(1 Tim. 5:11-12) Can widows remarry or not?

CLAIM: Paul says that widows are not permitted to remarry: “When they [widows] feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge” (1 Tim. 5:11-12). But elsewhere, he makes clear that they can remarry (1 Cor. 7:9, 28). Which is it?

RESPONSE: The context for this passage is the stewardship of the church to help the truly poor. The financial giving of the church is a serious stewardship and failure to distribute the church’s hard earned resources properly is sinful (v.7). Paul’s instruction is to give to “those widows who are really in need” (v.3 NIV). He states that younger widows don’t qualify, because they can get remarried. In this day, women were dependent on their families to care for them in old age. Paul explains that widows with children or grandchildren should depend on them for help (v.4, 8).

But what about elderly women with no husband or family? What about the widow who is “left all alone” (v.5 NIV)? Widows over the age of 60 (v.9) had virtually no hope of being remarried. Paul instructs Timothy that the church should shoulder the responsibility of taking care of women like this.

But what about younger widows who could remarry? Paul says that these women could take the financial assistance of the church, but not when they get remarried. In this case, they aren’t really destitute. This would be similar to using food stamps while driving a Cadillac Escalade.

Remarriage isn’t wrong. In fact, Paul commands it explicitly in verse 14! (“So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander”) Paul’s point is that the remarried widows are not truly in need and do not need the financial assistance of the church. If they are “double dipping” in this way, they should be removed from the financial assistance list. These women must have made a “pledge” not to lie about getting remarried, and they were breaking this. We can explain the differences in this way:

Those Eligible for Financial Assistance

Eligible

Ineligible

Truly poor

Lying about their poverty

“really in need and left all alone”

“lives for pleasure”
“over sixty…”

“younger…”

“faithful to her husband”

“sensual desires overcome [her]”
“well known for her good deeds”

“gossips and busybodies” (false teachers?)