What are the Qualifications for Elders? (1 Timothy 3:2-7)

The qualifications for the overseer are moral virtues which would be worthy of respect in the Greco-Roman world. He must be “above reproach.” Along with verse 7, this is the controlling theme of the whole passage.  Paul will repeat this for all members of the church in 5:7 and 6:14.

The husband of one wife.  This is the most controversial in terms of modern application.  This has been taken to mean that an elder must be married (rather than single or a widower) as well as an elder cannot have ever been divorced.

ExcellentSober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable.  These four virtues are all common in Greco-Roman ethical texts.  Sober-minded (νηφάλιος) and self-controlled (σώφρων) in fact, are often associated with the cardinal virtues in the Greek world. To be sober-minded is to be level headed and in control of one’s passions at all times. Paul has already used respectable (κόσμιος) in 2:9 for appropriate dress.  To be hospitable is a virtue among both Greeks and Jews (φιλόξενος means “a friend of strangers.”) 1 Clement 12:3 (about A.D. 95) used this noun to describe Rahab, Epicticus combines hospitable with respectable to describe the fall of Alexander.

Able to teach.  From this one exceedingly rare word (διδακτικός), elders are usually tasked with teaching scripture in church.   Philo (On Rewards, 27) used the word in a virtue list to describe Abraham, Yonge translates the word as “self-taught,” Rengstorf comments that Philo has in mind the virtue of Abraham “consisting or expressing itself in learning.”

Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  These vices are all commonly rejected by virtually every society – no one wants a leader who is a violent, greedy drunk! A drunkard is a good translation since the emphasis is “one given to too much wine.”  Moulton and Milligan (496) offer several examples of drunkenness and violence, “I sinned and was drunken in the night, in that I maltreated the brethren” (P.Lond 1914.27), although this dates to A.D. 335.

The next phrase is related to drunkenness. “Not violent” (πλήκτης) is sometimes translated as pugnacious, a bully. The verbal cognate appears in Aristotle, Ethics Eud. 2, 3.  “Gentle” stands in contrast to drunken violence, although the noun could be translated as courteous or tolerant.  “Not quarrelsome” is a single word (ἄμαχος) which means peaceful (anti-war, put it is used in non-military contexts, including a grave inscription by a husband describing his beloved wife (Cos 3259). A “lover of money” is greedy (ἀφιλάργυρος), a virtue found in instructions to people from midwives to generals (BDAG).

The family of the overseer is important: “He must manage his own household well.” This is far more than a single word, and Paul gives a reason for the elder to have a well-managed household: an elder is in charge of the household of God, if he is not faithful in his own family, he will not be faithful in the church either.  The verb (προΐστημι) means to exercise authority, or “be the head of” something, and the very is modified with the adverb “well.”  On the one had, this could be taken to mean he is a good leader in the home.  Josephus (Ant 8.300) used the word to describe the wickedness of King Jeroboam, who did not appoint kind rulers who would “govern righteously.”

But the verb can have the meaning of “have care for.”  In 1 Thess 5:12-13 this is the word used to describe the activity of the church leaders (they are to care for the needs of the church).  If a person does not take care of his family properly, why should he be trusted to care for the family of God in the church!

This description of a proper leader in the church opens up some problems for application, possibly because pastor’s children are held to a high standard and are often judged as little hellions. At what point does a pastor / elder use the behavior of their children as a measure of how well a pastor / elder has led in their home? This is something like the application of the Proverbs, all things being equal, raise up a child in the way they should go and they will not depart from it. But sometimes that does not happen and a child, through their own choices, seriously defect from the faith of their parents.  A bad child is not always the sign of a bad parent.

He must not be a recent convert.  Perhaps this is the problem with the overseers who have defected from Paul’s gospel, they were to quickly accepted as leaders in the church and were arrogant.  At least in the mid-first century, this might have been a real problem since it was probable that churches were established from only new converts. But by the early 60s it was possible that there were now second generation believers and people who had been Christians for many years.  Paul is advising that these mature believers be considered for leadership, not a recent convert.

The reason given is that they could become arrogant and fall into “condemnation of the devil.”  What does this mean?  Probably that the new elder would be judged like the devil, who also fell because of pride. How they “fall” might be a hint of the false teachers.  Their arrogance leads them to accept teaching that is outside of the faith passed from Paul to Timothy, they more easily accept new and innovative doctrines, perhaps of their own making, because they do not have the spiritual maturity to resist being on the “cutting edge.”

