Vol. 7, No. 7
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God would not have given qualifications for elders, as found in the New Testament, if they were not important. The first word, "blameless," in the list given by Paul (1 Timothy 3:1-7) may be an introduction to the other requirements. In other words, the rest of the qualification may be an explanation of what is meant by "blameless," "without reproach." The man who is "above reproach" is the man who has those qualifications that are next listed.
The first quality of the "blameless" man is that he is to be "the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2; also required of deacons 1 Timothy 3:12). This probably includes two areas of thought: (1) He is not to be like the pagans, a man with many wives and (2) he is to be true to his one wife, not given to being interested in other women.
Timothy was in the Gentile world when he received Paul's letter. Just because a person became a Christian did not mean that he immediately gave up all pagan practices. Some men may not have completely cleaned up their lives, so had more than one wife. Even today, there are some in various congregations who are remarried without scriptural reason. Before they can serve, they would have to correct this situation. Surely, no one would argue that a man could be an elder if he had two living wives.
The phrase, "husband of one wife," is translated in various ways: "the husband of one wife" (KJV; NKJV; NASB; RSV; NRSV, footnote); "faithful to his wife" (TNIV); "faithful to his one wife" (NEB); "married only once" (NRSV).
The last of these phrases, "married only once" is not a translation but a theological comment. Not one of the words in this translation represents one word in the Greek text.
This is the Greek phrase, mias gunaikos andra, literally "of one woman man," or "of one wife husband." In this verse "one" is mias, the genitive of eis, thus means "of one." The man to become an elder must be an "of one" woman/wife man. The word, gunaikos means either "woman" or "wife," according to the setting. The context here would imply that the woman is the wife of the man who is being considered to become an elder. The word andra can mean either "man" or "husband," according to the context, which in this case would be "husband."
The most likely meaning of this phrase is that the man is to have only one wife and not another woman in his life. The love of his life is to be his wife. He is not a man who is eyeing other women. He is a husband with one wife to whom he shows proper dedication, and there is no other woman for him.
If his wife has died, and he has remarried, this same rule would apply to his relationship to his new wife. She is to be the one and only woman for him. The dead woman is no longer his wife. "The wife is bound by the law (to her husband, implied) as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:39, NKJV). "But if her husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband" (Romans 7:2, NKJV). Jesus' reply to the Sadducees who did not believe in a resurrection might also imply that after death the union of a husband and wife no longer exists (Matthew 22:23-30). If a man's wife dies, the union is broken. They are no longer husband and wife. If this were not true, remarriage would not be permitted.
A husband or wife is no longer bound to their dead partner, therefore, if they marry again, they have only one wife or husband. A man can become an elder if, after his wife dies, he marries a woman who is scripturally free to marry him.
The same is true of a man who is divorced and remarried for a scriptural reason. He would be qualified to be an elder. He is no longer bound to a woman who has been unfaithful to him, if he has divorced her.
Just because a man's wife has died or become unfaithful and he has remarried does not mean he is qualified to be an elder. If he does not measure up to the other qualifications, he should not serve. Also, if the congregation will not accept him because he has remarried, even though he had the right to do so, he should not be appointed to the position of an elder. Only those should be assigned the office who meet the scriptural qualifications and who are accepted as leaders by the congregation.
A man can serve if he has one wife and meets the other qualifications. These are the requirements that were revealed to the apostle Paul. A congregation is organized correctly only if it follows God's guidelines.