The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible, Part 4: Exegesis of Titus 1:6

After the introduction to this series which looked at Al Mohler’s change of mind, in part 2 I described the fundamentalist approach to the Bible, and in part 3 I started on the scholarly approach. This scholarly approach can be divided into exegesis (understanding the text) and application. In this part I will apply the principles of exegesis to Titus 1:6, and especially to the phrase sometimes translated “husband of one wife”. In the next part I will move on to how this may be applied in the modern world.

The first of the principles of exegesis which I outlined in part 3 is to get an overview of the whole document. For this I have just read the entire book of Titus, in my current favourite translation, TNIV. (At this point I am glad that I didn’t choose a verse from Acts as my example!) I can then look at the communication situation: the apostle Paul is writing to encourage and instruct his long term associate Titus, who he has left in charge of the Christian mission in Crete.

I then need to find a self-contained unit for exegesis. This is important because it avoids looking at a verse or two out of context. Clearly 1:6 is not a self-contained unit. It is in fact part of a unit 1:5-9 concerning appointment of elders, which is clearly separate from the preceding formal greeting, and is distinguished from what follows by an abrupt change of subject matter. I have read through this passage in the Greek and in the Good News Bible, the New Living Translation, and The Message (which leaves out “husband of one wife” completely!) I won’t attempt my own version of the passage, although that would help with the exegetical process.

There are a number of questions which could be formulated about this passage, such as the relationship between “overseer” (or “bishop”) in verse 7 and “elder” in verse 5. But for the purpose of this exercise I will concentrate on the one question: what did Paul mean by “husband of one wife”?

I was surprised to find “establish the text” so far down the list of principles which I summarised in part 3. I would in fact have preferred to do this at the beginning, or at least as soon as I had identified the passage. In this case, there are no textual variants which are relevant to “husband of one wife”.

The small section we are focusing on consists of just three words in Greek, μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ mias gunaikos anēr, “(of) one woman/wife man/husband”. Perhaps two of these three words need word studies: ἀνήρ anēr (genitive ἀνδρός andros, as in “polyandry” and “androgynous”), meaning “man” or “husband”, and γυνή gunē (genitive γυναικός gunaikos, as in “gynaecology” and again “androgynous”), meaning “woman” or “wife”. At this point I will not do detailed word studies, but I will note that whereas ἀνήρ anēr most commonly means “man” as opposed to “woman”, it can also mean “human being” as opposed to “god” or “adult” as opposed to “youth”. This is clear from the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon of classical Greek: in this 19th century lexicon (the link is to a 1940 revision) the gloss for sense A.II, “man, opp. god“, was written at a time when “man” was used routinely in a gender generic sense. However, it does seem clear that in this case, where ἀνήρ anēr and γυνή gunē are used together, that the senses of the words being used here are “husband” and “wife”. But see what I write below about Deiss’ research into this phrase.

At this point I will skip the use of other reference books. While in general this is a good principle for exegesis, it is not so helpful in a case like this on which there is such controversy. As for relationships between words and between larger units, I will simply note that these three words form one item in a short list of complements of “anyone is”, within a conditional clause which appears to be laying down conditions for anyone to be appointed as an elder.

I now move on to looking at parallel passages using the same expression. As I noted in part 2, the same expression occurs in 1 Timothy 3:2,12, and a similar expression but with “husband” and “wife” reversed in 1 Timothy 5:9. In 1 Timothy 3:2 this expression is a similar condition for someone to be an overseer or “bishop”, and in 3:12 (where it occurs in the plural) it is a condition for deacons; the expression in 5:9 is a condition for a widow to be enrolled.

These parallel uses do tend to restrict how the expression can be understood. For example, 5:9 rules out a strictly present understanding: the widow must be someone who was “wife of one husband” before she became a widow, and so it is reasonable to argue that “husband of one wife” cannot exclude widowers from being elders, overseers or deacons.

