Husband of One Wife
The New Testament lists two offices for the servant leadership of each local congregation, Elder and Deacon. The books of First Timothy and Titus give specific qualifications for men who are to shepherd God’s people. The qualifications listed are the minimum standards of what an elder or deacon “must” be. All believing men should seek after these character traits for their lives. Not all will meet these standards and qualify for leadership. Being disqualified from leadership does not mean a man cannot carry on a fruitful ministry for the Lord. The phrase “husband of one wife” has been the subject of much discussion.
First Timothy 3:2
Greek Transliteration Translation Parsing
einai (einai) “to be” pres. inf.
mias (mias) “of one” gen. fem. sing.
gunaikos (gunaikos) “wife / woman” gen. fem. sing.
andra (andra) “husband / man” acc. masc. sing.
First Timothy 3:12
Greek Transliteration Translation Parsing
estwsan (estosan) “they must be” pres. act. imp.
mias (mias) “of one” gen. fem. sing.
gunaikos (gunaikos) “wife / woman” gen. fem. sing.
andres (andres) “husbands / men” nom. masc. pl.
Greek Transliteration Translation Parsing
estin (estin) “he is” pres. act. ind.
mias (mias) “of one” gen. fem. sing.
gunaikos (gunaikos) “wife / woman” gen. fem. sing.
anhr (aner) “husband / man” nom. masc. sing.
First Timothy 5:9
Greek Transliteration Translation Parsing
enos (henos) “of one” gen. masc. sing.
andros (andros) “husband / man” gen. masc. sing.
gunh (gune) “wife / woman” nom. fem. sing.
The phrase “husband of one wife” is “mias/3391 gunaikos/1135 andra/435”. The literal Greek allows for either “of one wife a husband” or “of one woman a man.” Smoothed into modern English the phrase would be “husband of one wife”. It could also be a combination of the two such as “of one wife a man”.
Some have attempted to translate it as “one woman man” but this is not precise. The numeral “one” (mias) is genitive as well as feminine. Since it is genitive it should be translated in the possessive sense. In an English translation this normally requires the use of the word “of”. Since it is feminine it modifies the word “woman” or “wife”.
In the three relevant texts the substantive man is anarthrous, without the article. This is pertinent as translations throughout the centuries have consistently rendered this phrase as “the husband of one wife” even though no article is present. The absence of the article can mean that the noun is indefinite but there are also considerable examples in the New Testament where an anarthrous noun should be translated as definite.
We have seen that the substantive may still be definite if anarthrous, though not necessarily so.1
Examples of this in Paul’s letters include First Timothy 5:9, (henos andros gune) “the wife of one husband” and First Thessalonians 2:13 (logon theou) “the word of God.”
Robertson expands on this:
It would have been very easy if the absence of the article in Greek always meant that the noun was indefinite, but we have seen that this is not the case. The anarthrous noun may per se be either definite or indefinite.2
Dana and Mantey write:
It is important to bear in mind that we cannot determine the English translation by the presence or the absence of the article in Greek. Sometimes we should use the article in the English translation when it is not used in the Greek, and sometimes the idiomatic force of the Greek article may be best rendered by the anarthrous noun in English.3
Greek grammar is only part of the equation in translating and interpreting Scripture. The other part of the equation is context. In determining the view of the writer much of the time contextual usage is a deciding factor. Context plays a significant role in translating these three relevant phrases. With few exceptions the phrase has normally been translated “the husband of one wife.” This is especially true when translations are undertaken by a group or team of qualified Greek scholars. The KJV, NKJV, RSV, NAS, and NIV all uniformly translate these passages in First Timothy and Titus as “the husband of one wife.”
As far back as the 5th century the Latin speaking church translated the phrase “husband of one wife.” The Latin Vulgate translates First Timothy 3:2:
unius uxoris virum (of one wife a man)
First Timothy 3:12 and Titus 1:6 are similarly translated. The Latin word for wife is uxor. There are other Latin words such as femina, mulier, and puella that the translators would have used if they simply wanted to express the idea of a woman or feminine gender.
Those who wish to allow divorced and remarried men to serve as elders usually resist the translation “husband of one wife.” They normally prefer the translation “one woman man”. Many who prefer the translation “one woman man” fail to admit that the Greek is just as literally translated “husband of one wife.” This is because the anarthrous construction, absent the article, can mean that the qualitative aspect of the noun rather than the strict identity of the noun is emphasized.
Dana and Mantey write:
An object of thought may be conceived of from two points of view: as to identity or quality. To convey the first point of view the Greek uses the article; for the second the anarthrous construction is used.4
Those who wish to allow divorced and remarried men to serve as elders frequently claim that the qualitative aspect of the noun emphasizes the current state of the man not lusting after or flirting with other women rather than the sin of a second marriage. In response to this there is nothing inherent about the anarthrous construction that would lead one to this conclusion. In order for the quality of the man to be true his actions must represent his identity.
Dana and Mantey present examples of definite anarthrous constructions which show the qualitative aspect of the noun. They include Ephesians 5:9 (tekna fwtos) “children of light” and First Thessalonians 5:5 (uioi fwtos) “sons of light.” Both phrases were penned by Paul. In both of these citations the stress is placed upon the quality of the noun but that which is stated about their identity is nevertheless true.5
Blass, Debrunner, and Funk cite an example of the qualitative genitive in First Timothy 5:9 (mh ellattov etwv echkonta) “not less than sixty years”.6
Here is a statement about the one husband wife who must be at least sixty years old to be placed on the list of widows. This is not a generalization about her qualities but a substantive statement of her minimum age.
