Question....does I Timothy really say "husband of FIRST wife"?!



After I posted my response to the question on polygamy, I received this letter:

Mr. Miller,

I realise that you have many, many e-mails and many, many questions coming in from all over the place, but I saw your recent addition to the Tank on polygamy.

I am in the process of disassociating myself from a small church known as the XXX. The XXX believes in polygamy. I never made it known to them, but I was somewhat disturbed by the Church's practice of "patriarchal marriage," as they called it.

I had thought that Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2,12 outlawed polygamy. Here is what their leader YYY writes in response:

"word (for the word, one, in those passages) which is actually used for first as in 'first day of the week' in Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, and Acts 20:7. Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:9, a widow's 'one man' is not mia but the Greek word heis, meaning the numeral-one, and not meaning 'first'. "
Is there any validity to XXX's claims?

In Christ,


The 'short' answer is that this YYY teacher cannot know Greek at all!

This is IMMEDIATELY apparent from the bizarre assertion that mia is not heis...they are the SAME EXACT word in the Greek ('one')...mia is the FEMININE form of the numeral heis. For example, in the lexicons words with variable gender endings are always listed in the Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter forms (e.g, heis, mia, hen).

And, as for his first point, it is confused as well:

1. The normal word for 'first' is protos, not heis. Out of 343 occurrences in the NT, heis is only translated as 'first' eight times (almost all dealing with calendar time--see below). Protos, on the other hand, is translated 'first' 54 times out of 60.

2. If you wanted to say 'first' in the Greek NT, you would use protos. Examples:

"The first one married and died without leaving any children" (Mr 12.20)

"but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first" (John 20.4)

"I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia" (Acts 20.18)

"because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" (Php 1.5)

"I am the First and the Last" (Rev 1.17)

"The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox" (Rev 4.7)

3. Eis means 'one' NOT 'first', but it is translated as 'first' only in cases of time (i.e., first day of the week), because of the Hebrew idiom underlying that phrase.
  a. Biblical Hebrew did not have ordinal numbers (i.e., first, second, third, etc.) it only had cardinal numbers (i.e., one, two, three). When it needed to say 'the first day of the week' it would have to say 'week, day one'. When this was translated into Greek, they preserved the idiom and said "day one of the week"--meaning first, but actually saying 'one'!

b. This is the way this usage is described  in the standard Greek Grammar textbooks.
  "Hebraistic is its use w. expressions denoting time instead of the ordinal number: the first (eis mian sabbaton) on the first day of the week Mt 28:1; cf. Lk 24:1; Mk 16:2; J 20:1, 19; Ac 20:7... 1 Cor 16:2. (BAG, s.v. 'eis')

"The first day of the month or week is designated in the NT as in the LXX, not by prote, but by mia...The model was Hebraic where all the days of the month are designated by cardinals." (Blass/Debrunner/Funk, topic 247, 'syntax of numerals").

c. And prote is even used once for this itself! (Mark 16.9)  
4. It is difficult to make eis even mean 'first' in most cases. Consider some of these, substituting 'first' for the words in bold:
  "These men who were hired last worked only one hour." (Mt 20.12)

"'He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'" (Mk 2.7)

"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all" (Mr 12.6)

"On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues" (Lk 13.10)

"So he called in each one of his master's debtors" (Lk 16.5)

"since there is only one God, who will justify..." (Rom 3.30)


5. There are two exceptions where heis is sometimes translated as 'first' instead of 'one' (Rev 6.1 and 9.12), but this is for readability only--'one' makes the same sense, but sounds more 'wooden'. (So, NIV does this, but not NAS and NRSV in both cases).

[6. One minor point: what would 'first' mean in the elder-qualification lists under this scenario: "the husband of a first wife"? (Or more accurately, "a first-wife kind of man"?] Would this require elders to be polygamous?]

Accordingly, the linguistic data is decisively against this teacher's argument from the Greek words.

I hope this helps,

Glenn Miller
August 2, 1999

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