In a recent bible study on elders and deacons, I got hung up on a scripture about how an elder "...must be the husband of but one wife..." I wondered what that meant. Did men in the first century commonly have multiple simultaneous wives? Or was Paul saying, as I suspect, that an elder should not be someone who has been divorced and remarried? I've never heard this aspect of this scripture discussed -- usually this scripture is cited simply to show that an elder must be married. -- Tony Balsamo (Portland, Maine)

Good observation!

From my own study, it seems polygamy was rather rare in the Roman Empire in the 1st century. And yet it was not unheard of. Serial marriages, however, were more common among the Romans, as well as among the more liberal Jews, who took Deuteronomy 24 in the loosest possible way. The liberal rabbis said that the "indecent thing" of Deuteronomy 24 might include the wife's burning the dinner, or not being sufficiently pretty for the liking of her husband (!). The more conservative rabbis took the indecency to be adultery, or something else serious.

You may be right that Paul is saying that men on second or third marriages are disqualified. (I'm not sure, though, exactly why that would disqualify them.) I tend to believe that the phrase "a one-woman man" means simply that the prospective elder is faithful to his wife, nothing more. 

For deeper study, please refer to New Testament Leadership (4 audio CDs).

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