Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2020


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Covering 5:1-5:8




Chapter Five





Respect Is Owed to Older Church Members



                        TCNT:  1 Do not reprimand an older man, but plead with him as if he

were your father.  Treat the young men as brothers, 2 the older women as mothers,

and the younger women as sisters—with all purity.



            Treatment of his fellow males:  Dealing with those who are older.  The KJV and ASV’s rendering of “elder” is extremely misleading for it easily suggests the church governing officials of 1 Timothy 3.  This clearly can not be the case.  “This is evident, because the apostle immediately mentions in contradistinction from the elder, ‘the younger men,’ where it cannot be supposed that he refers to them as officers.  The command to treat the ‘elder’ as a ‘father,’ also shows the same thing.”[1]

            As does the expression “older women” in the next verse.  Paul W. Elliott makes a good argument when he argues:[2]  


Paul uses the feminine form presbuteras in the very next verse, and the two verses are parallel statements:  “Rebuke not a [male] elder (presbuteros), but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women (presbuteras) as mothers; the younger [women] as sisters, with all purity.”


            A specific type of language is under discussion.  Not your ordinary day to day discourse.  Not even a simple disagreement, but a situation in which one is tempted to outright “rebuke” an older church member (NKJV).

            That wording is still common enough (ESV, Holman, WEB) but since the overtone seems clearly to be of a pointed criticism, the NASB makes sense when it adds “sharply rebuke” or the NIV substitutes  “rebuke . . . harshly.” 

            The point is also conveyed when one translates “speak harshly” (ISV), “address . . . harshly” (NET), or describes it as “harsh words” (GW). The elements of sternness and bluntly challenging the behavior of another is also brought out when Weymouth speaks of “a sharp reprimand.” 

            The Easy To Read Version, the Expanded Bible, and the International Children’s Bible all render the admonition, “Don’t/Do not speak angrily to an older man.”  It is hard to imagine “harsh” words being spoken in any other way! 

All these make sense since the underlying Greek word, when used literally--which it never is in the New Testament--conveys the meaning of “to strike upon, to beat upon.”[3]  Hence the Cambridge Greek Testament defines the N.T. usage here as “to rebuke severely.”[4]  You are not only criticizing, you are doing it with a passion and commitment—wholeheartedly.   Luke T. Johnson captures well this intensity element when he renders the word “castigate.”[5]

This Paul regards as totally inappropriate when dealing with someone quite a bit older (and presumably more mature) than we are. 

They do need the correction, but it should be conveyed respectfully and with restraint.  One nineteenth century minister summed up the tension inherent in even legitimately criticizing someone who is significantly senior to us in years,[6]  


There is an unspeakable pleasure in study, in preaching, and in social and spiritual fellowship with Christian people; but to rebuke is a hard task, and requires both tact and courage.  Everything depends on the method and spirit in which reproof is administered, and we must seek to be fair and just as well as faithful.  To rebuke in a sharp and arrogant temper will do more harm than good, and to shirk the duty is a loss to ourselves and a wrong to the offender.  There is no part of a minister’s work that requires more caution and tenderness, and about which he needs to pray more earnestly, than in reproving evident sin with candor and fidelity.


            Those being criticized are identified as chronologically older than Timothy--“an older man” a rendering that remains nearly uniform (ESV, Holman, GW, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB).  Weymouth spells it out by speaking of “a man older than yourself.”  That certainly makes sense:  an “older man” has to be older than yourself when you are described as “a young man” like Timothy.  Of course one can’t imagine Paul considering it either proper or dignified for a minister to act this way just because he himself is relatively old!  It is a form of behavior that is inherently inappropriate at any age.              

            The right attitude in such criticism is not “to eat him alive and spit out the bones,” but to “exhort him as a father,” a reading retained by Holman and WEB.  The strength of the appeal is changed from “exhort” (in Holman, NIV, WEB) to “appeal to” (in ISV, NASB, NET) and “entreat” (Weymouth).  Some of the power of the exhorting concept seems bled out when it is changed to “encourage him” (ESV) and “talk to him” (GW).  You are attempting to convince him by reasoning rather than trying to impose it upon him by virtue of your own position or responsibility.  But you are also trying to put “power” in the manner you express your argument as well. 

            The fact that the person is not actually his father is made explicit by the addition of “as if” in a significant number of cases (GW, ISV, NIV, Weymouth).  Others leave it out, preferring “as a father” (Holman, NASB, NET, WEB) or “as you would a father” (ESV).  

            The root idea is to treat the other man as if he were your parent.[7]  What that meant in that culture--and should in ours—means with respect, courtesy, and the most profound wish for their well being.  You correct in such cases not because it is easy but because it is so needed.


            We noted in regard to elders that they needed to have a good reputation among outsiders.  One of the ways they got that was in how they treated others, giving all the deference and consideration others inherently deserved. 

            Timothy is not an elder but if he is to have credibility among casual acquaintances outside the church, he also needed to act in this kind of manner as well.  The same was true of Christians in general but here the person who especially needed the reminder was the representative he had sent to Ephesus to stabilize the situation and put affairs in order.  The same principle applied to him as to everyone else and he needed to keep it in mind.

            The surrounding world took for granted that this kind of respectfulness should exist.  Among Jews there was the warning from of old, “There is a generation that curses its father, and does not bless its mother” (Proverbs 30:11).  In the inter-testament literature chapter 3 of Sirach revolves around this theme of proper attitude toward parents, a plea that was inevitably generalized to all who were older (or are one’s own parents the only ones worth of respect?):            

Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure.

 Honor your father by word and deed, that a blessing from him may come upon you.

10 Do not glorify yourself by dishonoring your father, for your father’s dishonor is no glory to you.
           11 For a man’s glory comes from honoring his father, and it is a disgrace for children not to respect their mother.

12 O son, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives;

13 even if he is lacking in understanding, show forbearance; in all your strength do not despise him.

           14 For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and against your sins it will be credited to you. (RSVCE)


            At least as far back as Plato such attitudes were being praised by Gentiles:  “For no matter whom he meets, he will feel he is meeting a brother, a sister, a father, a mother, a son, a daughter.”[8]  The city of Priene was not far to the north of Miletus and an inscription dated to the first century B.C. gives praise to a certain man’s character:  he was “continually honoring older men as parents, peers as brothers, and younger men as sons.”[9]  In short, the attitude Paul advocated met a societal ideal readily understandable not just within the household of faith, but also outside of it as well. 


            Dealing with those who are younger:  The admonition on how to treat younger males is much the same:  it is to be similarly rooted in treating them as you would your own flesh and blood kin--speak to “younger men as brothers.”  This is occasionally altered to “like brothers” (ISV) and “as if they were your brothers” (GW).  The vast bulk simply retain the “as brothers” language (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).

            Timothy occupies a position of importance in the church as its minister.  It would be easy for him to think of himself as one not needing to be concerned with the younger folk like himself.  “After all, they aren’t really that important, are they?”  In one sense that is certainly true.  (At least as compared to Timothy, their preacher.)  Most have not yet “come into their own;” that lies in the future.  But they are still to be treated fairly and courteously--just as if they were your own blood kin.


Treatment of women:  Dealing with those who are older.  Moving on to how to address the older females of the congregation Paul invokes the image of dealing with the “older women as mothers” (5:2).  Although this is widely retained (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV), two translations—reflecting British usage?—refer to treating “elder women as mothers” (WEB, Weymouth).  The GW adds the implicit “as if they were your mothers” and the ISV alters it to “like mothers.”

