Questions From Readers
● Paul said that a congregational overseer must be “a husband of one wife.” Why would he list that among the qualifications for overseers, since no Christian could be a bigamist or a polygamist?
In 1 Timothy 3:2 the apostle Paul wrote: “The overseer should therefore be irreprehensible, a husband of one wife, moderate in habits.” The expression “husband of one wife” would mean that the man was free of any suspicion of sexual badness, that he exemplified the Christian standard as to marriage.
Jesus had directed that his disciples should hold to God’s original marital arrangement, one man for one woman. (Matt. 19:5, 6) Hence, no person could be baptized as a Christian until he ceased being a polygamist. Yet it was fitting for Paul to emphasize the matter as to elders, because polygamy had been allowed among the Jews and might prevail in lands where Christianity would spread. A new person associating with the congregation should be able to see from the example of the elders that monogamy, not polygamy, was the acceptable arrangement for Christians.
But the phrase “husband of one wife” could imply more. At that time the prevailing moral laxity was reflected in easy, frequent divorces and remarriages.
“In the corrupt facility of divorce allowed both by the Greek and Roman law, it was very common for man and wife to separate, and marry other parties, during the life of one another. Thus a man might have three or four living wives; or, rather, women who had all successively been his wives.” (The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, by Conybeare and Howson) It was to be different for a Christian. Only if his mate committed “fornication” (gross sexual immorality) would he be free to get a divorce and marry another. (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) The qualification of “a husband of one wife” would mean that an elder would set the example in not being a man who divorced a wife without Scriptural grounds and thereafter remarried.
Some scholars have understood 1 Timothy 3:2 to mean that an elder could not at all marry a second time. However, what Jesus had said earlier and what Paul elsewhere wrote indicate that remarriage was not wrong, so it would not make a man reprehensible or disqualify him from serving as an elder in the congregation. Recall that Paul wrote that widows (and, logically, widowers) would do better to marry than to burn with passion or become unoccupied meddlers.—1 Cor. 7:8, 9, 36-39; 1 Tim. 5:13, 14.
An elder’s being “a husband of one wife” would also convey the thought of his being innocent of bigamy or adultery. He was to be morally irreprehensible in his married life, loyal and true to his wife. Thus, The New English Bible renders the verse in this way, the overseer “must be above reproach, faithful to his one wife.”
Consequently, by saying that an overseer must be “a husband of one wife,” Paul, in a few words, was stressing from various angles the high moral example to be set by a married elder. Anyone should be able to look at him and sense that he was a living example of the elevated view of marriage found in genuine Christianity.