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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 were written only about men and apply only to men. They believe the implication in these passages is that only men can be church leaders. All of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9, however, can be readily applied to both men and women.
Note that the masculine personal pronouns that appear in many English translations of these passages—and the word “man” that appears in many English translations of verses 1 Timothy 3:1 and Titus 1:6a (including the NASB 95 used in the highlighted texts in this post)—are entirely absent in the Greek. (See endnote 6 for more on this.)
Monogamy and Fidelity in Marriage
One phrase that does not seem to apply to women is where it says that a church leader should be, literally, a one-woman man (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6; cf. 1 Tim. 3:12). This is usually translated into English as “the husband of one wife”. The phrase a one-woman man is, however, an idiom and there are dangers in applying it too literally. 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.
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. According to Roman law, however, bigamy (and therefore polygamy) was illegal, and it was uncommon in the Empire. So Paul is not addressing polygamy here.
The real intent of this phrase is marital faithfulness in a church leader who is already married. Philip B. Payne writes, “The closest English equivalent to one-woman man is ‘monogamous’, and it applies to both men and women.” Even some notable hierarchical complementarians (Christians who are against women in certain leadership roles) acknowledge that the phrase a one-woman man does not exclude women, and it cannot legitimately be used to argue that women cannot be church leaders. [See endnote 5] This is because the phrase is essentially describing the moral quality of marital fidelity and is not primarily referring to marital status or gender.
The use of a one-woman man in the 1 Timothy passage about diakonoi (“deacons”) shows that it may be applied generically to both men and women ministers. (1 Timothy 3:8-10 is about men diakonoi; 1 Timothy 3:11 is about women diakonoi; and 1 Timothy 3:12-13 is about both men and women diakonoi.) Chrysostom wrote that the phrase a 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.)
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. (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). 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 (Strong’s number 3616). (More about this word and a related word in Titus 2:5 here.)
The King James Version literally 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 did not have the day-to-day domestic management of the household in mind when he wrote 1 Timothy 3:4-5. 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, particularly 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.
Gender Bias and Gender Inclusiveness
Undoubtedly, most church leaders in early church times were male, and the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1ff assumes an episkopos is male, and married, 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 house churches that met in their own homes.
Most householders in the Greco-Roman world were male, but not all. Some householders 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), which gives the impression of being gender inclusive, because it frequently translates adelphoi into “brothers and sisters”, has taken the bold step of inserting the statement “So an elder 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 of the NLT have inserted this statement to put across their biased opinion that a church leader must be a man. They have tried to pass off their opinion as being “the Word of God”. Had Paul wanted to say, “an elder (or overseer/supervisor) must be a man” he would have done so.
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.
 From the second century onwards, many church leaders were commonly called by the adjective presbuteroi (elders or presbyters) or the noun episkopos. Episkopos is translated as “bishop” in some Bible versions, but “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.
 Even if there were masculine personal pronouns in 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.
 The phrase one-woman man (or one-man woman) is an idiom inscribed on numerous ancient gravestones celebrating the virtue of a husband (or wife) who had not remarried. By noting that he (or she) was married only once, it suggests the virtue of extraordinary fidelity. See 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 ins 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. (The Latin equivalent of one-man woman is uni-vira.) 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.
Being married only once was considered virtuous in broader Greco-Roman society—and this was in an age when people, including spouses, died a lot more often and a lot 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.
 Marital fidelity is only required 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 by the fifth century, celibacy was compulsory for Roman Catholic church leaders. This unbiblical decree has caused no end of problems to the Roman Catholic church which still insists upon it. Interestingly, if the requirement a one-woman man was taken literally, it would prohibit Roman Catholic priests and other unmarried men from being church leaders. More on 1 Timothy 3:4a here.
 Philip B. 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.
Taken from Does “One-Woman Man” in 1 Timothy 3:2 Require that all Overseers be Male?
 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 masculine pronoun 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. However, as pointed out in endnote 2, even if masculine pronouns were used in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9, this still wouldn’t exclude women. 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.)
 The Greek participle translated as “manage” 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.
 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 towards the end of this article and here.)
 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 Callistus of Rome).
 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 episkopoi. Nympha, 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.)
 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 simply 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 believers. 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 stops short of allowing women to be church leaders (supervisors and elders). (More on gender bias in the NLT here.)
 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.)
 “. . . 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).” A literal English translation of 1 Timothy 3:1b with the grammatical gender of the Greek words shown in brackets.
© 5th of August 2010, revised 4th of November 2010, Margaret Mowczko
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. (Arise archives)
“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?
New Testament Women Church Leaders
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Various articles on Paul and Women