The use of a qualitative genitive in First Timothy 3:2, 3:12 and Titus 1:6 in no way weakens “the husband of one wife” translation. A man’s qualities (the things about him) show the distinctives of who he is. The text states that the man who desires the position of elder or deacon must have the distinctive quality of being mias gunaikos andra. The translation “one woman man” is permissible but the translation “husband of one wife” is better. This has been the normative and preferred translation of Greek scholars throughout much of church history. In the English speaking world this is shown by the overwhelming majority of Bible translations which render the phrase in this manner.
The literal translation is, “a man of one woman.” The words, when used of the marriage relation come to mean, “a husband of one wife.” The two nouns are without the definite article, which construction emphasizes character or nature.7
Although Wuest sees the use of the qualitative genitive as an emphasis on character he does not allow this passage to teach that a divorced and remarried man may serve as an elder or a deacon. This is shown in his translation as well as his exposition. He quotes Alford, Vincent, and White in Expositors to support his conclusion. None of these sources allow divorced and remarried men to serve as elders.
An interpretive translation offers the rendering, “married only once.” We submit that this is not the literal translation of the Greek here, but in light of the above historical background, it is the interpretation of the words, and gives the English reader in unmistakably clear language, the true meaning of the words in the A.V., “the husband of one wife”...Since character is emphasized by the Greek construction, the bishop should be a man who loves only one woman as his wife.8
Men have come up with five different interpretations of what “mias gunaikos andra” in first Timothy and Titus may mean.
1. Elders or Deacons must be married.
2. A remarried widower cannot serve as an Elder or Deacon.
3. A Polygamist cannot serve as an Elder or Deacon.
4. Divorced and remarried men cannot serve as Elders or Deacons.
5. An Elder or Deacon must be faithful to one woman at a time.
These interpretations are not necessarily either/or selections. More than one may be included in the final biblical conclusion. The use of the word aner (man) rather than the word anthropos precludes women (gune) from serving as elders or deacons.
1. Elders or Deacons must be married.
This is a doubtful interpretation. The verse states that the man must be the husband of “one” wife not “a” wife. The adjective “one” (mias) is in the emphatic position. This means that the emphasis is placed on the number of wives a man is allowed to have, not that he must be married. If Paul wanted to teach that an elder or deacon must be the “husband of a wife” he could have easily expressed himself by the omission of “one” (mias). Paul is listing sins or character flaws in a man’s life that would disqualify him from leadership. Jesus taught that remarriage after divorce was adultery (Luke 16:18). Neither being once married nor remaining single is a sin (1 Cor. 7:7, 28). Paul claimed that the single life allows a fuller devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32). He taught that virgins were free to marry (1 Cor. 7:35-36).
Mounce lists other counter arguments as well:
(b) Paul and Timothy would not be eligible to be overseers; (c) it runs counter to Paul’s teaching that being single is a better state for church workers (if they have the gift; 1 Cor. 7:17, 25-38); (d) this line of reasoning, to be consistent, would have to argue that the overseer is required to have more than one child since tekna “children” (v 4) is plural; and (e) most adult men were married so it would have been a moot point.9
A Bishop then he says “must be blameless the husband of one wife.” This he does not lay down as a rule, as if he must not be without one.10
John Wesley concludes:
Husband of one wife - This neither means that a bishop must be married nor that he may not marry a second wife; which is just as lawful for him to do as to marry a first, and may in some cases be his bounden duty.11
2. A remarried widower cannot serve as an Elder or Deacon.
This view was held by some second and third century commentators. It is improbable that this was what Paul was saying. Paul not only permitted but encouraged younger widows to remarry (I Corinthians 7:39-40; I Timothy 5:14). If widows were allowed to remarry it would seem probable that a widower would be allowed to do the same. In the centuries following the Apostolic age, remarriage after the death of one’s spouse was seen as a weakness but not a sin. The argument that a second marriage is a sign of spiritual weakness on the part of the elder or deacon could just as well be applied to the first marriage.
The Bible teaches that only death dissolves the one-flesh marriage bond, thus freeing the living spouse to remarry without sinning (1 Cor. 7:39-40; Romans 7:2-3). The context of 1 Timothy and Titus deals with sins that would disqualify a man from leadership. Nowhere in Scripture is remarriage after the death of one’s wife portrayed as forbidden or even morally questionable.
The later reference (applied to “younger widows”) is in the context of Paul’s instructions to widows where earlier Paul says that a widow may be enrolled if she has been enos andros gune, “one-man woman” (1 Tim. 5:9), the exact phrase applied to overseers and deacons but reversed in gender. Because the phrases are so unusual, we expect them to have the same meaning. It seems doubtful that Paul would encourage the remarriage of “younger widows” if this is meant that they could never later be enrolled if they were again widowed.12
The no remarriage for widowers view was held by some 2nd and 3rd century commentators. In the centuries following the apostolic age remarriage after the death of one’s spouse was seen as a weakness but not a sin.