            Again, there were certain modes of behavior expected when dealing with senior kin.  Having temper tantrums was not on that list.  Respectful pleading--even when they were in the wrong--certainly was.


            Dealing with those who are younger:  Similarly those females who were not yet in that category of being “older” were to be treated with dignity as well:  the admonition here is to deal with “younger women as sisters  (5:2).  This language is normally retained (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV, Weymouth) although one rendition drops the “women” mention out, changing the text to treating the “younger as sisters” (WEB).  The ISV stresses the non-literalness of the kinship reference by speaking of “younger women like sisters” and the GW “younger women as if they were your sisters.”


            Paul is concerned not only with the language Timothy uses in dealing with such problem cases but also with his retaining his own moral integrity:  He is to behave “with all purity” as well, altered to “in all purity” by some (NASB, ESV, WEB).  The intensity of the purity is emphasized by “with absolute purity” (ISV, NIV) and “with complete purity” (NET).  The simultaneousness of the teaching and the purity is stressed by “while keeping yourself morally pure” (GW).  This might be a shade too precise.  Wouldn’t Paul’s concern equally be with the purity of the girl or woman Timothy knows? 

            The purity element seems significantly reduced when we alter the reading to “with all propriety” (Holman) or “with perfect modesty” (Weymouth).

            Since he has just mentioned “younger women,” it is hard to read this without assuming that Paul has specifically in mind Timothy’s sexual behavior:  don’t use your efforts to help or reform others as a mask to take advantage of them.  Don’t become so wrapped up in the person being dealt with that the positive goals give way to the satisfaction of one’s own desires.

            The college professor Daniel Burke has some perceptive things to say on the subject using the typical denominational label for preachers and ministers.  It is longer than most of our quotes but contains considerable thought provoking insights:[10]


            A pastor who has learned the art of communicating with warmth and compassion can easily find himself in a situation of emotional connection with a woman that he ought not have such a connection with.  And so Paul says that there must be no hint of impropriety in his ministry to younger women.

            But it is important to notice that Paul places two obligations on Timothy’s relationship to younger women.  Timothy must treat them “in all purity” and treat them “as sisters.”  Pastors have an obligation to get this balance correct.

            On the one hand, he must relate to these young women “in all purity.”  That means that he must learn to think about and to talk to these women in ways that neither imply nor intend any sexual possibility.  There are certain emotional and physical connections that are only appropriate to marriage.  And the faithful pastor must avoid making those connections with women who are not his spouse. He must relate “in all purity.”

            On the other hand, the pastor has an obligation to relate to these young women as “sisters.”  This means that a pastor must not simply withdraw from relating to the women of his congregation.  He may make private efforts to gouge out his own eye or cut off his own hand (Matthew 5:28-30).  But the pastor’s quest for personal holiness does not authorize him to cut off the eyes and hands of Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:21).  And that is what these younger sisters are—members of the body of Christ.  A pastor must not simply tune these women out as if they weren’t members of the body of Christ.

            A female seminary student once told me a story about a time she said “hello” to a male classmate before class started.  His response to her was “I’m married,” and then he turned away.  This misses the mark. A pastor must strive for holiness, but he must be careful not to let his striving turn into stiff-arming the younger women of the congregation.  How arrogant it is to assume that if a female says “hello” that she is trying to be a home-wrecker.   one should be naïve about the fact that there are promiscuous women in the world that all men need to beware of (see Proverbs 5).  Likewise, a pastor must be vigilant.  But he must also not be so cynical that ordinary conversation with a Christian woman be interpreted as a sexual advance.                  

            What does it communicate to a sister in Christ if a pastor treats her like that? It tells her that his mind is preoccupied with things it ought not be preoccupied with. It also communicates that he thinks her very existence is a threat to holiness. It communicates that he is not thinking of her as a sister “in all purity.”

            Sibling relationships help us to remember that it is possible to have a warm brotherly love for a person of the opposite sex that involves no sexual intention or possibility.  And that is why Paul presses the familial analogy in this teaching about sexual purity.  We all know what it’s like to have female family members—perhaps a mother or a sister or an aunt, etc.  And thus we can imagine what it is like to have relationships in which sex is the farthest thing from anyone’s imagination.  Paul wants pastors to retrain their minds to think of the younger women in the same way—as family members.



            Of course there are other ways purity can be compromised and it is impossible to believe that “with all purity” is limited only to younger women or to a sexual sense either--however much that may be his immediate emphasis.  Or is everyone else supposed to be fair game?  I suspect you will be like me and find that rather hard to believe!

            The “purity” injunction can be violated through self-serving business dealings for example.  It can also be violated through self-centered “charity giving advice”--with the “charity” actually benefiting you or your interests.  If one has become their “tutor in the faith” (so to speak) the obvious opportunity is there to try to take advantage of their respect for you to gain yourself a better financial situation.

            We know that certain religious folk in the first century were guilty of exactly that kind of economic chicanery.  For example, Jesus rebuked those of his day who used their spiritual influence to rip off widows of their resources:


38 Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, 39 the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses (cheat [CEV], take advantage of [GNT], rob [GW]) and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation.”  (Mark 12)     


            This was nothing new, of course:  In the days of Isaiah, the prophet spoke of how the powerful “take what is right from the poor of My people, that widows may be their prey” (Isaiah 10:1-2).  Human nature doesn’t change; there will always be those who take advantage of their power or position to exploit others.  The antidote to this is caution (on the part of the potential victim) and the cultivation of moral uprightness (by those who might be in a position to do it).






Personal and Congregational Obligations

Toward Widows



                        TCNT:  3 Show consideration for widows—I mean those who are really

            widowed.  4 but, if a widow has children or grand-children, let them learn to show

            proper regard for the members of their own family first, and to make some return

            to their parents; for that is pleasing in God's sight.

5 As for the woman who is really widowed and left quite alone, her hopes

are fixed on God, and she devotes herself to prayers and supplications night and

day.  6 But the life of a widow who is devoted to pleasure is a living death.

7 Those are the points on which you should dwell, that there may be no

call for your censure.  8 Any one who fails to provide for his own relations, and

especially for those under his own roof, has disowned the Faith, and is worse than

an unbeliever.

9 A widow, when her name is added to the list, should not be less than

sixty years old; she should have been a faithful wife, 10 and be well spoken of for

her kind actions.   She should have brought up children, have shown hospitality to

strangers, have washed the feet of her fellow-Christians, have relieved those who

were in distress, and devoted herself to every kind of good action.

11 But you should exclude the younger widows from the list; for, when

they grow restive under the yoke of the Christ, they want to marry, 12 and so they

bring condemnation upon themselves for having broken their previous promise. 

13  And not only that, but they learn to be idle as they go about from house to

house.  Nor are they merely idle, but they also become gossips and busy-bodies,

and talk of what they ought not.  14 Therefore I advise young widows to marry,

bear children, and attend to their homes, and so avoid giving the enemy an

opportunity for scandal.

15 There are some who have already left us, to follow Satan.  16 Any

Christian woman, who has relations who are widows, ought to relieve them and

not allow them to become a burden to the Church, so that the Church may relieve

those widows who are really widowed.



