“Husband of One Wife”: Paul’s gender inclusiveness in 1 Timothy 3

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The phrase “husband of one wife” is one we find in 1 Timothy 3 with regard to the offices of Pastor and Deacons, which seems to some to indicate that these offices are dominated by men. There are denominational churches that are strongly committed to men being in leadership, so much so that “deaconesses” don’t actually serve in an office – they’re simply the wives of deacons. They base this practice upon an interpretation of 1 Timothy 3.

I attended a Southern Baptist seminary (though I’m not Southern Baptist) that believed the phrase was male-specific. I say this to say that some believers are guilty of a surface reading of the text. They aren’t trained in hermeneutics and proper biblical interpretation, and while a surface reading may work in some cases and biblical discussions, it doesn’t work in all. The Bible consists of a few genres: narrative, poetry, epistles (letters), songs (Psalms, for example), Wisdom Literature, and so on, and this vastness of biblical literature mandates we approach these genres according to the rules of that genre. While we can read the passage at face value, context requires that we analyze the content we read – not merely recite what the text says. Anyone can quote the text, but not everyone understands the text.

This is why some of the Psalms end with “Selah,” but Paul’s letters do not. The Psalms are there to praise God, while Paul’s letters praise God but are meant to encourage, exhort, warn, admonish, and instruct. Paul always praises God, but his primary aim in a number of letters is to instruct believers in how to live godly: do this, don’t do that.

In the case of this phrase in 1 Timothy 3, we find ourselves in the midst of requirements for these church offices. I don’t intend to discuss whether or not “husband of one wife” refers to “being married only once,” “being a devoted spouse,” and so on (though a study of this phrase is coming; stay tuned!), but whether or not this phrase excludes women from serving in the leading church offices of Pastor and Deacons. Does “husband of one wife” exclude women? No it doesn’t.

Let’s get to the context of 1 Timothy 3.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 and the Office of Pastor

1 Timothy 3:1-7 is all about Pastor, those who desire to be Pastors in the church. The New King James Version (NKJV) says “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” The word for “a man” here is the Greek word tis, meaning “someone” or “anyone.” If you’ve read the word “man” here to mean “male,” it’s because the language at face value seems to suggest that. When one looks at Greek, the original language in which the New Testament was written, “a man” is clarified to refer to “someone,” not “male.”

If anyone desires to be Pastor, he or she desires a good work. The “he” at the end of 1 Timothy 3:1, like “a man,” is 3rd-person singular, referring to “he or she,” not strictly “he” (masculine). Thus, if a woman desires to be Pastor, she too, like the man, “desires a good work.” It’s not bad for a woman to desire the office, because Scripture has told us that it is a good work she desires to do. When complementarians claim that it is bad for a woman to desire to Pastor, I lift up 1 Timothy 3:1 against them. God says their desire is good; complementarians say a woman’s desire to Pastor is bad. Who’s right: The Word of God or complementarians?

In 1 Timothy 3:2, when we arrive at the requirements for the office of Pastor, we read “husband of one wife.” I’ve heard it said that some complementarians believe that this phrase, “husband of one wife,” limits the office of Pastor to men: women are included in verse 1, but “husband of one wife” in verse 2 excludes them. This is a silly reading of the text because it presumes that the Lord plays a game of “sike” with women: “You thought I included you? Nope – I was just kidding in verse 1; see verse 2.” We know that God doesn’t play mind games with believers in His Word, so this interpretation just pays lip service to the idea of women serving instead of incorporating the gender inclusiveness of the Greek word tis into the discussion.

So when we read “husband of one wife,” this phrase is gender inclusive rather than gender exclusive because the masculine language is often used to incorporate women in Scripture. Let’s look at such a case:

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

The word for “man” here in Genesis 1:26 is anthropos. If one assumes this word is singular and not collective and gender inclusive, then one must bear the burden of explaining why the word “them” is discussed in the same verse when it comes to dominion and rule over the earth. Apparently, “mankind,” a common translation of anthropos, is collective to refer to male and female human beings, not just men. Here’s an early example of how the masculine (anthropos) is used to include women (“them”). The same idea is behind Genesis 1:27, where it says in the image of God He created “him,” the word “him” being singular (Greek autous), but then turning into “male and female created He them.” He created “him” male and female, He created Adam, a name that refers to “mankind” or “humanity” in Hebrew, in two genders: male and female. The singular masculine is used to refer collectively to both male and female genders.

