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Food For Thought

Many lay people and homespun ministers have tried to say that 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 are written against polygamy. However theologians throughout history, have not claimed this. The problem with considering 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 as injunctions against polygamy is two fold.

First, the question arises, why ban polygamy to become a Bishop, Elder, or Deacon but not to remain one. This question cannot be overlooked. There is nothing in the text that suggests whatsoever that the man who becomes a Bishop, Elder, or Deacon may not after having received his office, take more wives and there are certainly no punishments outlined for anyone whosoever that takes more than one wife.

Second, if 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 are bans against polygamy then what is 1 Timothy 5:9 for it says, "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of o­ne man." This is why theologians throughout history have not considered 1 Timothy or Titus to have anything to do with polygamy. Paul wouldn't write something so silly that banned something that didn't exist in his time; a woman who was really married to more than o­ne husband. So what is the key to this verse? As always, it's found in the surrounding paragraphs.

In 1 Timothy 5:3 Paul says regarding widows - "Honour widows that are widows indeed." What does Paul mean by this? What characteristics do most harlots and widows share? That's right, children. One of the things that Paul is saying here is NOT to consider a harlot to be a widow. Just because she has children don't assume that she's a widow. Check things out. The woman is required to have been married to the father of her children and he must be deceased in order for her to be considered a widow. She cannot be a runaway bride or a harlot.

1 Timothy 5:3 "Honour widows that are widows indeed" precedes and sets up the understanding for 1 Timothy 5:9 "wife of one husband" making it clear that "wife of one husband" simply means that she has been married already.

1 Timothy 5:3 & 5:9 clarify 1 Timothy 3:2 as well as Titus 1:6 since the phrases "wife of o­ne husband" and "husband of o­ne wife" are identical in form. What they clarify is that we're talking about someone who is or who has been married. So "husband of o­ne wife" means "a man who is or has been married."

The expression "husband of one wife" and "wife of one husband" came to mean something other than one and only, but how? Languages have subtleties that cannot be understood when separated by such great time periods as we are from the original writings. If I say to you that you're "one sharp dude" it doesn't mean the number one, it means "a" and sharp doesn't mean sharp like a knife, it means smart, and dude doesn't mean a guy from the city. It just means a guy. In two thousand years from now you'd need a linguist by your side and lots of hours to study comparative texts to find that out.

But finally, a discovery concerning the expression - Husband of One Wife

Paul's intent was not to ban men who were not Husbands of One Wife from the office of Bishop, Elder, and Deacon but to give them the honor of an exemption from that duty! When we look at Paul's statement from the viewpoint of an exemption from duty rather than a ban from eligibility it sheds an entirely new light on both 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6. In order to understand this exemption from duty, yes, this privilege, we must look at two things; the definition of Bishop, Elder, and Deacon AND Jus Trium Liberorum*. You say, Jus Trium Liber-or-what? Stick with me, now. This is a point in history that has been long forgotten, and conveniently so, by those who might have come up with the perfect explanation for 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 long before I have here.

Jus Trium Liberorum* was a status granted citizens of Rome who had at least three children. One of the privileges of Jus Trium Liberorum* was to be exempted from all inconvenient offices. In cities other than Rome, a man was required to have at least four children to be granted such an exemption and in remoter parts of the Roman Empire as many as five or even up to seven children were required to gain such an exemption. It is of note that this new law first made its way through legislation a few years before Christ's birth and had already been fully implemented prior to His crucifixion. Every Roman citizen would have been aware of this new law which gave privileges to those men who had the most children and one of the greatest privileges was to be exempted from holding certain public offices. Now, either husband of one wife had come to mean a man without enough children to qualify for the exemption (and this is the most likely since we can imagine those who serve in offices that nobody else wants having their friends coming up to them kidding, "now here you see, the husband of one wife.") or Paul, aware of this new law, granted  men with more than one wife the same exemption that men with many children had, with the understanding that a man with more than one wife would certainly have many children. Thus, Paul was stating that only a man with one wife, specifically, a man with few children, should be considered for the least sought after positions in the church, namely, that of Elder, Bishop and Deacon. Those with more than one wife were given the privilege of an exemption. Now you're probably asking yourself why in the world wouldn't someone want those high positions in the church of Elder, Bishop, and Deacon. The answer is that those were, and would still be if defined according to the Bible, the least sought after offices in the church. So much so, that Paul had to preface his statement concerning his exemption for those with many children by saying, "This [is] a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work."1 Timothy 3:1. Paul is essentially saying, it's not a worthless job. It's a good work. Today we have the expression to do good works which refers to doing charity work. Just like the good works of charity, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the good works of the offices of Elder, Bishop, and Deacon. Performing such functions is a good work but let's make sure to properly define those offices.

