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Can only men be church leaders?

Some people think that the qualifications for church leaders recorded in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 apply only to men. They believe the implication in these passages is that only men can be church leaders.[1]

The qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 are those of a respectable householder. (Many first-century churches met in homes and were hosted and cared for by the householder.) And while the qualifications were written with men in mind—it was usually, but not always, a man who was in charge of the household—all of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 can be readily applied to both men and women who are householders.

Note that the masculine personal pronouns that appear in many English translations of these passages, as well as the word “man” that appears in some English translations of verses 1 Timothy 3:1 and Titus 1:6a, are absent in the Greek.[2] And note that Paul does not state (in the Greek) that only men can be overseers or church leaders.

Fidelity in Marriage and Sexual Restraint

One phrase that does not seem to apply to women is where it says that a church leader should be, literally, “a husband of one wife” or “a one-woman man” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6; cf. 1 Tim. 3:12). This phrase is, however, an idiom and there are dangers in applying it too literally.[3] Because it is an idiomatic expression, many people have had difficulty explaining and adapting its meaning in the context of contemporary Western church culture, a culture that is vastly different from that of the first-century church and early church.[4]

If taken literally, the “one-woman man” requirement would rule out unmarried, widowed, and divorced men, as well as women, from being church leaders. Yet Paul says elsewhere that being single and celibate enables people to serve God better (1 Cor. 7:32–35). Paul himself was single.

Polygamists would also be ruled out. Polygamy, however, was uncommon in the Roman Empire. Bigamy (and therefore polygamy) was illegal under Roman law, and it brought disgrace (infamia). It is unlikely Paul is addressing polygamy here, especially as the same phrase is used for women who were widows in 1 Timothy 5:9.

It is possible that the real intent of this phrase in 1 Timothy and in Titus is marital faithfulness in a church leader who is already married. Accordingly, Andreas Köstenberger states that “‘husband of one wife’ represents an idiom of marital faithfulness …”[5] Philip Payne writes, “The closest English equivalent to one-woman man is ‘monogamous,’ and it applies to both men and women.”[6]

Judging by how the phrase was understood by the early church, however, I believe there is a sense of sexual restraint in the idiom and that it is similar in meaning to the more common Latin phrase univira (“one husband”) which was used for a woman who was married once and then chose to live as a celibate widow after the death of her husband. The NRSV translates the phrase as “married only once.” [See footnotes.]

Some notable hierarchical complementarians (Christians who are against women in certain leadership roles) acknowledge that Paul’s phrase “a one-woman man” does not exclude women and it cannot legitimately be used to argue that women cannot be church leaders. [See footnote 7] This is because the phrase is essentially describing the moral quality of marital fidelity or sexual continence and is not primarily referring to gender.

The use of one-woman man” in the passage about diakonoi (“deacons”), 1 Timothy 3:8–13 NIV, shows that the phrase may be applied generically to both men and women ministers. (Note that 1 Timothy 3:8–10 is about male diakonoi, 1 Timothy 3:11 NIV is about female diakonoi, and 1 Timothy 3:12–13 NIV is likely about both male and female diakonoi.)

Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople and a native Greek speaker, wrote that the phrase in 1 Timothy 3:12 “must be understood therefore to relate to deaconesses. For that order is necessary and useful and honourable in the Church” (Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy, Homily XI). (More about deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8–13 NIV here.)

While being “husbands of one wife” might sound like it only applies to men, it didn’t stop Greek-speaking leaders in the early church from ordaining countless women as deacons and deaconesses. Also, most male and female deacons in the early church were widowed (univira) or unmarried; they didn’t have (living) wives or husbands.

Even though the phrase “husbands of one wife” did not disqualify women from being deacons, some Christians today believe the practically identical phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 does disqualify women from being episkopoi or elders today. There is something amiss with this reckoning.

If the phrase doesn’t exclude women in 1 Timothy 3:12, it’s difficult to argue it excludes women elsewhere, especially considering that Paul never expressly says that overseers and elders are men or must be men. Paul used almost no masculine language in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9.

A more recent and easier-to-read article about “husband of one wife” is here.

An Orderly and Honourable Household

In 1 Timothy 3:4 (NASB), Paul says that a church leader, in particular, an episkopos (supervisor/ overseer), “must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (cf. Tit. 1:7). The ability to manage and care for one’s household can also be equally applicable to both men and women.[8] (Again, please note that there are no masculine personal pronouns in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1–7 or Titus 1:6–9.)

In many cultures, including the Greco-Roman culture, it is usually women who manage the household. Accordingly, Paul advised the younger widows in the Ephesian church to remarry, have children, and “keep house” (1 Tim. 5:14).[9] Interestingly, the word Paul uses for “keep house” here is oikodespotein. The etymology of this word gives the meaning “to be the master of a household.” Oikodespotein is from oikodespotēs: oikos = house, despot = master. (More about this word and a related word in Titus 2:5 here.)

The King James Version translates 1 Timothy 5:14 as:

I [Paul] desire therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children, rule the household, and give no occasion to the adversary for insulting. (Underline added.)

It is important to note, however, that Paul had more than the day-to-day domestic management of the household in mind when he wrote 1 Timothy 3:4–5, as all the qualifications stated in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 are essentially moral qualifications.

Paul wanted church leaders, including the episkopoi, to be people of honour and dignity. In the first-century Mediterranean world, the honour-shame dynamic was a powerful force in society, and the conduct of individual members of a household directly affected the level of honour of the entire household. Therefore, an episkopos needed to have an honourable household with well-behaved children, especially well-behaved adult children. Paul wanted episkopoi with a level of moral integrity that was above reproach. He did not want church leaders who might bring dishonour, disrepute, and shame on the church.[10]

Gender Bias and Gender Inclusiveness

Undoubtedly, most church leaders in New Testament times were male, and the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1ff assumes an episkopos is male, and married (or widowed), and has children, and has his own household to manage and care for.[11] In fact, episkopoi in the early years of the church (circa 40–80) were probably relatively wealthy householders who hosted, managed, and cared for congregations (Christian communities) that met in their own homes for all kinds of meetings and activities.

Most householders in the Greco-Roman world were male. Some householders, however, were women, and some women hosted, managed and cared for house churches (e.g., Lydia and Nympha). Nowhere in the Greek New Testament does it state that church leaders or episkopoi must be men.

The New Living Translation (NLT 2015), which gives the impression of being gender-inclusive because it frequently translates adelphoi into “brothers and sisters,”[12] has taken the bold step of inserting the words “a man” in the statement “So a church leader must be ‘a man’ …” in 1 Timothy 3:2. This kind of statement simply does not appear anywhere in any Greek text of the New Testament. The translators, or publishers, of the NLT have expressed their opinion that a church leader must be a man, and tried to pass off their opinion as being “the Word of God.” Had Paul wanted to say, “an overseer must be a man,” he would have done so.[13]

The opening sentence of 1 Timothy chapter 3 literally says, “… If someone (or anyone) aspires to ‘overseer-ship,’ s/he desires a fine task.” There is no gender preference suggested in this sentence whatsoever.[14]


[1] From the second century onwards, many church leaders were commonly called by the adjective presbyteroi (elders or presbyters) or the noun episkopos. Episkopos is translated as “bishop” in some Bible versions, but most scholars acknowledge that “bishop” does not convey a first-century or New Testament use of the word. Malherbe writes that the role of episkopos in the Pastoral Epistles, including 1 Timothy, is to do with function rather than office, “and it is best to avoid the translation of episkopos as ‘bishop’ in favor of ‘overseer’ or ‘supervisor’ as commentators increasingly do.”
Abraham Malherbe, “Overseers as Household Managers in the Pastoral Epistles,” Text, Image, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World, Aliou Cisse Nianh and Carolyn Osiek (eds) (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012), 72–88, 74.

[2] No masculine personal pronouns: Even if there were masculine personal pronouns in the Greek of this passage, this still would not rule out the possibility that women can be overseers. There are a few grammatically masculine articles, adjectives and participles in 1 Timothy 3:1ff and Titus 1:6ff, but since the masculine gender is the default grammatical gender when speaking about groups consisting of men only and groups consisting of men and women, a case cannot be made that these passages exclude women. If we begin to argue that passages that use grammatically masculine participles, etc, exclude women, then women would be excluded from many of the New Testament scriptures which speak about salvation, including John 3:16.

While 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 are completely free from masculine personal pronouns in older Greek manuscripts, the Textus Receptus contains one in 1 Timothy 3:7. Pronouns need to be added in English translations to make sense of the sentences. In English, the literary convention has been to use masculine pronouns, even if the subject matter applies to women also. As in English, the literary convention in New Testament Greek was also to use masculine pronouns when speaking about a representative person, or a group of people that included men, but may also include women. (See my article Why Masculine Pronouns can be misleading in English Bibles and in the Church here.)

[3] Husband of one wife: The phrase one-woman man (or one-man woman) seems to be an idiom similar to the Latin expression univira (“one husband”). An idiom is “A fairly fixed speech form or expression that cannot be understood grammatically from its constituents parts but whose elements function as a set with a meaning peculiar to itself.” Matthew S. DeMoss, Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 70.
By way of example, another Greek idiom in the New Testament is ti emoi kai soi (“what [is it] to me and to you?”). Its meaning seems to be, “What concern is it of yours (or, ours)?” In the New Testament, this expression occurs in Mark 5:7 and John 2:4. A practically identical expression, ti umin kai soi (“what [is it] to us and to you?”), occurs in Mark 1:24, Matthew 8:29, and Luke 4:34. This idiom also occurs in the Septuagint in Judges 11:12, 3 Kingdoms 17:18, 4 Kingdoms 3:13, 2 Chronicles 35:21, Hosea 14:8, and in non-biblical Greek texts.
A more relatable idiom for English speakers is the expression “to stretch my legs.” If I “stretch my legs,” I’m not just extending my legs and stretching my leg muscles, I’m getting up and going for a walk. Also, if I “walk away” from a job or project, I’m not going for a walk in a particular direction, I’m quitting or abandoning the job or project.

