Female Pastors Aren’t the “Husband of One Wife.” So…?

Female Pastors Aren’t the “Husband of One Wife.” So…? August 24, 2023

If the SBC excludes women from ministry, it will need to expel everyone! 1 Timothy 3 presents an impossible standard.

Rev. Johnson joins our illustrious history as the first full-time female Ordained Elder in Full Connection in our history.
Our Pastor, Rev. Rezolia Johnson
by RevJohnsonUMC. Image from Wikimedia Commons. This image was cropped.


SBC Expels Churches with Female Pastors

Based on their fundamentalist interpretation of 1 Timothy 3, the Southern Baptist Convention has been expelling churches with female pastors and denying women ordination. These verses say that a bishop and a deacon must be the “husband of one wife.” If we are going to be faithful to the literal interpretation of the SBC, we must add more strictures and lock it down even more. (Click to read my satirical, “A Letter to the SBC, Regarding Female Pastors.) For a bit more sarcasm, here’s what the Bible clearly says about clerical requirements…


Husband of One Wife

The SBC claims that “husband of one wife” means that an overseer or deacon must be male. Truthfully, the Greek says he must be a “one-woman man.” It doesn’t use the words “husband” and “wife” at all. The phrase “one-woman man” leaves a lot to interpretation. Most translations stick with the traditional “husband of one wife.” The NRSVUE and NAB render it as “married only once.” The CEV says, “faithful in marriage,” while the NIV and NLT give us “faithful to his wife.”

 The Greek word used here is andra/aner/andros, which does, in fact, mean a male person. This is different from anthropos, which can mean either man or human or humankind. From this distinction, conservative interpreters correctly assume that when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, he had male marriage partners in mind. So, for this reason, it is generally translated as “husband of one wife.” Yet, if we’re going to make the maleness of pastors a standard for all cultures and all generations, then I’m afraid we must be even more strict than that.


22 Essential Traits

If we are going to make 1 Timothy 3 a litmus test for who can serve and who can’t, then we’d better point out all the essential character traits for clergy. The NKJV gives at least twenty-two qualities. Between the qualifications for an overseer and deacon, there is a lot of overlap. It says church leaders must be…

  1. Blameless
  2. Husband of one wife
  3. Temperate
  4. Sober-minded
  5. Of good behavior
  6. Hospitable
  7. Able to teach
  8. Not given to wine
  9. Not violent
  10. Not greedy for money
  11. Gentle
  12. Not quarrelsome
  13. Not covetous
  14. One who rules his house well
  15. Having his children in submission with all reverence
  16. Not a novice
  17. Not puffed up with pride
  18. Have a good testimony among those who are outside
  19. [One who doesn’t] fall into reproach and the snare of the devil
  20. Not double-tongued
  21. Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience
  22. Their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.


An Impossible Standard

While it’s arguable that many of these characteristics are important, the sum of them represents an impossible standard. I mean—who can be blameless? Yet, these qualities are often repeated at ordination ceremonies, as if the candidates could or should aspire to all these things. Yet, nobody—literally nobody—can live up to it. I mean, publicly, maybe—but not in private life. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to let most of these character expectations go without comment. But I must remark on a few more of them—besides “husband of one wife” requiring that an ordination candidate be male.


Not a Novice

The requirements clearly stipulate that the bishop or overseer cannot be a novice. I entered the ministry young. I was a youth pastor at twenty, entered seminary at twenty-one, and was leading my first congregation at twenty-two. There isn’t any verse that stipulates how old you must be to serve as a bishop or overseer, but I’m sure this would have disqualified me. In fact, it might disqualify lots of younger leaders. The Bible clearly says no newbies. Yet, it does beg the question, how can you get hired if you don’t have experience; and how are you going to get experience if you can’t get hired? Regardless, if we’re going to require that all ministers be male, we should also disqualify the young ones and insist that pastors have some gray hair.


The Husband of One Wife Must Be Married

If we are going to take pastoral maleness literally, then church leaders cannot be single/celibate men either. A pastor must either be currently married or widowed. Some, of course, allow for remarriage. They point out that a person could be the husband of one wife at a time. In other words, these verses would prohibit polygamous pastors. In any case, marriage at some point must be a requirement. Are we prepared to prohibit all unmarried men from being pastors? A literal interpretation of scripture would require this.


He Must Have Children

If we’re going to take this at face value, then not only should we restrict the ordained ministry to married men—but only those with children are qualified to serve.  Besides that, they must be well-behaved, submissive, and reverent. If we’re sticklers, here’s what this really means:

  • The clergyman must have multiple children—because the Greek scripture uses the plural.
  • They must be older than infants because they must be capable of good behavior, submission, and reverence.
  • They must never misbehave, talk back, be rude, run around the sanctuary, disobey, doubt, or disbelieve. If they do, then their daddy is disqualified from ministry.
  • They must be younger than adults. Nobody expects adult children to be obedient to their parents—they are their own people. So, it’s clear that for clergy to fit this description, their kids can’t be grown. Once a minister’s kids grow up, the pastor no longer qualifies for ministry. This view tends to permit younger pastors whose children are still in the home, yet disqualifies empty nester ministers.
  • Alternatively, if we apply Paul’s understanding of adolescence and adulthood in Greco-Roman culture, this may require adult children to be obedient to their father until their father’s death—regardless of whether they’ve moved out on their own. This view permits empty-nester pastors, yet increases their chances of disqualification due to the behavior of their grown children.

So, if we’re going to insist that “husband of one wife” means that the church leader must be male, then we must insist that they are also the parent of multiple children. These must be between the ages of three and adulthood (or potentially with no end date). They must also be obedient, submissive, and reverent.


Good Testimony Among Outsiders

Finally—a qualification that many ministers aspire to—a good reputation among outsiders! This means having the world like you. Having influence in matters of politics, society, and the media … now this is something that conservative Evangelicals strive to achieve! In fact, some churches make this a priority above all else.


Not Double-Tongued

But as soon as we get cozy with the idea of popularity, the next quality cancels out the first one. “Not double-tongued.” It seems the more Evangelicals put themselves in public view, the more the world realizes how double-tongued they can be. They say they care about women yet blame victims of sexual assault and disqualify women from ministry. If we’re going to oust all female pastors, the least we could do is to make sure the rest of the denomination’s male leaders quit speaking with forked tongues.


Not Slanderers

The final characteristic is that church leaders should not be slanderers. Yet, this is precisely what they are doing when they disqualify women from ministry. They claim that women are of equal value before God and yet incapable of ministry. (Mostly, because they are the source of all the sin in the world.) If the Southern Baptist Convention is going to disqualify good ministers because they happen to be female, I suggest they take a good look at themselves, and how their policies slander the character of women.


If Women Must Go, So Must All Men

Sure, the Bible says a church leader should be the “husband of one wife.” But what the Bible clearly says is that nobody is really qualified for ministry. It’s an impossible standard. So, if women must go, so must all men. If the SBC is going to eliminate female clergy, I suggest they go all the way and emasculate the denomination as well. Kick out all churches with male pastors, too. Because it’ll be challenging to find a man who meets such narrow qualifications as you’ll find in 1 Timothy 3. Good luck with that, SBC!


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