Can a divorced man be an elder or a pastor?
There are five primary answers that have been given or proposed in the past to the question, “Can a divorced man be an elder or a pastor of a church according to Scripture?” In this short study, the five answers will be presented and the one I believe to be correct explained. The reason for the question is that both 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 state that an elder must be “the husband of one wife.”
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach . . .1 Timothy 3:2
. . . appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe . . . Titus 1:5-6 (NASB)
View #1 – Must Be Married
The first view as to the meaning of “the husband of one wife” is that it means a candidate for the office of elder or pastor must be married. But this view has several serious problems. The first problem is why would the apostle Paul write, “mais gynaikos aner” which literally means “one woman man” rather than say the elder “must be married” or a “husband of a wife.” That is, “mais gynaikos aner” is an awkward way to say the man must be married.
The second problem with this view is that Paul was not married (1 Corinthians 7:7-9; 32-35), but he was an apostle. Further, he is the one who wrote these qualifications for an elder. Paul also tells us that an apostle has the right to take along a believing wife (1 Corinthians 9:5). Additionally, the gospels reveal Jesus was never married. If an elder or a pastor must be married, why were the apostle Paul and Christ Himself who were even more important not married? Therefore, this view is rejected.
View #2 – Can Be Married Only Once
Others claim that “the husband of one wife” means an elder or a pastor can only have been married one time. That is, he cannot be married a second time. The first objection to this viewpoint is that the apostle Paul never said the elder cannot have been married twice. Greek words exist for this phrase, but he did not use them. The second problem is that nowhere in Scripture does God forbid a person who has lost their spouse through death, from marrying again (Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39.
A third problem with this view, although a weaker one, is why would God deny a man from being elder or a pastor when marriage would meet his sexual needs (1 Corinthians 7:2-6). Finally, 1 Timothy 4:1-3 warns us that false teachers prohibit marriage. Does this warning not apply to church leaders? If so, why not? Therefore, this view is rejected.
View #3 – Polygamy is Prohibited
A third view was very common with some early church fathers who believed that “the husband of one wife” prohibited elders and pastors from having more than one wife at the same time. That is, polygamy was prohibited. But if Paul wanted to prohibit polygamy, he could have simply said, “the husband of not more than one wife,” or “the husband of not more than one wife at a time.”
Additionally, the phrase “the husband of one wife” occurs again in 1 Timothy 3:12 and Titus 1:6; but in 1 Timothy 5:9, Paul reverses the order of the Greek words to communicate “the wife of one husband.” Since Paul is giving the qualifications that widows must satisfy in order to be taken care of by the church, then are we to believe that widows were prohibited from having multiple husbands? If the phrase “the husband of one wife” is supposed to mean that Paul was trying to prohibit polygamy in 1 Timothy 3:2, should we believe Paul was prohibiting polyandry for women? Nowhere in Scripture or in the time of Christ was polyandry an issue. This fact argues for a different meaning of the phrase “the wife of one husband” in 1 Timothy 5:9, and likewise a different meaning for “the husband of one wife.” That is, “the wife of one husband” is not about a polyandrous marriage. “The husband of one wife” is not about a polygamous marriage.
View #4 – Cannot Be Divorced
A fourth view states that “the husband of one wife” prohibits the man from being divorced. This view is very common. But there are serious problems with this view. First, Paul could have simply said a prospective elder “must never have been divorced.” But he did not use any of the common Greek words for divorce that appear in the New Testament (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-4, 11-12; Luke 16:18 and 1 Corinthians 7:11-12). Secondly, Jesus and Paul both permitted divorce with the right to remarry. For more information about divorce and remarriage read, “A Biblical Divorce.” Finally, the man’s function and management of his family is covered by 1 Timothy 3:4-5. Therefore, this view is rejected.
View #5 – Must Be Completely Faithful
The correct view is that “the husband of one wife” refers to a man who is completely faithful to his wife. This view is superior to the divorce and polygamy views. The literal Greek of a “one husband woman” describes the character of the man. His only interest is his wife and not other women. This man is not looking at other women, fantasizing and lusting after other women. Sadly, a man who has never been divorced and was not polygamous can still commit adultery in his heart. Then he would not be “the husband of one wife” in the widest sense of the qualification. For more information, read, “Adultery in the Heart.”
The second reason this is the correct view is that “the husband of one wife” is truly an adjective that describes the man’s character, whereas, divorce refers to an event which could have been initiated by his wife (Mark 10:12). It is important to note that all of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 describe patterns of life. Divorce does not describe a pattern of life but an event.
Can a divorced man be an elder or a pastor? The answer is yes, but then he must first demonstrate a pattern of faithfulness to the Lord over years before he can be considered for the office of elder. All of the qualifications describe patterns of life. If single events that violate the qualifications can disqualify a man, then no man will ever be qualified to serve as an elder or a pastor. Therefore, all of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 describe patterns of life. This requires time for observation. For more information read, “Church Leadership – Function and Qualifications of Elders
Suggested Links:Church Leadership – Function and Qualifications of Elders
A Biblical Divorce
Adultery in the Heart
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What are the qualifications of an elder?
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Since I am divorced, can I be in the ministry?
Can we elect divorced men to serve as deacons?