Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: What is a “Husband of One Wife?”

“I want to stick to the biblical standard.  I don’t think we should compromise the Bible to let divorced men serve as deacons.”

I was having a discussion with my deacons a few years ago.  Our church has had an unwritten rule for a long time that divorced men were ineligible to serve as deacons in the church. That is not unusual at this church.  Unwritten, unofficial policies abound!  Soon after I assumed the pastorate here, I began a crusade against unwritten rules, and so we needed to discuss this issue. During the discussion, one of our men made the declaration above. For him, the Bible was absolutely clear that divorced men were not allowed to serve in positions of leadership in the church. It was settled doctrine and only those who desired to compromise the truth and molly-coddle sinners would hold to the other view. It is also a pretty loaded way to end debate, painting those of us who disagree with his conclusion as those who prefer to follow the culture instead of the Word of God.  It stung a little.

That was the challenge that led me to take this old seminary paper (from before man had discovered fire) and turn it into a more extensive study on divorce, remarriage and ministry.  I wanted to demonstrate to my good friend (who has since gone to be with the Lord) that my position was based not on a desire to compromise truth, but on a serious attempt to understand the biblical teaching on the topic.  I know that many serious (and perhaps more qualified) Bible students disagree with my position, but I wanted to demonstrate that my position came out of Bible study, not Bible compromise.  I do not think the biblical evidence supports the strict prohibition of all who have been divorced from serving as elders, pastors or deacons.

It is now time to get to the heart of this matter.

Can a divorced man be biblically qualified to serve the church as a pastor, elder or deacon?

What does the Bible say here?  There may have been a time when opinion was nearly unanimous among those who had a high view of Scripture.  Only the most liberal of churches gave their pulpits to divorced men in previous generations.  Now, it is common for churches to have divorced men in service on staff, as elders or as deacons.  I pastored in a small association for nearly 15 years in which three of our leading pastors were divorced men.  These were conservative, Bible-believing, Gospel-proclaiming men who had failed marriages in their pasts.  Each was remarried with a godly and supportive spouse in the present.  Many have left the absolute prohibition against the divorced serving the church in the dust.

But in questions of biblical interpretation, majority does not rule. The fact that at one time the prohibition against the service of the divorced was nearly universal did not make it right and the fact that many churches have now rejected that standard does not make it wrong.  The answer is in exegesis, not popular opinion.  What does the Bible say?  If the Bible does support the traditional prohibition to these leadership positions, we should not compromise just because divorce has become so prevalent.  We should do exactly what the Bible says.  So, that is what we will examine here.

The crux of the issue is one small phrase that appears twice in 1 Timothy 3 (verse 2 concerning overseers and in verse 12 concerning deacons) and again in Titus 1:6 as a requirement for elders.  Elders and deacons were both required to be “the husband of one wife.”  That is the sum total of the biblical evidence.  Those who maintain that divorced men are prevented from serving as pastors, elders or deacons must demonstrate that this phrase applies to divorce.  Those who hold that this passage permits service from divorced men must demonstrate that the phrase does not speak to divorce.

The issue boils down to this question.  Does the requirement that elders and deacons be the “husband of one wife” preclude those who have been divorced from serving?  If we can determine what that phrase means, we can answer the question pretty easily.

The question is what “husband of one wife” means.  The answers have generally fallen into three categories.

  • The most obvious answer might be that Paul was prohibiting polygamists from serving in these leadership positions.
  • Others, like the deacon whose quote I mentioned earlier, see the phrase as synonymous with “never go.”
  • And, of course, there are those who believe that there is more at stake here than polygamy or a simple divorce prohibition. The meaning of that phrase answers the question

A word of warning is appropriate here. There are two serious sins that we must avoid. In Revelation 2, Jesus rebuked both Pergamum and Thyatira churches for tolerating evil and false doctrine.  Tolerating what God calls sin cannot be tolerated!  If this phrase is properly interpreted as “never divorced” then we should not go beyond what the Word of God allows.  But there is another danger to be avoided.  In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul warned the people not to “go beyond what is written.”  Jesus rebuked the religious leaders and Paul warned the Galatians about those who added human rules to God’s Word.  If “husband of one wife” does not refer to divorce, then those who have issued a blanket prohibition of service by divorced men have gone imposed human rules on God’s Word and that is no small matter.

Look at Revelation 22:18-19 where John gives this warning about the prophecies he has written.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

Severe penalties attach to either adding to or taking away from the words of the prophecy.  Perhaps that warning is specific to the Revelation, but the principle is instructive for us.

It would be deeply damaging to the Body of Christ to allow divorced men to serve in leadership positions if the Scriptures prohibit it.  But it would be just as serious a sin to prevent men from serving without biblical warrant.  It is not acceptable to either take away from the teachings of scripture or to add to them.

Anyone who engages in an argument wants to place the burden of truth on the other side; it grants a huge advantage if one’s opponents bear that burden.  But I do believe that it is incumbent on those who would use “husband of one wife” as a blanket prohibition against divorced men serving as pastors or deacons to prove their point.  If the passage cannot clearly be demonstrated to be a prohibition on service by the divorced, then it should not be used in that way. Unless there is a clear prohibition in God’s Word, we should not make one!

Ultimately, though, the crux is the meaning of this phrase.  So, what does it mean to be “the husband of one wife?”

Husband of One Wife

As mentioned above, there are at least three major ways to view this passage. Let us examine these in a little more detail.

1)  First, many have taken this in the most literal sense possible, as a condemnation of polygamy.  The common English translation of the phrase would seem to differentiate the husband of one wife from the husband of more than one wife.  It is the simplest interpretation and most literal interpretation.

But two objections can be raised to cast doubt that this phrase speaks of polygamy.  First, there was evidently little polygamy practiced in the Roman Empire.  There was some polygamy practiced among the Jews, but Paul was not writing to a primarily Jewish culture here.  If polygamy was not a huge issue, it seems unlikely that Paul would focus on that as he gave instructions about church leadership.

