A One-Woman Man—Why This Interpretation is Wrong

I’m reading MacAurther’s book Pastoral Ministry. In brief, I have a soap box that he touched on. Here’s what he said:

The first character qualification in Titus that spells out what it means for a pastor to be above reproach is that he be “the husband of one wife” (Titus 1:6). A literal translation of the Greek expression is “a one-woman man.” This is not talking about polygamy, a sin that is forbidden for everyone, not just pastors.

He is wrong on three counts. First, a literal reading is not “a one-woman man.” It literally says “a husband of one wife.” A “one-woman man” is an interpretation.

Second, he takes this genitive use as an attributive genitive. The problem with this interpretation is that the noun has to be an abstract attribute for it to be attributive. For example, sometimes the Spirit is called the “Spirit of holiness.” This means “holy Spirit.” Holiness is an abstract noun. But a wife is not an abstraction. And if you treat her as such, you shouldn’t be married anyway.

In Titus 1:6, the right genitive use is that of relationship: a man is related to one woman. Everywhere else in the NT, when you have two persons in an genitive construction, it is relationship. Therefore, it must be relationship here. Otherwise, you fall into the trap of special pleading. It simply says that this man has one wife.

Third, he says polygamy is a sin banned in the church. The problem with this assertion is that he can’t prove it. Notice that there is no scripture reference at the end of his assertion. Why? Because there is none.

Please don’t take this as me advocating for polygamy. I’m not. I’m merely stating that there may have been men in the church who had many wives before they got saved. In such condition, they were able to join the church. The church teaches the ideal marriage and thus adding any additional wives would be sin.

Why is this passage here? It simply says that a man must only be married to one woman. He is the example for the flock of God’s ideal. Thus, in marriage, he shows this example to all.

MacAurther and others are guilty of letting their preconceived theology drive their exegesis on this point. They can wrench it out of the text. But the text is left mangled and meaningless.

9 thoughts on “A One-Woman Man—Why This Interpretation is Wrong

  1. So what does it mean when it says that a widow cannot be enrolled unless she was the “wife of one husband” (1 Timothy 5:9)? Is Paul excluding polyandrous widows from the role?


  2. I’m not saying divorce, chastity, etc is unimportant. Simply, grammatically you cannot call this an attributive genitive. And thus, a genitive of relationship it seems to refer to polygamy.
    After thinking it over, 1 Tim 5:9 makes it my case weak for polygamy only seem weak. I’ll concede that it could be referring to divorce.


  3. Interestingly enough, the phrase γυναικὸς ἀνήρ only occurs in two other places outside of Paul (as far as I can gather): Procopius, “History of the Wars” and Dio Chrysostom, “Discourses 10. On Servants.” The phrase ἀνδρὸς γυνή does not occur outside of Paul (to the best of my knowledge). In both cases with the later phrase, it is clearly a genitive of relationship.

    Procopius: “With this woman the commander of the Persian army suddenly fell violently in love, and at first he began to make advances, but after that, since he met with no encouragement from the woman, he attempted with no hesitation to force her. At this the *husband of the woman* became exceedingly enraged, and at night he slew both the commander and all those who had entered the fortress with him.”

    Dio Chrysostom: “For he knew that he had consorted with his own mother and that he had children by her; and subsequently, when perhaps he should have concealed this or made it legal in Thebes, in the first place he let everybody know the fact and then became greatly wrought up, lifted up his voice and complained that he was father and brother at once of the same children, and *husband and son of the same woman*.”

    This adds weight to the interpretation which states that it must be a genitive of relationship.


    1. Is it possible that it could still be a genitive of relationship, and yet exclude divorcees? That the proper translation is “man of one woman” in the sense of “a man in a relationship with only one woman” and not just in the technical sense of “married to”? Even in your second example, I wonder if “husband” is importing too much of a modern idea into the Greek, as I doubt there was a wedding ceremony where this man and his mom made vows and were legally married (especially since Dio Chrysostom clarifies the act was technically illegal). This would mean a man who was married to one woman but had several other relationships on the side could not be considered “a man of (in a relationship with) one woman”


