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Options for Interpreting 1 Timothy 3:2a,12a Print E-mail
Friday, 25 August 2006

General Thoughts:

1.  The qualifications for elders and deacons are present conditions (see 1 Timothy 3:2).  A person is not disqualified for being a drunkard in High School.
2.  Translating the actual phrase is difficult.  Basically it comes down to three words in Greek: mias  (one) gunaikas  (woman/wife) andras (man/husband).  Thus, it could be translated: husband of one wife, or, one woman man.
3.  In trying to get at Paulís meaning, we need to consider grammar (see above), context, and other Scriptures, or larger context.  This is how we need to critique our interpretations.

5 Possible Interpretations:

 1.  An Elder/Deacon must be married in order to hold office.  The obvious problem with this is that neither Paul nor Jesus was married.  Also, in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul talks about advantages for being single and doing ministry.  Thus, I cannot support this interpretation.

 2.  An Elder/Deacon cannot remarry after his wife dies.  Again, this is not supported by other    passages (see Romans 7:1-3, 1 Timothy 5:14).

 3.  An Elder/Deacon cannot be divorced (and remarried).

  A.  If Paul wanted to prevent a divorced man from being an Elder/Deacon then he could have easily said that.  Yet, the word for divorce is nowhere mentioned in the text. 
  B.  All of the other qualifications are present conditions (as noted above).  Paul is concerned with the present life of the candidate. 
  C.  Granted the Bible is very pointed in speaking out against divorce and we should be as well.  However, this does not mean that we make divorce the unpardonable sin.  Every other sin a man can commit and later become an Elder/Deacon except for divorce (at times, the New Testament does not treat divorce as a sin, see Matthew 5:32, 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:12-16).  Thus calling divorce the unpardonable sin for Elder/Deacon qualification seems to be a stretch. 
  D.  As Paul goes on to argue, a deacon must manage his household well, so we could say that divorce is often an indicator that there is problem.  Yet, to elevate it to the unpardonable sin for Elder/Deacon ministry is a little much and is not the necessary interpretation (see below).  Thus, I reject this interpretation as well since it is not supported by the grammar (see A), context (see B), nor other Scriptures (see C and D).

 4.  An Elder/Deacon cannot be a polygamist (or have multiple wives). 

  A.  Some argue that polygamy was not a problem when Paul was writing.  However, this is not necessarily the case.  Many leaders and influential people in society had multiple wives simply because they could (like Herod the Great), it was almost a sign of leadership and power.  Yet, not so in the Church.  For the sake of a proper representation of the gospel, a man should not have multiple wives. 
  B.  A similar phrase is used in 1 Timothy 5:9 which cannot refer to a woman having multiple husbands.  This is true, but does not force the issue in 3:2 or 12.  The phrase is similar but the context is different, so it is hard to dismiss this interpretation based simply on this verse.
  C.  Paul did not want the church to pattern its leadership after the world, thus, multiple wives were forbidden for men in leadership.

 5.  An Elder/Deacon should be a one woman man. 

  A.  This means that an elder/deacon should be faithful in all areas to his wife.  He should be devoted to her and to her alone.  He is not developing inappropriate relationships with other women, be they sexual or not.  Rather, he is a one woman man, faithful in all areas to his wife. 
  B.  Think of it this way: just because a person has not been divorced does not necessarily mean that he is a one woman man.  He may have had affairs, he may be a womanizer (someone you would not want talking to your wife), he may be addicted to pornography.  Thus, I think Paul is calling us to work a little harder in our examination of deacons.  We must look at their overall character, not just certain actions. 
  C.  For me, this interpretation has the greatest support: it works grammatically (the meaning of the words), contextually (it is a present condition qualification), and it fits in with the larger New Testament teaching on divorce.  Thus, of the five offered, I support this interpretation the most.

 I think the two best options are 4 and 5, with 5 being the most faithful because it would even include 4 (you cannot be a one woman man and a polygamist at the same time).  It is this option that deals with the grammar, context, and other Scriptures most faithfully.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 27 August 2006 )

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