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"The Husband of One Wife" Requirement in 1Timothy

Written by: Glasscock, Ed    Posted on: 05/06/2003

Category: Bible Studies

Source: CCN

NOTE: The following non-copyrighted article is reproduced from "BIBLIOTHECA SACRA," a Theological Quarterly Published by Dallas Theological Seminary, Volume 140, July-September 1983, Number 559.

The author, Ed Glasscock, is the Pastor of Bethel Bible Church, Argyle, Iowa. Bible Bulletin Board has included this file due to the excellence of the article in dealing with a crucial issue in the "church" today.  I apologize for any errors in spelling or transliterations that may have occurred due to my inputting the material into electronic media.

                                        Tony Capoccia, Sysop                                         Bible Bulletin Board

                          "The Husband of One Wife"                                 Requirement                               in 1 Timothy 3:2

------------------------------------------------------------------------------                                 Ed Glasscock ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

With the divorce rate in America approaching nearly 50 percent of all marriages, the church is being forced to deal more frequently with converts who have divorced and remarried.  Can these Christians serve in the Body of Christ?  To what degree does their divorce and remarriage affect their spiritual activity?  The issue of this study questions whether the phrase "the husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2;cf.v. 12) eliminates from Christian service a man who has been divorced and remarried, or a man who has married a woman who was divorced.

Since 1 Timothy 3 provides a list of requirements for those who desire to serve in the offices of elder (vv. 1-7) or deacon (vv. 8-10), it should be noted that whatever one concludes about the meaning of the phrase under discussion, it does not follow that these restrictions automatically apply to all areas of Christian service but only to these two high offices which Paul named specifically.

                Four Common Interpretations of 1 Timothy 3:2

Among the variety of explanations of Paul's phrase "mias gunaikos andra" (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6) four common views will be discussed.


Some commentators hold that the phrase "husband of one wife" implies that a man who wishes to serve as an elder or deacon must be married.  If one accepts the translation "husband of one wife" then this could possibly be a legitimate view.  One who desires the office of elder "must be . . . the husband of one wife," "dei . . .einai mias gunaikos andra."  "Dei" is an impersonal verb meaning "it is necessary, one must, or has to."1  According to this view only married men are eligible to serve as elders.  Some would also insist that elders also must have children (1 Tim. 3:4).  The reasoning is simple: a man cannot manage God's household if he cannot manage his own.  By observing the way a man manages his own family, one can determine whether or not he is capable of helping to manage the local church.  Thus it is argued, a man must be married and have children in order to be an elder or deacon.

Though this seems to be logical as well as literal application of the requirement "husband of one wife," it appears to contradict 1 Corinthians 7:8, 25-33.  Paul apparently encouraged celibacy to avoid "present distress" (v. 26) and other concerns which distract one from the Lord's service (v. 32).  But he also acknowledged the need for marriage and urged that a person not gifted with celibacy should have his own wife (vv. 2, 7, 9, 17).  Some would argue that Paul's comments are intended only for the church at Corinth at that particular time.  Luck states, "This phrase directly refers to local conditions.  The Corinthian Christians were facing difficult times of oppression and persecution." 2  This, however, may not be the case since the Lord had already told His followers they would always suffer persecution (John 15:20), and Paul acknowledged that all godly saints would be persecuted (2 Tim. 2:12).  History also clearly shows that the church in all ages has lived in danger and hard times.  This writer feels that Calvin expressed the proper view.

    "There are some, however, that view the term 'necessity' as referring     to the age of the Apostle, which was, undoubtedly, full of trouble to     the pious: but he appears to me to have had it rather in view to express     the disquietude with which the saints are incessantly harassed in the     present life.  I view it, therefore, as extending to all ages, and I     understand it in this way, that the saints are often, in the world,     driven hither and tither, and are exposed to many and various tempests,     so that their condition appears to be unsuitable for marriage." 3 

Furthermore, though Paul does refer to "ten enestosan anagken" (v. 26), there is no reason to assume that he was referring to the "anagke megale" (Luke 21:23) preceding the Lord's second coming.  Paul used the same term elsewhere in reference to his distresses (2 Cor. 6:4; 12:10; 1 Thess. 3:7).  Paul's advice is as appropriate today for many Christians who live in hostile environments as it was in his own day.  Also it seems that 1 Corinthians 7:32 states Paul's general view that single men have an advantage in serving the Lord.  Paul did not require marriage as essential for Christian service; on the contrary, he saw advantages in the Lord's servants remaining single.  Therefore if one accepts the translation "husband of one wife," he must face an inconsistency in Paul's view, for it surely would not be consistent to "require marriage" to serve the Lord as an elder or deacon (1 Tim. 3:2, 12), "yet encourage one to stay single" so as not to be distracted from serving the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32).

