What is the meaning of “one-woman man” in 1 Timothy 3?

I believe the Bible teaches that Christians must only marry Christians, that there may be cases that arise where separation/divorce is acceptable, and that remarriage is only acceptable and profitable in the case of widows/widowers. Some of the key texts are Genesis 2.24, Deuteronomy 24.1-4, Matthew 19.4-6, Luke 16.18, and 1 Corinthians 7. It is in the context of that teaching that I understand the phrase “one-woman man” when Paul lists the qualifications of overseers/elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 (as well as Titus 1). If Jesus and Paul intended to teach that one man and one woman are united by God until God ends the marriage in death, then “one-woman man” is not so obscure of a phrase.

Andreas Kostenberger, a great trustworthy scholar, has written a fine book called God, Marriage, and Family: rebuilding the biblical foundation. He would disagree with me. He is a scholar. I am not. But I have been a little disappointed to find that he has not addressed some of the strongest nuances of the differing views on this phrase. In other words, I think he addresses all the differing views generally, but not any one specifically. And by doing that, there are arguments from the other angles that could be missed (not necessarily a weakness in his writing, but just a disappointment for what I am wrestling with).

He has strong reasons for interpreting “one-woman man” to mean “faithful husband.” But here are some arguments against three of his reasons in particular:

  1. He says that Paul could have said “never been divorced” (or against me, “never been remarried”) instead of “one-woman man” (which everyone agrees can be translated “husband of one wife”), but could not Paul have said “faithful husband” as well?
  2. He rightly argues that “one-woman man” is not Paul’s prohibition of polygamy. But then he argues that it could very well be a prohibition of having concubines, which he says was common. I think the text of the NT screams silently against that as being a common practice among Christians. Plus, as with other qualifications, would having concubines be acceptable for any Christian? Not every Christian must be apt to teach, but no Christian could have ever been ok to have a concubine.
  3. He also seems to assume that men or women who had a spouse die, and then remarried, have become people who have had more than one spouse. He would say in my view, that should disqualify widowers who remarry. But I say again, what if the biblical view in general on divorce and remarriage is that a Christian’s marriage only ends when God ends it in death? You are a “one-woman man” if you only remarry after your first spouse dies. If she is alive when you remarry, you are a “two-woman man”, obviously.

My goal is not mainly to argue about divorce and remarriage in general, but only to show how my view of “one-woman man” makes sense. I tire of Christians making fun of me for that. I desire to take these texts seriously, and would love for a little more unity to happen in this area by God’s grace, and I think that ONLY happens through conversations like these.

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4 responses to “What is the meaning of “one-woman man” in 1 Timothy 3?

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly brother. I think any interpretation other than yours is strictly motivated by someone trying to find a loophole.

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  3. One woman man does in no country mean husband of one wife. One woman man means faithful, loving, caring, understanding, and fully in love with one woman. You can not add words and say it is the same. If it were the same our KJV would be right with Greek text and we would not be talking about this. Look up the world universal meaning for one woman man. I say if a divorced man is single or has a new wife and meets all of Pauls qualifications, to include being a one woman man by what the term means, then how can we change the Word and tell him that he can’t preach? I will not answer to God for that. I take it by meaning and not by what the popular thought is.

    • Dear James,
      I thank you for interacting with my blog. I’m not as passionate on this issue as I once was (and I don’t even know how passionate I was five years ago), simply because of the history of thought on this issue, and because of my own developing views of the role of ministers in marriage. So let me first say, you might be right on your conclusions. However, to strengthen your own views and simply for intellectual honesty’s sake (and to possibly persuade me even), you need to answer a few questions about your reasonings:

      1. You say “One woman man does in no country mean husband of one wife.” Have you really studied the history of interpretation in every country? Or was this more hyperbole?
      2. You say “One woman man means faithful, loving, caring, understanding, and fully in love with one woman. You can not add words and say it is the same.” Are you aware that the word for “man” – “husband” and “woman” – “wife” are the same words in Greek, respectively? Also, don’t you think you are guilty of “adding” words in the same way you accuse me of doing (i.e., faithful, loving, caring, etc)?
      3. You said, “If it were the same our KJV would be right with Greek text and we would not be talking about this.” Can you clarify this statement? Is that a pro-KJV or anti-KJV statement? I just didn’t quite follow what you’re saying here?
      4. You said “Look up the world universal meaning for one woman man.” Can you give me some resources?
      5. You said “I say if a divorced man is single or has a new wife and meets all of Pauls qualifications, to include being a one woman man by what the term means, then how can we change the Word and tell him that he can’t preach? I will not answer to God for that.” Obviously, all Christians want to obey the Bible, so you do realize this adds nothing to your argument, right? Again, you might be right in your conclusions, but your reasoning still begs the question.
      6. You lastly said, “I take it by meaning and not by what the popular thought is.” Does this not contradict a lot of what you just said? How is my view the “popular thought” when you just told me the universal meaning was otherwise? Was this just a mistaken wording? (my experience by the way tells me that my view is not the popular view)

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