Who Is Qualified To Serve

Positonal Statements

An examination of

1 Timothy 3:2, "The Husband of One Wife."

By: Randall J. Runions

How are we to interpret the passage, "the husband of one wife?" This passage should not be one of debate when it is properly examined. It is my personal belief that people have made this passage into something that God never intended. When one considers the Biblical qualification of this text, the most often overlooked part is the qualification, blameless. When a man is being considered for pastor/deacon/elder one should consider all qualifications equally. One should not take any phrase apart from the whole. One who desires the office of bishop, elder, overseer, or deacon "must be." The entire list of qualifications depends upon the verb tense. The word implies that it is absolutely imperative that the qualifications be present without exceptions.

The word that sets the tone for the passage is the word blameless. If, in some way, he has subjected himself to some open, scandalous sin, vice habit, or incident, "presently" then he is disqualified. This does not mean that a man is perfect or that a besetting sin can be counted against him as blameless, unless it is open and scandalous. This is not a reference to sins committed before he matures as a Christian. He is a model of godliness. One can fall into sin and disqualify himself from ministry. The question often discussed is how long must one be blameless? Should this be 1, 5, 10, or 15 years? It is my personal belief that when his repentance is as open as was his sin then he is on the right track.

The word blameless, or above reproach, is present tense in the Greek language. John MacArthur states, "there is no valid accusation of wrong doing that can be made against him." We are to consider this mans current status. It does not take long to look into ones past to see something that would disqualify one from service. That is because all unregenerate men are spiritual failures.

The phrase husband of one wife has good men lined up on various interpretations of this phrase. For one to say that there is only one interpretation of this passage is to be in the dark. There are basically 5 interpretation of the passage "mias gunikas andras, μιας γυναικος ανδρα, husband of one wife." I would like to, for a short time, look at all five. The first interpretation I would like to consider is as follows:

  1. "not a bachelor" The early Greek church demanded the priest to marry and forced the man to resign if the wife should die. This interpretation has difficulty standing. Paul would have to disqualify himself if he meant this interpretation. I Cor. 7:8 we see Paul expressing the benefits of remaining single. A single person does not have much to concern himself with, if he is single. He is able to devote his time to the Lord’s service. Personally, I have known many men who were not married and served the church in a ordained position with complete devotion.

  2. Some interpret this passage as a requirement that one would not remarry after the death of a spouse. This interpretation cannot support itself very well since the passage does not deal with one’s marital status and the Bible encourages remarriage after widowhood 1 Tim. 5:14, 1 Cor. 7:39. Their reasoning behind this interpretation says, If one remarries he is no longer the husband of one wife and therefore disqualified to serve as an elder / deacon. This interpretation will have difficulty standing.

  3. "not a polygamist" This is an extremely popular view and one that is the most popular interpretation within the Christian church today. This was the position of John Calvin, an early author/commentator. Some go on to debate this further by stating that polygamy was not a practice in the early church. The "lex Antoniana de civitate" is mentioned by Josephus. This law made monogamy the law for the Romans, making and exception for the Jews. In 285, Diocletian rescinded the exception. Theodosius in 393 enacted a special law against polygamy because the Jews persisted in it. One cannot say polygamy did not exist. Certainly, a polygamist would be disqualified to serve as a pastor/elder/deacon. King David was a great leader and a type of Christ in the Old Testament, but he would not be qualified to pastor a New Testament church. I had a missionary one time visit my church who ministered in Nigeria. She stated that there were times when Muslims would be converted and they had more than one wife. The men in those relationships would not be considered to qualify as elders or deacons in the church.

  4. Another interpretation states that "One must not remarry after being divorced from his wife." This is a popular view in many churches today. Some teach that Paul was excluding divorced men from leadership in the church. Their interpretation ignores the fact that this passage is not dealing with marital status. There is nothing in the context that the author was considering marital status. To accept this teaching is to force an interpretation on the passage that was not meant to be. The Bible does not prohibit all remarriage after a divorce. If Paul in his text wanted to prohibit remarriage he had available to him the word gameo, which meant, married only once. This would have prevented the remarried from holding an office in the church. The Lord permitted remarriage when a divorce was caused by adultery, Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:9. Paul lists a second reason found in I Cor. 7:15. God hates divorce but is gracious to the innocent party. There are some who say there is never an innocent party but the Bible declares there is an innocent party. Remarriage is not a sin when it is done according to scripture and therefore does not have to be a mark against a man. If the man ends up divorced because of his own inability to lead his family then that would disqualify him v:5 in his present state. Sometimes a divorce ends up because of the Christian living of a man is rejected by the wife. When marital status is forced upon this text the interpretation becomes very narrow. Consider completely the full extent of this narrow interpretation of this passage. What is the church to do with the innocent person. They will say there are other things they could do. But this interpretation does not consider the meaning of the passage in true context. There is a victim of the divorce and if the victim is considered innocent according to scripture we should confirm them. To simply state this, only deals with divorce leaves open a lot of unanswered questions. I personally know a pastor who has been involved in affairs with various women of the churches he has pastored. He is a dynamic speaker. He is always forgiven and continues to pastor to this day because he did not get divorced. Personally, I do believe this man is unfit and unqualified for leadership. Scripturally, this man is unqualified because he cannot be held to blameless.

