Q. What does ‘husband of one wife’ mean when applied to an elder or a deacon?
1 Tim. 3: 8 – 13 – NAS95
8 ¶ Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,
9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.
11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.
12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Let me take a few minutes to talk about these qualifications. What does “men of dignity” mean?
It means that he must be a man of serious outlook. Do you then think that this qualification requires that this man be someone who never cracks a joke or smiles? I don’t know anyone who would come to such a conclusion. What it means is that as a general characteristic, a deacon will be a person who is serious about the work of the Lord. This qualification does not require that he is 100% serious 100% of the time. It simply means that as a general rule, this is a man who takes serious his responsibilities.
Likewise, “not double-tongued” indicates someone who keeps his word. His yes is yes, his no is no. He keeps his commitments. Does this mean that he NEVER says one thing and does another? Does it mean that he is NEVER late for work, or says he will do something that he forgets about or procrastinates? Doe it mean that he is 100% in his committments and promises 100% of the time? The answer is no. It means as a quality that would describe this man he keeps his word.
Lets consider verse 12, I’ll come back to “husbands of one wife” in a minute, look at the requirement, “good managers of their children and their own households.” Does this mean that his children NEVER step out of line, never talk back, never get into any trouble? Does this qualification require 100% perfection from his children 100% of the time? No, it means, that as a general rule, he is managing well his family. It is a quality that can be ascribed to this man.
None of the qualifications here require 100% perfection 100% of the time. They are qualities or attributes that can be used to describe a good Christian man.
That brings us to this qualification:
one woman man
The graphic above illustrates the literal translation from the Greek New Testament. The New American Standard 95 translation adds the word “only” to their translation, which in this instance is very unfortunate. It is italicized to indicate that it is not found in the original language.
One of the first things we need to learn is that in the Greek New Testament there was no word for “husband.” The Greek word above translated “husband” is “andres”, of this word the Greek lexicon states:
1) with reference to sex
1a) of a male
1b) of a husband
1c) of a betrothed or future husband
2) with reference to age, and to distinguish an adult man from a boy
3) any male
4) used generically of a group of both men and women
Therefore, the translation of the word “andres” is dependent on the context. In the King James version of the New Testament it is translated “man” 156 times, and translated “husband” 50 times. In Matthew 1:19 it is used to refer to Joseph, Mary’s “husband” before the two of them were indeed married. When the word “andres” is used in context of a marriage relationship it can be translated husband, man, male, betrothed, or espoused.
Secondly, we need to understand that there was no Greek word for “wife.” In 1Tim.3:12, the Greek word translated “wife” is “gunaikos.” Of this word the Greek lexicon states:
1) a woman of any age, whether a virgin, or married, or a widow
2) a wife
2a) of a betrothed woman
Therefore, the translation of the word “gunaikos” is dependent on the context. In the King James version of the New Testament it is translated “women or woman” 129 times, and translated “wife” 92 times. The word “gunaikos” may be translated wife, woman, betrothed or espoused.
The Greek word “mias” is translated “one.” According to the Greek lexicon it may be translated:
1) one, only one, someone
Now that we know what it says, we need to know what it means. Through the centuries there have principally been three interpretations, although a fourth is worthy of mention. Some have “spiritualized” the term “gunaikos” to indicate that a deacon must be “married to the church.” Therefore, according to this interpretation, this qualification does not talk about the relationship between a husband and his wife at all. The three prominent interpretations that have been placed on this passage are:
1) A polygamist is not qualified to be an elder or a deacon.
This is indeed the most literal interpretation of the phrase, but it is very unlikely the proper one considering that polygamy was really not much of a problem in the First Century Church among Christians.
2) No man who has been divorced and remarried may serve as an elder or deacon. In other words, a man can only have been married once, except in the case of a remarried widower, or some would allow those who have been divorced and remarried for “scriptural reasons” to serve.
3) An elder or a deacon must be a “one-woman man.” This would indicate that the man must be absolutely loyal to the woman he is married to, indicating that the qualification focuses more on moral purity than on marital status.
In the church today no one that I know of holds the first position. Many of my brethren hold the second, and many more hold position number three. All of the Greek scholars that I am familiar with hold position number three.
Position number three is the only interpretation which takes into consideration both the context of the words used and the context of the qualification as given in First Timothy. The Scriptures allow for divorce and remarriage in exceptional circumstances (Matthew 19:9; 5:32), therefore it would be wrong to deny a man the opportunity to serve as a leader in the church based solely on his previous marital experience without knowing much more about the circumstances involved.
Since the definite article is lacking in the Greek text when speaking of the “woman” and “man” (wife & husband) the emphasis seems to be on the character or nature of the man involved, not his marital status. The whole tone of the context is an emphasis on the kind of man to be considered as an elder or deacon.
Greek scholars agree that the structure of this passage should be translated “a one-wife sort of husband.” Kenneth Wuest expresses this view in his translation of this passage, “He must be a one-wife kind of man in that he isolates and centralizes his love upon one woman and that forever.”
All of the qualifications given for elders and deacons are to be considered as attributes that men possess with some imperfection. No man would be 100% temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, men of dignity, not double-tongued, etc., to name just a few. In other words, none of the qualifications given for elders or deacons must be 100% present in perfect form for a man to be qualified. If “one-woman man” means, “married only once” it would be the exception to the rule.
Men are frequently tempted toward unfaithfulness. Paul makes it clear that a deacon, or an elder is to be a “one-woman man” – loyal to his wife and to her alone. What is stressed in this context is the character and the nature of a godly man, not a single experience in his life.