Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2020


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(Volume 4:  5:21-25)




Timothy is warned not to be prejudicial nor to be partaker of other folks’ sins, while retaining his own spiritual purity and taking care of his physical health:  “(21) I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.  (22) Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.  (23) No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.”


The seriousness of Paul’s demand for corrective action when needed:  “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels” (5:21).  Although “charge” language is sometimes retained by itself (ESV, NIV), it is more often emphasized by adding, “I solemnly charge” (Holman, ISV, NASB).  Similarly those who prefer to substitute “call on/upon you” language also join in that same addition, “I solemnly call” (GW, ISV, Weymouth).  WEB simply substitutes, “I command you” to produce that same result.  It comes down to Paul emphasizing that this is so important that it must not be ignored.


That fact is reinforced by what the apostle adds next.  This can be taken as the introduction of oath like language, as if he were testifying in court and asserting that the supernatural world is well aware of and supports what he is saying:  “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels.”  On the other hand, the words may function as illustrating the supernatural authorities who stand behind and verify what he is saying:  just as he had insisted upon the need for “two or three witnesses,” here are Paul’s witnesses! 

The language of “before God” and these other superior beings is continued by only two versions (Holman, NET).  The substitute language is typically either “in the sight of God etc” (GW, NIV, WEB) or “in the presence of” them (ESV, NASB, Weymouth).  Although both of these could be read as appropriate to either interpretation, the ISV is clear cut by beginning the list “with God as my witness.”  Again, “this is not merely my personal judgment.  I have Divine backing for it.  So no one should even think about challenging me!”)


Paul’s reference to “elect angels” seems an odd description to the modern ear.  Barton Johnson’s concise description well sums up the two alternatives that seem available:  “They may be the good angels as distinct from the bad angels, or those who were chosen to assist in the work of human redemption may be meant.  Angels are often mentioned in this connection [in the gospel accounts].”[1]

Since we humans were created with free will, there is no difficulty in seeing how God created his heavenly compatriots with it as well--to sin or not to sin, to obey or to rebel against the guidelines they were provided.  When Calvinism introduced the concept of involuntary predestination into theology, perhaps it was inevitable that there would be those who think the same was true of angels as well!  So it would appear that God had chosen certain angels not to fall with Satan.  Since angels cannot be redeemed, God had kept for himself a group of angels who would not fall.”[2]  However since the personal will of angels or of us is irrelevant to what happens, how in the world could either be guilty of true sin in the first place?  Hence how could they possibly be answerable for it?  The ultimately foolishness of unscriptural theology!


People have often speculated that the fall of “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12-15 is that of the Devil and that his angelic allies naturally fell at the same time.  Whether the text actually refers to this, that a fall from Divine acceptance occurred is an inevitable conclusion from the fact that Satan is routinely pictured as the enemy of God and has angels and demons working on his behalf.  A radical breach between them had to occur at some point!  

The fatal breach is typically pictured as an overt effort to overthrow God’s power, but it could have occurred as the result of believing that mankind inherently deserved maltreatment, abuse, and (perhaps) destruction in conflict with the Father’s desire for the well being of humanity:  See Satan’s effort to ensure that even the “best” of the earthly species as manifested in Job would be discredited (Job 1:6-12).  Perhaps he argued that the very existence and encouragement of humankind took away from the honor and glory that only angels should rightly be able to claim.  A pattern that existed even earlier in the Garden of Eden if you wish to take Ezekiel 28:11-16 in such a direction.

All this is speculation but what is important is that the breach did occur yet there still remained many faithful angels who continued to work reliably and effectively on behalf of the heavenly Father.   


Personal preferences or self-interest were to have no role in shaping Timothy’s decision to act when sin had occurred:  “that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” (5:21).

The fact that they were to “observe these things” meant, of course, that they were to carry them out.  Some utilize that language “(“to carry out,” ISV, NET, Weymouth) while others prefer “to keep” these directives (ESV, NIV) or to “observe” them (Holman, WEB).  The remaining versions speak of “maintain(ing)” (NASB) or “follow(ing)” them (GW).  Since the primary definition of the Greek behind “observe” is “guard closely,”[3] we can see why the translations use the language they do.  The only modifications one might add are either “carefully” or “with full commitment” to even more heavily stress how deep the determination was to be.   

The enjoined principles are called “these things” by only two translations (Holman, WEB), while “instructions” is preferred by slightly more (ISV, NIV, Weymouth).  Others are divided between referring to them as “principles” (NASB), “rules” (ESV), or “commands” (NET).  “These things,” of course, were all of these so all the terms fit both adequately and accurately.  Recasting this entire section of the verse is the GW, which quite fairly provides a conceptual parallel for Paul’s entire thought:  “follow what I’ve told you.”   


Carrying out Paul’s instructions was to be based on the objective facts and no form of personal preference.  Hence, “without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.”  “Without prejudice” is widely retained (Holman, ISV, NET, WEB, Weymouth), with the intent of the injunction brought out well by “without prejudging” (ESV).  “Without partiality” (NIV) and “without bias” (NASB) also express it well.  The GW opts to put the admonition in a positive rather than negative form:  “be impartial.”

 “Doing nothing with partiality” sometimes becomes “by partiality” (WEB), “from partiality” (ESV, Weymouth) “on the basis of partiality” (ISV) and “in a spirit of partiality” (NASB).  Another stream of translation prefers to substitute favoritism language:  do “nothing out of favoritism” (Holman, NIV), or “favoritism of any kind” (NET).  GW makes it a short, separate sentence:  “Never play favorites.”

In many things you may have favorites, but when you have to make a moral, ethical, spiritual judgement that injustice has occurred, that is no place for such sentiments.  In secular courts of law they speak of “recusing” oneself because of such things.  Paul is presenting the situation of a man whose responsibility is to make such judgements within a spiritual community and has no one else to pass the responsibility on to.  He has to have the ability to separate himself from his personal sentiments or he has betrayed his duty.

Note that Paul’s words concern all types of behavior:  “that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.”  Although this is clearly intended as a general rule—can one imagine any area of life that Paul would have knowingly exempted?—the instruction comes immediately after handling alleged misconduct of the church leadership (verses 19-20) and before an apparent reference to appointing individuals to specific endeavors (“do not lay hands on anyone hastily,” verse 22).

Hence this is a plea not to compromise his own integrity even when dealing with more “important” people than himself and even when appreciation and respect might encourage one to do so.  Indeed, deference to such individuals might even degenerate into something bordering on fear when one is a comparatively young man like Timothy and the elders are well (and long?) established.[4] 

Shall we overlook that “leadership” type individuals often have strong personalities that are part of what make them good leaders in the first place?  Yet there is an obligation of fair and just judgment that Timothy is duty bound to fulfill and if he does not, he has not carried out his obligations. 

Scott Brown has rightly observed that the “cover up” mentality that partiality easily breeds can spring out of a number of widely different motives:[5]


Sometimes it expresses itself when there is a very gifted elder and because of his charisma, persuasiveness and position, people actually hold him to a lower standard when they should be holding him to a higher one. 

It may be manifested in a desire to continue seeing the benefit of his life.  We may think that he has done so much good, and that it will all be lost. 

