The husband of one wife.--The general opinion of the most ancient writers--the decisions of Church councils when the question seems to have been placed before them--the custom of the great Greek Church, which, while permitting a single nuptial, still regarded the repetition of the marriage relation as a disqualification for the higher grade of the episcopate--tell us in general terms that the opinion of the Church from the earliest times interprets this saying of St. Paul as a declaration against second marriages in the case of those seeking the office of presbyter or deacon. The Greek Church evidently accepts this interpretation, though it relaxes the rule in the case of the inferior orders.
There seems, however, good reason for doubting the accuracy of this popular interpretation, which appears, by thus casting a reproach upon second marriages, to urge a spirit of asceticism on all Christian society, very foreign to St. Paul's usual teaching, which was content with gently inculcating a higher and a purer life as alone in accordance with the mind of his pitiful and loving Master. It was only by slow degrees that he hoped to raise the tone of society and public opinion in this world.
Inspired Christian teaching was careful not to distract the everyday life of men and women by insisting on sudden and violent changes. The behaviour of the great Christian teachers in the matter of that terrible and universal practice of slavery should be especially noted.
When we ask, What then did St. Paul mean by these words? we must picture to ourselves the state of society in the empire at the time when the Apostle wrote to Timothy. An inundation of Eastern luxury and Eastern morals had submerged all the old Roman habits of austere simplicity. The long civil war and the subsequent license of the empire had degraded the character of the people. The period when St. Paul wrote was especially marked by an extreme depravity. A great and general indisposition towards marriage at all, and the orderly restraints of home and family life, had become so marked a feature in Roman society, that we find Augustus positively enacting laws against celibacy. Another cause which helped to undermine the stability of home life and those family ties which ought to be deemed so sacred, was the ease and frequency of divorce, which Seneca, who may be considered almost as the contemporary of St. Paul, alludes to as incidents no longer looked upon as shameful in Rome. He even, in his indignation at the laxity of the morals of his day, cites cases of women who reckoned their years rather by their husbands than by the consuls. Martial writes of a woman who had arrived at her tenth husband. Juvenal speaks of one who, in five years, had had eight husbands. Among the Jews we know polygamy was then prevalent. St. Paul, fully conscious of this low and debased moral tone which then pervaded all society in the empire, in these few words condemned all illicit relations between the sexes, and directed that in choosing persons to fill holy offices in the congregations of Christians, those should be selected who had married and remained faithful to the wife of their choice, whose life and practice would thus serve as an example to the flock, and to whose homes men might point as the pattern which Jesus loved, while the heathen world around them would see that the hated and despised Christians not only loved and honoured, but lived that pure home life their own great moralists pressed so earnestly upon them, but in vain. This direction, which requires that those to be selected to fill holy offices should be known for their purity in their family relations, of course does not exclude--should any such offer themselves--those men who, while contracting no marriage ties, still were known to lead upright, moral lives.
Vigilant.--The Greek word here is more accurately rendered sober. The presbyter or elder should be soberminded, self-restrained, temperate (not merely in wine, but in all things).
Sober.--Better rendered, discreet.
Of good behaviour.--Rather, orderly. This word refers to outward conduct, to behaviour in public.
The Christian office-bearer must not only be wise and self-restrained in himself, but his outward bearing must in all respects correspond to his inner life.
Given to hospitality.--In the early days of Christianity, when Christians travelling from one place to another, were in the habit, when it was possible, of resorting to the houses of their brethren in the faith, to avoid consorting with idolaters in the public inns. It was of no slight importance that the presiding elders in a congregation should be men who loved to entertain strangers and others, from whom nothing could be expected in return.
Apt to teach.--The elder should possess something more than a willingness, or glad readiness, to teach the less instructed the mysteries of the faith. He ought also to have the far rarer qualification of a power to impart knowledge to others. Zeal is not by any means the only, or even the principal, qualification to be sought for in a minister of the Word.
The husband of one wife; which is not to be understood in a mystical and allegorical sense of his being the pastor of one church, since the apostle afterwards speaks of his house and children, that are to be ruled and kept in good order by him, in distinction from the church of God; but in a literal sense of his conjugal estate; though this rule does not make it necessary that he should have a wife; or that he should not marry, or not have married a second wife, after the death of the first; only if he marries or is married, that he should have but one wife at a time; so that this rule excludes all such persons from being elders, or pastors, or overseers of churches, that were "polygamists"; who had more wives than one at a time, or had divorced their wives, and not for adultery, and had married others. Now polygamy and divorces had very much obtained among the Jews; nor could the believing Jews be easily and at once brought off of them. And though they were not lawful nor to be allowed of in any; yet they were especially unbecoming and scandalous in officers of churches. So the high priest among the Jews, even when polygamy was in use, might not marry, or have two wives, at once; if he did, he could not minister in his office until he divorced one of them (u). For it is written, Leviticus 21:13, "he shall take a wife", , "one, and not two" (w). And the same that is said of the high priest, is said of all other priests; see Ezekiel 44:22, likewise the Egyptian priests might not marry more wives than one, though others might have as many as they pleased (x): and so the Flamines among the Romans (y). An elder or pastor must also be one that is
vigilant; or wakeful and watchful, who is diligent in his business, and attends to his care and charge; is watchful over himself, his words, and actions; and watches for the souls of men, to do them all the good he can; and is sober in body, is temperate, and uses moderation in eating and drinking; and in mind, is modest, humble, and prudent; and so the Vulgate Latin Version renders the word "prudent": and the Ethiopic version, "a wise man", one of a sound judgment, a good understanding, and prudent conduct; is not wise above what is written, but thinks soberly of himself, as he ought. The Syriac and Arabic versions render it, "chaste", as free from intemperance, so from uncleanness: and
of good behaviour: neat and decent in his apparel; modest in his whole deportment and conduct, and affable and courteous to all; beautiful in his life and conversation, being adorned with every thing that is graceful and comely:
given to hospitality: to the love of strangers, and to the entertainment of them; and especially the saints and fellow ministers, who are exiled, or are travelling for the sake of spreading the Gospel, or upon some lawful and laudable account. These he is to assist by his advice and counsel, and with the necessaries of life, according to his abilities. Abraham and Lot are noted instances of this virtue.
Apt to teach; who has a considerable store of knowledge; is capable of interpreting the Scripture to the edification of others; is able to explain, lay open, and illustrate the truths of the Gospel, and defend them, and refute error; and who is not only able, but ready and willing, to communicate to others what he knows; and who likewise has utterance of speech, the gift of elocution and can convey his ideas of things in plain and easy language, in apt and acceptable words; for otherwise it signifies not what a man knows, unless he has a faculty of communicating it to others, to their understanding and advantage.
(u) Maimon. lssurc Bia, c. 7. sect. 13. & Cele Hamikdash. c. 5. sect. 10. (w) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 59. 1.((x) Diodor. Sicul. l. 1. p. 51. vide Tertull. de monogamia, c. 17. & Exhort. castitat. c. 13. (y) Alex. ab. Alex. Genial Dier. l. 6. c. 12.