But the most devastating evidence against the polygamy interpretation is found in 1 Timothy 5:9, where the same phrase is used with the gender roles reversed.  Widows who were going to be added to “the list” (which no one knows too much about) had to have been “the wife of one husband.”  Regardless of how common polygamy (more than one wife) was, polyandry (a wife with more than one husband) is among the rarest of cultural phenomena. When Paul demands a woman be the wife of one husband, it is clear he was not addressing polyandry.  When he uses a nearly identical phrase to refer to a husband of one wife, it is then unlikely that polygamy is the focus.

Polygamy obviously is outside the boundaries of God’s original intent and this passage would probably have at least a secondary application to the practice.  Men who have more than one wife would not be allowed to serve as pastors or deacons in the church.  But that does not seem to be the primary teaching here.

2)  The most common focus of this verse has been as a prohibition against divorced men serving in leadership positions.  Since Jesus said that divorce (except on the grounds of adultery) was invalid and adulterous, it is logical to assume that a divorce man who remarries is actually married to two women and by that is the husband of more than one wife.

The prohibitionist group is not uniform by any means.  Some would prohibit all divorcees from serving in these positions.  Other would restrict only those who were divorced after their conversion.  How can we hold someone accountable for their actions before Christ saved them?  There is a continuum of strictness among those who hold this traditional view, but share the belief that this verse eliminates those who are divorced from this kind of service in the church.

3)  The third view, the one I hold, is that this passage does not refer to divorce, but to the kind of husband a man is to his wife.

I could list pros and cons of the second and third views, but it all comes down to the exegetical study of the phrase.  What does “husband of one wife” mean? So, let us examine this phrase.

Examining the Phrase

It is my contention that neither divorce nor polygamy is the primary focus of this passage.  I believe that Paul is requiring that a man must demonstrate himself as a faithful and devoted husband before he is ready to lead God’s church.

The translation “husband of one wife” may not be the best translation of the passage.  The Greek phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2, “mias gunaikos andra”, could be literally translated “one-woman man” or “a man of one woman.”  The last word, man, appears in a slightly different form in each of the three passages, but the meaning is the same.  The key leaders of the church, elders and deacons, are to demonstrate themselves to the church as “one-woman men.”

That accurate translation seems to almost explain itself.  What is in view here is the man’s heart.  It involves much more than just being sexually faithful to his wife.  A one-woman man is faithful in body, yes, but also in soul and spirit.  He is devoted to his wife.  His relationship with his wife demonstrates that he knows how to be a servant leader.  If he is not faithful and devoted to his wife, it is unlikely he will be faithful and devoted to his church duties.

This is a much higher burden than some other interpretations require.  Since we do not have polygamy (at least officially) in our nation, it would be an empty requirement if that meaning is accepted.  If the command is simply a prohibition that a man never has been divorced, all that is required is that a man has avoided divorce.  But this command is more significant than that.  I have known men who have never been divorced and have never cheated on their wives, but show little devotion to their wives.  They may be technically “the husband of one wife” but cannot by any means be called a “one-woman man.”

It is my belief that this kind of character is what is in view in this command.  If Paul had wanted to say that a man who had ever been divorced was not qualified to serve as an elder or deacon, there are ways he could have said that in Greek.  Paul spoke clearly and it is clear what he meant in this passage.  He was saying that men who lead the church should be men who have demonstrated their abilities to lead their homes and demonstrate faithful servant leadership to their wives.


The meaning of Paul’s phrase here will always be open to discussion and interpretation.  It seems highly likely he was not speaking of polygamy, since polygamy was not a common practice in Roman culture, and since the same construction is reversed as a requirement for a woman.  Certainly, polygamy would be inappropriate for church leaders, but it is not the chief intent of this verse.

In reality, those who use this as a prohibition of divorce are also assuming the passage refers to a form of polygamy.  They believe that the first marriage was not ended and so, by the second marriage, the man has become a kind of polygamist, married in God’s eyes to both his former wife and his current one.

My quarrel with this view is two-fold. First of all, I think it makes a blanket generalization about the teachings of Jesus on divorce that is, in many cases, not warranted.  A man who is divorced on biblical grounds is freed from his marriage covenant and is free to remarry.  When he remarries, he is the husband of one wife and one wife only – his new wife.  The former marriage is over, in God’s eyes.  We will examine this in more detail later.

My second problem with this view is that if Paul was intending to prohibit divorced men from serving as deacons or elders, there are ways he could have stated that more plainly.  “An overseer must never have divorced a wife and remarried.”  He could have given words that would clearly and unequivocally say what he meant.  Paul was never one for veiling his words.  He said what he meant.  If he had meant divorce here, he would have said it.

The most obvious focus of the phrase is fidelity and commitment.  A husband must demonstrate to all that he knows what it is to be a servant leader by being a good husband who loves his wife and devotes himself to her.  Context, linguistics and logic all seem to support this viewpoint.

It is an unwarranted stretch to use this phrase as a blanket condemnation of divorced men as serving as deacons, elders, pastors, or in other leadership positions.  No biblical grounds exist on which to deny all divorced people from serving.  To do so, in my mind, is to violate the teachings of Scriptures.

Next time, we will examine the implications of the phrase in more detail.

Previous Installments

Part 1 of this series “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: What Does the Bible Say?” introduces the topic and sets forth three different approaches to the topic.

Part 2 of the series, “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: The OT Foundation: Does God Hate All Divorce?”, examines several OT passages that set the foundation of the biblical teaching.  It especially examines the Malachi passage that has been interpreted as a general statement, “God hates divorce.”

Part 3 focuses specifically on Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the key OT passage on the subject.  “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: Deuteronomy 24:1-4 – Establishing Grounds for Divorce.

Part 4 focuses on the teachings of Jesus on the subject.  “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: What Did Jesus Say?”  

Part 5 examines Paul’s teachings on the subject and lays the groundwork for the study of 1 Corinthians 7, the pinnacle of biblical teaching on the subject of divorce and remarriage. It especially examines the question of whether Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 7 were just Paul’s opinion or were they inspired scripture.  “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: Were Paul’s Views Scripture or Opinion?”

Part 6 examines 1 Corinthians 7:10-24, a post entitled, “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: Paul’s Groundbreaking Teaching.”

Part 7 summarized the biblical teachings, drawing seven conclusions about divorce and remarriage.  “Divorce, Remarriage and Ministry: A Summary of the Biblical Teachings on Divorce.