In some ancient sources, including Christian sources, the expression “husband of one wife” appears to relate to the (supposed) virtue of marital fidelity after the death of a spouse. However, the overall sense concerns sexual control and even continence (abstinence).  See also footnote 4 and Stefan Heid’s claim which is credible.

Here is what Frederick Danker has said about the idiom in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, Walter Bauer, revised & edited by F.W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 292.

μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ a husband married only once (numerous sepulchral inscriptions celebrate the virtue of a surviving spouse by noting that he or she was married only once, thereby suggesting the virtue of extraordinary fidelity, e.g. CIL VI, 3604; 723; 12405; 14404; cp. Horace, Odes 3, 14, 4; Propertius 4, 11, 36; Valerius Maximus 4, 3, 3; and s. esp. CIL VI, 1527, 31670, 37053=ILS 8393 [text and Eng. tr.: EWistrand, The So-Called Laudatio Thuriae, ’76]; s. GWilliams, JRS 48, ’58 16–29. For the use of μία in ref. to a woman: Ael. Aristid. 46 p. 346 D.: ὑπὲρ μιᾶς γυναικός=for only one woman; μία γυνή quite freq.: Diod S 17, 72, 6; cp. 1, 80, 3, where the phrase γαμοῦσι μίαν simply means that the priests married only once, not that they lead a strictly moral life, a concept for which Greeks never use the expression μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ or anything like it; Hippostratus [III B.C.]: 568 Fgm. 1 Jac.; Appian, Bell. Civ. 4, 95 §402; Ath. 33, 2 ἐφʼ ἑνὶ γάμῳ: Ath. terms a second marriage εὐπρεπής μοιχεία veiled adultery) 1 Ti 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6;
• others render husband of one wife (e.g. RSV in later printings; REB).
• Correspondingly ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή (cp. the exemplary conduct of Hannah [Anna] Lk 2:36; Paus. 7, 25, 13 the priestess of the earth goddess must be a woman who, before she became a priestess, was not πλέον ἢ ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐς πεῖραν ἀφιγμένη) 1 Ti 5:9.

Paul used the phrase one-man woman when writing about widows in 1 Timothy 5:9. These women had been married only once, their husband had died, and they were now single and celibate. The New Revised Standard Version somewhat captures this meaning in their translation of this phrase as “married only once” in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 5:9 and Titus 1:6.
Tertullian, writing in around 200 AD, demonstrates this meaning of the phrases one-woman man (1 Tim. 3:2) and one-man woman (1 Tim. 5:9) in his arguments against Christian widowers and widows remarrying:

The law of the Church and the precept of the Apostle [Paul] show clearly how prejudicial second marriages are to the faith and how great an obstacle to holiness. For men who have been married twice are not allowed to preside in the Church nor is it permissible that a widow be chosen unless she was the wife of but one man. Tertullian, Ad Uxorem (“To his Wife”) 1.7
Taken from, Tertullian, The Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage, translated & annotated by William P. Le Saint, Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 13 (New York: Paulist Press, 1951), 20.

Book 6, chapter 6, of Justinian’s Novellae Constitutiones (“New Constitutions”) mentions the ordination of deaconesses and the “wife of one husband” requirement.

In order for them to be ordained, they must be neither too old nor too young, and not liable to temptation, but they should be of middle age, and, in accordance with the sacred canons, about fifty years old, and, having arrived at that age, they shall be eligible to ordination, whether they are virgins, or have previously been married to one man; for we do not permit women who have contracted a second marriage …
S.P. Scott, The Civil law, including the Twelve tables, the Institutes of Gaius, the Rules of Ulpian, the Opinions of Paulus, the Enactments of Justinian, and the Constitutions of Leo (Cincinnati: Central Trust Co., 1932) (Online Source)

Being married only once was considered to be a virtuous ideal in broader Greco-Roman society—and this was in an age when people, including spouses, often died earlier than in developed countries today. Because of a declining population and low birth rates, however, Roman law stated widows and widowers of a certain age must remarry in order to have children, and it offered incentives to do so. But some did not comply with the law.

[4] The Bible requires marital fidelity only while both husband and wife are alive. When the husband or wife dies, the other person is free to remarry or remain celibate (Rom. 7:2–4; 1 Cor. 7:39). Celibacy and virginity were becoming highly esteemed virtues in the second-century church and some understood the “husband of one wife” as referring to celibacy, not only after a spouse had died, but even within marriage. See Stefan Heid, Celibacy in the Early Church: The Beginnings of a Discipline of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West, translated by Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).
Most ordained ministers in the early and medieval church, male or female, were single and unmarried or widowed. There is no record of a bishop, priest, or deacon marrying after ordination, and some church laws forbade sex within marriage once a married person was ordained.
By the fifth century, celibacy was compulsory for church leaders in the Latin-speaking West. This unbiblical decree has caused no end of problems to the Roman Catholic church which still insists upon it. If the “one-woman man” requirement was taken in its most literal sense, it would prohibit Roman Catholic priests and other unmarried men from being church leaders. More on 1 Timothy 3:4a here.

[5] Andreas J. Köstenberger, Commentary on 1–2 Timothy and Titus (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2017) Köstenberger also states, “The requirement of being, literally, a ‘one-wife-type-of- husband” resembles the Roman univira  (a ‘one-husband-type-of-wife’).”

[6] Philip B. Payne, Does “One-Woman Man” In 1 Timothy 3:2 Require That All Overseers Be Male? (Source: pbpayne.com)

[7] Payne writes:

Two of the most prominent complementarians acknowledge this phrase does not clearly exclude women. Douglas Moo acknowledges that this phrase need not exclude “unmarried men or females from the office … it would be going too far to argue that the phrase clearly excludes women.” Douglas J. Moo, “The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11–15: A Rejoinder,” TJ 2 NS (1981): 198–222, 211. Thomas Schreiner acknowledges, “The requirements for elders in 1 Tim 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9, including the statement that they are to be one-woman men, does not necessarily in and of itself preclude women from serving as elders.” Thomas R. Schreiner’s “Philip Payne on Familiar Ground: A Review of Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.” JBMW (Spring 2010): 33–46, 35.
Payne, Does “One-Woman Man” in 1 Timothy 3:2 Require that all Overseers be Male? (Source: pbpayne.com)

[8] The Greek participle translated as “manages” (his own household well) in the NASB is from the verb proistēmi. Proistēmi occurs eight times in the New Testament where it “seems to have the sense a. ‘to lead’ but the context shows in each case that one must also take into account sense b. ‘to take care of.’ This is explained by the fact that caring was an obligation of leading members of the infant Church.”
Bo Reike, “Proistēmi,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol. 6, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, transl. and ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 701–703, 701.
Phoebe of Cenchrea is referred to with the cognate noun of proistēmi in Romans 16:2; she was a patron and protector of many in the church, including Paul.

[9] Paul gave this instruction to the young Ephesian widows because of certain problems within the Ephesian church. One of the more serious problems was the spread of false teaching. It seems that the younger Ephesian widows were engaging in irresponsible conversation and conduct that may have involved listening to, and spreading, false teaching. This even led to some of the young widows wandering from the truth to follow Satan (1 Tim. 5:13–15). (I’ve written more about Paul’s instructions to young wives and young widows at the end of this article, and here.)

[10] In 1 Timothy, Paul displays a concern for the social respectability of church leaders. In other letters, however, Paul is less concerned and he pushes for the acceptance of all Christians as ministers and as participants in church gatherings (1 Cor. 12:4ff; 14:26; Col. 3:16). We know that some slaves became episkopoi in the early church (e.g., Onesimus of Ephesus) and some episkopoi became slaves (e.g., Callistus of Rome).

[11] 1 Timothy 3:1ff may refer to the current episkopoi (“supervisors”) in Ephesus who may have been all men; the passage may not necessarily refer to future episkopoi.

“The author [of 1 Timothy] does not write to introduce a new hierarchy in the community and there is no indication in the text that the qualities listed in vv.3–7 qualify men who have yet to assume the office of bishop. … The virtues enumerated describe the qualities of character and conduct of those who are exercising oversight rather than qualify them for an office yet to be filled.” Malherbe, “Overseers as Household Managers,” 75.

While the current episkopoi may have been all men, nothing in 1 Timothy 3 rules out the possibility of godly women becoming episkopoiNympha, for example, was probably the supervisor of the church she hosted and cared for in her home. And I suspect Priscilla was functioning as a supervisor or elder in Ephesus when she and her husband corrected the doctrine of Apollos. (More about women elders in New Testament churches here.)

[12] Several modern English translations of the New Testament (including the NLT) frequently translate the Greek word adelphoi as “brothers and sisters.” Adelphoi is grammatically masculine, and in older Bible versions the word was translated as “brothers” or “brethren.” However, it is obvious from its usage in the New Testament scriptures and in ancient Christian writings that adelphoi can refer to both men and women. The NLT translators (and others) have translated most occurrences of the very common word adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” and painstakingly included an explanatory footnote each time. The NLT also translates the literal “sons” (huioi) into “children” when speaking about children of God (i.e. Christian believers). This commendable inclusion of women reflects the true biblical understanding of the words adelphoi and huioi in many verses. However, the views of the NLT translators regarding gender equality and inclusivity clearly stop short of allowing women to be church leaders (supervisors and elders). (More on gender bias in the NLT here.)

[13] In Paul’s more general teaching on ministry and ministry gifts, including his teaching on leadership ministry gifts, the apostle gives no hint that some ministries are for men and some are for women. See Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1-31, and Ephesians 4:4-13; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:5. (More on Paul’s theology of ministry here.)

[14] Here is a literal English translation of 1 Timothy 3:1b with the grammatical gender of the Greek words shown in brackets: “… If anyone/ someone, (common gender: masc. or fem.) aspires (no gender specified) to ‘overseer-ship’ (feminine noun), he/ she/ it desires (no gender specified) a noble/ fine task (neuter adjective and noun).”