      1. Ok, so if I were to put your question into a statement: “The genitive of relationship could mean something beyond that of strictly marriage. It could include all relationships (presumably, improper ones) that a man has with women. This would support MacArthur’s interpretation, even though his identification of the genitive as an attributive genitive is incorrect.” This is interesting, and not one I had considered. Yet, I don’t think that it is correct on two grounds.
        First, I would like to point out that in taking such liberties with the concept of “relationship,” you leave the boundaries of it very fuzzy. Where do you draw the line? Just divorcees? With intentional improper relationships with other women? With unintentional relationships? Platonic relationships? Etc. It seems, however, based on the specific words for man and woman here that he specifically speaking of a marital relationship.
        Second, I did a little more research (always a good thing) to see how the phrase “μιᾶς γυναικὸς” is used. Out of the 10 occurrences, 6 were used to single out a woman, in one case case, Helen of Troy (Dio Chrysostom, Hyperides, Euripides, and Isocrates) and the other Lucretia (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Appian). 2 were used of some generic women held by pirates (Diodorus Siculus, Chariton). None of these instances are viable because they are not in context of the marriage relationship. There were only two instances where it seemed relevant to our discussion: Plutarch and Josephus. In Plutarch, he mentions Demosthenes who had sons by one wife. No other wives are mentioned in context.
        “He left two sons by one wife of noble family, daughter of a certain Heliodorus; and he had one daughter who died unmarried while still a child” (Moralia. Lives of the Ten Orators).
        Josephus mentions a man called Joseph who had children by one wife but was also a polygamist.
        “This good fortune he enjoyed for twenty-two years,a becoming the father of seven sons by one wife, and also begetting a son, named Hyrcanus, by the daughter of his brother Solymius, whom he married under the following circumstances” (Antiquities 186). In both cases, it seems that “one woman” means a marital relationship. It is not “one woman” as opposed to other women on the side. But one wife as opposed to his other wives.
        Back to Paul, then, it seems most natural to construe the passage to mean that the husband only has one wife. In the case of 1 Timothy, it seems that there could be allowance for divorce (i.e., she was not a serial-monoandrist). Thus, I still maintain my position that this passage is strictly limited to marital contexts. Is the heart of person important? Yes. Should he be singularly devoted to his wife? ABSOLUTELY! But does this passage imply all this information? No. We need to get that from other passages. In my opinion, these heart issues fall under the category of blameless. He cannot be blameless if indeed he is pursuing other women.
        Practically, then, my end position is the same as MacArthur’s. But, like in math where the process of getting the answer is as important as the answer, it is necessary for us to critique wrong methodology however correct the answer might be.


      2. In addition, every time you see a “man of woman” (and vice versa) in the LXX and NT it is a marital context.

        The husband of a wife
        New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update 1 Tim 3:2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
        New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update Titus 1:6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.
        The Lexham English Septuagint Exod 21:22 “ ‘And if two men are fighting and they bump a pregnant woman and her child comes forth prematurely, he will suffer a financial penalty; according to whatever the husband of the woman may impose, he will pay with a judicial assessment.
        The Lexham English Septuagint Num 30:17 These are the righteous ordinances that the Lord commanded Moses between a husband and his wife and between a father and a daughter while a youth in the house of her father.”
        The Lexham English Septuagint Judg 20:4 And the Levite man, who was husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “To Gibeah of Benjamin I went, I and my concubine to spend the night.

        The wife of a husband
        New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update 1 Tim 5:9 A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man,
        The Lexham English Septuagint Lev 20:10 Any person who commits adultery with a married woman or who commits adultery with the wife of a neighbor, let them surely be executed, the adulterer and the adulteress.
        The Lexham English Septuagint Prov 6:26 For the price of a prostitute is about one loaf, but a woman who is married hunts for a precious soul.
        The Lexham English Septuagint Job 31:9 If my heart has followed another man’s wife, and if I have come to lie in wait at her doors,
        The Lexham English Septuagint Job 31:11 For the fury of wrath is uncontrollable when a man’s wife has been defiled.


  4. Ah… where do I begin? Lol. Sometimes I feel like you just post stuff waiting for me to react. Lol. There are lots going on in this passage and lots of pastoral implications that may or may not be what the text means. I’m just busy at the moment, we should talk about this – coffee or lunch. Maybe my treat this time. 🙂


    1. Lol! You got my MO. Well, I don’t always post stuff for you to react. Usually, it’s a thought that I’ve been working through for some time and now I finally post it. At some point in the writing process, I think to myself “I wonder if Jared will read this?”


      1. That’s too funny. If it’s in the New Testament or related preaching and pastoral theology – you’re just inviting me in. Lol. Seriously, we should have coffee or lunch. I know you’re busier than I am, so just let me know when you’re free. My treat. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: