Can a church elder or deacon be single / unmarried?
Common sense would say this should be a non-issue. Of course a single man can serve the church in a leadership position. In fact, being unmarried, he'll probably have more time to do so. The problems arise with specific scripture passages that list the qualifications of elders and deacons. First Timothy 3:12 and Titus 1:6-7 both say that elders must be "the husband of one wife."
Like a few other passages in Paul's writings, these statements seem difficult to interpret. Does Paul mean that elders and deacons must be husbands, or that if they are husbands, they must only have one wife? Despite the problematic English translations, the Greek is clear: the elder must be a "one-woman man." He must be biblically married to only one woman, and he must be faithful to her. His sexual purity must be above reproach. He cannot lead the congregation in following God if he has problems with fidelity.
This applies even if the man is not yet married. Single men can hold to the spirit of being a "one-woman man" by maintaining sexual purity as a single man. Before he gets married, he can be faithful to his future wife by not sleeping with anyone. If his wife has passed away, he is no longer bound to her (1 Corinthians 7:39), but he can still be a "one-woman man" by maintaining sexual purity until he marries again.
What about men who are not married and have no intention to ever marry? Taking the Bible as a whole, it's obvious that a present or future marriage is not required for all elders. Jesus was never married, and 1 Corinthians 7:8 indicates Paul wasn't, either. First Corinthians 7:32 explains that single men can be even more dedicated to service to God.
The verses don't just refer to sexual purity, however. In the times of the New Testament, polygamy was acceptable, as was having concubines. Even today, in some areas of the world, polygamy is legal. And the Bible does allow for polygamy, although it is not the ideal situation. If a man has multiple wives, can he be a church elder or deacon? Paul is saying no. If a man is a polygamist and wants to hold a leadership position in the church, he must accept that this is not God's plan. His responsibility is to his considerable family, and not to the honor and duties of church leadership. And divorce will not free him for such roles. It is not godly to abandon wives and children just to be an elder or deacon.
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