The Shepherd of Hermas reads:
“If a wife or husband dies, and the widower or widow marry, does he or she commit sin?” “There is no sin in marrying again,” said he; “but if they remain unmarried, they gain great honor and glory with the Lord; but if they marry, they do not sin.”13
Tertullian (a Montanist) writes:
If it be granted that the second marriage is lawful, yet all things lawful are not expedient.14
Cyril of Jerusalem states:
But folk may be pardoned for contracting a second marriage, lest infirmity end in fornication.15
The context of this statement shows that Cyril was speaking of remarried widows and widowers not divorce and remarriage.
But why does he discourage second marriages? Is the thing condemned? By no means. That is heretical. Only he would have her henceforth occupied in spiritual things, transferring all her care to virtue. For marriage is not an impure state, but one of much occupation.16
The Montanists forbade second marriages as an article of faith. The “Apostolic Constitutions” allowed a man who was already married to be ordained, but if he was single when he was ordained, he must remain so all his life. It should be noted that not all commentators held that remarriage after the death of a man’s wife would disqualify him from church leadership.
Theodoret of Mopsuestia mentions contemporary commentators who allow remarried widowers to be elders and deacons:
They say (i.e. various interpreters)¼ Like wise any man who lives on after the death of his first wife may legitimately take a second wife, as long as he lives in the same way with her as with the first, and ought not be prohibited from becoming a bishop.17
Some claim that it was purely the ascetic tendencies of these early Christians that led them to teach that remarried widowers cannot serve as elders or deacons. The motive behind this is often an attempt to discredit other early church teachings regarding the permanence of marriage.
The early church writers had a virtual consensus in teaching that divorced and remarried men could not serve as elders or deacons. They made a distinction between the weakness of remarriage after the death of a spouse and the sin of remarriage after the divorce of a spouse. Modern expositors who wish to allow divorced and remarried men to serve as elders normally down play this historical fact by claiming that both conclusions were merely based upon the ascetic tendencies of the early church.
In response to this it should be noted that there are still scholars today who believe that the “one wife” statement prohibits remarried widowers from serving as elders and deacons. These modern conclusions can hardly be explained away as the result of ascetic cultural influences.
3. A polygamist cannot serve as an Elder or Deacon.
Some modern commentators teach that the “husband of one wife” statement applies only to polygamists. A man can have as many wives as he wants but only one at a time. He is allowed to divorce and remarry, numerous times, as long as he legally has only one wife at a time. They believe that the main modern day application refers to missionaries who go to a people who practice polygamy. When a man turns to Christ he must cease practicing polygamy if he desires to serve as an elder or deacon. This may be one possible application but it is a doubtful interpretation. The New Testament expects all believers to refrain from polygamy once they turn to Christ. It is doubtful that only those believers who sought positions of oversight would need to abstain from polygamy. It is highly unlikely that Paul’s original intent was to deal with converted polygamists. There is no hint in the New Testament that this was a problem that burdened the early church.
Homer Kent writes:
Polygamy at this time was forbidden in the empire, although some of the Jews were known to have practiced it, and even many Romans found ways to circumvent the law. There is no evidence from these days that any polygamist entered the church. Hence it is hardly to be expected that a special prohibition was needed to exclude them from overseer, since there was probably none in the membership.18
Even if polygamy existed among the Jews, evidence is lacking that it was practiced by Christians, and therefore “Christian polygamy” most likely is not in view.19
Correct Interpretive Rules can help determine the meaning of Scripture:
1. Interpret in a plain and normal grammatical sense.
2. Interpret obscure passages in light of the clear.
3. Interpret historically and contextually.
4. Cross reference words and phrases with similar ones made in the same book or by the same author.
Was Paul dealing with polygamists who were candidates to be elders or deacons?
But the objection to taking this meaning is, that the Apostle would hardly have specified that as a requisite for the episcopate or presbyterate, which we know to have been fulfilled by all the Christians whatever: no instance being adduced of polygamy being practiced in the Christian church, and no exhortations to abstain from it.20
Justin Martyr tells us that in the second century A.D. some Jews still practiced polygamy but he gives no mention that the practice occurred among Gentiles. The historian Will Durant tells us that polygamy was prohibited by Roman law. The lex Antoniana de civitate prohibited polygamy among Gentiles but made an exception for Jews. Theodosius enforced monogamy on the Jews (circa A. D. 390) because of their continued practice of polygamy. It is known that some Jews in the East continued to practice polygamy until the establishment of Israel in 1948.
In speaking of his Jewish ancestry Josephus states:
For it is the ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time.21
Greeks and Romans practiced adultery, fornication, homosexuality, concubinage, as well as divorce and remarriage. If polygamy existed among gentiles it was neither lawful nor common. Paul wrote the epistles to Timothy and Titus in Ephesus and Crete. These were predominantly Gentile Roman communities. These Ephesians and Cretans were excluded from the common wealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12). It seems improbable that they would be involved in the mainly Jewish practice of polygamy. There is no evidence that they practiced polygamy. They did practice divorce and remarriage. It seems more probable that Paul would deal with something that was a problem, divorce and remarriage, rather than something that was not, polygamy. It is also possible that multiple marriages was seen as a form of polygamy.
No laws existed against bigamy but monogamy ruled in practice… divorce was common either by consent, by declaration before a judge or third party, or by unilateral action of the husband. Repeated divorces constituted a form of polygamy.
