Friday, July 03, 2015

Is a Divorced Man Qualified for Church Office?

1 Timothy 3:2 KJV
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

1 Timothy 3:12 KJV
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

While I am certain I am unable to settle the issue once and for all, I chose today to settle it in my own mind. “Is a man who is divorced breaking the command of the Bible to pastor a church?” I therefore read every commentary I had at my disposal (eighteen in all). Virtually every one of them that had any commentary at all on this subject agreed that the subject was not polygamy (more than one wife at a time – an argument used frequently to admit men who are disqualified by divorce into the pastorate). Several of them do not employ the word “divorce” so I left them out of this compilation. Below are the words of Bible students of a century or more ago. I do not, of course, endorse all that they say on every subject but only reference them to make the point that the most common agreement is that this command of Paul was given for the purpose of reversing the common practice of the day of divorce and remarriage.[1]

Some of the most wonderful Christians I know have been divorced and remarried. I believe these fine people are to be treated with dignity, respect and, in many cases, honor. They are not second class Christians in any respect of the word. But we have to obey the Bible no matter what our mistakes have been. The Bible very clearly commands that those men who have been divorced and remarried not serve in the capacity of either of the church offices: pastor or deacon.

John Gill (1690-1771)
“ be a literal sense of his conjugal estate; though this rule does not make it necessary that he should have a wife; or that he should not marry, or not have married a second wife, after the death of the first; only if he marries or is married, that he should have but one wife at a time; so that this rule excludes all such persons from being elders, or pastors, or overseers of churches, that were "polygamists"; who had more wives than one at a time, or had divorced their wives, and not for adultery, and had married others. Now polygamy and divorces had very much obtained among the Jews; nor could the believing Jews be easily and at once brought off of them. And though they were not lawful nor to be allowed of in any; yet they were especially unbecoming and scandalous in officers of churches.”

Philip Schaff, Popular Commentary of the New Testament, (1879-1890)
“A third explanation is, perhaps, more satisfactory. The most prominent fact in the social life both of Jews and Greeks at this period was the frequency of divorce. This, as we know, Jewish teachers, for the most part, sanctioned on even trifling grounds (Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-9). The apostle, taking up the law which Christ had laid down, infers that any breach of that law (even in the one case which made marriage after divorce just permissible) would at least so far diminish a man’s claim to respect as to disqualify him for office. This case would, of course, be included in the more general rule of the second interpretation, but the phrase ‘the husband of one wife’ has a more special emphasis thus applied. St. Paul would not recognise the repudiated wife as having forfeited her claim to that title, and some, at least, of its rights.”
Adam Clarke (1715-1832)
“The apostle’s meaning appears to be this: that he should not be a man who has divorced his wife and married another “

Vincent’s Word Studies (1886)
“Is the injunction aimed (a) at immoralities respecting marriage - concubinage, etc., or (b) at polygamy, or (c) at remarriage after death or divorce? The last is probably meant.”

Peoples New Testament Commentary (1891)
“A married man, and having only one wife. In those loose times of divorce, men might be converted who had successively several wives. Divorce for unscriptural reasons would not free a man from his first, lawful wife. Hence the limitation to those who had only one living wife.”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
“He must be the husband of one wife; not having given a bill of divorce to one, and then taken another, or not having many wives at once, as at that time was too common both among Jews and Gentiles, especially among the Gentiles.”

Expositors Bible Commentary (1887-1896)
“Far more worthy of consideration is the view that what is aimed at in both cases is not polygamy, but divorce. Divorce, as we know from abundant evidence, was very frequent both among the Jews and the Romans in the first century of the Christian era. Among the former it provoked the special condemnation of Christ; and one of the many influences which Christianity had upon Roman law was to diminish the facilities for divorce. According to Jewish practice the husband could obtain a divorce for very trivial reasons; and in the time of St. Paul Jewish women sometimes took the initiative. According to Roman practice either husband or wife could obtain a divorce very easily. Abundant instances are on record, and that in the case of people of high character, such as Cicero. After the divorce either of the parties could marry again; and often enough both of them did so; therefore in the Roman Empire in St. Paul’s day there must have been plenty of persons of both sexes who had been divorced once or twice and had married again. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that quite a sufficient number of such persons had been converted to Christianity to make it worth while to legislate respecting them. They might be admitted to baptism; but they must not be admitted to an official position in the Church.

[1] The emphasis in bold and italics in each of the quotes is my own.

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