Please remember one cannot make his mate serve the Lord and one cannot make a mate stay if she decides to leave. What is one to do if a divorce takes place or is about to take place if he holds to this position? Is he to ask God to kill the guilty to enable him to continue in the pastorate? The one who holds this position may not say that but that is the direction to which that position leads. One of the pastors in the area leads one of the area’s largest conservative churches. He was convicted of murder and eventually let out of prison. He pastors successfully now but if he had been divorced what would happen then? The murder was forgivable but the divorce was not. How silly. One can be forgiven of the multitude of sins but his position shows no grace for the divorced, especially the one sinned against, the innocent. If lying, murder, child molestation and such can be forgiven why is there this problem with offering grace to the divorced? What about the one involved in pre marital sexual relationships? According to this position, just make sure you don’t get married, for if you do and divorce, then you are then unqualified. There are so many holes in this position. I hope one can understand why it is not easy to accept this position. Remember, that divorce in itself is not necessarily sin but always a result of sin. One should interpret the text the way Paul intended it to be, not how we want to interpret it. This position must be rejected.

  1. The fifth position I think is more in line with the scriptures. This position states that the husband of one wife literally "a one woman man" speaks of marital fidelity. This passage speaks of a man’s current status and has been one to prove himself as being devoted to his wife. He loves her only and is not a flirtatious man. This man was/is an example of morality. We live in a day where sexual sins abound. If this man is married, he is devoted to his wife. This man is not involved in any with sexual sins such as porno, extra marital affairs or flirting. This is an example of a man’s current life. If the woman divorces this man, then he is clear before God. Remember, that in the past before conversion, everyone was a failure spiritually. This is the position I believe best represents Paul’s intention for the text.

The first qualification of an elder/deacon/pastor is to be blameless or above reproach. If the divorce and /or remarriage results in a poor testimony for the man in the community or church it is possible that the above reproach qualification could exclude him rather than the husband of one wife qualification. I have seen men who made the wrong choice in a remarriage and that choice flawed them from serving in leadership. The elder/deacon/pastor is to be a man that church and community can look up to as an example of Christ-likeness and godly leadership. If the divorce is on his part or the remarriage is to one who would not be one that was to a godly example herself then perhaps he should consider stepping aside. It is important to remember that just because one has had a divorce and /or remarriage in his background that he is not a valuable member of the church. Every Christian has spiritual gifts that he can use in the church 1 Cor. 12:4-7 and it is imperative that he use them. There are a number of things a man can do who has become disqualified from the pastor/deacon/elder role. He can still teach the Bible, serve, pray, and play an important leadership role in the church.

To summarize these statements, I believe the efforts of the church today should be to build up godly homes rather than penalize people who have been victims of divorce. I think it is a silly mistake to announce that 50-60% of the people who walk into the doors of our churches will be permanently regulated and disqualified from leadership positions, forced to serve as second class Christians, when they now are trying by the grace of God to live for Him now. Why not practice grace instead of judgment?

I have listed some recommendations and links below to further study this topic.

http://www.epm.org/articles/one_wife.html   Randy Alcorn

http://www.believersweb.org/view.cfm?ID=793  Believers Web

http://www.spiritandtruth.org/teaching/documents/articles/15/15.pdf  Andy Woods

http://www.biblebb.com/files/elder.htm  Robert Saucy

http://www.biblebb.com/files/tonyqa/tc00-82.htm  Tony Capoccia

http://marks.9marks.org/Mark9 Defining Elders by DA Carson



John MacArthur Commentary, 1 Timothy, Moody Press

Jay Adams, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Zondervan Publishing

Spiros Zodhiates, May I Divorce and Remarry, AMG Publishers

Spiros Zodhiates, What about Divorce, AMG Publishers

A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament In the Light of Historical Research, Broadman Press


Randall Runions, Pastor

317 Church Street

Po Box 161

Clifton, Tn 38425