4. Divorced and remarried men cannot serve as elders or deacons.
This seems to be included in Paul’s prohibition. Since this is a difficult passage, it would be wise to cross reference it with similar words or phrases made in the same book. In First Timothy 5:9, Paul gives instructions on who may be placed on the list of widows to receive financial support. He states that qualified widows must have been the “wife of one husband”. The original phrase is “henos/1520 andros/435 gune/1135”. This is the same phrase, exactly reversed, as in First Timothy 3:2, 3:12; and Titus 1:6. The words “andros” and “gune” have the same lexical roots as “andra” and “gunaikos” in I Timothy 3. The only variation is that “henos” is genitive masculine while “mias” is genitive feminine. Both words should be translated “of one”.
Tertullian (To His Wife) writes:
When he suffers not men twice married to preside (over a church), when he would not grant a widow into the order unless she had been “the wife of one man”.23
William Mounce writes:
Since the phrase is somewhat unusual, it is safe to insist that it had the same meaning in reverse when applied to widows (1 Tim. 5:9) and there is no evidence of polyandry.24
The wife of one man (henos andros gune). Widows on this list must not be married a second time.25
Since “wife of one husband” excludes women who had divorced and remarried, “husband of one wife” would exclude men who had divorced and remarried. It is doubtful that Paul was excluding women who had previously been widowed and remarried. Remarriage after the death of one’s husband was not considered a sin. Paul actually encourages younger widows to remarry (I Timothy 5:14). It is improbable that Paul was dealing with polyandry, being legally married to more than one husband at a time. There is no record that this was practiced by women in New Testament times.
Some claim the use of present tense Greek verbs in First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 allows divorced and remarried men to be placed in leadership. The present tense is primarily used to show the idea of progress. It is generally, though not exclusively, a durative tense. It is used in First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 when giving the necessary qualifications for those who desire to be in leadership. It is erroneous to believe the use of the present tense allows divorced and remarried men to be elders or deacons.
The interpretation of First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 does not hinge on the use of present tense verbs. Rather, it hinges on the permanence of marriage. The marriage bond is not dissolved by adultery, divorce, or any other thing short of death. The man who divorces and remarries, is actually taking a second wife. He is the husband of more than one wife.
That a person should either remain as he was born or be content with one marriage; for a second marriage is only a specious adultery. “For whoever puts away his wife,” says He, “and marries another, commits adultery.”26
Justin Martyr writes:
Whosoever marry her that is divorced from another husband, commits adultery¼So that all who by human law, are twice married, are in the eyes of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her.27
But as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while the former husband is still living, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been put away does not so much marry her as commit adultery with her according to the declaration of our Savior.28
Seeing that the compact of marriage is not done away with by divorce intervening; so that they continue as wedded persons one to another, even after separation; and commit adultery with those, with whom they shall be joined, even after their own divorce, whether the woman with the man, or the man with the woman.29
Dissolution may take place but not a new marriage, for the replacement of one spouse by another is adultery and affects the original union.30
Some allow a man who was divorced and remarried, before he came to Christ, to be an elder or deacon. It is assumed that God’s forgiveness clears the slate for the man to be in leadership. It is true that God forgives all sin and releases each believer from guilt and eternal punishment. There are consequences for sin in this life. If pressed to its logical conclusion, then all divorced men, who confess their sin of divorce and remarriage, may become elders or deacons. It would not matter whether it happened before or after conversion. An elder could divorce his wife and remarry. He could ask forgiveness and be reinstated to leadership. He could then divorce and start the cycle all over again.
Augustine has this to say:
On this account the Sacrament of marriage of our time hath been so reduced to one man and one wife, as that it is not lawful to ordain any as a steward of the Church, save the husband of one wife. And this they have understood more acutely who have been of opinion, that neither is he to be ordained, who as a catechumen or as a heathen had a second wife.31
Augustine claimed that the man who had been married a second time was not allowed to be an Elder in the church. Augustine made no distinction whether the man was a catechumen or a heathen (i.e. before he was saved or after he was saved).
“A Bishop then,” he says, “must be blameless, the husband of one wife.” This he does not lay down as a rule, as if he must not be without one. But as prohibiting his having more than one. For even the Jews were allowed to contract second marriages, and even to have two wives at one time.32
Chrysostom knew that Jews not only practiced polygamy, but also divorced and remarried. Both actions would mean a man had more than one wife. Both would disqualify a man from leadership.
And the Apostle has established a law, saying: “If any man be without reproach the husband of one wife”…; he, however, who has married again has no guilt of pollution, but is disqualified for the priestly prerogative…But we must first notice that not only has the Apostle laid down this rule concerning the bishop or priest, but that the Fathers in the Nicene Council added that no one who has contracted a second marriage ought to be admitted among the clergy at all.33
Ambrose takes the idea of clergy farther than the New Testament allows. Nevertheless the consensus opinion of the early church regarding leadership and those who have contracted second marriages is represented here. The context of Ambrose’ statement refers mostly to widowers remarrying but is also forbids those who are married a second time because of divorce.
Adam Clarke writes:
He must be the husband of one wife. He should be a married man, but he should be no polygamist; and have only one wife¼The apostle’s meaning appears to be this: that he should not be a man who has divorced his wife and married another; nor one that has two wives at a time.34
The following is a further list of quotes of those who believe that Paul excludes those who are divorced and remarried from serving as elders and deacons by the phrase “husband of one wife”.
