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Does the Bible Permit Divorced Persons to Serve as Church Leaders?

Bible students differ in their interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12 . In Greek, the expression translated in the Authorized Version “husband of one wife” actually reads “one-woman man.” Some pastors believe this passage teaches that a man who has been divorced or widowed and subsequently remarried should not be allowed to serve as an elder or as a deacon.

Others believe that marriage is an actual requirement for a man if he is to serve as a deacon or an elder. Still others allow a remarried widower or a single man to serve as a deacon or an elder but believe that this passage bars a man from serving in these roles if he has been divorced and remarried.

Because of the wide range of possible interpretations of the “one-woman man” criterion, it’s important to view it in the context of the other New Testament standards for the selection of church leaders. In addition to being a “one-woman man” (husband of one wife), 1 Timothy 3:2-7 lists all of the following qualifications:

  • blameless
  • temperate
  • self-controlled
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • an apt teacher (teachable)
  • not given to drunkenness
  • gentle
  • not quarrelsome
  • not greedy or covetous
  • a good manager of his household and children
  • a seasoned believer
  • a good reputation with outsiders

A reasonable interpretation of “one-woman man” is one that is in agreement with the other criteria.

Jesus named adultery the only basis for divorce and remarriage( Matthew 5:32 ; Mark 10:11 ). What if a man were divorced prior to his conversion? Would the “one-woman man” requirement forever exclude him from church leadership, while a converted murderer or embezzler would be eligible? What if a Christian man and his children were abandoned by an unfaithful wife, in spite of his extraordinary efforts to preserve their marriage? If he has biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage, consequently remarries, and meets all of the other leadership standards in the view of his church, would his divorce and remarriage permanently exclude him from a position of leadership?

The key point in interpreting the “one-woman man” standard is that when a single qualification can be reasonably interpreted in a variety of ways, it becomes necessary to understand it in the light of the entire list of qualifications. If a local congregation knows that a man’s divorce had truly biblical grounds and considers him “blameless” and well-qualified upon the basis of all the other criteria, they may consider him a “one-woman man” even though remarried.

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