  1. says

    I dug around just a little bit some years ago and came to the conclusion that the phrase really meant that the elder was to be a “one (or first) woman man”. If .. as our church does .. the body holds that the deacon or elder must be the husband of one wife (period ever end of story unless she dies), then that would seem to mandate that the guy be married, and I haven’t seen churches insist that they be married.

    Thus far, I very much admire your approach and your conclusions. I shall await further installments.

    • Frank says

      I hold the position that a deacon must be a married man, but for reasons aligning with but in addition to these verses in Timothy.

  2. Richmond Goolsby says

    See also B.H. Carroll, who was divorced before salvation due to an adulterous spouse. Thank you for a thorough treatment of a thorny issue.

  3. says

    Really enjoying this series. We wrestled through this as a church while writing our constitution and by laws and seem to have come to similar conclusions to yours. Keep going!

  4. says

    Good treatment of the issue. Sadly, many churches hold that once divorced the man can never serve as a church officer.

    Interestingly, the Baptist seminary I graduated from had a requirement that to enroll there, a man could not have ever been divorced no matter the circumstances and he could not be presently married to a woman who had ever been divorced for any reason even if he himself had not been divorced. IMO, that is the easy way out and and an unbiblical one as well.

  5. Bruce H. says


    Really good information and well written. Enjoyed the read.

    One of the things that I was able to see clearly after I was divorced was the “one flesh” issue. You can describe one flesh and explain it all day long but you never really understand it completely until your marriage is severed. The one flesh issue is the mystery of the church, as you know, too. A person doesn’t realize its effect until divorce and remarriage.

    “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

    “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Ephesians 5:31

    I believe this should come into play when you speak of “husband of one wife”, too. Even though there is a degree of approval by God on the two (2) reasons for divorce, I believe there is a measure of loss with each person and there is a measure of offense when the mind of a person sees a divorced man in the leadership position. I would think we would do better by seeking the ideal so there is no questions. If a man was never divorced and had only one wife and was a “one-wife man” he would be the ideal for that one requirement. Every other man that didn’t meet that ideal would need to have the heart to serve in a different capacity as the leadership sees fit. I need no title to help widows, serve tables or help with the needs of the church. I want my church leadership to have the highest standards for God’s blessings. Why? Because I want God to be glorified and, also, the best of God’s blessings for my family through my church. That should be the heart of every believer.

  6. says

    I like that you actually took the time to communicate thoughtfully on this serious issue.

    I weigh in to this discussion the powerful illustration Paul uses frequently of marriage and the gospel (Romans 7, 1 Corinthians 7, 2 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5). I think there is some weight to consider. If the Gospel is at stake it is a sober issue to look at Scripture intentionally on the matter.

    I have heard the “one-woman man” argument. I think it is helpful and right. However, because of the weight of the other teachings from Paul about the beautiful picture of the gospel through the institution of marriage I don’t think he would negate the gospel picture to allow for a divorced-remarried man to the office designed to preserve the gospel.

    I think that this is an important discussion. If we are talking about the office of overseer, isn’t it proper that we maintain a high (biblically accurate) standard? We do this by requiring this same office be for a male and not a female. Because the Bible argues this. There may be better skilled people for such an office by the worlds standards but the standard is for a (biblically) qualified male, charged to preserve, defend, represent, teach to certain men a guarded trust. I think the ‘one-woman man’ argument puts a responsibility upon the husband to respectfully love his wife the way Christ loves the church.

    Christ is not going to divorce the church. Why should the office representing this truth be allowed to divorce his wife and still represent this office. I Think he can still preach. I think he can still be a functioning member of the local body. If he understands the office of Elder, Overseer, Shepherd, Pastor then he should honor what it represents, the gospel.

    Divorced people can preach the gospel as good as any other. Women can herald the gospel as good as any other. Young can speak it as good as the old. It seems right that the positional office of elder be held to a (biblically) high standard.

    Thanks for the discussion. I’m actually preaching through 1 Timothy. I just finished chapter one and pressing on. This is a helpful discussion.

    • Greg Buchanan says

      If the Gospel is at stake…

      The Gospel is not at stake because Paul is never describing salvation or the Gospel message (Jesus died for your sins) when using a marriage illustration; Paul is always describing the relationship between the man & woman as synonymous with Jesus & the church respectively.

      The only possible exception would be Romans 7 where Paul is speaking specifically about death giving absolute freedom from marriage as synonymous with freedom from the law of sin. I find it ironic that your argument references freedom from the law while making a legalistic point.

      The marriage illustrations depends on the reality of Jesus & the church, not the other way around. That is the problem with your argument; I think you are trying to put the cart before the horse and say that it works just the same.

      The Gospel does not stand or fall on the back of the divorced. Woe to us all if it is that fragile.

      Fortunately the Gospel stands and doesn’t fall because of the finished work of Christ. I find that it is more telling of God’s grace and mercy that a divorced pastor or deacon who readily tells his story of past sin and repentance to those we seek to save than the average Christian hypocrite who goes to church on Sunday, sings of grace, hears a sermon on grace, but is a lousy tipper and has no grace for the waitress/waiter at Chili’s after that same service.

      • says


        I hold that the gospel is a stake. I’m not saying that the gates of Hell will prevail, but Paul clearly teaches Timothy to not give in to strange doctrines, myths and genealogy arguments. Christ and the church is an illustration of the gospel. A clear gospel, a pure gospel, a saving gospel is at stake.

        I disagree that the gospel is not at stake in Paul’s teaching on marriage. I see that some may not think so. Yes, in the marriage illustration Paul is showing that Christ loves the church. My marriage is a gospel message to my children. They witness the gospel every time they see the mother and father.

        I agree that the gospel doesn’t stand or fall based on the success of my marriage. I agree that it is a fortunate thing for all that the Gospel stands and doesn’t fall because of the finished work of Christ.

        I may not have communicated this very well in my original reply to Dave’s post… I think, some of the issue is remarriage. I think a divorced person can pastor. They are not disqualified from being ambassadors of Christ reconciliation. From Dave’s post, I was thinking about the formal office and biblical qualifications for the office of pastor/elder and deacon. I mean no disrespect to divorced or remarried people. I’m only thinking with a sober mind about the responsibility to God in regards to the office.

