Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2020


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A Comparative Translation Commentary


On 1 Timothy


(Volume 2:  Chapter 3)




Roland H. Worth, Jr.


Copyright © 2020 by author





Chapter Three







Requirements to Hold the Post of Elder



TCNT:  1 How true is that saying!  When a man aspires to be a Presiding-Officer in the Church, he is ambitious for a noble task.  2 The Presiding-Officer should be a man of blameless character; a faithful husband; living a temperate, discreet, and well-ordered life; hospitable, and a skilful teacher, 3 not addicted to drink or brawling, but of a forbearing and peaceable disposition, and not a lover of money.

4  He should be a man who rules his own household well, and whose children are kept under control and are well-behaved.  5 If a man does not know how to rule his own household, how can he take charge of the Church of God?

6 The Presiding-Officer should not be a recent convert, that he may not be blinded by pride and fall under the same condemnation as the Devil.  7 He should also be well spoken of by outsiders, that he may not incur censure and so fall into the snares of the Devil.



            Although “bishop” is the traditional translation, 20th C’s “Presiding-Officer” does offer a reasonable alternative that is stripped of the religious connotation and history that “bishop” inevitably carries.  Such a man is to be one of those appointed to the top leadership cadre of the local congregation.  It is intriguing that even in that era of miraculous supernatural gifts, the possession of such was not a requirement of church office for either elders or deacons.[1] 

            True, they might have such or might not:  of the deacons or deacon equivalents appointed in Acts 6:1-6, only one is known to have exercised miraculous powers (Stephen in verse 8).  A similar pattern was true in other places as well.  Writing to the Corinthians Paul asked, “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Are all workers of miracles?  Do all have gifts of healings?  Do all speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?”   

            The obvious implication, even in English, is of course not.  The Greek makes it emphatic:  In the Greek Testament, each of these questions is prefaced with the negative particle me, which is designed to elicit a negative answer to the queries.”[2]

            The proper exercise of the office of elder or deacon did not require the possession of such.  Hence having such a capacity was not made a prerequisite of holding the office.




Why It Is Praiseworthy

To Seek A Church Leadership Position




            The complete reliability of what is being said:  “This is a faithful saying.”  The word order may be changed such as in Weymouth to, “Faithful is the saying.”  Although this certainly conveys the idea of it being reliable, most recent translations make it even more explicit:  for example, “a statement that can be trusted” (GW).  In other words they invoke the explicit image of dependability in their alteration:  “it is a trustworthy statement” (NASB); a “trustworthy saying” (ISV, NIV), or the “saying is trustworthy” (ESV, Holman, NET). 

            George W. Knight III writes on the origin of this adage:[3]


One can only conjecture or theorize as to the rationale which prompted such a saying.  Therefore, suffice it to say that the saying exalts the office of ruler and emphasizes its value.  The office of ἐπισκοπος is one that is commended as something to be aspired to, for those who possess the qualifications and characteristics outlined in the verses that follow the saying. 

The fact that in the early church there has developed a saying about the ἐπισκοπῆ indicates how very basic and important this office was considered to be for the life and well-being of the church.  That such is the case is not at all strange when one considers that on his very first missionary journey Paul returns to cities that had mistreated him badly to appoint elders in every church (Acts 14:23).  And this high view of those who rule over the church is seen throughout the New Testament (Acts 15; Acts 20:17ff., especially verse 28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17). 

This evaluation is enhanced even more by Paul’s citing this saying with the strong citation-emphasis formula, faithful is the saying.  This places the saying in the category of those statements that the Apostle Paul would particularly single out and emphasize.  


            In short, they can’t go wrong in embracing this principle.  Many truisms may have exceptions, but this one does not.  It is an unquestionably reliable one.  They can be absolutely confident that it is “most certain in itself, and worthy of being always acknowledged and attended to”--by everyone both locally and everywhere else.[4]  It is not a truth uniquely contingent upon local circumstances.

            Understanding Paul’s intent is easy to determine.  It is harder to see why this should be necessary for him to have to say it:  What organization can function long-term without a leadership cadre of some kind?  It’s as if there is some kind of situation envolved that Paul has to deal with, some kind of barrier that has to be removed.  Something they would connect this with but which, for us, is pure speculation.  But there seem three possibilities that could be motivating him.

