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Ezekiel, Jonah, and Pastoral Epistles by Patrick Fairbairn - 1 Timothy 3:2 - 3:2
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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:
Ver. 2. A pastor, therefore, ought to be blameless (
, irreproachable), husband of one wife, sober, discreet, orderly, hospitable, apt to teach. With one exception, all these qualifications are so easily understood, and so obviously becoming in a Christian pastor, that they scarcely call for any remark. The epithet sober (
), while it necessarily includes moderation in the use of intoxicating liquors, freedom from intemperance, has also a wider meaning, and denotes a wakeful, vigilant habit, opposed to all kinds of excess. Hospitable, also, though simple enough in import, denoted what was relatively of greater moment in apostolic times than it usually is now. For there were not the same conveniences for travellers in those times that almost everywhere exist in the present day; and the loose, ungodly manners which prevailed in all places of public resort, rendered it of especial importance that Christian strangers should know where to find a kindly reception and a proper fellowship. The last of the epithets in the verse,
, having the teaching gift, apt or skilled in teaching, is remarkable as the only one, either here or in the corresponding passage in Titus, which directly bears on the discharge of ministerial functions. In Titus it is more fully expressed: “that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” The place given to the qualification in both passages is a clear proof of the importance attached by the apostle to the teaching gift in relation to the pastoral office. But even this, possessed too in no ordinary measure, will prove of little avail for the great practical ends of the ministry, unless it is accompanied with not only the sobriety which shuns all lawless excess, but also the discreet and orderly or becoming deportment which instinctively shrinks from needless occasions of offence, and indicates a temper and habits under due management and control. Both for the comfort and the success of pastoral work, a great deal depends upon the possession of such qualities. How often do ministers, otherwise highly endowed, lose well-nigh the fruit of all their gifts and labours, by marked failings and imperfections here! It is not obvious unfaithfulness in duty; not slothfulness of spirit; not deficiency of life and power in pulpit ministrations, or anything distinctly criminal in behaviour: in these and other respects a man may stand clear from any charge of blame or palpable shortcoming, and yet, by ever recurring exhibitions of ungoverned temper, or specific acts of indiscretion, may as thoroughly defeat the ends of his high calling as if he were living in a course of worldliness and indifference. There is but one safeguard against the evil—the possession of what may be called sanctified common sense; and for this the godly pastor should earnestly strive and pray, under the conviction that for him, not open transgression merely, but imprudence also, indiscretion, is sin, since it throws a stumbling-block in the way of his usefulness, and in a manner robs him of his talents and opportunities.
One part, however, of the apostle’s description has given rise to difference of opinion, and calls for more consideration. It is that in which he says the pastor ought to be husband of one wife. Does this mean that he must never have been more than once married? Or simply, that he must not stand related to more than one living woman as his wife? On this point interpreters have been from early times, and still are, divided; though, if one were to have respect merely to the words themselves employed by the apostle, there might seem no reason, and even no propriety, in looking beyond an existing relationship. For it is of what the individual pastor is or has, at any particular period during his pastorate, that the apostle is speaking, not of this along with what he may have previously had or been. If he should, after having been deprived of a wife by death, become married to another, he still is the man of but one wife; for the previous relationship no longer exists, it was dissolved by death—dissolved absolutely and for ever, since in the life to come the flesh and blood relations of this life are unknown. So that re-marriage cannot with justice be said to constitute him more than the husband of one wife. And, as justly remarked by Harless (Christian Ethics, § 52), since the not being husband of one wife is mentioned as a reproach, and a reproach placed on the same line with gluttony and covetousness and the like, the immediate context should alone have guarded us from understanding by the expression “husband of one wife,” one that had only once been married. But so many incidental considerations have been imported into the discussion of the subject, and so much can be said that is plausible on the other side, that the full examination of it must be reserved for separate treatment. (See Appendix B.)