            One category of widows the church is to be especially concerned about (5:3):  Honor widows who are really widows.”  This verse has two aspects.  The first is the attitude that is to be held toward them:  “Honor widows.”  The idea is to respect them in word and behavior, to give them the status and esteem they deserve.  Children who could help them should have automatically--then or today--remembered that without them they would not be alive . . . they would literally not exist.  If they are typical parents, they’ve seen you through some rough times—if you’ve been unlucky, through some really rough times.  So in  regard to family members it is automatically a matter of moral obligation and respect.

             All this is true and should be remembered.  But in regard to the church’s duty it has reasonably been argued that the term “honor” should be interpreted within that different context/point of reference.  For the church’s role is what is heavily stressed in this beginning of the chapter with only two verses zeroing in on that of the children (verses 8, 15).  Henry Alford in the Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary presents the case this way:[11]


            τίμα] Is this to be interpreted generally, ‘honour’ merely, or with reference to the context?  The best guide to an answer will be what follows.  If the command be merely to hold them in honour, why should the destitute be held in more honour than those who had families?  The command χήρας τίμα would surely apply to all alike.

            But seeing that it does not apply to all alike, we must necessarily limit its general meaning to that particular in which the one would be honoured, and the other not.  Thus without giving or seeking for an unusual meaning to τίμα, we may fairly interpret it of this particular kind of honour, viz. being inscribed on the Church’s κατάλογος (1 Timothy 5:9) as a fit object of charitable sustenance.  That such a roll existed in the very earliest days of the church, we know from Acts 6:1.


            Heinrich Meyer believes that this unduly limits the mind frame Paul has in mind:[12]


            Granted that all that follows referred only to money-support to be given to the widows, why should not these special exhortations be introduced by one of a more general nature?  . . .  Hence, with several old and some recent commentators . . . we should retain the usual meaning of τιμᾷν.  Their support by the church is simply a consequence and proof of the τιμᾷν.


            It should be noted that when Jesus invokes the teaching of the Old Testament in Matthew 15:4 (“honor your father and your mother”) the Greek word used is the same as found here.  There it specifically applies to the obligation to provide financial support (15:5-6) though that is unquestionably only one expression of the general respect that is also due them.


            The second aspect of the verse is identifying who is under discussion those “who are really widows” (NKJV).  I suspect that many of us of my age immediately recall the KJV’s wording, “Honour widows that are widows indeed.”

            “Honor” is retained by all our sample translations except for Holman which speaks of “support widows” and the NIV that instructs to “give proper recognition to those widows.”  Since the admonition to embrace this attitude is immediately followed by the instruction to provide for their survival needs, we have here a cause-effect relationship:  Because we give them the “honor” they deserve, we provide the help they need.[13]  Both individually (verses 4-8) and congregationally (verses 9ff.).

            One is reminded of the discussion of faith and works in James 2.  In that case the argument is that because we have true faith we must have the behavioral “works” that flow from it and without which we cannot legitimately claim that “faith” even exists—the “works” being charitable (James 2:14-17), as in this case.  In a similar vein, Paul argues that because we honor widows we provide them the assistance they need.  (An aside:  In light of this correlation, why should anyone really believe Paul would have any problem with James making the faith plus works combination?) 


The original KJV’s “widows indeed” is retained by the NASB and WEB.  The NKJV’s “really widows” is utilized by none.  The conceptual equivalent is found, however, in the expressions “truly widows” (ESV) and “genuinely widows” (Holman). 

            But how in the world could a widow possibly be a “widow” and not a “real widow” as well--with the obvious exception of intentional fraud?  The context explains  that for the bulk of widows their offspring is the proper source from which to seek help and how church assistance is limited to a narrow spectrum that meets certain specifications.  So far as church support goes only the latter are “really widows,” actually qualifying for  church support. 

            Two translations, presumably working from this recognition, insert the intent as part of the translation:  “Honor widows who have no families” (GW) and “honor widows who have no other family members to care for them” (ISV).

            This at least is fully required by the contextual intent.  Veering away from this is to speak of those “who are really in need” (NIV, Weymouth) and “truly in need” (NET).  This shifts the emphasis from family obligations to personal economic status.  It seems inherently improbable that anyone with any sense of responsibility would seek help from others—either church or family—unless they were “in need.”  Hence it introduces what there was no need to say in the first place and ignores the context of what is said, that of family responsibilities.     

            For the church, its help is giving them special “honor.”  But for both family and church, “honor” in the broader sense is also imperative.  It must be manifested in the language we use in regard to them and in our actions in dealing with them.  Both need to manifest respect.  From the practical standpoint, they may be a “nuisance” and a diversion of time and effort from what we would prefer to be doing.  But they exist, they have a problem, and we have the responsibility and duty to do what we can to deal with it.  Not grudgingly and with cursing but generously and with consideration.  



            The first line of defense for widows is their immediate family and its offspring (5:4):  But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.


            The extent of obligation discussed is that of “children or grandchildren.”  This language is retained by all our survey translations (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  The adage of my youth was “charity begins at home” and that is the way God intends it.  One may have to survive without family because of personal or societal irresponsibility, but that doesn’t mean that individuals live the kind of lives God intends.

            Generations are interdependent.  Children need parents to survive childhood.  Parents traditionally have needed children in their old age.  Modern society has tempered the bulk of that need.  But when one looks at the vast amounts of promised help against the resources that will be available ten or twenty or thirty years from now, one has to wonder how much longer the intentional disruption of inter-generational links will be feasible.  

            This admonition to the children and grandchildren is presented as a fundamental lesson that it is essential to practice:  “let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents.”  It is their priority obligation:  first learn” to do this.  Yes, you have obligations toward your spouse and own children—but this provides you no right to neglect your responsibilities toward those who came before you.  You would not be alive if they had neglected you; now they may not stay alive without your assistance. 

            “Let them first learn to show piety at home” shows that this comes before even our religious observance “at church” or in any other religious context.  If your religious observance is only reflected in what you do at church services it suffers a grievous fault.  The “community” aspect of our faith grows out of our household expression of our faith.  The former is never intended to become a substitute for the latter.

            Personal note:  My now deceased mother took care of my grandmother in our home for several years.  My uncle never offered help or enquired at all about how things were going with his mother.  When she died the version of reality that he passed on to his (in this case Baptist) Church members was about how concerned and involved he had been.  No doubt he fooled them.  But the Lord knows.  And that should be more alarming than any opinion his fellow church members could ever have.

            Three reasons are given to support one’s parents and grandparents.  The initial reason is “to show piety at home.”  “Piety” is a term that most non-Catholics find easier to grasp when applied to religious ascetics or Roman Catholic nuns.  As a reference to their own lives, it seems rather strange.

            The expression is still common in translations (NASB, WEB, Weymouth), although NASB tries to “humanize” it by speaking of “to practice piety,” which shows that the emphasis is on what one does rather that what one is (i.e., religious):  one lives their religion rather than merely verbally embracing it.

            Although “godliness” as a substitute still suffers from the inherent disability of taking a term more easily linked to one’s religiousness “at church” than to one’s actions outside a strictly religious context, the substitution can be worded to show that constructive behavior is in mind rather than something abstract:  “learn to practice godliness toward their own family” (Holman).  Perhaps I am being temperamental here, but that still seems superior to “learn to show godliness to their own household” (ESV).  You aren’t trying to put something on exhibit (“show”); you are trying to live in a constructive manner (“practice godliness”).

