Much controversy has surrounded the elder qualification translated as "husband of one wife" in 1 Timothy 3:2. Some have understood this passage as referring to a husband of only one wife (speaking against polygamy). Others have understood the passage as meaning a man must be married to be an elder. Still others have understood the passage as meaning an elder cannot be divorced. Many other variations have been suggested as well. What does the "husband of one wife" mean?
What is the 'husband of one wife' qualification for pastors / elders / deacons (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6)?
Historical and practical considerations can rule out some options. First, polygamy was already illegal in the Roman Empire. Since Paul was writing to Timothy in Ephesus, it is unlikely polygamy was his intended meaning.
Further, Timothy was single at the time of this writing, as was the apostle Paul. If Paul meant an elder must be married, then even Paul and Timothy would have been unqualified to serve as elders. This seems highly unlikely as well.
A look at the Greek words used here shows that the phrase simply means a "one-woman man" or "man of one woman" (the same phrase found in Titus 1:6). This does not specifically refer to divorce. Instead, it refers to a man who is known for being committed to one woman.
What is the difference? A man may have been divorced before being a Christian or many years ago in the past. However, if he has been remarried for several years and is now known as a one-woman man, he could still meet this qualification. This could also apply to a single man such as Timothy or Paul known for their purity though unmarried. In other words, being a one-woman man would not require being married, but anyone married would be required to be known as a one-woman man.
Some have pointed out that the first elder qualification of being "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3:2) serves as an overarching qualification for all of the following traits. As such, being above reproach in one's marital situation is also a consideration for an elder. If a person's marriage or divorce keeps a person from being above reproach, he would not qualify as an elder. This would also certainly include situations in which a married man has been involved in any recent adultery or sexual immorality that would keep him from being known as a one-woman man.
This understanding would also apply to deacons. The same teaching regarding a "one-woman man" is found in 1 Timothy 3:12, as are many of the other qualifications mentioned regarding elders/pastors in verses 1-7.
In summary, an elder must be above reproach, including in his marital status. An elder can be single or married, but must be known as a man committed to one woman. Any other situation would disqualify a man from leadership as an elder (or deacon) in the local church.
What qualifications does the Bible give for elders and deacons?
Can a church elder or deacon be single / unmarried?
What duties are church elders responsible for?
What duties are church deacons responsible for?
Is the office of pastor taught in the Bible?
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