This phrase has caused much discussion. It was obviously an issue for the church at Ephesus in the first century (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1,12; 5:7; and in Crete, Titus 1:6). Here are the basic interpretive theories.

1. it refers to polygamy

2. it refers to a remarriage after divorce

3. it refers to the second marriage after the first wife's death

4. it refers to a man faithful and attentive to his wife (i.e., "a one-woman kind of man,"another way of asserting good family relationships, cf. NEB)

This list of qualifications refers to family relationships, and any problem in the area of family relationships disqualifies one from leadership in a local church.

1. Number 1 was not a problem in the Roman Empire, but was a potential problem in Judaism (though rare in the first century).

2. Number2 was a great problem in the Roman Empire, and also a problem in Judaism (Hillel vs. Shammai).

3. Number 3 was a major concern of the Early church, especially Tertullian, and is still an issue in Baptist circles in Europe. However, 1 Tim. 5:14 is a parallel passage where younger widows can remarry with no reproach (cf. Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7).

There is one more option, that the requirement refers to marriage versus singleness. The false teachers had forbidden marriage (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3). This may be a direct refutation of their tendency toward celibacy and asceticism. This is not to assert that an unmarried person cannot be a church leader, but that singleness cannot be a requirement. I think this is the best option and it also answers the other interpretive problems relating to (1) "not addicted to much wine" and (2) the issue of women in 1 Tim. 2:8-15. These must be interpreted in light of the presence of false teachers in these churches.

If the issue is a strong, godly family, then divorce is not the only critical issue. Even in the OT divorce was sometimes the appropriate option: (1) YHWH divorces unfaithful Israel and (2) priests were commanded to divorce unfaithful wives (see "Old Testament Perspective on Divorce and Remarriage" in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Vol. 40 #4, Dec. 1997). All humans experience disruption in their family life in some areas. My major concern with taking this qualification strictly literally is the lack of consistency in taking all the others in this context literally as well. If divorce disqualifies, then so do (a) not addicted to wine (cf. "not. . .addicted to much wine" of 1 Tim. 3:8, which is not necessarily a commandment to total abstinence) and (b) "keep his children under control" of 1 Tim. 3:4, which would eliminate many modern pastors and deacons.

Truthfully, I do not know many Christian leaders who could consistently fulfill all of these requirements throughout their lives. So before we become too critical of the flaws of leadership remember that these qualifications are God's will for all His children. I am not advocating lowering the standards, but not using them in a legalistic, judgmental sense. The church needs godly, socially acceptable leadership. However all we have to choose from is saved sinners! Modern churches must seek out leaders who have proven themselves faithful over time, not perfect people.

One more point, if this list is taken too literally, then Jesus (because He was single) and Paul (because he was possibly divorced) could not have been church leaders. Makes one think, doesn't it?

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