1 Timothy 5;9 KJV

9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man

Is Paul saying that widows should be widowed once so as to qualify for church support.

Is this a proper reading of the text?

  • Please clarify you question. It seems to contradict the context of this verse.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 30, 2019 at 10:03
  • @PerryWebb,trying to get clarification that if you remarry and become a widow again you no longer qualify for church support Jan 30, 2019 at 11:28

3 Answers 3


γεγονυια ενος ανδρος γυνη

being . . . of one man . . . wife [EGNT]

... having been the wife of one man [KJV]

... having been a wife of one husband [YLT]

A widow approaching, or being recommended to, the church as a suitable candidate for financial support, having no nephews or other dependants to support her would be asked two questions.

What is your age ? How many men have you been married to ?

The answers are to be '60'(or more) and 'one'.

My understanding of both Greek and English indicates to me that your surmise was correct and that your reading of the text was the proper one. And I think that EGNT, KJV and YLT all agree with you.

  • There’s more to it than this. Widows had an interesting position in Jewish society, particularly those with no sons or brothers in law. A widow in this situation did not return to her father’s house (as in Greek society), but was able to stand and speak for herself. With property or means she had autonomy, including the freedom to marry or not, but she was not only outside the law’s control but also outside its protection - forcing poorer widows to seek financial support in the early church. But with this support, only the church could ‘control’ their behaviour, as they were obliged to no man. Feb 2, 2019 at 5:31

I cannot see any discouragement from re-marrying here. In other places, Paul encourages women to marry (1 Cor 7:9, 36). All that might be implied in 1 Tim 5:9 is simply that the widow, to qualify for support, must have been the wife of only one husband (at a time) and not been divorced (Mal 2:16). Jesus set out the only valid grounds for separation (Matt 19:1-12) on which Paul expanded in 1 Cor 7.

Therefore, all that Paul is saying here is if the widow is a lady in good standing as far as her marriage history is concerned, she is eligible for church support.


"taken into the number" clearly doesn't refer to the number of the elect/[objectively speaking] Christians. "Widow," as "virgins" (plural, and as a class within the Church) in the primitive Church, as in the Medieval, refers to a class of religious life, what we now call 'nuns'—not as cloistered, but as a devoted-to-God class who dedicate their life to God in that specific way (not as later developments evolved into cloistered nuns specificlly, as developed, but nonetheless as a class of people who dedicated their virginity or widowhood to God as a real-life life sacrifice).

Judith 15:11 (DRB) For thou hast done manfully, and thy heart has been strengthened, because thou hast loved chastity, and after thy husband hast not known any other: therefore also the hand of the Lord hath strengthened thee, and therefore thou shalt be blessed for ever.

1 Corinthians 7:28 (DRB) But if thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned: nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh. But I spare you.

St. Paul considered it, almost reluctantly, as a concession, to not be "sin" if you don't refrain from relations in marriage. Which means he viewed virginity/abstinance as superior ("if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned") to Holy Matrimony (marriage).

This produces, and was taken as in any case, a call to virgin or chaste life. See Christian history.

  • +1 for bringing in the Judith passage and for making a good case. However, isn't Paul saying that his concern regarding remarriage is on practical grounds? IE: He was writing to the generation who was to see God's visitation on Israel and there was going to be a horrible war so it was the timing that concerned him and which would incur hardships. IE: "Not a good time to be raising a family".
    – Ruminator
    Feb 1, 2019 at 21:10
  • 1Co 7:29-31 NKJV - 29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. [I notice yet again that Paul's use of KOSMOS seems to be to refer to the Jewish theocracy].
    – Ruminator
    Feb 1, 2019 at 21:10
  • @Ruminatory "isn't Paul saying that his concern regarding remarriage is on practical grounds" I would say no, since you can't make a matter of practicality "sin." (Cf. Rev. 14:4).The kosmos, as the JW have helpfully translated it for us (tongue in cheek) just means the grand scheme of things ("the system of things" as they translate it), not 'law' or 'government' or 'Jewish theocracy.' What have we, after all, as the alternative, γη? earth? It means ground, earth in that sense, land. Not world as we need to use it ("the world hates you"). Feb 1, 2019 at 21:34
  • @Ruminator It's important to take St. Paul's 'it's not sin, but ok' stuff in this specific context as a rebuttal of the idea that having relations with women at all was a sin (c.f. the first verse: "Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman.'"). Feb 1, 2019 at 21:36
  • At this point I don't have strong feelings about the passage because I haven't spent much time with it lately but my current take is that he's writing "non ex-cathedra" to help people avoid distraction and hard times. I do however know that older Jewish widows would devote themselves to prayer and Paul might see that as a higher path, though ultimately he seems to say it is all about your state when called and your particular gift. He liked his liberty and wished it on others during this dire time.
    – Ruminator
    Feb 1, 2019 at 21:56

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