1 Timothy 3:2-7 – Elders Must Be Above Reproach

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. Of all the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3, this is the most controversial in terms of modern application. It 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. In addition, most conservative churches will read this as “the elder must be a man.” Others understand this qualification as “having only one spouse.” It seems unlikely many early Christians polygamy (that was really only for the uber-rich like Herod the Great). But Paul’s point is the elder is to live a life that is worthy of respect. Someone who has a reputation for sexual escapades and messy divorces (as were common among the Roman elite) is not worthy of the noble task of being an elder.

 

Sober-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.”

If these are the qualifications of a church leader, what kind of person is Paul describing? If this was a person who is “worthy of respect” in the Greco-Roman world, are these sorts of things still “worthy of respect” today? Are there culturally conditioned behaviors which might make a person less “worthy of respect” in a modern context which are not on this list? Perhaps there are some cultural values we might consider worthy which are missing from this list, should they be considered when discussing the qualifications of an elder?

1 Timothy 3:2 – Defining the Role of Elder

One of the problems reading 1 Timothy 3 is modern readers define the world elder through the lens of our modern church experience. While the office of elder does develop from Paul’s teaching in this passage, it is hard to say what we call an elder in churches today is the same thing Paul described in 1 Timothy. Elder boards in American churches tend to look quite a bit like boards which run large businesses. This is especially true for larger churches where a great deal of money and property is involved. Sometimes elders are appointed for what the contribute to the needs of the church. Unfortunately, some churches use financial contribution as a measure of what makes a good elder. Churches need accountants and people with a good head for running a business, so they tend to be appointed to a corporate elder board to run the business end of the church.

This is absolutely the opposite of Paul’s description of church leaders in 1 Timothy 3!

The overseer (ESV, Greek, ἐπισκοπή) was a kind of household manager. It was a “position of responsibility, position of oversight” (LN 35.40). In Septuagint, Genesis 50:24 used the word to translate פקד, a verb which is usually translated visit, but has the sense of look over and inspect something. Joseph says in the future, God will inspect Israel and guide them out of Egypt. In the history of the Greek language, the word was used for a wide variety of civil officials (TDNT 2:611 for examples). In the LXX the word occasionally is used to describe officers or rulers (Num 31:14, 2 Kings 11:15, Judg 9:28, Isa 60:17).

BishopIn the New Testament, the overseer appears to be the same as elder. A presbuteros (πρεσβύτεροι in Acts 20:28) generally refers to older men, but it was used as a technical term for an office in the synagogue prior to A. D. 70. As well as for members of the Sanhedrin. The term appears in Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22f; 16:4 with respect to the Jerusalem church, and in Acts 20:17; 21:18; 1 Tim 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet 5:1, 5 with respect to churches (whether Jewish Christian or Gentile).

Since the word “bishop” carries some (often negative) historical baggage, most modern translations use “overseer.” It is possible Timothy and Titus were both functioning as bishops, something like “pastors to the pastors.” They overseeing a number of churches. has sent Timothy to Ephesus to deal with a particular problem with elders who have defected from the truth and are behaving in a dishonorable way.

It is important to notice Paul never uses the word priest to describe the leadership of Christian churches. This would be highly unlikely for a Jewish-Christian writer since that language was never used to the synagogue. Essentially Paul is taking over the language of the leadership of the synagogues and using it to describe the leaders of individual house churches. In addition the word priest would man something quite different to a Gentile.

Paul is using a household metaphor which would have been understood by the members of the church. The Pastoral letters often use the metaphor of a household to describe the church and elsewhere Christ is described as a head (although of a body rather than the head of a household). If the church is like a Roman household, then members of the household may be appointed to manage aspects of the household or be given responsibility for what occurs in the household.

If Paul conceived of the leadership of a church as servants appointed by the master of the house, should church leadership be appointed for their business experience? How would the image of an elder as a household manage change the way the American church organizes itself? Is the corporate board model wrong?

1 Timothy 3:1 – A Noble Task

First Timothy 3 and 1 Titus 1 are well-known passages because the describe the qualifications for church leadership. We usually fret the most over the line about “one wife” and perhaps that the leader must have well-behaved children, but there is far more here than those two more controversial points.

TimothyLike the previous section, Paul’s main concern is that the church be organized and led in a way which gives it a good reputation with outsiders. This is also true in business: good reputations are hard to build, they take time. On the other hand, it does not take much at all to destroy a good reputation and develop a bad one.

If you have ever read a restaurant review online, you know that one bad experience can lead to a terrible review and potential lost business. One cranky customer who has bad food or poor service can leave a review (anonymously) online and scare dozens of people away. The same is true for church. A family might visit on a Sunday when things were not quite right in the nursery, the musicians were out of tune and didn’t really know the songs, or the pastor finished their sermon on the way to church. This visitor leaves unimpressed and never comes back, but they tell their friends they tried “that church” and it wasn’t very good.