More controversially, as I noted in part 2, according to Romans 16:1 the woman Phoebe was a deacon, and indeed the most natural interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:11 is also a reference to women deacons. In this case, “husband of one wife” in 3:12 cannot be understood as a rule applicable everywhere allowing only men to be deacons. And as the phrase surely has the same meaning in 3:2 and Titus 1:6 these verses cannot be understood as forbidding any women from being overseers or elders; for precisely the same condition is applied to all three, or two, types of Christian ministry.

Now I have not come to any definite conclusion on the vexed issue of whether this phrase should be understood as “husband of one wife” in the sense of not being polygamous, or “faithful to his wife” as in TNIV; nor whether it should be understood as forbidding unmarried elders (although I have ruled out a prohibition on widowed elders). My own preference is for understanding the phrase as requiring the elder to avoid any kind of sexual activity outside a monogamous marriage. But I don’t claim to have justified this fully.

I have however cast serious doubt on whether this verse can be understood as restricting eldership to men. I have three strictly exegetical reasons for this, quite apart from the application issues which I will move on to in the next part. The first reason is as above, that the same condition is applied to deacons but there do seem to have been women deacons.

The second reason is that the point which Paul was making here was not about gender but about sexual activity. Paul may have assumed that Titus would appoint only men, as was perhaps culturally appropriate (compare 2:6 where his grounds for requiring women to “be subject to their husbands” is to be culturally sensitive, “so that no-one will malign the word of God” (TNIV)). But it is unlikely that he was intending to teach two separate things in this one three word phrase – that is not how language works. And the positive point which he was making is clearly related to sexual activity. Now there is some value in looking at the biblical authors’ presuppositions as well as at their direct teaching. But, as I will consider further when I look at application, it is dangerous to take the apostle’s presuppositions as normative for the church today.

My third reason for not interpreting this verse as prohibiting women elders is based on a something apparently written by the French biblical scholar Lucien Deiss. (Thanks to Ruud Vermeij for reminding me about this and providing some links.) In Think Again about Church Leaders (1 Timothy 2:8-3:16), page 87 of this online edition, Bruce Fleming writes, on 1 Timothy 3:2:

The second qualification in the list deals with the overseer’s married life. Careful research has shown that this qualification means that whether one is a husband or a wife it is important to be a “faithful spouse.” It requires that an overseer, if married, be faithful and be “a one-spouse kind of person.”According to Lucien Deiss (notes to the French Bible, the TOB, Edition Intégrale, p. 646, note a), this Greek phrase was used in Asia Minor, on both Jewish and pagan gravestone inscriptions, to designate a woman or a man, who was faithful to his or her spouse in a way characterized by “a particularly fervent conjugal love.”

When I read Deiss’ comment about how this phrase was used on ancient grave inscriptions in Turkey, where Paul and Timothy ministered, I confirmed it with him myself, reaching him by telephone in Vaucresson, France.

Some might find this insight into 1 Timothy 3:2 surprising because modern versions of the Bible translate this Greek phrase as – “husband of one wife” – making this qualification appear to be restricted to men only! Instead, rightly understood, this qualification is about faithfulness in marriage by a Christian spouse. It is not saying that oversight is “for men only.”

I regret that I have not been able to confirm what Deiss wrote or the inscriptions reported by him. But it does seem clear that this scholar has written this, and in a Bible edition, TOB, Edition Intégrale, produced jointly by the Société Biblique Française (French Bible Society) which should ensure proper scholarly standards.

I thus conclude that from an exegetical point of view (and quite apart from the issue of application today) it cannot be maintained that Paul was setting for Titus a condition that the elders he appointed must be male.

In part 5: Scholarly Application I will look at the scholarly principles of how this passage might be applied within the church today.

31 thoughts on “The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible, Part 4: Exegesis of Titus 1:6

  1. I may have misunderstood you, but your post could be read as indicating that the specific phrase MIAS GUNAIKOS ANHR could refer to both males and females. While I’m open to evidence on this, it does seem counterintuitive to me, especially when the phrase hENOS ANDROS GUNH appears to have been available.