            The best alternative seems to be, “to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family” (NIV).  This avoids the semi-mystical overtones that the words “piety” and even “godliness” can take in a person’s mind.  “Learn to respect their own family” (GW, ISV) and “to fulfill their duty toward their own household” (NET) represent what is being urged, but omit any explicit mention of these familial responsibilities simultaneously also being religiously obligated ones.  Hence I’ll stick with “put[ing] their religion into practice by caring for their own family” (NIV) as best conveying Paul’s point to the modern mind.

            Stepping outside our usual group of comparisons both the Revised Standard Version and Today’s English Version (a/k/a Good News for Modern Man) does a fine job here, just as the NIV does.  The RSV refers to Christians performing our “religious duty” to our parents and the TEV makes it the “first” of our “religious duties.”          


            Strangely enough there was a segment of first century Palestinian theology that actually thought that the filial obligations to parents could be waived aside by devoting those resources to “spiritual” matters.  Rebuking “the Pharisees and scribes” (Mark 7:5), Jesus cited this as an example of their twisting the Divine law away from its original intent:


He said to them, All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”


            As A. T. Robertson rightly remarks on our 1 Timothy text, “No ‘corban’ business here.  No acts of ‘piety’ toward God will make up for impiety towards parents. . . . Filial piety is primary unless parents interfere with duty to Christ (Luke 14:26).”[14]


            Although this is a sermonic point more than an exegetical one, it should still be remembered that the language of “show piety at home” concerns far more than just providing for one’s kin when they are in need.  That is the only one of immediate concern to Paul, but it is impossible to see how or why he would possibly limit it to that subject alone. 

            This is because being publicly religious and zealous is of little value if this kind of family lifestyle is shunted aside:  we are just behaving as a non-baptized and self-centered atheist.  (And many of them would likely hesitate to act in such a manner too--making it even more humiliating for an alleged “Christian” to do so!)  As a preacher over a 140 years ago wrote while emphasizing a different aspect of believer responsibility:[15]


The test of a man’s piety is to be found in the home.  It is a common complaint of to-day that men and women show their Christianity everywhere but at home and among their own people. . . .  The home and home relatives and friends have the first claim upon us.  No amount of meeting-going can make up for the neglect of the home. 

Men and women have been known to look after other people’s children in Sunday-school and elsewhere while their own children are allowed to run wild, and the ground thus lost can never be recovered. . . .  The truly pious person will not be content with sticking up in the living-room a card inscribed ‘Christ is the Head of this house’; he will show by his every word and thought and deed that he realizes the guiding, sanctifying presence of the Master in all affairs of home life.


            For more details on the “corban” dodge to responsibility, see the discussion of the Matthew 15 parallel further below:  Religion as an excuse to ignore such responsibilities:  Corban.”


            The second reason to provide assistance to needy parents/grandparents is to “repay their parents.”  The language of “repay/repaying their parents” is widely retained (GW, ISV, Holman, NET, NIV, WEB).  The NIV adds to this, “and grandparents” to the wording.

            Departing from this consensus are “to prove their gratitude to their parents” (Weymouth) and “to make some return to their parents” (ESV, NASB).  NET prefers “what is owed them.”

            All of these convey the idea of obligation.  Hence the appropriateness of “repay” language.  We owe them a great deal in fact.  They put up with our odd and eccentric behavior when we were young.  They put up with our rebellions and paid our bills even when we were thoroughly ungrateful.  At this point in life we reach “repayment” time and all the grouching and bellyaching in the world will not remove that debt we owe.  They were there when we were at our most vulnerable.  Now it is our turn to be there when they are at theirs.


            The third reason is that God regards such behavior as both “good” in His sight and “acceptable.”  None of our alternate translations retain both words.  Only two translations retain even one of them:  “for this is acceptable in the sight of God  (NASB, WEB).  All the others use some variation of how this behavior “pleases” or “is pleasing” to God (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV).  Weymouth expands this slightly to “well pleasing in the sight of God.”

            Luke T. Johnson rightly notes that, “What is most significant here is that Paul’s diction gives domestic relations a religious dimension.  It is not simply social conventions that are at work, but religious piety.”[16]  It is an inherent part of our spiritual obligations.  To ignore it would be rather like saying, “I’m a faithful Christian. . . . but I’m never going to church.”  We may delude ourselves but God will know better. 

            A note on the omission of “good” in “good and acceptable:  Although some ancient translations and some Greek language manuscripts include this word, the numbers are so limited that it is generally assumed that this has been an inadvertent copyist’s addition based upon the wording in 1 Timothy 2:3:  “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”[17]   

            The NKJV is among that minority that still retains it--but part of their fundamental purpose was to retain a modernized form of the KJV even where a far greater amount of Greek textual evidence is now available and rejects it.  Their footnote, tellingly, notes that both the critical text and the majority text reject it.  So, as in other cases, it is quite candid as to where it differs from other modern translations.  (This remains my favorite one.)    


            Preaching tends to fall into one of two categories:  condemnatory, with moral weaknesses or doctrinal error as the target . . . or commendatory in which positive and “feel good” virtues are stressed.  (Truth be told, both kinds of preaching are actually needed--but they need to be kept in balance!)

            Ironically, there are even positive, upbeat themes that get neglected because they also involve obligations and duties and responsibilities that demand of us behavior that is different from the human default mode of non-involvement.  We want to feel good, but we don’t necessarily want to do good.  That takes, time, effort, and even money.

            Can one think of a better example of this than Paul’s current theme?  What is more positive than respect and honor of one’s parents?  But when Paul spells out what that means, he is simultaneously demanding that things be done to demonstrate that honor and respect.

            Because we have—so far—a prosperous country, we have been able to provide social security and establish welfare for the elderly so that the children and grandchildren Paul mentions rarely have had to face destitute parents.  This has run from the 1970s until the 2010s.  But what if that prosperity no longer permits as much societal generosity?  What if the economy crashes?  What if unknown circumstances intervene and destroy that capacity?

            Are those offspring and offspring of offspring willing to “put their money where their mouths are” when it comes to spending their own money and resources for the assistance of those kin?  Paul tells us in this verse that true religion (“piety”) requires it—not personal convenience or economic well being.  Are we psychologically prepared to carry that responsibility? 

            For that matter even in the current time of “prosperity” many elderly barely get by.  Have we demonstrated our willingness to help them go beyond mere “survival rations” and have at least a little “breathing room?”  In light of what Paul has to say here, would he speak kind words or would he shake his head in sorrow at us?


            Before we pass on one final note.  Paul’s emphasis is on the positive, “this is good and acceptable before God.”  But does this not have an unavoidable negative implication as well?  “Not doing this is not good and not acceptable before God.”

            Although Paul doesn’t spell out what the eternal consequence would be for a failure to do so but--after stressing it so emphatically--can one doubt there would be one? 

            Traditional Jewish authorities were occasionally quite willing to provide an answer.  In Josephus’ Against Apion (2:28) he insists--surely not actually reflecting the common reality--that such would be punished by death:  The law ordains also, that parents should be honored immediately after God himself, and delivers that son who does not requite them for the benefits he hath received from them, but is deficient on any such occasion, to be stoned.”[18] Perhaps he regards this as a non-verbal form of “cursing his father or mother” which was supposed to be punished by death (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; cf. Proverbs 20:20).