Sometimes partiality is promoted by thinking that “Many people will be hurt so I will not say anything.”  Or, “It will be so hard on his family, it’s better to 1keep it quiet.”

Some people may even fear reprisal, rejection, or a forever broken relationship.  They often feel that the worst thing that can happen is that their relationship with the elder is broken.  This kind of partiality often occurs when church members have a low view of sin, a high view of themselves and an unhealthy affection for outward appearance.  They feel that it would be too damaging to expose the sin, when in fact the worse thing that could happen is to be disobedient to the Word of God so that the sin continues to grow in the darkness, unconfronted.


The obligation to act responsibly and with all proper consideration:  “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily” (5:22).  “Hastily” (ISV, NASB, NET, WEB, Weymouth) or “hasty” (ESV, NIV) are the dominant preferences among translators.  Two dissidents opt for “too quick” (Holman) and “don’t be in a hurry” (GW).  The underlying Greek term can be used for any “extremely short span of time.”[6]

The world won’t end because you take time to assure the potential elders are really as prepared as they need to be.  At Scott Lindsay writes:[7]


            As you consider those who would be candidates for the office of elder, you need to ask yourself what is this person’s track record?  How long have you known this person?  How long has this person been in the church?  How long has this person been in this church?  And is that long enough for you to have some confidence that what you see is what you get?

            While no one can know these things infallibly, we need to think and pray about these matters and be prepared to err on the side of caution.  That is, if you are not sure about someone in this regard, it would be far better to wait until you are sure, than to foolishly plunge ahead out of impatience and a lack of faith.  God can be trusted to provide for the leadership needs of this congregation, without our having to abandon any of the principles and guidelines which he has so graciously provided for us in these things.



The language of laying on of hands” leads one to think in terms of fulfilling some sacred duty or responsibility, particularly in regard to appointing a person to a function, responsibility, or position.  (The example of Acts 13:1-5 comes to mind as an explicit case of such.  Acts 14:26 has been used to stress that it also envolved being  commended to the grace of God for the work”—a kind of wishing a Divine blessing upon them, if you will.[8])  Two translations inject this explicitly into the text,  Holman speaks of how Timothy was not to “be too quick to appoint anyone as an elder.”  GW probably has that in mind in its translator’s bracketed interjection, “Don’t be in a hurry to place your hands on anyone [to ordain him].”  Of course being careful in the appointment of men also assures the minimum likelihood of later needing to publicly rebuke or remove them from office.

The majority of interpreters take the text as referring to the appointment of presbyters/elders = bishops.[9]  It would convey the ideas of making the appointment official, accepting it, and endorsing it.  It is being done with your full approval and enthusiasm. 

In the context of appointment, the addition of the word “do not lay hands on anyone hastily” is an important one.  It is not to be rushed through, as if something that must be done quickly rather than done right.  The “now!” mentality can easily result in appointments that are unwise and inappropriate that could easily be avoided if greater time had been taken.  To give an amusing example of this, the famous Baptist preacher W. A. Criswell tells this tale upon himself of being far too hasty in securing the appointment of church officers:[10]


            As you know, I began preaching and pastoring when I was a teenager.              And I had read in the Bible where we were to have deacons in the church.  Well,    in my little congregation, I had eighteen members.  In my little congregation, I thought we ought to obey that biblical injunction and ordain deacons.  So we     chose three deacons to be ordained.  When the time for ordination came, one of    them was drunk so he wasn’t there; the other one was so sorry, he wasn’t there;     and the third one we ordained and in a while, very little while, he fell away.

            Now that was adolescent immaturity. 


Such actions can bring embarrassment upon the individuals directly concerned, those appointing them, and on the entire congregation as word spreads of the fiasco.

In the case Criswell provides, it is clear that the fiasco resulted not from individuals “pushing” for appointment but out of the misguided assumption that since this was desirable to eventually do it must also be (1) one that it was  essential to do now and without delay, (2) that the personal desire of the appointee was virtually irrelevant, and (3) their availability rather than their quality and capacity to do their job was virtually the sole question that needed to be answered.

There is a profound difference between asking a person to do something on a one time basis and doing it regularly--indefinitely.  Indeed there are those who look upon this “now” mentality as a means of assuring that people continue their membership in a congregation.  As a different minister more or less jokingly recalled in a sermon, “Oh, glad to see you here this morning.  Here, take this Sunday school book; we need a teacher for our sixth grade class, you know.  A lot of churches feel that you got to lock the person into a job, you know, get them involved, you know, and hold them.”[11]


Somewhere through the centuries the “ritual” of appointment by laying on of hands has commonly been redefined from part of appointing elders to that of appointing ministers and preachers.  These are not scripturally synonymous with elders.  It is not uncommon to consider ministers as de facto elders, however,k in light of the “authority” they exercise by being the agreed to pulpit minister.  As such, our text is effectively “glued” to their appointment as well.  But is that what Paul really has in mind here? 

If such is to be done, not only could one demand that they all meet the criteria of 1 Timothy 3—including marriage and already having children—one would emphatically be under the obligation to do so or be in open mutiny against the explicit demands of Scripture.  There is not the slightest contextual evidence, however, that Paul has changed the topic from elders in the Biblical sense to the appointment of preachers. 

What in the context makes one think that the subject of their formal appointment is the intended one?  The same problem exists in regard to those varied interpreters who refer the text to laying on of hands to receive back into church fellowship erring but repentant members.[12]  This practice is explicitly referred to in sources only beginning in the third century:[13]  Indeed Tertullian cites our text in regard to the proper procedure in receiving back into fornicators and adulterers who had reformed their behavior.  In the same century Cyprian of Carthage rejected any supposed need to rebaptize those that had fallen into heresy and were now returning to the true faith, but insisted that they should be accepted through the laying on of hands upon them.  The scenario became sufficiently well-established that in the next century the Apostolic Constitutions (2.41) endorsed it as the proper way to receive back into the faith those who had fallen away. 

Again, the practice makes inherent sense, but there is nothing in the text or context that would make this the obvious point of reference.  Or a positive obligation rather than a mere expedient course. 

The problem with the text having even the appointment of elders themselves in mind is that the proper place for such a command would be back in chapter three when the appointment of elders is discussed at length.  In chapter five the context is a matter of the threat of publicly censuring elders, with its implicit warning of removal (5:17-20). 

Although we are going to analyze the verse from that standpoint in the next section, the caution against “lay[ing] hands on anyone hastily” unquestionably makes sense of the pre-appointment stage as well.  Luke T. Johnson writes:  “Taking the time to evaluate candidates beforehand, rather than rush to approve anyone put forward, is sound practice.”[14]  And gives you the best chance of avoiding the situation of having to publicly rebuke such a leader--or so I read Johnson’s implied argument.

Also a very logical line of reasoning in this direction is the fact that laying on of hands is so often used in the appointing sense “it seems safer to infer the same meaning here.”[15]  But this seemingly being in a context of the consequence of the elder’s sins would not even this argue that we are discussing the reappointment of an elder after public censure and/or removal rather than his initial appointment?