        I don’t know you, but I don’t think you would be making your same argument if this was an issue of a woman serving in the office. A woman is no less and no more able to herald the gospel. But she is not eligible for the office of pastor. Her not being eligible is not because she couldn’t do the duties, it’s because the Scripture teaches that this office be help by someone who meets the standards. That’s not disrespectful to women for God to put that standard in place. He obviously calls for this office to be held by a biblically qualified person.

    • says

      I would reverse that argument Paul, concerning the gospel (it will be a focus of a future post on the topic.)

      What is the focus of the gospel? Transformation. What better illustration of the gospel than taking those who have failed in the past and rebuilding in them a godly character, integrity and respect.

      The gospel demands, in my thinking, that we allow for those who have failed to be restored, in due time, even to leadership.

      • Christiane says

        DAVID, in the early Church, some Christians renounced their Christianity under persecution but later wanted to return to the church.
        These ‘Lapsi’, as they were called, had been guilty of a terrible thing: they had, out of fear, denied Christ,
        and THEN, they had betrayed other Christian people into the hands of Roman persecutors, often for martyrdom.

        Some in the Church thought that this betrayal was so egregious that the ‘Lapsi’ would never receive God’s forgiveness, nor should they receive communion again.
        But the early Church disagreed. . . based on the teachings of the sacred Scriptures.

        From time to time in the history of the Church, groups of people arose who wanted to deny others who had fallen (laspsed) a chance to repent and be re-admitted to the Church.

        Each time, the Church responded by pointing to the teachings of sacred Scripture, and accepting those who sincerely repented back into the community of the faithful.

      • says

        Dave, I see that the gospel ‘demands that we allow for those who have failed to be restored, in due time, even to leadership.’

        That’s not my point. My point is that I am alright and at peace with an interpretation of Scripture that says the office of elder/pastor and deacon not be filled by a remarried man. I think I didn’t flesh that point in out very good in my original reply to your post.

        Would someone make an allowance for women to be in this same office for this same reasoning? (Some do.) But there is a standard that we are not at liberty to circumnavigate our way around. Is a divorced and remarried person able to preach the gospel better because he’s been divorced and remarried? certainly not. He should indeed represent the gospel, he may be a better communicator than a qualified elder/pastor, but being a better communicator is not a qualification. Women may be better communicators, better administrators, better teachers, but that doesn’t trump the qualification for the office. Being disqualified from the office should not be equated to not being able to herald the gospel.

        • Dave Miller says

          I think I would reply with one of the paragraphs in the original post:

          “It would be deeply damaging to the Body of Christ to allow divorced men to serve in leadership positions if the Scriptures prohibit it. But it would be just as serious a sin to prevent men from serving without biblical warrant. It is not acceptable to either take away from the teachings of scripture or to add to them.”

          We are both extrapolating gospel principles in different directions. The question is more direct: does “husband of one wife prohibit divorced men from these positions?

          That is the thorny issue.

          • says

            I think that paragraph from your original post is among the strongest, needed statements you make. It would be equally tragic.

            Is it a thorny issue because we don’t want to offend someone by holding an office of the church to a standard of Scripture or is it thorny because it’s not that clear?

            I wish Paul had been more directly clear. But, my direct answer to the issue is that the weight of scripture helps me see that this points more toward a more strict standard than a less strict.

            (I’m not advocating legalism based on man’s standards. Isn’t there more “freedom” for the follower if he loves the commands and precepts of God than if he extrapolates from the philosophies of men?)

            I’m thankful again for the conversation. Thanks.

    • Bart Barber says

      I’m sure glad that God’s view of a covenant relationship in the gospel is not the prevailing view of the covenantal relationship of marriage.

  7. says

    Excellent summary, David. A one woman kind of man, meaning a man who is faithful to his wife, treating her with affection and appreciation. When I had my separation and divorce some 43-44 years ago, I nearly committed suicide due to not knowing how to live with such a frustrating circumstances. If it had not been for some friends, especially one who supplied me with one book in particular on Divorce and Remarriage which went into the Greek and Hebrew meaning of the words involved, I doubt that I would have ever made it. After my divorce was final, some friends introduced me to the woman who is now my wife. We have been married for 42 years (it will be 43 in September), It has been, at least from my perspective, a great marriage and a happy one. She helped to raise my daughter from the first marriage (her mother had said, if you get married and I think it is a good one, I will give you _____! And she did.) We also had a son who is a minister. He has just this past April completed 13 years of service at the church that called him as pastor in 1999, a month before he graduated with his M.Div. from SEBTS (the same school where I graduated in 1974 and 1976..when it was the most liberal in the SBC). Generally speaking, I have never had a moment’s problem due to being divorced and remarried. In fact, people will come and talk with me,saying, “You understand. The other ministers do not.” The only problem I have had has come from ministers with hard opinions about not allowing ministers with second marriages to serve. Being divorced and remarried has taught me a something about compassion and sympathy for those who suffer due to the problem. I do know now what they are experiencing. I also know that a second marriage, contrary to the statistics does not have to end in divorce, too. On the contrary, a second marriage can be a good marriage. Step mothers, like step fathers, can be the best of parents, depending on the person. Remember that the step-mother of Cinderella is a character from fiction, and yet that image often controls what people think about such persons. We know, however, that Abraham Lincoln’s step-mother was a wonderful mother to her step son, and he loved her dearly. My wife’s mother was the step mother two my wife’s half brother and half sister (their mother had died as a result of TB). I think my mother-in-law was one of the great step-mothers. My wife has told me how her mother would walk to the mail box, get out the letters from my wife’s brother (he was in the Marines in combat in the South Pacific) and she would weep as she read his letters. There is no question about the affection that my brother-in-law felt for his step-mother.

    During my years as pastor, my wife has been my strongest and best supporter. She was and is the sweetest woman I ever met in my life. Through thick and thin, as the saying goes, she has been there with me and for me. I am honored to have such a companion. The church people where I have served loved her dearly. I can well appreciate it, when the Bible says, Prov.31:28, “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”

    Note the children of the minister who had a divorce and remarried are involved in his trials and sufferings, too. I have had enough rejection letters (though now it is emails, primarily) to have papered a whole subdivision or perhaps a small American city. My daughter once said, “O, it is that old divorce thing again.” On this Mother’s day, she came to church with me (my wife was unable to go due to scoliosis and other problems), then went home with me and had a dinner (barbecue that I bought at a barbecue place for the three of us) with us. She then did some repair work on the mobil home we rent. She said she could see on my face how glad i was to see her and that she had prayed about the visit. Our son called that evening. It was a day of joy.