            In contrast book two of the Sibylline Oracles lays out their eternal fate quite emphatically in its picture of the coming judgment day.  In spite of it being longish, it is still worth spending a little time on:[19] 


290 Shall (Uriel) summon to the judgment-seat;
And also those whom flesh-devouring fire
Destroyed in flame, even these shall he collect
And place before the judgment-seat of God.
    And when the high-thundering Lord of Sabaoth
295 Making an end of fate shall raise the dead,
Sit on his heavenly throne, and firmly fix
The mighty pillar, then amid the clouds
Christ, who himself is incorruptible,

Shall come unto the Incorruptible
300 In glory with pure angels, and shall sit
At the right hand on the great judgment-seat
To judge the life of pious and the way
Of impious men. . . .

310 Who are to be judged at the judgment-seat,
That worthy recompense they may receive
And pay for all each did in mortal life.
And then shall all pass through the burning stream
Of flame unquenchable; but all the just
315 Shall be saved; and the godless furthermore
Shall to all ages perish, all who did
Evils aforetime, and committed murders,
And all who are accomplices therein,
Liars and thieves, and ruiners of home. . . .

330 More hurtful than the leopards and the wolves
And more vile; and ill that are grossly proud

And usurers, who gains on gains amass
And damage orphans and widows in each thing;
And all that give to widows and to orphans
335 The fruit of unjust deeds, and all that cast
Reproach in giving from their own hard toils;
And all that left their parents in old age,
Not paying them at all, nor offering
To parents filial duty, and all who
340 Were disobedient and against their sires
Spoke a harsh word. . . .


            For the purposes of our study we only need to note that Books 1-3 and 5 are typically viewed as predominantly Jewish but as having been revised and expanded by a later generation of Jewish authors as well.  Christian interpolations also exist within them and some suspect that the harsh remark on treatment of parents could come from such a source.  But if Josephus could come down so severely on such negligence would it be surprising for more deeply religious Jews to have extrapolated the deserved punishment out to its eternal consequences?  



With family resources lacking or exhausted, the deeply pious ones are to be assisted by the local congregation (5:5-6):  Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.  (6) But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.”

Some regard these widows as occupying a church “office,” apparently because, like other church positions, qualifications had to be met:  “Qualifications for these offices are explicitly set out,” citing such other examples as elders and deacons.[20]  There seems a profound difference between setting qualifications to hold a post in the church and setting qualifications to obtain benefits from the church.  Both involve meeting qualifications but for very different purposes.

To argue they prove a church position is being granted would be rather like saying that a person receiving food stamps from the government--after meeting the qualifications that are required--holds a government office like Congressmen and Senators do.  Is this not a rather ludicrous equating of the proverbial “apples and oranges”?    

An equally odd abuse of our text is found in Steven L. Davies:[21]


A church that could provide for such a group of dependent women would have to be one with a reasonably well-organized social structure such that funds might be solicited, collected, administered, and disbursed efficiently and fairly.  Indeed, it is an intent of the letter First Timothy to outline a church hierarchy such that fiduciary support could be efficiently provided to widows and that only destitute widows might receive financial support.


Admittedly he hedges at least a little by saying this was “an intent” rather than “the intent,” yet he seems to regard church offices existing mainly if not solely through the lens of church provided welfare.  Oddly no hint of this reasoning is given in connection with the appointments in chapter 3 itself.  In the light of both the false and foolish teachings that were labeled as clear and present dangers, does any one really believe that such factors as having men qualified to oversee church welfare was a major reason for their appointment--rather than one of the beneficial consequences of having elders and deacons in the first place?  In fact, having individuals in charge of church operations was an essential for just about anything the congregation decided to do.

Furthermore Paul’s listing of strict qualifications for prolonged church help clearly results in severely limiting their number.  Why then would one expect providing an organizational structure to assist them be a dominant reason for their appointment?  (In Acts 6 the appointment of “deacons” is and is quite explicitly stated!)  It may well be that Davies is working from the assumption that the epistle is second century when such factors might play a more important role.  But even in that context, the limitation of participation would still, surely, result in it having minimal impact on the need to appoint leadership figures!   


The first requirement for ongoing church assistance--the lack of both husband and offspring (5:5):  she who is really a widow, and left alone.”  The description is an interlocked two part one.  First comes “really a widow.”  As in regard to wording found earlier, translations vary significantly.  Some speak of “a widow indeed” as in the traditional KJV (NASB, WEB), “the real widow” (Holman), and “truly a widow” (ESV).  A different contingent emphasize her financial rather than family lack:  “really in need” (NIV, Weymouth) and “truly in need” (NET).  Only the ISV substitutes here an explicit reference to the lack of surviving family:  “a woman who has no other family members to care for her” (ISV), foreshadowing the same fact being reflected in what is immediately added--her being “left all alone.”


            Next comes the logical connection that goes with the idea of being fully a widow, “and left alone.”  This is both retained (NASB) and slightly expanded, “left all alone” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NIV).  The aloneness aspect is conveyed by NET by substituting “completely on her own.”  Perhaps trying to convey the emotional aspect of a woman in such a situation, Weymouth speaks of her being “friendless and desolate.”  WEB simply leaves it at “desolate.”

            One translation avoids listing two specifications and combines them together:  “a widow who has no family” (GW).

            Between these two expressions, we easily grasp that the idea is that she has absolutely no close kin who can be counted on to provide ongoing assistance.  If she had her own resources, she would likely not need the assistance.  Even if she has friends, even friends can only do a little—especially when their own resources are tight and restricted.  She needs someone she can count on for ongoing help rather than an occasional “hand out.”  If families aren’t to be good for that, what in the world are they to be good for? 


The second requirement for church support--a demonstrated record of piety in her old age (5:5):  trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.”

            Again a two part reference, one that begins with the reason for her prayers:  she “trusts in God.”  “Hope” or “hopes” is typically the replacement, though with varying additional wording.  Some speak of how she “put/puts” her hope in that source (Holman, NIV), has it “set” on that source for assistance (ESV, NET, WEB), or has it “fixed” on Him (NASB, Weymouth).  The ISV opts for “has placed her hope in God.”

            Only one translation attempts to find a different substitute for “hope” and that one comes up with “has placed her confidence in God” (GW).

            This is a common concept in the Psalms.  This optimism is not one blind to the fact that evil days occur; it is recognition that God has the power to intervene and right the situation (Psalms 13:1; 112:7). 

In Psalms 9:10 confidence that God will do this is rooted in the fact that He has done so in the past and there is every reason to assume He will continue to act in the same way:  And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.”  “You have never deserted those who seek your help” (GW).  You “do not abandon those who seek your help” (NET).  

In Psalms 7:1 it is connected with escape from earthly foes—a principle that would inevitably be applied to escape from the severe trials of physical want as well:  O Lord my God, in You I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me.”

An important principle not to be overlooked is that the confidence is tied like super glue to our moral behavior:  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord” (Psalms 4:5).”  Vindicate me, O Lord, For I have walked in my integrity.  I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip” (Psalms 26:1).  “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness” (Psalms 37:3).  You will have noticed the same implied linkage in Paul’s writings:  God expects you to do the right thing and because you do you have a firm foundation for confidence in God’s help.  