If we retain the reference to “laying on of hands” within the immediate context in which it is given, then we have to answer what would it mean within that framework?  Although even here we should remember that this is likely the methodology adopted because it was the way he was appointed in the first place. 



“Laying on of Hands” As Part of the

Public Hearing of the Accusations?


As occurring during the “church trial.”  In the first century Judean and Galilean cultures the concept of “handing over” was quite well known.  Hence the language could be utilized because of its relevance to contemporary courts and the fact that Timothy was acting in the de facto role of judge.  In the Roman system it was not a matter of you having to show up in court; it was the obligation of your opponent to assure you did or risk default in judgement.  That is the background to Jesus’ illustration in the Sermon on the Mount:


25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.  (Matthew 5)


Hence the language, in an accused eldership setting, could be a symbolic way of saying “handing him over to be judged.”  But since the person (Timothy) who is to lay hands on him is implicitly also the judge who will make the decision, that would make him both accuser and judge of the same matter . . . two very incompatible roles.  One could deal with this by arguing that Timothy’s responsibility is to “hand him over to the congregation to make a collective judgment on guilt or innocence and continuance in his role of church leadership.”  In other words, the members set as judges and Timothy as presiding officer over the court.

The language could also be invoked as an allusion of confirmation of testimony:    either the accusers placing hands on the accused and verbally and symbolically affirming that this is the man they are describing . . . this is the one who did it . . . or afterwards in confirmation of what has  just been said.  This leaves absolutely no doubt as to who is under consideration and leaves neither accused nor accuser any “hiding place” from responsibility.

The broader context is 5:17-22:


17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.  21 I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.  22 Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.


  Brian P. Irwin stresses the repeated Old Testament roots he finds in the above text:[16] 


(1)                             There is the specific invocation of scriptural precedent in regard to muzzling an ox as establishing precedent that it is wrong to deny a laborer his legitimate due (5:17).

(2)                             In the reference to increased support being provided via a “double honor”  “a [language] use similar to the use in Deuteronomy 21:17, 2 Kings 2:9, and Job 42:10, where the term relates to inheritance of the firstborn son, inheritance of prophetic gift, and Job’s compensation, respectively.”

(3)                             The insistence upon multiple witnesses echoes the strong Old Testament insistence upon the same thing (introducing Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15 in particular).

(4)                             The invoking of “the elect angels” echoes an interest in angels common in “Second Temple Jewish literature.”     


The second and last strike me as extremely vague, while the first and the third are quite convincing.  So having established Old Testament precedent in the immediate context, he properly raises the question of what else we can find in the LXX Old Testament (and related literature) that might help us in understanding the meaning of “laying on of hands.”  He points to two examples in particular.

First we have Leviticus 24:14.  Here it involves the punishment of the violator of the Divine law (verses 10-11).  12 Then they put him in custody, that the mind of the Lord might be shown to them.  13 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 14 ‘Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him [say his cursing and blasphemy] lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.’ ”    

In the deutero-canonical literature he finds precedent in Susanna verse 34 (Additions to Daniel 13:34) where a false accusation of sexual misconduct is laid upon her head both verbally and physically:[17] 


34 Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and laid their hands upon her head.  35 And she, weeping, looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord.  36 The elders said, “As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids.  37 Then a young man, who had been hidden, came to her and lay with her.  38 We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them.  39 We saw them embracing, but we could not hold the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and dashed out.  40 So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify.”  41 The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death.  (RSV-CE)


            He argues that these two examples of “laying on of hands” are highly relevant to our current study:  “This laying on of hands as an act of public accusation perfectly suits the context of 1 Timothy 5:22.”  It also irretrievably links accused and accusers so that if perjured and misleading testimony is later revealed, then there can be no doubt as to who bears the full blame.[18]   

Although the evidence is only suggestive rather than conclusive, there seems no good way to gainsay the reasonableness of the interpretation.  Another approach also fits the “trial” aspect of the accusations and that we present next.


As occurring after the “church trial.”  If one is at the “accusation stage” then what Irwin has suggested makes fine sense.  And it could well be at that stage.  But it would also make great sense afterwards as well.

Let us assume that the charges (with or without an “identifying” laying on of hands) has occurred and the evidence found inadequate, faulty, erroneous, or vastly exaggerated and out of proportion to the actual facts.  In short, there is no need for censure of the elder at all.

What then?  How does he “get his reputation back?”  How is he go about his spiritual leadership affairs without feeling like he’s carrying a load of needless guilt?

If the man is innocent, surely something is needed to verify his continued acceptance by the congregation . . . some formal act of reassurance that his honor and integrity is still fully accepted . . . a pledge of loyalty and support by others.  In that ancient culture in which laying on of hands carried far greater symbolism than today, it would be a highly appropriate way of endorsing guiltlessness and full acceptance of the elder’s continued authority.


Of the two possibilities of why hands would be laid upon the accused, it would make far better sense—in my perhaps subjective eyes--that the unspoken assumption of the text is that the man has been cleared of the accusations and that this is part of the public acknowledgment of his right to continue to exercise his post.  It would be a way of reaffirming confidence in the integrity of the unjustly accused.  Having been publicly called to account, would it not be outright unjust to officially resolve the matter without a visible show of confidence such as this?  One can easily imagine all the other elders joining in—showing that they similarly embrace the decision—and there is no danger of them ostracizing him even though he was found innocent.



* * * * *


In the interest of his personal purity, Timothy is not to “share in other people’s sins [but] keep yourself pure” (5:22).  Whether one sins because of others or out of one’s own maljudgement, it remains sin.  What others do may become a good sounding excuse for us doing the same thing but in no way justifies it.  Because one idiot is hitting 90 MPH down the highway, are we any less an idiot if we do the same thing as well?  In the interest of ease of presentation, let us present the points in this textual segment in reverse order, realizing that the “keep yourself pure” element can be either dependent upon the earlier statement or stand entirely on its own.  Indeed it is hardly likely that Paul permitted knowing transgression either in imitation of others or on one’s own initiative!  Either way one is “self-condemned” by their sin (Titus 3:11). 


The wording that God’s servant is supposed to “keep yourself pure” is a rendition that continues to be vastly popular (ESV, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  Venturing a small step away is the GW, which actually re-emphasizes the injunction by adding one word, “keep yourself morally pure.”  The NASB prefers the admonition, “keep yourself free from sin.” 

Perhaps I am being unduly harsh here, but to me “keep yourself free from sin,” in the most literal of senses, would be advocating the impossible.  We all sin, as this same apostle reminded his readers in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  To be “pure” and to be “free from sin” must therefore be referring to the norm we establish for our lives--not absolute sinlessness.  Paul was a realist.  He expected every Christian to strive for the best they can be, but was hardly likely to advocate a goal that would only lead to inevitable frustration due to the impossibility of reaching it.

This fact also has logical application to the appointment of elders as well:[19]  Don’t expect them to be perfect, but don’t allow that to cause you to collaborate in the appointing of individuals who are clearly substandard for the post.  Don’t find excuses for their weakness or excesses.  Any pressure brought on you by the “candidate” or his supporters won’t remove one ounce of guilt for collaborating in the abuse of the process.  It’s rather like having a trial by jury and permitting someone on that panel who you know to convince you to ignore the actual evidence that is before your eyes.

