The following subject comes up periodically, requiring me to give a biblical explanation. Therefore, for those who may not have done much study on it, let us consider the question of divorce and the pastorate.
I will never forget the phone call I got from a church in Rome, GA over 20 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?” With an undeniable tone of frustration, I replied, “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 stung. You see, even though our (then) pastor told me marrying Valerie would “put the final nail in the coffin” of my ministry hopes, I chose to marry a woman who had been divorced – and there were consequences.
However, I was aware the scripture (1 Tim. 3:2) being used against me was lacking in exposition, and it was ultimately up to God whether or not I pastored a church. So, after much study, I felt peace that what I was doing was right (but it didn’t hurt when the late Dr. Spiros Zodhiates gave us his approval).
But 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 left with no choice but to divorce; furthermore, it happened before she was a believer. Third, my wife’s ex-husband remarried and divorced again before I even met her. By all accounts my wife was free to remarry, so both she and I were clear from any “adultery” issues.
Also, I am “the husband of one wife,” and Scripture NEVER said a bishop “must be the husband of one wife who was the wife of only one husband, ever.” Just a minor observation.
So, what DOES the Bible say?
1 Timothy 3:2 says, “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, deacon, or elder in a church, you must have only been married once? Could it even be possible that Paul is 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, deacon, or elder should have never been divorced (or married to a divorcee) . 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.
In reality, what the Bible 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 and 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?
Think of any great man of God you know 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, vigilant, 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 who are sitting back or hiding out because someone has convinced them that they are used up and un-usable. For example, I can think of men right now who, for 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 (do I need to explain that last one?). Yet, only because they don’t have “divorced” to add to the list of past sins, they are accepted and given full authority as leaders in the church.
It’s time the body of Christ re-examine this issue in the light of GRACE.
31 responses to “Re-Examining the Divorce Controversy”
Did I ever tell you that a friend of mine has been turned down for pastorates (whole church and youth) because of this requirement? Because he is single and in his 30’s. (40 later this year) Several churches have actually turned him down for not being “a husband of one wife.” For being single.
I guess that situation could be a little more nuanced based on age and the risks of ministry. Still…
There is a very valid reason being a husband is prescribed for the man in a leadership position of a church.
That is true, but what of a widower?
What sayeth the scriptures?
That’s what I’m asking you 🙂
I’m ok with what the Bible says. He needs to be a husband.
1 Corinthians 7:7-8
Not under bondage verse?
Sorry, can’t get to my Bible.
7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
8 ¶ I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
Is Paul speaking in general to the body or specifically to the office of bishop?
Oh, he was most certainly speaking in general, but what I am pointing to is the condition in which Paul was in.
Was Paul a Bishop?
Now that is an interesting question. It implies that the standard for a pastor is higher than for the Apostle Paul. Even though he started umpteen churches and trained their elders, not to mention wrote Scripture, he was unqualified to pastor any of the churches he started. If you want to make that assumption, feel free.
Please forgive me if what I just wrote implied a snarky tone. That was not my intention.
Of course the standard is higher. Paul traveled about with various men.
You know what a pastor deals with in a church.
Way different situation. So yes, higher standard indeed.
But was Paul a bishop?
A man in that position needs a wife for obvious reasons.
I don’t think you can discount it by saying, “well if he was never given to anger he’s qualified,” and using the prescribed patterns of behavior to throw out the part of the passage you don’t like.
The thing is: if a person left their spouse and remarried, that is by biblical definition adultery.
So those people are not qualified to be a bishop.
Saying it happened before they were a believer doesn’t excuse it.
If you had sex before you were married and got HIV, you’re still going to develop AIDS, even if you got saved later.
So, is adultery unforgivable? Is adultery “the” sin that God refuses to forget? Is adultery “the” sin that He will not cast away as far as the east is from the west? Is adultery “the” sin that remains after we are forgiven and made a New Creation? Is adultery “the” sin that Jesus commissioned His followers to hold over people’s head for the rest of their life?
Where did God say he doesn’t forgive sin?
Where does God say you’re still qualified for the ministry if you are an adulterer?
It’s like if you have sex out of wedlock and get HIV.
God can forgive you, but he’s not going to stop the repercussions of your actions, and you’re going to develop AIDS.
God’s not called me to pastor, but I’ve thought about what would happen if He did, given my and my wife’s history.
Wally, there would be those who hold it over you, but God never will…
Bro Randy it’s a very common mindset in our work actually. I both agree and disagree depending. All situations are not the same.
I think the the judgement is up to the Holy Spirit what one does. God puts all sin into forgetfullness for His Children of salvation.
Are you sure you’re a baptist??? I am amazed, actually pained and disgusted, at folks who love the fact that God forgives them, separates their sins from them as far as the east is from the west, and remembers their sins no more, AND that they are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone and the new has come, HALLELUJAH! But they want to hold my (yours, and others like us) divorce over my head, saying in essence, “God refuses to use a sinner like you!” BTW, great work on the Greek text…
Yep, I’m a Baptist. But I try to base my understanding of biblical doctrines, ethics, etc., on exegesis, not on what somebody preached at camp meeting or decided in a deacon meeting.
Well, well….you little radical, you! I like you!
Reblogged this on Kingdom Pastor and commented:
I had my say about the view on divorce, click here to read it: https://kingdompastor.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/cultural-bias-the-bible-and-divorced-pastors/
This one comes from a Baptist culture, and is well worth the read….