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Author: Ron Graham

Elders and Deacons

The Husband of One Wife
—One woman’s man

We still have to keep Titus 1:6 under the microscope, to examine another matter, which is that a church shepherd must be "the husband of one wife."

1 One Woman’s Man

The Greek New Testament does not have a special word for husband and wife. The word for man and for husband is the same word. The word for woman and for wife is the same word. So the scripture is telling us that the man of the quality to be a church shepherd should be Imias gunaikos aneer N literally "one woman's man."

Now we have to use some common sense here. Any good man will not be one woman's man. He will be his mother's man. He will be his daughter's man. He will be his sister's man. He will be his boss's man, his friend's man, his neighbour's man, and so forth. To any woman with whom he has some special relationship and toward whom he is responsible and supportive, he will be her man and rightly so. A woman says, "My lawns need mowing, I must ring up my man to come and do them". We know she just means the man she gets to do her gardening. Lot's of other customers call him their man in the same sense.

But we all know that there is a special sense in which only one woman in all the world can claim him as her man. That woman is his wife. If he is a devoted husband to her, and in that special relationship is absolutely and exclusively hers, then he is truly "one woman's man" and it is this husband-wife relationship that Paul plainly has in mind.

Before any man is made a shepherd of the church, he must have shown himself to be a good husband to his wife. Some men are not good husbands. Some men don't give their woman sufficient companionship. Some men don't share their lives with their wives as a partnership. Some men are more devoted to their career than to their wives. Some men pay more attention to other women than to their wives. Some men don't give their wives freedom to be themselves or credit when they succeed. Some men spoil their wives. Some men dominate their wives. Some men forsake their wives. Some men abuse and demoralise their wives. Some men treat their wives as a chattel instead of as a superior being.

In fact, some men are just plain disgusting husbands, and quite a few of them I dare say may claim to be Christians. Such a man is not "one woman's man" in any sense that matters. Such a man is not qualified to be an elder.

When considering the qualification, "the husband of one wife" we seem to focus on the "one wife" part and think nothing of the "husband" part. The man needs to be a real husband a real man. A real man looks after his wife and devotes himself to her just as the husbandman looks after the vineyard. This aspect of the qualification is at least as important as the arithmetic in the qualification.

We are all familiar with the Lord's word about this subject. A husband is to love his wife as himself, and with the same character of love with which Christ loved the church and sacrificed himself for her (Ephesians 5:25-33). A husband is to live with his wife in an understanding way, and to treat her as a fellow heir of the grace of life (1Peter 3:7). That is the kind of man any sensible woman looks for as a husband. And that's the kind of man the Lord looks for as an elder: One woman's man.

Now let's look at the terms of this qualification negatively. Let's consider a few things which this qualification has been said to mean, but which are nowhere said in the qualification itself.

2 Married Only Once?

When we look at what Paul wrote in Greek for "husband of one wife", we find that he did not use the Greek word for married, nor the word for only, nor the word for once. He used the word for one, the word for woman's, and the word for man. If Paul meant "married only once" there is no reason why he could not have written exactly that.

There is no support in the Greek for translating what Paul wrote as "married only once".A man does not have to be "married only once" to qualify as "the husband of one wife." I am the owner of only one car, yet I have owned several cars, at one time I even owned as many as three (old ones) at a time. Imagine there was a new tax levied on car owners. However, the regulations for this new tax state that any person being "the owner of one car" may claim an exemption. I would be claiming the exemption, wouldn't I? I qualify as "the owner of one car".

Consider this hypothetical case. A man might be a very good husband to his first wife, yet she may take ill and die. Such a man may be described as "married only once". Yet he cannot be described as "the husband of one wife" because he has no longer got a wife. If you asked this man, "Are you, sir, the husband of one wife?" he would have to say no he is not. He is not the husband of any wife. Yet if you changed your terminology and asked him, "Are you, sir, a man married only once?" he would answer, yes he is certainly a man married only once.

This demonstrates that being "the husband of one wife" and being "married only once" are not the same thing, because you can be one while not being the other.

