What does the "husband of one wife" phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2 mean? Can a divorced man serve as a pastor, elder, or deacon?


1 Timothy 3:2

ESV - 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.

Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

Community answers are sorted based on votes. The higher the vote, the further up an answer is.

Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
There are at least three possible interpretations of the phrase husband of one wife in 1 Timothy 3:2 (ESV). 1) It could simply be saying that a polygamist is not qualified to be an elder, a deacon ...

July 01 2013 6 responses Vote Up Share Report

Cross and bible   mp900384909 Pastor E H Botting
While we should all be allowing otherwise-qualified men "with pasts" to be or to remain ordained, unless the brother in Christ [hopefully, since 1 in 5 pastors in the USA is only in it as a vocation, not as a calling] is exhibiting current ungodly actions/words and/or does not appear to be completely and genuinely repentant [in event he was the party "at fault" in the marriage], however, to be specific about it, in the natural worldly facts of the matter, this can only be determined for any specific denomination by asking the denomination's headquarters, if there is no denominational by-laws and/or constitution available to review for the answer, on this issue.

I am personally acquainted with a previous drug dealer and double murderer who is now a traveling evangelist.  Even just lying puts those who are unrepentant into the same lack of a boat in the lake of fire as our Adversay, so true, God given, repentance that has been absolutely and finally accepted and developed in a person should clearly be considered sufficient, from God's viewpoint.  Witness that Saul was [at least] culpable in murders and yet God gave him full "soul-center" repentance and then used him mightily for the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and indeed he would have been ordained a Bishop in today's church organizations, as well as an apostle, and SAINT, so called by God!   I would certainly say that St. Paul was a man with a poor testimony in the church or community, before he was arrested, made a slave and imprisoned by our Lord and Saviour.  Then, of course, he became a man of poor testimony to the community from which he originated, but the very best testimony to his new fellowservants in Christ.  Christ is our Redemption, so let's just lift Him up, and let Him draw ALL MEN unto Himself, to be whatever type of vessel God has determined for each one.

September 26 2013 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Johnnatta Giles Spirit Filled Christian
That depends on what God says about it. When you have a call on your life God will not take that call away rather you sin or not. You can walk away from your call and it will still be there for you to come back to. I have been divorced and remarried and God told me my anointing after I had married my husband. I was scared because I felt unworthy but He said to me "it's really not about you." He gives us that anointing before we were even formed in the womb and there's nothing that will change that. Now God can decide to move on if you do not want to repent and follow Him but he wont take that call off your life because of your past mistakes. That was mine and my husbands situation. So really its not about what you did but what God has done in you. Anyone seeking to be an elder or any type of leader must seek God and make sure that is what God wants them to do. He is a forgiving God and every gift He gives us is for his Glory.

July 09 2013 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini Bryan Myers Minister of the Body of Christ
When attempting to interpret Scripture and place relevance in modern context, many forget to look at the original context of the passage or letter. I the case of 1 Timothy, Paul was writing to his assistant who had been sent to ensure the leadership in the local congregations was in place and were well appointed. These congregations for the most part were comprised of gentile converts, or a blend of Jew and gentile. At this time in history, polygamy was still practiced and accepted in the Roman empire. The phrase, "husband of one wife" is literally "one woman man". In the context of the original recipients, this is not a prohibition against a person who has been divorced with Scriptural authority from serving as an Elder. Rather it is stating that the Elder must be devoted to his one wife and not in a plural marriage.

June 12 2014 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Data Bruce Lyon Elder: Restoration Fellowship Assembly
The question is:"What does the "husband of one wife" phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2 mean? Can a divorced man serve as a pastor, elder, or deacon?"

In the first century polygamy was still practiced by many Jews in Israel and throughout the dispersion. When a man came to believe in the lord Jesus' message of salvation and was married to more than one wife, he was restricted from serving as a pastor/teacher or deacon. The reason being that in a domestic situation where there is more than one wife, there are problems that arise that would detract from the duties of a pastor/teacher or deacon.

In the beginning it was God's intention that a man leave his mother and father and join with one woman of his choice and raise a family [Gen:2:24] Polygamy came in afterwards and was an accepted practice by many who were men of renown in God's service.

In actual fact there are no restrictions against polygamy in the scriptures, not even in the New Testament. There are no restrictions against slavery in the New Testament either as we see from the letter that Paul writes to Philemon about his slave Onesimus who had run away and found his way to be of great service to the apostle Paul.

Am I saying the believers to-day should practice polygamy or have a slave? No, absolutely not. The laws of most countries do not allow either. Yet there are some countries that do allow polygamy and if a man comes to believe in the lord Jesus with two wives is he supposed to put one of them away. The answer is no and we can use the Old Covenant for instructions on this.

As for a divorced man serving as a pastor/teacher or deacon I see not problem with that as long as the wife that divorced him was an unbeliever and in such a case he is not bound as Paul says and can re-marry if he chooses to. I am talking about a man who was an unbeliever at the time of his divorce. When he comes to the lord Jesus all of his past sins are forgiven and he starts anew as a new creation in the lord Jesus. However, that being said there may be a continual price to pay for past sins, such as support for the divorced spouse and provision for any children, etc.

June 12 2014 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

1336403685 Carlos Crispin
The scripture means what it says the husband of one wife, Paul also reminded Titus about this. If a murderer or a drug dealing gets saved and delivered from sin and the calling is on his life and if he answers the call the he is good as long as he is married and not divorce plus you don't become a pastor overnight you have to put in your time, first you start as a minister and work you way on up remember their are qualification you have to meet. And yes God can use a murderer because he cleaned up Paul before he used him. You cannot be a pastor if you are divorce it doesn't matter if you come out from the street like God may clean you up but you are still divorce. When the spouse dies than you are free from the law.