The qualification, however, if applied only, as I believe it should be, to an existing relationship, must be taken chiefly in a restrictive meaning, not as prescribing what must invariably be found. From the prominence given to it, indeed, and the stress presently afterwards laid upon the pastor’s proper management of his family, we may certainly infer that the pastoral relation was viewed by the apostle as one that would usually be filled by married persons—and should be so. Still, the language employed cannot justly be understood as implying more than that the pastor must not have more than one wife, not that he must absolutely and in every case have a wife. This last is the view taken of the prescription by the Greek Church, which ordains to the oversight of parishes only those who have been once married, and yet, with a kind of stupid inconsistency, the result of ascetic influences early begun and still continued, excludes all married persons from the higher offices of the church: monkish cœlibates, themselves without pastoral experience, ruling over and controlling a married clergy! Bengel’s note on the prescription is: “The apostle does not exclude cœlibates from the sacred office, while yet he presupposes that the head of a family would be somewhat fitter for the office; and of two candidates, if other things were equal, that he who has a wife and a well-ordered family should be preferred to a bachelor, who has less of testimony in his behalf from the circumstances of actual life.” In some remarks contained in his Life by Burk, he carries the matter rather further,—a little, indeed, too far,—but presenting, at the same time, some excellent remarks on the general subject: “The married state is usually that in which we can best surmount hardships, and attain the happy end of life, with many refreshments by the way. He, therefore, who has no particular calling or occasion forbidding his entrance into this condition, ought to marry. God often teaches us more by our domestic experiences, family illnesses, deaths of children, and the like, than we can learn by any independent speculations, however spiritual these may seem. It is in the married life that I have had my most serious afflictions, but with them my strongest consolations. Therefore I consider it more than a mere permission that a pastor should be ‘the husband of one wife,’—to me it seems all but a matter of necessity. And yet so serious a concern is marriage, that if we consider all its bearings on time and eternity, we cannot wonder that some anxious persons are never able to resolve upon it; or that, having a special delight in spiritual things, they should be the more disinclined to become instruments of perpetuating our sinful race: nevertheless, marriage is an ordinance of the good and benevolent Creator” (p. 386).
Appendix B—Page 139. On the Meaning of the Expression “Husband of One Wife,” in 1Ti_3:2; 1Ti_3:12, Tit_1:6
The explanation given of this expression, under the first of the passages referred to, restricts the qualification indicated by it to an existing relationship, irrespective of the question whether a previous relationship mayor may not have existed, which had been dissolved by death. It simply required that when one was called to office in the Christian church, there should be but one living woman to whom he stood related as husband. And as the expression of itself does not import more there are various considerations which appear to shut us up to this meaning as the only one that is properly tenable.
1. First of all, let the place be noted which the qualification holds in the apostle’s delineation of fitness for office in the Christian church. In both the epistles (1 Timothy and Titus) it stands second in the list of qualifications for the pastorate,—in each also occurring immediately after the epithet blameless or irreproachable,—as if, among the characteristics of a life free from any palpable stain, the first thing that might be expected to start into notice was, whether the individual stood related in marriage to one person only, or to more than one. Now, supposing this latter alternative had respect merely to the contracting of a second marriage after the death of a first wife, is the qualification one that, in the circumstances, we could imagine to have been so prominently exhibited, and so stringently imposed? Or is it what we have reason to think would have been borne up by the moral sense of the community? Quite the reverse in both respects. The legislation and the practice of Old Testament times were notoriously of a different kind. They went to an extreme, indeed, in the opposite direction; and even our Lord, when correcting that extreme, gave no indication of His purpose to introduce a restriction of the nature in question, or to make monogamy, in this sense, a condition either of office or of sanctity. St. Paul himself had explicitly declared, in his earlier writings, that death dissolved the marriage tie, so as to leave the survivor free to enter into another union, if such might be deemed advisable or expedient (Rom_7:1-3; 1Co_7:8-9). And in the laws and usages of the Greeks and Romans no hindrance was ever known to be put upon men in respect to their use of this freedom; no stigma attached to their doing so, unless it might be in connection with the time and mode of their going about it. Such being the case, is it in the least degree probable, or does it seem to accord with the wisdom we are wont to associate with the apostle (apart altogether from his inspiration), that he should now, for the first time, and in so brief and peremptory a manner, without even a note of explanation, have pronounced more than a single marriage-union absolutely incompatible with the ministerial function?—nay, should have set it in the very front of admitted disqualifications?—and should even have extended the rule to deacons, whose employment was rather about, than in, spiritual things, serving tables, not ministering in word and doctrine? Unquestionably, if such were the import of the apostle’s instruction, a new thing was now introduced into the discipline of God’s house, and introduced in a very extraordinary way. A principle of sanctity was enunciated which was without warrant in any prior legislation or recognised usage; a principle, moreover, which, in contrariety to the whole spirit of the apostle’s writings, must have given to caste distinctions and ascetic notions of excellence a legitimate footing in the church of Christ. In point of fact, when the sense we contend against began to be put upon his words, it did work powerfully both in the ritualistic and the ascetic direction. And if that sense could be established as the natural and proper one, a difficulty of a very formidable kind would be raised against the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral epistles.
