ON BEING ORDAINED AND SINGLE (Part 1 of 2)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
“...the husband of one wife...”
Scriptures: 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Corinthians 7
Does a Pastor Have to be Married?
Many intelligent, well educated, biblical commentators who have researched the words “...the husband of one wife...” found in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6-9 have reached the same conclusion that I, and many that I know, have. That conclusion is this, “husband of one wife” does NOT mean that an elder or pastor must to be married. The phrase simply means that if a man is married, then he needs to exercise marital fidelity, be loyal and faithful to his wife, and not be polygamous. There are many reasons for holding the view that marriage is not a requirement for an elder or pastor. One is that Paul himself appears to not have been married and therefore would not have included a qualification for elders that would exclude himself. To me, this is simply a matter of common sense. William Mounce summarizes this well when he states: “But the list is not a checklist requiring, for example, that all church leaders be married and have more than one child. Paul and Timothy were not married, nor did they have families (as far as we know), so neither of them could be a 'one-woman' man or manage his household well” (Mounce, 46:156-159).
What is being discussed in these passages is the personality and character of the person, not the life circumstances they currently finds themselves in. Therefore these texts are simply saying that the person pursuing the office of elder or pastor needs to have a character that shows he would remain faithful to his wife. If the candidate's character and reputation is such that it reflects proper morals and fidelity, whether or not they are actually married “to one wife,” appears not to be the root issue.
In addition, a host of Greek scholars and writers hold to the view that the phrase “husband of one wife” is better interpreted as “one-woman man,” “or something like 'a one-woman sort of man' or 'a man who has the character of fidelity to one woman if he were married'” (Glasscock, 140:249-252).
Of course the answers to our questions need to come from asking, “what do the Scriptures say?” Many ministers have a tendency to take hold of what other ministers have preached or taught without going to the Scriptures themselves and doing the proper research. Others also just take a quote they have heard somewhere to support their position and what this ends up doing is showing that they clearly don't have a proper understanding of the Word of God. Still others who wish to dispute this issue just parrot what they have been taught from those who lead them and merely conclude that anyone who disagrees with them are wrong. Another thing that is done is by taking a passage out of context, without expounding on it in any way, and presenting it as though it settles the matter when often times within itself it is not the complete answer. It is true in part but not the whole. The problem is that this ignores the things like the author, recipient, date, location, context, culture, history, original languages, and grammar, which all need to be taken into consideration. It is simply ignorant to claim that only married men are able to teach, preach, and handle problems that arise in the church.
Let's look at the specific New Testament passages which refer to the qualifications for an elder, deacon, and pastor that include the phrase we are looking at right now, “the husband of one wife.” Here they are:
1 Timothy 3:2 - “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (ESV).
1 Timothy 3:12 - “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well” (ESV).
Titus 1:6-9 - “if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife,and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer,as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy,and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (ESV).
If one pays particular attention to the wording Paul uses they will realize that the issue at hand is not the marital status of the candidate. What is being considered is his moral and sexual purity. All of the items listed fall within the categories of behavior and reputation except for marriage and children. Marriage and children are positional, they are life stages. Why would the list of qualifications all be centered in behavior, morality, and reputation and then include two positional qualifications that interrupt the flow of the message? It just doesn't make sense to look at this one phrase separate from everything else that is going on.
The phrase “husband of one wife” does NOT mean that elders, deacons and pastors must be married men. Again, the Greek scholars tell us this phrase is better rendered as “one-woman man.” Paul was eliminating the possibility of Christian men with more than one wife holding any of these positions in the local church. A Christian man who had two or more wives, plus children, would be unable to have the proper focus on his family and have time to devote the appropriate care for the church. As stated previously, Paul's major implication was that a polygamist is not qualified to be an elder, deacon, or pastor.
When the Gospel was fully given to the Gentiles, when it was fully realized by the Jews that the Gentiles were included in God's plan, Paul then had to add an important clause to what had already been made known from the apostles in Judea back in Acts 6 (honesty, Holy Spirit empowered, and wise). Unlike the Jews, who by now were for the most part monogamous, it was still fairly common among the Gentiles to practice polygamy, so Paul found it necessary to add this clause for those married men who desired to serve – they “must be the husband of one wife,” that is, they must be a “one-woman man.”