Another reason this first view could be rejected is that it is more probable that Paul was concerned not so much with a man's marital status as he was with his character.  Also it will shown later that the words "husband" and "wife" may not be the best translations for "andra" and "gunaikos."


Other scholars point to the numerical requirement of "one wife."  This too may be a legitimate understanding of the phrase.  However, this view goes further by teaching that the restriction eliminates any man who has married a second wife for any reason, including the death of his first wife. 4  Besides restricting a divorced man who has remarried from holding these high offices, those defending this view add that even widowers who marry a second wife cannot be elders or deacons.

    "A second marriage, although perfectly lawful and in some cases     advisable, was so far a sign of weakness; a double family would     in many cases be a serious hindrance to work.  The Church could     not afford to enlist any but its strongest men among its officers;     and its officers must not be hampered more than other men with     domestic cares. 5 

Several questions challenge this interpretation.  If one assumes that a widower cannot remarry because of the burden of a double family, what is to be said concerning the burden a widower has in caring for children without a mother?  Is the widowed elder who cares for his work, his church, and his children at home not facing a greater burden if he is alone?  If it is considered a weakness to marry a second wife, is it not also out of weakness that one married his first wife?  If God chooses to take a man's wife from him through death, where does Scripture teach that God cannot provide a new helpmate for him?

Another consideration is Paul's example of a woman's freedom to remarry after her husband's death to illustrate believers' freedom from the Law so that they may be bound to Christ (Rom. 7:1-6).  Thus if one is set free from the previous marriage bond by death (7:2) and is free to remarry without guilt or offense (7:3), it hardly seems fitting to imply that remarriage after the death of one's wife would make a man unfit to serve as an elder or deacon.  Certainly a godly widower who marries a godly woman is not committing a sin nor is he guilty of impropriety.

First Timothy 3:2 does not say "an elder must be married only once" nor does it say "an elder cannot remarry."  Since the phrase is admittedly somewhat ambiguous, to place this type of stern restriction on a godly man because of such an unclear phrase seems quite unjust.  One should avoid the Pharisaical error of binding men with unnecessary and oppressive burdens (cf. Matt. 23:1- 4; Acts 15:10) and should seek to be gracious at every opportunity.  Surely no one seriously believes that if a man's wife dies that he is still bound to her in marriage; thus if he marries a second time, he still has only one wife, that is, he is truly still "the husband of one wife."  If Paul had stated "eschon mias gunaikos mones" ("having had only one wife"), it would be easier to argue that Paul meant possessing only one wife in one's lifetime up to the point of his being examined.  However, he did not make such a statement.  Plummer wrongly felt that Paul was expressing concern about the elder being hampered with "domestic cares."  Certainly Paul acknowledged that these elders would have family responsibilities (1 Tim. 3:4), but he was not expressing concern for their involvement with these household duties.  An elder with one wife may have had, say, eight children, which would mean an extra burden in domestic cares compared to an elder who was married and had two children.  But Paul was not limiting the number of dependents an elder can support; rather his concern was only that he manage his domestic affairs well.


The third and perhaps most common view is that Paul was prohibiting divorced men from being elders and deacons.  Those holding this view also say that remarriage after divorce makes one ineligible to serve in either of these capacities.  The restriction is usually extended to prohibit a man who, though he has never been previously married, is married to a woman who is divorced from a previous husband.  It is also common to see men in these situations forbidden to teach Sunday school classes or serve in other areas as well.

One can sympathize with a concern for maintaining a pure testimony in church ministries, but to expand this phrase to exclude those in other areas of ministry in the church is adding to God's word.  Some would treat divorce and remarriage as the unpardonable sin and practically force some genuine, godly Christians into a life of spiritual exile, treating these forgiven children of God as though the blood of Christ could not thoroughly cleanse them.  How sad it is that even some good scholars refer to these believers as being "a part of the garden of God--in shadow," 6  as though they are not quite as pure as other Christians.  This writer is unaware of any scriptural reference to some Christians whose former sins keep them "in shadow."  Rather, Scripture includes all believers as "sons of light" (Eph. 5:8).  Scripture does not justify excluding any born-again member of Christ's body from active service in His work so long as that member has been forgiven and cleansed from his sin.  On the contrary, Ephesians 4;16 states that "every joint" is to be contributing to the body of Christ.  Regardless of one's view of the phrase being discussed, the qualifications cited in 1 Timothy are not for Sunday school teachers, committee chairmen, or other church functions.  Every member of the body of Christ has been given "the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" ( 1 Cor. 12:7).  He did not exclude those who have divorced and remarried.  Even if "mias gunaikos andra" were a prohibition against divorce and remarriage, the phrase applies only to these two offices and not to other outlets of service in the church.  If the divorce and remarriage view is assumed here, then the prohibition is not against one who is divorced, but only against one who has remarried.  Along this same line, there is no prohibition against an elder's wife having been previously married.