    How I do love pastoring; it is the greatest challenge, the most interesting, the best way to express the love and compassion of God. I would rather preach than do anything else that I know. God’s word has an utter fascination for me. I puzzle over it; it is a great deep, precious beyond words to describe or tell. My wife and I served for 11 years in one church and 12.5 years in the second, and then for 3 months in an interim pastorate. What was funny about the last one was that one of the ladies in the congregation wept that last day we were there (a meal honoring the interim after the Sunday worship service), saying she wished they had called me as pastor. My wife said, “I wanted to tell her to ask her daughter.”(who seemed to really like my preaching and also wept that day. She was on the pulpit committee and held out for a student at a near by divinity school who would serve the church until he finished and then be off to look for greener pastures. And he did (as I noted later). Pulpit committees are strange creations, and God;s will as expressed through them is most strange.

  8. says

    Dave, I am glad you are running this series, because it is a discussion that needs to take place.

    Twice you referenced one of your problems with the ” nodivorce-remarriage” view is that could have been stated plainly, as “if Paul was intending to prohibit divorced men from serving as deacons or elders, there are ways he could have stated that more plainly.” It is possible that objection is not as strong as you think if you consider a fourth theoretical category of meaning; that Paul used this phrase to encompass all these restrictions you discuss — no polygamy, no divorce & remarriage, and even if not divorced he must be a devoted husband, a “one-woman man”. Looking at it this way can also encompass another restriction, mentioned by Bob & Frank, that he must be married.

    • says

      I do think there is something to your point, Robert. Husband of one wife obviously encompasses polygamy even if that is not the primary focus.

      But, does it mean, “never divorced?” I do not see that.

      • says

        Dave, perhaps another way of looking at this is that saying “if Paul was intending to prohibit divorced men from serving as deacons or elders, there are ways he could have stated that more plainly” to some degree requires assuming the conclusion. Here is something that might illustrate it. If I have a tire iron and say, “Well if this had been intended to loosen lugs it would look like this (holding up a four point lug wrench).” That would be assuming that lugs could only be loosened one way, or only with one tool.

  9. says

    Enjoyed this Dave. This topic was dealt with in length in some of my classes, and it often left my head spinning in the discussion. For some reason this is a topic that people have trouble explaining clearly, and expressing the different sides to the argument. In the end I reached a similar conclusion to yours, but kept quiet over it since it was the rather unpopular viewpoint in my situation (I regret not speaking up about it.)

    I do have one question for you. I realize this doesn’t pertain directly to the original topic, but still encompasses the different views on this passage. I have seen some take these verses and explain that a man must be married to be a pastor. In other words, we cannot have any single men behind the pulpit for whatever reason. How do you approach someone with this viewpoint?

    • says

      I do not think that these verses are meant to be taken that way, though some do. I believe that the intent is to limit men to one woman, not to impose a marriage standard.

      Since Jesus was unmarried and Paul was unmarried it seems unusual that unmarried people would be restricted from leadership role.

      And Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians seems to speak to the issue directly. Being single is advantageous, not to be punished.

      • says

        Hey Dave,

        With respect to Paul being unmarried, I have read that in order for him to have been a “Pharisee of Pharisee’s” he WOULD have had to have been married. Some have surmised that his conversion to Christianity may have been grounds for his own divorce.. since there is no mention of a wife anywhere in the Scriptures. Just a comment; I have never investigated that theory.


        • Dave Miller says

          I have heard that as well, that Pharisees were required to be married, but like you have never studied it.

          Some of the scholastic luminaries out there might have some info on this?

        • Don Johnson says


          I’m of the opinion, though I can’t prove it, that Paul was divorced. As a good Pharisee it would seem he would have been married. Also, it seems he was a member of the Sanhedrin, which I believe required one to be married.

          Paul never said he had never been married. He only used the present tense when speaking of his marital situation.

  10. says

    Here is a question on this:

    Would the Greek-speaking recipients of Paul’s letters have read “one-woman man?” Or would they have read this as “one-wife husband” given that the words are the same in Greek?

    After all, they did not have the benefit of a George Jones song to familiarize them with the phrase “one-woman man.”

    All that to raise this: I think there is much to consider in terms of grace and qualification for ‘named-office’ service and that we are too quick to cast aside some people for distant sin long-forgiven and character issues long outgrown. We are also too quick to cast aside some restrictions because a person is wealthy, influential, or popular. Too many of the times I have seen a church move toward the “one-woman man” interpretation not because the pastor/deacon/whatever has truly grown or changed but because he’s good-looking (or worse, cheaper to employ, yes I have seen that) and popular.

    The text may allow for the possibility, but we still are trying to take modern, western mindsets and read what Paul wrote. What problems actually plagued Greco-Roman society? What were the marriage tendencies of the culture at large? What do we know of marriage issues within the church at the time beyond one phrase that we are hinging much on here?

    • says


      I think there is merit to your statement but personally I believe Paul is simply saying exactly what Dave has suggested, that he be a consistent head of his household, which would include his relationship with his wife.

      Even going back to the objection made earlier about the gospel and the church’s correlated relationship, we must all remember that we are ALL sinners condemned and that sin is sin… so the point to the correlation as I see it is that God accepts us as we are and moves us to the place He wants us to be as we allow Him to do so through our obedience. We are the only part of all of creation that is infinitely more valuable because we are broken and put back together!

      I believe simply put, the qualifications for the man God can use is one whose heart is set on Him and whose life reflects that; it is not as much the path we have taken as it is the direction the journey has brought us.


    • Dave Miller says

      Obviously, the key is to get inside the 1st Century mind. It is not easy to leave behind the mindset with which I think.

      Oh, and kudos on the George Jones reference.

  11. says

    You said, “Elders and deacons were both required to be ‘the husband of one wife.’ That is the sum total of the biblical evidence [against ordaining those who have been divorced].”

