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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.”

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.

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.”

One of the problems reading 1 Tim 3 is that we tend to 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 that what we call “elder” in churches today is the same thing Paul describes here.

The “overseer” (ESV, Greek, ἐπισκοπή) was a kind of household manager, “position of responsibility, position of oversight” (LN 35.40). 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 a bit more historical baggage, most modern translations use “overseer.” It is possible that Timothy (and Titus) are functioning like “pastors to the pastors,” as“overseers” for a number of churches. Paul 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.

Paul is using a household metaphor which would have been understood by the members of the church. The metaphor for the church is a household, with Christ as the head. Individuals may be appointed to manage the household and have responsibility for what occurs in that household.

It is important to notice that Paul never uses “priest” to describe the leadership of Christian churches. This would be impossible for a Jewish-Christian writer, since that language was never applied 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.

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

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.

In 1 Timothy 3:6-7 Paul begins to deal with the sorts of false teachers who are present in Ephesus.  These are the people Timothy was sent to deal with, so it is strange that Paul would say “have nothing to do with these people.”  Paul is not describing generic sinful people, rather these are people in the churches in Ephesus who are in a state of rebellion against the scripture and are behaving in ways that deny the power of godliness.  Compare this to Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30.

It appears that the false teachers in Ephesus target women. While Timothy is command to have nothing to do with these men, it appears that some woman are unnaturally attracted to them.  The women are described as weak-willed (sometimes, “weak and silly women”).  This is a moral weakness, not intellectual, they are predisposed to follow these leaders.   Maybe the false teachers are manipulating these women in order to gain power in the congregations.  What is more, they are”loaded down with sins.” The verb has the sense of “heaped up,” overloaded, etc.  “They are “swayed by evil desire” Paul describes these women as “always learning,” probably with the sense that they are always looking for new and unique ideas, but they never get around to the truth!

The impression here is of a group of (perhaps) wealthy patrons of local elders.  They are married (the false teachers sneak into the household), and are perhaps older, with more free time to play the patron for philosophers or teachers.  This did occur in the ancient world, perhaps these women are treating Christian teachers in the same way they might treat a Greco-Roman philosopher.

Paul uses an fairly obscure analogy for the false teachers in Ephesus, Jannes and Jambres (verses 8-9).  These names do not appear in the Hebrew Bible, but according to both Jewish and Christian tradition, these are the names of the two magicians who opposed Moses in Ex 7:11, 9:11.  Jannes is mentioned in the Damascus Document 5:18, both appear in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Ex 7:11.  Origen, Against Celsus 4.51 claims there is a (now lost) work describing the two men, although the spelling of the name varies.  Citing legendary bad examples in comparison to the opponents to the gospel is not unique to Paul.  Both 2 Peter and Jude list a series of bad examples in order to describe their own opponents. In this case the emphasis is likely on their  opposition to the truth rather than on their use of occult.

That the false teachers are opposing the truth is called folly, and like Jannes and Jambres, they will not be able to stand up to the truth in the end.  Is this name-calling?  Not really, it is an argument from analogy.  Since the false teachers in Ephesus are “foolish” in a biblical sense, they cannot overcome the truth.  Can this strategy be used to deal with the sorts of “false doctrine” we encounter today?

Paul uses an economic metaphor in 1-2 Timothy to describe the content of the Gospel. This faith is a “deposit” (παραθήκη) which has been entrusted to Paul and Timothy to guard until the day when Christ returns as judge.

English: Young saint Timothy with his mother

A problem for us in reading 2 Timothy is the use of the word ‘tradition.”  This is not a tradition in the sense of a longstanding practice that we have “always done,” but rather a body of beliefs and behavioral expectations that define what it means to be a Christian (as opposed to a pagan or a Jew).  The tradition to be guarded is “an unchangeable deposit. Whether the church stands or falls depends upon leaders who are qualified to guard this deposit” (Towner, 294).

What is the Source of this “Deposit”? Paul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (2 Tim 1:11).   This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Tim 2:7.  The “preacher” in the ESV is better a “herald,” or “proclaimer.”  This is a person who is appointed to deliver a particular message, in Paul’s case, from God.  The language is a little different in 1 Tim 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Tim 2:2.  In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him.

