[Editor’s note: Nothing has generated more viewership and discussions/comments in this site than the post “Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored To Leadership?” It suggests that people are genuinely interested in the subject of church leadership. On the other hand, there are many people (based on the people’s comments) who do not yet understand the biblical qualification for a pastor/an elder. As a result, two of our contributors recently wrote very helpful “to the point” posts on this issue: “Other Thoughts on Fallen & Restored Pastors” from Dr. Phil Siefkes and now this one by Shaun Armstrong. We pray that more churches would uphold God’s standard than man’s standard.]
One of the many things that should mark God’s people is sexual purity (Acts 15:29; 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 15-20). But the reality is that Christians sometimes fall into sexual sin (1 Cor. 5). Further, the reality is that even Christian leaders sometimes fall into sexual sin. This is especially tragic due to the fact that pastor’s lives are so public and are to exemplify purity in every way.
It is important to note that one of the qualifications for pastors is to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). The phrase “the husband of one wife” is literally translated “a one woman man.” The pastor then is to be a man, but not just any man, a one woman man. The word “one” is an adjective that describes what kind of man the pastor is to be and it is placed in the emphatic position.
But what does it mean to be a one woman man? In an effort to answer that question, let’s consider some of the various interpretations of what it means to be a one woman man:
1. A Married Man.
Some would say that in order for a man to be a pastor/overseer/elder in the church he must be married. But this doesn’t seem to be the correct interpretation since the Apostle Paul was an elder (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 2:16) and yet he wasn’t married (1 Cor. 7:8). Rather than requiring elders to be married, Paul is assuming that most men get married, and when they do, they must be one women men.
2. A Monogamous Man.
Some would say that if the pastor is married, he must only have one wife at a time. In other words, this is a prohibition against polygamy. The Bible certainly teaches monogamous marriage (Gen. 2:24) which should certainly be upheld by pastors. But this doesn’t seem to be the primary meaning of what Paul has in mind since polygamy was not widely practiced in the Greco-Roman world at that time.
3. A Non-Remarried Man.
Some would say that an elder must only have one wife in his lifetime and never remarry for any reason, including the death of a spouse (i.e. a prohibition against remarriage). But this doesn’t seem to be the proper interpretation since the Bible not only permits remarriage after the death of a spouse (Rom. 7:1-3) but encourages remarriage for widows (1 Cor. 7:39; 1 Tim. 5:14).
4. A Non-Divorced Man.
Some would say that an elder must never be divorced. It is this writer’s perspective that divorce may or may not disqualify a man from pastoral ministry. This would need to be treated on a case by case basis. The two issues that would need to be investigated are when and why the divorce took place. Did the divorce take place before the man became a Christian? If so, it is this writer’s belief that a man’s life prior to his conversion does not necessarily hinder him from becoming an elder. Consider the Apostle Paul’s life before his conversion (Acts 9:1; 26:10; 1 Tim. 1:13). Also, why did the divorce take place? The Bible gives permission for divorce in two circumstances, namely adultery (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9) and abandonment (1 Cor. 7:15). But a man may be married to only one woman, having never experienced a divorce, and yet not be a one woman man.
5. A Faithful Man.
The main idea of being a one woman man is sexually fidelity and purity, whether he is married or single. It is possible for a husband to be married to only one woman and yet not be a one woman man if he has sexual desires for other women (Matt. 5:27-28) or engages in sexually inappropriate behavior with other women. So to be a one woman man means that a man is faithful to his wife, not just in his actions but also in his thought life.
William Hendriksen says “Accordingly, the meaning of our present passage is simply this, that an overseer or elder must be a man of unquestioned morality, one who is entirely true and faithful to his one and only wife; one who, being married, does not in pagan fashion ever get into an immoral relationship with another woman.”