Why Peter’s Marriage Doesn’t Disprove Catholicism: A Dialogue

Why Peter’s Marriage Doesn’t Disprove Catholicism: A Dialogue September 13, 2017



(January 1999)

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The following exchanges took place on a public, Protestant Internet discussion list. All of my opponents were evangelical Protestants. Their words are in blue.

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1 Corinthians 9:5 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? 

The disciples had a right, but they renounced that right in order to be Jesus’ disciples. Paul also renounced his right to be remunerated for his missionary work (which he talks about in this same passage), but he renounced that for the sake of the gospel — even though it wasn’t required of him. He went “above and beyond the call of duty,” so to speak. This is perfectly in accord with our view. But surely the singleness (or in some cases prolonged separation from family) of Jesus, all the disciples and Paul is not insignificant, is it?

Jesus called Peter to follow him in Mark 1:16,17: 

    Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, ‘Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men’.

Verse 18 states that in response to this they, forsook their nets, and followed them. From this it can be stated that Peter forsook his employment to follow Jesus. Such would be Scripturally based. However, it says that he forsook his nets, not his wife. 

This is where you start to go off.

Luke 18:28-30 (RSV) And Peter said, “Lo, we have left our homes and followed you.”  [29] And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Matthew 19:27 Then Peter said in reply, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (cf. Mk 10:28)

The Greek word for “wife” in both passages is gunee (Strong’s word #1135).

Following shortly after this the Scriptures record [Mark 1:29-31]:

    And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever and anon they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.

From this it can be stated that Peter was a married man. 

No kidding? This is not exactly earth-shaking exegesis.

There is nothing in Scripture which states that he ever forsook his wife, as he did his nets. 

You refute yourself with your unnecessarily absolute statements, and make it easy for me to reply. The above verses (especially Lk 18:29) strongly suggest otherwise. Peter said “everything,” and Jesus clearly recognizes the propriety of leaving even family (“house or wife or brothers or parents or children”) in some instances of radical discipleship. But we do not rule out (in fact, we assume) the possibility of a mutual consent to separate, between Peter and his wife, in order for him to engage in ministry with Jesus. It doesn’t have to be a wicked separation, where the spouse resists it. Otherwise Jesus could never sanction such a thing.

Indeed the above Corinthians verse give reason to conclude otherwise. 

His wife could have joined him at certain times. One would expect that. It might be a bit like musicians going out on tour. Often they leave their families, for months at a time. At other times (while touring), they are joined by their wife and maybe children. Our view incorporates all the relevant passages. Yours ignores one of them.

Hence that the Roman Catholicism’s first ‘Pope’ was a married man is a Scripturally established fact

Very good! I am glad you can acknowledge the obvious. :-) As marriage or celibacy of priests is not an unchanging dogma (obviously, since we allow it in our Eastern rites), this is irrelevant to the present dispute over our policy in the Latin rites.

It should also be noted that the Confraternity Version reads for the Corinthians passage as follows: 

Have we not a right to take about with us a woman, a sister, as do the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

The Greek word however is not adelphe (sister), but gune (wife). Such is plainly handling the Word of God deceitfully. 

How quick you are to judge, and to attribute nefarious motives. You are now doing it with me because I disagree with you, and here the implication is that a major translation deliberately and “deceitfully” distorted a rendering. These are extraordinary charges. The trouble is, you clearly didn’t do the commensurate research before you made your charge.

First of all, let me note that the New American Bible, which is used today in Catholic churches in our readings, translates this as Christian wife. So if there is yet another Catholic conspiracy afoot to suppress and distort the Word of God, it has now been hindered.

Secondly, as you note, there are two words here, adelphe (“sister”) and gune. I have already shown how Peter — in all likelihood — separated from his own gune. But the question at hand is proper translation of 1 Corinthians 9:5. The fact is, that gune can mean either “wife” or “woman.” It has a wide latitude of use in the NT. This is confirmed by the standard (non-Catholic) lexicons, such as Kittel, Vine, Thayer, Robertson, Vine et al. So the Confraternity Version chose to render it “woman” here. You call that “deceit.” Why, then, does the KJV translate gune as “woman” 129 times? It also translates it as “wife” in 92 instances. Were the translators of the KJV were “deceitful” 129 times?

1. The Scriptures state nothing regarding a separation, never mind a separation by consent, so you are not exegeting Scripture, but building a theology from what the Bible does not say (eisegesis). 

Note the usual extremity of the assertions. One can argue this point without committing so many basic fallacies . . . I don’t think 1 Corinthians 7:5 is “nothing”:

Do not refuse one another [sexually — from the preceding context] except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. (RSV)

This is precisely as I have argued — taking all the relevant Scriptures into account. Peter left his family to serve with Jesus – or so it seems from his own statement, unless one illogically assumes that “everything” (Mt 19:27; Mk 10:28) and “nets” (Mt 4:20; Mk 1:18) are identical. But he was (presumably) later accompanied by his wife on at least some missionary trips (1 Corinthians 9:5). Even then, however, it is not absolutely certain, because in the same chapter Paul argues strongly in favor of the rights of Christian workers to receive wages for their work, yet he refuses to accept such remuneration himself (he made tents). In other words, he renounced that to which he had a perfect right, for the sake of the gospel (see 1 Cor 9:12-23). This is heroic service to God — above and beyond the call of duty; what Catholics call “the evangelical counsels.”

Likewise, it is conceivable (I don’t assert it as a fact) that Peter could have done the same vis-a-vis his wife, and with her consent (1 Cor 7:5), since the language in 1 Cor 9:5 is also concerned with “rights.” During the time Peter was with Jesus, the Bible never mentions his wife traveling with the disciples at all, which is strange (if this is true), since it mentions many other women (several by name) who were connected with the disciples, traveled with them, and who helped support them financially (see, e.g., Mt 27:55-56; Mk 15:40-41; Lk 8:1-3, 23:49, 55, 24:10, 22). This is a surmise, but it is not simply eisegesis and special pleading. I have provided the biblical rationale for every aspect of it. It is a permissible deduction from the biblical data.

I allow the possibility of the contrary view (while disagreeing with it). But he [another dialogue opponent] will not allow mine, and insists that if I hold it I am special pleading (and a Catholic Bible is “deceitful” because of translating one word in a way he deems impossible). Secondly, Matthew 1:24-25 tells us that:

    . . . Joseph . . . took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son . . . (NRSV).

This would involve probably six months, bare minimum. We don’t know at what stage he was aware that she was pregnant. The word “until” does not necessarily imply that Mary and Joseph had sex after Jesus was born, as is often argued. This is the view that Calvin and Luther take (i.e., the same as mine), and Calvin argues vigorously for it.

Now let me ask the Protestants here who reject the perpetual virginity of Mary: if you think Joseph had sex with Mary after Jesus’ birth, why do you think it is that he abstained for the entire pregnancy?

2. You commit the fallacy of undesirable consequences. Because it does not go down well to think well of Peter just leaving his wife to follow Jesus you reject that and present a scenario much more to your liking. It of course has no Scriptural basis, and can safely be rejected as nothing more than idle speculation. 

I think the above more than sufficiently puts the lie to this charge. If all that is “idle speculation,” then I would like to see some real exegesis.

The same argument can be used with regard to the following passage. Furthermore, I believe what is properly implied by forsaking ALL is found in this passage: 

    Matthew 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (KJV).

This goes back to the whole ‘hate’ thing, which can be interpreted to mean ‘love less’. 

I understand that (I certainly agree with you about the issue of “hating” – the contrary position is utterly despicable), but I still see a big distinction between relative love and “leaving all.” Jesus said they would gain a hundredfold for their sacrifices, so it seems to me that they must have left something.

I was under the understanding that the RCC had taught that Peter and the apostles were unmarried. 

Peter was clearly married. It’s hard to have a mother-in-law if one isn’t married! I don’t see how anyone could claim otherwise. But of course it isn’t unusual for Protestants to think that the Catholic Church doesn’t give a whit about what Scripture says. :-) The other Apostles appear to be single, as far as the Bible informs us. As I mentioned last time, several women are mentioned who traveled with the disciples and Jesus, but I don’t believe any of them are ever described as a spouse.

Slow down Dave, some of the instances where gune is used and translated as ‘woman’ in the KJV STILL refer to a wife. 

I never stated otherwise, and I don’t see how that is relevant.

Examples are as follows: 

#1 Matthew 5:28- Adultery is, by defintion, is sex where one of the two parties is married. The argument for ‘woman’ in this passage could roll either way— although in many instances throughout the OT, the situation is usually seen as the man sleeping with a married woman (e.g.- David, Proverbs 5, etc…). Fornication, on the other hand, covers ALL sexual activity outside of marriage (including homosexuality, bestiality, etc….), for which porneia is used. 

#2 Matthew 11:11- ‘born of women’ – keep in mind that babies born out of wedlock in NT times were RARE. It can be implied that gune in this passage means or carries the connotation of ‘married woman’, although such a translation does literary harm to the reading of the passage, since married women having children were a ‘given’ in most cases. 

#3, 4, 5 Matthew 14:21; 15:22,28,38,- Of the 5000+ fed, besides women and children. Woman and her demon-possessed daughter. Same implications of Matthew 11:11. 

#6 – Matthew 22:27- the passage says that the woman was married. 

I believe that gune (from my study tonight) is one of those words that carries the connotation of married woman/wife, even though it can be translated as woman

So just because it’s translated as woman, it may still carry the meaning over of MARRIED woman :) Thus, I remain in agreement with Matthew (although for different reasons) that gune would best be translated WIFE at the 1 Cor. 9:5 passage. 

I agree. But your argument that “woman” (i.e., gune) can also mean “wife” only supports my case. The charge was that the translators of the Confraternity Version were being deliberately deceitful by rendering gune as “woman” (even though the KJV does so 129 times — more than as “wife”). You have shown that it could mean “wife” even when translated “woman” (and that’s fine with me). So it seems to me that you have sawn off the limb you and [name] are sitting on. You’re arguing my side of this! :-) Thanks for the assistance!

I’ll give the translators of the Confraternity Version the benefit of the doubt of not having full knowledge of the Greek language like we do today. 

They were not ignorant of language — they were translators, for Pete’s sake! We can safely assume without fear of contradiction that they knew Greek better than you and [name] do. I agree that bias may have been a factor, but then I think all translators are biased to some extent (do you guys admit that, or only with regard to Catholic versions?), just as I believe all scholars are (no one is Mr. Spock).

But [name] — typically — had to go beyond mere disagreement, to attribute nefarious and deceitful motives. That’s what I find ridiculous. And the “case” you guys have built “proving” such a contention is very weak (since you have supported my case in this post, in my opinion :-). Furthermore, the Confraternity footnote for 1 Corinthians  9: 5 states: “There is no question of a right to marry. The Apostles had that right, but there is no evidence that many of them used it.”

Why would they insert a note like this if their “deceitful” intention was to obscure the marriage of Peter and possibly other disciples? I think the “conspiracy” here is much ado about nothing.

Also, Luke 4:38 in the Confraternity Version is rendered Simon’s mother-in-law. This is not exactly conducive to a view (which you guys apparently thought we held to) that Peter wasn’t married.

In addition, two major problems come into play, Dave. #1- the disciples were married. 

Which disciples were married, and what is your biblical evidence?

If it were plausible, as you say, for them to bring their wives along occasionally, what makes you think they were celibate? 

I am saying that it appears most of them were celibate. Some – like Peter – were married but seem to have separated from their wives for a time, for ministry’s sake. [Name] said that “nothing” in the Bible suggested such a thing, so I gave him 1 Corinthians 7:5 and Joseph’s abstaining from sex throughout Mary’s pregnancy.

#2 – the passage in 1 Corinthians is not speaking to married people who are separate from their wives for service to the Lord- 

But such a scenario is consistent with Paul’s statement there. He said they could separate for “prayer.” I think that’s a close-enough concept to “ministry.”

the assumption throughout the passage is that the unmarried ARE celibate. Sex outside of marriage is not even considered as an option- we would agree here. 

Yes; no need to discuss that.

However, Paul says that it is better for them to marry than to burn in 7: – specifically in reference to sexual desire. No such thing is stated in reference to people who are already married. 

You’ve lost me here. Are you saying that no married couple can engage in “marital chastity?” Do you think it is impossible to do so?

The entire notion continues to have no Biblical basis. 

Which notion is that? Celibacy? You are welcome to refute my biblical arguments for that – recently expanded a bit.

But then again, you did say that it was something that the RCC as an institution and not scripture decided to impose upon it’s clergy, correct? That’s what I got from your prior post. 

Yes, but it is a principle based upon the explicit Pauline principle that single people can better serve the Lord. So it is a direct application of a general principle set forth by Paul. It doesn’t require a verse like “all clergy must be celibate,” etc.

The earlier debater responded again:
Yes, I will retract the accusation of deliberate intent to deceive, and apologise to you (and the list) for making such. 

Good for you. I commend you. I guess I can accept the apology on the translators’ behalf.

Perhaps more accurate would be to suggest that they unwittingly allowed their bias to affect their translation of the verse. 

And I have already agreed with that possibility, so this matter can be put to rest now.


Photo Credit: Calling of the Apostles (1481), by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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