The Husband of One Wife

Here is an excerpt (with a bit added) from something I handed out at church Wednesday night. I was teaching about the two offices of Pastor and Deacon, as a part of my “what is a Baptist” series.

I’m definitely not trying to convince anyone this way or that, I simply want to show that this is a debated topic. You cannot present any view as “more conservative” or “the baptist view.”

Also, I believe it’s very important that we recognize that divorce, in an of itself, from a New Testament perspective, is not necessarily a reflection on the character an individual. There is grace, there is healing, there is sanctification.

At the same time, with offices like Pastor and Deacon, we should

“not be hasty in the laying on of hands” -1Tim 5:22

Because Baptists believe in biblical authority it’s not a church, it’s a book that makes the call. Because we believe in autonomy of the local church we leave it up to each congregation to determine its own qualifications based on their reading of Scripture. Because we believe in the priesthood of all believers, we seek God ourselves, we don’t rely exclusively on others. Because we believe in individual soul liberty it is up to every believer to think about these kinds of issues and decide for themselves.

I hope this helps you prayerfully think through this controversial topic, as it helped me.

“husband of one wife” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρες) is best understood as a statement regarding a man’s present character, not an exclusionary criteria based on past events. It is, in fact, not past tense. One must ask the question, of a candidate for office in the church, “how many wives does he have?” Quite simply put, it is not completely honest to say all divorced and remarried men have (present tense) more than one wife, they do not. Just as a widower does not (presently) have a wife at all. Divorce does not speak directly to a man’s character, though it can be a “caution flag” to investigate further. For example, his divorce may not disqualify him, but if his kids don’t live at home half of the time, he cannot be said to be “managing his household well” or “keeping his children submissive” no matter how good his kids are.

The Southern Baptist position on this qualification is reflected in the Holman Christian Standard Study Bible note on 1Tim 3:12

“The meaning of husband of one wife is widely debated. It probably does not refer to the issue of divorce. It could be a prohibition of polygamy, but most likely it refers to marital faithfulness in general.”

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is a standard reference textbook currently used to teach Doctrine at all six Southern Baptist seminaries. He addresses this phrase on pp. 916-17:

“The qualification ‘the husband of one wife’… has been understood in different ways. Some people have thought that it excludes from the office of [Pastor/Deacon]… men who have been divorced and have then married someone else, since they have been the husband of two wives. But this does not seem to be a correct understanding of these verses. A better interpretation is that Paul was prohibiting a polygamist (a man who presently has more than one wife) from being [a Pastor/Deacon]… (1) all the other qualifications listed by Paul refer to a man’s present status, not his entire past life… (2) Paul could have said ‘having been married only once’ if he had wanted to, but he did not… (3) We should not prevent remarried widowers from being elders, but that would be necessary if we take the phrase to mean ‘having been married only once.’ The qualifications for [Pastor/Deacon]… are all based on a man’s moral and spiritual character, and there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that a man who remarried after his wife had died has lower moral or spiritual qualifications. (4) Polygamy was possible in the first century… it is best to understand ‘the husband of one wife’ to prohibit a polygamist from holding the office of [Pastor/Deacon]…. The verses say nothing about divorce and remarriage with respect to qualifications for church office.”

Because the rest of the qualifications in 1Tim 3 have to do with the character of the man, it is not likely that “husband of one wife” deals specifically with the past event of a divorce. The Bible nowhere forbids remarriage after the death of a spouse, and Paul even advises younger widows to remarry in 1Tim 5:14. If the Pastor/Deacon qualification of “husband of one wife” in 1Tim 3 is taken to prohibit men from second marriages, then the qualification “wife of one husband” (ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή/) in 1Tim 5:9 would preclude the widows from receiving aid from the church if they followed Paul’s advice. This can’t be true. So, the qualifications for Pastor/Deacon deal with the present character of a man, not exclusions based on past events alone.

Famed Southern Baptist Seminary professor and linguist A. T. Robertson, as well as John MacArthur, J. Vernon McGee and Charles Swindoll all agree this phrase “husband of one wife” addresses the issues of polygamy or fidelity in marriage, not divorce.

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, Church, Positions. Bookmark the permalink.
  • good thoughts John- Grudem sheds good light on it and I get it, and I am strongly on board with restoration, forgiveness and healing and I love that you added “Famed Southern Baptist Seminary professor and linguist A. T. Robertson, as well as John MacArthur, J. Vernon McGee and Charles Swindoll all agree this phrase “husband of one wife” addresses the issues of polygamy or fidelity in marriage, not divorce.” at the end to cover any other basis 🙂