    Are you really sure that when Deiss refers to “this Greek phrase” he doesn’t refer to MIAS GUNAIKOS ANHR specifically, but to either MIAS GUNAIKOS ANHR or hENOS ANDROS GUNH?
    I’d certainly be interested to see the exact quote from the TOB or any scholarly work that substantiates this.

    Of course, if you are simply saying that MIAS GUNAIKOS ANHR refers to a *maritally faithful* male, then I readily agree.

  2. Anonymous, I regret that I have not seen exactly what Deiss wrote, nor the inscriptions he refers to. So I cannot be sure of his meaning. However, it does seem clear to me that Fleming (who is of course an egalitarian and so not an entirely neutral witness) understands Deiss as “indicating that the specific phrase MIAS GUNAIKOS ANHR could refer to both males and females“. Your point about this being counter-intuitive is not in fact as clear as it might seem. There is in fact no easy way in Greek to express this point in an explicitly gender generic way; I don’t know of a generic word for “spouse”, and hENOS ANTHRWPOU ANTHRWPOS “person of one person” would hardly have done it! But it is quite normal in Greek for the male to be used inclusively of the female, even with the word ANHR, so I suspect ANHR was at least sometimes used in a generic sense “spouse” – although I don’t know of any evidence of this. If so, the obvious generic for the other partner is GUNH. But I agree with you, it would be better to see some actual evidence of this usage, or at least the actual words of Deiss.

    I note that this evidence is only one of three arguments I made against the interpretation that Paul intended to specify that elders must be male. See also my newly published conclusion to the series, which may not be what you expect!

  3. Pingback: Speaker of Truth » Blog Archive » The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible, Part 3: Principles of Scholarly Exegesis

  4. Paul may have assumed that Titus would appoint only men, as was perhaps culturally appropriate (compare 2:6 where his grounds for requiring women to “be subject to their husbands” is to be culturally sensitive, “so that no-one will malign the word of God” (TNIV)). But it is unlikely that he was intending to teach two separate things in this one three word phrase – that is not how language works. And the positive point which he was making is clearly related to sexual activity. Now there is some value in looking at the biblical authors’ presuppositions as well as at their direct teaching. But, as I will consider further when I look at application, it is dangerous to take the apostle’s presuppositions as normative for the church today.

    Well I think it is dangerous to throw out the scripture and blame it on the “apostle’s presuppositions”

    You assume “cultural sensitivity” here:
    ” his grounds for requiring women to “be subject to their husbands” is to be culturally sensitive, “so that no-one will malign the word of God””
    I don’t agree that the teaching of Titus 2 should be dismissed as “cultural sensitivity” I believe it is relevant and powerful for today every bit as much as it was relevant 2000 years ago!

    On the one hand we have Peter Kirk, self described egalitarian telling us that Titus 2 is about “cultural sensitivity” and maybe it wasn’t written by Paul and maybe it is not “authoritative”. On the other hand, we have Debbie Pearl spending half her book expounding upon all the obligations/duties/and shame imposed upon good christian wives by Titus 2:4-5 “Created to Be His Helpmeet
    ” (which-BTW- is all the rage among the homeschooling set of Christians). I found Debi’s teaching a destructive take on the Titus 2 teaching, I’m sorry, but – for very different reasons- I don’t find your take on it any more constructive :(

    Having homeschooled for 5 years, I am on some mailing lists. I got this catalog from Vision Forum and the contents raised some red flags so I did a little research online. Vision Forum and I found the testimony of a woman who is in recovery from attending Doug Phillips church where women are COMPLETELY silent (in a contemporary American church, mind you)Muzzling Women Reading that made me thankful for the great wisdom of God to have men and women worshipping separately ancient Jewish synagogues. Titus 2 is about the elder women teaching the younger. One of the most powerful annointed preachers I know is Beth Moore- and she teaches WOMEN! So, if men want women to keep silent in church- FINE!- women need to whip out Titus 2 and start putting it into practice in a big, powerful, annointed way!!!