© Margaret Mowczko 2010
Last edited July 16 2022
All Rights Reserved

An abridged version of this article was published by Christians for Biblical Equality (International) in their Arise e-newsletter on the 19th of August, 2010.

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Image Credit

Wooden doors of the Church of our Saviour, Brookline. Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash.

Postscript: May 8, 2023
Univira as a qualification for women elders (presbyteresses) and widows

Fulgentius Ferrandus, a deacon of the church in Carthage, compiled 232 canons in around 547. Writing in Latin, he included this canon about enrolled presbyteresses (a Greek term) who are also called by various terms in Latin. Fulgentius Ferrandus, who disapproved of any kind of ordination for these women, used the word univira which corresponds with “wife of one husband” (1 Tim. 5:9).

That it is not fitting for women who among the Greeks are called presbyteresses (presbyterae) and who among us are called widows, or elders (seniores), once-married (uniuirae), and enrolled (matriculae), to be appointed as if ordained (tanquam ordinatas) in the church.
Quoted in Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History, Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, (eds) (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 190.

I have more information on women elders in the early church here.

Postscript: April 17, 2023
One wife only in the Damascus Document

The Damascus Document, also known as the Zadokite Fragments, is an early Jewish work which was probably written in the first century BCE. It contains warnings and laws, including the statement that it is sexually immoral for a man to have two wives in his lifetime. This document was written in Hebrew and is “known from both the Cairo Geniza and the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is considered one of the foundational documents of the ancient Jewish community of Qumran.” (Source: Wikipedia)

See Fragments of a Zadokite Work (The Cairo Damascus Document), Solomon Schechter (1910), chapter 7 (online here), or the version translated from the Qumran texts (online here) under the subtitle, The Works of Belial.

Postscript: April 6, 2023
Jerome on “Husband of one wife” in Against Jovinian

In book 1 of Against Jovinian, written in 393 (admittedly well after the New Testament letters were written), Jerome refers to the idiom “husband of one wife/ wife of one husband” several times in arguments to support his ascetic views. And he speaks strongly against second marriages for widows.

At the end of book 1, Jerome speaks to his Christian sisters and reminds them of the examples of pagan Roman women who were univira.

Let my married sisters copy the examples of Theano, Cleobuline, Gorgente, Timoclia, the Claudias and Cornelias; and when they find the apostle [Paul] conceding second marriage to depraved women, they will read that before the light of our religion shone upon the world, wives of one husband ever held high rank among matrons … Against Jovinian 1.49

This statement about Isaac and Rebekah sounds like Jerome was advocating for monogamy. However, the aim of his treatise was to defend his own ascetic, sexless life as an expression of Christian piety.

Isaac, moreover, the husband of one wife, Rebecca, prefigures the Church of Christ, and reproves the wantonness of second marriage. Against Jovinian 1.19

In chapter 34, Jerome speaks about celibacy for already-married clergy. (Tertullian, mentioned in the article above, had a sexless marriage.)

For [Paul] does not say: “Let a bishop be chosen who marries one wife and begets children” but “who marries one wife, and has his children in subjection and well disciplined.” You surely admit that he is no bishop who during his episcopate begets children. The reverse is the case — if he is discovered, he will not be bound by the ordinary obligations of a husband, but will be condemned as an adulterer. Either permit priests to perform the work of marriage with the result that virginity and marriage are on a par: or if it is unlawful for priests to touch their wives, they are so far holy in that they imitate virgin chastity. But something more follows. A layman, or any believer, cannot pray unless he abstains from sexual intercourse. Now a priest must always offer sacrifices for the people: he must therefore always pray. And if he must always pray, he must always be released from the duties of marriage. For even under the old law they who used to offer sacrifices for the people not only remained in their houses, but purified themselves for the occasion by separating from their wives, nor would they drink wine or strong drink which are wont to stimulate lust. That married men are elected to the priesthood, I do not deny: the number of virgins is not so great as that of the priests required. Against Jovinian 1.34.

A few times in Against Jovinian 1, Jerome refers to marriage as slavery; he did not want clergy, male or female, to be presently married. Quoting 1 Timothy 3:2, he wrote,

The bishop, then, must be without reproach, so that he is the slave of no vice: “the husband of one wife,” that is, in the past, not in the present. … “chaste,” for that is the meaning of σώφρονα; distinguished, both by chastity and conduct … Against Jovinian 1.35

In the following quotation, Jerome is responding to, that is, objecting to, an argument Jovinian had made using the example of Samuel. Jerome here is playing down the priestly role of Samuel who, when he was an adult, got married and had children.

And if Samuel who was brought up in the Tabernacle married a wife, how does that prejudice virginity? As if in the present day also there were not many married priests, and as though the apostle did not write 1 Timothy 3:2 to describe a bishop as the husband of one wife, having children with all purity. At the same time, we must not forget that Samuel was a Levite, not a priest or high priest. Hence it was that his mother who made for him a linen ephod, that is, a linen garment to go over the shoulders, which was the proper dress of the Levites and of the inferior order. And so he is not named in the Psalms among the priests, but among those who call upon the name of the Lord. Against Jovinian 1.23

Jerome’s words about widows and second marriages are harsh.

What the holiness of second marriage is [or isn’t], appears from this — that a person twice married cannot be enrolled in the ranks of the clergy, and so the apostle tells Timothy, “Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man” [1 Tim. 5:9]. … at the same time, consider that she who has had two husbands, even though she be a widow, decrepit, and in want, is not a worthy recipient of the Church’s funds. But if she is deprived of the bread of charity, how much more is she deprived of that bread which comes down from heaven, and of which if a man eat unworthily, he shall be guilty of outrage offered to the body and the blood of Christ? Against Jovinian 1.14

In book 2 of Against Jovinian, Jerome uses the example of Anna the prophetess.

On the threshold of the Gospel [Luke 2:36] appears Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, the wife of one husband, and a woman who was always fasting. Long-continued chastity and persistent fasting welcomed a Virgin Lord. Against Jovinian 2.15

As he sums up his arguments, Jerome says,

We have preferred virginity to widowhood [and] widowhood to marriage. The passage of the apostle, in which he treats questions of this kind, has been expounded, and particular objections have been met. We also took a survey of secular literature, and inquired what was thought of virgins, and what of those who had one husband, and by way of contrast we pointed out the cares which sometimes attend wedlock. Against Jovinian 2.35

Some information about Jovinian, a monk who renounced some aspects of the ascetic life, is here.

Postscript: October 6, 2021
1 Timothy as a Church Manual

Timothy Luke Johnson has made the following observations about the (so-called) Pastoral Epistles, which include 1 Timothy. His observations are given in reference to arguments that polarise the concepts of hierarchical church orders, on one hand, and charismatic ministry, on the other. Johnson notes that it is often argued that since the Pastorals seem to give attention to church orders or offices, charismatic ministry has become controlled or routinised. This change is thought to be due to fading eschatological (end-times) expectations and to the church adapting to the ways of the world.

Here is Johnson’s response to such ideas.

First, it is inaccurate to speak of the church order of the Pastorals, since there is none in 2 Timothy, and the little found in Titus does not match precisely the fuller account in 1 Timothy.
Second, what organization is spoken of is not elaborate. It corresponds rather well, in fact, to what we know of the synagogal structure of Diaspora Judaism in the first century, as well as to the structure of the religious and social associations prevalent in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Early Christianity did not develop in a vacuum; it naturally adopted and adapted pre-existing institutions.
Third, the organizational structure is not legitimated in these letters, that is, it is neither theologically defended nor interpreted, unlike the case in the Ignatian letters.
Fourth, the letters do not prescribe a particular order but presuppose it; they contain not job descriptions for new positions but moral and mental qualifications for those who are to fill established places in the church.
Fifth, sociological studies of intentional communities in every era suggest that they do not survive for decades without strong structures for decision making and social control: a great time lapse between the birth of a community and the establishment of structure is thus counterintuitive: structure and charism frequently coexist.
Sixth, the undisputed letters of Paul not only refer by title to the offices found in the Pastorals (bishops and deacons, Phil. 1:1; woman deacon, Rom. 16:1), but explicitly recognize the role of authority figures in specific communities (cf. 1 Cor. 16:15–17; Gal. 6:6; Col. 4:17; 1 Thess. 5:12).
Seventh, the attention that is given to organizational matters in two of these letters owes a great deal to the nature of the writings and the identity of the addressees.
Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, Third Edition (Fortress, 2010), 427. (Online PDF) (I’ve formatted this paragraph differently from how it appears in the book.)

The nature of the writing in the Pastorals was largely influenced by the dangerous heresy in Ephesus and Crete. Philip Towner notes,

There is general agreement that the heresy reflected in the Pastoral Epistles is the most important aspect of the background of these letters. At almost every turn it forms the backdrop to the author’s paraenesis and theological expression and one must assume that the letters are intended as a response to this dangerous situation.
Towner, The Goal of Our Instruction: The Structure of Theology and Ethics in the Pastoral Epistles (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 21.

Alan Padgett writes,

First and Second Timothy are not a “church manual” but an ad hoc response to the false teachers in Ephesus. The precise nature of this false teaching cannot be deduced with confidence. It surely had something to do with a misunderstanding of the Old Testament (1 Tim. 1:6–10; cf. Tit. 1:14–16, 3:9). Some type of asceticism was involved (1 Tim. 4:1–5), which included abstaining from certain types of food and from marriage. These false teachings were gaining a large hearing among the women (2 Tim. 3:1–9).”
Padgett, Wealthy Women at Ephesus: Timothy 2:8–15 in Social Context,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 41.1 (1987): 19–31, 20–21.

I’ve added this postscript because some modern Christians view 1 Timothy, and especially 1 Timothy 3, as primarily a church manual without understanding Paul’s reason for writing the letter.

Interestingly, two of the earliest church manuals, the Didache (c. 80–120) and the Apostolic Tradition (c. 200–300) barely refer to 1 Timothy 3 apart from comments that episkopoi must be above reproach (Apost. trad. 2:1) and not lovers of money (Did. 15:1). The Didascalia Apostolorum (c. 230) quotes more phrases from 1 Timothy 3:1–7 but adds still further qualifications when speaking about episkopoi (bishops).

