Does Divorce Disqualify?

I will never forget the phone call I got from a church in Rome, GA about 14 years ago. Someone on the other end of the line was part of a search committee looking for a new pastor.  They had gotten my resume and were impressed enough to give me a call.  Everything was going well until they asked a very pointed question, “Bro. Anthony, does your wife have a spouse that is still living?”  I responded with a cold, clinched-teeth, squinted-eye “Yes,…..ME.”  Unfortunately, this would not be the last time something like that happened.

What I encountered on the telephone that day was not unusual, nor unexpected; but it hurt.  You see, I had chosen to marry a woman who had been divorced, even against the wishes of our (then) pastor, who said marrying Valerie would “put the final nail in the coffin” for my ministry.  However, even knowing that many disagreed, we married, anyway.  I was aware of the Scripture (1 Tim. 3:2) being used, but I was also in the process of becoming free from the legalism that had bound me for so long…legalism that oozed with a self-righteousness that wanted to limit me based on another’s determination of my spirituality, not Biblical truth (and it didn’t hurt that the late Dr. Spiros Zodhiates gave his approval).

Let me be clear about a few things…

First,  I have never been divorced, so for me the whole argument of 1 Timothy 3:2 should be moot.  Second, my wife was abandoned and left with no choice but to divorce (she was the innocent party), and it happened before she was a believer.  Thirdly, her ex-husband remarried and divorced again before I even met her.  By all accounts, both she and I were clear from any “adultery” issues.  Also, I am the husband of one wife, and Scripture NEVER said “must be the husband of one wife who was the wife of one husband ever.”

What DOES Scripture say?

1 Timothy 3:2  “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife...”  Also, verse 12 says, “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife...”  The difficulty with these verses is not what is being said, but how it is interpreted.  Is Paul telling Timothy that in order to be a pastor or deacon or elder in a church, you must have only been married once?  Could it be possible that Paul is even saying that a man of God MUST have a wife, because being single would disqualify one from ministry?  These are things that have been debated for centuries.  Some believe that a pastor or deacon or elder should have never been divorced (or married to a divorcée) . Others believe that in order to be a proper leader, one must be married.  Still, many commentators believe that the proper rendering of the Greek is “one-woman man,” implying faithfulness and character over the number of wives.  What the Scripture says is one thing, but as William D. Mounce put it, “The Greek gives us a range of possibilities, but our theology is going to determine our interpretation.” (

I think there’s another way to look at it…

Take a look at 1 Timothy 3.  Read through verse 12.  The best I can figure is that there are between 16 and 17 qualifications for the bishop, and between 6 and 8 for the deacons.  All of these are preceded with a literal or an implied “must be,” as in “must be blameless,” or a “must have.”  How does this affect the argument that an elder must have only been married once, never remarried, or never divorced?  Well, think of any great pastor that you know of.  Think of any great man of God that has stood behind the pulpit and faithfully proclaimed the Word of God.  Has he always been blameless?  Has he always been on his best behavior?  Did he ever get drunk, covet, lose his patience, or curse his wife or children in anger?  Was he ever a novice, a beginner subject to pride? If so, then according to the logic of some, he should never be able to preach or lead in God’s church, for just as a man “must be the husband of one wife,” so he also must be “blameless, vigilent, sober, well-behaved, given to hospitality, patient, never greedy, and always in control of his house and children.”  Do you see it?  If your interpretation leads you to believe that the bishop must have only had one wife ever, then the same hermeneutic (the study of the principles of interpretation) should apply to the other “must be’s.”  “Must be the husband of one wife” = never divorced.  “Not a novice” = never been a beginner in the faith. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

1 Timothy 3:1-12 is in the present infinitive tense (i.e., must be / dei einai).  The requirements listed are ones that describe a man of character and faithfulness, of sobriety and gravitas; not a beginner or one untried and unproven.  What I see is a list of requirements that may not have always been present in a man, but should be NOW, after God has done a verifiable work in his life.  In other words, the Bible says a bishop “must be,” not “must have always been,” or “must have never done.”  Paul said, “and such were some of you:  but ye were washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:11

Here’s my point…

I believe that there are plenty of men and women (especially men) that are sitting back or hiding out because someone has convinced them that they are used up and un-usable.  For instance, I can think of men right now, who because of whatever reason, are divorced.  Yet these men, now Christians, are sold-out, God-fearing, faithful, Spirit-filled fathers and husbands with proven testimonies and unimpeachable character.  Sadly, however, because of mistakes made when they were young, unsaved, and stupid, they cannot serve as deacons, much less as pastors.  On the other hand, I can think of several pastors today who were once murderers, drug dealers, fornicators, extortioners, and abusers of mankind (gay, for those of you in Rio Linda).  They are accepted and given full reign as leaders in the church, but not the ones who were divorced.  So, like I said in a previous post…

if the Pharisee and the Publican sat down with a pulpit committee in the average Baptist church, which one do you think they would hire?