But the other side of that “coin” is also true:  Don’t allow yourself to dismiss the appropriateness of an appointment because someone has a grudge against the man and will do anything possible to keep him from gaining it.  In that situation the “villain” is the trouble making objector and not the person being complained about.  


“Share in other people’s sins” could be taken in at least one of three possible ways:  (1)  we imitate the same sins—we follow their example into acting the same way; (2)  alternatively, we help them while they are doing their sin.  The most obvious example of the later would be if, in a case of the adulteress, we are the adulterer with her!  (3)  The third way of being involved in their sins is if we justify it, hide it, or somehow benefit by their evil.

Alternatives to “share in” (Holman, NKJV, NIV; “share responsibility,” NASB) commonly emphasize some form of participation:  “participate in” (GW, ISV), “be a participant in” (WEB), “be a partaker in” (Weymouth).  “Take part in” is the choice of the ESV.  Standing on its own, “identify with the sins of others” (NET), seems a strange way to make the point but in broader context makes more sense:  “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily and so identify with the sins of others.”  You become linked to / bound to that man’s own transgression in the eyes of others. 

Having written the above paragraphs, I came across the perceptive words of a 19th century minister who reminded me that the methods of being co-responsible for other people’s transgressions can cover even a wider range of practices and omissions than just those I mentioned.  The language is a bit dated, so I’ve provided interpretive updating when appropriate :[20]


1. By contrivance [= being an encourager]. Thus Jonadab was guilty of Amnon’s incest, by his subtle contrivance of that wickedness, by being a pander to that villainy (2 Samuel 13:5).  When a man shall wittingly and willingly spread a snare in his brother’s way, and either drive him in by provocation, or decoy him in by allurement, he makes himself a partaker of his sin.  For example:  to provoke a man to passion, to tempt a person to drunkenness . . . , to [arouse a man’s anger until it contemplates] murder and bloodshed, to draw souls into error, heresy, blasphemy, etc.,--this is to espouse and adopt the sin, and to make it a man’s own. 

You know the story there, 2 Samuel 11:1-27:  Uriah was slain with the edge of the sword; David was many miles off when Uriah was slain:  “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon” (2 Samuel 12:9).  The Ammonites slew him, but David murdered him.  St. Paul tells us he was a “blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.”

2. By compliance.  By consenting and complying with sin and sinners:  so a man makes himself partaker.  Though he has no hand in it, yet, if he has a heart in it; though he does not act it, yet if he likes it, and loves it, and approves it.  Saul--He had no hand in St. Stephen’s death, he did not cast one stone at him; but because he looked on with approbation, and stood by with consent--“Saul was consenting unto his death” (Acts 8:1).  You may murder a man with a thought, as they say the [mythical monster] basilisk will with a look.

3. By connivance [= by agreement].  By a sinful dissembling, flattering, and winking at others in their wickedness and sins [rather than actively and explicitly discouraging them], so men become guilty of others’ sins:  “The leaders of this people cause them to err” (Isaiah 9:16):  it is in the Hebrew, “The blessers of this people cause them to err.”  Beloved, the blessers of men in wickedness are the leaders of men in wickedness.

4. By sufferance.  By permitting the sins of others, so we become guilty, by suffering others to sin, whom we are bound in duty, and may be able by authority, to hinder.  [Think parents and their children in particular.]

5. By influence of bad example.  By setting loose and bad examples for others to imitate.  So men are guilty of other’s sins; as, namely, when children sin by the examples of their parents, those very parents are guilty of [= responsible for] their children’s sins. . . .  He is like a man that sets his own house on fire; it  burns many of his neighbors’, and he is to be answerable for all the ruins. 

6. By . . . imitation. . . .  [T]hus that man that will be drunk because another was drunk . . . he is not only guilty of his own particular sin, but he is guilty also of “their sins whom he imitates and follows; and the reason is, because bad examples are not land-marks for us to go by, but they are sea-marks for us to avoid. . . .”  [3 John verse 11:  “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.”]

7. By countenance [= friendship that seems to imply approval of their lifestyle].  By delightful society and company with wicked men to countenance them, so we become partakers of their sins [because our behavior quietly argues that we don’t really see anything particularly evil in what they’ve done.]

8. By maintenance [= support, approval, endorsement].  By upholding and encouraging men in their sins, though thou never committest them thyself, yet thou art guilty.  “He that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John verse 11).  [Consider God’s rebuke in Psalms 50:18:  “When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers.”]



The admonition not to share in other’s sins in its specific original context:  Reading the entire verse we have, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.”  The most natural linkage here is that we “keep ourself pure” when “we do [not] share in other people’s sins” and we avoid that, in part, when we “do not lay hands on anyone hastily.” 

If the “laying hands on anyone hastily” refers to the appointment of elders, then the condemnation is of when we—the preacher—knowingly appoint someone who is of questionable qualifications and we have intentionally overlooked or minimized the case against the appointment.  We literally give him the opportunity to commit sin by taking up the office that he is disqualified for and would not have otherwise had.  We effectively become participants in his chicanery or spiritual blindness.

If this refers to “accepting the validity of charges against the elder” then the same is true but our sin becomes going along with the “lynchers” attempting to discredit and/or even remove the man from his post without good cause.  We have facilitated their sin and become partakers in it.

The NASB clearly identifies the laying hands with sharing in the sins:  Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”

NET is not quite so emphatic but it is hard to read it as doing anything other than interlocking these two matters:  “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily and so identify with the sins of others.  Keep yourself pure.”


To restress our earlier observations:  This admonition has obvious applications to both the initial appointment and ultimate censure/removal of the person.  In regard to the shaming of elders, not every claimant of injustice or improper behavior will have a valid case.  Some will be spiteful, some hateful, some blind to what is really happening and why.  They may believe it but you are actually dealing with illusions or even delusions.

One is not to allow oneself to be used as a tool to do injustice to a fellow Christian--including elders.  This abuse would likely be accomplished through haste, personal favoritism for the claimant, or some external pressure.  No matter what the context in which the problem arises, they are still due justice because they are fellow Christians rather than just because of the post they hold.  Of course this has a widespread application to all of the preacher’s interactions with others and not only to this particular one.  Everyone should be treated with such courtesy rather than the automatic (or near automatic) assumption of guilt.


While taking care of his spiritual and moral obligations is essential (5:22), taking good care of his own physical self was imperative as well:  “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (5:23).

Timothy had been sticking to a strict liquid diet of water, reason not stated.  Because of his health problems, he urged Timothy to supplement it with some wine.  Limiting himself to “only water” stays popular as the wording (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NIV), although the WEB finds a way of making it an even longer instruction, “drinker of water only.”  The NET comes down on his consuming “just water” and the NASB on his use of “water exclusively.”  All of these make sense, but Weymouth does not for he seems to prohibit water totally and enjoins only a modest amount of wine:  “no longer be a water-drinker; but take a little wine.”  “A little wine” is the wording retained by all of the translations.  