            (1)  Based upon modern experience, one can imagine why the desirability of having elders might need to be stressed in this manner.  They could have felt that they already had a fine preacher in Timothy; so why did they need anything more?  They could have felt there was something inherently improper in having both a preacher and elders.  After all, preachers come with a certain de facto authority by the very work they do—recognized position and leadership due to their ongoing teaching and encouragement of the congregation.  “Don’t rock the boat; things are just fine.  Leave things as they are!”  Easily forgotten in the enthusiasm of the short term was that Timothy wasn’t going to stay there forever--so they had better think about such things! 

            (2)  On the other hand, if we look at modern experience, we can imagine that they thought that the congregation had been doing “quite fine, thank you very much!”--before Timothy came and would do so after he left.  Without an ongoing leadership, it would be far easier to “brush under the rug” any problems, while with one there would be a structure in place to maximize the probability it got dealt with.  In modern parlance we would speak in terms of “a business meeting approach” being their preferred de facto ideal.

            (3)  But let us--I suspect with justice--think far better of these people.  As rational, reasonable individuals, they recognized that at a certain stage any group needed a structure of some kind.  They were in a huge city in which varied religious and other groups were abundant.  There were expectations expected of their leaders, criteria that were either unofficial or official prerequisites. 

            Were they to think the church any less deserving of having a “code of qualifications” as well?  But what were they to be?  How much like or unlike those of others?  To provide them with reliable criteria is Paul’s clear goal.  And to make sure they recognize that these are not mere suggestions but absolute guidelines he stresses that what he writes is absolutely “trustworthy.”             


            From the standpoint of the general membership they needed to have a more specific idea of what they needed in a Christian leader.  What qualities, strengths.  What negative traits to be avoided.  “Because he’s a member and is still believing” could never be enough.  (Though through the centuries some have tried to get along with little better than that!)

            Finally there was motivating individuals.  Why should they seek it and be willing to put up with the inevitable headaches and inconveniences?  (Paul will deal with that in the closing words of this verse.)  The individual would need to know what the criteria were.  Only then could he be absolutely confident that he had the right “background traits” that would make success possible in the position.  And because Paul was an inspired apostle they could be confident that he also established criteria that were useful and desirable.  

            There is irony in this list.  To simplify only a little, the truth of the matter is that with the exceptions of obligatory marriage, having skill in teaching, and the prohibition of being a new convert, the qualities advocated should not be found lacking in any Christian.[5]  In other words, they represent attitudes and behavioral patterns that ideally should be universally found--or at least zealously sought.  The fact that Paul felt it necessary to specify them for a special group within the church argues that whatever lapses might be found elsewhere, in regard to the church leadership it was vital not to let them happen there.    


            Does “faithful saying” refer to what comes after or what came before those words?  We have taken Paul’s assertion to refer to what comes next:  the qualifications for church office, with the strong implication of the importance of appointing such men.

Others believe that the expression refers to what comes previously in chapter 2.  Most such individuals link it to what is said in 2:15 alone[6] (rather than to the entire context of verses 9-15).  Hence, the reference becomes one to salvation in childbearing if the woman maintains her faithfulness to God.  The description of it as a “saying” would normally bring to our mind something brief, concise, and to the point and, to my reader’s ears at least, 3:1 really does seem to match that criteria significantly better than 2:15.[7]

            Furthermore the assertion is made that “faithful saying” would be expected to provide a salvational context since it is so found in other usages in the Pastoral epistles:


1 Timothy 1:15:  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

1 Timothy 4:8-9:  For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.”

2 Timothy 2:11:  This is a faithful saying:  For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him.”


            Does a “faithful statement” that does not envolve a salvational matter become unreliable or questionable?  No:  A “faithful statement” would remain such—because its truly trustworthy and reliable—whether it has reference to salvation or not.  We would certainly not impose a straightjacket on our own speech that would require such a restriction.  Hence the first thing to make us cautious is that we ourselves would not limit the word that way.  Not a definitive solution, but not to be completely overlooked either.  


            Furthermore 3:1a is not the only place in the Pastorals that Paul uses the expression in a context that may or may not have a direct salvational context.  We refer to Titus 3:8.  Standing alone it reads:  This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable to men.”  The need to maintain good behavior seems clearly the “faithful saying” the apostle has in mind.

However, if we consider the broader context we could see how a person might want to make the statement to look back to what is said before the reference to a faithful saying:


1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.