            Jewish members would already be aware of such texts and principles and Gentile converts would quickly and easily have gained knowledge of this from that source as well as apostolic age teaching stressing the same thing.


            Next comes a description of the prayers themselves, “continues in supplications and prayers night and day.”  The language of “prayers” is overwhelmingly predominant, only replaced in one case with the phrase “to pray” (NIV) and in another with “praying” (GW).

            In the case of “supplications” the consistency is lost.  It is retained in two cases (ESV, Weymouth).  “Petitions” replaces it in three additional cases (Holman, ISV, WEB), with “entreaties” (NASB) and “pleas” also being invoked (NET) by others.  The concept is reduced to its simplest form when we read of how they would “ask God for help” (NIV), “asking for his help night and day” (GW).

            The only resource they can absolutely count on is God.  And now they cast their worries and fears on His shoulders, confident of receiving help.       

            Where do these prayers take place?  Some regard it as probable that this refers to her regular participation in church prayer services.[22]  But does it seem at all likely that the language of “continues in supplications and prayers night and day” would refer to that narrow a time frame? 

            The broadness of the language seems intended to convey the idea that this will happen at varied times and on multiple occasions during both day and night.  It “indicates regularity rather than continuous activity.”[23]  It “suggests unremitting application to something.”[24]  It is a practice that is never neglected and often resorted to.

            We can see this principle illustrated by the behavior of the writer of this epistle.  When Paul refers to how “night and day” he was “praying exceedingly that we may see your face” (1 Thessalonians 3:10), does that mean the prayers were limited to times of church services?  No; rather it was regularly and repeatedly done and could occur at any time that he was awake.

            In Psalms 88 we read of the grief stricken and hurting Israelite acting in this manner as well:  “O Lord, God of my salvation, I have cried out day and night before you” (verse 1).  He stands in emotional turmoil and in danger of death (verses 3-4).  And he prays only at certain times of public prayer?  Again this kind of ongoing prayer argues for a far broader application than just worship services.  The prayer is habitual and as natural a part of the day and night as breathing.


The third requirement for church support--avoiding a life of sinful self-centered behavior (5:6):  she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.”  Note that our summary of the requirement is a deduction, a necessary inference from what is said.  The requirement that she must not behave in such a manner is not spelled out.  Living in such a way is simply denounced and we are left to make the essential deduction for can anyone credibly and with a straight face deny that is his intent?  This is an example of the necessity and the authority of necessary inference as a tool of Biblical exegesis—without it one can fail to catch an obviously intended point.

            “Pleasure” is normally retained as the description of her corrupt and self-centered attitude (GW, NET, NIV, WEB), though some prefer to modify it to either “wanton pleasure” (NASB) or “pleasure loving” (Weymouth).  Although not strictly meaning the same thing, “self-indulgent” (ESV, Holman, ISV) certainly does describe the mind frame envolved.


            What Paul is laying out are the moral prerequisites of doing on the church dole.  Of course implicit in this is the ongoing demand that she not drift into this kind of behavior afterwards either.

            For some interpreters, the pleasures are sexual pleasures that she has no moral access to since she is not in a marital relationship.  (The wickedness of their culture not to mention contemporary America makes this the approach that makes the most sense to me.) 

One can easily imagine how this could occur.  The man is kindly.  Sexual pleasures are exchanged for the “nice things” of life.  Prostitution is not necessarily the result, but perhaps a longer term, ongoing relationship based upon the quid quo pro of a roof, food, and a tad of money in exchange for the pleasures of her body.  Or perhaps he never even offered more than “a pair of sympathetic arms” to seek refuge in.

            Paul is hardly likely to have been unaware of how this could be resorted to out of initial necessity, but persevered in because it seemed the simplest solution to her economic problems.  But if the church were to then—especially immediately—take her in, how could the woman avoid getting the idea that however much the church officially disapproved of such behavior, unofficially they quite “understood” it and were willing to “overlook” it.  In other words the receptiveness would be undermining the fundamentals of the very moral message they were teaching.

            Sexual restraint was an “essential”—but it could still be overlooked in an individual’s hard times.  And how could the outsiders avoid coming to the conclusion that the Christians were nowhere near as insistent upon “their narrow-minded creed” as they insisted?  Why should the outsiders, then, give any meaningful consideration to it?  Hence the widow had to have long ceased all such behavior if she were to gain church assistance.  In other words repentance has been manifested if she had ever fallen into this particular situation in the first place.     

            I readily admit:  Our contemporary culture may have warped my thinking with its “anything goes” mentality.  Maybe none of this is envolved at all.  I rather hope so, to be candid.  When it comes to sexual matters, sin remains sin however.  If sexual sin is in mind she must have a well established record of avoiding such and reject all ideas of embracing it.


            However the principle being laid down is broader than this alone.  “Pleasure” can cover a whole lot more territory than just sexuality and that more—or something else--is envolved is especially possible when we prefer such alternatives as “self-indulgent” (ESV, Holman, ISV) or take the other renderings to carry this overtone.  Think of wasting her resources before the funds ran out on the “best” of whatever she wanted:  Wine, dress, hair styling, etc.  (In Rome the last item was as cherished in the social bragging territory as the other two.)  She must not have tried to continue to engage in such excess with her far more limited resources after her husband died.  (If she had ever cultivated them in the first place.) 

            The “mind frame” must be one of making do as well as one can with what is available.  And that needs to be well established before receiving church support.  Even totally innocent wastefulness is not appropriate when someone else is paying the bill.  As Arichea and Hatton word it:  “It is not right for a widow to be extravagant, considering that she is dependent on other Christians for material support.”[25] 


            True as all this is, there are those who are convinced that Paul’s standard is given in order to disqualify all well to do widows from church assistance, that Paul is laying down the criteria for rejecting a widow because of her previous wealth.  The Greek term here for “live in pleasure” is spatalaó and is only used in one other New Testament text and that is worth quoting because it emphasizes the unusually prosperous economic status of the type of person (capable of?) living in this manner:


1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.  3  Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire.  You have heaped up treasure in the last days.  Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.  (James 5)


            In the Septuagint version of Ezekiel 16:49 the same word is used and such indulgence walks had in hand with contempt for the poor:


49 Surely this was the lawless action of your sister Sodom, namely arrogance.  For in fullness of bread and abundance of wine, she and her daughter lived in self-indulgence.  This belonged to her and her daughters, but they did not give a helping hand to the poor and needy.  50 So they were haughty and committed acts of lawlessness before Me; therefore, I removed them as I saw fit.  (Orthodox Study Bible translation)


            In the deutero-canonical LXX book of Sirach 21:15 the term is used of a person whose selfish self-centeredness makes him oblivious to truth:


14 The inner workings of a fool are like a broken vessel, for he will not hold onto any knowledge.  15 If a man of understanding hears a wise word, He will praise it and add to it; but if a self-indulgent man hears it, it displeases him, and he turns his back on it. (Orthodox Study Bible translation)


            As then, so today:  A life of prosperous over-indulgence leaves little if any room for the real needs of others not so blessed and blinds one to the moral inhibitions that should underlay any truly mature life.


            Yes continued existing wealth would disqualify, but why doesn’t Paul simply directly come out and say it if that is the point he is making?  Like, “if she doesn’t need it, don’t put her on the roll for support.”

