Question: “Can an unmarried man be a deacon or elder?”
Answer: The passages referring to the qualifications for an elder or deacon in the church are 1 Timothy 3:12 “A bishop (elder) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach”; 1 Timothy 3:12 “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well”; and Titus 1:6-7 “. . . appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination…” These three passages have been interpreted by some to indicate an elder or deacon must be a married man.
The issue is not the elder’s or deacon’s marital status, but his moral and sexual purity. This qualification heads the lists, because it is in this area that leaders are most prone to fail. Some take the qualification for deacons “a deacon must be the husband of but one wife…” in 1 Timothy 3:12 as meaning that for a man to be a deacon, he must be married. That is not the meaning of “husband of one wife.” In the Greek, the phrase “husband of one wife” literally reads “one-woman man.” For a man to be considered for a position of church leadership, and he is married, he must be committed to his wife. This qualification is speaking of fidelity in marriage and sexual purity. It is not a requirement of marriage. If it were, a man would have to be married and also have children, because the second half of 1 Timothy 3:12 states, “…and must manage his children and his household well.” We should understand this qualification as: If a man is married, he must be faithful to his wife. If a man has children, he must manage them well.
Some think this requirement excludes single men from church leadership. But if that were Paul’s intent, he would have disqualified himself (1 Cor. 7:8). A “one-woman man” is one totally devoted to his wife, maintaining singular devotion, affection and sexual purity in both thought and deed. To violate this is to forfeit blamelessness and no longer be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6,7). Being single is praised by the Apostle Paul as enabling more faithful service to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Why would Paul restrict men from church leadership positions when he believes “…an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32)? In the first nine verses of this chapter, Paul establishes that both marriage and singleness are good and right before the Lord. An elder or deacon may be either married or single, as long as he meets the qualifications of godliness outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus.