When the Bible describes the qualifications of an elder, we are told he needs to be the "husband of one wife." Does that mean he can only be married to one woman at a time, or that, regardless of reasons or circumstances, he can only have taken one wife during the course of his life?

There are three ways to take the phrase you are referring to, which appears in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:
* Monogamy, as opposed to polygamy. The passage is against multiple simultaneous marriages, which would disqualify a prospective elder.
* One wife, as opposed to a man who is remarried. The passage is against multiple consecutive marriages, which disqualify one from eldership.
* A virtuous life, manifested in fidelity to his wife. The passage approves of men who have been faithful to their wives.

Until recently, I held that the passage was concerned with monogamy. Certainly in situations where there are multiple wives, the dysfunction of the family rules out eldership! Sometimes it is claimed the Old Testament endorses polygamy. I would say just the opposite. Not only is the "one man, one wife" model presented as normative in Genesis 1-2, but polygamous situations in Genesis are portrayed as awkward, unharmonious, and friction-filled. This view might be right, except for the following consideration.

The identical Greek construction ("one-woman man") appears in 1 Timothy 3 and in 1 Timothy 5 (though inverted), in reference to the older woman who might qualify for assistance on the widows' list ("one-man woman"). If a woman had remarried after her husband died, she would be disqualified for support in the event of her second husband's death? Doesn't sound fair, does it? Nor does the second option. How would the death of a spouse, for example, which led to your entering a second marriage, disqualify you for eldership?

The third option seems likeliest. The "one-woman man" is the married man who has not bought into the world's values; he has not cheated. Only such a man may contemplate the high calling of the church leadership.

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