Verse 8 introduces the required consequences of our salvation (verses 1-7):  What we must do after having obtained it.  Tied in with our salvation, of course, but a distinctive topic separate and apart from our salvation itself.  Indeed, salvational references (verses 4-7) are interposed between principles of Christian living (verses 1-3 and 8).  Hence it is quite proper to make the “faithful saying” of verse 8 refer to what is discussed there rather than to verses 4-7.  Just as it is easy—and does no violence to text or context—to make the “faithful saying” in 1 Timothy 3 refer to the eldership.

By the way:  Strictly on its merits, would Paul have even hesitated to apply “faithful saying” to church leadership matters or the Christian living obligation?  Would he have written anything that he regarded as less that a “faithful” and reliable presentation of God’s will?  Especially on a topic as important to him as reliable church leadership?            


            But assuming that this evaluation is wrong and Paul is going out of his way to emphatically assert the salvation of women, one could imagine why he might do so.  It would be easy to misread differing responsibilities in the church in regard to leadership to imply some fundamental spiritual inadequacy present in the women of the congregation.  Paul’s words emphatically rule out that option.  

            Just as males have a unique obligation in church leadership that is not shared by women, women have a unique right, privilege, and obligation of child bearing.  However much the early 21st century mocks that as a burden and sometimes as almost contemptible, the raw naked reality is:  no children, no next generation.  Our “line” ceases to exist.  Enough opt out and our very nation ceases to exist.  Whatever spiritual implications salvation by childbearing may be intended to teach, that childbearing also assures that our family lineage and our nation is saved for another generation.  Without it, ethnic/national suicide is inevitable.


            The post of elder is to be held by “a man:”   The wording here is for generic humankind and not males specifically.[8]  Hence translations are not bowing their knee to degenderizing the text as an end in itself when they speak of “anyone” (ESV, GW, Holman, Weymouth),      “someone” (NET), “whoever” (NIV), or “the one who would an elder be” (ISV).  Clinging to traditional usage would be WEB (“if a man”) and the NASB (“any man”).
            On the other hand, whether the specific word “male” is used or not, it is strictly males who are under consideration--“the husband of one wife” (3:2) surely suggests nothing else!  In this time when courts are recognizing homosexual marriages as if they were moral, I suppose one could argue that a “married” lesbian might meet this qualification.  (Although one does have those inconvenient texts criticizing homosexual practices to work one’s way around.)  Furthermore the elder is to have “children” (verse 4).  Another complexity for the lesbian unless she has brought them with her into her new “marriage.”  But even this would not get us to what militant feminist theorists demand:  that unmarried women be admitted as well--married or not and whether with children or without.  

Shall we even mention that when considered in the context of its historical setting and period, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who seriously believes women occupied such a leadership position in the first century?[9]  The closest one can come is to argue that there was a formal church position of “deaconess” as well.  Oddly enough, Paul seems to omit those qualifications here!  Much could be said on this and related controversies and we will take them up in our chapter on Church Leadership Controversies.)  


Now let us “flip this question over:  Yes, only a male is qualified to hold the eldership.  But “no man is qualified to be a spiritual leader in the church just because of his gender.”  There are essential additional standards that must be met for appointment.  Even so, the position is still open to a wide array of individuals.  “As long as a man was qualified he could serve, regardless of his social and economic background.”[10] 

Although there would be an automatic tendency for those better off economically--and so far as social prestige--to have an obvious practical advantage, that was still something dramatically different from arbitrarily ruling out broad categories of the membership.  That smaller group would have had a greater opportunity to have received a better education and the opportunity to provide leadership in other social contexts such as business.  Even so when faced with the criteria of the kind laid down in Paul’s list, over time and circumstance a far wider variety of individuals would have the opportunity to qualify and put their talents to use through exercising leadership.  


            A person holding the post must be one who “desires the position:  The word “desires” inherently carries with it a significant amount of enthusiasm.  Some substitutions barely touch on this element, preferring to speak of “the one who would be” (ISV) or one who “seeks the office” (WEB).  The literal meaning of the Greek term found here is “to stretch oneself out.”[11]  Or as another words it, “to stretch one’s self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.”[12]  Hence a stronger reading is called for—such as “aspires to” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV), “sets his heart upon being” (GW), or “eager to have” (Weymouth).   


            The eldership is not designed to be something one is “drafted” into:  “We have to have somebody and you are qualified for it.”  But not everyone qualified for a position has the time, patience, or temperament to do the job well.  If you don’t have these, how can you do the position justice?

            Nor should it be overlooked that the apostle Peter implicitly rebuked anyone who gave into such pressure:  Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly” (1 Peter 5:2). 

