A One Woman Man
1 Timothy 3:2
The phrase, “husband of one wife” is found in 1 Timothy 3:2,12 and Titus 1:6. The literal translation would be “a man of one woman” (μιας γυναικος ανδρα); hence a “one woman man”. Leaders (elders and deacons) in Christ’s church are expected to meet this qualification. Most agree that this requirement for church leaders is also a reasonable goal toward which all married men should aspire. In fact, many of these requirements are simply characteristics of godly people everywhere, both men and women!
So the question is simply, “what does this phrase mean”? The text does not tell us, so we must try to figure it out. There are a variety of views held by Bible scholars:
1. Must not be single
2. Must not be divorced
3. Must not be divorced and remarried
4. Must not be remarried under any circumstances
5. Must not have had sexual relationship with more than one woman
6. Must not be married to more than one woman at a time (polygamy)
7. Must be a faithful husband to his one wife
Which view best fits the overall tenor of Scripture and the culture of Paul’s day? Obviously disagreement exists! With a healthy degree of reservation I offer some thoughts designed to be helpful in figuring this out.
1. This matter is not solved by the perspective that says, “it says one wife therefore it means only one wife.” Applying the same reasoning means that the man must be married and he must have at least two children (1 Timothy 3:4). I guess Paul should have further explained himself when he encouraged singleness in serving the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). In fact, 1 Corinthians 7:8 may suggest that Paul himself was single (either widowed or never married). Far better to understand that most men are married and have children. It is as simple as that.
2. The phrase technically says nothing about divorce or second marriages. Paul could have easily said “married only once”. Words were at his disposal to say it this way.
3. To opt for the no divorce and remarriage view (#3 above) and yet tolerate second marriages for widowers is inconsistent. The New Testament both allows for remarriage upon the death of a spouse (1 Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:2-3) and allows for divorce and remarriage for selected grounds (Matthew 19:9 and 5:32 and I Corinthians 7:11-16).
4. If one opts for a prohibition of any second marriage regardless of circumstances (#4 above), then he must also acknowledge that he has raised a double standard for a church officer that is not required of Christians in general. In effect, this promotes a low view of marriage itself.
5. Some argue that a second marriage is a sign of weakness or self-indulgence. This smacks of Romanism. One commentator gives the history of this viewpoint, “ By the end of the second century this interpretation was being promulgated under the influence of an asceticism that led to clerical celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church. …But most commentators agree that it means monogamy – only one wife at one time – and that the overseer must be completely faithful to his wife.” (Ralph Earle in Expositors Bible Commentary 364)
6. By comparison, note that if the language in 1 Timothy 5:9 (“the wife of one man”) is a restriction to one husband only for life, then Paul’s advice to younger widows to remarry is troublesome (I Timothy 5:14).
7. There is legitimate debate as to whether polygamy (#6 above) was a live issue among early Christians. I tend to think not. (Previously I thought this view might have merit and suggested so in writing.) It is also true that polygamists were undoubtedly barred from the church, so to prohibit polygamists as officers seems unnecessary. If it does refer to polygamy, then I Timothy 5:9 refers to polyandry (a one man woman). But clearly polyandry was not a live issue in NT times.
8. Whatever your view, we must agree that the context speaks of qualifications that are presently observed in potential office bearers. The emphasis is on what they are now (present tense). The question is not “have they ever been?” It is “are they now”. No one seriously questions this concept regarding the other qualifications (hospitable, temperate, prudent, etc.). So the reference is to existing relationships.
1. This phrase is primarily saying that a man must be fully devoted to his wife if married. We might say he is an exemplary, though not perfect, husband. He is in a monogamous marriage and is faithful to his marriage vows.
§ In the NT era this would be in stark contrast to the average pagan of the day. Immorality was rampant, especially in Ephesus where Timothy was serving. Thus, a qualification requiring marital fidelity fits. It is possible for a person to have only married once, and not be a “one woman man.”
§ Alexander Strauch in the mentor’s guide to Biblical Eldership that we use here at FBC says it this way, “At the time of consideration of his appointment as elder, and for the entire period that he is an elder, a man must be absolutely and exclusively committed to one woman for life. All of his behavior should communicate that he is a one-woman man. If he is single, he must also be committed to this principle. A single man, a widower, or a divorced man who has had a biblically sanctioned divorce is not disqualified for eldership. This interpretation is consistent with the context of the passage and does not contradict other teachings of Scripture” (p 5, Lesson 7).
§ Again, Strauch quotes Towner (p192 Biblical Eldership), “the point is not how often one can be married, nor precisely what constitutes a legitimate marriage…but rather how one conducts himself in his marriage.” Is the elder fully and solely devoted to the wife God has given him?
§ So it seems that, negatively, the phrase is prohibiting any questionable sexual relationship during marriage, and positively is requiring an ideal relationship with his wife during marriage.
2. Thus, in examining a man who has been divorced and remarried (this is the situation that is most controversial), two questions must be answered. First, did the man have a biblical right to divorce and/or remarriage? And second, if so, then does he still meet the above reproach qualification. It is possible that a man could be qualified under this phrase (he might be divorced and remarried for instance but is a godly husband to is present wife) but be disqualified because of the “above reproach” phrase.
Some believe that divorce for any reason represents a failure in the home for which the husband is responsible and thus permanently disqualifies him from office. This has no Biblical warrant however. Better to begin with the assumption that if the man has the right of remarriage, then he has the right to serve unless specific provable accusations are brought forward.
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source
Posted on Wed, February 17, 2016
by Joe Flatt filed under