The canon absolutely excludes digamists from the ministry.35
The context of this letter deals with divorce and remarriage not the remarriage of widowers.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament reads:
The qualification “wife of one husband” may refer to non-remarriage after the death of the spouse, but in view of the right to such remarriage in Rom. 7:1ff., the commendation of it for younger widows (1 Tim. 5:14), and the general approval of married clergy (1 Tim. 3), it seems more likely that the reference is to remarriage after divorce (as in 1 Tim. 3:2, 12).36
He (Jesus) seems to leave the impression that those that remarry are involved in adultery. Since adultery is intimate relations outside of the bounds of marriage it would seem to be a continuing thing. It does not seem logical that a church would want a man in the position of elder, which was in continuing adultery.37
Matthew Henry (Commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus):
1 Timothy 3:2 - He must be the husband of one wife; not having given a bill of divorce to one, and then taken another, or not having many wives at once.
1 Timothy 3:12 - As he said before of the bishops of ministers so here of the deacons, they must be the husband of one wife, such had not put away their wives, upon dislike, and married others.
Titus 1:6 - The husband of one wife may be either not having divorced his wife and married another (as was too common among those of the circumcision, even for slight causes) or the husband of one wife, that is, one and the same time no bigamist.38
John Wesley (Notes on 1 Timothy):
But whereas polygamy and divorce on slight occasions were common both among Jews and heathen, it teaches us that ministers, ought to stand clear of those sins.39
John Gill (Commentary on 1 Timothy):
Only if he marries or is married, that he should have but one wife at a time; so that this rule excludes all such persons from being elders, or pastors, or overseers of the churches, that were “polygamists”; who had more wives than one at a time, or had divorced their wives, and not for adultery, and had married others.40
Adam Clarke (Commentary on 1 Timothy):
The apostle’s meaning appears to be this: that he should not be a man who has divorced his wife and married another; nor one that has two wives at a time.41
Newport White (Expositors Greek New Testament):
What is here forbidden is digamy under any circumstances. This view is supported (a) by the general drift of the qualities required here in a bishop; (b) by the corresponding requirement in a church widow, v. 9, and (c) by the practice of the early church (Apostolic Constitutions, vi. 17; Apostolic Canons 16 (17); Tertullian, ad Uxorem, I. 7: de Monogam. 12; de Exhort. Castitatis, cc. 7, 13: Athenagoras, Legat. 33; Origen, in Lucam, xvii. P. 953, and the Canons of the councils, e.g., Neocaesarea (A.D. 314) can. 7. Quinisext. Can. 3).42
Marvin Vincent (Word Studies in the New Testament):`
The husband of one wife. Compare verse 12; Titus 1:6. Is the injunction aimed (a) at immoralities respecting marriage - concubinage, etc., or (b) at polygamy, or (c) at remarriage after death or divorce? The last is probably meant.43
Homer Kent (The Pastoral Epistles):
Consequently, when men were to be considered for this high office, there must be no record of divorce or other marital infidelity in the candidate, even before his conversion.
The same marital standard was true of the enrolled widow as of the overseer (3:2) and the deacon (3:12). There must have been no divorce, polyandry, or other marital adulteration.44
Charles Ryrie (Basic Theology):
Clearly this is not a prohibition against bigamy or polygamy since these were not practiced among the Greeks and Romans. They had multiple women in their lives, but only one wife. It is a question of whether Paul is prohibiting digamy (being married twice legally). Personally I see the evidence as proscribing digamy for an elder.45
Paul Enns (Moody Handbook of Theology):
Husband of one wife: it does not mean “one at a time” (polygamy was unknown among Greeks and Romans); he has not been divorced and remarried.46
Those who assume that God would not require such high standards for leadership should read the Old Testament. In Leviticus 21:7 the sons of Aaron, the priests, were not to marry a harlot or a divorced woman. In Leviticus 21:13-15 the high priest was not to marry a harlot, a widow, or a divorced woman. He must marry a virgin. It is admitted that believers today are not regulated by the Levitical law. It is also acknowledged that the passage does not restrict divorced men from being priests, but rather those who had married a divorced woman. Nevertheless, those who assume that God wouldn’t disqualify a divorced person from spiritual leadership may be assuming too much.
What if a man is not himself divorced but marries a divorced woman? There are qualifications mentioned in First Timothy and Titus which cover this. The elder is to be blameless. Would an elder who has committed adultery by remarrying a divorced woman be considered blameless? He may be forgiven, but is he blameless? There is a difference!
What if a man was divorced but has not remarried? “Blameless” includes anything in a man’s past or present that would bring his character into question. The elder must be one who “rules” his house well. If he cannot govern his own house, he cannot govern the church of God. Even if his wife was the ‘guilty’ party, Scripture states that the wives of leaders must be faithful. The wife of an elder can make or break his ministry. An elder must also have his children in subjection. If a man’s children do not live with him because of divorce, how can he claim they are in subjection to him?
Answers to Objections of the no divorce and remarriage view.
Objection - Paul could have used different Greek words to literally state an elder or deacon must not be “divorced and remarried.”