    I disagree. Stronger evidence may be where Scripture says he is to rule his own house well and to have his children in submission.

    In addition, even if you assume the proper translation is “one-woman man” or “a man of one woman,” that could be taken to prohibit ordaining a divorced man. For example, if a man has been divorced and remarried, he is a two-woman man, not a one woman man, even though he is not married to two women at once. It doesn’t have to be interpreted that way, but it can legitimately be interpreted that way.

    Also, sins before salvation can make a difference. Anyone want to ordain a man who was a convicted child molester before he got saved? I know that is an extreme example, but an example nevertheless.

    On the other hand, I believe it is ultimately up to a local church whether or not they ordain a man who has been divorced. I respect those on both sides. And I believe there are wonderful Christians who have divorce in their background.
    David R. Brumbelow

    • Dave Miller says

      David, you make an assumption that a divorced and remarried man is the husband of two wives. I do not think that is true, if he divorce was on biblical grounds (adultery or abandonment). A man divorced on biblical grounds is free to remarry and be the husband of one wife and one wife alone.

      I agree with you that it is up to the local church.

      I’m not really seeing how the admonition about governing his children well fits into the marriage debate. Can you develop that a little further?

      • says

        It can be argued that a divorced and remarried man does not have a history of being a “one woman man.” Does a “one woman man” only depend on what he has been the last year or two, or his long term pattern of living?

        Children are devastated by divorce. Divorce causes much trauma, drama, and problems in the divided families. Not exactly the picture of a home ruled well with the children well behaved.

        Not looking for a big argument. Just saying both sides in this issue have some strong evidence.
        David R. Brumbelow

      • says

        Dave, I think to some extent you can argue against divorce with the “one woman-man” idea even if you don’t make an assumption that a divorced and remarried man is the husband of two wives. This is especially true in cases when a man had several marriages. On the one hand, some might argue that a man who has been divorced and remarried four or five times is a “one-woman man” because he is currently devoted to the wife he has. On the other hand, I’d say the preponderance of evidence indicates he has a history of not being a “one-woman man” and why should we believe him now?

        • says

          Here’s one of the bottom line issues for me, Robert. Not all divorces are alike and not all divorcees are in equal situations.

          The person you described obviously has some character issues – divorced four or five times.

          On the other hand, someone married at a young age whose wife left him for another man, who has since been married and been a good faithful husband to his second wife for 15 years – that is something different entirely.

          The problem is that we want it to be all or nothing. It isn’t and we should act like it is.

          • says

            Thanks, Dave. I believe your answer is consistent with the point I was trying to make — that is, one doesn’t have to believe a divorced and remarried man has two wives (or three or four) to think the “one-woman man” idea argues against it. I suppose there are some cases in which you would have problems with the first remarriage, if it was the man’s own character issues that caused it? Or I could be misunderstanding you.

            Personally I have run across quite a few people who have used this text to emphasize it doesn’t matter how many times a man is divorced and remarried as long he is devoted to his current wife. I understand you do not intend this, but we are often shaped by our experiences.

            As to your comparisons above, I certainly see and feel the differences between the serial monogamist with character issues, and the young man who adulterous wife left him. But this point, I have not been able to reconcile those feelings with what I believe Paul meant — that a pastor should not have been married more than once.

      • says

        Actually, David, this is the kind of discussion that I think is blogging at its best – discussing a scriptural issue and bringing different perspectives.

        I appreciate the different perspectives.

        • says

          Here is an issue that I think gets grossly overlooked in these discussions on divorce and that is, the divorce itself is not the real problem; to me it is the result of a bad problem that is caused by a variety of things. Sure relationships can be repaired and miracles can happen which is true of every cancer patient I have ever sat with that died.

          People marry today at very young ages, we are living in a sin depraved world that is running out of control and is no respecter of persons; our priorities are for the most part in all the wrong places and even those in the church are so barely connected to Christ in a personal relationship that there is no wonder there is no real relationship between the two individuals. The funny thing about foundations is when there is none, the structure built on it almost ALWAYS tumbles.

          The gospel is ALWAYS about restoring the foundations no matter how broken. Did Jesus not say to whom much is forgiven much is expected? If indeed sin is sin then I do not see the difference in any of this unless we look at the servant and where he is in his life TODAY. There is no vessel that God cannot fix, unless it is that vessel that we will not allow Him to do so.


          • Matt Svoboda says

            “People marry today at very young ages”


            This is false. All studies show that the average age for marriage has been getting pushed back later and later for a few years now.

  12. Bart Barber says


    You commented on my post back in the day when I articulated the understanding of this phrase that I have come to adopt. That post is here.

    In listing the various options, you have not listed the one that I have come to support. Can I presume that to be because you’re going to give that alternative an entire post to itself? 😉

      • Bart Barber says


        But if you should change your mind and choose not to address it in a separate post, I would welcome to chance to see you interact with those ideas in the course of this discussion. Considering your “problems” listed in your conclusion above:

        1. After rejecting the language “husband of one wife” in favor of “one woman man,” your post returns to “husband of one wife” to suggest the Jesus’ teachings about marriage actually make the divorced-and-remarried man, in some circumstances, the husband of one wife. My viewpoint has the strength of consistently interacting only with the reading “one-woman man.”

        2. My understanding gives a pretty good reason why Paul used the wording that he used: To piggyback off a Roman cultural concept that was extremely popular at the time.

  13. Bart Barber says

    Hmmm. Works when I click it. Maybe, because I’m using a Mac, “it just works.”

    • Bruce H. says

      dr. james,

      Children would be a big concern. Either of the ex’s could be divisive and create problems. That could affect the “blameless” issue along with having the children in subjection. Blended families can easily have discipline problems. There would always be a balancing act within the family. It would be even more difficult if they produced a child and both had children from their previous marriage. This is not an area to assume that things “could” work out.

  14. Don Johnson says


    I noticed you stated “one-woman man” is often translated “husband of one wife.”

    What translation(s) render it as “one-woman man”?

      • Don Johnson says


        Every translation that I’m aware of use “husband of one wife.” Do you believe they all got it wrong?

