The term 'husband of one wife' applies to both men and women

by Matt Slick

Another point raised by the egalitarians to justify that women can be pastors and elders is to say that the term "husband of one wife" can apply to both men and women. They even claim that this is supported in a book from someone who claims to have seen the phrase applied on an ancient tombstone of a woman. The book is titled "Familiar Leadership Heresies Exposed"; but, I can't find it anywhere---not Google, not Yahoo, not Altavista, not Without the book, verification cannot be established or the evidence cross-examined. So, this appears to be nothing but hearsay promoted by the egalitarians.

Since all we have to work with is the New Testament text, let's examine the phrase . . .

  • 1 Tim. 3:1-2 "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach."
  • Titus 1:5-6, "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion."

Let's look at each one. The Literal Greek of 1 Tim. 3:2 is,

It is necessary then the overseer be above reproach, a one woman man, temperate, sober minded, respectable, loving strangers, able to teach.

The overseer is to be a one woman man. In the Greek the word "overseer" is in the masculine, singular form. It could be similarly rendered in English by saying something like, "the actor must be above reproach, a one-woman man." It would make no sense to say, "the actors must be above reproach, a one-woman man." Also, it would make no sense to say "the actress must be above reproach, a one-woman man. The point is that the person who is a one-woman-man must be a man.

Let's take a look at Titus 1:5-6. " . . . appoint elders . . . if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . " The word for "elders" in Greek is "presbuterous." It is the masculine plural. This is like the actors versus actresses thing again; the first is masculine plural, and the second is feminine plural. To continue, Paul then says, "if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife." So, among the elders Paul says any such man must be above reproach. Literally, Titus 1:5-6 says, " . . . appoint older men as I directed you. 6if someone is above reproach a one-woman man, having children who believe . . . "

Here it is a grid that will help explain what is happening.

Greek ει τις εστιν ανέγκλητος μιας γυναικος ανήρ
English if someone is unreproachable of one woman man
Parsing Explained conj. pronoun,
verb, 3rd per,
sing., present,
sing., nominative
adjective, fem., sing., genitive noun, fem. sing., genitive noun, masc., sing. nominative

The word "someone" τις has a form that can be both masculine or feminine (like 'person' in English). But it says that the "someone" must be a "man of one woman"; hence, we must view it as the masculine form. Since the word "man" isn't there where "someone" τις is, in the Greek, various translations differ and render "someone" as "anyone" (Darby, ESV, YLT), "man" (ASV, NASB, NKJV, RSV), "someone" (HCSB, NRSV), "any" (KJV), and "elder" (ISV, NCV, NIV, NLT, GNB). But, that isn't a problem because we know that the someone must be male, the husband of one wife.

Literally, it is "man of one woman" which is why it is translated as husband of one wife.  But some will object and say that this would mean that a man couldn't be an elder if he wasn't married.  However, this isn't the issue.  In the culture, people were married early.  It was normal and expected.  Paul is talking about monogamy as opposed to polygamy which he says the elder must hold to being a "man of one woman"--not a "man of more than one woman." 

Furthermore, if the literalness of being married is used to refute the idea that the elder/pastor must be male and married, then the elder must also have more than one child since verse six says, "having children who believe."  Are we to say that a person can't be an elder if he isn't married, or that he has to have two or more children?  Of course not.  Instead, Paul is telling us that the elder is to be a man of one woman who has a family that is Christian. 

But note . . . it is a man who is to be the husband of one wife/man of one woman who has believing children.  This cannot be filled by a woman.

How is is possible for a woman to fit that criteria? It isn't. Therefore, the office is for males only.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.