2. A second ground of confirmation to the view we advocate is the general concurrence in its favour on the part of the earlier interpreters; and this in spite of a prevalent feeling and usage tending to produce a bias in the contrary direction. Thus Chrysostom: “He (St. Paul) speaks thus, not imposing a law, as if it were not allowed one to become [an episcopos] without this condition [viz. unless he had one wife], but to restrain undue licence (
); since among the Jews it was lawful to enter into double marriages, and have two wives at the same time.” (His comment on Tit_1:6, though less explicit, is to the same effect when rightly interpreted. It speaks merely of a double marriage relationship as incompatible with th
e pastoral office: “chastising the wanton, and not permitting them with a second (or twofold) marriage to assume the governing power,”—
,—not after the marriage in question, but with it—standing in the twofold relationship at the same time—guilty of a moral wrong, though practised under the forms of law. See Suicer, under
, vol. i. p. 897.)
So, too, Theodoret: “Concerning that saying, the husband of one wife, I think certain men have said well. For of old both Greeks and Jews were wont to be married to two, three, and more wives at once. And even now, although the Imperial laws forbid men to marry two wives at one time, they have commerce with concubines and harlots. They have said, therefore, that the holy apostle declared that he who dwells in a becoming manner with a single wife is worthy of being ordained to the episcopate. For, they say, he (that is, Paul) does not reject a second marriage, who has often commanded it to be used.” Then, on the other side: “If he have put away his former wife, and married another, he is worthy of blame and deserving of reprehension; but if force of death has deprived him of his former wife, and nature has prompted him to become united to another, the second marriage is to be attributed, not to choice, but to casualty. Having respect to these and such like things, I accept the interpretation of those who so view the passage.” Theophylact is briefer, but to the same effect: “If he be a husband of one wife; this he said because of the Jews, for to them polygamy was permitted.” Even Jerome, with all his ascetic rigour, speaks favourably of this interpretation (in his notes on the passage in Titus); states that, according to the view of many and worthy divines, it was intended merely to condemn polygamy, and not to exclude from the ministry men who have been twice married. Now, considering the general prevalence of ascetic feeling at the time, and the virtue commonly attached to celibacy as a qualification for the proper discharge of priestly functions, the interpretation thus either expressly put upon the expression under consideration by those fathers, or held at least to be allowable, cannot but seem entitled to the greatest weight. It presents a series of testimonies to what may be fairly called the natural sense of the expression, and to what appeared the just and reasonable nature of the qualification demanded by the apostle, in spite of a strong current of feeling, and a very prevalent usage, tending to incline them in the opposite direction.