In Genesis 5, we see the same connection between the masculine noun being collective, not singular or male-specific, in nature:

This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. (Genesis 5:1-2)

Here we see Adam was made, then “He created them male and female,” with man becoming collective and plural in nature. Collectively, male and female were called “Mankind,” the Greek word “Adam.”

Here’s the Greek text for the phrase “he blessed them and called them Mankind”:

καὶ ἐπωνόμασεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῶν Αδαμ (Greek)

The word αὐτῶν means “them.” Notice that God named “them” Adam. Genesis 5:2 says that the collective male and female are called “Adam,” the name given to the first man (singular). Women are included in “Adam,” and this makes sense because of not only the fact that woman came from man (Adam says “I will call her Woman because she was taken out of man), but also how the remainder of Scripture refers to male and female believers: “brethren.” We all know that “brethren” does not exclude women. We live in a politically-correct world today where some women want to be called “sisters,” but the brotherhood in Christ included women – from the first page of Scripture to the last page of Scripture.

There is an even stronger connection between the masculine singular and gender inclusivity in 1 Timothy 3 itself, though this connection regarding the office of Pastor means that women are not prohibited from serving as Pastor if God calls them. The Holy Spirit gives the gifts as He pleases (1 Corinthians 12:11), meaning that no woman is barred from any spiritual gift or office because of her gender. To suggest that she is barred because of her gender is to import a meaning not found in the text; it’s overstanding the text, standing over the text and telling the text what to say, instead of understanding the text – standing under the text and letting God’s Word preach to us.

1 Timothy 3:8-13 and the Office of Deacon

Women aren’t barred from pastoral leadership, but some would say, “what about the office of deacon?” I am seeing women be called to the Office of Deacon in local churches here in my area, and there are whispers and discussions about how it isn’t right for women to be called “Deacons as if they’re men,” I’ve heard. “Women should be called deaconesses,” it’s been said in some conversations I’ve overheard.

The problem with this, however, is that Scripture doesn’t distinguish the labels of men and women in the Office of Deacon; rather, “Deacon” means “servant” and is used for both men and women without distinction. Let’s examine 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

The Office of Deacon was originally only for men. When the Apostles in the early church established the Office of Deacon, they only included men. It was a men’s club of sorts:

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1-4)

The word for “men” here is the masculine-specific word andras, which refers to males. The original diaconate was restricted to males only. No women were chosen in Acts 6. So it seems interesting and a move of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of Paul when he writes in 1 Timothy 3:11 about requirements for women. This wasn’t part of the original office as it was established in Acts 6. Some would think that Paul was being unbiblical here, but he wasn’t: he was simply yielding to the work of the Spirit upon even women, who were on equal terms in the Lord with men. Paul gives requirements for women meaning that women are also allowed by God to serve in the diaconate – as much as men.

Paul gives requirements for women in 1 Timothy 3:11 but then says “let deacons be the husbands of one wife” in verse 12. Since women are included, the statement is masculine yet gender-inclusive, not gender-exclusive or male-exclusive. Paul wouldn’t leave requirements for women deacons in 1 Timothy 3:11 but then dismiss them with the masculine language of 1 Timothy 3:12. So, women reading “husbands of one wife” have no need to feel as if they’re abandoned in verse 12.


We’ve covered the masculine language being used being gender-inclusive here in 1 Timothy 3. Paul adds requirements for Women Deacons because 1) the original diaconate was male-specific and male-exclusive and 2) because of Paul’s belief that women were just as qualified as men in church leadership. When Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, he believed that “there was neither male nor female” when it comes to distinctions in church leadership.

The only distinctions in church leadership are those made by God according to spiritual gifts – and the Spirit gives gifts not according to gender but “as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). If God gifts a woman with the gift of Pastor, then He has called her to the Office of Pastor – no exceptions. If He’s gifted women to be of help in the body of Christ and to love helping others, then women are called to the Office of Deacon – no exceptions.

For more on women in ministry, check our our Doctrine Sunday teaching on 1 Timothy 1-3 as well as our Bible Study teaching on 1 Corinthians 11 and the issue of women wearing head coverings. After that, mark October 29th as a special day on your calendar to listen in on our Harvest Sunday 2017 service.