Even though as it presently stands in the many English translations we have and contradicts everything else that Yahweh has said about marriage, adultery, and fornication, one passage in the New Testament is so rendered as to make it clear that Elders and Deacons may only have one wife:
"Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife ..." (1 Tim.3:2, NIV).
For most anti-polygamists, this is the scripture (and its parallels in v.12 in Titus 1:6) they wave in glee, believing that it proves their point. But actually such translations as these just create more problems for those opposed to biblical marriage because they contradict everything else written on the subject in Scripture.
The NIV, and other translations like it, perfectly illustrate the bias of English language translators. For one thing, the word 'but' isn't in the original. So a more honest rendition, which we find in most other translations, would be:
"Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, ..."
Does this mean, then, than an overseer (bishop, pastor, elder) is only allowed one wife? Is Paul underlining the "one wife" part to make sure that leaders have no more that one wife? Was there a 'problem' with polygamy that needed addressing that caused him to choose these particular words? Why didn't he just say, "Now the overseer must be above reproach, married, ..."? Or might the word construction "husband of one wife" actually mean something different in Greek?
The answer to our question is given by the Bible itself and is ludicrously simple. A couple of chapters later in the same letter to Timothy, Paul writes:
"Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number [of widows], and not unless she has been the wife of one man" (1 Tim.5:9, NKJV)
Now why didn't Paul write "... unless she has been married"? The problem was unmarried women pretending to be widows and getting financial support from the Church (Messianic Assembly). Why the construction, "the wife of one man"? Were there women living polyandrously - having more than one husband? Of course not! Polyandry didn't exist in either Israel or the Greek and Roman world! Polyandry was forbidden by both Hebrew and Greek culture and punishable by death because it was regarded as adultery in both.
The answer is so simple. "The husband of one wife" and "the wife of one husband" can only mean "married". So why not just write "married"? Simply to emphasise the gender of the one being spoken of - in the first instance, a man, and in the second, a woman. This was simply a figure of speech meaning "married". The correct translation of all three passages, including the one about the widows, should therefore be:
"A bishop then must be blameless, married (the husband of one wife), temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach" (1 Tim.3:1-2).
"Let deacons be married (the husbands of one wife), ruling their children and their own houses well" (1 Tim.3:12).
"For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you -- if a man is blameless, married (the husband of one wife), having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination" (Titus 1:5-6)
"Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been married (the wife of one man), well reported for good works" (1 Tim.5:9-10).
These passages have nothing to do with polyandry or polygyny. All they are saying is that for a man to qualify as the leader of a congregation (Overseer, Bishop, Elder, Deacon) that he must first be married because the leadership rôle is not unlike that of an allegorical husband to a congregation which is an allegorical uniplural wife.
Some apologists for plural marriage dissect these passages and devote much time to studying words like "one" which they say can also mean "first", so that the passages are actually saying that a leader should be faithful to his first wife. This is certainly possible. However, the simpler explanation is, in our view, the most plausible one: "the husband of one wife" is simply a figure of speech or colloquialism meaning "married". It fits in with everything else the Bible says about marriage and contradicts no earlier revelation. Furthermore, many Bible commentators understand these passages to mean just this: men must be married to qualify as congregational leaders, the same requirement made by Judaism of Rabbis at the time. And as I have argued in an article elsewhere, it is responsible leaders of congregations who are the most qualified to live plural marriage, for they can set an example in their own home with multiple wives as to how the Body of Christ should live together in peace, harmony and echad (oneness).