    PS please forgive my typos, no preview available and my aging eyes have trouble seeing this tiny font ;0

  5. I would dearly love to see a very careful comp style analysis of the details of Titus 2:3-5
    Too bad all the gifted scholars are soooo busy on other stuff (((((((sigh)))))))

    I propose that “keeper of the home” really has very little (maybe nothing) to do with domestic duties and a lot more to do with a protective role.

    I noticed something (and I would love for some more sophisticated “ivory tower” Bible scholars to examine this)
    from the garden of Eden onward… “Keeper”= man, woman, God

    Titus 2:5- of wife- “keeper at home”
    3626 oikouros from 3624 and ouros (a guard, be “ware”)

    1 Peter 1:5 – of God- kept/guarded/protected
    5432 phroureo {froo-reh’-o} AV – keep
    from a compound of 4253 and 3708 horao {hor-ah’-o}

    John 20:15- of a man- “a keeper of the garden”
    2780 kepouros {kay-poo-ros’}
    from 2779 and ouros (a warden);; n m

    John 10:3- of a door-keeper 2377 thuroros from 2374 and ouros (a watcher);; n m

    Gen 2:15 of adam’s assignment – 08104 shamar {shaw-mar’}
    AV – keep 283, observe 46, heed 35, keeper 28, preserve 21, beware 9,
    mark 8, watchman 8, wait 7, watch 7, regard 5, save 2,

    Doesn’t it appear visually (see bolded portions above) that ouros and horao are Greek relatives?
    but the Strong’s doesn’t catch that (and a quick google search turned up empty). I think it would be time better spent for a scholar to look at this deeper than figuring out how to discount and throw out the verses.

    But…. what do I know?
    I’m just a keeper at home. ;p

  6. So what do we get for our extremes?
    We get a generation of lovely young homeschooled women spoon fed that “keeper of the home” is the equivalent to a biblical chain which ties them to a life of domestic servitude Return of the Daughters

    :( :( :(

    PLEASE Don’t hear me criticizing SAHM’s I am one! But my eldest daughter is accepted into med school next fall, my second daughter is in PA school, my third daughter just got her PSAT back with a 99th percentile and has her eye on Princeton…. etc

    They young ladies in the video linked look very lovely. But I perceive them as overprotected and naive with a “one size fits all” idea. I transcribed this section from the video which I found especially disturbing:

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Quote:
    “They (fathers) see the importance of protecting their daughters, of sheltering their hearts, of giving them guidance and vision so they have confidence to be the women that God has created them to be, to be the daughters serving their fathers in whatever he is doing.”

    “What do young women do with their lives during the years between childhood and marriage? What does the Biblical model for an adult daughter look like in the 21st century?”

    “…turned their hearts back to their fathers, families, and homes” ENDQUOTE
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I listened several times thinking maybe they meant “serving” their “heavenly Father” but NO, it is very distinctly plural- they are consigned to the house to “serve their fathers” As a Titus 2 woman, “teaching the younger women to LOVE …husband… and children”, I would not consider confining my adult daughters to a life of servitude at home to be loving- neither to them, nor to their dad.

    probably off topic for your blog… sorry about that Peter Kirk
    Thanks for listening :D

  7. Charis, thanks for your comments. I’m sorry that the font is too small. You might prefer to draft your comment in another program such as a word processor and copy and paste it into the comment box. Or you can increase the size of the text, probably with control-plus sign.

    I’m sorry I can’t answer everything here. I should just point out that I am not saying of Titus 2 “maybe it wasn’t written by Paul and maybe it is not “authoritative”.” I put that part into Part 5 simply to answer some objections by non-evangelicals. If they want to argue that this was not written by Paul, my response is that what matters is not authorship but that this is the authoritative Word of God.

    I don’t know a lot about Vision Forum, but from what I have heard it is a destructive and racist cult which wants to reintroduce slavery. Read for example what Molly (the same one as on Complegalitarian) wrote about it some older posts on her blog. Well, I guess Jen’s story series you linked to (I have skimmed it all) also says it all, except for the racism and slavery aspects.

    I just checked with my 19th century Greek dictionary, and according to that ouros “watchman” is not etymologically related to horao “see”. Note that the latter has the initial “h”, which is presumably a significant part of the difference. But I don’t know quite how they can tell, and more recent scholarship may give different answers.

