Question:

What does the statement husband of one wife mean in regards to an elder?

Answer:

"The husband of one wife" (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).

Only a married man may be an elder. Single men are eliminated as well as men who practice bigamy. The Law of Moses did allow some men to have multiple wives in certain situations (Exodus 21:10), but such men entering the Christian religion from Judaism could not serve as elders of the Lords flock. Neither can a man be involved in an adulterous relationship, whether caused by cheating on his wife or by an improper divorce (Matthew 5:32; 19:9).

Obvious, though sometimes contested, this qualification also eliminates women from the position. Despite the objections, the eldership holds authority over the congregation (Hebrews 13:17) and women are forbidden to hold authority over men (I Timothy 2:12).

It is sometimes argued that a man who has married again after the death of a spouse or a proper divorce is eliminated from consideration for the eldership. To argue such is to say that the man's first marriage continued past the death of his spouse or the proper divorce of a sexually immoral wife. Yet Paul said, "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man" (Romans 7:2-3). If a man has two wives, he is an adulterer. Since death releases the marriage covenant, remarrying after the death of his first wife does not mean he is the husband of two wives. Since Matthew 19:9 implies that a man may remarry after divorcing his wife because she committed fornication, this situation also does not cause a man to be the husband of two wives.

Another question that arises is whether a man may serve as an elder if his wife has died and he has not remarried. Since Paul's instruction to Timothy in I Timothy 3:2 is that an elder "must be" (i.e. present state of being) and Titus' instructions were also in the present tense, we must conclude that the elder must be currently married. Just as a man cannot serve as an elder because he once was not self-willed or that he used to be hospitable, there is no indication that an elder can serve based on his past marital status.

October 15, 2010