Sic fiunt octo mariti
3. The commencement and growth of the other view—the view which understands the expression to exclude from the offices of pastor and deacon in the church any one who might have re-married after having lost a wife by death—furnishes an additional argument in favour of our interpretation. For the history of church opinion and practice on the subject puts it beyond a doubt, that the more natural view was abandoned only when a false asceticism began to flow in upon the church, and an ideal of piety unwarranted in Scripture, and at variance with the flesh and blood relations which God has established for men in this life. It is hot till near the end of the second century that the ascetic spirit makes its appearance as a disturbing element in this particular line; and when it does so, the perverting influence discovers itself in respect to the members generally of the Christian church, not specifically to those who were called to discharge any spiritual function. It may be questioned whether the Plea of Athenagoras or The Shepherd of Hermas had, in point of time, precedence of the other. Probably they were nearly contemporaneous; and they are the earliest extant of the Patristic writings which can be referred to on the present subject. Athenagoras is often erroneously adduced as a witness for the other view; for when the passage in his Plea is correctly explained, it has respect to bigamy in the proper sense. “A person (he says) should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage; for the second marriage (
) is only a specious adultery. ‘For whosoever puts away his wife (says He), and marries another, commits adultery,’—neither permitting a man to put her away whose virginity he has made to cease, nor to marry another (
). For he who deprives himself of his first wife, even though she be dead, is a veiled adulterer, resisting the hand of God” (c. 33). The thought is somewhat loosely expressed, but the reason assigned for the judgment given clearly shows that the second marriage contemplated by the writer is one contracted under the forms of law, after an improper divorce had been effected against a first wife. In such a case a second marriage was justly held to be from the first vitiated—essentially adulterous; and this for all Christians alike, without respect to official distinctions. The passage in The Shepherd is more to the point: “If a wife or husband die, and the widower or widow marry, does he or she commit sin? There is no sin in marrying again, said he; but if they remain unmarried, they gain greater honour and glory from the Lord; yet if they marry, they do not commit sin” (Com. iv. c. 3). This also has respect to the Christian life generally, and makes but a slight advance upon the teaching of Scripture; for there both our Lord and St. Paul speak of the resolution to abstain from marriage as, in certain circumstances, and with a view to more entire devotedness to the service of God, an indication of spiritual excellence beyond what would be exhibited by a different course. Only here the married state is apparently contemplated more apart, as in itself, especially when entered into a second time, incompatible with the higher degrees of honour in the divine kingdom. It was still but an incipient indication of the leaven which had begun to work. A stage further on, and we meet with greatly more marked symptoms of its operation.
This stage had its commencement with the rise of that pretentious Gnosticism which, especially from about the middle of the second century, in the hands of the Encratites (Tatian and Marcion), sought to elevate the tone of Christianity, and raise the ideal of Christian perfection higher than was done by the acknowledged teachers of Christianity. According to this school, true perfection consisted in working one’s self free from the ordinary relations and enjoyments of life: marriage, which formed the common basis of these, was esteemed a kind of service of the devil, utterly at variance with the higher aims of the spiritual life; the “elect “spirits must have nothing to do with it, and must also abstain from the use of flesh and wine, and give themselves to fastings and other kinds of bodily mortification. The real tendency of this Gnostic spiritualism did not quite immediately discover itself; it pressed at various points as a reforming influence into the church; and in some of its more characteristic features it ere long burst forth with great power among the excitable and enthusiastic Christians of Phrygia in the guise of Montanism. Montanus and his followers did not profess, indeed, to stand in any proper affinity to Christians of the Gnostic type; but they so far coincided with them as to aim at introducing a new and higher style of Christianity, and one that partook largely of Gnostic elements. Having received (as they imagined) the fuller afflatus of the Spirit promised by Christ, they had attained to the position of right truly spiritual Christians; were the pneumatics (
), while others, if Christians at all, were but psychical or carnal (
); and, in proof of their nobler elevation, they renounced not only the pleasures and luxuries, but also most of the comforts of life—fasted oft, and rigidly; courted indignities, self-denials, persecutions; disparaged marriage, and stigmatized second marriages as fornication. Though the movement was opposed by all the leading authorities in the church, and the claim to supernatural guidance was on every hand rejected, yet many were impressed by the apparent elevation and moral strength of the party; and the opinion grew, that the more select class of Christians should cultivate the ascetic virtues, and should either remain in cœlibacy, or at most be but once married. The tendency of Christian thought and practice in this direction received a great impulse from Tertullian, who not only imbibed the distinctive principles of Montanism, but threw himself into the advocacy of them with zeal and energy. On the subject of marriage he occupied what he called middle ground—between those (the Encratites) who repudiated marriage altogether, as a thing inherently evil, and the Psychical party, who maintained the lawfulness of the married state, even when entered into anew after the death of a previous wife. He contended for the absolute singleness of the marriage union, pressing all sorts of considerations into his argument; such as that the first Adam had but one spouse (Eve), the second also but one (the church); that death does not entirely destroy the union of married parties, since the soul still lives, in which the more vital seat of the union resides; that at the resurrection, though there shall be no more marrying, but an angelic state of being, yet those who have been married on earth shall recognise each other as such, etc. (De Monog., and Ad Uxorem, L. i.). By considerations like these, Tertullian reaches the conclusion that in no case is more than a single marriage allowable for a Christian, while the state of cœlibacy is to be preferred as one of higher sanctity. He admits that in 1Co_7:39 the apostle grants liberty of re-marrying to those who had been deprived of a spouse by death, if only they married in the Lord; but he thinks this had respect to such merely as had been first married in heathenism, so that their union was no marriage in the Christian sense. He also admits that the principle laid down at the beginning of Romans 7 as to death severing the marriage tie, and leaving the survivor free to marry again without being guilty of adultery, is at variance with the view maintained and advocated by him; but finds his escape in the new revelation of Montanism, that as Christ had taken away the liberty which Moses allowed to the Israelites because of the hardness of their hearts, so the Paraclete now takes away what Christ and Paul allowed on account of the infirmity of the flesh, in order that the original ideal of marriage might be restored. So that he concludes second marriages are contrary to the will of Christ—not lawful—next thing to adultery (juxia adulterium; De Monog. c. xi.-xv.).