Paul only said that an elder must be a husband of one wife (or a one-woman man) and yet expansions of the requirement have been expounded to cover a large variety of areas and conditions.  Since the issue of divorce and remarriage has become such a critical problem, churches should re-evaluate their positions and seek to avoid exaggerations of biblical qualifications.  As to  whether this phrase is actually concerned with a divorced man remarrying is still highly questionable and dogmatic assumptions should be guarded.  Though it may possibly be a prohibition against a man marrying a second wife and holding the office of either elder or deacon, there remains another alternative which seems better grammatically, biblically, and logically.


This view holds that the translation "husband of one wife" is not the best understanding of the Greek phrase "mias gunaikos andra," but that it should be translated "a man of one woman" or "a one woman man."  This understanding emphasizes the character of the man rather than his marital status.  Thus even a single man or a man who has been married only once must demonstrate that he is not a 'playboy" or flirtatious, but that he is stable and mature in character toward his wife or other females.  A man who demonstrates a character of loyalty and trustworthiness in such personal relationships is qualified in this area.  He, being a one-woman type of man, can be placed in this high position and trusted to deal in maturity and with discretion in a situation involving female members.  This view shifts the emphasis away from an event that took place in a man's life before his conversion and properly concentrates on the character and quality of his life at the time of his consideration for this high office.

                          Paul's Emphasis on Character

The importance of understanding what Paul means by a "one-woman man" is critical.  The lives and Christian service of hundreds of Christian men are affected by one's view.  It may be safer simply to offer an impersonal and broad judgment forbidding any one who is divorced (or married to someone who has been divorced) to enter Bible colleges, seminaries, or Christian organizations, or to hold church offices.  But this approach is impersonal and possibly unjust and comes close to being apathetic toward God's standards.  In an age when almost half of American marriages end in divorce, each church, school, and other Christian organization should offer consistent and honest instruction concerning the role and position of these divorced men who are brought to new birth by God's saving mercy, who are cleansed and made new by Christ's blood, and who are instructed to serve their Lord.  These instructions must not be based on emotional overreaction to the world's immorality, but rather on true grammatical, contextual, historical, and theological grounds.


Paul's instruction includes only three words, "mias gunaikos andra," as one of several requirements for being an elder (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1;6) or a deacon (1 Tim. 3:12, where the pl. "andres" is used).  "Gune" refers to any adult female, including wives and widows. 7  The King James Version translates it "woman" 129 times and "wife" 92 times. 8  The noun "gunaikos" is in the genitive and therefore deals with attribution.  It may refer to relationship or quality, for "the genitive defines by attributing a quality or relationship to the noun which it modifies." 9  Dana and Mantey define the genitive as "the case which specifies with reference to class or kind." 10  The genitive here is used to define or describe the noun "aner."

This should not be considered a possessive genitive, for that would mean that the word in the genitive indicates one who owns or possesses the noun it modifies. 11  In that case the translation would be "a man owned by one woman."  Nor can this be considered as a genitive of relationship ("a man who has [possesses] one wife") for there is no indication within the phrase or context that that relationship is implied.

It is best to understand this "gunaikos" as being a genitive of quality, 12  that is, giving a characteristic to the noun it modifies.  The noun being modified is "andra," accusative singular of "aner."  "Aner" is translated "man" 156 times in the King James version and "husband" only 50 times [13]  (including the passage under discussion).  This accusative functions here as an object of the main verb "be" along with a long list of other accusative nouns and participles.  Stated simply, the clause is "Therefore . . . an elder must be . . . a man . . ."  The words "one woman" modify "man" to explain what kind, or to qualify the noun by attributing to him this character, Robertson adds that the genitive of quality (also called attributive genitive). "expresses quality like an adjective indeed, but with more sharpness and distinctness." 14  He also points out that usually the genitive follows the limiting substantive, "but the genitive comes first if it is emphatic," 15 is the case here.  Since the other qualification in 1 Timothy 3 deal with the man's character and since the grammatical structure is more naturally consistent with this emphasis, it seems best to understand the phrase as meaning that he is a one-woman type of man.  This point will be further discussed later in this study.

