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English: A Chess Bishop. Français : Un fou de ...

Paul says,

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach;”

1 Timothy 3:2


“Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.”

1 Timothy 3:12


“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”

Titus 1:6

To begin, with let us agree that all these verses are dealing with the qualifications suggested by Paul for the office of a Bishop or Deacon in the early church.  Whatever you believe these verse teach,  biblically speaking, it only applies to these offices in the church.

What is a bishop?

A bishop is an overseer in the church, meaning that they supervise others who work in the ministry such as deacons.  A bishop is a manager of a local congregation and to organize its affairs.  They are not part of the five fold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelist or Pastors and Teachers.

This is an important point to make because you cannot properly take a verse that states a qualification about a certain office and apply it to the whole of christian marriage everywhere.  To do so is an  “over generalization” of a specific instance that relates to a specific group of people.

Those who bend and break scriptures

Many oppose granting fellowship to polygamist husbands using these to support their stand against them.  At the very most, you could only deny the office of bishop and deacon to those who had more than one wife.  However, men who had more than one wife would still be free to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastors and teachers.

No one who rightly divides the word of God should deny such men fellowship or restrict them from attending church.  Moreover, Paul took the time to speak specifically about Bishops and Deacons.  Therefore, if he would have wanted to include the higher offices of the church (and everyone else for that matter)  he would have spoken about them specifically too.

Have the guts to be honest with the scriptures

This comes down to being honest about what the scriptures do say and don’t say regardless of what cultural bias we might hold.  We cannot impose our ethnocentric values upon the scriptures and call it God.  We may not prefer to practice plural marriage, but that doesn’t mean we can add to scripture.  Likewise, we shouldn’t demand everyone else to live as we do if God does not command it.

With regards to what Paul says about the qualifications for the office of Bishop and Deacon in the early church there is another important point that can and should be made.

Paul writes,

“(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)”

1 Timothy 3:5

This verse gives the reason for the qualifications that Paul lists.  These qualifications are given as a method to determine the suitability of the person who is considered for one of these positions.

Paul suggests the following criteria for bishops

1. Blameless

2. The husband of one wife

3. Vigilant

4. Sober

5.  Of good behavior

6.  Given to hospitality

7.  Apt to teach

8. Not given to wine

9. No striker

10.  Not greedy of filthy lucre

11.  Patient

12.  Not a brawler

13.  Not covetous

14.  One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity

15.  Not a novice

16.  Must have a good report of them which are outside the church

For Deacons Paul continues,

1.  Be grave

2.  Not double tongued

3.  Not given to much wine

4.  Not greedy of filthy lucre

5.  Let them be the husbands of one wife.

What is the apostle really saying?

Paul’s main concern is to adequately qualify those who apply for these types of positions within the church.  For instance, Paul does not think it wise to consider someone for these positions who is greedy because they will likely to steal.  When Paul states that the way a man handles his family is a good indication of how he will the church he does so for practical (not necessarily spiritual) reasons.

Therefore, Paul admonition that these candidates be the husband (s) of one wife has more to do with them being married in the first place, so that they can be observed in relationship to their family, than it does the number of wives they have.  Paul is not coining a moral law but is simply suggesting ways to pick the best candidate for the position that needs to be filled.

Marriage is not a number

Some want to make this qualification about the “number” of wives a pseudo-law that applies to everyone.  They zero in on this  one qualification (out of about twenty) making this reference into a moratorium on multiple wives for everyone.  Moreover, once they do  they feel justified telling men with multiple wives that they must divorce all but their first spouse.

It makes no difference to them that this might leave the other women and their children without a husband or father for love and support.  It makes no difference to them that they might become outcasts in their community.  All that matters to them is that Paul said that a Bishop or Deacon can only have one wife. In their minds and that prohibits polygamy period.

A pharisee of the pharisees is not going to disrespect king David

But wait a minute, did Paul really say that a Bishop or Deacon can only have one wife?  What if Paul was saying that a Bishop or Deacon must have “a” wife?  Perhaps paul suggests that a man be married. What if this qualification is just a way judge his ability to run his own household as a way to access his ability to run the household of God? Maybe Paul is simply setting a condition of being married in the first place?

If you look at Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance you will note that when the scriptures in the New Testament refer to the numeral 1 the Greek word “Heis” (Hice) is used.  However, when Paul refers to “one wife” in these three verses the Greek word “Mia” (Mee-ah) is used which can mean either “one” or “first”.  Thus, Paul is more properly talking about a man having a first wife rather than saying he can only have one wife.

Let’s be reasonable brethren

This interpretation is more in line with the historical situation of the first century church  experienced.  Polygamy was a “norm” of their society and would not have been looked upon with disdain.  Polygamy, back then, was just thought of as “good manners”.   If a wealthy man was able to provide for and manage of household of more than one woman he was honored.  In oriental (eastern) societies today, polygamy is more of a “social net” for unwed or widowed women and their children than a way to have more intimate partners.

Be honest with scriptures

Polygamy In Africa by Esther Standford