The Bible in two places give a qualification for elders (pastors) that they should be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). Does this qualification mean that a pastor must be married? I think this qualification should not be read in a way to keep the unmarried from becoming elders, but it should be read to keep the man who isn’t faithful to his wife, who has multiple wives, and other situations1, from being an elder. Here are four reasons why this qualification does not keep unmarried men from being elders:
1.) Jesus Himself would not meet this qualification if it meant that an elder must be married. Jesus is called our Shepherd in 1 Peter 2:25 and the word “shepherd” here can also be translated “pastor” in Greek. Of course Jesus is in heaven with His Father, but to say that an elder must be married would mean we believe that while Jesus was on earth He did not meet the qualifications for being an elder. I most certainly do not want to say that.
2.) Paul would not meet this qualification. The Apostle Paul was not married when he wrote 1 Corinthians. In chapter 7 verse 8 he says, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” Paul is never technically called a pastor in the New Testament from what I know, but who would want to say that the apostle was not qualified to be an elder?
3.) The Bible speaks favorably of being single. Again in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul says, “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife…But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (27, 32-33). It is not wrong to be married, but the single life can be better. If the qualification for an elder to be the husband of one wife means he must be married, it would seem to go against 1 Corinthians 7.
4.) If we believe that an elder must be married, then that might lead us to believe that every time an elder’s wife dies, he would then be disqualified from being an elder. Most would not think this way, but when we view the qualification of being a husband of one wife as meaning that every pastor must be married, the logic would lead us there.
In short, when the Bible says that elders should be the husbands of one wife, we should not think that it is keeping unmarried men from being pastors, but that it is keeping those who have not been faithful to their wives from being pastors.
1 My purpose is not to try to show all the things that this qualification means, but only that it does not mean a man must be married.