17 thoughts on “What are the Qualifications for Elders? (1 Timothy 3:2-7)

  1. This passage in 1 Timothy was very interesting to me. I did not realize that those in leadership were held to such high standards, not that I disagree. However, like you were talking about how their leadership can be based off of how someone’s children are is a pretty bold statement. Like you said, just because there is a bad child does not necessarily mean that it is a result of bad parenting. However, Paul does say,” whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). That right there shows that they will be held to high standards. Many of these qualifications that the overseers must live up to are similar to what all believers are held to. “above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled…not given to drunkenness, not violent, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:2-3). Some of these things are mentioned, as well, for followers of Jesus Christ as well (Gal. 5). What I thought was interesting was that Paul says that they should not be a recent convert. However, wasn’t Paul a recent convert when he began preaching the gospel? Why would he say that when he became a leader right away? I understand that they don’t have the spiritual maturity, so that makes sense as a difference from when Paul began preaching. It is also interesting how they say that if a man cannot take care of his household, how is he going to be able to take care of the church body. “…Pauline churches typically met in households” (TTP 272). Not only was the church called God’s household, but the leader had to be able to take care of a household. These all seem like high standards for a leader of the church, but if they want people to be drawn to Christianity, then they should live up to these standards.

    • Actually, most scholars believe that Paul did not begin his ministry for 14 or so years after his conversion. Acts 9 doesn’t tell us how long he was in Damascus. Then he went to Arabia for an unspecified amount of time before returning to Damascus. We know that it was 3 years between his conversion and his finally leaving Damascus for Jerusalem. He was only there a short time before being sent away to the area of Syria and Cilicia in order to avoid capture. It was estimated to be between 8 and 14 years before his first trip to Antioch with Barnabas. For reference, read Acts 9 and 11, Gal 1:17-18,21,2:1

      • I am not sure why you posted this reply on this particular post….

        I would disagree, FEW scholars believe Paul did not start his ministry for 14 years after his call. In Acts 9::20, he began to preach in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God, in Jerusalem he is preaching boldly (Acts 9:28-29). At the very least he was active in Antioch in Acts 11:25-26 prior to his calling in Acts 13 (some 14 years after his conversion). In addition, in Acts 26:19 Paul claims he was immediately obedient to his heavenly vision and “declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”

        On Galatians and Acts, see this post…it is ten years old now, but it is the beginnings of what ending up in my book on Galatians:


        For the Arabian period, see:


  2. In today’s society we tend to view pastors as the only spiritual leader. They become alone to the church congregation. I think that by saying an overseer must be able to teach does not necessarily mean they have to teach. Since it is an office I think that it might not have always been a monarchial position, It might have been more like what we see in bigger churches, there could be a lead pastor, a teaching pastor, even a pastor of leadership. The qualifications would have been the same but it would turn overseers from being alone to a community.

  3. Just as with any entity, especially a newer one, there is a need for leadership. Paul lays out the groundwork for what these elders should look like. As leaders, these individuals are going to be held to a higher standard and so the qualifications for what makes an elder are going to be purposefully stringent. I have recently, as in the last few years, found out why being able to manage a family is such a foundational qualification: He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect (v4). The man is to be the leader of his household, both the secular and sacred leader. If he cannot lead his family well, if he cannot keep his own house in order, how then can he possibly be a good leader within the church? The same practices that make a good leader in the home, make a good leader in the church. Also, since these people were called to teach also, they are to not be recent converts. Recent converts would not have the theological knowledge or foundation to teach well or accurately.

  4. Hi Phil,
    Considering how Philo uses didaktikos, considering the context of 2 Timothy 2:24, and considering that the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 are moral qualifications rather than skills, do you think didaktikos could or should be translated “teachable”?

    • Yes, that is a good translation option. What would the opposite of a teachable person be? Not just “set in their ways,” but maybe arrogant, inflexible?

      • Yes, exactly, the very things being spoken against in 2 Tim 2:23-24.

        I did a little more research after I posted my comment. Didaktikos is translated in the Vulgate as “docibilis” in 2 Tim 2:24, and Cyprian, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas took it to mean “teachable” in this verse. It’s a different story, however, for 1 Tim 3:2 where the Vulgate has “doctor”.

        The context indicates that “teachable” is the best translation in both 1 Tim 3:2 and 2 Tim 2:24.

        I found a few more relevant things and will probably write a blog post on didaktikos.

