Does the Bible Allow Divorced Men to be a Pastor or Elder or Deacon?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

The Bible tells us specifically who can and who can’t be a pastor, elder or deacon, but what if they’ve been married before?

Biblical Qualifications

The Bible tells us specifically who can and who can’t be a pastor, elder or deacon, but what if they’ve been married before? The qualifications from the Word of God leave us little wiggle worm in deciding who can and who cannot be a pastor or elder or deacon. For example, the Bible is clear that no woman can be a pastor. Even a casual reading of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 establishes the fact that only men can be called as a pastor a church. There are women who serve as deacons or deaconess, but no women in the Bible ever pastored a church or were called a pastor and even in the Old Testament, there was not one woman priest. The only women priests back then were pagan priests! If someone has issues with this doctrine, let them take it up with God, for we are called to obey the Scriptures. We cannot rationalize away Scripture’s commands or think like, “Well, that was 2,000 years ago and today we live in a different society…” We must obey or disobey. We can never compromise on what the Word says.

First Timothy 3

In 1st Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul lays down the qualifications for the pastoral candidate, saying that a pastor or an overseer “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2a). The person being considered is always mentioned as being in the masculine form, for example, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim 3:4). In fact, the gender-specific words “he” or “him” occurs 9 times in the first 7 verses. Clearly, 1st Tim 3 and Titus 1 support the fact that only men can be a pastor.

Can a Divorced Man be a Pastor?

If the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2a) does not refer to divorce, then those who have issued a blanket prohibition of service of men who had biblically valid cause to divorce and remarry, have imposed human rules on God’s Word and that is no small matter. I hold that these passages do not refer to divorced men, but to the kind of husband a man is to his wife. After looking into the meaning of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 in regards to someone in church leadership being biblically qualified to be in such a position, we must understand that the translation “husband of one wife” is not the best translation of this verse. The Greek phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2, “mias gunaikos andra,” could literally be translated as a “one-woman man” or “a man of one woman.” The last word, man, appears in a slightly different form in each of the three passages, but the meaning is the same. The key leaders of the church, elders and deacons, are to demonstrate themselves to the church as “one-woman men” or faithful to their wives. This interpretation acknowledges that the original text focuses not on marital status but on moral purity. Naturally, with the death of man’s wife (1 Tim 5:14), he is also free to remarry (1 Cor 7:8-9).

Eisegesis and Exegesis

Exegesis relies on the original context of a biblical passage to determine that passage’s meaning, while eisegesis uses things other than the original context of a biblical passage to determine that passage’s meaning. When someone reads 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, they might erroneously infer that this means that if a man is not married he cannot be a pastor. That is inserting meaning into what the Scripture does not say (eisegesis) and not what Scripture clearly says (eisegesis). If we apply eisegesis (pulling meaning out of Bible verses) to reading 1 Timothy and Titus 3, then we are able to see what the original author wants us to know. If Paul had wanted to say that a man who had been divorced was not qualified to serve as an elder or deacon, there are ways he could have said that in Greek. Paul spoke clearly and it is clear what he meant in this passage. He was saying that men who lead the church should be men who have demonstrated their abilities to lead their homes and demonstrate faithful servant leadership to their wives. Elders and deacons were both required to be “the husband of one wife.” That is the sum total of the biblical evidence. Those who maintain that divorced men are prevented from serving as pastors, elders or deacons must demonstrate that this phrase applies to divorce. Those who hold that this passage permits service from divorced men must demonstrate that the phrase does not speak to divorce.

Husband of One Wife

The man who has a biblical divorce, meaning he is free to remarry and will not commit adultery by doing so (Mark 10:11-12), is also not forbidden by Scripture to be a pastor, elder or deacon. The same applies to women who are presented to the church to be a deaconess. The issue boils down to this question. Does the requirement that pastors, elders and deacons be the “husband of one wife” preclude those who have been divorced on biblical grounds from serving? If we can determine what that phrase means, we can answer the question pretty easily. There is no evidence that Paul was prohibiting polygamists from serving in these leadership positions.

Remarriage Permitted

In Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus taught that divorce was a permitted accommodation to our “hardness of heart” (vs.8) but that divorce still violates God’s plan, purpose, and permanence regarding marriage between one man and one woman (c.f. Genesis 2:24). Divorce was permitted as a concession for the faithful partner being sinned against, either sexually or some hold to, through desertion/abandonment. God’s will is that the faithful believer should never consider divorce except in desperate circumstances; yet even then it should only be pursued reluctantly due to the fact that God hates it (c.f. Mal 2:14-16) because it can permanently damage or destroy the family/marital structure.


Most scholars believe that the only two acceptable grounds for a biblical divorce are unrepentant sexual sin (c.f. Matt 5:32; 19:9) and desertion/abandonment by an unbeliever (c.f. 1 Cor 7:12-15). Others have said that physically abusing a spouse is grounds. The word Jesus used to define sexual sin is the Greek word porneia (“but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery” Matt 5:32; “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” Matt 19:9). Porneia is a general term used to describe sexual sin such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest, so the only situation in which divorce is permissible (though never encouraged) is when an unbeliever abandons their believing spouse or commits unrepentant and ongoing adultery. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her…Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (1 Cor 7:12,15).


Clearly, only a man can be a pastor, but he can be a divorced pastor too, as long as he remains faithful to his wife. But it must have been grounded on the Bible and Jesus’ teachings about adultery. It is my prayer that you have found a good, biblically-solid church, and that you are growing in the faith and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I also pray for those reading this that they are being fed by a Scripturally-qualified man as their pastor. We also need Sunday school teachers and elders and deacons, but if you’ve never repented of your sins and you know you are not saved, today…in fact, right now, it is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). If Jesus were to come today and you are not saved, it is a horrific eternity for you (Rev 20:12-15). I pray you have trusted in the Savior and will avoid the coming wrath of God that comes on all unbelievers.

Here is some related reading for you: Should Women Be Pastors or Elders of a Church? A Bible Study

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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