By Eric Barger
My husband and I are interested in your view on this scripture, a friend told us about your ministry.
What does "one wife" mean?
Joe and Denise
Greetings and thanks for writing!
As you know, this is a very hot potato that many Christians steer completely away from dealing with. Perhaps for the fear of reprisal (i.e., being called "liberal") many Christian leaders (and denominations too) have taken overtly legalistic, non-biblical stands on the issue of divorce and remarriage. At the same time others take NO stand allowing for and accepting everything. What we need is an absolute standard that also allows for the powerful grace and forgiveness of Christ to reign. I believe that this is exactly where the Bible and history itself come down on this issue. I know from experience that neither liberals nor legalists will like what I say. Maybe this is why so many para-church leaders in todays church refuse taking a position (other than silence) on this very tough issue.
First, I believe that every sin is forgiven once a person is truly born again. EVERY means EVERY. Clean slate - period.
A divorce BEFORE one is saved is a sin, just as cursing, pornography and every other sin that a person may have committed. The key here is that it is a sin committed BEFORE one's salvation.
Though I know many people have been taught to believe that it is somehow "holy" to hold to the idea that a divorced person is disqualified from Christian service (including the five-fold ministry or church leadership), but I do not. Divorced people - whose divorces occurred BEFORE they were saved, must be seen as 100% forgiven, washed, cleansed and thus fit to serve the Lord.
No sin committed before we accept Christ and are washed by His blood disqualifies us from service to God once we are saved. Sadly, many people, churches and yes, denominations, make divorce the second "unpardonable" sin. Once in a conversation with a divorced person seeking to go into ministry I was told that if they had only killed their first wife their denomination would have credentialed them. Instead, because they were divorced they are now "unfit" to minister for God! Though tongue in cheek, they were saying that in they eyes of the powers that be within their denomination, every sin is forgivable except one - divorce.
That said, the weight upon the Christian to maintain a healthy marriage is very clear. We live in a tragic time of "throw away" marriages - both outside and inside the church.
With the exception of adultery on behalf of a mate or living a terror filled life with a mate that is physically abusive and thus dangerous to live with we have absolutely NO reason to seek a divorce. If we instigate a divorce outside of those parameters we are then facing disqualification from Christian service and we live in sin. This speaks to a great percentage of the divorces among Christians today. Excuses like, "we've grown apart" and I just don't love him/her anymore" have caused countless Christians to break up homes and thus ruin lives.
If a spouse leaves and refuses to reconcile, the sin is on the one leaving and the one "put away" is free. But the Christian must commit to every measure possible to save a marriage.
Scripture teaches "one wife" for a number of reasons. One is that God is re-stressing the importance, sanctity and obligation of marriage. Marriage is a holy union that our society has lost the beauty and responsibility of. Another reason is that in Biblical days polygamy was the norm within some of the cultures - including part of Judaism. (John Gill's classic commentary is one of several places I found concerning this. It can be read here.)
Having multiple simultaneous wives was rampant in that day, just as idol worship and superstition was. This is why the Apostle makes it clear - ONE wife. For the believer, Paul left no question in Titus 1:6 and I Tim 3:2, 12 that marriage was to be a monogamous relationship between man and wife - ONE man and ONE wife. Believe me, this was a shock to the culture of Paul's day.
The Greek word translated "one" in Titus and I Timothy is "miva". It is certain that this words usage in the New Testament has opened the door for the legalists. The word is used 79 times in the Greek New Testament. It is translated "one" 62 times, "first" 8 times, "a certain" 4 times, "a" 3 times, "the other" 1 time and "agree" 1 time.
The fact that it is translated "first" 8 times has allowed some to try and prove that Paul was actually stating "first wife" instead of "one wife" in Titus and I Timothy. However, no Bible translation including the King James makes this distinction. It is clear that Paul was dealing with a cultural/social phenomenon of the era he lived in and that the accurate translation of "miva" in Titus and I Timothy is indeed "one."
Matthew Henry's Commentary also has some interesting comments on the issue. Not only does Henry site the common practice of polygamy as a reason Paul denotes "one wife" in Titus 1:6, but Henry states that Paul is legitimizing marriage itself in the passage! The Roman church says "no wife" but as Henry points out "Forbidding to marry is one of the erroneous doctrines of the antichristian church, 1 Tim. 4:3." So perhaps one of Paul's motives here (by the Holy Ghost) was to also make clear that marriage for those in clergy/leadership positions is allowed as long as one in leadership does not engage in a post-salvation, unbiblical marriage.
Henry reiterates: "Not that ministers must be married; this is not meant; but the husband of one wife may be either not having divorced his wife and married another (as was too common among those of the circumcision, even for slight causes), or the husband of one wife, that is, at one and the same time, no bigamist; not that he might not be married to more than one wife successively, but, being married, he must have but one wife at once, not two or more, according to the too common sinful practice of those times, by a perverse imitation of the patriarchs, from which evil custom our Lord taught a reformation."
Henry here is assuming that the reader understands that ALL sin is wiped away and that each person is given a fresh slate upon embracing Christ and being authentically regenerated.
So I won't be temped to write a book on this to you, let me close by reiterating that marriage is sacred; divorce is very serious and God's mercy through Christ's shed blood is able to forgive and make ready any sinner to serve in the Kingdom of God.
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