  8. Peter,

    I am reassured that you view God’s word as authoritative. I just wanted to say that I concur with your conclusion about “husband of one wife” but I approached the question with a comp style (literalist, the word) analysis and here is my logic:

    Paul does not exclude female deacons (diakonos/servants/ministers).
    In fact he commends Phoebe, a female deacon (diakonos, servant, minister): see Romans chapter 16 verses 1 and 27.

    Therefore “husband of one wife” (“man of one woman”) cannot mean the exclusion of women from the role in question. If it did, Paul would be contradicting himself.

    God’s Word does not contradict itself. Paul- under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit- would not contradict himself. Personally, I feel much safer and more confident with GOD’s own Word and Paul’s practice/interpretation of his own words rather than the way a church, interpretor, tradition, or commentary has taken them.

    I know you had the above info as one little piece of your analysis… To me, the other stuff just muddies the waters, but I’m no scholar…

    I think that is about all I can add to this discussion. I way over my head here, man!
    Fare ye well! :)

  9. Thank you, Charis. Your argument is a good one, a summary of one of my main arguments when stripped of the additions to make it more acceptable with scholars (the type who nitpick about authorship).

    But I am not sure this is really the comp way of arguing. When they come across an apparent contradiction like this, they tend to pick arbitrarily on the Bible verses which they do take as authoritative, because they fit their presuppositions, and make usually rather vague excuses about rejecting others which don’t fit their presuppositions.

  10. I was a comp. I was very VERY suspicious, I was FEARFUL of reading egalitarian websites. I would not visit an egal website!

    I was a homeschooler. I did it because I wanted to PROTECT my children from the evil influences of the world. I wanted to make sure that my children go to heaven, not hell.

    The minute the authority of God’s Word is questioned, FEAR would arise and my ears would tightly close!

    SO, IF one wants to reach an audience with comps in it, one must not EVER call into question the authority of the Bible. If it is “scholarly” to include questions about the authority of the Bible, then no wonder comps eschew the label “scholarly”.

    Just my perspective, Peter.

  11. Just for the record: I don’t consider myself egal.
    I consider myself between the “camps”.

    I have no ambition to be a “woman pastor” and I have never attended a church with a woman head pastor. I really don’t care if a denom chooses to have all male pastors. I have enjoyed, appreciated, respected, and loved the long line of male pastors of my various churches.

    The only reason I started digging into this issue is- in mother bear mode – for my daughters sake (and other young ladies). My personal perspective is that biblically the only (remotely) supportable restriction upon a female church leadership role would be “the buck stops here” role…. (with the best biblical support for that being Jesus selection of the all male 12 apostles IMHO)

    HOWEVER- even there- I vehemently disagree when this position is framed as a “restriction” by God imposed upon women. I would frame it as a “PROTECTION” that God put in place to spare HIS beloved daughters from the hostile treatment by people who are stuck in a fallen state with respect to their view and treatment of women.
    Personally, I think a Priscilla and Aquilla/ husband wife pastoral team would be WONDERFUL, IDEAL, and entirely biblical.

    My husband repeatedly painted in such broadly restrictive brush strokes “WOMEN cannot BE LEADERS” -in front of my five most precious, talented, and impressionable daughters- that I had to find out the truth and make sure to communicate the truth to them. The Truth? God calls women to be leaders. That is a FACT which is entirely and undeniably biblical and they are perfectly free to follow God where HE calls. Further, I would be very disappointed if any of my children chose to deny God’s calling for the sake of “man pleasing”

  12. It really should be pointed out here that διακονον, “servant”, is not necessarily an ordained order; this is only around thirty years after the Resurrection and it is something of a stretch to say that the ordinary Greek word had the same sort of strict meaning we give “deacon” by, say, the third or fourth century. Moreover, as is recognized by both the Eastern and Western churches, a deacon is not a sacramental order in the sense that the deacon is generally not involved in any rite in a way that would not be permitted to a devout layman.

