In one week three people asked my opinion on a pastor being divorced and remarried. In my forty-seven years of ministry I don't remember doing an in-depth study on the subject, I just had my opinion. 

The Scripture verses alluded to in such questions are 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6, which deal with pastors, and 1 Timothy 3:12, which deals with deacons. These are found in the qualifications that Paul laid down to Timothy and Titus concerning pastors and deacons.

Let's lay some foundation. The terms "elder," "bishop" and "pastor" are all speaking of the same office, which today we call "pastor." In the New Testament "elder" is the actual name of the office, "bishop," meaning "superintendent" and "pastor," meaning "shepherd," are descriptive titles of the office. The qualifications found in 1 Timothy and Titus are for elders (pastors) and deacons. Any other office or position does not fall under these qualifications. May I also point out that not all preachers are pastors.
The first word in the list of these qualifications for pastors is "blameless." In my opinion all the qualifications that follow are describing how a man is to be blameless. 

To begin my study I looked at the Greek construction of "husband of one wife" found in all three verses and found them to be very similar. The same words are used. The Greek word used for husband is aner, which is translated both "husband" and "man." The Greek word used for wife is gune, which is translated both "wife" and "woman." Since that did not give me a conclusive answer to the meaning of "husband of one wife" I checked a dozen or so commentaries to see what others have thought about these passages. I found that through the years preachers have held (and still do) to four basic positions. They are:

        1. A pastor must be a married man. 
        2. A pastor could be married only once, regardless.
        3. A pastor could not be divorced and remarried.
        4. A pastor could not be married to two women at the same time.

    Since the commentators did not agree on the meaning, the Scriptures mentioned might mean any of the above.
    Now it is time to do some serious study and see if we can arrive at some conclusion. Whatever conclusion we arrive at, I know we will still not all agree.

    First, the term "husband of one wife" could mean that a pastor must be a married man. Although I was not able to confirm it from over half a dozen commentaries or dictionaries, I have always heard that members of the Sanhedrin had to be married men. Also, "The Jews teach, a priest should be neither unmarried nor childless, lest he be unmerciful [Bengel]. So in the synagogue, 'no one shall offer up prayer in public, unless he be married' [in Colob, ch. 65; Vitringa, Synagogue and Temple]."1 If the members of the Sanhedrin had to be married, and priests had to be married and you couldn't publically pray in a synagogue without being married, it would not seem unreasonable that a qualification for being a pastor would be to be married.

    Second, the passages in question might also mean that a pastor could only be married once, regardless of the circumstances. "The most strict interpretation and the one common among the earliest commentators (second and third centuries) . . . extends the prohibition to any second marriage, even by widowers. Their argument is that in the first century second marriages were generally viewed as evidence of self-indulgence. . . . According to this strict view Paul considered a widower's second marriage, though by no means improper, to be evidence of a lack of the kind of self-control required of an overseer, in much the same way that a similar lack disqualified a widow from eligibility for the list of widows."2 1 Timothy 5:9 seems to support this position since Paul said "having been the wife of one man" was a qualification for a widow to be put on the list to receive help from the church.

    The third and most commonly held view today is that a pastor could not be a man who had been married, divorced and remarried. The thought is, if a man is divorced and remarried he has "two living wives" and is not the "husband of one wife." The divorced and remarried man does not have two wives. As L.D. Foreman used to say in class, "If a divorced and remarried man has two living wives, he should be arrested for bigamy." In John chapter four, Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Go, call thy husband, and come hither." The woman answered, "I have no husband," to which Jesus replied, "Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly." Jesus did not say, "You have five husbands" but "You have had five husbands." He did not say she had five living husbands, He said she did not have any husbands. He said she spoke the truth when she said she was not married even though she had been married five times.

    The Law of Moses stated in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that if a man divorced a woman she was free to remarry. However, if her second husband divorced her or died, she was forbidden to again become the wife of her first husband. If she had "two living husbands" she should have been able to return to her first husband since he was still her husband. The plain teaching is, she was no longer married to her first husband when she was divorced and remarried.

    While we are here, let's put to rest the phrase, "living in adultery," as it applies to a divorced and remarried person. "Living in adultery" is not a biblical phrase. Jesus taught that if a man divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery. If his divorced wife marries she and her new husband commit adultery (Matthew 5:32, 19:5). Adultery is not something you "live in," it is something you "commit." When a divorced person commits himself to a new mate in marriage and seals it with the sexual act (even though it may be adultery) the bonds with the first mate seem to be dissolved and there seems to be no relationship whatever with the first marriage.

    If our scriptures in question teach that "husband of one wife" applies to a divorced and remarried man, it is not because he has "two living wives." It would have to be because of the influence his divorce would have on his testimony.

    The fourth position is that "husband of one wife" teaches against polygamy or bigamy. Whatever position you take on these verses you must conclude it teaches against polygamy and bigamy. You cannot be the husband of one wife and have two wives. However, this does not seem to be the primary meaning since the Gentiles in the first century did not practice polygamy.

    Now, for what it is worth, I will now give you my sincere opinion. (It is not the position of Florida Baptist College, it is my opinion.) I think I will reject all of the four above positions and agree with Kenneth S. Wuest when he says, "The words, when used of the marriage relation come to mean, 'a man of one woman.' The nouns are without the definite article, which construction emphasizes character or nature. The entire context is one in which the character of the bishop is being discussed. Thus, one can translate, 'a one-wife sort of a husband,' or 'a one-woman sort of a man.' . . . Since character is emphasized by the Greek construction, the bishop should be a man who loves only one woman as his wife. It should be his nature to thus isolate and centralize his love."3

    I feel that this qualification has to do with the character of the man more than whether he must be married, be married only once or has been divorced. A pastor must be a man whose affections are centered exclusively on his wife. If he has a "wandering eye," he is not the sort of person who needs to be in the pastorate. I once knew a pastor who was married only once but flirted with all the nice looking ladies. I don't think he met this qualification. My opinion is, this qualification is all about character.

Let me leave you with a few jewels I ran across. Wuest also said, "In some matters 'the common sense of most' is a safer guide than the irresponsible conjectures of a conscientious student." I think it was Ravi Zacharias I heard say, "The more words it takes to defend your position the more likely you are of being wrong." James A. Harris said, "The difference between a conviction and an opinion is that you can discuss your convictions without getting mad."


1Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. 1997. A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, Wash.
2Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.
3Wuest, K. S. 1997, c1984. Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English reader . Eerdmans: Grand Rapids

The following appeared in the March 2005 issue:

    I have known for a long time that people do not hear what I say, they hear what they think I say.

    However, I was not aware that people read what they think I wrote. After my January article on "The Husband of One Wife," it has come back to me that I wrote things I did not know I had written.

    For example, I have heard that I wrote that a pastor could have all the wives he wanted as long as he has them one at a time. I did not say that because I do not believe that.

    As a little background, I concluded in the article that I believed that the teaching in Timothy and Titus had to do with the character of the man and not with the fact that he may have been married twice. In other words, he is not a womanizer. He is interested in his wife and only in his wife. For example, some of our past U.S. presidents were married only once but they were not "one woman men." They would not qualify for the office of pastor or deacon even though they had been married only once. 

    In my opinion, if a pastor or deacon divorces his wife in order to marry another woman, his character is such that he does not qualify for the office and his ordination should be rescinded. It is not a matter of "one wife at a time," it is a matter of his wife being the only woman in his life. I remember one of my instructors, Leo Causey, saying something like, "If you are married to the witch of Endor, you made a commitment to stay with her all of your life."


by Raymond McAlister
January 2005