husband of one wife

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“Husband of One Wife” – What does this mean?

mwoc-2A common argument for limiting the pastoral ministry to men only is to cite a number of texts where the requirements for elders/overseers/etc. are given. Among these, one which allegedly shows that women are not to hold positions of authority in the church is the statement that the holder of such a position is to be the “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; 12; Titus 1:6).

On the face of it, this seems to be a pretty telling argument. After all, if someone is the husband of one wife, then that would certainly seem to exclude women! So what’s the problem?

Is your pastor married?

You see, if someone wants to take the statement in its most literal sense, it isn’t merely, abstractly stating that the overseer/bishop/deacon/elder is supposed to be a man; it is actually saying he is supposed to be a husband.* So if one wants to take the Bible in its most “literal” reading, then one must argue that not only may women not be pastors; neither may any unmarried (or remarried, or divorced, or widowed, etc.) men. Period.

So what’s the problem with this? The problem is that once we get to this level, it should be pretty easy to see how absurd the argument is. What the phrase is intended to convey is monogamy. That is, church leaders are to be monogamous. The teaching is pretty clear when understood in this light. If one is to be a leader in the church, it should be easily observable that they are monogamous and celibate apart from marriage. There are to be no exceptions.

If someone wants to dispute this and press that the real point is that one must be a man, then they must equally argue that no church leader should be unmarried. Considering Paul himself extolled the values of remaining unmarried (and was himself unmarried), such a reading of Paul is problematic, at best.

All of this is to set aside the other difficulties with using passages like this to restrict women from the ministry. One example is the excessive addition of male pronouns into the English translations which are not present in the Greek (see Philip Payne, Man and Woman: One in Christ, 445 [I have reviewed this book here]). Another problem is that they seem to be teaching against polygamy as opposed to any type of gender restrictions (ibid). Finally, the lists of requirements are stated in such a way as to make it actually open for women to hold such offices (Payne, 448-452).

Even if one disagrees on the last paragraph, it should be clear that one cannot use these passages to restrict women from the ministry. They simply do not have the data in them to allow for such a restriction.

*(Yes, I am aware that it may be translated “man of one woman,” but that just makes it extremely clear that the meaning is supposed to be referring to husband and wife. After all, what other reason could there be to be “of one woman”?)


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Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).

Paul Adams has a series of posts on Philip Payne’s work discussed herein. Check out his series, starting with the first post.



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