    So there is a qualitative difference between a deacon and a priest, and at several points in the history of the church there have been orders of deaconesses, but never priestesses. This is not to say the Holy Spirit has ceased to work in the Church (although he clearly has in large parts of The Episcopal Something), I certainly hope not, but only that before we get all excited we need to ask, “What then has the Holy Spirit been doing in the Church for the last two thousand years?”

    The lesson that I draw from συνιστημι δε υμιν φοιβην την αδελφην ημων is that the pastoral gifts of women have always been utilized and deeply appreciated by the Church, and it would be a grave error — and deeply misguided clericalism — to allow this debate over ordination to obscure the fact that lay women have always played an extremely important role in the life of the Church, as the most cursory glance at a Roman list of Saint’s Days demonstrates.

  13. Craig, I take your point about “deacon” in anything like the modern or mediaeval ordained sense is an anachronism in the New Testament. But in that case it is as much an anachronism in the Pastoral Epistles as in Romans, written by the same author probably less than a decade apart – unless of course you deny the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, which makes it hard to maintain their authority. Phoebe clearly acted as a diakonos in the church in Cenchreae, and Paul’s instructions to Timothy clearly refer to people acting in the same way. If he affirmed a woman doing this in Cenchreae, that makes it very hard to argue that within a decade he was assuming a blanket ban on women doing this.

    As for the differences between a deacon and a priest, I don’t share your presuppositions about sacramental orders, which seem to come from “deeply misguided clericalism”. To me the difference is not a “qualitative” one, but simply one of what jobs in the church have been formally assigned to which people.

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  15. Mr. Kirk, I have a couple concerns about your following analysis:

    “More controversially, as I noted in part 2, according to Romans 16:1 the woman Phoebe was a deacon, and indeed the most natural interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:11 is also a reference to women deacons. In this case, “husband of one wife” in 3:12 cannot be understood as a rule applicable everywhere allowing only men to be deacons. And as the phrase surely has the same meaning in 3:2 and Titus 1:6 these verses cannot be understood as forbidding any women from being overseers or elders; for precisely the same condition is applied to all three, or two, types of Christian ministry.”

    The fact that 1 Tim 3:11 is a reference to women just affirms to me that the previous 10 verses are talking about men. So even though the NRSV has “married only once” instead of “husband of one wife” (to give you the benefit of the doubt), we can still figure out that Paul’s specific teaching about overseers/bishops was not gender inclusive. Otherwise, why did he have to make a specific reference to women? Furthermore, the common footnotes indicate that the mentioning of women here could be a reference to the deacon’s wives since there was no Greek distinction between wife and woman.

    Even allowing for the fact that at least one women was a deacon, and your “most natural interpretation” of 1 Tim 3:11, why would this have any bearing on the following verse, 3:12, or Paul’s requirements for the overseer/bishop? Even if Paul’s mentioning of women here is an explicit endorsement of women as deacons as you claim, that does not diminish the significance of 3:12 if Paul desired to encourage men to take the lead. And if the distinction between overseer and deacon was important to Paul, then it also ought to be important to us, therefore I am more than reluctant to freely lump the two together. But you seem to have no hesitation to take one condition, that of 3:11, and freely read it into every other passage where Paul might talk about such responsibilities. From my point of view, I’m finding it really hard to see how your argument here constitutes the scholarly approach to exegesis that you claim. As such I’m still with Al Mohler on this one.

  16. Robert, thank you for coming back to this old post. I stand by what I wrote in 2006. But the point you discuss does require further clarification.

    Let us look first at what Paul has to say about deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. If we accept my “most natural interpretation” of verse 11, which I accept is debatable (a case can be made for the “deacon’s wife” interpretation, but then we have to consider Phoebe), we agree that Paul allowed women to be deacons. But then in the very next verse he writes that deacons must be “husband of one wife”. That clearly means that, at least in that context, Paul did not intend this phrase to specify that the office was for males only.