The reason for doing this has medical roots:  “for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.”  All of the versions include the reference to his “stomach” needing help.  “Infirmities” is kept by only one (WEB) while the most popular substitutes are “frequent illnesses” (Holman, ISV, NET, NIV) and “frequent ailments” (ISV, NASB, Weymouth; at least one online version of Weymouth omits this verse entirely).  The GW stands alone in opting for “frequently sick” (GW). 

The use of the word “and” in the middle of the sentence leaves us wondering what his other “frequent infirmities” were.  Approached that way, our text provides us nothing to work with and no hint of the nature of the other difficulties.  However if Paul intends a cause / effect allusion there is no problem:  In light of the fact that his stomach gave him trouble it was likely pains and anguish caused by that stomach.  

Historically speaking, water was so polluted in so many places in the ancient past that it was far too easy for it to carry disease germs of one type or another.  Rome itself was far different with its vast aqueduct system.  So reliable and safe was it that the city was known as Queen Aquarum, (the Queen of the Water). 

On paper at least Ephesus had nothing to be ashamed of either:[21]


            By A.D. 100 Ephesus had 250,000 inhabitants and streetlights.  Water came to the Ephesians by four aqueducts, one with a source 25 miles away.  The flow of water averaged a quart a second, and since the city possessed a reservoir, it never suffered from a lack of water. 


Hence the popular idea that disease carrying water--producing dysentery with the result of severe nausea and diarrhea--was what Paul was alluding to, seems rather improbable.  No system in any age works perfectly, however, and it is conceivable that Timothy lived in a location in the metropolis where access to this quality water was sporadic or impossible.  “Conceivable” really does not rise to the level of “probable” however.  The basic strength of their water system argues against it.  Hence it seems more likely that Timothy brought with him a difficulty he had had in other places.  Ulcers?  Heartburn?  (For more on the severe results when water was bad see further below.)   


Some attempt to turn this “wine” into “grape juice”—as they so typically do every other place where the expression is referred to favorably.  The old classic word analyst Marvin R. Vincent argued that even if this had somehow been the case, it would have had the opposite of the helpful results intended by Paul, “Observe that οἶνος here, as everywhere else, means wine, fermented and capable of intoxicating, and not a sweet syrup made by boiling down grape-juice, and styled by certain modern reformers ‘unfermented wine.’  Such a concoction would have tended rather to aggravate than to relieve Timothy’s stomachic or other infirmities.”[22]

The much more recent Greek scholars Arichea and Hatton bluntly concur in their translator’s guide, “Translators need to be careful to translate ‘wine’ here as fermented wine, not grape juice that would be sweet and would have the effect of aggravating rather than relieving Timothy’s stomach ailment.”[23] 

Although not strictly germane to our discussion, Ray Stedman provides a delightful example of the kind of terrible misuse of a text that “special pleading” can lead to—one that is too amusing not to include.  Speaking of an incident decades before he was speaking in 1981, he noted that,[24]   


            I have heard some very tortured exegeses of this passage.  Years ago, in           Texas, I heard a young man seek to expound this verse.  He was reading from the    King James Version, which says, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for     thy stomach’s sake.”

            This preacher’s incredible exegesis was that there were two kinds of liquid         referred to here:  there was wine (which was really grape juice), and there was        what he called “longer water,” which was liquor.  According to him, the apostle’s     admonition is, “Stop drinking that ‘longer water’ (Drink no longer water), but use           a little wine for your stomach's sake.”  That is the kind of trouble you get into            when you work with the English text.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing


Better than this silliness but still striking me as falling far short is the exegesis that in this text authorizing “drinking” Paul is actually prohibiting it:  Gary Hampton’s argument is, “There can be no doubt that Timothy refrained from drinking any wine, because of what the apostle wrote to him in 1 Timothy 5:23.  Paul urged him not to go to the extreme of refusing wine as a medicine when he was sick.”[25]  What Hampton is really trying to say is that Paul is permitting “drinking” only due to sickness.  But he clearly takes that to imply that Paul is prohibiting all other “drinking.”  But that is an assumption since Paul does not discuss when--or whether--it was proper to drink under other circumstances.  It seems to only work if all the passages referring favorably to drinking “wine” are really talking about drinking grape juice.  I found that an utterly improbable assumption literally fifty years ago and still do today.


Some find the expression of this “home remedy” for sickness rather incongruous and seemingly out of place.  William R. Vincent provides this possible explanation, “The appearance at this point of this dietetic prescription, if it is nothing more, is sufficiently startling; which has led to some question whether the verse may not have been misplaced.  If it belongs here, it can be explained only as a continuation of the thought in 1 Timothy 5:22, to the effect that Timothy is to keep himself pure by not giving aid and comfort to the ascetics, and imperiling his own health by adopting their rules of abstinence.”[26]
            This might be true, but if the apostle knows that Timothy is having an ongoing problem and he has a positive suggestion to deal with it, isn’t the apostle going to find a place somewhere to mention it?  Is there really any “most appropriate place” to do so than here?


Early modern travelers to the area of modern Turkey sometimes gained unpleasant personal experiences backing up Paul’s advice--and dysentery produced by bad water was the reason.  One was Barton Johnson who summed up the agony he had gone through while there:  “The water of that region is not good.  The writer well remembers a fearfully sick day that he passed at Ephesus in 1889, due to the water.  Paul, hence, advises that instead, he try the light wines, with only the smallest percentage of alcohol.  The prescription is not of a beverage, but of a remedy for an invalid.”[27]  Today we might word that last sentence, “If you are sick as a dog, then you take something to make you feel better--regardless of whether or not you would normally consume it.”  It works; therefore use it!

Luke Gilkerson has written that (and provided links to supporting scientific reports and other evidence), “This home-remedy for poor digestion has actually been confirmed by modern studies. Fermented drinks like beer, sherry, or wine are powerful stimulants of gastric acid secretion, and can even speed up the emptying of the stomach.  Red wine also contain polyphenols that trigger the release of nitric oxide which relaxes the stomach wall, thus optimizing digestion.”[28]


Historically we know that wine was used for medical reasons both internally and externally.  Cato (234-194 B.C.) was an enthusiast of combining cabbage with wine to treat illness.  On the other hand, he stressed the importance of invoking the right magical incantation as well.[29]

Asklepiades of Bithynia (d. 90 B.C.) was convinced that your health would be improved by special massages, moderate exercise, and drinking wine mixed with water.[30]

The Roman Pliny (23-79 A.D.) gave some recommendations on the use of wine for health:[31]


Unwashed wool supplies very many remedies. . . .  [I]t is applied. . . . with honey to old sores.  Wounds it heals if dipped in wine or vinegar. . . . yolks of eggs . . . are taken for dysentery with the ash of their shells, poppy juice and wine.  It is recommended to bathe the eyes with a decoction of the liver and to apply the marrow to those that are painful or swollen.


He recognized however that the additives that might be mixed with wine to enhance its effectiveness had to be used with caution since some were clearly fatal when drunk.[32]

In addition to whatever benefits gained when wine was received by itself, it was considered a medical “art”—so to speak—to know what to mix with it . . . and in  what amounts . . . as well as for how long to wait before consuming it.  Giovanni Milani-Santarpia explains:[33]


Wine was a frequent component of ancient Roman medicine:  As is well known nowadays, alcohol is a good means of extracting the active elements from medicinal plants.  Wine was the only form of alcohol known to the Romans as distillation wasn’t discovered until the middle ages.  Herbs infused in wine was a regular medicinal stratagem which would have a degree of effect given the alcohol’s ability to extract the active compounds of a number of herbs.  The “only” issue would be whether the infused herbs are the right ones for the particular ailment.