Explore more

Paul’s Theology of Ministry: 1 Tim. 3:2 and Priscilla
“Must manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4)
What is meant by didaktikos in 1 Tim. 3:2 and 2 Tim. 2:24?
Qualified for Every Good Work (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith … Gender?
The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Were there women elders in New Testament churches?
All my articles on 1 Timothy 3 are here.
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
All my articles on Paul and Women are here.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

75 thoughts on “Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Timothy 3)

  1. Thanks for this brief but solidly biblical essay. For a fuller treatment you may consider Phil Payne’s excellent Man and Woman: One in Christ, summarized here. Or see the entire series.

  2. Thanks Paul.

    As it happens, I’ve just started reading Man and Woman: One in Christ. I’m up to chapter 9 and enjoying it very much.

    I will have a good look at your summaries. 🙂

    1. Hi Marg. We are finding your concise and well researched Biblical pieces very helpful in an on going debate in our local evangelical church. The Lord wants to ‘unfreeze His frozen assets’ in the church in the form of the female population we believe! We are close friends of Lucy Peppiatt of WTC, whom you probably know? (‘Women and Worship at Corinth’).
      Yours, Rev Richard Fothergill (The Filling Station). Cumbria, UK.

      1. Thanks, Richard. I’m delighted to hear that my articles are helpful to your church.
        Lucy and I have exchanged a few messages and I have a couple of her books

  3. Excellent, Marg! So glad you’re reading. I’ve had several substantive emails from Phil Payne since my summary reviews.

  4. Hi Marg,

    I followed your link :). Can you give me a link to Moo’s and Schreiner’s full quotations to see it in context- i noticed you simply took Phillip Paynes quotation which i am dubious to rely on by itself…who knows which parts he left out!

    Also, can you clarify a point. As i read your article you have not proven that women WERE included in the text but rather that they MAY have been. What in the text exegetically can you show to prove that they WERE included.

    In other words the text can either refer to only males, or possibly to both male and female IF there are legitimate reasons to believe so. What are these reasons? What proof can you provide that decisively shows that women WERE included?

    There is a difference from showing that something CAN happen and that it DID happen. Or ,there is a difference in proving woman CAN be included and that they WERE included.

    Simply showing that ‘one woman man’ COULD include women does not prove that it DID. Does not the shift to ‘gyne’ in verse 11 contradict this possibility.


  5. Hi Mark 🙂

    A PDF of Schreiner’s paper can be viewed here. Re our discussion on Cheryl’s site: Schreiner asserts that Phoebe was a deacon. I prefer to call her a minister (diakonos) and a patron (prostatis).

    Moo’s paper can be viewed here. (Judging by your non-egal views, I think you will enjoy these papers.)

    The only reason that I have quoted Schreiner and Moo is because they state that the idiom a one-woman man does not exclude women. Let me add that I do not agree with other statements made by Schreiner and Moo.

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, several women are named in the New Testament who were house church leaders: Priscilla (with Aquila), Chloe and Nympha. Other women were clearly notable Christian ministers of some sort–Junia (with Andronicus), Euodia and Syntyche, Phoebe, etc–otherwise, Paul would not have mentioned them in his letters.

    Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that an elder/overseer/pastor must be male. Yet this is the firm stance of many Christians. No person, male or female, is assigned the term elder, overseer or pastor, other than John and Peter.

    So my question is: Why do you assume that the qualifications for elders do not apply to women? (I appreciate that English translations make Paul’s qualifications sound masculine due to copious masculine pronouns that are non-existent in the Greek.)

    I cannot “prove” exegetically that 1 Timothy 3:1-7 includes women (as much of this passage is gender neutral with only a few grammatically masculine adjectives and participles.) In the same way, I cannot prove exegetically that John 3:16 includes women because of the use of a masculine participle and adjective.

  6. Paul also makes very clear statements in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 that women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man. So unless a church is made up entirely of women or the woman elder or deacon is only teaching to women or overseeing women’s ministries, I don’t see how to reconcile this.

    1. Hi Michael,

      I’m away at camp and have very limited access to the internet at the moment. I will reply with more thought later; but in the meantime please look at my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context.

      1 Timothy 2:11-15 may have constituted clear statements to the Ephesian Christians but this verse has been puzzling Christians for centuries. Especially puzzling is the meaning of the Greek word authentein, translated in the KJV as “to usurp authority”.

      Update: My interpretation 1 Timothy 2:12 is here.

  7. Thanks for this analysis.

    The simplest way to see this for me is that Phoebe was a deacon of the congregation at Cencharae and yet the term “one-woman man” is applied to a deacon. This then means that gender restrictionists tend to deny Phoebe was a deacon. Once you go down that road, the Bible becomes silly-putty in your hand.

  8. Chrysostom would agree with you. 😉

    1. “Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople and a native Greek speaker, wrote that the phrase “one-woman man” in 1 Timothy 3:12 “must be understood therefore to relate to deaconesses [women diakonoi]. For that order is necessary and useful and honourable in the Church” (Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy, Homily XI). (More about deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 here.)”
      So, does that mean that Chrysostom believed that the “husband of one wife” qualification from 1 Timothy 3:12 also applies to the female deacons? Or could it mean something else?

      1. Yes, Chrysostom applied the phrase to male and female deacons. There wasn’t a gender-inclusive way of saying μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ (“husband of one wife”) or ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή (“wife of one husband”).

        There were other ways of expressing monogamy (e.g., μόνανδρος–“having one husband”) but the more gender-inclusive words—verb μονογαμέω (“to marry one person”), abstract noun μονογαμία (“monogamy”), and concrete noun μονόγαμος (“monogamous person” especially “monogamous man”)—don’t seem to have been coined until the second century CE where they seem to be used predominantly in astronomical texts.

        According to Liddell, Scott, and Jones’s relatively exhaustive Greek lexicon:
        Mονογαμέω occurs in Antiochus of Athens’s late second-century CE astronomical work Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum 2.209.
        Mονογαμία occurs in Antigonus of Nicea’s work excerpted by Hephaistio in Apud Hephaestionem Astrologum 218. (Originally written in the second or third century.)
        Mονόγαμος occurs in Ptolomy’s Tetrabiblios 183 (circa 150 CE) and Vettius Valens’s Anthology 120.8 (circa 150-170 CE). (Source: LSJ)

        But even in these ancient texts, monogam– words were typically used of men marrying only one wife, and not women marrying only one husband. (I don’t have a good handle on this yet.)

        I’m putting this link here for my own use: http://www.projecthindsight.com/reference/catalog.html (Hellenistic Astronomers)

  9. Just reading this article for the first time and I love it! Thank you for researching this. This passage of scripture has baffled me and I was just thinking about looking into this more and then I find this article. 🙂 God is so good and is answering my questions.

  10. God is good, and he LOVES his daughters and wants to use some of them as leaders of his people. 🙂

  11. I agree!

  12. Marg,

    I appreciate your articles very much. I was wondering if you have read “10 Lies the Church Tells Women” by J. Lee Grady. Mr. Grady states that there is a symbol in the original Greek text indicating that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was a quote from a letter written to Paul. Paul then responds to the quote in verses 36-40. In his response, Paul chastens those who fail to follow the Lord’s commandments and attempt to make their own rules. He then goes on to say that all things should be done properly and in an orderly manner.

    It appears that the notion of women keeping silent and not being able to speak is a teaching of men from the Talmud and not a commandment from God.

    It seems that Paul was more concerned with orderly worship and the effects worship might have on unbelieving visitors than restricting women’s access to God or participation in worship. 1 Corinthians 14:23 “If, therefore, the whole assembly may come together, to the same place, and all may speak with tongues, and there may come in unlearned or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” Paul also instructs anyone who speaks in tongues to keep silent if there is no interpreter present. See 1 Corinthians 14:27-28. I use Young’s Literal Translation because Robert Young’s agenda was a quest for the Truth.

  13. Hi Joni, I’m glad my articles are useful to you. 🙂

    I haven’t read Lee Grady’s book, but I have Phil Payne’s book “One in Christ”. He has looked at some of the original ancient manuscripts of the New Testament in person.

    Phil has said that there are some interesting scribal sigla, distigma, at the end of 1 Cor 14:33 in the Codex Vaticanus, possibly indicating that the following two verses where in doubt. The Codex Vaticanus has the same distigma after John 7:52 (and omits John 7:7:53-8:11), and at the end of Luke 14:24 (and omits “Many are called but few are chosen”.) Payne writes that, “[A]lthough Vaticanus does include 14:34-35, its distigma here is the earliest manuscript evidence for a text that omitted these verses.” (p.323) (Codex Vaticanus dates from around 325–350 AD.)

    A few other ancient manuscripts have 14:34-35 at the end of chapter 14, indicating that there was some doubt and confusion about these two verses and where they might belong in the text.

    I don’t know of any symbol in ancient manuscripts (or current publications of the Greek NT) that indicates that 14:34-35 is a quote that Paul is responding to. Some speculate that the Greek word ἢ that begins verse 36 is Paul’s way of saying “What?!” But it could just mean “or”.

    I’ve written about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

  14. Some people reject husband of one wife.

    The Greek word that “one” is translated from here is word #3391, mia, and is also translated as “a” or “the first” in other parts of scripture. Thus the emphasis would be that an elder needs to be a married man, having children, and that he must not have divorced his first wife.

    For example, in the following passages, the word “a” is the same word translated “one” above:

    Matthew 21:19,”And when he saw a fig tree in the way…”
    Matthew 26:69, “Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him…”,
    Revelation 9:13, “And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice…”

    Is this corrected?

    1. Hi Angela,

      The Greek words heis (masculine), mia, (feminine) and hen (neuter) mean “one” regardless of how it is translated into English in some verses.

      The reason it is sometimes translated as “a” is for stylistic reasons only; “one” sounds odd in English in some sentences. But the meaning of “one” remains.