Depends on which one “had a living spouse.”


Filed under baptist, Divorce, General Observations, Independent Baptist, legalism, Relationships and Family, Uncategorized

26 responses to “Does Divorce Disqualify?

  1. Here is a link to an interesting article written in 2001 (like that matters). The topic of discussion was the divorce of Charles Stanley. I believe that this article may help further clarify my thoughts.

  2. Marc Smith

    I Timothy 3:15 very clearly states …that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave in the house of God,… (present tense) a qualification has to occur previous to. The qualifications for the ministry can be found in I Timothy 1:12-17 Paul said that Christ put him in the ministry and only through his mercy, grace, faith and love a and finally through his salvation.

    Pastor Marc Smith

    • Thanks for stopping by, Marc. Thanks for the comment. But to be 100% honest, I don’t know if you are disagreeing or agreeing with my take on this. Could you clarify? That way I will be able to know whether I like you, or not (insert winking, smiley face – only joking).

  3. Well, since I’ve come over to your post :), I figured I would respond to you here.

    Because marriage is a life-long covenant, I truly believe that a divorced person marrying another spouse now has two living spouses. Regardless of the fact that they are no longer honoring one of those two, the covenant still exists. This is why I believe divorce to be different from things such as drugs, murder, etc. When one gives up a drug, there’s no lifelong covenant that has been violated. There’s nothing to ‘make right’ other than giving up the drug. Marriage is another story. For a divorced person to ‘make things right’ would be to reconcile, or remain single. There is no other way to “right” that wrong, at least not as presented in Scripture. (Though there is forgiveness when we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness).

    In my post I said that for someone whose spouse had left them, that person is free from the guilt and shame of divorce. They have not sinned, because they have not quit honoring that covenant. But the Bible says that a woman who’s been divorced should either (1) reconcile with her spouse, or (2) remain single. Regardless of who’s fault the divorce was, these are the 2 options I believe Scripture allows. To remarry another is considered adultery, and it’s considered so in many different passages. Yes, God forgives and we move on in this life. But that still does not change the fact that the one who re-married still has a covenant that they are not honoring.

    One thing you said I find to be very sad though. “I believe that there are plenty of men and women (especially men) that are sitting back or hiding out because someone has convinced them that they are used up and un-usable.” You are very right in this. But my question is this: Since when are laypeople, missionaries, and those running Christian ministries considered “unusable” or worthless? They still hold SO MUCH value in the family of God! While I do hold the pastorate in high-regard, I do not believe that (as a person) the pastor is any greater than those who hold other positions of ministry. And I believe we need to be sure that our views on such topics as these are not lessening the worth of men & women of God who are making a huge difference for the kingdom! These are not “low callings”. They are callings of honor, and though I don’t believe a pastor/deacon or his wife should be divorced–I do not believe that the divorced are “unusable”.

    • I think that one sticking point here is the issue of “covenant marriage.” This term has become very popular in recent years, especially with my 5-pointer friends. But even though it seems to be the rage these days for all my Baptist brethren, I have not found the water warm enough to jump head-first into a game of Calvinistic Marco Polo (I think I will quote myself on that one).

      The word “covenant” was never attached to marriage in all my years of growing up, at least not in the way it is being attached today. What scares me is that there seems almost a Mormon flavor to it, sort of like a “celestial marriage” that can never be broken and is good for all eternity. My daughter go to Precept Ministries and sit under Kay Author every week, and even they are talking about “covenant” all the time. It just makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but I can’t quite figure out why.

      As a matter of fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if you are viewing marriage as a literal, unbreakable, spiritual (as in grace-conferring) union? Is marriage more than a symbol? Does it confer grace? Is it more of a spiritual act than even baptism (for, as you know, we Baptists only consider baptism an act of obedience and a symbol, not a mechanism of grace)?