  5. I would have to say these qualities of elders that are written to Timothy are still applicable in the selection of elders today. I would say that many churches would lean towards what is written here as qualities that elders should possess to be elders. The fact that Paul leads with being above reproach then proceeds to explain what that means through many other qualities. However, he lists qualities that are mainly for men and I would challenge the writing of that time and say that in this particular church and for Timothy having just men would have been appropriate I think in current times that having women elders is not completely crazy. These qualities are very much used for elders in many conservative churches, but I think in the present women are just as capable of being leaders in the church in this way. A woman could be a family overseer. Also there is no reason a woman couldn’t teach and if people are truly following in God’s path and truly are saved they should not be greedy or violent or drunks and that is something that an elder needs to stay away from. However, I think we all should be staying away from that lifestyle. All of these qualities of elders should be taken seriously by any member of the body of Christ. We need to pay close attention to who we put into leadership within churches but also we should be practicing these qualities.

    • I agree, I see no reason why a woman today could not be a leader in the church this way. Just like a man being an elder would stay away from the sinful lifestyle and choices of today’s culture, so would a woman. We would pay just as much attention to the female elders as the male elders. In chapter two of 1 Timothy, Paul comments on some women who were treating worship services as a selfish way to show off and display their corrupt beliefs (2:8-15). Paul explained that those women should not lead in the church because they were appointing themselves as false teachers and leaders, which would lead believers astray. Paul was not saying that all women should never lead in the church, he was referencing those certain women at that time (2:12). Paul said that the elders were to be blameless, faithful to their spouse, and whose children are faithful and not disobedient (Longenecker, 268). The author of Thinking Through Paul suggests that the list Paul provides should be considered as a guide for the selection of ecclesial officers, not as a test because Paul himself was not married at the time and therefore would not have been considered a leader of the church (268). If the list Paul provides in 1 Timothy can be considered in the context of the time and can be interpreted in other areas, then what other measures can be taken for women to be considered leaders?

  6. While the qualifications listed in this section of 1 Timothy are rigorous, they are also very much needed in the body of Christ. Believers are so often like sheep, and strong leadership is required in order for a body to prosper and flourish. I find it interesting that in 1 Timothy 3:7, one of the stipulations is that an elder must have a good reputation outside of the church, “lest he fall into the devil’s trap.” Humble leadership is difficult to find, but it is so important, especially in the church. Pride can tear a church apart from within, and the Devil would like nothing more than to see that happen. According to Longenecker in reference to the passage, individuals who are called to leadership and then are puffed up with pride will be “disgraced,” much like the devil was when he was cast out of heaven (278). What an interesting parallel! Lucifer had more honor and was more distinguished than any of the other angelic beings, and yet, he tried to take the place of God, so he was cast out of God’s presence. This is an important reminder for leaders within the church to remain humble, directing the attention of the flock to the One who deserves all of the honor and the glory.

  7. When looking at the qualifications listed in this passage, there are many if not all that are still followed in some churches today. I know of many church that lean towards these qualifications, so it is obvious to see that these have not become irrelevant in our world. However, when looking at them, it is also obvious to see that these are mainly written for men. In that time period, there was a different view on women then there is today, and I think this needs to be taken into consideration when looking at churches today. We cannot get caught up in the idea that cultural differences and time differences do not exist, but need to understand these differences.

  8. The majority of these “qualifications” seem to be practiced still in modern day churches, but with some small differences. For example, the qualification of being able to teach. This is a very important quality for a leader in the church but it seems to me that it is not as important to be able to teach to the church as a whole. The teaching that elders are doing seem to be molded to what the person is comfortable with and good at. So while one elder might be completely comfortable teaching in front of the church, another might just be teaching a Sunday school class, or even just teaching in a one on one setting. Although these “qualifications” are rigorous and seemingly still practiced today, there seems to be more acceptance for tweaking these rules to allow a more diverse group of leaders within the church.

  9. When I went to my home church I was actually appointed as a deacon for a single year. I worked along side the elders, and I personally feel like as much as we want to try and live up to all the expectations in the Bible to be the perfect elders, sin is still a huge problem in the world and so even serving as an elder no one can live up to those expectations. But I think that being an elder is an extremely huge responsibility, and so God put those expectations for people to try and live up to them and so that people would take the position seriously!

  10. I think that all of the qualifications are in reason. I think that the elders need to have a good head on their shoulders to be able to lead others properly. I do think that women of the church can be given more responsibilities than they once were. It might be insightful to have a woman’s opinion on the board or even as an elder. I think that it is important for a church to be able to grow they need to be thinking from all angles. But I do agree with most of the qualifications, I think that it takes a strong leader to be an example for the church and everything it stands for. They need to be active in their faith and constantly reaching for more.

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