Friday, March 25, 2011

Must elders be married?

Interesting question Al Mohler tackles. He says yes. Of course looks at the question through the eyes of the traditional church, i.e. the “Pastoral” epistles speak of elders but that really means professional, seminary trained ministers, but the question is a fascinating and fun one. It also helps to frame our thinking of what an elder looks like

Being a husband, a father and managing your household well are important traits to be desired in an elder. Can a single guy who lives a spartan life in an apartment with no wife and no kids fit the bill? Can he lead others by the example of his life without a wife and children?

It is an interesting question. What do you think?


Steve Scott said...


There are several problems with this story/topic as I see it. First, Mohler takes a wrong (I believe) interpretation of 1 Tim 3. Maybe Alan or another Greek expert could shed more light here, but as I understand the Greek, the literal words "a one woman man" appear. There is no distinction between "man" and "husband" or between "woman" and "wife." Some translators have rendered it “the husband of one wife.” There are three problems with this. First, a “one woman man” is actually a stricter requirement in that a married man can have just one wife, yet flirt a bit with other women without being a polygamist. A "one woman man" (for those who are married) is somebody who is a faithful man to begin with.

Second, viewing this passage as it being necessary for a man to be married twists the meaning of this phrase to something different from the rest of the 1 Timothy 3 passage. All the other requirements in 1 Tim 3 are qualitative character traits. To interpret this phrase as meaning a man must be married makes the requirement a quantitative legal status. This interpretation disrupts the flow of the passage. And doesn’t Christian tradition hold that Timothy himself was single?

Third, if a pastor/elder’s wife dies, he is immediately no longer a pastor/elder because he is immediately disqualified. How many Baptists would readily dismiss Mohler, Piper or MacArthur in such a case?

Another big problem that Mohler assumes is the traditional seminary-to-job-search model of pastoring. Rather than growing up elders/pastors from within congregations which allow bodies to already fully know their elders, churches are asked to take a risk on an unmarried candidate who was away from home for several years. So the system already dictates the results.

So, no, I don't believe elders MUST be married.

Arthur Sido said...

Those are all excellent thoughts!

James said...

I like the cut of your jib Steve. I think the Greek is definitely ambiguous when it references husbands and wives in the New Testament. Contextually, we know that aner and gune mean husband and wife here and in Titus. Being a "one woman man" is not what I think falls in line here. The Lord's teaching on marriage and divorce, and Genesis attribute the importance of marriage being one man and woman = one flesh in the marriage union. They are inseparable..until death. I think the strictest limitation here is not whether or not polygamy or "civil union to only one woman" is in view here. I believe it says what the Lord demonstrates, and what Genesis demonstrates...No divorce. This man is to be blameless, not divorced, and not remarried, of course, if his wife has died, literally, he is free to remarry, the previous covenant is terminated and he is no longer bound to that relationship. Although, should he not remarry, I am not sure we could scripturaly exclude him from "shepherding."

And this leads into the next statement you make regarding the character traits. Not having been divorced or remarried remains consistent with that portion of your question, but having "believing" children does not. This is brought up again in Titus 1 as a requirement of "overseer" and is a bit of a deviation from a clearcut list of "character traits." If Christian tradition holds that Timothy himself was a single, which I believe it does, is irrelevant. Timothy was not a Pastor/Shepherd per se. If one looks more carefully, he was instructed to do the work of an evangelist. If examined you can see that an evangelist is not just a "preacher to the lost." An evangelist is like an apostle/missionary, appoints elders, builds up the church, teaches them, and at times carry out duties we often ascribe to "pastors."