Concord #28: Marriage of Priest, Part 1 - The Goodness of Marriage

"Concord" is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers' knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them "with one heart" to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.

Marriage of Priest, Part 1 – The Goodness of Marriage

An issue facing the Church at the time of the Reformation is whether priests, or pastors, could be married. The tradition that had been received in the medieval Church was that priests and monks were required to take a vow of celibacy and to forsake marriage. Priestly celibacy had a long history, but it was not always so. St. Paul gives instructions that ministers should have one wife (1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6). While he does not command ministers to get married, it is certainly allowed and even expected as the norm.

The historical circumstances of forbidding priests to marry probably has more to do with keeping church property from being inherited by a pastor’s children than it has to do with a sexual ethic. But regardless of how it started, it had become a big problem by the time of the Reformation. Forbidding marriage doesn’t eliminate the nature human desire for intimacy, and there were notorious cases of fornication and adultery by priests. As St. Paul writes, the Law also has the function of increasing sin (Rom 5:20), and the forbidding of marriage in particular is a teaching of demons (1 Tim 4:1-3).

In answer to the question of whether priests can marry, the Augsburg Confession first points to the goodness of marriage. It is good because God created humans as man and woman in order to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). This is part of human nature. Marriage is good because God instituted it as the proper place for this procreation to take place. There is no inherent sin in sexual desire and activity; it’s only a sin when it becomes disordered.

This basic goodness of marriage is affirmed in the New Testament, where Jesus blesses marriage with a miracle at Cana, and St. Paul recommends it. Although he also says that it is good for a person not to marry, he admits that this is difficult and can only be done with a special gift from God (see 1 Cor 7).

To impose a law where God has not is an offense to God. To impose a law that goes against what God has instituted and built into creation is disastrous. “For no man's law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God. For these reasons the priests teach that it is lawful for them to marry wives” (AC XXIII.8-9). Priests, pastors, and ministers can make use of marriage because marriage is good.

You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.

Created: September 13th, 2017