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The Husband Of One Wife (1 Timothy 3:2) – NLT Study Bible and ESV Study Bible

Another qualification of elders that has been argued over is that of being “the husband of one wife.” Literally, this is “a one woman man.” Let’s see how the new study Bibles tackle the issue.

NLT Study Bible:

3:2 must be faithful to his wife (or must have only one wife, or must be married only once; literally must be the husband of one wife; also in 3:12): This assumes but does not require a married male. It mainly addresses purity and faithfulness in the marriage relationship, something that could not be taken for granted in the surrounding culture; it probably does not prohibit remarriage after the death of a spouse (see 5:9), nor does it address the issue of polygamy. See also 3:12; Titus 1:6; cp. 1 Tim 5:9.

 

ESV Study Bible:

3:2 The meaning of husband of one wife (Gk. mias gynaikos andra) is widely debated. The Greek phrase is not common, and there are few other instances for comparison. The phrase literally states, “of one woman [wife] man [husband].” (1) Many commentators understand the phrase to mean “having the character of a one-woman man,” that is, “faithful to his wife.” In support of this view is the fact that a similar phrase is used in 1 Tim. 5:9 as a qualification for widows (Gk. henos andros gyn; “one-man woman,” i.e., “wife of one husband”), and in that verse it seems to refer to the trait of faithfulness, for a prohibition of remarriage after the death of a spouse would be in contradiction to Paul’s advice to young widows in 5:14. Interpreters who hold this first view conclude that the wording of 3:2 is too specific to be simply a requirement of marriage and not specific enough to be simply a reference to divorce or remarriage after divorce. In the context of this passage, the phrase therefore prohibits any kind of marital unfaithfulness. (2) Another view is that “husband of one wife” means polygamists cannot be elders. Interpreters who hold this view note that there is evidence of polygamy being practiced in some Jewish circles at the time. On this view, the phrase means “at the present time the husband of one wife,” in line with other qualifications which refer to present character. On either of these views, Paul is not prohibiting all second marriages; that is, he is not prohibiting from the eldership a man whose wife has died and who has remarried, or a man who has been divorced and who has remarried (these cases should be evaluated on an individual basis). (3) A third view is that Paul is absolutely requiring that an elder be someone who has never had more than one wife. But that does not fit the context as well, with its emphasis on present character. On any of these views, Paul is speaking of the ordinary cases and is not absolutely requiring marriage or children (cf. v. 4) but is giving a picture of the typical approved overseer as a faithful husband and father.

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Since these qualifications are to reflect the character of the man who is qualified to be an elder, I believe Paul is instructing the churches that elders are faithful to their wives. Why would a man be penalized from being an elder if his spouse dies and he marries again? God commanded that a person can marry when a spouse dies (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39), so it would be inconsistent to then say that a man exercising his right to marriage is now disqualified from becoming an elder. I believe this point is also true for those who divorce for the cause of sexual immorality and remarry. This is also a right given by God. If your spouse cheats on you, your have the right to divorce and marry another (Matthew 5:32). I believe it would be wrong to argue that a man who has the right given by God to divorce a cheating spouse and marries another is now disqualified from the eldership. We are to be looking at the character of the man. His faithfulness to his wife reveals that godly character. A person who has not been faithful to his wife is certainly not a man who is “above reproach.”