As an example of how the wine would be used in such a manner we show below a typical recipe for a laxative (from Apicius' cookery book):  Rose (or violet) Wine-Rosatum:  Rose petals, the lower white part removed, are sewn into a linen bag and immersed in wine for seven days.  After which, add a bag of new petals which allow to draw for another seven days.  Again remove the old petals and replace them with fresh ones for another week then strain the wine through the colander.  Before serving, add honey sweetening to taste.  Take care that only the best petals free from dew be used for soaking.”


We should remember that whenever wine was drunk it was regarded as nothing short of being an uncivilized barbarian to drink it by itself.  In both Gentile and Jewish society it was always mixed with water:[34]


            Drinking wine without it being mixed with water was looked upon as “Scythian” or barbarian.

            Mnesitheus [a Greek physician 4th century B.C.] wrote,  Mix it half and half and you get madness; unmixed, bodily collapse.”

             Plutarch wrote, “We call a mixture ‘wine,’ although the larger of the components is water.”

            The Jewish Talmud, which contains the oral traditions from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. has several tractates in which the mixture of water and wine is discussed.  The normal mixture is said to be 1 part wine to 3 parts water.

            In the part of that work called Pesahim 108b it is stated that the four cups every Jew was to drink from during the Passover ritual the mix was a ratio three parts water to one part wine. . . .

            From around 60 B.C. the Book of Maccabees 15:39 states, “It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while mixed with water is sweet and delicious. . . .” [“delightful and pleasing,” New American Bible Revised Edition] 

            Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. described the Lord’s Supper in this way, “Bread was brought, and wine and water, and the president sends up prayers and thanksgiving.”

             Clement of Alexandria stated, “It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible. . . .  For both are works of God, and the mixing of the two, both the water and wine, produces health. . . .”



Why did Timothy have a health problem and why wasn’t it miraculously cured?  In all the understandable discussion of wine--its meaning (alcoholic?) and the reason for the remedy being recommended--it should not be forgotten that there are another set of questions raised about why did God permit it to continue?

Because God is capable of curing any physical calamity does not mean that He will routinely do so however--even in that age of miracles.  How can the cosmos remain a functional system regulated by the perpetual mechanisms God has set up to “run” it if everything can routinely and immediately be instantaneously changed for the better?  Even though “aberrations” from the norm” (= miracles) occurred in those days, they were just that--departures from what was usual and routinely expected.  Indeed if they weren’t how could “miracles” even exist as a distinct category from everyday events?

Why God didn’t do more for Timothy we are not told . . . we are only shown by actual example that even the most dedicated and devout may not be blessed with the fullness of health and well being.  Even the apostle Paul was in that situation even though he had repeatedly prayed for the removal of his own difficulty. 

The reason for the denial of his petitions might well be one that (often?) plays a key role in our own unsuccessful prayers . . . to keep us from becoming too puffed up with ourselves:  And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). “To keep me from becoming conceited” (ESV); “keep me from being proud” (GNT); “so that I would not become arrogant” (NET).

There have been so many explanations of what Paul’s physical difficulty was that it would probably provide more than enough fodder for a substantial doctoral dissertation!  From the practical standpoint--of teaching his readers something-- “God likely wanted Paul’s difficulty to be described in general enough terms to apply to any difficulty we may face now.  Whether the ‘thorn’ we struggle with today is physical, emotional, or spiritual, we can know that God has a purpose and that His grace is all-sufficient.”[35]  Paul could handle his; likewise we can endure ours.  And by Paul’s example Timothy could learn the same thing.                                


Paul certainly prayed for the removal of his own affliction and, as a traveling companion, surely did the same for Timothy as well.  God didn’t blame Paul for having a lack of faith nor did Paul blame Timothy for having an inadequate faith.  Nor should we blame others.  Chuck Smith makes the point this way:[36]


            I believe the reason why is that we would not be caught up in that kind of heresy that we’d say, “Well, brother, you’re still sick because there’s some sin in your life.”  Or “you’re still sick because you just don’t have enough faith.”  Or “you’re sick because you have this personal problem or something of that nature.”  To keep us from that kind of foolish, unscriptural speculation, we have the case of Timothy, a close associate, companion, son of Paul in the faith who Paul is giving some just, pure advice from a physical level for his oft sicknesses rather than having a divine touch of God and a healing upon his body.

            God does not heal in every case.  And in those cases where God doesn’t heal, God has a purpose for not healing.  It is not the lack of faith.  It is not something wrong in the life of the individual.  There is something within those eternal purposes of God that we cannot, do not, and will not understand.  And I am thoroughly opposed to that kind of teaching that if you will follow this [particular] formula [of prayer], you will be healed, and then that person who has this chronic illness feels constantly guilty. 

            [The person then feels:]  “There’s something wrong with me, something wrong with my relationship with God.  Why aren’t I healed you know, what’s wrong with me?”  And actually you are kicking a person when they are down if you lay some kind of heavy [guilt] trip on them that way.  “Oh, brother, you know, there’s just got to be something wrong, you know.  If you just had enough faith [healing] would happen to you, too!”

            There’s an interesting scripture concerning Jesus that we do not understand in our modern culture today. It said concerning Jesus, “A bruised reed he would not break” (Isaiah 42:3).  To put that into a modern vernacular would be; He would not kick a man who is down.  That’s what [is] meant by “a bruised reed he would not break.”  He wouldn’t kick a man when he’s down.



One’s true character will not always be obvious:  The evils of some are readily apparent and provides forewarning of Divine condemnation, but that is not always the case; similarly, the virtues of some are immediately obvious though not always:  “(24)  Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.  (25) Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.”


            Some people’s sins are already obvious and their behavior clearly exhibits it:  “some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgement” (5:24).  Clearly limiting his statement to the obviousness of “some” folks’ sin, two keep “evident” (NASB, WEB) and one modifies it to the implied “evident to the world” (Weymouth).  The most popular alternative is “obvious” (GW, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV) while one holds out for “are conspicuous” (ESV). 

            Arichea and Hatton note that the Greek here “refers to something that is easily seen and known, hence ‘very obvious,’ ‘very clear,’ verily easily known,’ and this first clause may also be rendered as ‘Everyone can plainly see the sins of some people.’ ”[37] 

            In contrast, the ethics of some behavior can be argued because it seems to pivot just about on the edge between right and wrong.  Other behaviors, all you have to do (if you have even a basic foundation in Biblical truth) is to see it and you automatically know that “it’s simply not right.”  Nothing complex.  Nothing Biblically arguable.  Simply blatant and fragrant.  We know it exists in their lives and we see the evils publicly displayed.  No one has to wait until the Final Judgment to recognize either fact.

