I was listening to the January 26, 2007 radio program online by Matt Slick of carm.org. Matt answered a caller’s question regarding women leading in the church by appealing to Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2 where it says that a Pastor/Elder/Overseer must be “the husband of one wife”. Matt said it was “case closed” because women cannot be “the husband of one wife”.
I appreciate Matt a lot for his excellent web site that exposes many cults and aberrant movements in Christianity and although I consider him a brother in Christ, I must disagree with him on his quick and pat answer to his callers regarding women in ministry. What Matt didn’t tell his callers and what he should have been challenged on is that “husband of one wife” used in the strict way that he uses it to disqualify women would also disqualify single men as well as married men without children, since the Elder/Pastor/Overseer is to be a “husband” and also required to keep his children under control (1 Timothy 3:4).
Instead of just shutting out women, single men and married men without children, we must work to understand what this passage means. Is 1 Timothy 3 a check list of qualifications (i.e. must be married, must be a father) or is it a set of principles that set a basis for godly standards? Every church that I am aware of uses 1 Timothy 3 to set principles because none of them forbid single men or married men without children from being a Pastor.
But if women are to be included along with single men and married men without children, then why did Paul say “husband of one wife” and he never said “wife of one husband”? The reason why Paul only mentioned “husband of one wife” is because it is a reference to polygamy. Polyandry (a woman married to several men at the same time) was not allowed in that culture and so Paul would not have needed to say that women in leadership must be the “wife of one husband”.
In the Jewish faith as practiced through the Talmudic law, Jewish men were allowed to have multiple wives but the High Priest was forbidden from being a polygamist. The High Priest could be married and divorced but he could not marry more than one wife at a time. The High Priest then, was to be “the husband of one wife”. Paul brings the same regulation to the leadership of the Church. Although polygamists could become part of the congregation, they were not allowed into leadership. In the early church, the believers were unsure of how to deal with polygamists. Some tried to force them to divorce all of their wives except for the original wife in order to be baptized as a Christian, but that left the women destitute and without support. Paul gives the final word by allowing polygamists into the church who come into faith after their multiple marriages had already occurred. The only prohibition was that polygamists were disallowed from serving the congregation as an elder or deacon. In 1 Corinthians 7:24 and 27 Paul talks about the marital state in which one has become a Christian.
1 Corinthians 7:24, 27 “Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released”
If a man is bound in marriage, he is not to dissolve that marriage just because he has become a Christian. So the early church then allowed polygamists into fellowship, but they also followed the lead of Christ in teaching that it was God’s will that only one husband and one wife were to be in the marriage union.
Mark 10:6, 8 “But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE… AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.
So let’s review why the “husband of one wife” cannot be used to disqualify women from leadership. I think the answer will become evident from asking other relevant questions.
1. Do we stop a single male from being a pastor?
2. Do we force a pastor to resign if his wife dies and he is no longer married?
3. Do we stop a married man from being a pastor if he does not have children? After all the same passage says in 1 Timothy 3:4
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
We know of no church that disallows single men from being a Pastor. We also know of no church that disallows married men with no children from being a Pastor. Why is that? It is because we can understand from the passage that there is a principle being set forth. The principle is that if a person wants to be an Elder/Pastor/Overseer they must have their children under control (that is “if” they have children); they must not be a polygamist (that is “if” they are married and “if” they are a man).
The problems with interpreting 1 Timothy 3 as forbidding women from being an elder is:
1. There is nothing in the passage that says that a woman cannot be an elder in exactly the same way as there is nothing in the passage that says that a man cannot be an elder if he is single.
2. The Greek is written in such a way that allows both men and women to aspire to being a Pastor/Elder/Overseer.
1 Timothy 3:1 says: Trustworthy [is] the word: If anyone aspires to [the] position of overseer [Gr. episkope], he desires a good work. (Analytical-Literal Translation)
The Greek word used is NOT “aner” which would mean “If any male aspires…” Instead of the Greek word for males, the generic Greek word for”anyone” is used which is “tis”. “Tis” means men or women and has the exact same Greek grammatical structure as “anyone” in John 6:51 and every other passage concerning salvation.
John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever”
All of the salvation verses are just like 1 Timothy 3:1 and they are singular masculine in the Greek grammar but all of them use the generic Greek wording which includes men and women. If we dispute that the Greek can include men and women because the grammar is singular masculine, then we must also be consistent and disallow women to be saved since all of the salvation passages are written in the same way as 1 Timothy 3:1 with generic words having a singular masculine tense in the Greek.
3. 1 Timothy 3:12 also says that Deacons must be the husbands of one wife and this term clearly did not disqualify women because Phoebe was a Deacon of the church of Cenchrea.
Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
The word that the NASB translates as “servant” is “diakonos”which means Deacon. If Phoebe could be a Deacon of the church at Cenchrea and the term “husband of one wife” did not disqualify her, then why would we think that this same term would disqualify a woman from being an elder/pastor/overseer?
So the next time that someone tells you that 1 Timothy 3 forbids women from being a Pastor, you make sure to ask them if the same passage forbids single men and married men without children from being Pastors. If a person is going to be a literalist without considering the standard that is actually being set forth, then they must also follow through with the same standards for single men and married men without children. To fail to follow through with applying the principle across the board would be hypocritical.