        • Bart Barber says


          I don’t know anyone who disputes that the Greek phrase is “one-woman man.” That’s a little wooden in English, so the phrase “husband of one wife” makes for a better, more fluid translation. I must have been unclear in something that I have written, because I don’t have any real objection to “husband of one wife” as an English translation of “one-woman man.” It’s a good translation. I might translate it that way myself.

          Dave had made the point of suggesting that “one-woman man” was something substantially OTHER than “husband of one wife.” He used that rationale to support his idea that the Greek phrase was speaking of the quality of the man rather than of the number of his spouses.

          My understanding of the phrase works equally well with the original Greek phrase “one-woman man” and the English translation “husband of one wife.”

          • Dave Miller says

            I would definitely challenge your characterization of my view, Bart.

            You said, “Dave had made the point of suggesting that “one-woman man” was something substantially OTHER than “husband of one wife.””

            That is not a fair representation of what I am advocating.

            Of course a pastor/elder/deacon should only have one wife. That is not at issue.

            However, I do not believe that a man who is divorced on biblical grounds (adultery/abandonment) and is remarried is married to more than one wife. The first marriage was ended when the covenant was broken by those acts defined by Jesus and Paul. So, a divorced man can qualify as a husband of one wife.

            I have also affirmed that the phrase speaks more to a man’s fidelity as a husband than it does to what happened in the past.

            What I do not believe is that the phrase should be taken as a de facto dismissal of all divorcees. Divorced men can be “the husband of one wife” under certain defined circumstances.

          • Bart Barber says


            Then I honestly misunderstood you. The portion that I apparently heard wrongly was:

            The translation “husband of one wife” may not be the best translation of the passage. The Greek phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2, “mias gunaikos andra”, could be literally translated “one-woman man” or “a man of one woman.” The last word, man, appears in a slightly different form in each of the three passages, but the meaning is the same. The key leaders of the church, elders and deacons, are to demonstrate themselves to the church as “one-woman men.”

            That accurate translation seems to almost explain itself. What is in view here is the man’s heart. It involves much more than just being sexually faithful to his wife. A one-woman man is faithful in body, yes, but also in soul and spirit. He is devoted to his wife. His relationship with his wife demonstrates that he knows how to be a servant leader. If he is not faithful and devoted to his wife, it is unlikely he will be faithful and devoted to his church duties.

            When you suggested…no, outright stated…that “husband of one wife” was “not the best translation of the passage,” and then followed up that characterization by saying that “that accurate translation [“one-woman man,” in contrast to “husband of one wife”] seems to almost explain itself, the only way I knew to understand you was that you were suggesting that there was a substantial difference in meaning between inaccurate “husband of one wife” and accurate “one-woman man.”

            You also went on to indicate where the difference lay, primarily—that is, in what way “one-woman man” amounts to something substantially other than “husband of one wife.” Your major characterization of your view was that “one-woman man” (and the difference in translation seemed to be a primary plank in your argument) “does not refer to divorce but to the kind of husband a man is to his wife” (emphasis yours). You further declared “It is my contention that neither divorce [the number of living wives one has serially] nor polygamy [the number of living wives one has simultaneously] is the primary focus of this passage. I believe that Paul is requiring that a man must demonstrate himself as a faithful and devoted husband [the quality of the man] before he is ready to lead God’s church.”

            I did not suggest that your view of “one-woman man” was mutually exclusive of the idea of a “husband of one wife.” Rather, I said that your argument (if not your conclusion) depended upon the idea that “one-woman man” is something substantially other than “husband of one wife.” I did also indicate that, although you dismissed “husband of one wife” as something other than “that accurate translation” in some portions of your essay, you then relied upon it in other portions of your essay.

            I cannot dispute the charge that I have misconstrued your view. Certainly you and only you can be the judge of whether anyone’s construal does or does not match what you actually believe. I can, however, say that I still cannot perceive how my characterization differs from what you have written.

  15. Jon Carter says

    Dave, I see you went to the Greek, but you did not go far enough in the Greek. In the Greek this phrase, “Husband of one wife,” (I Tim 3:2) is in the present infinitive. It would literally be interpreted to continuously be be the husband of one wife. In I Tim 3:12 the verb “to be” is a present imperative which is literally a command to keep on continuously being the husband of one wife. This is a a stronger argument from the Greek that it is in fact talking about divorce. Paul said it this way, it was written this way, and we can correctly interpret it this way. It is indeed disqualifying men who have been divorced/remarried from being a pastor or deacon. I do believe we need to remind those who have had this tragedy in their lives that it does not disqualify them from ministry. Just from holding these two positions.

    There is also an argument to be made to continue through the rest of the verse to see that the other qualifications (i.e: manage their own household, be respected by outsiders) would cover the issue of being a good husband and treating the wife well. So the argument you make for “one woman husband,” is very weak. The Bible is very clear here.

  16. Bart Barber says


    Suppose a man has been married and divorced fifteen times, and is now married to his sixteenth wife. He’s had opportunities (boy, has he!) to learn a thing or two about relationships, and now, in his sixteenth marriage, he is the IDEAL husband.

    Is he qualified to serve as a pastor?

    • Dave Miller says

      I made the point above that all divorces are not created equal. Of course not – a fifteen-time divorced man would not, I think, be biblically qualified to serve.

      But how about a man who marries young, is faithful to his wife, but she has emotional problems from an abusive upbringing and she leaves him for another man. He tried everything he could to minister to her, to reconcile with her and to restore their marriage, but she was belligerent. She leaves him. He remarries, this time to a godly woman and he demonstrates again his fidelity. They build a life together, raise a family and serve the Lord passionately and faithfully.

      I would vote for him as a deacon.

      One of the problems is the attempt to develop a blanket policy. I do NOT believe that all divorced men are eligible, nor are all of them ineligible.

      • Bart Barber says

        As to your hypothetical, I would not vote for him, because I do not believe that he meets the biblical qualifications.

        If 15 is a problem, and 2 is not, where would you draw the line, numerically?

        • Dave Miller says

          Two could be a problem, or not, depending on the circumstances of the divorce. I cannot assign a number.

    • Jon Carter says

      Great point Bart…I wanted to go there too, but stuck to the Greek. Where would they draw the line? The problem is they can’t, and that is why it IS a blanket qualification. But again, great point Bart.