            Furthermore if this is Paul’s frame of reference why would she be expecting church assistance in the first place?  Why would the church even be considering the possibility?  If she still has the economic resources to do all this, she doesn’t need church assistance does she?  Such would be draining off funds that could be better spent on others.  To provide it would be to use the limited resources in an irresponsible manner.   Hence I regard this theoretical frame of reference to be so far fetched in real life terms as to be impossible.

            In addition it would leave uncovered those who lack such abundant finances but who are still able to find ways to “party”--either sexually or simply in excessive and indulgent ways--by other means.  Paul would surely have wanted to keep both types of people off the church dole!  And the rest of the verse reinforces the idea that sinful self-indulgence is what is in his mind.  Hence the pleasure/indulgence she chronically lives in has the implicit label of “sinful” attached.  She is disqualified because of moral failure.  Even  being poor(er) is no guarantee of deserving church support.  The moral qualities of being a faithful Christian must also be present. 


             She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.  In popular contemporary literature I suppose the closest fictional parallel to what Paul describes could be vampires—typically good looking and enticing.  It is a heated debate among such  fans whether they would be classed among the living or the dead, however.  To me, if you have to put a stake through their heart to kill them, they aren’t dead in the first place!

            Hence it would seem that the right parallel for the “living dead” concept is that of zombies—dead and dangerous, sooner or later ugly and decrepit.  And that is what the kind of person Paul describes really is.  Whatever the appealing outer veneer may be, it is but a mask.  Take it off and you have what they really are--mere hulks in human form that lack the inner spiritual essence that makes them alive in God’s sight.

            Note that this condition is the result of the extreme self-centered pleasure seeking . . . hence we have cause and effect.  This kind of person commits spiritual hari kari.  This personality type shrinks into a mere self-centered shell in which everyone else is either used or ignored.  She “does not open her heart or hands to the needy [except, perhaps, in idle words ‘supporting’ some worthy cause or a token donation to it], does not have healthy relationships, does not have an agenda beyond negativity and acquisition.  A life so small and narrow in scope, its impact cannot be felt.”  Isn’t that “death on two feet?”[26] . . .  a corpse living and breathing, giving the illusion of substance while inside there is empty nothingness. 


            The frame of reference is not how she appears to you and me.  Rather the fact that she is dead to God--even though she is still physically alive.  She is counted as if a lost sinner . . . because that is exactly what she is.  Her claims of being “Christian” being guttered by her self-centeredness.  Jesus is using “dead” in this sense of lacking the vitality of true spiritual life when he tells a hesitating disciple who had dead kin, “Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22).

            He is also using the term in the same sense of spiritually dead when He describes those who do not follow him with that label:


24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.  25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (John 5).   


            In the book of Revelation we find that this problem of the spiritually dead can become so widespread that an entire congregation can be afflicted with it.  Hence of Sardis we read, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (3:1).  In other words they had the reputation (“name”) of being significant in the Lord’s work when they were actually falling catastrophically short of their brotherhood “image.”  Hence the warning that those who had religiously (and morally?) collapsed must build on what they had remaining in their spirituality (verse 2) and repent (= lay behind) the behaviors and attitudes that had gutted them (verse 3).  Even then there were but “a few” that had not gone through this downward spiral but it was only that minority who were counted as “worthy” of the Lord (verse 4). 



Providing for the needs of one’s aged has to be demanded (5:7) because the believer who is unwilling to do so has repudiated his supposed faith and is acting more irresponsible than unbelievers (5:7):  And these things command, that they may be blameless.  (8)  But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”


            Timothy is to stress the importance of this teaching:  “these things command.”  The emphatic nature of “command” language remains popular (ESV, Holman, WEB) while NET makes it even more so, “reinforce these commands.”  Insist on these things” (GW) similarly stresses the importance of what is being taught.  Likewise Weymouth’s “press these facts upon them” (Weymouth).

            “Prescribe these things” (NASB) weakens the emphasis as does “continue to give these instructions” (ISV) and “give the people these instructions” (NIV).  There is a significant difference between teaching and insisting:  “command” type language does the latter.  Paul wants no deviation from these instructions and is going out of the way to assure that his readers grasp that point.  He is clearly “commanding” rather than just “teaching.”

            A large number of commentators believe this verse refers to the preceding instruction to give even greater emphasis to it.[27] To quote just one, Daniel Whedon argues that Paul is insisting on “this important discrimination between the genuine and the spurious widows.”[28]  I concur with those who believe it sounds far more like the prologue to the emphatic demand the apostle makes in the next verse about the children of widows.         


The reason this type of teaching was essential--that those who are obligated to help their kin actually do so--was to assure that they are “blameless” in such matters (5:7).  “Blameless”’ is retained by only one version (ISV).  It is modified to “open to blame” (NIV) and “won’t be blamed” (Holman) by others, however.

The most popular substitute is “reproach,” with these words added to it:  “without” (ESV, WEB), “above” (NASB), “beyond” (NET), and “free from” (Weymouth).

The most intriguing substitution is that of “have good reputations” (GW).  When used in a religious context such as Paul, “blameless” would most naturally mean “blameless in God’s sight.”  To have “a good reputation” means that we meet society’s definition of an acceptable lifestyle.  However there are few societies that would look upon neglect of needy kin as anything other than disgraceful.  Hence treating the parents rightly would be as needful in the sight of our fellow man (i.e., “to have a good reputation”) as in the sight of God (in order to be “blameless” and “without reproach”). 

            GW speaks as if only the widows are in mind, “Insist on these things so that widows will have good reputations.”  Ambiguous as to the point of reference is the “no one” of the NIV.  Similarly those that use “they” language (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, WEB, Weymouth).

            In our summary paragraph we have presented it as belonging to verse 8’s subject, but we must concede that the placing of the instruction at this point could have both widow and kin in mind.  In favor of this is the obvious fact that Paul would have been profoundly annoyed with both types of behavior—both widow irresponsibility and kin irresponsibility—and not limited his indignation to only one.


            The responsibility of the householder is to “provide for his own, and especially for those of his household” (5:8).  “Provide for his own” is commonly retained (GW, Holman, NASB, NET, WEB).  The ISV substitutes “take care” (in place of “provide”) and expands the definition of the “own” envolved to “take care of his own relatives.”  Both the ESV and NIV speak of the need to “provide for their/his relatives.” 

That Paul had two interlocking groups in mind—those physically present and those who weren’t—is indicated by the fact that he speaks of the need to “provide for his own, and especially for those of his household” (NKJV; GW and NET without the “and”).  There would seem to be no need for “especially” if the two groups were actually identical.   They are all dependents but not always residing in the same place.    

Weymouth seems to alter the frame of reference as to who the two groups are:  He speaks of how he “makes no provision for those dependent on him, and especially for his own family.”  That language could easily refer to servants and slaves or anyone else living in or attached to the family.  In other words you must be sure everyone you are responsible for or are legally “over” has their needs made—but especially those who are kin/ family.  You can’t neglect these responsibilities either!  You can’t dispose of that responsibility by any new ones you may now have. 