Although we take this in that eschatological sense, this reality can also occur in the cases when the church has to make formal judgment on the behavior of its leaders (verses 19-21)--or any of its other members.  Although a formal hearing has to be held, what is going on may become well known even before that.  The question then becomes “how in the world did this escape our attention” or “why in the world have we waited so long to do something about this outrageous conduct?”

Of a “mild” case of this nature, I visited with one congregation where a certain member—who I would have thought smarter than such actions—had been treating his wife publicly with borderline contempt.  Literally snapping his fingers and expecting her to be there!  The brethren explained:  Straighten out this mess or we will reject you from the congregation.  The behavior had become generally known and obvious to so many people.  They simply weren’t going to put up with it.

In a severe case, there was a congregation with a preacher well known (internally) for beating his wife.  But no one wanted anything to do with the matter.  Can you imagine what Paul’s reaction would have been?


            The “preceding them to judgementlanguage is only preserved by WEB, though the NIV expands the idea of the sitting in which it will occur, “reaching the place of judgment before them.”  The imagery is that the behavior that will be the basis of ultimate decisions before the Great Assize will already have been known before the “defendants” are personally present.

            Only the NIV seems to suggest that the final judgment be the ultimate reference point.  Most simply speak of this conduct “going before them to [or into] judgment” (ESV, GW, Holman, NASB, NET).  WEB’s “preceding them to judgment” also leaves the matter vague.  As does the ISV’s “leading them to judgment.”

            In contrast Weymouth opts for the reference to be the judgement of our contemporaries as to the propriety of one’s behavior:  “leading the way to your estimate of their characters.”   

            Even if we take the immediate connection to be that of this-world, congregational decisions, can anyone doubt that the principle is equally true of the final judgement?  Some will go into it waving their flags announcing and glorying in their moral decay while there will be others who will startle everyone by the amount of pure evil they have successfully hidden.  But in neither case is there any escape from Divine retribution. 


            The recognition of the presence of sinful behavior in some individuals will not be immediately obvious:  the sins “of some men follow later” (5:24).  Of the evaluation being made by God of our actions we read in Revelation 20:12, “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened.  And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” 

            Paul himself warned that even if we are able to fully hide our evils in this life, when Jesus returns He “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5).  On the same subject he writes in Romans 2:16 of “the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”


            A wide variety of alternatives are presented as to this part of the verse:  some sins “follow later” (NKJV, WEB), “follow after” (NASB), “follow them there” (GW, ISV), “show up later” (NET), “appear later” (ESV).  Two translations choose to stress this element of implied delay:  “others lag behind” (Weymouth) and “others trail behind them” (NIV).  There are two possibilities as to meaning.  First, these references argue that their behavior has been wrapped in sufficient ambiguity or misrepresentation that it takes time for the knowledge of their sinful behaviors to become known.  The second possibility is that there has been conscious repression of the behaviors to keep it undetected.  In such cases “the sins of others surface later” (Holman).

            The wording fits well with the eschatological judgment:  What some are and have done will be no particular secret while others will finally have their sin exposed.  It is harder to see how this fits well with the scenario that the self-policing authority of the church over its elders and members is under consideration as well—or exclusively.  In that context wouldn’t it imply that the guilty successfully escape exposure of their sin and that it isn’t until some yet later time that we learn the charges were true?  Which leads us to the question of. . . .


            Does this refer to a “this world” church trial judgment?  There seem two ways to make this have a church tribunal setting.  The better approach would be to argue that what is under consideration are accusations that are not verified as true until the “church trial” is held.  They have successfully veiled their behavior to most members.  Only when they are challenged and the evidence is then publicly examined before the congregation are they finally exposed to everyone. 

            The behaviors examined congregationally as the result of an accuser (Matthew 18:15-18) would fit this description. 

            I confess I may simply be yielding to the human emotion of seeking out a “tribunal” before which the judge(s) are never fooled and it is for that reason I prefer reading the text as referring to Christ’s judgment upon His return.  Even setting aside this possibility, to make the reference be to this world judgments does seem to push the current text way beyond anything it demands.  Here it could be the situation in mind, but in Matthew 18 it is clear that is the setting:  tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (verse 17).


            Is this elder specific teaching?  This is the second option in making the text refer to current world events.  An often astute analyst argues the case this way:[38]


                The emphasis of the passage [5:17-25] seems to be, therefore:  “Do not hastily appoint men to roles of leadership.”

            The evangelist is urged to take his time in such matters.  Study the character of these men in advance of such a serious matter.  It is a general truism that it is much easier to place a man into an office than it is to remove him. . . .

            The thrust of the first half of the passage, therefore, seems to be this. Some men’s sins are so evident (open, unconcealed, obvious), that their possible appointment to a leadership role may be dismissed immediately.  In such a situation, judgment (opinion, determination) can be made early-on.  The decision is easy and will not have to be dealt with in a more open forum later.  There is no need to proceed further in the case of well-known transgressors.

            On the other hand, others may have problems that are not so apparent initially.  A man may be appointed to an important role, only to have his serious character flaws revealed at a later time.

            Therefore, be deliberate and cautious in the appointments made for leadership roles in the church.


            Let’s look closer at the context suggested in evaluating this possibility:  In verses 17-20 there is a reference to “trying” accusations against elders in particular and what we said above of this world judgments might well fit that context.  But the judgment in the current text gives no indication of being limited to those who are elders; it gives every appearance of being a universal believer truism.

            Verse 21 argues for no prejudice in making decisions, which obviously concerns decisions/evaluations made in the current world.  Verse 22 similarly implores that Timothy not become a sharer in other people’s sins.

            But then there is the shift away from such things to Timothy drinking wine to bring relief to his stomach (verse 23).  Then and only then do we find the discussion of sins being publicly exposed (verses 24-25).  Does not the shift in thematic matter in verse 23 argue that a shift to other matters is also continued in these verses as well?  A different setting . . . a different judgment setting. 

Also note the “universal” language used versus the elder specific language earlier, again arguing for a much wider intended application.  In other words, the words would seem to far better fit the church having to make “judicial” decisions on its members--any member brought before it rather than just elders alone . . . if we are to adopt a “church trial” setting at all.     


            Although we have been discussing the exposure of one’s true nature, it is important to stress “the other side of the coin”—the point that is made in either current world or final judgement contexts:  one’s true nature is often not known:  it can be carefully disguised to the point the failures superficially appear a mere minor “blemish” that could be caused by misunderstandings.

            Some do this intentionally.  They want to “have their cake and eat it too.”  They want the praise and honor of being publicly righteous while they cultivate the pleasures and follies of the flesh in a more discrete manner.  This can happen to poor people or middle class.  But it can also occur in situations where they are quite successful:  they obtain expensive homes and the luxuries of the upper class while wearing the public veneer of the humble and restrained.  There are those who assume that because they are of that class and have at least a mild interest in spiritual matters they must have sterling character as well.

            In other cases, we deal with the person who passionately wants to be morally honorable and seem to be trying their best—but they have a besieging weakness or sin that they can not fully rid themselves of.  We leave it in God’s hands the boundary line between how much His grace will cover and where He’ll break out in laughter at our delusion that His grace is going to let us get by with “that” (whatever it might actually be) in our behavior.

