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Was Jesus Celibate?

The example of a celibate Jesus is often cited to justify a celibate priesthood. Was Jesus celibate?

My friend John Antypas, half-Jewish, took a class in Modern Jewish Thought at UC Riverside in the 1980s, where the professor insinuated that Jesus might have been gay, because he wasn't married at age 13, as was the custom in first century Judaism.

Secular scholar Keith Akers writes:

" is hard to reconcile any viewpoint with everything in the New Testament, which is a conglomeration of often widely divergent tendencies. Any objective reader of the New Testament becomes immediately aware of tremendous differences between the letters of Paul and the synoptic gospels...

"Scholarship has established a few things about Jesus but has admitted the confusing nature of this diversity... John Crossan, author of several best-selling books about Jesus, concedes that 'it is possible to reconstruct almost any picture of Jesus one wishes,' depending on which ancient texts one chooses.

"Jesus can be shown 'to be for or against legal observance, for or against apocalyptic expectation, for or against Gentile mission, for or against Temple worship, for or against Titular claim, for or against political revolt, and so on.' Samuel Sandmel, a Jewish scholar, concludes that for every one fact we know about Jesus, there are nine which we do not know."

The late Reverend Janet Regina Hyland (1933-2007), once remarked wistfully, "Christians accept Jesus as the savior, but they (animal activists) want Pythagoras to be the savior."

We humans have a tendency to make God (or God's son or representative) in our own image.

Here's some relevant scholarship:

"Both Mark and Matthew describe the Baptist as eating ‘locusts and wild honey’ (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6)," writes Joseph A. Grassi in his 1975 work,Underground Christians in the Earliest Church. "This is the typical diet of a vegetarian who took seriously the injunction in Genesis that God had originally created the plants of the earth as man’s food, and had only reluctantly permitted him later to kill animals for meat. (Genesis 1:29, 9:3) Jesus’ first disciples came from John the Baptist (John 1:35-51; Acts 1:21-22). Jesus was influenced enough by John to be baptized by him."

Both Jesus and John the Baptist were considered prophets by the people. (Matthew 11:9, 21:11, 21:26, 21:46; Mark 6:15, 11:32; Luke 7:16, 7:26, 9:19, 24:19; John 4:19, 6:14, 7:40, 9:17) Jesus placed himself in the tradition of the prophets before him. (Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24, 13:33; John 4:44) He frequently compared his ministry to the ministries of Noah, Lot and Jonah. (Matthew 10:15, 11:24, 12:39-40, 16:4, 24:37-39; Luke 10:12, 11:29,32, 17:26-29,32)

Jesus was called "Rabbi," meaning "Master or "Teacher," 42 times in the gospels. The ministry of Jesus was a rabbinic one. Jesus related Scripture and God’s laws to everyday life, teaching by personal example. He engaged in healing and acts of mercy. He told stories or parables—a rabbinic method of teaching. He went to the synagogue (Matthew 12:9), taught in the synagogues (Matthew 4:23, 13:54; Mark 1:39), expressed concern for Jairus, "one of the rulers of the synagogue" (Mark 5:36) and it "was his custom" to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). John the Baptist, like Jesus, was also addressed as "Rabbi," or Teacher of Scripture. (Luke 3:12)

Jesus began his ministry by teaching the multitudes not to "give what is sacred to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine." (Matthew 7:6) Dogs, like swine, were considered foul and unclean by the Hebrew people. (Deuteronomy 23:18; I Samuel 24:14; II Kings 8:13; Psalm 22:16,20; Matthew 7:6; Luke 16:21; Revelations 22:15) These words were used by the children of Israel to describe the neighboring heathen populations.

When sending his disciples out to preach, Jesus instructed them not to go to the gentiles, but to "go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10:5-6) When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he replied, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel...It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Matthew 15:22-28)

Jesus regarded the gentiles as "dogs." His gospel was intended for the Jewish people. Even the apostle Paul admits that the gospel was first intended for the Jews, and that the Jews have every advantage over the gentiles in this regard (Romans 1:16, 3:1-2).

Jesus explained that celibacy is not something everyone can practice; it is meant only for those whom God has ordained it. He used the euphemism “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” recalling his euphemism about denying or dismembering bodily urges rather than having the entire body destroyed by sin. (Matthew 5:29-30, 18:8-9, 19:10-12)

The apparent celibacy of Jesus is unusual by ancient Hebrew standards. The Bible does call for temporary abstinences, under certain circumstances. According to the Talmud, Moses voluntarily chose to give up sexual relations with his wife after he received his call from God. He reasoned that if the Israelites, to whom the Lord spoke only once and briefly, were ordered to abstain from sexual relations temporarily (Exodus 19:10,15), then he—being in continual dialogue with God—should remain celibate.

Philo of Alexandria tells us that to sanctify himself, Moses cleansed himself of “all the mortal calls of nature, food and drink and intercourse with women. This last he had disdained for many a day, almost from the time when, possessed by the Spirit, he entered on his work as a prophet, since he held it fitting to hold himself always in readiness to receive the oracular messages.”

Given this information, Jesus’ apparent voluntary embrace of celibacy, from the time of his baptism and reception of the Spirit of God, becomes meaningful to Jews and Christians alike.

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