    Then let us look back at verses 1 to 7 concerning elders, where Paul also uses, in verse 2, the phrase “husband of one wife”. This is in the same short passage as his use of exactly the same phrase in verse 12. The contexts are very similar, except that in verse 2 there is no immediately preceding passage about women in the position (unless of course you want to look back to 2:11-15).

    Now it would be very strange for any author to use the same phrase, in similar contexts and very close together in the same discourse, with very different meanings. So, I would say, it is a very reasonable and secure conclusion that, since verse 12 does not rule out women (on our assumptions about verse 11), neither does verse 2 rule out women. So, whatever “husband of one wife” means in verse 2, it cannot mean that women must not be elders.

  17. Mr. Kirk, even putting the assumptions aside, there is also the argument that the requirement of “husband of one wife” disqualifies a man who has more than one wife from taking office. You seem to agree as you state in your post, “My own preference is for understanding the phrase as requiring the elder to avoid any kind of sexual activity outside a MONOGAMOUS marriage (capitals my emphasis)”. This is completely in accord with the overall context of Scripture, for it is culturally/lawfully impossible for a woman to have more than one husband. You must therefore agree that “husband of one wife” must be a clear reference to men, or else you would permit a man with more than one wife to take office. This creates another conundrum for one’s scholarly approach to exegesis.

  18. Robert, I suggest that you read the rest of this series, where I have dealt in more detail with the suggestion that this phrase refers to monogamy. I’m sure Paul would have disapproved of polygamy for both men and women.

  19. Mr. Kirk, you also argue here:

    “These parallel uses do tend to restrict how the expression can be understood. For example, 5:9 rules out a strictly present understanding: the widow must be someone who was “wife of one husband” before she became a widow, and so it is reasonable to argue that “husband of one wife” cannot exclude widowers from being elders, overseers or deacons.”

    You seem to say that if widows were put on the list then widowers likewise would not have been excluded. If “wife of one husband” was a phrase to refer to widows/women, doesn’t this show that the most natural interpretation of “husband of one wife” is that of referring to a man (regardless of the finer details of whether he might be a widower or not)? Is this not a tenable conclusion from the full context of Scripture, while not denying that there were legitimate exceptions in its application?

  20. Robert, you have totally misunderstood the words of mine which you quote. The point is in the word “present” as opposed to “past”: if a widow can be “wife of one husband”, a widower can be “husband of one wife”. At that point I was saying nothing about gender.

    Meanwhile I cannot consider anything “a tenable conclusion” which implies that a biblical author is contradicting himself in successive verses, talking about women deacons then saying that deacons must be male. But is the point you are trying to make that when using the phrase “husband of one wife” Paul was thinking primarily of male elders, deacons etc, while allowing that women might have these positions as “legitimate exceptions”? If so, we might not be far from agreement.

  21. Mr. Kirk, my point is to establish whether there is any scholarly consensus on the meaning of the phrase translated “husband of one wife”. The issue at hand is to discern the meaning of a particular text. On the other hand, dealing with any apparent “contradictions” between two statements (consecutive or not) is a secondary issue. Quite plainly, I am not interested in one’s opinion as to whether an author appears to contradict himself, or whether one believes a particular passage is or isn’t relevant for us today. These are ‘emotional’ concerns, not scholarly ones. But I see your 1 March 2010 post where you conclude (you have forgotten?), “The phrase translated ‘husband of one wife’ was not used of women and was probably not understood as gender generic.” That would be a tenable conclusion, which also happens to be consistent with Paul’s own use of the symmetrical phrase “wife of one husband”.

    Having established that, the next step would be to reconcile this requirement of “husband of one wife” with the mentioning of women in verse 11 and, of course, our knowledge of Phoebe. Concerning this you claim, “the point which Paul was making here was not about gender but about sexual activity”, by arguing, “it is unlikely that he was intending to teach two separate things in this one three-word phrase – that is not how language works.” You are in effect claiming that no phrase in any given language can convey meaning in more than one dimension. But who says that a word-group cannot have more than one connotation (since even single words can possess multiple connotations)? I think your attempt here to shed light on this three-word phrase in the context of the mentioning of Phoebe or of women deacons (if indeed 3:11 is about deacons) is hardly scholarly.