      There is a lot of stuff going on, here. You have caused me to want to look into this a little further and from different angles. I have taken the whole “covenant marriage” movement with a grain of salt and not paid it much attention, at least until now. Maybe it is time to dig into this a little so that I can come back with a more informed opinion. For now, however, I do not believe that I am living in an adulterous relationship, for I do believe that my wife, once her former husband (whom she was married to before she became a Christian) remarried, she was free from her commitment to him (1 Cor. 7:15). For that matter, I believe that the “law of coverture” [Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 121.] would mean that she was also now “covered” by my status and actions.

      In a little over a week I have to give a 2-hour presentation on “The Biblical/Theological Arguments for Compatibalistic Specific Sovereignty” (Feinberg). So, don’t be offended if it is a little while before I get back to this lively discussion. In the meantime, I hope can find a more agreeable blog post of mine on which to comment. Surely there is something you and I can agree on 🙂

  4. Sadly, divorce, seems to be the unforgivable sin. As you pointed out: murderers, drug dealers, fornicators, extortioners, and abusers of mankind, are viewed differently. This topic, however, opens the door for more questions i.e., can we divorce over any grounds other than adultery? This is a BIGGIE within the Church of Christ camps and a topic of much controversy. I realize your thread isn’t related specifically to this so I won’t elaborate too much on the exception clause, etc.

    • Anonymous

      Its easier to forgive one who’s cut someones throat a watched them die than it is to forgive one for divorcing or marrying one who has been divorced. I am able to forgive both. But if a “Man of God” (that doesn’t mean just a pastor, evangelist, deacon or elder) divorces after salvation has come then we need to reconsider our thoughts on the matter

  5. Anthony I agree with you on most points and yes I too have been subjected to criticism for being divorced but at the time I was not a Christian, in Truth I did not come to heart repentance for many years even after believing I was a Born Again Christian.

    I first heard about divorce and remarriage after my being Married to my husband now and God tells us where He finds us that is where we are to stay. As far as my Marriage is concerned now, if it was to have troubled waters, even if my Christian husband left me, I would seek with all my heart to restore our Marriage but if that was not possible I would not remarry, I would continue to stand up for my Spiritual Husband Jesus Christ, sharing His Truth and living righteously alone.

    Jesus tells us divorce shows a hard, it is lack of forgiveness and instead holding onto anger than bitterness and resentment.

    But like your wife when an unbeliever leaves a Christian Spouse, they are no longer bound to that Marriage unless they have been responsible, like unconfused Adultery which they continue to do but a Christian must not leave a wife or husband for any other reason if they do they are responsible before God.

    God also showed us in Hosea that after confessed Adultery and heart repentance a Christian Marriage can be restored as He did with the Israelites who repented and stopped sinning this is true heart repentance it means we turn away from sin and seek to do good by the empowering of The Holy Spirit, we do not continue to sin when we have been Born Again (1John 3:9 ) + many other Scriptures

    We remember King David committed Adultery and Murder and even before this he Married Pagan wives, which was forbidden by God and he did not forgive his first with Yuk! big sin but He came to heart repentance , which King Saul didn’t do. God blessed David as we read in Psalms and many have been saved through reading his words over the generations.

    As for God using Men if they have been divorced or are married to a woman who has, it is all about sin, how can anyone Preach to others or have Authority over them in Church Leadership, if they can’t keep their own lives in order or when they are deliberately sinning and disobeying God.

    Please feel free Anthony to ask any questions and yes I can confirm with Scripture what I have shared with you.

    Christian Love from us both – Anne.

    • Thank you taking the time to leave a lengthy comment. However, I am curious…what do you disagree with? It seems to me that you may have issues with ministry after divorce. Am I correct? In other words, I am unclear about which part you disagree.

  6. Hi Anthony , perhaps before I share any further what do you think denotes legalism in Church. Do you now believe we sin till we die but are forgiven or our Salvation can or can’t be lost, that a woman should be in Authority and do we pray for the dead?

    One thing I do not believe is that some Scripture is only for the time it was written, God confirms it’s for all generations apart from the old Covenant, Jesus Christ is the new Covenant, which is all about Love and being of one mind in the Body of Christ.

    Blessings – Anne

    • Anne, I am happy to converse with you about these things, but technically, I asked you first 😉 My question was in regards to the next-to-the-last paragraph in your main comment.