Let's take that a step further. If the same man later married another wife, how many wives would he be the husband of then? Would he be "the husband of two wives"? No, he lost his first wife. He is no longer the husband of her. He is the husband of one wife, the wife of his second marriage, and he belongs to no other wife but her. If we asked this man, "Are you, sir, the husband of one wife?" he would have to affirm that yes he is. But if we asked him, "Are you, sir, married only once?" he would have to say no he is a man twice married.

These answers are quite the opposite to what he said before, but the point remains the same exactly. Being "the husband of one wife" and being "married only once" are not the same thing, because you can be one while at the same time you are not the other.

3 Never Divorced?

Along similar lines, Paul does not mention divorce with regard to the qualifications of elders. If he was wanting to exclude divorced men from the eldership, he could have plainly said so. A man might be a very good husband to his wife, yet she might reject and divorce him and marry another man.

If that divorced man remarried, he would not be the husband of two wives, since his first wife is no longer married to him. He would be the husband of one wife. He would be her woman and nobody else's. She she would be his second wife, the wife of his second marriage, but she would be the only wife he has.

If we asked this man, "Are you, sir, the husband of one wife?" he would have to affirm that yes he is. But if we asked him, "Are you, sir, a man never divorced?" he would have to say no, he cannot claim to be that. So the two things are different, aren't they? They must be different, because you can claim to be one when you cannot claim to be the other.


I have demonstrated that being "the husband of one wife" is not the same thing as being "married only once" or "never divorced". We should stick with what the scripture says and not substitute words which change its meaning to something different. Look at this from the practical viewpoint. Had Paul written "married only once", or "never divorced" he would have excluded from the eldership good men like those in the above examples, who each through no fault of his own lost his first wife, then with every right and reason to do so married another. If Paul said anything to exclude such a man from serving as a shepherd, we must say to Paul on behalf of that man, "Why? What evil has he done?" But Paul never said anything of the kind.

4 Not a Polygamist?

When a man who has several wives is converted to Christ, he is usually expected to undertake three things:

A man who lives up to those expectations well, is a good man, and rather than disqualify himself from eldership he may demonstrate extraordinary ability in the very qualities needed of a church shepherd. If we asked such a man, "Are you, sir, the husband of one wife?" he would reply, "It depends what you mean. In one sense I am the husband of several wives, but in another sense I have become the husband of one wife." That is a very reasonable answer, which we can all understand. Paul did not use the words "not a polygamist". He could easily have done so, if that is what he meant. But then Paul would have excluded good men who have corrected their ways and become exclusively the husband of one wife.

5 Not a Widower?

From a simplistic viewpoint, it is clear that a widower is the husband of no wife, since his wife has died. If he is the husband of no wife, how can he qualify as "the husband of one wife?"

It is suggested that one should apply the so called law of exclusion to Paul's term, "the husband of one wife." The law of exclusion works very simply. If you send your child to the store with this instruction, "Get me five kilos of cooking apples" --what do you expect the child to bring home? Five kilos of cooking apples, no more, no less. You don't have to list all the items that you do not want the child to buy. They are excluded by the terms that describe what the child is told to buy.

In the same way, some would argue, "husband of one wife" excludes the husband of no wife, or the husband of two wives. However, if you asked any widower, "Are you, sir, the husband of one wife?" his answer might not be so simple. He might say, "I have been the husband of one wife for many years. Alas, she died recently." Admittedly, he is saying no, but on the other hand, there is still a lot of yes in his answer. I have heard it said that the Greek verb carries the idea of "having been..." That may be true, but it has no implication of the cessation of what has been. Take for example the phrase, "It is the Sabbath" in John 5:10. Here the Greek verb takes the same form as in Titus 1:6. The meaning is, "It has been the Sabbath and continues to be the Sabbath." There is no implication that it has ceased to be the Sabbath.

In saying, "the husband of one wife" Paul has said nothing about widowers. We include widowers in, or exclude widowers from, Paul's term only by our own reasoning on a matter which is by no means as clearcut as some might imagine it to be.

In the final analysis, whom we consider to be "the husband of one wife" will be based not on what Paul did NOT say although that has occupied us at some length in this study. It will be based on what Paul DID say, and we looked at that at the beginning of this page.


Webservant Ron Graham

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