Answer - The phrase “husband of one wife” is broader than the proscription of men who were divorced and remarried, yet still includes it. Paul did not use the precise words “not a polygamous.” Yet, all agree that the “husband of one wife” phrase would exclude polygamy. He also did not utilize the precise words to forbid “adulterers,” “fornicators,” or “practitioners of concubinage” to serve as elders. The same thing could be said about “homosexuals.” The phrase “husband of one wife” prohibits all these sins as well as divorce and remarriage.
Objection - The use of the present tense verb stresses the general qualities of the man and what he currently must be. These qualities are unrelated to sins that he may have committed in the past.
Answer - If the “present tense” objectors were logically consistent then the use of the present tense verb would only apply to those sins that an elder or deacon is presently committing. The “husband of one wife” phrase is unqualified by any particular past tense time limitation. One would be inconsistent if he disqualified a man who divorced and remarried yesterday while allowing a man to serve who divorced and remarried five years ago.
The problem with this objection is further shown by the variations of it. Some claim that these qualifications have no relationship to a man’s sins before he became a Christian. Some claim that these qualifications do not apply to a man’s sins after he was saved but before he became an elder. Others claim an elder or deacon would only be disqualified if he divorced and remarried after obtaining office in the local church.
The claim is made that God’s forgiveness cancels past sins so that a man may hold the office of elder or deacon. If this is true then only those men who are currently practicing these sins would be disqualified. To be completely logical and consistent a man who is an elder or deacon could divorce his wife and remarry. He could then claim God’s forgiveness and be reinstated to a position of leadership. A uniform application of this “present tense” teaching would mean that an elder or deacon could divorce and remarry numerous times and continue to be reinstated after each divorce.
In some modern evangelical churches a man who has only one divorce and remarriage may be allowed to serve while those who have more than one divorce and remarriage are not. This shows the fallacy of the position. If qualification for leadership is based only on the “present tense” then men who have multiple marriages, even after they become Christians, would be qualified to serve as elders and deacons. The truth is that one divorce and remarriage, whenever it occurred, disqualifies the man from church oversight. This is because the man who divorces and remarries actually has two wives. This is true whether the divorce and remarriage occurred before or after the man was saved. Being born again does not change one’s marital status.
When a man and a woman are married they become ‘one flesh’. They are united by a bond that can only be broken by death. Romans 7 and 1 Cor. 7 teach that the wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. Matt. 5, Luke 16, and Mark 10 teach that divorce and remarriage is equal to adultery. When a man divorces his wife the court may claim that they are no longer married but the Bible teaches that they remain ‘one flesh’ (Matt. 19:6). In Mark 6:17-18 Herodias remarried Herod yet the Bible claims that Herodias was still the wife of Philip even though her remarriage was legal according to Roman law. The phrase “husband of one wife” can only allow for divorce and remarriage if all divorces have the exact same effect as death.
Objection - The no divorce and remarriage position is the only qualification that is related to a man’s past.
Answer - This is a further variation of the “present tense” objection. There are other things in the leadership qualifications of Timothy and Titus that take into account a man’s past. Being blameless (3:2) and having a good reputation (3:7) are the result of years of honest dealing and integrity. The “present tense” advocates often fail to take this into account when they claim that today (the present) is all that matters. A dishonest man may need to make restitution for sins that he committed years earlier. Simply claiming that these sins occurred before a man was saved would not mean that he had a good reputation with those outside the church.
Managing one’s household (1 Tim. 3:4) and having faithful children (Tit. 1:6) is the culmination of years of labor. The failure of a man to manage his household disqualifies him from leadership.
A man that has been divorced has not had a properly functioning family and is not eligible.47
It is the past actions of the man that presently affects his situation. The past actions of a man who remarries after divorce makes him presently be the husband of more than one wife. The past actions of the man who divorces his wife presently disqualifies him from leadership.
Divorces normally occur because a man has not managed his household well. Marriage is one of the most probing tests of a man’s character and beliefs. Divorce often (but not always) reveals hidden character traits that would further disqualify a man from oversight. Even though the man may not have initiated the divorce it may show that he is unloving, unforgiving, self-willed, harsh, or quick tempered.
Objection - The “one woman man” interpretation emphasizes the positive aspect of this qualification. 1 Timothy 3:2 contains only positive statements about a man’s character. The use of the negative (not) is reserved for other verses. This is the reason that the “husband of one wife” phrase cannot mean “not divorced and remarried.”
Answer - The idea that the qualifying verses of First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are conveniently broken up into positives and negatives is mistaken. The verse numbers are not part of the inspired text. The reasons why Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to use certain negative terms and order the qualifications in this manner are not stated.
First Timothy 3:2 begins with seven so-called positives (defined by the absence of “not” (mh) followed by three so-called negatives (defined by the use of “not” (mh). Next comes one positive “gentle,” followed by a true negative “not” (mh) and then somewhat of a negative “no lover of money”. “Not” (mh) is not used but the word itself begins the negation “a”). Verse 4 contains two positive statements. Verse 5 is a rhetorical question qualified by a negative “not” (ouk). Verse 6 contains two negatives “not” (mh). Verse 7 contains a positive and a negative. The rest of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (qualifications for deacons) and Titus 1:6-9 (qualifications for elders) is interwoven in similar fashion. There is no clear pattern of positives and negatives.