      All I wanted was for you to clarify your position in order to understand your question. You see, I was (maybe not as much now) a little confused with your statement. You essentially asked “how can anyone preach to others or have authority over them in Church leadership if they can’t keep their own lives in order or when they are deliberately sinning and disobeying God?” Were you agreeing or disagreeing with the possibility of divorced persons in the pastorate or Church leadership? Also, were you suggesting that someone divorced is living in perpetual sin? Are you suggesting that one who is divorced, or even married to one who is, is necessarily and permanently barred from service within the Church? It would be helpful to know these things.

      Now, since I am not one to try to avoid questions, I will try to answer some of the questions you asked in your most recent comment. First, legalism can be defined differently depending on the context. There are those who define legalism as nothing more than the belief that one must keep the Law in order to be saved. Personally, I believe to be considered a legalist one does not necessarily have to believe one’s salvation is dependent upon works, but may simply use a list of man-made laws and standards to judge whether or not another person is in right standing with God (i.e., close fellowship vs. “backslidden”). I have never held the belief that salvation can be earned or kept by works, but I have been guilty of judging another’s spirituality based on their observance of a self-imposed (not necessarily biblical) standard of conduct.

      Now, secondly, I do not agree with the doctrine of “sinless perfection” or “entire sanctification” while we live in the flesh. I do believe that because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ we stand redeemed, righteous, and justified before God, the Righteous Judge, the Father of our Savior. I believe that because I have been saved and covered by the blood of Jesus I am now adopted into the family of God, heir to the glory of heaven. Because I have been forgiven of my sins (past, present, and future), there is “therefore, now, no condemnation.” But does this mean that I will never sin while in this human body? Of course not! (Romans 7:14-24)

      Third, when it comes to women and their function within the Church, I would say that there is no biblical support for a woman assuming the role of lead/head/senior pastor of a congregation. However, even though I disagree with women being senior pastors, I will agree that there are many godly women seeking to serve the Lord in this capacity. But again, even though there are many well-qualified female Bible teachers, the issue of “authority” will continue to be debated.

      Lastly, why would you ask about praying for the dead? Are you referring to 1 Corinthians 15:29? To answer your question, no, I do not pray for the dead. Do you? Are you Mormon? They do, which is why I ask.

      Well, I hope you are satisfied with my response. Have a great day!

  7. Hi Anthony, it’s going to take quiet a bit of detail to respond to all your statements but I will seek to do so. I’m appreciative of how important it is for you not to be judged harshly and this is as it should be, when others do this they are the guilty ones but to respond with clarity, it may help you to know a bit about me as a person.

    I’m not a member of any Cult and I do not call myself by any Denomination name, or Home Church. I’m a Christian which means I’m a member of God’s Universal Church as mentioned in the New Testament which is of the heart not the flesh and includes people from every Denomination world wide and God will even rescue those in Cults who He knows are His.

    I’m a part of the Body of Christ, an Anointed Evangelist under His Authority and I seek His direction in all things, I share His Truth as He leads me to do and I do not water-down the Scriptures which are Gods inspired written words or do I trust in mens/womans understanding of them regardless of their position or qualifications, titles or popularity, unless what they share is confirmed in Scripture, through the empowering of The Holy Spirit and it’s Truth is also shown in their actions through their Love for God and others. I’m still learning but Jesus is leading me into all Truth, He is One with the Father and Holy Ghost in the Godhead or Trinity as They are called today.

    I do not believe as confirmed in Scripture that woman are to be Ordained and so be in Authority or Leadership in a Church or in any role where they are in Authority over men, we are Helpmates which is not an inferior role just different. We can Teach and have Authority over woman and children. In the Body, we can share God’s Truth, correct error, rebuke and warn when needed and we are also to respect and help men in their Leadership role both in Marriage and the Church and to be a support and encouragement to them as being people of worth. We do not have to accept abuse in anyway , including rudeness and being treated as inferior and not as people of worth, we are the weaker sex and so are to be protected and supported in our role and gifting.

    It takes two to make and break a marriage, both are responsible for keeping it together but real Unity only comes through The Holy Spirit indwelling both. Sinfulness in one or both such as Adultery, physical or by Porn etc causes Trust and respect to be broken down but can be restored by heart repentance and forgiveness from God’s and the betrayed Spouse so the Marriage will also be restored. Jesus said Divorce shows a hard heart meaning there has been no forgiveness, so one or both have held onto anger and become bitter and resentful and instead of resolving their problems they have either continued in conflict or agreed to disagree both lead to the breakdown of a Marriage and gives Satan a foothold, they also cause disunity in the Church, we are to be of one mind and have the same focus, if not we seek God to resolve our differences .

