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Should Elders and Deacons be Married?

Someone has inquired further in connection with a previous article.  He writes: "Would it be possible to have your comments, following the above article ("Should Women Be Priests,"), on the qualifications of elders and deacons (I Tim. 3:2, 12).  Some denominations, while excluding women from holding office appear to have no difficulty in the selection of unmarried men.  This is unscriptural, as a man who, for whatever reason, does not take a wife and produce children, is not obeying God's law (the only exception in Jewish law is for further study of the law.  It follows from the OT into I Tim. 3 that only married or widowed men with families should hold office in the church."

Our correspondent focuses on something to which very little attention is paid today  In most churches, the matter of the qualification set out in Scripture for elders and deacons.  When elders and deacons are chosen, all too often men who are not qualified are put into these offices to the detriment of Christ's church.

We do not agree, however, that Scripture, I Timothy 3:2 and 12 especially, requires elders and deacons to be married men with families.  We have the following reasons for differing from the person who has written:

(1) The emphasis in I Timothy 3 is not on the word "husband," but on the word "one."  The Holy Spirit is forbidding bigamists and those who are unbiblically remarried from holding office in the church, and this in harmony with Leviticus 21:13, 14 and Malachi 2:11-16.  It does not require them to be husbands.  But that, of course, is exactly what must be proved.

(2) As proof, we would point out that the OT did not require a priest (or prophet or king) to be married in order to be a leader of the Israelites.  There is no command in Scripture to that effect, and while Jewish law may have required it, Jewish law is not necessarily Biblical law.  Indeed, Jewish law was often contrary to Scripture (Matt. 15:1-9).  Jeremiah, who was not only a prophet, but also a priest (Jer. 1:1), was forbidden to take a wife or have children (Jer. 16:1, 2).

(3) However, even if OT Biblical law did require the spiritual leaders of God's people to be married men with families (and there is no Biblical evidence that this is so), there is no clear evidence that the NT also requires it.  If Paul were requiring elders to be married men, he would have been disqualifying himself, for (a) the apostles were also elders (I Pet. 5:1); and (b) the evidence shows that Paul himself was unmarried (I Cor. 7:7, 8; 9:5).

(4) Finally, though this not in itself proof, to forbid unmarried men opportunity to serve as elders and deacons would exclude them from one of the most important areas of service in the church, and that in spite of what Paul says in I Corinthians 7 about unmarried persons.  Unmarried persons, Paul says, are to devote themselves to the service of God in the church (I Cor. 7:32).  There are other areas of service, of course, also for women who are forbidden to hold office; but for men, these offices of elder and deacon are one of the principle areas of service.

For all these reasons, then, we do not believe that an unmarried person is automatically disqualified from serving as an elder or deacon in the church.  Indeed, we can think of areas where (according to I Cor. 7:32) it would be an advantage to an officebearer to be unmarried.  The mission fields are the best example.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 8
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017


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