      Literal translations of the relevant phrases in Matthew 21:19; 26:69 and Revelation 9:13 are: “one fig tree”, “one female servant”, “one voice”.

      The qualification “one-woman man” (or “husband of one wife”) refers to marital faithfulness. To qualify, a person must remain faithful to their first spouse, and not divorce. But the real meaning of the idiom “one-woman man” is of a person who does not marry someone else after the death of their spouse. Several early church fathers thought it was important for Christian widows and widowers not to marry. See endnote 3.

      Also, mia does not mean “first” here. Mias gynaikos andra does not mean a “first-woman-man.” (Prōtos/prōtē/prōton is the usual Greek word meaning “first”.)

      Who rejects “husband of one wife”? Are these people Greek scholars? Are these people worth listening too?

  15. I just read the article in your endnote 5. I think he gets it mostly correct (as meaning marital fidelity (faithful husband) or even literally as one woman man as in country songs), except that the term is gender neutral as it can be applied to either a man or woman, so my translation choice is “faithful spouse.”

    The question is what did Paul mean by the phrase, not what Tertullian thought Paul meant. I think this is an important distinction as the ECF were anti-sex which I see happening because of ascetic Greek thought being mixed into what Scripture taught.

    1. Yes, many Early Church Fathers had narrow, restrictive views on marital sex and they strongly discouraged widows and widowers from marrying again. I think Tertullian’s views closely match the sentiment expressed in the idiom “one-woman-man.” But I agree with you that marital faithfulness is the best sense we, today, can make of the idiom.

    2. Is there anywhere in this article where there is proof that the idiom was gender neutral in that period of time? I may be very ignorant but wasn’t Chrystosom patriarchal?

      1. Chrysostom was patriarchal. Practically everyone was patriarchal in the ancient world. No one knew any different. But Chrysostom also recognised that some women such as Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, even Euodia and Syntyche, were church leaders. We can read his sermons on the net. For example, here is his sermon on Romans 15:25-16:5: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/210230.htm

        “One-woman-man” is not exactly gender-neutral. When using the idiom specifically about widow women the words are switched around so that it reads “one-man-woman” (1 Tim. 5:9).

        Feminine adjectives, participles, and phrases are used exclusively for women in Greek. But masculine adjectives, participles, nouns, and phrases can be used for a group of people (or generic person) that might include women.

        John 3:16 uses masculine language for “everyone who is believing” (πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων) but practically everyone acknowledges this doesn’t exclude women.

        Adelphoi is grammatically masculine and would not ordinarily be used for a group of only women. But it is used for a group of men (“brothers”) or a group of both men and women (“brothers and sisters”).

        The true sense of “one-woman-man”, when applied to a generic person, does not exclude the possibility of applying to women.

        1. Where does he say they were church leaders? I read some of it and he talks about them having virtue but I don’t see him saying they were leaders.

          1. Chrysostom called Junia an “apostle”. In homily 31 on Romans, he writes about Junia and Andronicus:
            “And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even among these of note, just consider what a great tribute this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! How great is the wisdom of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”

            In Homily 13 on Philippians, he says that Euodia and Syntyche were “chief” (to kephalaion) of the church in Philippi. And he believes Phoebe had a ministry like that of Euodia and Syntyche.

            In his 30th homily on Romans, he writes about Phoebe and says, that Paul “has added her rank, by mentioning her being deaconess.”
            In his 31st homily on Romans, he writes that Paul addressed Phoebe “by her title, for he does not call her servant of the church in an undefined way . . . but . . . as having the office of deaconess.”
            So Chrysostom states that Phoebe had an official title, even though the word “deaconess” hadn’t been invented yet. In reality, she was called “deacon” not “deaconess”.

            In his homily 11 on 1 Timothy, Chrysostom stated that the women in 1 Timothy 3:11 were female deacons (“deaconesses”).

            Chrysostom credits Priscilla, more so that Aquila, in making their home a church through evangelism and through hospitality:
            “For she had been so estimable as even to make their house a Church, both by making all in it believers, and because they opened it to all strangers. For he was not in the habit of calling any houses Churches, save where there was much piety, and much fear of God deeply rooted in them. And on this ground he said to the Corinthians also, Salute Aquila and Priscilla, with the Church that is in their house.” Homily 30 on Romans

            I think this all sounds impressive and there’s still more impressive things Chrysostom says about women. His remarks show that he believed that women were apostles, deacons (or deaconesses), house church founders, and, more generally, “the chief” (to kephalaion). These functions and positions all require exercising leadership.

  16. If one women man is not gender neutral because the flip version was used for women then how can one accurately guess that the term can mean everybody and not just men? Do you know what I am getting at?

    1. I do understand what you’re getting at. And it can be tricky.

      Sometimes context and surrounding words clearly tell us that something applies only to men. For example, the ten lepers in Luke 17:12 were probably all men.

      The lepers in Luke 4:27, however, probably included women as well as men even though the word “lepers” (leproi) is grammatically masculine in both verses in Luke.

      While it is a little ambiguous, many people interpret Chrysostom as saying that “one-woman-man” applies to the male and female deacons mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. And Chrysostom knew Greek. It was his everyday language, his mother-tongue.
      See here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230611.htm

  17. Where in John 3:16 is there a masculine participle in referring to who Jesus came to save? My Bible says World which I assume means everyone.

    Anyways I’m studying right now what the argument is for only men being elders and the point you made was very interesting to me. You say that there’s other examples under footnote number 2 of masculine participles being used for salvation verses which would imply that a masculine participle can sometimes include women. I was looking for examples of those through Google search but I didn’t come up with anything. Would you mind listing more verses that give an example of a masculine participle including women since the verses referring to Salvation?

    Also… the pastor of my church is completely on board with female pastors and teachers because he doesn’t view leadership positions as being authoritative but servent based. He believe that God has our Authority and that’s it. he does believe that men can only be elders but he view eldership as a protective role like he views men laying down their lives for their wives like Christ as a protective role… one in which husbands/men are called to. He feels like marriage is a representation of Christ relationship with the church and that if the man isn’t the sacrificial one in the relationship like Christ then that comparison loses weight I guess.

    Do you have any thoughts or blog post that you could refer me to on this topic? I read the one about the weaker vessel already but I don’t think he would claim that women were weaker vessels but nonetheless the Bible has chosen marriage to represent the analogy of Christ’s sacrifice for the church… so husbands are to lay down their lives for their wives.

    I feel like I’m called lay down my life for my husband just as he’s called to lay down his life for me and mutual submission but obviously in Eph. 5 it points only to the husbands to treat their wives like Christ but the Bible is a whole called us all to treat one another as Christ would treat us.

    I hope I’m making sense 🙂

    As always thank you so much for your time and thank you so much for the posts that you right. I don’t comment much but read your insight often. I do want to say that you have helped me greatly in my journey in this topic and my views of myself as a daughter of Christ

    1. Hi Sarah,

      In John 3:16, the masculine adjective meaning “everyone” is πᾶς (pas).
      The masculine article meaning “he” is ὁ (ho), though this article can, and is, used to refer to a person, man or woman, more generically.
      The masculine participle meaning “believing” is πιστεύων (pisteuōn) “believing”.

      Here are some random examples where masculine participles are used (some with a masculine article) for a man or woman, or men and women, in verses about salvation:

      He, or the one, enduring–ὁ ὑπομείνας (Matt. 10:22b).
      He, or the one, who believes and is baptised–ὁ πιστεύσας καὶ βαπτισθεὶς (Mark 16:16).
      Those being saved–τοὺς σῳζομένους (Acts 2:47).
      Having been justified–δικαιωθέντες (Romans 5:9)
      Having been reconciled–καταλλαγέντες (Romans 5:10)
      To those being saved–τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις (1 Corinthians 1:18)

      No participle, but these verses contains a masculine adjective and masculine relative pronoun for “everyman/everyone who”–πᾶς ὅς (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).

      And there are plenty more examples I could give, but my son will be here soon so I need to stop.
      Since the masculine grammatical gender is the default gender, there are lots of verses where masculine language is used, but women are included.

      Women elders are specifically mentioned in Ephesians 5 using feminine language, though some people argue that these women elders are simply older women. More on this here and here.

      As far as protection goes, I agree with you. Surely we are supposed to protect each other as the circumstances arrive, according to our capabilities. Plenty of women protected men in the Bible. And Ephesians 5 does not mention “protection” specifically. Also, submitting to someone can involve sacrifice, and in Ephesians 5 we are all called to be submissive and love sacrificially, regardless of gender or marital status. More on this here. This article here may be useful too.

      I hope this is helpful.

      1. Thank you!

        Do you have any post about people connecting the sacrifice of Jesus for the church with husband’s specific calling to sacrifice for their wives (And not the other way around to) and how that illustration would fall apart if men weren’t the “jesus” to their wives? (In sacrifice only… not salvation)

        1. Hi Sarah,

          I don’t have an article on the topic you mention. But men don’t routinely sacrifice their lives for their wives in the same way that Jesus sacrificed his life. My husband has never sacrificed his life for me. He’s still alive.

          What he does do is be kind and considerate and deferential to me. And I do the same to him. Neither of us have a greater or lesser responsibility to be sacrificially loving and submissive towards each other (Eph. 5:1-2, 21).

  18. Hi Marg,

    I’ve been slowly working my way through your site and enjoying every minute. Great writing , including most commentators.

    The ‘maleness’ discussion of the Greek has come up in several places. English translation is difficult because there is no gender distinction in pronouns like ‘they’, or their verb forms. A male distinction is often assumed because the Greek ‘they words’ are usually a male form, although it can also mean a group of males and females.

    I’m not a Greek expert by any means, but in Spanish this is exactly the case. So, if you want to say “the boys”, you say “los chicos”. If you want to say “the girls”, you say “las chicas”. If you want to say “the kids (boys and girls)”, you say “los chicos”. In fact, if you were addressing a large gathering of all girls, you would says “chicas”; but if there was even one boy, you would properly say “chicos”. (although I remember one teacher getting around the grammar by addressing us as “chicas y Roberto”)

    Hopefully this can help someone understand the issue a little better.

