What Does “One Woman Man” Mean?

Scriptures: 1 Timothy 3:2 ; Hebrews 13:14
by Jacob Abshire on January 13, 2023

The real man, a godly man, is a man with pure affections. He is blameless in his reputation with regards to sexual and marital purity. The Bible says that he must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2). This is found in among a list of qualities meant to define the character of a godly man suitable to lead the local church (1 Tim. 3:1-7). It helps the church identify candidates for the role of overseer.

In the original language, the phrase is μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα which means “a one woman man” and it has been a matter of disagreement over the past centuries both in and outside the church. Here are the five most common interpretations of this Greek phrase from history, and why one in particular is more suitable.

The Married Man

According to some, a candidate for church leadership must be a married man, not a single man. They translate this phrase as “the husband of a wife, not single.” This view makes marriage a qualification for leadership. So, until a man is married, he cannot serve as overseer.

To argue this view, proponents point to a number of factors. For instance, the Jews required the men who serve in the Sanhedrin to be married. It is possible that this bled into Paul’s thoughts for the church. Also, personal experience in the realm of marriage and family would help the leader’s ministry in general. Other arguments include appeal to the work-life balance it would create for the man as well as the decrease in sexual temptation.

However, these arguments are not enough. Paul, the writer of this text, was not married while he was serving in church leadership (1 Cor. 7:7-8). He also taught, as Jesus taught, that singleness is beneficial to ministry (Matt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:36-38). And finally, it is advantageous to note that a man’s marital status isn’t directly related to his moral character, which is what these qualities emphasize. A man can be morally right and unmarried or morally right and unmarried.

The Monogamous Man

Others argue that this phrase is best translated as “the husband of one wife, not many.” They contend that it refers to having a monogamous relationship. In other words, the candidate for leadership cannot practice polygamy. He must have only one wife.

Arguments for this view assert that polygamy existed during this time, so this quality would serve to drive a stake in the ground for God’s design for marriage. It would draw out the godly man from the slew of worldly ones. In doing so, the apostle would have called the church to God’s design.

However, while polygamy existed at this time, there is no indication that it was a problem among Christ followers and didn’t warrant such an emphasis. In fact, it would be strange for Paul to mention it. Furthermore, the same phrase is used to refer to a widow in 1 Timothy 5:9 (respectively) but polyandry was not a practice in their culture at all.

The Once-Married Man

Two of the most popular interpretations relate to remarriage. One of them argues that a man should never marry twice, regardless of his situation. They would translate this phrase as “the husband of one wife, ever.” They are convinced that a man who marries after his wife dies is disqualified from leadership.

These people argue that a loyalty to one wife, even after death, demonstrates a strong commitment of love which models the kind of faithfulness God has for His people. He has unconditional love. So, should a man. Also, they argue that, from a practical standpoint, a mixed family adds undesirable distractions to a leader’s ministry, as well as the congregation.

Like the previous interpretations, this one also falls short. First, the apostle Paul also wrote that death dissolves the marriage vows (1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2-3). Second, since a church leader models godliness for the congregation, this would teach the congregation not to remarry after widowhood, which is biblically incorrect. Third, the apostle taught against asceticism (1 Tim. 4:3), including an abstinence from marriage, which leads to an unbalanced life and rejection of God’s good gifts.

The Undivorced Man

The second interpretation relating to remarriage is also one of the most prominent views today. It teaches that the man cannot have been divorced. They would translate it as “the husband of only one living wife.”

Proponents of this view have many arguments for it. First, divorce was never God’s plan (Matt. 19:3-6; Mal. 2:16). Second, divorce for reasons that are biblically prohibited would make the man an adulterer (Matt. 19:9). Third, the church didn’t view remarriage as an option until the fifteenth century. Fourth, divorce brings a man’s reputation into suspicion, particularly when it relates to his ability to lead. Fifth, divorce has always been a scandalous problem among professing Christians, so this is a firm stand against it.

Nevertheless, this interpretation, despite its strong support, still has its problems. For instance, qualifying a man because he has not been divorced fails to speak to the numerous other matters of purity, which relate to his character—the emphasis of the qualifications. Also, this hyper-restrictive perspective doesn’t take into consideration the obvious generalization that Paul makes with his words, which leads us to the fifth interpretation, and the interpretation that makes most sense.

Loyal Man

The best interpretation relates to the character of a man, not his marital status. It translates the phrase as “the husband loyal to one wife” and advocates strongly from Paul’s generalized use of words to communicate a principle encompassing marital purity in all respects.

Hebrews 13:14 teaches us to hold the marriage bed in high honor, regardless of our marital status. The culture at that time, like it is today, was sexually immoral and dishonorable to the marriage bed, which is why such a characteristic would separate the godly man from the world. Furthermore, the church leader must model purity and covenantal faithfulness to the congregation which is multifaceted. And finally, the qualities in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 relate to a man’s post-conversion character (1 Cor. 6:9-11). With the loyal man in view, one who holds the marriage bed in high honor, this interpretation makes the most sense.

To learn more about “a one woman man,” watch this video.

A New Discipleship Resource

Creative Content for Christian Men

Instead of comments, I accept and encourage letters to the editor. If you want to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.