In the course of this strange piece of argumentation, the passages 1Ti_3:2, Tit_1:6, are naturally brought into consideration, and the expression husband of one wife is held, without question, to denote a person only once married: those who married a second time are termed digami, bigamists—the first time that such an explanation, followed by such an application of the term, occurs in any Christian writing. (The word is found in Justin’s Apology, c. i. 15, but in the usual sense of separating from one wife and marrying another.) Tertullian’s argument from the passages is this: The apostle requires of those who hold clerical functions in the church, that they be no more than once married; but this cannot be confined to them, no more than any of the other moral qualifications mentioned in the same connection: if the rest are common to them with believers generally, why should not this also? Or if the clergy alone have to do with this, then they, too, alone must be subject to the discipline of the rest. And is it not the doctrine of Scripture, that all genuine believers are of priestly rank, having one and the same spiritual standing, the same high and holy calling, with official distinctions only for orderly administrations? Here, undoubtedly, Tertullian got hold of a right principle, though he utterly misapplied it; for it is against the fundamental principles of the gospel (as already indicated) to have class distinctions as to moral attainments—to set up one type of purity or holiness for the pastor, and another for the flock. And it betrayed a departure from the simple faith and true spirit of Christianity when the authorities in the church began, as they did about or shortly after Tertullian’s time, to hold that it was allowable for common believers, but not for Christian ministers, to enter a second time into a marriage relationship. This was really to change the constitution of Christ’s spiritual kingdom.
The influence of Tertullian’s writings on this subject, as on many others, operated far and wide throughout the church, though he failed to carry the formal sanction of his views. In various quarters, second marriages, even among the laity, came to be viewed with disfavour, and were occasionally subjected to a measure of disciplinary treatment. Thus, in one of the canons of the provincial synod of Neo-Caesarea (A.D. 314), priests are forbidden to countenance the festivities of second marriages by their presence, “since the bigamus needed penitence.” (Thus early did the ecclesiastical use of the word bigamus become distinguished from the civil, in which it always denotes one married to two spouses still living.) The Council of Nicæa sought to interpose a check on this foolish restriction, and required (in its 8th canon) that the cathari, or purists, on being received into the church, should formally consent to communicate with such as had been married a second time. Yet a provincial council at Laodicea, held about a quarter of a century later (A.D. 352), ordained, in its very first canon, that persons legally marrying a second time should be received into communion only after fasting and prayer, and juxta indidgentiam. The general sense of the church, however, successfully withstood the ascetic tendency in this form of its manifestation; but only that it might be made to concentrate itself upon the select class of the priesthood, in respect to whom the feeling continued to grow that the normal condition was one of entire separation from married life, and that disqualification for clerical ministrations was consequent on a second marriage, especially if the second had been entered into after baptism. A rule to this effect is laid down in the so-called Apostolical Canons, which, though bearing a false title, undoubtedly expressed the general mind of the church about the close of the fourth century. They ordained, among other grounds of exception, that no one who had become involved in second marriages after baptism, or who had married a widow (this being also on one side a second marriage), could be admitted to any grade of priestly standing (Can. 17, 18). In like manner Ambrose, while distinctly asserting that the -apostolic precepts do not condemn second marriages (De Vid. c. 2, § 10), yet maintains that they were rightly held to be inconsistent with priestly functions (according to the prescription in 1Ti_3:2), and for this among other reasons, that there should not be one rule for the clergy and the people; that the former, as they stood on a higher spiritual eminence, should be held bound to a more perfect mode of life (Ep. ad Vercell. Ecclesiam, § 62-64. To the same effect also Innocent of Rome, De Cr. 13; and Epiphanius, Haer. 48).