Paul mentions things passed down to him in his earlier letters: Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles, such as 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection).   In 2 Thess 2:15 Paul encourages the congregation to “stand firm” in the traditions which Paul delivered to them.   Even in his earliest letter, Paul considers his gospel a tradition which cannot be modified (Gal 1:14).  Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation.

For some doctrines, this is a direct revelation that could not be deduced from the Hebrew Bible.  For example, in 1 Thess 4:13-18 Paul says that the Lord himself gave him the revelation of the rapture.  That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was unrevealed in the Hebrew Bible. In other cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus.  In other cases Paul is the source, but in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully.

For some of Paul’s teaching, he may have been led by the Holy Spirit to interpret biblical texts differently, or to combine texts from the Hebrew Bible in unique ways which supported the idea that Jesus is the Messiah or that salvation is apart from works.  Romans 4 indicates that the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel – this is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. (Spirit-led exegesis and scholarship which applies Scripture to new situations is in fact a source of proper teaching!)

In any case, the body “tradition” which Paul handed on to Timothy is to be guarded and invested, and passed on to the next generation of Christian leaders.

Bibliography:  Philip H. Towner, “Pauline Theology Or Pauline Tradition In The Pastoral Epistles: The Question Of Method,” Tyndale Bulletin  46 (1995): 285-314.  See also  P. H. Towner, The Goal of Our Instruction: The Structure of Theology and Ethics in the Pastoral Epistles (JSNTSupp 34; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989).

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1 Timothy, Titus and 2 Timothy are normally called the “pastorals epistles.”  The standard view is that  Paul is writing to individuals who he has placed in a leadership position overseeing churches.   The three books were first called “pastoral epistles” by Paul Anton in 1726.  The description has become so common that nearly every commentator on the books has described the letters as “church manuals” or “advice to young pastors,” etc.  For example, John McArthur entitles Titus 1:5-9 as “the qualifications of a Pastor.”

The usual “situation” of the letters runs a bit like this.  Timothy has taken on additional responsibilities as a superintendent over several churches planted by Paul.  First Timothy is therefore letter is personal advice to Timothy on how to organize the church, as well as other ministry related issues. The second letter written to Timothy is to ask him to come to him in Rome, and to bring Mark with him, but the pastoral emphasis is still the main theme. In Titus, the content is very similar to First Timothy, elders are described, and various potential problems are addressed.

Gordon Fee, however, has called this description into question. As Fee notes, if these are “church manuals” they are not particularly effective ones.  We end up with far more questions about the church after reading them!  It seems hard to believe that such a wide variety of church structures and styles would all call upon these letters to validate their ecclesiology, if in fact Paul intended them to be read as “manuals for doing church.”

The key, for Fee, is to read seriously what Paul about his reason for writing the letters in  1:5 and 3:15, especially in the light of his final speech to the Elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:17-35.

1 Timothy 1:3  As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer

1 Timothy 3:15 …if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Acts 20:30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

These verses do not concern organizing the churches from scratch, as if Paul has done just a bit of church planting and Timothy is sent in to finish the job (like a modern evangelist with a followup team).  There seems to be a serious false teaching that has caused the church at Ephesus serious problems.  The problem is internal (Acts 20:30), people from the inside have begun to teach things opposed to Paul’s message.

This means that 1 Timothy and Titus are concerned with appointed good elders and deacons who will defend the faith and behave in an appropriate way.  In Titus, for example, Paul tells Titus to appoint qualified leaders, and in doing so, he is replacing the “unqualified leaders” who are destroying congregations.   That these elders are unqualified is more clear once we look at how they have been teaching and behaving, but it is clear from the qualification list in 1:5-9 that there is a serious ethical and moral problem with some of the elders in these churches.

How then do we make use of these “qualifications” lists?  How are elders and deacons”different” than members of the congregation?  Or, are they different at all?

Bibliography:

Gordon D. Fee, “Reflections On Church Order In The Pastoral  Epistles, With Further Reflection On The  Hermeneutics Of Ad Hoc Documents,” JETS 28 (1985):141-151.

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