July 09 2014 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

My picture Jack Gutknecht ABC/DTS graduate, guitar music ministry Baptist church
It means that a pastor, elder, or deacon must not be divorced and remarried. But in answer to your excellent question, no, but if the cleric lost his wife to death after his divorce, I would say he could be still considered for the ministry. And he could remarry, otherwise Genesis 2:18 and 1 Timothy 4:3 mean nothing.

July 01 2020 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini Ian Cowan Retired Chemistry Teacher & Biblical Creationist
So far, no-one has considered the possibility that the phrase could also be read thus: "wife of one husband".

(In case you think this is heretical: I am not a radical feminist - please read my justification below for this seemingly heterodox interpretation!).

i) The near-identical phrase is used with respect to deacons later in the chapter (v12 - note the plural context).

ii) Phoebe was a female deacon (Romans 16:1) - the Greek is diakonon, which is simply the feminine of the word used for a male deacon. Translators down the centuries have - without warrant - used "servant" here; some modern translations (eg. NLT, NRSV) have had the courage to correctly use "deacon".

iii) Hence the phrase in v2 is - likewise - not necessarily gender-specific; rather it refers to marital fidelity, as many have said.

iv) Conclusion: leaders of God's people are usually men, but He can choose women if He wishes (eg. Priscilla - Rom. 16:3-5). He is bigger than our traditions and prejudices!

[NB. There are 15 Judges mentioned: 14 men + Deborah]

February 10 2023 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Justin Hale
Most 'modern' Christians have absolutely no idea what this phrase means because the actual 'roles' of women in the Church are completely foreign to them.

The Holy Spirit separates women out into two distinct groups: the 'gyne' which were married women; and the 'parthenos' which were 'virgins.' 

The men were each obligated to protect and guide women from one group or the other based upon their individual divine calling. For example, in Acts 21:8-9 we read of 'Philip the evangelist' who had 'four virgin daughters who prophesied."

A 'prophet' carried authority in the Church above that of a 'teacher' and just below that of an 'apostle,' the highest position of authority, (1 Corinthians 12:28).

So we see females in a position of authority greater than the 'teacher' which is a position that the Holy Spirit restricts 'women' from holding or ever exercising authority over a man' (1 Timothy 2:12). Except, this is NOT the word 'parthenos,' it is the word 'gyne' which is the MARRIED woman. 

The Holy Spirit does not allow MARRIED woman to hold positions of authority or even speak aloud in the Church. She is assigned to a 'man' and learns from him privately at home. While we can presume this 'man' to be her husband, that is not necessarily the case because being married to an 'unbeliever' is permitted as long as the spirit of the spouse is willing to remain in the marriage. Either way, she is required to 'learn' at home, which is her domain of instruction.

The 'virgins' had no such restrictions and could speak openly in the Church and learn there. However, 'for the sake of the angels' they too remained always under the authority and instruction of a man. (1 Corinthians 11:10). 


Interestingly, it is the same reason that Christ, (though fully equal with GOD the Father), nevertheless remains 'visibly under His authority,' (1 Corinthians 11:3). 

Why would any deviation from this 'order' offend the angels?

The angels are 'ordered' based on 'when' they first arrived within Creation. GOD is 'before all things,' (Colossians 1:17), and after Him they are ordered accordingly. To their viewpoint, it was a 'male' human that arrived first, afterwards the 'female.' Since then, every 'male' has come from the 'female,' thus, making them 'perfectly equal.' However, the 'proper form' acknowledges the 'original' arrangement. To ignore this, denies the narrative and 'offends' them. 

Similarly, every 'man' is visibly under the authority of 'Christ' since 'before Abraham was I AM," (John 8:58), a statement reminding us that Jesus Is also the 'Word who with GOD and was GOD, from the beginning.' (John 1:1). 

Jesus is also the 'Firstborn among many brothers.' (Romans 8:29), in reference to resurrection, which is why it will be His voice calling us to awaken, (John 5:25-29), and His authority and protection under which we will remain thereafter, (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

Could any of this be done 'differently?'

Of course it COULD, but the whole idea is to ceaselessly retell the WHOLE story every time we tell any part of the story. That's what the angels do. They maintain the holy narrative.

Eve was a 'married woman' and she was deceived while trying to 'improve' her situation for herself and her husband. This does not apply to the 'unmarried' woman, so she is not 'restricted.' This 'virgin' is Eve BEFORE her deception. That part of the narrative is equally important too.

Above all, Christians are absolutely NOT involved in any form of 'social justice' or 'progress' based on ethnicity or tribal histories, birth class, education level, or gender, (Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:11). 

In other words, we are already 'perfectly equal' across all of these lines according to the same holy narrative. Any perception otherwise is merely a failure to grasp the 'required order' that tells the ONLY story worth telling. 

It 'offends' not only the angels, but each one of us when any one of us 'fights' for an equality we already have if we just live it out.

February 10 2023 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Add your Answer

All answers are REVIEWED and MODERATED.
Please ensure your answer MEETS all our guidelines.

What makes a good answer? ▼

A good answer provides new insight and perspective. Here are guidelines to help facilitate a meaningful learning experience for everyone.

  1. Adhere to the eBible Statement of Faith.
  2. Your answer should be complete and stand-alone.
  3. Include supporting arguments, and scripture references if possible. Seek to answer the "why".
  4. Adhere to a proper tone and spirit of love and understanding.
  5. For more info see The Complete Guide to eBible
  1. 4000 characters remaining