Even so Paul’s central goal unquestionably is to assure that needy elderly receive the proper assistance from their kin.  Hence it equally well fits the intended purpose of the context if “his own” is interpreted more narrowly as just his needy relatives.  The ISV translates the text best when approached this way by speaking of the need to “take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family.”  When both the ESV and NIV contrasts the need to “provide for . . . relatives” with “especially” for their personal “household,” the same point is probably intended, but far less clearly.  When the contrast is “his own” vs. his “household” (NASB, WEB) the same is likely meant but even harder to dig out.  Only Holman opts out of there being a contrast at all by speaking of the need to “provide for his own, that is his own household,” making the two terms synonymous. 

Unfortunately co-opting the entire description into just the extended family circle leaves a problem:  Does he not have a moral responsibility toward his dependent servants whether slave or not?  Would Paul provide even a fig leaf of an excuse to limit one’s humanitarian obligations just to the physical kinship members of his household?  With all the Bible speaks in condemnation of ignoring the needs of the poor and his own knowledge of how people can twist commands into the least demanding form, would not his instincts—his automatic instinct—be to speak in this manner to assure that this broader class of dependents be taken care of as well?          


            The person who refuses to live up to this responsibility is guilty of a double offense:  he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (5:8).  This wording is continued by the vast bulk of translations (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB).  GW adds one word, “denied the Christian faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Today the rhetoric is often, “What faith are you.”  In the first century it was “the faith” (i.e., following Christ) in contrast to all the other alternatives.  Hence it is inserting an explanation that the ancient reader would not have needed.

            Weymouth performs two alterations.  In the first “denied the faith” is changed to “disowned the faith.”  Both share in common the idea of a repudiation of the faith system that one claims is guiding one’s life.  The latter is a bit stronger since “denied” can be taken in a strictly intellectual sense of “denying what it teaches” while “disowned” conveys the message that the denial is also a repudiation of the faith.  (Of course that can fairly be presented in a sermonic context as a necessary inference from the fact that the faith is being “denied.”)

Weymouth also intensifies the second half of the statement by adding an additional word:  “and is behaving worse than an unbeliever.”  And it is in that behavior that he is “worse than an unbeliever” since an unbeliever would normally recognize the humanitarian and family responsibility.  In such a case he is acting like a believer (should act) while the believer is in danger of acting in a manner even more irresponsible than the unbeliever.  There is a deep irony here and Paul is trying to make them recognize it as a goad to assuring their proper response to the elderly needy.

It should be noted that this kind of conscientiousness was an accepted “given” among contemporary Gentiles.  Especially if she had received a dowry:  that was supposed to be preserved and passed on to male kin who could house the widow and assure her physical well being in her old age.[29]  Of course this was of most benefit to those from a prosperous background, but the moral principle of doing all one could for a widow is the clear intellectual backdrop for the intensity of Paul’s condemnation for not doing so.

Even less economically blessed also had that obligation.  This selection from ancient speakers and writers will exhibit the attitude well:[30]


            It was Greek law from the time of Solon that sons and daughters were, not only morally, but also legally bound to support their parents.  Anyone who refused that duty lost his civil rights.

            Aeschines, the Athenian orator, says in one of his speeches:  And whom did our lawgiver (Solon) condemn to silence in the Assembly of the people? And where does he make this clear?  ‘Let there be,’ he says, ‘a scrutiny of public speakers, in case there be any speaker in the Assembly of the people who is a striker of his father or mother, or who neglects to maintain them or to give them a home.’ ” 

            Demosthenes says:  "I regard the man who neglects his parents as unbelieving in and hateful to the gods, as well as to men." . . .

            Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics lays it down:  “It would be thought in the matter of food we should help our parents before all others, since we owe our nourishment to them, and it is more honourable to help in this respect the authors of our being, even before ourselves.” 

            As Aristotle saw it, a man must himself starve before he would see his parents starve.

            Plato in The Laws has the same conviction of the debt that is owed parents:  “Next comes the honour of loving parents, to whom, as is meet, we have to pay the first and greatest and oldest of debts, considering that all which a man has belongs to those who gave him birth and brought him up, and that he must do all that he can to minister to them; first, in his property; secondly, in his person; and thirdly, in his soul; paying the debts due to them for their care and travail which they bestowed upon him of old in the days of his infancy, and which he is now able to pay back to them, when they are old and in the extremity of their need.”



            Although Paul has not explicitly raised the matter, if those who neglect this responsibility of assistance are truly “worse than an unbeliever” aren’t there consequences that flow out of this?  Not only in the next world but the present one as well?  As one preacher quite reasonably suggested,[31]


            a church may need to consider beginning the process of discipline against a member who refuses to care for his parents or close family members.  The person who will not take on this responsibility has “denied the faith” and made himself “worse than an unbeliever.”  These are serious charges that are unworthy of one who claims to follow the Savior who was sure to provide for his own mother (John 19:27).


            These are not what we would normally consider “exclusionary offenses.” Even so, if a thing is so fundamentally repulsive that both Jesus and Paul--and even outright pagans of that day--regarded it as outrageous, who are we to passively smile and pass it by? 







[1] Albert Barnes, internet edition.


[2] Paul W. Elliott, “Is It Biblical for a Layperson to Rebuke an Elder?,” at:  (Accessed:  January 2016.) 


[3] Arichea and Hatton, 109.


[4] Internet edition.


[5] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 259.


[6] George Barrow, 1-2 Timothy, unidentified author on 5:1-2.


[7] Robert G. Bratcher, 45.


[8] Plato, Resp. 5.463c, as quoted by Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 264.


[9] Ben Witherington III, Ibid.


[10] Daniel Burke, “Treating Young Women As Sisters In Absolute Purity,” at:  (Dated:  May 23, 2017; accessed:  February 2020.) 


[11] Henry Alford, “Commentary on 1 Timothy,  Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary (1863-1868), at:  (Accessed:  February:  2020.)


[12] Heinrich Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, at:  (Accessed:  February 2020.)


[13] Arichea and Hatton, 112.


[14] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, internet edition on 5:4.


[15] James Nisbett, Pulpit, quoting unidentified writer on 5:4.


[16] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 261.


[17] Philip Comfort, Text, 664, and Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 262. 


[18] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston (1737), as reproduced at the Sacred Texts website, at:  (Accessed:  February 2020.)


[19] [Unidentified Author(s)], The Sibylline Oracles, translated by Milton S. Terry (New York:  Eaton & Mains, 1899), as reproduced at the Sacred Texts website, at:  (Posted:  December 2001; accessed:  February 2020.)


[20] Robert G. Bratcher, 42. 


[21] Steven L. Davies, The Revolt of the Widows:  The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (Carbondale, Illinois:  Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), 73.


[22] Robert G. Bratcher, 46.


[23] Arichea and Hatton, 114.


[24] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 262.


[25] Arichea and Hatton, 115.


[26] Sheila Atchley, “Another Way a Woman Can Be Dead While She Lives,” at:  (Accessed:  November 2016.) 


[27] Notes Robert J. Karris, Pastoral, 93, who interprets it, as I have, as a reference to her offspring.


[28] Daniel Whedon, Whedon's Commentary on the Bible (1874-1909), at: https:  (Accessed:  February 2020.) 


[29] Bruce W. Winter, Roman, 126-127.  


[30] Stanley Derickson, Notes on Selected Books:  Commentary on 1 Timothy,  at:  https:  (Dated:  2008; accessed:  February 2020.)  He quotes William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1975), 106-107.   


[31] Tim Challies, “Do Children Have A Financial Obligation Toward Their Parents?,” at:  (Posted:  January 26, 2017; accessed:  February 2020.)