    You have every right to be in a position of Leadership Anthony regardless of your wife’s background, it is her response to The Lord both personally and in her role as your wife now that is important and her godliness in the Body of Christ as shown in Scripture and this is the same for you or me or anyone else in the Body of Christ, we all have a role in building it up in Love and Unity and to keep it pure.

    I will respond to your other statements tomorrow Anthony as I’m having a procedure done today which requires Hospitalization and I still have a few other things I need to attend to.

    Thanks for your time and the respect you have shown me, it is very much appreciated.

    Christian Love from both of us – Anne

  8. Thank Anthony your I appreciate your prayers.

    Just one thing I forgot to mention and it is important; I also don’t believe in Sinless perfection when it is based on Legalism and man made rules and regulations but I do believe in Freedom in Christ Jesus which is of The Spirit

    See you tomorrow – blessings Anne.

  9. Wow that was mixed up, seems to be something strange with your Blog or is it my mouse Sorry I will check next time – Anne.

  10. Your perspective here is a food for thought, I am sure not to only me.

  11. You handled this subject well. It’s disturbing how people pick and choose what is forgivable or unforgivable in a pastor. God does a much better job making that call than any of us.

  12. p>I remember this now! Good post. You may or may not remember that both my wife and I were both divorced. She and her husband were both believers. In fact, he was supposedly called to preach. Haha. Anyway. My wife and I were not. I actually didn’t know God gave two hoots about marriage, and would not have care about His opinion had I know. We serve in a church where most would certainly say that a pastor divorcing his wife for a non-Biblical reason would disqualify. I don’t know that I necessarily have a problem with that; it’s just not so cut and dried. It has never stopped me from serving at all. I teach, exercise leadership(in my circle of influence), evangelize and whatever else I feel like. I have prayed often in the past that God might call me to preach. He never has. I assume if He had answered, that would answer my question concerning my own divorce. Only one time was the issue raised, and that was when one guy seemed to go to some length to point out that I would never be a Deacon. LOL… what? I actually don’t need some “office,” to do that I do. I did ask him(semi snidely I must confess) if that meant I needed to stop doing all the deacon like stuff I do or was I still qualified for that. I repented for taking that dig, incidentally. 

    • If we had more guys like you in our churches, we wouldn’t need many of the deacons – many are only there to vote, anyway 😉

      • Well, that kind of tickles me anyway about the voting. We actually don’t regard Deacons as actually possessing authority, but to be servants of the church. We consider that service is actually their true and only role, What the church needs they do. Any leadership they come from them and is out of other’s willing submission to them based on wisdom and experience. We actually have a fully congregational leadership model. My vote is as big as any deacons. Of course, this model actually made this fellow’s point all the more ironic.

      • That’s actually pretty interesting. Your’s is a good example of how even though one may place a particular label above the door of his particular congregation (Baptist, in this case), that doesn’t mean what you will have behind those doors is exactly what is behind the “Baptist” doors down the road. Baptist are autonomous, and the different roles of deacons in our churches are a good example of how we are free to determine our own ecclesiastical frameworks.

        In the Baptist churches I am used to, deaons are supposed to be servants in the church, but many times the “serving” role winds up being limited to a managerial role. Many times, as I’ve seen, deacons are retained far longer than their physical ability will allow them to actually serve the congregation in any other capacity than to provide advice during a deacon board meeting. In those cases a deacon board is assembled in order to handle certain aspects of church business without having to involve the whole congregation in every decision of practical matters. Those matters of more importance are discussed by the deacons, then presented to the whole congregation for a vote.

      • Oh yeah I get that we do a similar thing so we don’t have to big down business meeting with crazy details. Or we will give authority to a group to even make certain decisions. People actually don’t understand that about Baptists that the variance among them is quite large and that really the only thing that is the same among all is just what the name says. You know we consider you Southern Baptists to be crazed liberals lol. We have em all here. Southern Baptists, two different varieties of Missionary Baptists, Free Will Baptist and some true Independent Baptist. Oh and now some Reformed Baptists.

      • Of course, you know that Reformed Baptists are nothing more than Presbyterian wanna-be’s, don’t you? Yeah, if it wasn’t for that baby-sprinkling thing, they’d go all D. James Kennedy on us 😉

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