But Paul is not talking about “church shoppers” in this text because this really did not happen in the first century. Paul is talking about leaders in a local house church who had a bad reputation with the community. Maybe they had some shady business practices or they were quick to bring lawsuits. Maybe they are known to attend the banquets at pagan temples and fully participate in debauchery. If the leader has a bad reputation outside the church, then they will bring their dishonor with them when the “desire to be an overseer.” To remedy this situation, Paul tells Timothy (and by extension, the churches) to appoint people to the office of Elder and Deacon who are qualified spiritually and morally for the task.

First Timothy 3:1 is another “trustworthy saying.” In this case it is not a theological statement, but that the person who aspires to be a leader in the church “desires a noble task.” Desiring to be a leader of a local house church is not a bad thing at all, it is a noble task, or a “good work” (καλοῦ ἔργου). To “desire” something (ὀρέγω) is not necessarily bad, Hebrews 11:16 uses the word for the desire to reach heaven. But the also word appears in 1 Timothy 6:10 for those who crave money and have fallen away from the faith. Josephus used the word to describe John of Gischala desire to set himself as a rule (Life, 70).

It is possible this opening line on  church leaders betrays the problem in Paul’s churches in Ephesus. It appears some people did not want to serve as leaders in the church. There are several possible reasons for this. First, perhaps the false teachers had created a situation where good people were not inclined to challenge them. They did not desire to become involved in leadership because it meant challenging these false teachers. A second possibility is the role of overseer or elder was not considered to be a role people wanted to do. It was not considered a noble task. It is also possible there were some who were capable and qualified but did not see themselves as “up to the task” of leading the church.

One serious problem for reading this passage is that we hear words like “elder and deacon” and immediately think of our modern church office of elder and deacon. This is anachronistic and does not help us understand Paul’s view of church leadership. If at all possible, it is best for us to bracket out modern church practice for a few minutes and try to read Paul in the context of first century Ephesus.

Acts 6-8 – A New Tradition?

Philip The DeaconIn his Beginning at Jerusalem, James Dunn collects a number of elements which make up a “Hellenist Tradition” in Acts 6-8 (243-4). Dunn’s point is to show that Luke had a cohesive source for this section Acts since the material found here is markedly different than Acts 1-5.  I agree with his evidence and think that Luke had a source for this section on Hellenistic ministry.  In the following I summarize a few of Dunn’s points with some expansions.

  • As I observed in a previous  post, language is an obvious difference.  Diaspora Jews in Jerusalem for a pilgrimage may have gathered in the Synagogue rather than the Temple to read and study Scripture in Greek.
  • There is dissension in the church.  Luke has repeatedly highlighted the unity and “one-mindedness” of the early community in Jerusalem, but now there is a serious rift between the two groups.
  • The Deacons are elected to their role by the Apostles.  There is no indication of divine appointment, as was the case when Judas was replaced in chapter 1.
  • The Deacons appear to be active in the Synagogue (6:9) rather than the Temple.  The Apostolic mission was based in the Temple courts.
  • Stephen is attacked by other Hellenists in the synagogue, not the Temple authorities.  Specifically, Stephen is accused of repeating Jesus’ threat to destroy the Temple.  More than that, Stephen is “changing the customs Moses delivered.”  The Apostles are not accused of anything like this, rather they appear to be conforming to the Traditions since they continue to worship in the Temple.
  • There is a clear negative Temple-motif in Stephen’s speech (7:46-50 especially).  This negative view of the Temple is not found in Peter’s sermons or the ministry of the Apostles.
  • God protected Peter and John when they were arrested, not so Stephen.  He is lynched by an angry mob for his sermon in Acts 7.  In contrast to the large number of converts after Peter’s sermons, Stephen has no converts and creates such tensions that even greater opposition develops.
  • I would add to this list that the ministry of Philip is Samaria is considerably different than the Apostolic mission.  Peter and John are no longer preachers in the Temple, but elders who guard the Gospel against corruption.  The Spirit moves beyond Jerusalem and a non-Apostle works miracles in Samaria.

What should we make of this evidence?  While this anticipates my next post, I think that what we have here in Acts 6-8 is another strand of the early Jesus movement.  The crowds which hear Peter preach in Acts 2 and 3 included both Hellenists and Hebraists, to use the language of Acts 6:1.  While Luke is at pains to highlight the unity of the community in Acts 1-5, he does not hide the fact that there was some factionalism along cultural lines from the very beginning.

I do not think this a bad thing, the Gospel is going to be far more than a Jewish messianic sect.  Luke has already told us the Gospel would go out to the whole world, beginning with Jerusalem and the diversity of Jewish belief and practice.  Is there more in Acts 6-8 that helps to support Dunn’s suggestion that this material is a drawn from a “cohesive source” that describes Hellenistic, Jewish ministry?

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.”