Furthermore, you are not doing the congregation any favor by giving in.  Does anyone do a job well that they dislike having to do?  Yes, there are exceptions:  Perhaps time will pass by and you are among the fortunate ones that do “grow into” your position and come to love it, but you should never have made the attempt in the first place without the proper motivation.[13]  What you do need to do is be thankful to the Lord that you “broke the odds” that were against you.  And marvel at everything having worked out well in the long term.

            Unfortunately there are congregations so desperate for leadership that they think “drafting” you is essential.  Perhaps the church has some particular problem and that it requires someone with a formal position and authority to deal with it.  (Preachers are usually a lot easier to get rid of than long standing elders!)  Perhaps they think they can use you to be “front man” for their own schemes.  Perhaps they are so dedicated to having “a properly organized church,” that the voluntariness of leadership is overlooked.


            At least we don’t have to face the kind of absurdity that Augustine wrote of in his Letters (173:1-2):  Even though Paul praises voluntariness, “yet how many are forced against their will to undertake the episcopacy.  Some are dragged in, locked up and kept under guard, suffering all this unwillingly until there arises in them a will to undertake this good work.”[14]  Strangely, in context, Augustine thought this practice quite acceptable and that it justified taking equally (or more) harsh actions against heretics!


            The proper frame of mind in becoming an elder is that you think you have the qualities that the position deserves and that you desire to use them in the Lord’s service.  The most important form of “stewardship” is not of our money, but of ourselves; the most useful gift we can give may well be of ourselves, our ability, and our time.  That doesn’t rule out someone who knows you well urging you to consider seeking the office;[15] but it still has to be up to you to personally decide whether you are really qualified and whether you have the stamina and determination to do the work well.

            You want to advance God’s kingdom and a self-examination convinces you that you are qualified to do so.  Hence you “desire” to take the position.  In our age “ambition” easily carries the overtone of “ruthless, unrestrained, self-centered.”  What Paul is describing by “desire,” however, is also ambition[16]—but a holy one . . . not to benefit oneself but to be of benefit for God’s kingdom and His people.  It is service-centered ambition, not self-centered.  


            I have seen too many of the problems that can arise in a congregation to willingly imagine anyone wanting the potential headaches of leadership out of selfish motives.  Yet human rationality does get bent, given the right personality and the right circumstances.

            To some it is another “feather in their cap” to boast of their successes.  It is a means to ego satisfaction rather than spiritual.  Bradley Cobb provides the true story of a case he was acquainted with where a successful independent businessman literally asked the preacher what it would “cost” to gain the post.[17]  One can imagine a preacher heading a lobbying campaign and perhaps that was what he wanted him to be—to “talk up” his strengths and prepare the church members in advance to want his appointment when the desire was made official.

But why would he want the appointment that much?  Perhaps because he is a successful businessman.  And this is simply another way to demonstrate his success.  One can imagine the PR:  “We have brother XY as an elder.  Surely you’ve heard of him and that wonderful XXXX business he owns!  We are really blessed!”  And you can imagine his ego swelling as he hears of such reports. 

But one can easily imagine baser reasons as well.  Who knows . . . perhaps he even suspects he can “leverage” his independent business into new customers recruited from the membership:  “Don’t you want to help your brethren rather than an outsider?”


Then there are ego driven individuals who can not boast of such temporal successes.  But if he can gain prominence by leading the congregation, he will still gain “status” that earthly affairs have not yet granted him.  Not “big” success of course, but isn’t it better to be “a big frog in a small pond” than not to have anything to brag of in the first place?  It is not the congregational advancement he really seeks, but his own status and recognition.  Never worded that bluntly of course.  Some truths shouldn’t be shared if one wishes to retain a position—or gain it in the first place!  Perhaps he even hides it from himself.  (The human mind can be a treacherous place!)

Such folks are eying the result of being an elder rather than having an interest centered on the good they can accomplish.  J. Ligon Duncan rightly stresses that “God wants elders who want the work, not just the status of an elder. . . .  Paul is saying that the first qualification of the eldership is that a man would desire to do the spiritual work of a shepherd in the church.  Not that he would desire to be esteemed in the local congregation as one who is holding the highest rank that the church has to offer.”[18]  He does have an agenda—but it is of giving service to God rather than an agenda of promoting himself.            


 “A bishop:  Although the Greek word, can be legitimately rendered as “bishop,” that term easily carries ecclesiastical overtones from a far later date.  Hence a wording is commonly preferred that avoids the danger of reading into the nomenclature assumptions about the post that only come from a much later date.  GW, however, retains “bishop.”  Among major translations outside our usual comparison list, both the RSV and NRSV opt to preserve it as well.