The offices of Elder, Bishop, and Deacon have been incorrectly defined in the minds of both layman and church officials for millennia. This is one reason for the current state of the churches wherein we have unchecked fornication, adultery, and debauchery in nearly every church in the United States. If you don't believe me, answer this question concerning your church: Are ninety percent of the single women over the age of twenty, virgins? How about eighty percent? Would anyone believe, seventy percent? You and I both know that it's likely that no more than thirty percent of the single women in the churches who have attained the age of twenty are virgins. In fact, it's probably closer to ten percent, and why is this? It's because the churches do not have Elders or Bishops as defined by the Bible! The comparable civil office to the church office of Elder is Sheriff and the comparable civil office to the church office of Bishop is Deputy. A Deacon is merely an administrative assistant. Take a look at the following Strong's Concordance definitions of these church offices if you don't believe me.

Elder: Those who in separate cities managed public affairs and administered justice.
[This definition applies within the church in the capacity of a prosecutor.]

Bishop: Investigation, inspection, visitation.
[This definition applies within the church in the capacity of a sheriff.]

Now, don't get confused. When you look at Strong's Concordance it will list other definitions concerning what functions are performed by such officials in the church. That is exactly my point. The definitions of the words have been changed by various churches but the words still mean what they meant when they were written and they were written before any such offices existed. They were written when the words meant exactly what you read in the definitions I've listed above!

From these you can see that within the Church, an Elder is a unpaid Sheriff or an unpaid District Attorney or for those of you in Europe an unpaid Chief Inspector whose function is to oversee, i.e., police those who are members of the church. The Elder administers justice. He does NOT administer the church. And again, at the time of Paul, he was unpaid even though the position required a huge amount of work. He worked on behalf of the apostle of the appointed area or on behalf of the pastors of the area but he did not administer the church!

Let's look at what the Bishop does. He is the one who actually goes out to do the investigations, inspections, and visitations. These are not pastoral visitations. They would not likely be welcomed by those being visited and in many cases, the Bishop might dread going on the visitation to determine the facts concerning the the misdeeds of Church members.

So what do we have in a church without Elders and Bishops who carry out the true duties of Elders and Bishops? We have unchecked fornication of the kind that has never been seen in the history of the Christian Church. The sins of the Popes, Cardinals, and Friars pale in comparison to the sins of the present day Protestant Church! Need I say, REPENT!

One of the reasons that these offices have not been filled in accordance with Scripture is that they truly are offices that nobody wants. Would you like to go to someone's house to discuss their wayward son's taking the virginity of two of the young women in the church? If you're normal, the answer is no. This is why the Apostle Paul commanded Timothy to do what? To appoint Elders in every city and as you can see from the definition of Bishop, the Bishops were to be under the supervision of the Elder in each city who, as I've already explained, served at the pleasure of either the Apostle for the region or the Pastors in that region.

Deacon: A servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon.

