 1:5-8) In fact, all faithful first-century Christians were “God’s chosen ones, holy and loved,” and many of them were married. (Colossians 3:12, 18-21) It would be pointless to claim that these were sexless marriages, for that would be in direct contradiction to the apostolic counsel given in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5.
Thus, according to the Bible, marriage and holiness are not incompatible. Would God speak of himself as the ‘husband’ of Israel, and would the Bible speak of Christ as the “husband” of the Christian congregation, if there were anything unclean about the marriage relationship?—Isaiah 54:5; 62:4, 5; Ephesians 5:23-32; Revelation 19:7; 21:2, 9.
We need, therefore, have no compunction about accepting the plain Bible testimony that, after the virgin birth of Jesus, Joseph led a normal married life with Mary, giving her other sons and daughters. These were Jesus’ fleshly half brothers and sisters, Mary giving birth to each one of them. (Matthew 1:24, 25; Mark 3:31) This in no way prevents us from loving and respecting Mary as a holy woman, any more than Sarah’s giving birth to Isaac prevented Peter from citing her among “holy women” of antiquity.—1 Peter 3:5-7; Hebrews 11:11, 12.
Divorce and Contraception
The Catholic Church is right in discouraging divorce and in condemning abortion. But does it have the backing of the Bible when it rejects divorce for any reason and maintains that “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life”?—Humanae Vitae.
Originally, Jehovah God instituted marriage as a permanent bond between one man and one woman. (Genesis 2:22-24) Jesus restored this standard within the Christian congregation, stating, “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” However, he added, “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.”—Matthew 19:4-6, 9; 5:32.
The Bible, therefore, says that sexual infidelity is a valid basis for divorce, in fact, the only valid basis. The Catholic Church has done nothing good for itself, or for the millions of its members, by being more exacting on this matter than the Scriptures. Commenting on the results of this policy throughout history, The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “Rigid monogamy was not unrelated to the common and widely tolerated practice of adultery, which the Roman Catholic Church regarded as more tolerable than divorce.”
As to birth control, the leading Catholic theologian, Augustine (354-430 C.E.), considered sexual intercourse, even within marriage, to be sinful if anything was done to prevent conception. This is still more or less the viewpoint of the Catholic Church, as outlined by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae and confirmed by Pope John Paul II. It is a policy that has caused much distress among sincere Catholics. Yet the Bible does not forbid contraception; it says nothing on the matter.
On the other hand, the Bible disapproves of abortion, as shown by the record at Exodus 20:13 and Ex 21:22, 23. This would include birth-control methods that operate after conception has taken place, since this is tantamount to killing an individual whose development has already begun. Beyond this, the Bible leaves the matter of family planning to the conscience of each Christian couple. In continuing to enforce its stand on birth control, Rome has gone “beyond what is set down” in God’s Word.—1 Corinthians 4:6, The New American Bible, a Catholic translation.
The Bible and Celibacy
Although, as we have seen earlier, compulsory celibacy is not a Biblical requirement, the Bible does speak of voluntary singleness. Jesus explained: “Some men are incapable of sexual activity from birth; some have been deliberately made so; and some there are who have freely renounced sex for the sake of God’s reign. Let him accept this teaching who can.” (Matthew 19:12, NAB) Thus Jesus did not say that celibacy was obligatory; in fact, as we have also noted earlier, some of his apostles were married men.—Mark 1:29, 30; 1 Corinthians 9:5.
The apostle Paul also speaks of voluntary celibacy for both Christian men and Christian women, and explains: “I have no desire to place restrictions on you, but I do want to promote what is good, what will help you to devote yourselves entirely to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:8, 35, 38, 40, NAB) It is quite plain that, from the Bible’s viewpoint, singleness is a gift that some Christians, of both sexes, can develop in order to devote themselves more fully and freely to God’s service. No vow need be involved, nor must there be any compulsion.—1 Corinthians 7:28, 36.
On the contrary, compulsory celibacy would be a sign of apostasy, as we read in 1 Timothy 4:1-3: “The Spirit distinctly says that in later times some will turn away from the faith and will heed deceitful spirits and things taught by demons through plausible liars—men with seared consciences who forbid marriage.”—NAB.
Hold to the Bible’s View
Research in Catholic reference works shows that Catholic doctrine and policy in matters involving sex are deeply rooted in pagan mystery religions. The result has been to downgrade marriage, create a guilt complex in sexual matters, and impose hardship on many sincere Catholics.
On the other hand, the Bible shows that marriage is honorable and that sexual intercourse within the marriage arrangement does not prevent a Christian man or a Christian woman from being holy in God’s sight. It also reveals that voluntary singleness can be spiritually rewarding if one’s time and energy are used in God’s service.
It is hoped that this brief review of matters related to sex may be of help to thinking Catholics and all others who have been perturbed, and who have even suffered, because of stringent teachings that hark back to the Babylonish mysteries of antiquity. As so many authorities testify, these are not Biblical teachings. If the doctrine of any religious body is not in harmony with the Scriptures, God-fearing persons need have no qualms about disagreeing therewith. All such persons are encouraged to examine church doctrine in the light of God’s Word, having in mind Jesus’ assurance: “If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31, 32, NAB.
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One does not have to be celibate to preach God’s Word. The apostle Peter was not