Daniel Buck read my book as a result of interacting with me in another forum. We have had an ongoing communication regarding the implications of “one-woman man” in 1 Timothy 3:2, and he gave me permission to share our interaction with all of you.
Daniel Buck asked, “You make a big deal of the fact that 1 Timothy 3:1–13 has no masculine pronouns. But there aren’t any feminine pronouns in 1 Timothy 5:3–14, a passage discussing the role of widows. So what’s to keep men who have lost their wives from serving as widows?”
My answer: I have to deal with the fact that the standard Greek texts of 1 Timothy 3:1–13 have no masculine pronouns because most translations insert them into the text, and English readers incorrectly assume that there are corresponding masculine pronouns in the underlying Greek text, when there are not.
Furthermore, there is no dispute that 1 Tim 5:3-16 is dealing specifically with women. Widows are repeatedly identified as the subject (5:3, 4, 5, 9, 16). 5:3 has a feminine article. 5:5 has a feminine participle, which, like the following feminine participles, identifies the subject as female. 5:6 has a feminine article and two feminine participles. 5:9 has a feminine participle that makes it unambiguous that “one-man woman” (ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή) specifically describes a woman. 5:10 has a feminine participle. The comparative adjective in 5:11 is feminine. 5:12 has a feminine participle. 5:13 has two feminine participles. 5:14 has a pronominal adjective identifying the subject to be younger women. 5:16 has a feminine pronoun and is part of this section on widows, so it is not correct to say that there are no feminine pronouns in this passage discussing the role of widows. 5:16 also has a feminine article with “widows.” Each of these factors and the standard use of χήρα to identify female widows [“χήρα, -ας, ἡ fem. of χῆρος = bereft (of one’s spouse)” BAG 889] make it clear that Paul is not talking about men who have lost their wives as widows.
Daniel Buck also asked, “Why is it that you are so easily able to see women referred to in the use of terms like μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα (a one-woman man) but aren’t as eager to include men as referents of terms like ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή (a one-man woman)?”
My answer: The subject of 1 Tim 5:9 is the feminine χήρα, which, apparently without exception in Greek literature refers only to women. Furthermore, 5:9 has a feminine participle that makes it unambiguous that the one-man woman specifically describes a woman. There is no corresponding element in the context of 1 Tim 3:2 that makes it unambiguous that “one-woman man” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα) specifically describes a man. 1 Tim 3:1 specifically states that “whoever [τις, the same word used of widows in 1 Tim 5:4] desires the office of overseer desires a good work.” Paul clearly intends this to encourage people to desire this good work. Is it likely Paul would identify the subject as “whoever” and encourage them to desire this good work if for women it was forbidden fruit?
Two of the most prominent complementarians acknowledge this phrase does not clearly exclude women. Douglas Moo acknowledges that this phrase need not exclude “unmarried men or females from the office … it would be going too far to argue that the phrase clearly excludes women….” Douglas J. Moo, “The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11–15: A Rejoinder,” TJ 2 NS (1981): 198–222, 211. Thomas Schreiner acknowledges, “The requirements for elders in 1 Tim 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9, including the statement that they are to be one-woman men, does not necessarily in and of itself preclude women from serving as elders….” Thomas R. Schreiner’s “Philip Payne on Familiar Ground: A Review of Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.” JBMW (Spring 2010): 33–46, 35.
The closest English equivalent to “one-woman man” is “monogamous,” and it applies to both men and women. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines monogamy on p. 920, “1. the practice or state of being married to only one person at a time 2. [Rare] the practice of marrying only once during life 3. Zool. the practice of having only one mate—monogamist n. —monogamous… adj.”
In any event, there is a general consensus that 1 Tim 3:2 is an exclusionary phrase. It excludes from the office of overseer those who are not monogamous (and probably those who are not living in sexual fidelity). It is generally agreed that it is not a requirement that all overseers must be married. Otherwise Paul and Christ could not be overseers, and Christ is the only person named in the NT as an overseer (ἐπίσκοπος). Indeed, if being a “one-woman man” is a requirement rather than an exclusion, virtually the entire Catholic priesthood would be excluded. If this were an exclusion, even if it were to be proven to be exclusively male in reference, it would not exclude women from being overseers. It would simply exclude men who are not “one-women men” from being overseers.
Daniel Buck responded to this answer, “Thanks! Your answer is very satisfying. I hope you can appreciate my approach, as I represent the typical reader who didn’t take 3 years of Greek and wonders why you Greek scholars seem to play so fast and loose with God’s Inspired Word. Half of your explanation was in the book–that the Greek of ch. 3 didn’t exclude women, counterintuitive as that may seem to someone who read that chapter in the TNIV–which, he had been assured, renders all gender-neutral Greek words into gender-neutral English ones. Therefore it is linguistically appropriate to turn English masculine words inth English gender-neutral words, on the basis of the Greek. The other half was what you have just done–explaining that the same things can’t be done in turning English feminine words into English gender-neutral ones in ch. 5, because the underlying Greek sure enough does support the feminine translation only.”
My comment: It is, indeed, misleading when a version assures its readers that it will or will not do something and then does the opposite. The ESV makes many such assurances that it repeatedly breaks when the Greek text, but not its English translation, supports the leadership of women in the church. My forthcoming review of the ESV Study Bible identifies in many specific instances of this. We desperately need a more accurate translation of the Greek of Paul’s passages about the ministry of women. One of the goals of my book is to identify for non-specialists where various translations have not fairly represented the Greek and to provide solid evidence for a natural reading of these crucial texts in God’s Word.
Daniel Buck asked in closing, “As an aside, why do you suppose Paul gave no instructions for widowers?”
My answer: 1 Timothy 5:3 states, “Honor widows who are real widows.” “Honor” in this verse refers to financial support, as is evident in the contrast in v. 4 regarding widows who have children or grandchildren who can support them (cf. vv. 8 and 16, regarding the obligation to provide financial support to one’s widowed relatives) and the statement in v. 5 that by “real widows” Paul refers to widows who are “left all alone.” In Paul’s day, most women were dependent on their families for financial support. Widows without supporting relatives lacked means of financial support in a way that widowers did not. Consequently Paul made these provision for widows and not for widowers, who could work outside the home and as a group did not have nearly the need for support as widows.