And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.
Mother in law, jokes aside we all know what the title means – the mother of your husband or in this case your wife. Jesus came to Peter’s house and found that Peter’s wife’s mother was sick. Jesus took pity on her and healed her. She responded by getting up and serving them. It is a great passage all on its own, but have we thought about the significance of that one little word in greek, penthera which pretty much everyone agrees means mother in law.
Why is this important? Well, put simply:
Peter is said to be the first Pope. He is also said to have been the first Bishop of Rome. The Pope can never be married per that faith. Bishops and often those who minister in some “orthodox” faiths called priests can never be married. Celibacy and being unmarried is celebrated and made a requirement on the men and women who serve God.
Yet, the Bible says that Peter was married. Clearly, unmistakably with no mention that he was abandoned or was somehow a widower. Paul also references other apostles at that time being married in 1 Corinthians:
Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas (Peter)?
1 Corinthians 9:5
If you look at Paul’s list of requirements for those who would serve as bishops in a church, it also contains a further curious resume points – that one who wants to be a bishop be husband of one wife and take care of their families well. They are not required to be married and have kids certainly, but if they are they must be faithful and be a godly father.
This list was laid out to Timothy as he was in the process of forming churches and appointing leadership in those churches. Paul is laying out to his protege how to pick out leaders for the churches that have been formed.
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop,[a] he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,[b] but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
1 Timothy 3:1-5
So a bishop must be faithful to his wife and manage his family well. Did you notice the implication from the last line? It seems that ruling over ones house relates to or is good training for working in a church? If you are not good at one, you will not be good at the other.
Curious isn’t it – a bishop is required to treat his wife well and take care of his kids and yet we are told by churches that a bishop cannot be married and must remain celibate.
You may be saying, “Hey, that is completely contradictory!” Yes, yes it is.
How do we resolve the conflict?
What this really comes down to is a conflict between two authorities, church tradition and the Bible. Churc tradition says that the pope and bishops cannot be married and serve God. The Bible says that Peter and at least some of the Apostles were married and that bishops should be good husbands and fathers.
Which of the two are we going to listen to?
This choice dictates a lot about what your life in Christ looks like and who is your ultimate authority.
As for Peter, it was not a church structure that forgave him after he failed. It wasn’t a tradition that pulled him out of the waves when his faith failed and he began to drown.
It was Jesus, just Jesus!