“Overseer” is not only a literal translation of the Greek, it is also the most common substitute (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB), though one may encounter the occasional “elder” (ISV).  (It is “literally, overseer” as the NKJV footnote observes, though preserving “bishop” in its main text.)  “The oversight of a church” (Weymouth) explains that one is to be an overseer of, rather than providing a “title” for the position.

Other terms that convey the meaning of the term are “supervisor” and “superintendent.”[19]  The term conveys the message that this is a working position, not a mere ceremonial one.  The term was used to describe whoever was responsible for running and maintaining the good order of a community, a religious group, or neighborhood association—of any size from small to large.[20]  “The word came originally from secular life, referring to the foreman of a construction gang, or the supervisor of building construction, for instance.”[21]  Especially in light of that origin, it is easy to make the observation that you aren’t there to “show off” your spiritual success.  You are there to get some work done!

Among those renderings found outside our normal comparison list is “supervisor” (Common English Bible) and “a leader” (New International Readers Version).  To stress that it is a position of religious leadership, “congregation leader” is found in two versions (Complete Jewish Bible; Good News Translation).  “Church official” (Contemporary English Version) and “church leader” (New Living Translation) are other alternatives that are found.        


The biggest objection to use of the term “bishop” is that it has come to mean the “monarchial episcopacy” of one man over a large group of subordinate church officials.  Think Catholic and Anglican in particular—though they certainly aren’t the only ones—and this is the gloss of medieval and current usage that many readers will tend to impose upon the text.  Not to mention Biblical illiterates who will take this known usage of the term and apply it backward to the Biblical text where it had no such connotation


The case for retaining “bishop” is to stress that “elders” and “bishops” are used interchangeably in the scriptures and it is important for us to recognize the original connotation of the term.  The stress on the marital requirement also strips bear the modern imitation (i.e., unmarried) bishops of any pretense to having a scriptural backing.  


            Although we stress in this study that “bishop/overseer” and “elder/presbyter” are synonyms, why does Paul prefer the term “bishop/overseer” in the current context?  Indeed, what is the conceptual difference between the two terms?  J. Hampton Keathley III suggests[22]


                        (1)  The term elder, stresses the dignity and position of this ministry in the       church.

                        (2)  On the other hand, overseer stresses the function and work of an             elder.

                        In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul carefully chose to use episkope, the “office or

            charge of oversight.”  But why?  Because this word stresses the ministry function         and nature of this office as a charge from God and not the element of position.


            Thomas Constable suggests a different set of differences according to what term is used:  “ ‘Elder’ describes the maturity of those who normally hold this position, primarily spiritual maturity.  ‘Overseer’ describes the major responsibility inherent in the position, namely, oversight of the church.  ‘Pastor’ describes the gift and work necessary to fulfill this position, the gift and work of a shepherd.”[23] 


            John MacArthur suggests the preference for “elders” and “overseers” comes from their existing historical usage at the time Paul wrote:[24]


The New Testament church was initially Jewish, so it would be natural that the concept of elder rule was adopted for use in the early church.  Elder was the only commonly used Jewish term for leadership that was free from any connotation of either the monarchy or the priesthood.  That is significant, because in the church each believer is a co-regent with Christ so there could be no earthly king.  And unlike national Israel, the church has no specially designated earthly priesthood, for all believers are priests. So of all the Jewish concepts of leadership, the elder best transfers to the kind of leadership ordained for the church. . . .

Episkopos, the word for bishop, means “overseer,” or “guardian.”  The New Testament uses episkopos five times.  In 1 Peter 2:25, Jesus Christ is called the episkopos of our souls.  That is, He is the One who has the clearest overview of us, who understands us best, and He is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.  The other four uses of episkopos have reference to leaders in the church.

Episkopos is the secular Greek culture’s equivalent to the historic Hebrew idea of elders.  Bishops were those appointed by the emperors to lead captured or newly founded city-states.  The bishop was responsible to the emperor, but oversight was delegated to him.  He functioned as a commissioner, regulating the affairs of the new colony or acquisition.

Thus episkopos suggested two ideas to the first-century Greek mind: responsibility to a superior power, and an introduction to a new order of things . Gentile converts would immediately understand those concepts in the term.

So the term elder emphasizes who the man is.  Bishop speaks of what he does. . . .




