The Baptist Beacon
Husband Of One Wife
by Timothy Binion
1Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
I recently saw a sign at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant that read "These are 10 commandment not recommendations" and thought how some churches simply take these seven pastoral requirements under advisement. While 1 Timothy 3:2 clearly reveals intolerance, stating that a "bishop must be". . . or he is disqualified to over see the flock of God, some only consider them as recommendations.
In the same manner physicians, lawyers, pharmacists, policemen, teachers, etc . . must meet certain requirements, pastors MUST be blameless, MUST be the husband of one wife, MUST be vigilant, MUST be sober, MUST be of good behavior, MUST be hospitable, MUST be apt to teach.
A flawed character or a criminal past automatically disqualifies a person from many worldly professions. Our schools require finger printing and background checks from all its employees, preventing convicted sex offenders from working in our schools. Our society expects accountability and holds professionals to a moral, ethical, physical and intellectual standard for the safety of its citizens and credibility of the profession. Its unfortunate that physical, moral, and intellectual impairments (past, present or future) limit acceptance in some occupations.
Our Church government also has an ethical standard, where only the qualified can hold office. One ordained as a pastor or any pastor serving a church must maintain these scriptural qualifications. Though all of them are important and required, the most misunderstood is the "husband of one wife".
This requirement "one woman man" has been understood in several ways. Some suggest that it means that a bishop must be married. The argument is that a single man would not have the proper breadth of experience to deal with family problems as they arise. If this expression means that a bishop must be married, then it must also be argued in verse 4 that an elder must have children as well, following the same line of reasoning.
Others think that the husband of one wife means that if a bishop’s first wife died, then he does not marry again. This is a very strict interpretation that might cast reflection on the holiness of the marriage relationship and lacks harmony of other scripture.
The most popular interpretation is that a bishop must not be divorced. Another popular view is that a bishop must not have been guilty of any unfaithfulness or irregularity in his marriage.
His moral life must be above question. This is certainly true, whatever else the passage might mean, character is the main theme of these passages.
Some try to use the original language to lower the standard set forth in this passage but the Greek words used in 1 Timothy 3:2 "mias" (one) "gunaikos" (woman) and "andro" (man), lift the standard. According to the Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest; "The literal translation is, ‘a man of one woman’ the words used of a marriage relation come to mean, ‘a husband of one wife.’ The two nouns are without the definite article, which construction emphasizes character or nature. The entire context is one in which the character of the bishop is being discussed. Thus, one can translate, ‘a one wife sort of husband’ or a ‘one-woman sort of a man’." Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament by Kenneth S. Wuest. No matter which commentary or scholar you read after or position you take our text says "one woman man" and a one woman man is what it means.
Greek Scholars translate into our language at times adding words and trying to interpret these original words and phrases to convey their rightful meaning. This scholarly interpretation is much needed but not always right. These three words construct a phrase stating that a Pastor must be a "ONE WOMAN MAN."
Though some try to suggest it means one wife at a time, the words "at a time" don’t exist in the original text nor is there a direct reference to polygamy found in the Greek construction, it simply says "a one woman man."
We understand and accept the formation of Greek words that form a theme or stress an area of emphasis. In 1 Timothy 3:2 the main emphasis is character. "Since character is emphasized by the Greek construction, the bishop should be a man who loves only one woman as his wife." Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament by Kenneth S. Wuest.
The interpretation suggested by some that this means one at a time comes from a "there and then" idea and not from the original Greek language. In the time when Paul wrote this epistle they say; people were tangled up with their polygamous associations even after they were converted, having more than one wife. "But the objection to taking this meaning is, that the Apostle would hardly have specified that as a requisite for the episcopate or prebyterate, which we know to have been fulfilled by all the Christians . . . . no instance being adduced of polygamy being practiced in the Christian church, and no exhortations to abstain from it" (Alford, page 54). Alford makes a good point.
If polygamy was a problem in the church, where is the scriptural evidence? Can we produce one case of it in the Church and where is the exhortation to abstain from it? We use scripture to interpret scripture but a cross reference can not be found.
So it’s clear to see that those holding this position do it by opinion and not scripture references or the Greek text. The great Greek scholar A. T. Robertsons held this position but clearly it was his opinion and not based on any textual proof or the Greek language construction.
The Bible consistently presents monogamy as the divine ideal. The Creator made marriage as a union between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:18–24; Matt. 19:4–6; 1 Cor. 6:16). Apparently polygamy, like divorce, was tolerated because of the hardness of people’s hearts (Matt. 19:8). However, it seems by the lack of passages to correct a polygamy problem, (if it was a problem in the church) that God preferred polygamy over divorce. If One Woman Man refers to polygamy and it is the lesser offence, where does that put divorce and adultery in relationship to this phrase?
All cross references point to Christ restoring the original marriage relation, one woman for one man. In Matthew 19:4-6 "And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Obviously those saved and added to the church were not required to divorce their wives if they had more than one or return to a first wife previously divorced. The Apostle Paul made that clear in 1 Corinthians 7:17 and instructed them to keep the marital states they had before they were saved, unless those certain disclaimers mentioned earlier apply. Paul wrote; "But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches."
However, in the two Church offices (Pastors and Deacons) marital status mattered and the original model was strictly enforced.
The Pastors and Deacons must have the creation model of marriage, that same creation model taught by our Lord Jesus Christ. This same standard was also required in order to qualify as a widow indeed "having been the wife (gune) of one (henos) man (andros)" (1Timothy 5:9). Strongs # 1135 & #435 found here are the same used in 1 Timothy 3:2 meaning ONE WOMAN MAN, only the endings are different. A. T. Robertsons wrote; "Widows on this list must not be married a second time". Robertson changes his opinion of this phrase when it reappears in the fifth chapter.
Perhaps gradually through these examples a correction would be introduced in all areas that violated the one man for one woman relationship. This absolute standard set forth in Deacons and Pastors offices, would always in every age keep us mindful of our Lords teachings on this subject.
The Apostle used a clear simple expression "one woman man" to cover all relationships that violate the one woman for one man principle taught by Christ.
The broadness of the phrase covers all the new social wrongs in our society, like "significant other" "homosexual partner" "living together" etc. . .
The ambiguity of "one woman man" clearly serves to cover all areas of violation no matter how our society changes the male/female relationship.
A "one woman man" clearly exempts a polygamist, a divorced or remarried man, and a man known to be unfaithful to his wife. Common sense says a "one woman man" would not have given a bill of divorce, and then taken another, or have many wives at once, or at any time violated the one woman for one man teaching of Christ.
I believe this phrase places the greatest emphasis on marital faithfulness, as Jesus did in Matt. 19:5 and many scholars agree. The New Living Translation scholars translated it "He must be faithful to his wife" The Contemporary English Bible scholars translated it "be faithful in marriage". Marriage is the uniting of a man and a woman into "one flesh." Any form of violation excludes a man from the Pastoral office. A pastor unfaithful to his wife is like a brain surgeon cutting off both his hands, he no longer can perform brain surgery. No hospital would hire him, no insurance company would cover him and no patient would see him.
The traditional and most widely accepted view of Bible-believing, soul-winning preachers also has strong support from scholars and other scripture. They believe that a pastor must not be divorced and remarried Matthew 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. Greek scholars support this position by translating the phrase in the New Revised Standard and the New American Bibles, "married only once." History has shown it almost never works for a pastor to be divorced. If he cannot rule his own house how can he rule the church? Without exception the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ should only allow to pastor, the "ONE WOMAN MAN"