If, on the other hand, one understands the phrase to mean that he possesses only one wife (though this does not seem best grammatically), then other qualifications must be made.  First, it must be decided if this means only one wife in a lifetime or one wife at a time.  Since neither the grammar of the phrase nor any reference in the context implies that Paul was discussing a once-in-a-lifetime situation, then that idea must not be forced into the text. As suggested earlier, if Paul had said something like "eschon mias gunaikos mones," then one could speak more assuredly that Paul meant having had only one wife ever.  Paul, however, simply said he must "be" ("einai," present tense) a man of one woman.  If, indeed, Paul was reacting to the problem of divorce and remarriage as White suggests, 16  it would have been more easily and clearly said by "me apolelumenon," even as he did write "me paroinon," prohibiting the abuse of wine, and "me plekten," prohibiting physically violent men.  In prohibiting these men, the negative "me" is used with the phrase under consideration; however, here Paul was concerned with a positive character, not with a prohibition.  Though this argument does not prove that Paul was not referring to divorce and remarriage, hopefully it shows that there is no room for dogmatic limitations based on this verse.  One should guard against enforcing authoritative assumptions.

Another consideration that leads to this view is that the nouns being used are without the definite article.  Some translators feel this anarthrous construction is important.  Wuest explains, "The two nouns [for 'woman' and 'man'] are without the definite article, which construction emphasizes character or nature." 17  He concludes, "Thus one can translate, 'a one-wife sort of a husband,' or 'a one-woman sort of man.'" 18  Though the absence of the article does not "prove" the translation, it certainly supports it.  Robertson explains that the qualitative force of a noun is "best brought out in anarthrous nouns." 19  Dana and Mantey offer this explanation:

    Sometimes with a noun which the context proves to be definite the article     is not used.  This places stress upon the qualitative aspect of the noun     rather than its mere identity.  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. 20 

The context is discussing "the overseer" ("ton episkopon") and therefore is definite; so then the absence of the article with the word "andra" can rightly emphasize the idea of character.  In other words what Paul was emphasizing is the man's character, not his marital status.  In the excessive moral laxity of the Greek culture Paul was planting young, fragile churches; and during that period of church development issues which today may be taken for granted had to be clarified.  Getz follows this thought as he offers his understanding of Paul's qualification.  "In a culture where men frequently cohabited with more than one woman, Paul needed it very clear that an elder in the church was to be a 'one-wife man' -- loyal to her and her alone." 21  Earle is another commentator who sees the point of Paul's phrase as meaning that "the overseer must be completely faithful to his wife." 22


Divorce and remarriage, when committed outside the provisions for them in the Bible, are sins; but like any other sins, they can be forgiven and the believer cleansed.  Once a person has come to Christ, all sins are forgiven and to claim that so long as a man stays married to his second wife, he is still living in sin is to ignore God's provision of mercy, to degrade the power of Christ's work, and to overlook God's forgiveness.  Chafer explains the extent and power of God's forgiveness.

    It is the taking away of sin and its condemnation from the offender or     offenders, by imputing the sin to, and imposing its righteous judgments     upon Another . . . .divine forgiveness is never extended to the offender     as an act of leniency, nor is the penalty waived, since God, being     infinitely holy and upholding His government which is founded on     undeviating righteousness, cannot make light of sin.  Divine forgiveness     is therefore extended only when the last demand or penalty against the     offended has been satisfied. 23

Everyone who has been born into God's family has experienced this forgiveness which is based on God's satisfaction that Christ's sacrifice was adequate compensation for the violation of God's holiness.  A person's second marriage may have indeed been sin, but after conversion one cannot divorce his second wife in hope of returning to his first wife, for that would involve a new sin in itself.  Further, it is inconsistent to allow a divorced and remarried man to become a member of a church on the grounds that his previous sins have been adequately paid for through Christ and yet forbid him a leadership role because of his "previous" sins (which Christ removed by His death).  If a church is bound to judge its members on the consequences of their lives before conversion, who then could meet the majority of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3?  Are churches as quick to forbid a man the office of elder or deacon because before his conversion he was not "above reproach" or because he was "pugnacious"?

