Fowler Baptist Church

Chapter 2


The Most Common Interpretations


As we begin to examine our phrase “the husband of one wife”, our primary concern should not be: “What does this mean to the church today?”  Rather we should be asking and investigating: “What did the Holy Spirit mean to say when He led Paul to write this phrase the way he did?”  “What meaning did the original readers glean from Paul’s statement?” After all, the language he used was the “koine” Greek, the everyday language of the common folk, who surely must have understood exactly what the apostle was saying to them.

μιας γυναικος ανδρα,

mias, gunaikos, andra,

one, woman, man

We also need to be careful that our personal preferences do not cause us to stumble into any one particular interpretation. 

Christ Himself warns us that we are not to “add to” nor “detract from” the Sacred texts. Scripture will always be able to interpret Scripture, if we are willing to allow it to do so. If the Bible clearly shows a truth that “goes against the grain of our personal beliefs”, then we, as mere mortals, must accept that truth without reservation or complaint. Having been raised in a very strong Roman Catholic family in Ireland, I can personally attest to the veracity of that statement.

Once I was introduced to the claims of Christ, I had to investigate and come to a realization that Mary (to whom I had had a particular devotion) was in fact no more a part of my salvation than I was.

So, if after my investigation  of the “husband of one wife”, I discover that this particular text is more INCLUSIVE than I would wish it to be, I still must accept the truth as presented. If on the other hand, the text proves to be more EXCLUSIVE, then so be it.

The key to complete understanding of any Scripture is to come to it with an open and teachable mind. Outside of that, Satan will be happy to teach you lots of man-made rules and regulations, but as is his norm, those will be nothing but a warping of the truth God has given to us.

Remember, Scripture is given to us so that WE might change in obedience to God’s Word; Scripture is never given to us so that we might change IT to fall in line with our own ideology or pet interpretation on any subject.

Here then are several popular interpretations of the Timothy / Titus verse:

1. The candidate must not be a polygamist. He must have only one wife.

This interpretation is generally dismissed by many scholars who claim that polygamy was not common in the days of the early church. Yet, history records that this is not exactly true.

Polygamy did exist within the Roman and Greek cultures and in the Roman culture especially it was normative for a man to have at least one mistress if not more.  When sinners were saved out of this popular culture, many of them continued their unsaved behavior patterns. This is why one of Paul’s ongoing themes in the Bible is the concept of change and growth in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

On top of this, the consequences of this polygamist (or licentious) lifestyle meant that men coming into the church would bring with them , not one, but sometimes three or four families, with all of the added difficulties this would bring to his Christian life.

What was he to do? Divorce all of the “wrong” wives and desert those children? It is one thing to repent and be saved, but the consequences of sin often linger for a long time. What if the “other women” also became Christians?  Doesn’t he have an even greater duty to them and to their offspring?

The truth is that sometimes new believers found themselves in this situation and Paul therefore admonishes the church that such should not be in a leadership role.

Now, while this interpretation is plausible, I do not believe it is the whole and final truth. We must investigate further to reveal the “whole counsel.”

 2. The candidate must be married. Single men need not apply.

The idea for this interpretation comes from Acts 26:10, where Luke talks about the time Paul cast his vote against the new sect of Christians. Some scholars maintain this shows that Paul must have been a married man in order to be a voting member of the Sanhedrin (either his wife had died or divorced him).

Since it appears therefore that Paul himself was now not married, then it is very unlikely that he would restrict single men as to their ability to serve in leadership roles and in 1 Cor. 7, the apostle presents his teachings that unmarried people should be encouraged to greater opportunities for service.

However, proponents of this view emphasize that the proper role of church leadership is to be a good example to the church members and to the community without. This would include family life; being a good manager of the household and having children who believe and are steadfast. Thus, they say, a church leader could not fulfill this requirement if he is not married. I personally prefer to see a candidate who is married,but a single man if nominated, should be provided the opportunity to “prove” himself just as any other candidate should. However, due to the quirks of human nature, oftentimes, a single man (even if he is older) is not accepted in leadership by many people in the congregation.

3. The candidate must have remained single after the death of his wife.

This is a very shaky interpretation, since the Bible teaches that a man whose wife has died is free to remarry if he so chooses. In spite of what some modern “fundamentalists” preach, there is absolutely no evidence in Scripture that a man who remarries after the death of his wife is unfit for a leadership role. If Paul had wanted to make the statement that a widower should remain single if he wants to serve in leadership, then he would have directly said so in language similar to what he used in 1 Cor. 7.

4. The candidate must NEVER have been divorced.

This interpretation is by far the most common and most popular among conservative Christians. It has within it a tendency towards absolute belief --- no questions  asked, no debate. If a man has been divorced, he is permanently disqualified from leadership and that’s the end of it.

However, many Christians are unaware of the fact that in the Greek there are specific words and phrases for “divorce”.

It is very significant that if Paul was meaning to say a man can never have been divorced and be in leadership, he did have specific terms he could have used to say this. In fact, he could have said that a man is to be “not divorced” just as easily as he says “not quarrelsome” and “not a drunkard”.

The question we must ask is: If Paul, who is not known for “beating around the bush” or “mincing his words”, had wanted to teach that a candidate must not be ever divorced, then why did he choose to use such an ambiguous term as “the husband of one wife” when a more simple and more direct Greek phrase was available to him? 

Add to this that none of the remaining qualifications are ambiguous in any way and we must ask ourselves why the Holy Spirit chose this specific phrase.

We will discuss this later in greater detail.

 5. The candidate can have been divorced, but only under certain provisions.

(i) He is the innocent party.

(ii) The divorce happened before he came to a saving knowledge of Christ.

(iii) Even if the innocent party, if the divorced occurred after his salvation, he must spend years “proving” himself before he can be considered.

Once again, this interpretation requires us to delve more deeply into the total concepts of what Paul is actually saying. This is will dealt with later.

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