No more comment need be made on the office of Deacon other than to say, few would want such an office. All of the aforementioned offices would certainly be categorized when properly defined as "inconvenient" to say the least and therefore Paul exempted those with many children from serving in those offices. Certainly Paul did not err in handing out privileges to those who were following God's command to multiply, not to mention that carrying out the duties of Elder and Bishop could be greatly hindered by a large family. (Again, don't get confused with your own definition of Elder and Bishop. An Elder and Bishop could be required to work long hours. Think of how many officials it would take to clean up all the churches in your community of their present state of immorality!)

From the above explanation we can see that half of the function of the Church is crippled. One part of a church's function is evangelizing and exhorting but the other is to maintain discipline within the congregations. That discipline requires the properly assigned Church offices of Elder and Bishop. Clearing up these definitions and explaining Jus Trium Liberorum* not only takes care of explaining 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 but it also explains 1 Timothy 5:9 for why would Paul say that a widow, in order to be on the widow's list must be the "wife of one man" if not for the fact that the wife of one man would have few children and would not have anyone to take care of her. The wife of more than one man, after the death of the first, of course, would be likely to have many children who could take care of her. Paul further clarifies his point as we see in 1 Timothy 5:16 that it is the relatives who are to take care of their widows so that the church might only take care of those "that are widows indeed."

So we see that 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 are exemptions, not prohibitions. Paul's point isn't that a man who is not the "husband of one wife" is disqualified from becoming an Elder, Bishop, or Deacon, but that the man with more wives, thus, more children, is exempt from such unwanted duties. As I've already pointed out, prior to Paul's giving this exemption he felt it necessary to explain that even though men who are not "a husband of one wife" (men with lots of children) are exempted from such offices, the taking of such an unwanted office is a good thing and that no man should be ashamed of accepting these positions. Read 1 Timothy 3:1 again:

This [is] a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 1 Timothy 3:1

Again, as I've already said, if such an office were highly sought after, why would Paul need to make such a statement prior to exempting men with many children from the office?

I want to make sure, also, that you understand that neither an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, nor teacher is an Elder, Bishop or Deacon. Whether one could successfully execute both offices is debatable, nonetheless, they are separate and unique functions in the Church.

Before closing I'd like you to consider the following. When Paul gave his instructions to Timothy and Titus, he was giving them with the understanding that Timothy and Titus would be selecting officers from their own congregations. In other words, Timothy and Titus would be selecting from men who had been baptized in their churches, were receiving communion without restriction, and were in good standing. Timothy and Titus surely would not have been so imprudent to do otherwise. If Paul found it necessary to give the exemption from serving as Elder, Bishop, and Deacon to men who were not "the husband of one wife" then we know that there were men who were not "the husband of one wife" within the congregations of both Timothy and Titus, period! If polygamy was so bad then why in the world would Paul give polygamists special privileges?

* Jus Trium Liberorum is the term frequently used to describe what is more accurately called the Lex Papia Poppaea, A.D. 9, which granted special privileges to men with many children and punished celibacy by limiting the rights of single men. This can account for Paul's discussions on celibacy which should not be taken as encouraging celibacy but as defending the right of a man or woman to voluntarily choose marriage instead of feeling compelled to marry by government decree. The Lex Papia Poppaea decreed punishments such as the loss of inheritance rights for those who remained single after having attained puberty up to the age of fifty for women and sixty for men. A man or woman was given one hundred days to get married upon finding out they were the beneficiary of an inheritance or forfeit the inheritance. The Lex Papia Poppaea also specified certain forbidden marriages because of class distinctions. There are many more interesting details of this Roman law which I'll address in another article.

References: A Systematic and Historical Exposition - ROMAN LAW - In the Order of a Code by W. A.Hunter EMBODYING THE INSTITUTES OF GAIUS AND THE INSTITUTES OF JUSTINIAN, TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY J. ASHTON CROSS, B.A. of Balliol College, Oxford, BARRISTER-AT-LAW, Fourth Edition 1803

Note: Pastor Don Milton received his Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics from the University of Washington in 1987, has studied five languages and regularly speaks a language other than his own.

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