The Noble Task of Eldering (1 Timothy 3:1)

First Timothy 3 and 1 Titus 1 are well-known passages because the describe the qualifications for church leadership. We usually fret the most over the line about “one wife” and perhaps that the leader must have well-behaved children, but there is far more here than those two more controversial points.

TimothyLike the previous section, Paul’s main concern is that the church be organized and led in a way which gives it a good reputation with outsiders. This is also true in business: good reputations are hard to build, they take time. On the other hand, it does not take much at all to destroy a good reputation and develop a bad one.

If you have ever read a restaurant review online, you know that one bad experience can lead to a terrible review and potential lost business. One cranky customer who has bad food or poor service can leave a review (anonymously) online, and scare dozens of people away. The same is true for church.  A family could visit on a Sunday when things were not quite right in the nursery, the musicians were out of tune and didn’t really know the songs, and the pastor finished his sermon on the way to church. This family leaves “unimpressed” and never comes back, but they tell their friends that they tried “that church” and it wasn’t very good.

But Paul is not talking about “church shoppers” in this text, since that sort of thing did not exist in the first century. There are people in the congregation who are leaders in a local house church who have a bad reputation with the community. Maybe they have some shady business practices, or they are quick to bring lawsuits, or maybe they are known to attend the banquets at pagan temples and fully participate in debauchery. If the leader has a bad reputation outside the church, then they bring that dishonor with them when the “desire to be an overseer.” To remedy this situation, Paul tells Timothy (and by extension, the churches) to appoint people to the office of Elder and Deacon who are qualified spiritually and morally for the task.

First Timothy 3:1 is another “trustworthy saying.” In this case it is not a theological statement, but that the person who aspires to be a leader in the church “desires a noble task.” Desiring to be a leader of a local house church is not a bad thing at all, it is a noble task, or a “good work” (v. 1).

It is possible that this line betrays a problem in Paul’s churches in Ephesus. It appears that people were not wanting to serve as leaders in the church. There are several possible reasons for this. First, perhaps the false teachers had created a situation where good people were not inclined to challenge them, the did not desire to become involved in leadership because it meant challenging these false teachers. A second possibility is that the role of overseer or elder was not considered to be a job people wanted to do – it was not considered a “noble task.” It is also possible that people who were capable and qualified did not see themselves as up to the task of leading the church, perhaps for a combination of the previous two points.

One serious problem reading this passage is that we hear words like elder and deacon and immediately think of our modern “office” of elder and deacon. This is not necessarily going to help understand Paul’s view of church leadership. If at all possible, it is best for us to bracket out modern church practice for a few minutes and try to read Paul in the context of first century Ephesus.

Acts 6 – Who were the Hellenistic Jews?

Acts 6-8 describe the activities of two non-apostles, Stephen and Philip. Both are Hellenistic Jews, and neither is numbered among the Twelve. It is possible these men were not followers of Jesus prior to Pentecost. Perhaps they were among the crowd who hear Yet Stephen is the first martyr and his speech summarizing some important theological points in the transition between Peter’s ministry in Jerusalem and Paul’s mission in Acts 13.  Philip is the evangelist who brings the Gospel to Samaria and to an Ethiopian, perhaps fulfilling the commission in Acts 1 to go to Samaria and the “ends of the earth.”

This section is sometimes cited as an example of Luke creating a story in order to describe a smooth transfer of leadership from the Jewish followers of Jesus to the Hellenistic Jewish followers. But things are not as smooth as they appear. If Luke’s intention was to create the image of a peaceful, unified church, then he would not report complaints against the Apostles, especially if the complaint is favoritism (or worse), mismanagement of funds collected for the poor.

Hebrew and GreekActs 6:1 says that there was a problem between “Hebraic” and “Hellenistic” Jews. This needs to be explained carefully, since the word “Jew” does not appear in the text (although English translations regularly include it). Obviously these are all Jews, but there seems to be problem between the Jews who are in Jerusalem from “outside” and those Jews who remained on “the inside.” Chapters 6-8 concern the activities of two Hellenistic Jews and their ministry outside of the circle of the apostles in Jerusalem. I would suggest here that Luke has intentionally arranged several stories concerning Peter and John in chapters 2-4, and several stories concerning Stephen and Philip in chapters 6-8.

This is not necessarily a geographical division, although doubtless it often was. To be a “Hellenist” was to adopt the language and culture of the Greeks, while to be a “Hebrew” was to adopt a more tradition Jewish language and lifestyle. For Ben Witherington, language is the main issue (see Acts, 240-247, for an excellent excursus on the Hellenists). Bock, on the other hand, agrees more with my sketch of the Hellenists (Acts, 258-9). Language is an important issue, but it is not the only issue separating the Greek from Judean Jew.

Aside from historical accuracy, does this matter for reading Acts?  I think it helps understand that the community of earliest believers were far more diverse than Acts 2-5 would imply. If Peter and John represent the only form of the early followers of Jesus, then it is hard to explain the violent suppression of Stephen. This diversity is less a “development” in the earliest church, but a factor present from the beginning.