    1. Thanks, Bob. That is helpful.

      Grammatical gender is a difficult concept to grasp for people with no experience with gendered languages.

  19. Hi Marg,

    Regarding church leaders, since there were no church buildings as such in first century, house churches were common. Secondly, the qualifications in 1 Tim 3 do include women, and the mention of “a one-woman man” can infer, if one is married, he must be the husband of one wife (with emphasis on one.). Thirdly, the 1 Tim 2:12 passage you have covered extensively, refers to a local situation with emphasis on what was being taught. N.B. Rev. 2:20.

    1. Yes, that’s right. With perhaps a few exceptions, there were no church buildings until the fourth century when Christianity became a legal religion.

      New Testament churches were house churches; congregations typically met in homes hosted by a person, or couple, who often acted as overseers and patrons. Large cities such as Rome, Ephesus, and Corinth might have several house churches. And sometimes all the Christians in a city might come together for a larger meeting.

      I discuss “one-woman man” in the article, in the body and in endnotes.

      (By the way, I’ve changed your all caps to sentence case. Please don’t use all caps.)

  20. Marg,

    Thanks for the insights here – they are really helpful.

    I have been shying away from using the term “overseer” for a while, preferring “steward,” due to modern implications of oversight. What I’ve read about the 1st century episkopoi has made me think this is a better rendering. What do you think about this?

    1. Hi David,

      Overseers did function as stewards in that they looked after people. However, the Greek word episkopos really does translate well as “overseer”: epi = “over/upon” + skopos = “sight.” Supervisor is also an apt translation and has the sense of “over” and “sight.” The word episkopos did not necessarily have a sense of prestige or power.

      Also, there are other Greek words, such as oikonomos and epitropos, that are more commonly translated as “steward.” Though these words can also be translated as “manager.”

  21. Marg, I really liked your articles on 1Peter 3.7 and the Levitical purification laws.

    Recently (well, a couple months ago) started to see more gender “equality” in scripture as I didn’t believe in female pastors. I asked around my AoG church and looked online but all the egalitarian interpretations of 1Timothy 2:12 were not convincing.
    I disagree with yours that it’s referring to a specific couple. The phrase “a woman” does not always refer to a specific woman (cf the famous Matthew 5:28 and also John 16:21 ; 1Cor 7:1 etc) so I see it as a prohibition for any woman. But it’s not a prohibition to teach doctrine in a church as is dogmatically proclaimed by the Manichean heretics who call themselves Calvinists/Reformers. I think it’s prohibiting women from teaching people to sin, because that was what was happening in Revelation 2:20 and would explain why Titus 2 says women are to teach each other to act “righteously”
    I also believe 1Timothy 2:15 “saved through childbearing” is not referring to heaven/hell soteriology, but to women being saved from deception as it says in 1Timothy 5:14-15 (Ps Steven Anderson was the one who gave this interpretation. I think he is correct on this point, though I disagree with OSAS, original sin and his denial of sinless perfection)

    As for the overseer/elder issue in 1Timothy 3/Titus 1, are you agreeing that an overseer/bishop cannot be a celibate or a polygamist?

    1Timothy 5:9 says a widow can only be enrolled if they have been a “one-man woman” so here these three words (henos-andros gynē) means “the wife of one husband”
    so, I’m curious as to what your basis is for saying that 1Timothy 3:2 – a bishop must be a “one-woman man” (mias-gynaikos andra) does not refer to “the husband of one wife” ?


    1. Hi Pk,

      I looked at the examples of “woman” verses that refer to generic women, but these verses have no grammatical correlation with 1 Timothy 2:111-12. The breadth of Matt. 5:28 is all, or everyone, who are/is looking at a woman (πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα). John 16:21 actually has “the woman” with the definite article (ἡ γυνή) with the ὅταν τίκτῃ in the subjunctive case. 1 Corinthians 7:1 comes close.

      However, it is not just the singular, anarthrous “woman” and “man” that makes me think 1 Timothy 2:11-15 refers to a specific couple. 1 Timothy 2:8 refers to specific (angry) men in the Ephesian Christian community. Paul is addressing a specific situation. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 refers to specific (rich) women in the Ephesian Christian community. Paul is again addressing a specific situation. Likewise, I believe 1 Timothy 2:11-15 refers to a specific couple (or perhaps husbands and wives) in the Ephesian Christian community.

      The real clincher here is the singular verb correctly translated in 1 Timothy 2:15 CSB “she will be saved” followed by the plural verb “they continue.” My interpretation makes perfect sense of the grammar.

      “Husband of one wife” is a perfectly adequate translation of μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, as is “one-woman man.” I acknowledge in the article that μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα “is usually translated into English as ‘the husband of one wife’” and it don’t say it is incorrect.

      Anyway, everything I know about μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα is summarised in the article. I don’t have anything to add. Did you read the footnotes?

      I suggest 1 Timothy 2:15 refers to salvation, mainly because of the phrase that follows it which always is part of a “salvation” clause in the Pastoral Epistles. I’ve written about this here. But here’s a taste:

      “The pastoral epistles (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1 (referring back to 2:15); 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8) are “punctuated by ‘faithful sayings’. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the standard phrase ‘faithful is the saying’ refers to what has gone immediately before or what follows immediately after, but what is evident, I submit, is that the formula is invariably attached to a statement about salvation. This would suggest that the phrase does not simply signal a reliable Pauline tradition, or a secure doctrine but rather heralds an assurance of the gospel.”
      Frances Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 56.

      1. Why is her salvation affected her husbands righteousness?

        Yes I did read the footnotes, I even went to Phil’s website and emailed him.
        I also read your article about hell/immortality, which I will be commenting on after this.

        Did you understand my question about the overseer?
        1Timothy 5:9 says a widow can only be enrolled if they have been a “one-man woman” so here henos-andros gynē means “wife of one husband”
        so, since 1Timothy 3:2 – uses the lexically same 3 words: a bishop must be a “one-woman man” (mias-gynaikos andra), why doesn’t this prove that the overseer must be “husband of one wife” ?

        1. Hi Pk,

          Paul does give “husband of one wife” as a moral qualification for overseers. I think I have explained my views about this phrase with reasonable clarity and how it doesn’t necessarily exclude women, as Chrysostom also states. Most overseers would have been men, and so Paul writes from this perspective. And yet some overseers were women. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/manage-household-1-timothy-34/

          A woman’s salvation is not affected by her husband’s righteousness.

          According to my suggested interpretation, it is the woman who is concerned about salvation and is at fault. It is the woman who is dominating her husband in line with her wrong views of salvation. She believes their salvation is jeopardised by procreation either for reasons of piety or because of heretical ideas.

          But Paul assures that she will be saved if she has children and he gives faith, love, holiness and modesty, or self-control (and not abstinence) as expressions of a saved life. These qualities are expressions of true Christian piety. These qualities are evidence that the woman and her husband, if they remain in them, are saved and will be saved.

          Did you read this?: https://margmowczko.com/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/

  22. I haven’t read your whole article, but after just skimming the first few sentences I feel the need to address this because it seems that many here are falling prey to something false.

    “The phrase a one-woman man is, however, an idiom and there are dangers in applying it too literally”; No there are no dangers in applying it literally, because it is literal in itself. If anything, there is a danger to not applying it as the Bible says to apply it.

    This is as the Bible says it is, the husband of one wife, meaning God has ordained men to be leaders in the Church, just like He has ordained men to be leaders at home. This is can either be an humbling experience in obedience to godly women, or it can be something that offends the pride of others. Thankfully there are still those jewels today, who hold to what the Bible says.

    “If taken literally, the one-woman man requirement would rule out unmarried, widowed and divorced men, as well as women, from being church leaders”; No, it wouldn’t rule out the unmarried and widowed. This verse is saying that if a Christian aspires to be a leader, he is desiring a noble cause. He must be the husband of one wife (IF he is married or plans to marry). This is reiterated time and again in the rest of Scriptures.

    The divorcee is already ruled out, because no one who is divorced is fit for office. For if a man can’t manage his own household, he is not expected to manage the sheep in the Church.

    The woman is already ruled out, because God has given a different role for the woman.

    It is interesting how this is equated to saying that this verse is some sort of an idiom. I guess all verses that talk about that which God wants, is an idiom, and all that don’t, is literal. This is what happens when human wisdom is sought instead of God’s wisdom through His Spirit.

    Sorry, had to comment here, because I found this website whilst looking at Bible translations, after which I saw your article against ESV. Which lead me to this one. I read your statement of faith, and it seems that you are indeed saved, for you understand repentance and faith in Christ alone, and the cross as well. But unfortunately like many scholars and learned ‘men’, you’ve embraced some incorrect interpretations of Scriptures. So it is no surprise to see this article written. God has given you knowledge sister Marg, use it for His glory. The numerous followers here are already following each other into various pits, but I hope at least you can use what you have for His glory, and not your own.

    1. Hi Neil, Thanks for your comment.

      You wrote that God has given women “a different role.” In the Bible we see women doing all kinds of things with God’s blessing.
      We see that he gifted some women to be prophets, advisors, and leaders who ministered to his people.

      Paul included women among his ministry colleagues; he used the same ministry terminology for male and female ministers he was acquainted with.

  23. Wonderful article! It got me thinking, why do some say 1 Tim 3 applies only to men, but verses such as Matt 5:28 and Deut 5:21 apply to men *and* women?

    1. Hi Jenna, I think there are three reasons why people think 1 Timothy 3:1-7 applies only to men.

      1. They can’t imagine that women were overseers of churches in the first century. (And they can’t imagine that women can be church leaders today.)
      2. The “husband of one wife” phrase.
      3. The qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-12 explicitly mentions women, but the qualifications for overseers in 3:1-7 doesn’t.

      That’s a fair point about Matthew 5:28. Jesus did say these words with men in mind, even though they can also apply to women.