            In both cases the sin is unknown—no one recognizes the significance of what is going on in private or even its existence—but in both cases it won’t stay that way.  Truth wins out.  Even when it’s a truth we would rather not admit to.   


            What Paul does not state—but which the words surely require us to deduce—is that our unrecognized good also follows into the Final Judgement.  Unless one is egocentrically setting out to publicize them, many—most—of the things we do will get no attention beyond the person(s) directly envolved.  We may literally have done a huge amount of good financially or in assistance freely extended to those needing our help and yet virtually no one knows of it. 

There is really no need.  Those helped know it.  God knows it.  And in the time of final judgment all will know it.[39]


            The desirable and moral activities of some folk are obvious:  “the good works of some are clearly evident” (5:25).  Some behavior is transparently praiseworthy to anyone who observes it or hears about it:  “clearly evident” is weakened by Weymouth to “some are evident” and strengthened by NASB to “are quite evident.”  The most preferred word is not “evident,” but “obvious” (GW, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV, WEB), although the ESV conveys that point by using “conspicuous” to describe the behavior.

            The “good works” of ESV, Holman, NET, WEB, preserve the NKJV’s wording.  The concept of “works” has been seriously twisted in the disputes over the meaning of the term in the book of James.  Either to avoid the introduction of that term or perhaps simply because changing the wording was thought to provoke individual reconsideration of the obvious personal application of Paul’s teaching found here, other versions introduce varied substitutes.  These typically include the word “good” in various formulations:  “Good things” (GW), “good actions” (ISV), “good deeds” (NIV), “deeds that are good” (NASB).  Weymouth ventures out in a different way, speaking of “right actions.”   


            The implicit challenge to us is:  How would the bystander or person who knows us only casually evaluate our character?  Would it be as a person who is obnoxious, hates just about anything and everything, and (so to speak) wouldn’t hesitate to drive through the middle of a funeral procession and disrupt it?  Or would it be as a devout and constructive individual trying to advance oneself while promoting our family’s well being and the people among whom we live?


            Certain praiseworthy behavior will only become generally known at a later date:  “those that are otherwise [i.e., not immediately observable] cannot be hidden” (5:25).  Just like a corpse will stink through its hiding place, evil behavior releases its own “odor” and will ultimately be recognized as the truth comes out.  Here we seem to be moving beyond that prior warning that knowledge of our hidden evils will become known to others.  This time the wording is so broad that Paul seems to intend that even if it somehow doesn’t surface, it will still be known by God and noted at the Final Judgement. 

            “Cannot be hidden” is preserved in modified form:  “cannot remain hidden” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NET).  Similarly it is preserved by turning it into a contraction:  “can’t remain hidden” (GW), “can’t remain hidden forever” (NIV), and “can’t be hidden” (WEB).  Two translations pursue a different way of making the thought:  “cannot be concealed” (NASB) and “cannot remain for ever out of sight” (Weymouth).


            What we are ultimately becomes evident.  We may be able to hide it, but if it is corrupt and morally depraved no number of public relations experts may be able to keep it hidden forever.  Even in this world knowledge often seeps out.  We give off its odor.

            But even if we have “good luck” from that perspective it is never enough.  From the standpoint of God, of course, the chicanery is already well known.  It probably gets laughed at because of the implicit arrogance that if “we can keep it hidden” there will never be any answerability.  In this life that may be true.  We may never go to prison over it.  We may never face public shame.  But God keeps His own set of records and those are never wrong or incomplete.









[1] Barton Johnson, People’s New Testament, at:  (Accessed July 2019; January 2020.) 


[2]  Matt Slick, “Are There Elect or Chosen Angels?,” part of the CARM website, at:  (Accessed  January 2020.)


[3] Arichea and Hatton, 131.


[4] Ray C. Stedman, “Help,” internet. 


[5] Scott Brown, “Nine Ways,  internet.    


[6] Arichea and Hatton, 132.


[7] Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 5:17-25,” at:   (Dated October 2009; accessed January 2020.) 


[8] Brian P. Irwin is clearly inclined to eliminate the “appointment” aspect and solely emphasize this one:  “The Laying on of Hands in 1 Timothy 5:22:  A New Proposal,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 18.1 (2008), 125, at:  (Accessed January 2016.)


[9] For a lengthy list of such interpreters see Ibid., n. 2, page 123.


[10] W. A. Criswell, “The Ordained Officers of the Church (1 Timothy 3:1-13),” at:  (Preached:  April 1982; accessed July 2019.) 


[11] Chuck Smith, Bible Commentary on 1 Timothy, at:  (Accessed January 2020.) 


[12] Brian P. Irwin, “Laying on of Hands,” n. 4, page 124, provides examples.  


[13] For examples see Ibid., n. 5, page 124.   


[14] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 281.


[15] Robin A. Brace, “What does It Mean:  Lay Hands on No Man Suddenly?,” part of the UK Apologetics website., at:  (Dated June 15, 2012; accessed:  November 2016.)  .


[16] Brian P. Irwin, “Laying on of Hands,” 127.


[17] Ibid., 128-129. 


[18] Ibid., 129.


[19] James B. Coffman, Commentary on 1 Timothy, online at:  (Accessed January 2020).  Like many others, he finds the elder appointment as “the primary reference” of the instruction.


[20] H. Kollock on 5:22 in Joseph S. Exell, editor, The Biblical Illustrator (New York:  1905-1909), online at:  (Accessed October 2015.)


[21] Irwin W. Sherman, The Power of Plagues, Second Edition (Washington, D.C.:  ASM Press, 2017), unnumbered pages throughout book.  (Google book)


[22] William R. Vincent, Word Studies on 5:17, internet edition.


[23] Arichea and Hatton, 133-134.


[24] Ray C. Stedman, “Help,” internet.   


[25] Gary Hampton, Commentary, internet.  (Accessed January 2020.) 


[26] William R. Vincent, Word Studies, on 5:23,  internet edition. 


[27] Barton Johnson, People’s, internet.


[28] Luke Gilkerson, “10 Biblical Reasons We Should Appreciate Wine,” part of the Intoxicated on Life website, at:  (Accessed March 2020.)


[29] Albert S. Lyons, “Medicine in Roman Times,” at:  (Accessed November 2016.) 


[30] Mark Cartwright, “Roman Medicine,” part of the Ancient History website, at:  (Accessed November 2016.)  


[31] Quoted by C. N. Trueman, “Medicine in Ancient Rome,” at:  (Accessed November 2016.) 


[32] Albert S. Lyons, “Medicine,” internet.    


[33] Giovanni Milani-Santarpia, “Ancient Roman Medicine,” at:  (Accessed  November 2016.) 


[34] Nelson L. Price, “Wine in The Bible and the Consumption of Alcohol Today,” at:  (Dated 2009; accessed March 2020.)


[35] [Unidentified Author], “What Was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?”  Part of God Questions website, at:  (Accessed January 2020.) 


[36] Chuck Smith, 1 Timothy, internet.


[37] Arichea and Hatton, 134.


[38] Wayne Jackson, “Please Explain 1 Timothy 5:24-25,” from the Christian Courier website, at:  (Accessed March 2020.)


[39] Robert H. Gundry, Testament, 845.