    Others prefer to argue, more credibly, that often the biblical requirements cannot be perfectly met in practice. Some give and take is sometimes necessary. So there is no basis in exegesis for moderating the text to “married only once”. This only diminishes the full meaning of the phrase “husband of one wife”, and ultimately compromises the message.

  22. Robert, you can if you like call it only an “emotional concern” whether a biblical author is writing the consistent word of God, or whether he is showing himself to be irrational by contradicting himself in successive sentences. But for me this is a central scholarly concern of exegesis. If you are not able to agree with me on this point, by affirming at least the rationality if not the infallibility of the biblical authors, then there is little point in us continuing this conversation.

    Thank you for quoting my 2010 post “Husband of one wife” was not used of women, it seems. I stand by what I wrote there, but also by my conclusion to that post:

    And so “husband of one wife” should not be understood as specifying that no overseer or elder may be unmarried, or divorced and remarried, or polygamous, or lacking “a particularly fervent conjugal love”, or female. Rather, the decision on who to appoint should be based on the general principles laid down by the apostle as interpreted in the specific cultural context. In first century Ephesus and Crete women church leaders may have been inappropriate. That doesn’t mean that the same applies in 21st century Europe and North America.

  23. I take it that the conclusion there to your post seeks to promote at a workable solution in practice. Each church selects elders/deacons who they think best fits the list of requirements as laid down in Scripture. For example, a church might have a preference for a particular single man/woman, or even a man in a faithful polygamous relationship (to extend the argument) to hold office, as opposed to those who might be divorced and remarried. A similar approach applies to the other items on the list. It is hard to find a person in leadership who perfectly fits everyone’s perception of the criteria without pointing out some shortcoming or “blemish” to their record.

  24. Mr. Kirk, and a happy New Year to you.

    Perhaps the best argument against the fundamentalist approach, as you like to call it, is to just find examples in Scripture where the so-called doctrinal requirements are apparently not completely satisfied (Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla etc.). I think this works a lot better than exegesis, which to me often looks like one is trying to find “loopholes” in a passage. Forget scholarship, one need not be a scholar to make a passage look less robust than what it actually appears. There is always a way, if one finds a passage unpalatable, to challenge its relevance or reduce its impact. And so we celebrate homosexuality, and the feminist movement, and the prosperity gospel, and rampant divorce/remarriage. But can we find one example in Scripture where a homosexual union is celebrated? And what are we to make of Solomon’s (or Abraham’s) great wealth? I’ve come across all manner of reasons and explanations for making life a bit more convenient for the contemporary Christian. But as far as I’m concerned, unless we are really honest about finding the narrow path, we are kidding ourselves. And that’s one of the reasons I am inclined to take Jesus and Paul at face value. But if you consider my approach fundamentalist/unorthodox, all I can say is, I am most honored. So, yes, by all means and ways possible, find the exceptions in the good Book. But do take precaution before using such exceptions to confidently build a doctrine for yourself and others, lest we end up like the Pharisees – the religious elite, those blind guides, whose zeal for scholarly details was astonishing.

  25. Robert, I rather like your approach here. But I wouldn’t want to rubbish exegesis, rather to broaden it from concern with the details of the text to understanding what a passage must mean in its context, which includes the whole discourse and the culture in which it was written.

  26. Mr. Kirk, I note another concern from the text of this post, but in relation to his advice about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. There we find that Paul highly esteems those who are single, unmarried or widowed. He says it is good to remain single; one is supposedly better able to serve the Lord, because “one who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” I can only assume we are to hold this in tension with his instructions to Timothy on how to appoint leaders. Here, he only esteems such leaders as those who are a “one woman man”, and not just that, but he should also be able to demonstrate prudent management of his own household, including that of keeping his children in order. By this, he proves he is able to take care of the church. Paul is seeking proven family men as elders and deacons, as a priority, so it seems? Why risk appointing a never married person when there are so-called better options? There we go, another controversy, and the debate continues. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

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