Yet, with all this countenance from some of the more prominent authorities of the church, and the steady growth of public sentiment in the same direction, the practice in many places but slowly conformed to what the ascetic spirit, in this alliance with caste distinctions and ritualistic services, demanded as right and proper. Theodoret (whose comment on St. Paul’s expression was formerly given) mentions, in a letter to Domnus of Antioch (Ep. 110), that he had ordained one Irenaeus, though he had entered into marriage a second time; and that in doing so he had but “followed the footsteps of those who had gone before him.” He refers also to various examples of the same kind. And the frequency of the practice, coupled with the impropriety, or rather the palpable indecency, of the church’s commonly recognised procedure in excluding from sacred ministrations those who had lawfully entered into wedlock a second time, while persons guilty of concubinage and the grossest immoralities were freely admitted, is denounced by Jerome, in his own peculiar style, when commenting on a case of the former description in his letter to Oceanus. “I wonder,” says Jerome to his correspondent, “that you should think of dragging forth one bishop as having transgressed the apostolic rule, since the whole world is full of these ordinations: I don’t mean of presbyters, or those of inferior grade, but I come to bishops, of whom I could unroll such a list as would exceed in number the members of the synod of Ariminum.” He then refers to a disputation he had with an eloquent man at Rome on the subject, whose syllogistic reasoning he met by a counter reasoning of the same kind; and then he adds: “It is a new thing I hear, that what was not sin shall be reckoned for sin. All sorts of prostitutions, and the filth of public abominations, impiety towards God, acts of parricide, of incest, etc., are purged away in the font of Christ. Shall the stains of a wife still inhere, and brothels be preferred to the marriage-bed? I do not cast up to you troops of harlots, lots of catamites, shedding of blood, and swinish indulgences at every feast; and you bring up to me from the sepulchre a wife long since dead, whom I received lest I should do what you have done! Let the Gentiles hear it; let the catechumens, who are candidates for the faith, lest they marry wives before baptism, lest they enter into honourable matrimony, but may have wives and children in common—nay, may shun the term wife in every form, lest, after they have believed in Christ, it shall prove to their detriment that they had wives, and not concubines or harlots.”
Such were the factitious distinctions and the mischievous results which grew out of this unscriptural mode of teaching which the church received mainly at the hands of Tertullian, after he had assumed the heretical position of a Montanist. The view ultimately became associated nearly as much with false notions of the ministry and of the sacraments, as with unwarranted restrictions regarding marriage. And as the development in that direction could not be deemed otherwise than natural, if the principle had been sound on which it proceeded,—that a species of sanctity incompatible with second marriages was required of pastors and deacons which is not required of believers generally,—the development itself may fairly be regarded as a proof of the unsoundness of the principle. Doctrinally, it was wrong; but in a practical respect also, the view could not fail to be accompanied with serious embarrassment or trouble of a domestic kind. Pastors bereaved by death of their wives, and without any female relative to supply the blank, would often find it impossible to have their children properly cared for, and their households ruled well (according to apostolic precept), except by entering anew into married life. And to interdict this would necessarily have forced on them the painful alternative of either perilling the moral well-being of their family, or, to avoid that, renouncing their position as ministers of God’s word.
