Before diving into the answer to this question, let’s be clear about one thing. Divorce is a bad deal. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce, he told them that it was only allowed because of “the hardness of your hearts,” (Matt 19:1-9). God’s intention was for one man and one woman to marry and stay together until one of the spouses died. He said, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” The wedding vows state, “till death do us part.”
But, as bad as it is, people still get divorced. The two cases in which God permits divorce are fornication (Matt 19:9) and desertion (1 Cor 7:15). In those two cases, the marriage can be dissolved and the spouse is free to remarry (1 Cor 7:28) without living in adultery. Before continuing with the answer to this weekly question, you should read the additional information on the question If I have been divorced must I remain unmarried?
When the question of divorce concerns a man who has been called to preach, it is always controversial. The controversy comes from the list of qualifications for a bishop. 1 Tim 3:2 and Tit 1:6 say that the bishop must be “the husband of one wife.” Those who believe that a divorced preacher is disqualified from the pastorate read that verse to say he has two wives if he has remarried. Those who believe he’s not disqualified believe he has one wife, though the former spouse is still alive.
So what does, “the husband of one wife” mean? Well, if you were to simply pick up a Bible and begin reading from Genesis right on through to Revelation, when you came across these verses in 1 Tim and Titus, regarding the pastor’s marital status, you would say he could not be a polygamist. You would think that because many of the Old Testament men that you had read about had more than one wife.
Some of the polygamists in the Old Testament mentioned by name are Lamech, in Gen 4:19, who is the first polygamist, and then there were Jacob, Esau, Elkanah, Ashur, Shaharaim, and many of the kings, like David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Ahab, Jehoram, Joash, and Jehoiachin, and Belshazzar. Even people who know very little Bible know that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Today, among certain religions and cultures polygamy is still common.
So when you come across a verse in the New Testament that tells you a bishop can only have one wife, you’re going to think that the Bible means exactly what it says. The man can’t be a polygamist, though his contemporaries in other religions may be and though many of the Jewish fathers were.
The thought that 1 Tim 3:2 and Tit 1:6 could be referring to a preacher who had been divorced and remarried wouldn’t even cross your mind, unless somebody had given you that thought. You would remember that a man and woman who are divorced are no longer husband and wife [Hos 2:2]. Therefore, you wouldn’t even consider that Paul was referring to a pastor who had been remarried after a scriptural divorce. You would know from the Bible that he still only has one wife.
To simplify this, you can “do the math” as the saying goes. When a man is married, he has one wife. When he is divorced, he has no wife. When he remarries, he has one wife. One plus zero equals one, not two.
Many people believe that Christians can be divorced and remarried under certain scriptural conditions and still serve the Lord. They know the remarried couple is not committing adultery, even though they have been married before, because they were scripturally divorced. Neither are they polygamists, though their former spouse is alive. Most people understand that they only have one spouse.
How then do they conclude that when a man called to preach is remarried he is disqualified to pastor? Does he somehow have two wives, whereas any other man in a similar situation only has one? The Bible says that the bishop is to be the husband of one wife, which should be the same for the bishop as it is for anyone else who has been divorced and remarried. The definition of “one wife” doesn’t change just because he’s called to preach.
We’ve been looking for, but have still not been able to find, the verse or verses that say the bishop must not have been divorced and remarried. They are not in the Bible. Yet the proponents of the doctrine that a man called to preach is disqualified to pastor use 1 Tim 3:2 and Tit 1:6 to say that divorced men cannot pastor. The only way they could come to that conclusion is to force the Bible to say something it doesn’t say. Or else someone taught them that 1 Tim 3:2 and Tit 1:6 really meant “not divorced and remarried” when it said “the husband of one wife.”
Listen, if it’s not scriptural for the pastor to have been divorced and remarried, then it cannot be scriptural for anybody else. Yet since there are scriptural allowances for divorce and remarriage, then they apply to all saved people including pastors.
Hope this helps,