Husband of One Wife?
Q. A church member has been remarried two times although his circumstances make sense. His first wife died tragically in a car accident. His second wife left him when he became a believer because she was an atheist. But, his third wife is a wonderful Christian woman. He wants to go into the ministry, but some feel he has violated 1 Timothy 3:2. What do you think?
Qualifications for Overseers
For our readers 1 Timothy 3:2 says, "Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money" (ESV).
According to theologian MacArthur "the husband of one wife" isn't the best translation of this phrase. He believes the words translated "wife" (gunaikos) and "husband" (aner) are more accurately translated "woman" and "man." It more clearly means a one-woman man (MacArthur 1996, 219).
The Life Application Study Bible notes state,
"Paul's statement that each elder should be faithful to his wife prohibits both polygamy and promiscuity. This does not prohibit an unmarried person from becoming an elder or a widowed elder from remarrying" (pg. 2693).
The Reformation Study Bible adds that this does not prohibit remarriage after marital infidelity either (2005, 1754).
Death, Sexual Sin, or Abandonment
Although some say that a man can't be an elder if he has remarried for any reason, Paul could not have been referring to remarriage. God permits remarriage after the death of a spouse (Ro. 7:2-3, 1 Cor. 7:39).
Remarriage is allowed after divorce for two reasons: when one partner is engaged in sexual sin (Matt. 5:31-32). The second reason divorce is allowed is when an unbelieving partner leaves. 1 Corinthians 7:15 says, "If the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases…"
Character - not Marital Status
"The phrase 'one-woman man' doesn't refer to marital status at all. Paul is giving moral qualifications for spiritual leadership, not outlining what an elder's social status or external condition is to be. 'One-woman man' speaks of the man's character, the state of his heart. If he is married, he is to be devoted solely to his wife. Whether or not he is married, he is not to be a ladies' man."
Not Lustful or Flirtatious
MacArthur continues, "Unfortunately, it is possible to be married to one woman yet not be a one-woman man. Jesus said, 'Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart' (Matt. 5:28). First Timothy 3:2 is saying that a married - or unmarried - man who lusts after many women is unfit for ministry. An elder must love, desire, and think only of the wife that God has given him."
Top of the List Requirement
MacArthur concludes: "Sexual purity is a major issue in the ministry. That's why Paul placed it at the top of his list" (MacArthur 1991,219-221).
Life Application Study Bible, NLT. 2005. Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale.
MacArthur, John. 1991. The master's plan for the church. Chicago: Moody Press.
The Reformation Study Bible, ESV. 2005. Orlando, FL: Ligonier.