4. There remains still another line of reflection to strengthen the interpretation given—this, namely, that in addition to the objections which have been urged against understanding the expression of absolute monogamy, the other view affords a perfectly good and appropriate meaning. Recent interpreters have sometimes denied this, and laid considerable stress on the opposite allegation. Thus Alford: “The apostle would hardly have specified that as a requisite for the episcopate or presbyterate which we know to have been fulfilled by all Christians whatever; no instance being adduced of polygamy being practised in the Christian church, and no exhortation to abstain from it.” If this were anything like a fair and full representation of the matter, it would be hard to account for so many of the early interpreters (conversant, as they were, with the circumstances of the time) taking the other view of the passage, and thinking that, as matters then stood alike among the Jews and Gentiles, ample grounds existed for insisting on monogamy in the ordinary sense—monogamy in contradistinction simply to polygamy and divorce—as a qualification for office in the church. A certain proportion of its membership consisted of converts from Judaism; and though divorce, perhaps, on insufficient grounds, and subsequent marriage, or the undisguised practice of polygamy, might not be very common in the gospel age among the Jews, yet there is not wanting evidence to show that usages of that description did exist, and continued for ages after the Christian era, Justin Martyr charges it as matter of just reproach against the teachers of the Jewish people, that even till now they permitted each man to have four or five wives (Tryphio, c. 134). And in the year A.D. 393 a law was passed by Theodosius, enjoining that “none of the Jews should retain their own custom in marriage, nor enter into diverse marriage relationships at one time” (nec in diversa sub uno tempore conjugia conveniat),—a law which is not likely to have been enacted without adequate reasons for it, and still less to have been re-enacted, as it was by Justinian a century and a half later. It will readily be understood, that if persons, who in their unchristian state had become entangled in such double or treble marriage relationships, might be admitted, on their conversion, to the communion of the church, they should still not be entrusted with the spiritual administration of its affairs: there was a flaw in their condition which unfitted them for being unexceptionable guides and overseers of the flock. It is notorious, also, that among the Greeks and Romans, although polygamy was not formally sanctioned, yet it virtually prevailed—prevailed under the connivance or sanction of law; and that the most deplorable and wide-spread laxity in this respect existed, both previous to the apostolic age and for long after it. In the later stages of the Republic, with the influx of wealth and luxury, a fearful degeneracy of manners made way among the higher classes of society; many shunned the restraints of marriage, and with those who entered into the bond it was often little more than a temporary contract. Divorce was so common, that “public opinion ceased to frown on it; it could be initiated by husband or wife with almost equal freedom: there was a ready consent of both parties to the separation, in the prospect of marrying again; and this facility was open to all classes who could contract marriage.” (Dr. Thos. D. Woolsey On Divorce and Divorce Legislation, p. 41.) It was even open to them to do it without any legal process; for, as another authority on the subject tells us, “among the Romans divorce did not require the sentence of a judge; no judicial proceedings were necessary. It was considered a private act, though some distinct notice or declaration of intention was usual.” (Lord Mackenzie On Roman Law, part i. c. 6.)
This great social evil, instead of abating, grew with the introduction of the Empire, and received a powerful stimulus from the scandalous excesses of persons in high places. The two first Cæsars set here an example which was only too closely followed by many of their successors and underlings. Female manners became so loose, that no woman (Seneca could say) “was now ashamed of divorce; and illustrious and noble ladies counted their years, not by the number of consuls, but by the number of their husbands.” Hence also the bitter sarcasm of Juvenal:
Quinque per autumnos.—vi. 229.
The influence of such a state of things at headquarters must have told disastrously throughout the empire. The States of Greece are known to have been lax enough even before such an influence began to work upon them; there was little of a high moral tone in the relations of domestic life. Along with marriage, the practice of concubinage was everywhere tolerated, and actions of divorce were effected by common consent, and on the weakest grounds. Even in Sparta, which was probably the least licentious State of Greece, what a light is thrown on the prevailing sentiments and habits of the people by such a fact as this: “To bring together the finest couples was regarded by the citizens as desirable, and by the lawgiver as a duty. There were even some married women who were recognised mistresses of two houses, and mothers of two distinct families,—a sort of bigamy strictly forbidden to the men, and never permitted except in the remarkable case of King Anaxandrides, when the royal Herakleidan line of Eurystheus was in danger of becoming extinct.” (Grote’s History, vol. ii. p. 520.) But without going further into detail, there can be no doubt that corruption in this particular line held its course generally throughout the Roman Empire for centuries after the Christian era, only partially checked by the introduction of the Christian element; so partially, indeed, that “divorce ex communi consensu kept its ground all the way down to Justinian” (Woolsey, p. 101). The legislative attempt of Constantine to grant liberty of divorce only on the proof of such heinous crimes as poisoning and adultery, failed from the impossibility of carrying it into effect. It had to be first relaxed, and by Honorius was almost abrogated. “A Christian writer, at the beginning of the fifth century, complains that men changed their wives as quickly as their clothes, and that marriage chambers were set up as easily as booths in a market. At a later period still, when Justinian attempted to prohibit all divorces except those on account of chastity, he was obliged to relax the law on account of the fearful crimes, the plots and poisonings, and other evils, which it introduced into domestic life.” (Milman’s History of Christianity, vol. iii. p. 290.)