Simply because qualifications are stated in either a positive or negative manner does not mean that they cannot have opposite implications. A “blameless” man could be interpreted as “not open to blame.” A “self-controlled” man could be interpreted as “not out of control.” Conversely, a man who is “not violent” and “not quick tempered” could be said to be “gentle” or “patient.” A man who is “not a lover of money” could be interpreted as “content.” When this same interpretive principle is applied to the “one wife” phrase the outcome is much the same.
Those who wish to allow divorced and remarried men to serve as elders and deacons often use terms such as “not a polygamist,” “not an adulterer,” “not flirtatious,” “not promiscuous,” “not lustful” as well as other negative phrases. One wonders how they get such negative terminology from such a positive phrase?
In 1 Timothy 5:9 the phrase “wife of one man” is positive but still contains negative interpretive implications. The woman who may be enrolled on the list of widows could not have been divorced and remarried. She could not have had two husbands. She also could not be under sixty years old.
Objection- All who are allowed into membership should be allowed into leadership.
Answer - The intent of the lists in Timothy and Titus is to exclude the unqualified. The phrase “one woman man” must exclude women. It would certainly exclude polygamists. The phrase “not a new convert” discriminates against new believers. The phrase “able to teach” discriminates against those who are unable to teach. There may be a debate as to the degree of standards but the qualifications are still excluding standards. The lists present specific qualifications of men not merely general qualities.
To sum up, only those are to be chosen who are of sound doctrine and of holy life, not notorious in any fault which might both deprive them of authority and disgrace the ministry (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Titus 1:7-8).48
In the Old Testament God had higher marital standards for priests and Levites. The sons of Aaron were not to marry a harlot or a divorced woman (Lev. 21:7). The High priest was not to marry a harlot, divorced woman, or even a widow. He must marry a virgin (Lev. 21:13-15). It is admitted that these standards are not totally analogous with those of elders and deacons but the comparison is made to show that God does require higher standards for those in leadership than for those in the general congregation.
Objection - God Forgives.
Answer - This view could also be called the “it’s not fair” interpretation. Since God forgives past sins it is not fair to limit those who may serve in oversight.
Eldon Glasscock writes concerning the candidate for leadership:
If God has forgiven him and made him part of the church, why do Christians hold the past against him.49
Glasscock appears to misunderstand the nature of the qualifications for elders and deacons. The qualifications for leadership are given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). It is God who decides who is qualified to shepherd His church. Upholding God’s word is not holding a man’s past against him. One intent of the list of qualifications is to exclude certain individuals from leadership. Simply because one has his sins forgiven does not mean that he qualifies for a position of leadership. This would mean that all believing men would qualify for leadership because God is always in the process of forgiving those who repent.
At conversion God forgives all sins past, present, and future because of the work of His Son. The spiritual death penalty is taken away. This does not mean that there are no temporal consequences for sin in this life. A man’s alimony payments to his divorced spouse do not cease because he is born again. The familial divisions and relational repercussions that occur because of a divorce may last a life time.
Proponents of this position most often defend a divorce and remarriage that took place before conversion. This is a theologically inconsistent position. A repentant Christian who divorces and remarries is just as forgiven as the non-Christian who divorces and remarries and is later converted. If taken to its logical conclusion an elder who divorces and remarries and then repents is just as forgiven as any other believer. The end result of the “God forgives” position is that any man who divorces and remarries at any stage of his Christian life may serve as an elder. The issue is not whether God forgives divorce and remarriage (He does) or whether a divorced and remarried person can serve God (He can). The real issue is whether a man meets the qualifications for leadership.
5. An Elder or Deacon must be faithful to one woman at a time.
Most modern exponents of this view follow the teaching of Eldon Glasscock (“‘The Husband of One Wife’ Requirements in 1 Timothy 3:2,” Bib Sac 140 :255). Mr. Glasscock teaches that divorced and remarried persons may serve as elders and deacons as long as they are only legally married to one woman at a time.
Advocates of this position normally favor the expression “one woman kind of man.” It is claimed that the elder or deacon must not be flirtatious, promiscuous, or involved in questionable relationships with other women. This is often done with little or no consideration of the number of past marriages of the prospective candidate. It is true that an elder or deacon must not be involved in sinful or questionable relationships. It is not true that this nullifies the God given decree that an elder or deacon must have a life long monogamous commitment to only one woman as his wife.
Proponents of this view normally depreciate the “husband of one wife” translation and prefer the translation “one woman man.” The “one woman at a time” position has several weaknesses and virtually no historical proponents. While most defenders of this view would prohibit a polygamist from leadership they have little or no problem in allowing a digamist (one who divorces and remarries). They claim that a man must be faithful to his current wife but fail to see that divorce and remarriage is actually a form of unfaithfulness to his past wife. Furthermore, they do not appear to understand that a divorced and remarried elder may ultimately encourage others to be unfaithful.
The “one woman man” interpretation appears to be unknown before the 20th century. In the past, some have interpreted the phrase as meaning that an elder must be “faithful to his wife” but the addition of the idea of “one at a time” is more than the grammar allows. While neither the newness nor the antiquity of a position is proof of its orthodoxy, the motivation behind this position is certainly suspect. The acceptance of this interpretation appears to be driven by the declining moral status of the evangelical church. As divorce and remarriage have become accepted in the church the acceptance of divorced and remarried men as leaders has also risen.