  17. Debra Bauschatz says

    Gentlemen, I’ve been reading all your posts with great interest, and hope you will excuse my stopping by to share my own experience. My husband heard the call to become a pastor at age 43, and after 5 years in seminary, graduated last May. We’ve been married for nearly 26 years; however I was at one time briefly married for 9 months. When my husband started a church a few years ago, and wanted one of the SBC church planter groups to help, he went online and filled out an application. One of the questions asked was if he had ever been divorced, and also if his spouse had been divorced. Upon his positive answer concerning my divorce, the application told him to stop at that point. He would not be considered for help in starting an SBC church plant. A friend called our state SBC office and they confirmed this. For this reason we started a non-denominational church.

    We’ve since found out that if North American Mission Board money is being used, the “husband-of-one-wife-who’s-never-been-divorced” policy is in effect, but if the local state money is used, then my divorce is not an issue.

    I don’t know the official reason for this position concerning a spouse’s divorce. Perhaps it is because of Jesus saying that anyone who marries a divorced woman causes her to be an adulteress and he himself is committing adultery. Ergo, we cannot have an adulterer as a pastor. If this is the reasoning, then I’m wondering how these same people deal with Jesus saying that whoever looks at a woman with lust in their heart commits adultery. Let he who is without sin on this issue cast the first stone! But perhaps that is a subject not to be brought up, as it seems to be a sacred cow within some churches.

    Your position seems biblically sound Dave, and your argument logical. Also, if one of the main points of the gospel is that the Holy Spirit transforms lives, then we must truly believe that we are not who we once were. A divorced man does not always have to bear the label of “divorced”, nor the same for a drunkard, etc. We who have repented are new creations by the power of Christ within us. It seems that when we follow this position concerning divorce and serving in a leadership/pasturing role, we are negating the very power of the gospel.

    Our experience with all this caused us to leave the SBC after 16+ years faithfully pouring our lives out in service to our local churches. We are now back in the fold, and my husband is looking for a pastorate. However, no one will hire without previous pasturing experience. Seems everyone wants the next Joel Osteen. But that is a discussion for another post :)

  18. Bruce McGovern says

    A Baptist church in Amarillo had an elderly godly man recommended to be a deacon, by female members. He was openly rejected because, as Dave says, many years earlier he had been divorced, through no fault of his own.

    Yet, a divorced woman was allowed to work in the nursery with innocent young children. In fact no one ever discussed the marital status of women in service.

    • Bill Mac says

      Bruce: Your comment opens a separate thread of thinking. The term diakonos means “servant”, and yet most churches have created two separate classes of servant. Both are official (eg: deacon and SS teacher), both are recognized. And so it seems to me that both ought to fall under whatever qualifications are listed in scripture. It is interesting to me that if we called deacons some other name besides deacons, but with all the same duties and responsibilities of those bearing the name “deacon”, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

      I’m not speaking in absence of experience. When our church was considering female deacons (please don’t let this degenerate into a gender role discussion), the argument was made that it is ok for women to do everything that deacons do. Everything. We just can’t call them deacons.

  19. Bruce McGovern says

    I had to leave this and think about it, since I did not totally understand your comment. I think, and I may be wrong, that you mean working in the nursery would not be covered by the same biblical rule as being pastor or deacon. If that is not true, my comment will not make sense.

    We have something in the Bible which is clearly confusing. I am here as an uninvited guest, so it is with temerity that I say this. I think on this posting we have some of the finest theological minds in SBC, and they simply cannot agree what the Biblical injunction under discussion means.

    I believe it is accurate to say Jesus warned about being excessively engrossed in THE LAW, warning that salvation cannot be earned by complying with the law. As well as making it clear no one can ever totally comply with THE LAW anyway.

    I believe the Bible attempts to teach governments how to operate; families how to live; and individuals how to be moral and happy. I also believe as Jesus said, no one can understand it all nor comply with it all. We sinful people must do the best we can, and we can still have salvation given us by Jesus…

    This is a perfect example of needing to examine REALITY to try to understand the Bible when the finest minds cannot understand something in it.

    The way this works, let us try to find a possible reason for the rule, whatever it means.

    One really good reason to restrict divorced/remarried people in the church or anywhere else is: DIVORCE IS CONTAGIOUS.

    Studies have shown the more divorced people, that married people know, the greater probability they will also divorce. In some groups or families, divorce spreads like an epidemic.

    So, I can suggest there are reasons not to let divorced women work with impressionable children in a nursery, even if the Law does not specifically prohibit it. (Though the Law also does not specifically prohibit divorced pastors or deacons, since the finest minds cannot agree what the Law does mean.)

    Of course, following my theory, I could actually present a valid argument against Dave’s thesis, and my agreement with it. It might well be learned that a church with a remarried pastor could have a higher divorce rate than one which does not allow that. I don’t know that; I am merely suggesting another theory which could/should be investigated in an attempt to understand the law.

    Or, maybe the mind of a person who divorces might change in some manner we cannot determine, making them capable of misleading others?

    I could also make the same argument that having a pastor who divorced 40 years ago, and now has a great marriage could also encourage others to divorce, assuming (in most cases, incorrectly) that they will have the same success. Again, just tossing out ideas.

    To repeat the same debate points ad infinitum is not very productive. This becomes a perfect case for examining reality to break the impasse. While I have ideas based on my extensive work and study on divorce, I do not claim to have sufficient knowledge all on my own. No one is that smart; no one. And, certainly not I.

  20. Steve Hamilton says

    Consider this hypothesis: A man is married, he and his wife have several children, but they are later divorced. He subsequently marries again. The law of the land says he must pay alimony to his ex-wife and support their children financially. Can he really be viewed as a valid candidate for eldership in the church? Does anyone honestly believe that God does not view him as having more than one living wife, even though the law of the country stipulates that he has a legal obligation to his first wife and children? Those who argue that the 1 Timothy 3 qualification speaks only to his present situation – i.e. he is NOW a one-woman man – are mistaken. The reality is that such a man’s past action (his marriage and divorce) has a present, and on-going, consequence. He is disqualified from over-sight of the church. Forgiveness from God is obviously offered for all sin. But with respect this is not the issue here. What is in view is the high standard God has set for the office of elder/deacon.