Certainly one cannot attempt to make the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 apply to a man's life before he was saved.  If God has forgiven him and made him a part of His church, why do Christians hold his past against him?  When one is saved, all his sins are forgiven (Col. 2:13); he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13); his body becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19); he receives a new nature created after God's own holiness (Eph. 4:24); he becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17); and he becomes a part of God's "spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5) and "royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9).  Before a man is saved, he is dead toward God and his holy standards.  He has no power over sin, no knowledge of God's Word or will; thus to judge one's life before his new birth is totally unjust.  Paul states that even adulterers (as in divorce and remarriage) were 'washed . . . sanctified . . . justified"(1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Paul's concern in 1 Timothy 3:1-10 is that if a man desires the office of elder he must be qualified "at that time," not before his conversion.  For those concerned with the testimony of the church, let them consider which glorifies God more -- that He takes an unworthy, defiled human and makes him pure enough to become His own servant (cf. 1 Tim. 1:12-16) or that though God forgives, he does not let a man's past sins be forgotten?  Even divorced and remarried Christians can trust the great promises of Psalm 103:12-13 and Isaiah 38:17.  If God has made a man clean, how can the church consider him unworthy to serve God even on the highest levels?  Is the church guilty of Peter's prejudice (Acts 10:9-16) so that God must also rebuke believers and say as he did to Peter, "What God has cleansed, no 'longer' consider unholy?"  It does not seem possible that by Paul's phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2 he intends to hold a man's preconversion sins against him.


Some commentators hold that Paul was referring to a man having only one wife at a time.  Though some rigorously deny that polygamy was a threat to the church in Paul's day, at least among the Greeks or Romans, yet there is evidence that it existed in the culture from which the saints were being saved.  Though Plummer rejects the view that Paul was thinking of polygamy, yet he says, "It is quite true that polygamy in St. Paul's day still existed among the Jews." 24  To substantiate his claim he quotes Justin Martyr in his "Dialogue with Trypho":  "It is better for you to follow God than your senseless and blind teachers, who even to this day allow you each to have four or five wives." 25  Gentile believers could have easily been misled by Jewish teaching since both groups studied the same Old Testament Scriptures, which the Jews used to show the polygamous habits of David, Solomon, and other Old Testament heroes.

Another support for defending the polygamy view is that it was the common interpretation of early church writers.  White sums up this argument: "on the other hand, it must be conceded that the Patristic commentators on the passage . . . suppose that it is bigamy or polygamy that is here forbidden." 26  Calvin refers to Chrysostom's view as the only true exposition on the issue.

    The only true exposition, therefore, is that of Chrysostom, that in a     bishop he expressly condemns polygamy, which at that time the Jews almost     reckoned to be lawful.  This corruption was borrowed by them partly from     a sinful imitation of the fathers, (For they who read that Abraham,     Jacob, David and others of the same class were married to more wives than     one at the same time, thought that it was lawful for them also to do the     same) . . . . polygamy was exceedingly prevalent among them; and     therefore with great propriety does Paul enjoin that a bishop should be     free from this stain. 27

Again Calvin stated in his summary, "Paul forbids polygamy in all who hold the office of a bishop, because it is a mark of an unchaste man, and of one who does not observe conjugal fidelity." 28

Even though there is obviously some support for this view and though it would surely correspond to the idea of a one-woman requirement, this writer does not believe that polygamy was Paul's major concern.

Apparently those who prohibit a remarried man from service as an elder or deacon overlook the obvious point of the list in 1 Timothy 3.  Paul's list deals primarily with the "character" or "attitudes" of men seeking these high services in the church.  The requirements are based on what the man "is," not what may have transpired in his past.  Thus Paul wrote, "an overseer, then, must be " ("dei oun . . . einai").  He expressed the same idea in Titus 1:6 ("ei tis estin").  Even as "temperate," "prudent," "respectable." and other qualifications deal with his character, so also a "one-woman (kind of) man" is a character trait demonstrated by a chaste and mature attitude toward his wife and other females.  Lenski offers a similar explanation:  "The emphasis is on "one" wife's husband, and the sense is that he have nothing to do with any other woman. He must be a man who cannot be taken hold of on the score of sexual promiscuity or laxity." 29  Lenski points out that converts did not always immediately withdraw from their pagan customs and become instantly perfect in sexual purity; 30  thus Paul set up this standard of moral character.

Indeed, to say that a man's character means that he is content with his one wife is not lowering God's standard; it is putting the emphasis where it belongs -- on the quality of a man's moral attitudes after his conversion.  To judge a man's spiritual qualities on the basis of a sin committed before he was saved, before he was capable of understanding God's will or Word, and before he had the power of Christ's life within him is to create a false standard that detracts from God's wonderful grace and which also fails to deal with the real issue of 1 Timothy 3.

In 1 Timothy 5:9, Paul wrote that before a widow can be added to the official widow's list of the church, she must meet certain qualifications, including "having been" the wife of one man" ("enos andros gune

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