"Husband of One Wife"
1 Timothy 3:2, 12
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach. . . . Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well."
by Cooper Abrams
The meaning of the phrase "husband of one wife" can only be determined when the whole of the New Testament teaching is consulted. The hermeneutical principle that is involved here is that we must interpret the word of God in the analogy of the faith meaning that all scripture is a unit or body of truth. All parts of the word of God are part of the whole and within the body of truth and there are no contradictions or conflicts. All the parts of the word of God support the whole in perfect unity. With this in mind let us look at this passage in light what the New Testament teaches concerning marriage.
In light of the teaching of the New Testament this passage establishes several qualifications that must be met in order for one to serve as a pastor (bishop) or deacon:
1. He Must Be A Man.
The passage clearly establishes that a bishop must be a man. Verse 1, says "If a 'man' desires the office of a bishop he desireth a good work." This verse prohibits women from holding this position of service in a local church. Throughout all of the Bible God has given the man the responsibility as the head of the household as Ephesians 5:23 states,. "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Saviour of the body."
Ephesians 5:24 continues and says that women are to be submissive to their husbands in the same way that the local congregation is to be submissive to Christ. "Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing." The verse specifically says that women are to be submissive to their husbands in "everything" and certainly that would include in the leadership of the local church.
The principle that men are to be leaders in the local church is affirmed in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and prohibits a woman from speaking publicly in a worship service saying:
Further 1 Timothy 2:11-15 establishes further restrictions on the place of women in the local assembly.
1 Timothy 3:2 in presenting these qualifications the Bible uses the word "must" (dei' ) which is an impersonal verb meaning "it is necessary, one must, or has to." (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 171. ) The New Testament then as a whole establishes that a bishop must be a man. Further, 1 Corinthians 14:37, states that accepting this truth is a test of spiritually and obedience to God as this was not given as a suggestion or guide line, but a commandment from God.
Titus 2:3-5 is addressed to aged women and instructs them:
Here older and spiritually mature women are instructed in godliness. Note that the instruction includes "keepers at home" which mean they are to care for and work at home taking care of household matters. This reiterates the biblical principle that God's plan is that the role of women is within the family and teaching other younger women. (V4) Further they are instructed to be obedient to their own husbands. A woman who assumes the role of a pastor will have to minister to the men and husbands of other women in the local congregation. Clearly this violates this biblical principle of a wife ministering only to her husband. The passage states the reason for these instructions to women as being that the word of God be not blasphemed. In other words the woman who violates these instructions blasphemes God's word.
2. He Must Not Be A Polygamist.
3. He Must Not Be Divorced.
The meaning of the phrase "husband of one wife" clears up the controversy of whether a pastor can be divorced or not. There is nothing mysterious about the Greek phrase which simply and literally means "one woman man."
In 1 Timothy 5:9 the same phrase is used in reference to a widow who has only been married once. "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man" (1 Timothy 5:9). There is no controversy with the interpretation of the phrase in this passage, meaning that the widow should have only one man. The word translated "husband" in 1 Timothy 3:2 is the Greek word "aner" which means man. There is no reason to give it a different meaning in 1 Timothy 3:2. (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary of the Bible, Online Bible Millennium Edition, Winterbourne, Ontario, Canada, Ver. 1:2, March, 2001) The phrase in the normal use of the language means that a bishop must be a man (husband) of only one women. The verse then is God prohibiting a bishop or deacon from being a woman or being divorced or remarried.
There are several New Testament principles which help us to understand that this is the correct interpretation. Divorce represents a failure in the home, so that even though a man may be forgiven for any sin involved, he remains permanently disqualified for leadership in the congregation (See verses 4-5; 1 Cor. 9:24-27). (Logos Bible Software, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, Ver. 2.0a, 1995)
The fifteenth qualification for a prospective bishops says, "One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" A man whose marriage failed certainly would be suspect of not ruling his house well.
We must understand that God is giving us the highest of standards for a man who would be Christ's "under shepherd" and pastor His congregation. Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 4:12, "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." A man whose marriage fails regardless of who was at fault cannot present a proper example to other believers. He may be a godly man after his divorce but unfortunately the sigma of divorce will forever mark him and make his familial leadership abilities suspect and thereby disqualifying him for this responsibility.
We must understand that no one man is so important to God that He would set aside truth and righteous principles simply to use that man. The word of God applies equally to all and it is our acceptance of it and obedience to His truth that validates a person as qualified to serve the Lord. God's very nature makes it impossible for Him to bless error and put His approval on anything that is tainted or impure.
The Bible always represents divorce as failure and presents it in a negative light. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:14-16). Although many condone divorce and remarriage my extensive studies cannot find any support in the Bible that God condones remarriage for divorced persons. God does allow separation under some situation for Christian, but not remarriage. (1 Cor. 7:1-17) But whether God allows divorce or not is not the point here.
The Bible clearly states that if a woman marries another man while her husband is alive she is committing adultery. "So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man." (Romans 7:3)
Some reason that if it can be established that God will allow divorce and remarriage then a divorced man would technically and legally entitled to be a bishop. However, this is not sound reasoning and misses the point of God giving the qualifications of a pastor. We need to keep our focus on the subject being addressed by the passage and contextually the passage is addressing the minimum qualification of the highest position in a congregation that being the one who would "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28). God's pastor must be of the highest character as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 presents. The last stated qualification sums up the whole of fifteen previous stating he must be of good report of those both inside the church and outside in the community.
God says a widow can remarry. "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." (1 Corinthians 7:8-9) Certainly, it God allows widows to remarry then men, or pastor can also remarry.
The woman or man whose spouse had died can remarry. "For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man." (Romans 7:2-3)
Conclusion: God is presenting the minimum qualifications that an individual or church should use in determining if a man is eligible to be considered for the position of a pastor or deacon. The normal grammatical use of the phrase and the analogy of the faith both clearly show this verse is saying God only calls men to be pastors and the man who practices polygamy or who is divorced is not qualified to be a pastor or deacon and subsequently is not called of God to that position. As God condemned the "prophets" whom he had not sent, so these modern men and women should also be rebuked and counseled to turn from their sin (Jer. 23:21-22). God said to them, "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied" (Jer. 23:21).