Understanding the One Woman Man
Examining The Moral Qualifications Of A Bishop Or Deacon
Can a divorced or remarried individual serve as an appointed church leader? Does such a person meet the qualifications set forth for bishops and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13? How should we view one’s marital status and the office he seeks to serve in light of his needing to be “above reproach” before the congregation and in the eyes of the general public? The crux of the divorce debate centers on the fact that the candidate must be either “only married once” or “married to one person at a time.” This is a delicate and controversial subject that has visited and divided many congregations and church boards.
THE GRAMMAR CONSTRUCTION - The One-Woman Man
When examining the moral qualifications of a bishop or deacon, it is important to look at the overall idea of the passage as well as the specific grammar and construction. These qualities were meant to show that a leader in the church must be a godly man. The elders of the church were to act as examples of Christ-like living to the church and the community at large. This is seen in Paul’s first qualification, which most believe to be the key to all of the other specifications, “Now a bishop must be above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2). This condition sets the tone for the remaining qualifications, including the question of the candidate’s marital status.
The meaning of the phrase, “married only once” (NRSV) or "husband of one wife" (NASB), if you like, comes at the heels of the first qualification clearing up the controversy of whether a pastor can be divorced or not. There is nothing mysterious about the Greek phrase mias gunaikos andra, which simply and literally means "one woman man." Kenneth Wuest expresses this view in his translation of this passage, “He must be a one-wife kind of man in that he isolates and centralizes his love upon one woman and that forever.” Living in a culture where the temptation toward unfaithfulness was rampant, Paul made it clear that an elder in the church was to be a “one woman man”—loyal to his wife and to her alone.
In 1 Timothy 5:9 the same phrase is used in reference to a widow who has only been married once "Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once." There is no controversy with the interpretation of the phrase in this passage, meaning that the widow should have only one man. The word translated "husband" in 1 Timothy 3:2 is the Greek word aner, which means, “man.” There is no reason to give it a different meaning in 1 Timothy 3:2. Therefore the normal use of the language and the phrase “married only once” means that a bishop must be a man (husband) of only one woman. This verse sets forth a moral qualification that anyone who aspires to a position of a bishop or deacon should not be divorced or remarried.
THE PROPER INTERPRETATION - The One Flesh
There are several New Testament principles that help us to understand that this is the correct interpretation. Divorce represents a failure in the home, so that even though a man may be forgiven for any sin involved, he remains permanently disqualified for leadership in the congregation (1 Tim 3:4-5; 1 Cor. 9:24-27). 1 Timothy 3:4-5 sets forth a fifteenth qualification for a prospective bishops, "He must manage his household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way—for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?" A man whose marriage failed certainly would be suspect of not ruling his house well.
We must understand that God is giving us the highest of standards for a man who would be Christ's "under shepherd" and pastor His congregation. Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” A man whose marriage fails regardless of who was at fault cannot present a proper example to other believers. He may be a godly man after his divorce, but unfortunately the stigma of divorce will forever mark him and make his familial leadership abilities suspect and thereby disqualifying him for this responsibility.
We must understand that no one man is so important to God that He would set aside truth and righteous principles simply to use that man. The word of God applies equally to all and it is our acceptance of it and obedience to His truth that validates a person as qualified to serve the Lord. In principle, “Surely, to obey (God’s word) is better than sacrifice,” (1 Sam 15:22). God's very nature makes it impossible for Him to bless human error and put His approval on anything that has the best of godly intentions but is sadly tainted or impure. And when it comes to the issue of divorce, the Bible always casts a negative light upon the subject presenting it as a relational failure of the most intimate kind. When some Pharisees cornered Jesus with a test question concerning divorce, he put their lawful reasoning on the spot (Mk 10:1-12). Divorce was a hardhearted human problem treated with a certificate of dismissal. Yet Jesus overrides Moses’ command by returning to the beginning of creation and reminding them of God’s sacred matrimonial covenant of “one flesh.” “For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel” (Mal 2:14-16).
THE PREMIER POSITION - The Noble Task
Others reason that if it can be established that God will allow divorce and remarriage then a divorced man would technically and legally be entitled to become a bishop. However, this is not sound reasoning and misses the point of God giving the qualifications of a pastor. We need to keep our focus on the subject being addressed by the passage, and contextually, the passage is addressing the minimum qualification of the highest position in a congregation that being the one who would “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). God's pastor must be of the highest character as presented in 1 Timothy 3:1-9. The last stated qualification sums up the whole of fifteen previous stating he must be of good report of those both inside the church and outside in the community.
Although some argue that this interpretation is unnecessarily harsh and unfair, supporters of this view contend that the very existence of a set of qualifications for a bishop or deacon indicate that not all people are to be eligible for these leadership roles, but that this in no way should eliminate them from other sorts of ministry. Yet when it comes to serving God in a highly visible role inside and outside the church, Paul's warning stands clear; a godly church needs godly leaders whose lives meet the godly criteria. We must be very careful whom we entrust with this office of responsibility—this noble task.
In his book entitled Strike the Original Match, Chuck Swindoll recounts the television talk show he saw sometime ago. The guest actor being interviewed happened to be well known for his romantic roles on film. Predictably, he was asked, “What makes a great lover?” Everyone watching the show seemed confident that he would give the standard macho-playboy response. To the surprise of the host and the audience, his answer must have raised eyebrows all across America. The guest actor answered, “A great lover is someone who can satisfy one woman all her life long, and who can be satisfied by one woman all his life long. A great lover is not someone who goes from woman to woman to woman. Any dog can do that.”
© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.
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