Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Husband of One Wife?

In discussing the biblical qualifications of pastors, we deal in our Pastoral Ministry course with the phrase "Husband of one wife." Here, I articulate my argument that the phrase speaks to marital fidelity (a "one woman man") rather than a variety of alternative interpretations.

- The husband of one wife – literally “one-woman-man”

--- Various interpretations

----- Catholic: Married to the church; used to defend celibacy

----- Exclusion of Polygamists: Although polygamy was practiced in the ancient world, it was illegal in the Roman Empire, and certainly unacceptable in the church. Though grammatically possible, it seems historically unlikely.

-----Exclusion of Unmarried Men: Not popular; not likely. Paul could have simply said “married” if this is what he intended. Elsewhere (1 Cor 7), he extols the virtues of singleness for the purpose of serving the Lord. Paul himself was unmarried when he wrote this, yet considered himself an elder (cf. 2 Tim 1:6; 1 Tim 4:14). Also, if this means the pastor must be married, then the passage about keeping his children under control must mean that he must have children. This is hardly tenable.

----- Exclusion of Remarried Widowers: Nowhere else in Scripture is this frowned upon (1 Tim 5:14; Rom 7:1-6; 1 Cor 7:39). In response, it may be argued that all these passages address widowed women, while Scripture is silent concerning widowed men. That silence may well be instructive in excluding this interpretation.

----- Exclusion of Divorced Men: One of the most popular views. It is argued that a previous divorce may affect a man’s reputation (3:7). It is also consistent with other passages throughout the NT on divorce (Matt 19:9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 6:18; 1 Cor 7:10-11; Rom 7:23). Some state that divorce would disqualify a man on other counts as well, such as not ruling his household well (1 Tim 3:4). This may be true, and therefore I would affirm this view with some reservations, but on the basis of 3:4, not 3:2 exclusively. I remain convinced that there are clearer ways in Greek to state “never divorced” than “husband of one wife”/“one woman man”. Also, notice that the emphasis in all these qualifications is the man’s present standing, not his past sins. If all his past sins were in view, then (for instance) we would have to interpret the next criteria as meaning that he must have never been intemperate; but we understand that it means that he may have been intemperate in the past, but not now. Note, one variation of this view holds that a pastor may have been divorced, but must have never remarried, unless it was to the original spouse. In general, I think this is sound biblical wisdom for all Christians, but I come short of disqualifying a man for ministry on this basis alone.

----- Marital Fidelity: This is the view I hold. I believe that “one-woman-man” most plainly means that the man, if married, must be completely and unquestionably devoted to his wife. After all, there are plenty of men who are not polygamists, not remarried widowers, and not divorced and/or remarried, but who are not “one-woman-men.” Also, even an unmarried man can be a “one-woman-man” in the sense that he is not a flirtatious womanizer; he is sexually pure as a single man. MacArthur, though he affirms the ideal of an undivorced pastor, also affirms this sense of the expression, saying, “The pastor must have a reputation of being sexually pure. If he is married, he is devoted to his one wife, not scandalized by past mistresses, illegitimate children, or present adulteries. He loves and desires only one woman and has been faithful to her.

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