This is a recent addition to the menu of excuses to skirt Scripture and allow people the freedom to do as they please rather than as the Lord directs.50
Most of the defenses of the “one wife at a time” view are actually objections to the no divorce and remarriage view. They have been dealt with in previous chapters.
The lists in First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are given by God as the minimum requirements of what an elder or deacon must be. In some respects they both limit and exclude certain men from serving as elders and deacons.
The emphasis of the “of one wife husband” phrase is on the word “one.” This demands that the man who desires oversight remain faithful to one woman throughout his life. A man who is faithful to one wife will not divorce her and marry another. The man who divorces his wife and remarries another is no longer the “husband of one wife.” This is true even if the divorce and remarriage occurred before his conversion. In the truest biblical sense he is not a “one woman man.”
God has high qualifications for elders and deacons. Those who are in leadership are to have impeccable character. The phrase “husband of one wife” prohibits polygamists, adulterers, fornicators, and homosexuals from taking part in local church leadership. It prohibits men who are given over to lust of other women. It would also prohibit men who have committed adultery by divorcing and remarrying. Those who claim an exception, if the divorce and remarriage happened before conversion, need to put forth exegetical proof.
The “husband of one wife” phrase is not one of interpretive exclusivity it is one of interpretive inclusiveness. The prohibition of divorced and remarried men serving as elders and deacons has been held by a majority of Greek exegetes and expositors throughout church history. Although not the only verdict, the prohibition of divorced and remarried men serving as elders and deacons has normally been part of their conclusion. Most commentators have included it as one of the things that would disqualify a man from being a “one wife man.” The list normally includes polygamy, concubinage, adultery, fornication, as well as digamy (divorce and remarriage). All of these sins would be excluded by the “husband of one wife” phrase. There are also scholars who would exclude a widower who remarried from serving as an elder or deacon.
The recent rise in the acceptance of divorce and remarriage in the church has also led to a recent rise in the allowance of divorced and remarried men to serve as elders and deacons. Until the 20th century it was difficult to find an exegete or expositor that claimed the “husband of one wife” phrase allowed a man who was divorced and remarried to serve in a position of church leadership. Some, such as Jerome, Theodoret, and Calvin, saw it as a prohibition of the Jewish practice of polygamy but they do not claim that divorced and remarried men could serve as elders.
Beyond being the husband of one wife an elder or deacon must not be open to blame in any area. He must rule his home and children well. If a man does not meet the standards given in First Timothy and Titus he is disqualified from leadership, regardless of other talents, gifts, or qualifications he may have.
1 A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 791.
2 A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 796.
3 Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 150.
4 Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 149.
5 Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 150.
6 Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, p. 99.
7 Kenneth Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 53. Wuest’s statement about “character” is widely quoted by those who wish to allow divorced and remarried men to serve as elders. Most do not mention that Wuest does not agree with their allowance of this practice.
8 Wuest, p.55.
9 William Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 46, p. 171.
10 Chrysostom, Homily X, First Timothy 3:2.
11 John Wesley, Notes on First Timothy 3.
12 Mounce, p. 173.
13 Shepherd of Hermas, Commandment 4, Ch. 4.
14 Tertullian, De pud. Ch. 8.
15 Cyril, Catechetical Lectures 4:26.
16 Chrysostom, Homily XIV, First Timothy 5:9.
17 Theodoret of Mopsuestia, Commentary on First Timothy.
18 Homer Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 127.
19 Mounce, P. 171.
20 Henry Alford, cited by Kenneth Wuest, Pastoral Epistles, p. 55.
21 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Ch. 1, Sec. 2.
 A. Oepke, gune TDNT (one volume abridged), p. 134
23 Tertullian, To His Wife, Ch. 6.
24 Mounce. P. 171.
25 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. IV, p. 585. Robertson contradicts his own reasoning when interpreting First Timothy 3:2, 12.
26 Athenagoras, A Plea for Christians, Ch. XXXIII. Vincent (Word Studies 4:229) cites the “specious adultery” phrase as a reference to the remarriage of widowers. Vincent is clearly in error. The Scriptural quotation and the context of the statement show that Athenagoras was referring to divorce and remarriage.
27 Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 15.
28 Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Ch. 14.
29 Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, sec. 7.
30 E. Stauffer, gameo TDNT (one volume abridged), p. 112.
31 Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, sec. 21.
32 Chrysostom, Homily X, First Timothy 3:2.
33 Ambrose, Letter LXIII, sec. 63-64.
34 Adam Clarke, Notes on First Timothy 3:2.
35 Basil, Letter CLXXXVIII.
36 A. Oepke, gune TDNT (one volume abridged), p. 136.
37 Stanley Derickson, Notes on Theology, p. 1087.
38 Matthew Henry, Commentaries in First Timothy and Titus.
39 John Wesley, Notes on First Timothy.
40 John Gill, Commentary on First Timothy.
41 Adam Clarke, Notes on First Timothy 3:2.
42 Newport J.D. White, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, p. 111.
43 Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, First Timothy 3:2.
44 Homer Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 172.
45 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 416.
46 Paul Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 355.
47 Derickson, p. 1087.
48 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book. 4, Ch. 3, Sec. 12.
49 Eldon Glasscock, “’The Husband of One Wife’ Requirement in 1 Timothy 3:2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 140 (July –September, 1983). p. 253.
50 Derickson, Notes on Theology, p. 1087.
Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle. All rights reserved.