Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Husband of One Wife

Today is the third day in our twenty-sixth week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  1 Kings 8; 1 Timothy 3; Psalm 30.

You'd think it was my goal to make a case for the equality of women, now wouldn't you?  If you read yesterday's post, "Should Women Sit Down and Be Quiet in Church?" then you know that I believe women to completely equal to men, in the church and out of the church.  Paul's personal opinions of women in leadership notwithstanding, I believe that God can call women to serve in the same kinds of church roles as men.

With all due respect to those who disagree with me, I want to point out the fallacy in one argument for exclusively male leadership that they often make.  Many who maintain that only men may be ordained use 1 Timothy 3 to support their claims.  As the ESV renders it, Paul writes:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

First, people may point out verse 11, which says, "Their wives."  Even a brief study of Greek reveals that gynaikas, the word which many translators render as "their wives" simply says "women."  Thus it might just as accurately be translated as "women likewise mus be dignified...etc."  If this is the case, then a case can be made for the ordination of women, since this passage implicitly includes women in the orders, giving specific additional qualifications for them.  

Then, many who insist on only-male ordination quote the "husband of one wife" verses (2 and 12) as proof that God doesn't call women to these positions.  After all, how can a woman be the "husband of one wife?"  First, we must understand that just as gender-masculine language is still the norm for today (even when employed in gender-neutral settings) so it was common in Paul's day to assume the masculine (even in neutral settings).  When we understand the masculine assumption, we also understand that this could just as easily been written, "the spouse of one spouse," or even "the wife of one husband."  Simply because the gender-masculine word is used by assumption, this doesn't mean that there is an implicit prohibition against female ordination.

Finally, we have to understand these qualifications as guidelines, and not as mandates.  Let me point out the logical absurdity of carrying all these qualifications to their fullest extent.  If these are mandates, then "husband of one wife" means that a deacon or overseer must be married to one woman.  In other words, he cannot be single, divorced, or widowed.  He must currently be the husband of one wife, because it doesn't say "he must be, or have been, the husband of one wife."  Further, he (if we're assuming male) must have children, because it says he must manage his children well.  Specifically, it says "children," and not "child," so a deacon or overseer cannot be the father of only one child.  And, of course, the children must live in the man's home.  We know this because submission is not expected of adult children who live outside their parents' home.  So, for example, empty-nesters would be disqualified, as would fathers of only one child and men who had no children.  Verses 5 and 12 make reference to the management of these men's "own" households.  Interpreted in one way, this could mean that these men must be homeowners (and not, for example, renters).  And, of course, verse 8 would require that men who have two tongues, or cloven tongues, be disqualified from service.  I don't know of any church that reads this passage of scripture and comes up with all of these prohibitions...because at heart people realize just how silly this would be.

Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free,there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  This means that God doesn't consider a person's ethnicity, economic status, or gender when He considers their value in His kingdom.  When it comes to God selecting those who may be of service to Him, the Bible says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)."

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