Taking, then, all the known circumstances of the time into account, we see only too ample reason for such a qualification as that specified by the apostle for pastors and deacons—if by that qualification is understood simply fidelity to the marriage vow, or relationship to no more than one living woman as a spouse. The question was not (as put by Alford) whether, after being received into the Christian church, a looser practice might be held compatible with Christian obligations,—a wife and a concubine, or two wives at a time,—but whether those who had in these respects followed the too common practice of the world, should, on becoming Christians, be admitted to office in the church. Had they been so, the church might have seemed to take too light a view of the prevailing immorality; embarrassing complications also might have arisen for the parties themselves in the discharge of duty; so that the part of Christian wisdom with the church evidently was to stand entirely clear, in her administrative capacity, from having any participation in the abounding corruption. It is the very course which missionaries of the gospel are obliged in heathen lands to pursue still. They can often receive parties into church fellowship, because apparently sincere in the profession of the faith, whom yet, on account of essentially adulterous connections contracted in their heathenish state, they have felt it necessary to exclude from positions of honour, especially from functions of government in the church. (The comment of Conybeare and Howson on the passage under consideration, though brief, is in perfect accordance with the view we have given. “The true interpretation seems to be as follows: In the corrupt facility of divorce allowed both by Greek and Roman law, it was very common for man and wife to separate, and marry other parties during the life of one another. Thus, a man might have three or four living wives. An example of the operation of a similar code is unhappily to be found in our own colony of Mauritius. There the French revolutionary law of divorce has been suffered by the English Government to remain unrepealed; and it is not uncommon to meet in society three or four women who have all been the wives of the same man, and three or four men who have all been the husbands of the same woman. We believe it is this kind of successive polygamy, rather than simultaneous polygamy, which is here spoken of as disqualifying for the presbyterate.”)
It has been thought by some Protestant writers (by Vitringa, for example, Synag. Vet. P. i. c. 4; also by Ellicott, Alford, and some others), that the corrupt state of matters prevailing at the time may have induced the apostle to lay down the rule of absolute monogamy for rulers in the church—to provide a more efficient check against the evil —but that, as the same motive no longer operates now, the rule is fitly regarded as having had only a temporary significance, and as no longer in force. This, however, is a quite arbitrary supposition. The qualification, as given by the apostle, is coupled with no temporal limitation. It stands, in that respect, on the same footing as the other prescriptions—alike valid, apparently, for all times. Besides, the extremely lax state of morals then prevalent, while it undoubtedly called the church, especially in its official representatives, to be examples of a truly chaste and becoming behaviour, could never have justified the application of tests which went beyond the requirements of God’s law and the dictates of sound reason; for this would have been to make one evil the occasion of opening the door to another. It would have been an attempt, as the ascetic discipline in every form is, to improve upon God’s institutions by setting up a higher ideal of purity than is proper to them, and which always ends in bringing on worse evils than those it seeks to correct. In the form now under consideration, it would have given apostolic sanction to false views of marriage, and, against the whole spirit of the gospel, would have formally authorized gradations of sanctity in the membership of the church—a lower that might have sufficed for common believers; and another and higher, as not only proper, but indispensable, for those who should be called to bear rule in the congregation. A distinction certainly not of apostolic origin, and the fruitful parent, when originated, of grievous errors and perversions!
Special stress is laid, in this connection, by the writers in question on the corresponding qualification prescribed for widows, who were to be admitted to the kindly oversight and benefactions of the church: these were, among other moral characteristics, to be known as having each been the wife of one man, 1Ti_5:9, How, it is asked, could this be understood otherwise than as descriptive of a woman who had been only once married? And if such is the kind of oneness indicated in this case, how can it justly be regarded as different in the other? The facts already stated, however, show that the necessity supposed for so understanding the expression in the woman’s case by no means existed; and the very circumstance of a qualification of this sort being necessary to entitle a poor widow to become merely the recipient of the church’s charity, may surely be regarded as no mean evidence that the qualification in both cases could have involved nothing of an ascetic nature—could .have required only what is due to the claims of decency, and is in accordance with the essential nature and design of marriage. But this is shown more fully in the annotations on 1Ti_5:9.