      However, Matthew 5:28/Deuteronomy 5:21 and 1 Timothy 3:1ff don’t correspond very well. It seems the ancient Israelites and first-century Jews weren’t especially worried about women lusting after men, or about women initiating adulterous liaisons. Women behaving like this may have been so rare as to not be an issue. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for a woman to care for and manage a congregation that met in her home.

  24. 1 Timothy 2:12 : But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
    Kindly explain,

    How can women be quiet and also be a Pastor.

    1. It is a woman (singular) who needed to learn and was to settle down and be quiet.

      1 Timothy 2:8-15 addresses problem behaviour from certain people in the Ephesian church. These verses in 1 Timothy 2 are not Paul’s general thoughts about edifying and wholesome ministry or about church leadership.

      In Paul’s more general statements about good ministry, he does not exclude women: Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11. And he invites participation in vocal ministry from any suitably capable and gifted person: 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16.

  25. Marg: My parents attend a church who use this verse to disallow divorced men from holding a position of a deacon. Does this cover divorced people? I see this one line being used for that purpose but then I’ve also read of people not being allowed to go on mission if they were ever divorced….like you can’t share the gospel some place because you are a divorcee…..I’m thinking in an honor shame society I could wrap my head around it and certainly divorce is a controversial issue but there is another part of me [which could be just overly sympathetic] that recognizes people make mistakes, they can change and at some point moving forward in their growth, they would make good elders as the fruit is there….but because 10 years ago they got a divorce, they’d be forbidden….I think about that up against forgiveness….it’s like God is saying, yeah, you’d be a good leader, but you got divorced 10 years and I just can’t forgive that enough for you to be a deacon…..but like I said, I can be overly sympathetic.

    1. Hi Apryl, my cousin, who is a godly man and also a divorced man, never took on the role of elder because of his divorce. I believe his church has missed out because of it. (He didn’t want the divorce.) But he has ministered in many other ways, including going on missions to certain Asian countries.

      I am personally uncomfortable with the “married only once” translation in the NRSV which I believe faithfully captures the intended sense. Beginning early on in the life of the church, there was the idea that staying single or widowed was a better state for a Christian, than being married (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35). This is something that Paul addresses and critiques in 1 Corinthians 7. He knows it’s not for everyone.

      However, in his instructions in 1 Timothy about overseers, male and female deacons, and enrolled widows, Paul seems to be advocating for a strict monogamy, a fidelity even after the death of a spouse. And this seems to be how the early church understood it. We have no record of a bishop marrying after ordination, and most bishops appear to be single.

      Divorce was nowhere near as controversial in the Roman world as it is in the church today. Under Roman law, divorce was easy for men and for women. The point in 1 Tim 3:2 wasn’t whether a person was divorced or widowed; the point was that they didn’t remarry. There are several ancient Christian texts that, in one way or the other, speak against second marriages.

      I believe we should view Paul’s list of qualifications as guidelines. Do we prohibit a gifted person from being a church leader because they don’t have children, or if they don’t have their own household? I hope not.

      Paul was writing to Timothy who was caring for a specific church at a specific time in history, a church set in city with a culture that was very different to western cultures. We must listen to Paul, but not everything he says is immediately transferable to us.

      1. Thank you Marg. It’s very confusing to me so your response is helpful. I personally get confused about how much of their cultural thinking I’m supposed to say is God endorsed rather than working out what the cross meant in community [eg loving one another]. That would be saturated with cultural assumptions and the cognitive environment of the culture at that time….if it was trending to be celibate or not to remarry to me that is cultural. God permitted divorce and in some places I’ve read, Jesus didn’t usurp the most basic reasons for it….it would seem even a legit divorce and remarriage would cast someone in a non-elder light….I would find it hard to believe that at least for women, it would be difficult for a woman not to remarry unless she was well to do because of the structure of the society. Additionally, I think if Augustus’ marriage laws were still in effect, many would have to remarry and therefore flout the law in favor of this church thing. But, I’m only just learning this stuff and was deeply bothered by how some past situation would still be used against someone in a church setting – it’s not redemptive, it’s not restorative, it’s not forgiving….does God treat me that way for a mistake I made whatever it was? I forgive you – but you can never do this “job” again? I just can’t reconcile that very well if someone remarried divorcee or widow but blasts the rest of them out of the water in spiritual fruit and incarnational living….my concern is largely the image of Christ in one’s life I guess….not someone’s marital status in eldership.

  26. While I agree that divorce should not be the “unpardonable sin”, I understand some denominations saying it disqualifies someone for leadership, even knowing that they may miss out on some well qualified individuals. The way I’ve had it explained to me is two-fold. First, by having a strict ‘one marriage only and ever’ rule, it forces people to take their marriage vows seriously. Second, it also forces congregations to take marriage seriously, and not to trivialise it in the case of someone who is popular.

    I’ve seen outcomes of both. Someone who got divorced and remarried, although disqualified for pastor, elder or deacon, was happy to humbly serve as a small group study leader. In another case, a very charismatic, popular fellow left the denomination, started his own numerically successful church, and then went on to divorce and remarry two more times.

    So the interpretation of one spouse only and ever seems to be more an acknowledgement of human frailty that may lead to abuse when allowing a ‘case by case’ determination. It may not be correct, but I do understand the reasoning.

    1. There is definitely an idea of self-control and “steadiness” behind the idea of “husband of one wife”

  27. In the phrase “husband of one wife,” the Greek word for “husband” undeniably refers to an adult male or a husband, and the word for wife absolutely denotes a female. If, according to certain scholars, words in Scripture do not really mean what they actually say, then why even read such an unreliable book? That is the effect that pundits with agendas are having on some average Christians who are trying to subordinate their preferred opinions to what the word of God says.

    1. No one is denying the meanings of the actual words. However, scholars also acknowledge that certain phrases were used in certain ways in the ancient world.

      The Greek word μονόγαμος (“monogamous person”) was not yet a commonly used word when Paul wrote to Timothy. (See my comment to Dana above.) So “husband of one wife” and “wife of one husband” were the ways this concept was expressed in Greek. There was not a gender-inclusive way of rendering this. Furthermore, women are often included in Greek words and phrases that in English appear to exclude them.

      For example, several speeches in the book of Acts are addressed to “men, brothers” (Acts 1:16: 2:29, 37; 7:26), “men, Galileans” (Acts 1:11), “men, Jews” (2:14), “men, Israelites” (Acts 2:22; 3:12), “men, Athenians” (Acts 17:22), etc. The Greek word for “men” in all these verses is andres.) Gynaikes (“women”) are never mentioned in these opening statements. But this doesn’t mean no women were present or that the speeches didn’t apply to them.

      In many cases, there would have been more men than women in the audiences, especially for speeches that were given in public spaces, such as the temple courts in Jerusalem during Pentecost and the Athenian agora. But women were there and the speeches applied to them as much as the men.

      “Men, brothers,” etc, was a formal way of addressing an audience in the first century. Today we would say “Ladies and Gentlemen.” And many English Bible translations do not use the words “men, brothers” or “men, Israelites” when translating these verses. The CSB, for example, uses the word “brothers and sisters” in Acts 1:16 and “fellow Israelites” in Acts 2:22.

      “Men, brothers” is a figure of speech, as is “one-woman man.” Neither expression explicitly rules out women being included as the subject. But this doesn’t change the meaning of the words andres (“men”) and gynaikes (“women”).

      There would have been fewer women than men in most first-century public settings. Similarly, most episkopoi would have men. But nothing in 1 Timothy 3 positively rules out women (or unmarried or childless men) being episkopoi.

      Also BDAG, which I quote from in a footnote, is without doubt the most respected lexicon of the Greek of the New Testament and early Christian writings. My observations on how “one-woman man” is used, however, is not primarily based on English books written by modern scholars; it’s based on how ancient authors used this and similar expressions, and the significance they attached to it.

      1. Thank you, Marg. So, we average Christians cannot understand the Bible on our own. We risk going astray by just reading and studying it ourselves. We need scholars and religious professionals to interpret it for us and tell us what it really means. Just like before the Reformation.

        1. The Bible is an ancient collection of writings, written in ancient languages. Though the message is timeless, it relates ancient stories and concepts that are set within various ancient and foreign cultures.

          John, Do you read an English translation of the Bible? If so, you are already relying on the work of scholars who have interpreted and translated the Bible from its original languages.

          There’s a reason why church leaders go to Bible college or seminary, and why they are the ones who usually teach congregations.

          I’ve been reading the Bible daily since I was 10 years old, and I’ve loved it from day one! I understood it up to a point, but I understand the New Testament much, much better now that I have been studying Greek and the historical and cultural (or social) setting of the New Testament for over a decade. (There are many things in the Hebrew Bible, however, that I do not have a good handle on.)

          Also, the Reformation was spearheaded by religious professionals and their interpretation of scripture. One of the goals of the reformers was that people would have access to hearing the Bible read in their own languages. They did not expect, however, that just because we now had German and French and English translations, etc, that suddenly everyone would understand the Bible perfectly.

          Here’s what some early reformers stated:

          All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
          Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7 (1647)

          More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/the-bible-and-plain-sense-reading/

  28. This is some of the most ridiculous translation work we’ve ever seen. ‘Husband on one woman’ is in no way and “idiom”. This is absurdity of the highest level. Titus was told to look for Presbutero… male leaders also. The idea that every single Greek noun in the NT that is male includes females is also rubbish. It is clear there are times in the NT that Paul is speaking particularly of males. He even further explains his own intent by saying, “every woman should learn in submission” and “I suffer not a woman to teach”. Every bishop and leader in the first 1900 years of the church is a male. There is absolutely no confusion about this. The spirit of this age constantly tries to overthrow the word of God. Tell us, how does Paul want a wife to “submit” to her husband? The greek word entirely means to “subordinate oneself to”. It’s the same word when talking of our submission to the Lordship of Christ.

    1. dt, Just saying something is rubbish, doesn’t make it so. And nowhere do I say (or think) that every single masculine noun in the Greek New Testament includes females. That is ridiculous.

      Neither Timothy or Titus were told by Paul to look for male leaders. That idea may be in your head but it is not in the words that Paul wrote in his letters. Ephesus, where Timothy was when he received Paul’s letters, had at least one female leader.

      In 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul tells Timothy a woman (not every woman) should learn in submission. In this passage, Paul addresses poor behaviour from women and from men. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/1-timothy-212-in-a-nutshell/

      In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul silences three groups of unruly and unedifying speakers, including wives with questions that could keep for home. He doesn’t just silence women, he also silences men. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-1434-35-in-a-nutshell/

      Paul does tell wives to submit themselves to their own husbands, but what he tells husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33 rules out the idea of subordination. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/ephesians-522-33-in-a-nutshell/

      Shame on you for choosing to emphasise just the verses that silence women who were being unruly and applying them to every woman for all time, and not doing the same with the verses about men.

      In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul encourages orderly and edifying behaviour without specifying gender. In all of Paul’s general teaching about ministry, he doesn’t specify gender: Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, or Ephesians 4:11 (cf. Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/ministry-gifts-grace-faith-gender/

      It’s true that after the first century, churches were almost exclusively led by men. And how did that turn out? Church history is full of accounts of systemic corruption, abuse, violence, racism, and misogyny. Church history is NOT our model for leadership. More on this here.

      The apostle Paul welcomed and valued the ministry of capable, godly women. Shame on you for wanting to stop women from using their God-given gift to serve the church.

  29. If Paul addressed the male deacons and female deacons as separate groups, why do you think he didn’t do the same for elders? I’ve come a long way in my egalitarian journey (thank you for your knowledge in helping me along the way!) but there are still some things I get caught up in. 🙁

    1. Hello Shannon. I don’t think the male and female deacons are addressed as totally separate groups. However, in answer to your question about “elders” (though Paul doesn’t use the word “elders” in 1 Tim 3): why? because most episkopoi (overseers) in Ephesus by far were men, whereas female diakonoi (ministers, deacons) were more common.

      As I say in the article,
      Undoubtedly, most church leaders in New Testament times were male, and the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1ff assumes an episkopos is male, and married (or widowed), and has children, and has his own household to manage and care for. In fact, episkopoi in the early years of the church (circa 40–80) were probably relatively wealthy householders who hosted, managed, and cared for congregations (Christian communities) that met in their own homes for all kinds of meetings and activities.

      It was not necessary that an episkopos be a man, and be married or widowed, and have children. But he or she did need to have their own home that was large enough to be used by a congregation as a base. And Paul wants these people to have exemplary morals and be respectable according to the standards of broader society.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you and your knowledge!

        “I don’t think the male and female deacons are addressed as totally separate groups.”…Last night as I was pondering this more I realized this as well. Sometimes I get hung up on something that ends up being so obvious! But I truly appreciate your reply!

  30. Hi Marg, I have been looking up the 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1 overseer qualifications passages in the Greek. I see that most all of the English male pronouns do not have to be exclusively male according to the Greek. However, there is one word that seems to be a male pronoun found in 1 Tim. 3:7. “Moreover he [αὐτὸν] must…” It is the accusative singular masculine inflection of αὐτός. I see it’s translated pretty much always as “him” and occasionally “it”. I just don’t know enough about Greek to say for sure if it is ever translated as “her”. Would you be able to explain this to me? Thank you very much. God bless.

    1. I’m using Blue Letter Bible and I see that when I switch the Bible translation to CSB or NIV, that word does not appear in the Greek (in case you cannot find it in whatever Bible you use).

    2. Hi Rachel, did you see footnote 2?

      There are no Greek personal pronouns in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 except for in the Textus Receptus. There are quite a few verses in the Textus Receptus where scribes added words to make the sentences easier to understand, and they added auton here to make the sentence flow better.

      The KJV relied on the Textus Receptus. The CSB and NIV rely on other, older Greek manuscripts (as well as critical editions) that do not contain auton in 1 Tim. 3:7.

      Scribes of the Textus Receptus also added words to Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Peter 5:5, for example, to make these verses easier to understand. And this is reflected in the KJV and NKJV translations. https://margmowczko.com/mutual-submission-ephesians-5_21-1-peter-5_5/

      As you say, auton is a singular masculine personal pronoun in the accusative case. Depending on who or what auton refers to, it might be translated into English as “him” or “it.” It would not normally be translated as “her” but someone might choose to translate it as “him and/or her”, or “he and/or she” for verses that are obviously gender inclusive.

      In some verses in some English Bible translations, the singular auton is translated as the plural “them” which is gender-inclusive. They do this to avoid making the verse sound like it only refers to men and because one word (“them”) is quicker and easier to read, and captures the sense better, than “him and/or her.”

      Translation is all about conveying the meaning of the source text into a different language. We can’t always carry over, or hint at, the grammar of the source text in the new translated text.

      The masculine grammatical gender, not the neuter or feminine which are the only other two grammatical genders in Greek, is sometimes used in the context of only men and sometimes used in the contest of people (male and female) generally.

      1. Thank you so much for the reply. I’m so grateful for your work, it’s truly amazing. This clears things up a bit for me. There is so much to learn!

        I should have read the entire post before commenting. I read footnote 2 and that helps. Thanks again. God bless.

  31. […] Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Timothy 3) […]

  32. […] More on the qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 here.[9] […]

  33. […] John Chrysostom weighed in on the debate about whether the women in 1 Timothy 3:11 were deacons or not. In his Homily 11 on 1 Timothy, he wrote: “Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of deaconesses.”[7] In response to 1 Timothy 3:12 (including the idiomatic phrase “a one-woman man”) he added “This must be understood therefore to relate to deaconesses. For that order is necessary and useful and honourable in the Church …”[8]

    Clement of Alexandria also believed that 1 Timothy 3:11 referred to women deacons. He wrote, “We also know the directions ‘about women deacons’ (peri diakonōn gunaikōn) which are given by the noble Paul in his second letter to Timothy.” Stromata 3.6.53. (Clement was referring to 1 Timothy 3:11 but mistakenly mentions second Timothy.) […]

  34. In Andrew Bartlett’s book “Men and Women in Christ” he talks about the difference between the passage describing elder requirements (1 Tim 3:1-7) and the passage talking about deacon requirements (1 Tim 3:8-13), in trying to prove that verse 11 is indeed referring to female deacons as opposed to wives of deacons, or women in general. He states “Unlike in the passage about elders, these three verses contain no verbal or contextual indications that he is thinking of women as well as men. Before he goes too far, he needs to give a positive indication that, as in the case of elders, women are as eligible as men…..Having made clear that he means women as much as men…he can go on to complete the list of qualifications.”

    I’m struggling a little in differentiating between these two passages since they are back to back. Why would Paul present the two passages in different ways? Grammatically, is the Greek different between the passages that would require Paul to positively state something to indicate that he’s also thinking of women? These questions may not be answerable, but if you have any thoughts that might help me, that would be wonderful to hear.

    My go-to answer on “one woman man” (in my own mind) is that, since it is a requirement of deacons in verse 12, and we know Phoebe was a deacon, then it clearly doesn’t exclude women. Do you agree that this answer is the most concrete proof we have of what Paul means (or doesn’t mean) by the idiom?

    1. I don’t have time to look at what Andrew Bartlett says right now, but for me the word hōsautōs (“likewise, in the same way”) is key in showing that the women are diakonoi (“ministry providers, deacons”) in 1 Timothy 3:11, just like the men in 1 Timothy 3:8-10.

      The idiom “husband(s) of one wife” didn’t have a gender-inclusive version, but the proof I prefer is how the early church understood and applied it.

  35. I believe I asked this somewhere else but I have no idea where, so I’ll ask it again. As I read thru 1 Tim, I see he’s pulling privileges away from a certain woman or women until she/they learn in all submission (to the teaching). It seems like he then softens his stance a little in 2:15 with an encouraging few words. THEN, comes verse 3:1. I am wondering if verse 3:1 in the Greek, should actually be verse 2:16. YLT translates the noun that is being desired as “oversight” rather than “office of the overseer”. Is it possible he is saying about the verse 11-12 woman, (my paraphrase)…If that person desires OVERSIGHT (from an overseer), then that is a good thing. THEN he starts Chapter 3 with…An overseer, then, must be…

    I don’t think people really think about Chapter 3 in terms of the false teaching situation, do they? It seems people just think there is some kind of church manual stuck in the middle of a letter about false teaching. Do you think Chapter 3 is still addressing the false teaching?

    So I guess those are my two questions. Can 3:1 be “oversight” instead of “office of the overseer” and therefore be referring back to the women in Chapter 2 desiring oversight while they learn? Also, do people equate Chapter 3 qualifications in light of the overall book being about false teaching in Ephesus? Have you written about that? I hadn’t honestly ever really thought about it til now.

    1. Hi Jill, I think the chapter division should come after “This is a trustworthy/ reliable saying” (1 Timothy 3:1a). I explain this in a footnote, with a quotation from Frances Young, here:

      The noun episkopēs most likely means “overseer-ship” in 1 Timothy 3:1b and is connected with what follows. I don’t think 3:1b means “if anyone aspires to/ desires being the object of someone’s oversight, they desire ‘a good deed’ (i.e. a benefaction).” If Paul was still talking about a woman in 3:1b, I think he would have kept using the word “woman” and not “anyone.”

      Having said that, I also don’t think church overseers held an “office” as such until quite late in the first century. Some scholars believe the first overseers were the hosts of house churches.

      Another quick point, this is how I understand 1 Timothy 2:11: “A woman should learn quietly with complete self-control (en pasē hypotagē).” The woman is not being told to submit to somebody or something.
      See Bill Mounce’s comment in a postscript here:

      The moral qualifications for overseers and deacons in chapter 3 and for enrolled widows on chapter 5 are indirectly related to false teaching. Paul wanted respectable and proven people to be recognised as ministers, not morally suspect people or newbies.

      1. Thank you, Marg. This is very helpful.

        1. No worries, Jill.

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