Qualification 1:

Wants the Post (3:2):

“Desires the Position”



What the person seeking the post is hoping for:  he “desires a good work” (3:1).  Although “good work” is a literal rendering of the Greek,[25] the quality of the activity is  sometimes further emphasized by referring to it as “a fine work” (NASB) or “a noble work” (Holman, Weymouth).  Others seem to wish to intensify the emphasis on both words by altering it to “a noble task” (ESV, ISV, NIV).  Although the person is seeking “something excellent” (GW), the terms “work” or “task” better bring out the element of personal endeavor that must be expended. 

            Note that “the nobility mentioned is attached to the task--not to the person performing it.  Elders are not noble people--they’re ordinary people entrusted with a noble task.”[26]  Even in our society there is the inclination to think that there are “superior classes” who somehow enjoy a special right to leadership and authority.  They went to the right universities, they have the right degrees, they come from a “superior” lineage of forefathers and foremothers, their parents exercised positions of leadership.  They have the right political ideology.  This “earns” them the role of leadership and to deny it to them is to do them an injustice in any sphere of life where they are envolved.  In contrast, in the gospel every qualified person has the right to exercise their talents to the fullest but the qualifications come first and not some pedigree of superior “class” status.


By itself “good, fine, noble” could be taken of the prestige of the post and the “bragging rights” it would give.  Although, in a certain sense, it does have the former though not the latter—remember the Biblical condemnation of “pride”?—Paul’s interest is clearly in the opportunities for serving that holding the position brings.  Although elders should not allow their post to go to their heads, the membership should still not forget to give them the special respect they are due because of their leadership position and hard work.  After all, if the Bible ranks it “good, fine, noble,” who are we to diminish its significance?[27]

A Presbyterian minister astutely points to a common—almost pervasive—attitude among church members that unintentionally diminishes and downplays the importance of the post:  Too many young men desire to become ministers; too few aspire to become elders.  At the same time we pray for our children to become evangelists, missionaries and Sunday School teachers, we should pray that some of our sons will undertake the noble task of oversight.”[28]  All of these play a role in God’s plan for the development of a congregation and all are needed.  

We are faced here with a bit of a paradox:  To be part of the leadership cadre would, seemingly, be prestigious and respect gaining in and of itself.  It would be a “step up” in the perceptions of the community.  But if that piece of common sense is true, why feel the need to stress it as Paul does here?

The simple fact is that no matter how prestigious a position may be, it never comes without its share of hassles.  We read in 1 Timothy 1:3-7 of how “some” had already become fantasists and were spinning tales of “fables and endless genealogies” which were creating needless disputes and controversies. 

Paul found it quite credible that Timothy might even receive credible reports from multiple witnesses that would require him to publicly rebuke an offending elder (5:19-20).  Paul had warned the elders when they joined him at Miletus that certain ones would sprout “perverse things” and religiously seduce some brethren into their cliques (Acts 20:29-31). 

The time frame given for the danger in Acts 20 is “after my departure” (20:29).  Although one most naturally interprets that as “after my death,” it is hard not to wonder whether the fact that he had already felt the need to strongly emphasize the danger, that the earliest stages were already fermenting within the Ephesian congregation.

In face of all this—added to the normal difficulties that come with any leadership post—we can easily imagine certain qualified individuals becoming more reluctant to take on the responsibilities.  Hence the need to emphasize the praiseworthiness of the task that is accepted.  Whatever the burdens, the inherent honor remains unimpeachable.                

1 Peter 1:6-7 speaks of how “the genuineness of your faith” is tested by external adversities, but doing nothing to shake our confidence that we will be “receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (verses 8-9).  Does not that same principle work to reassure elders who are besieged by internal church problem makers as well?  Or as Paul himself wrote:  Whatever injustice we suffer is but “light affliction” compared to the blessings we will receive in eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  Or as he wrote in a different place:  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Nor should the word “desires” be overlooked in the requirement.  “This does not mean that he campaigns for it like a politician, but on the other hand, it is not a ‘last second thought’  either.  He who will serve with the attitude ‘if you cannot find anyone else,’ is lacking in the desire department.  The same type of desire is found [and required] in 1 Peter 5:2, ‘not of constraint, but willingly.’ ”[29]  He is not, so to speak, “strong armed” into taking the position but does so out of a genuine desire to be of service in whatever form he is qualified for and others desire him to have.


“A good work” indeed the eldership is:  but it still is a “work.”[30]  “Elder / bishop” is not just a title of honor or “superiority” given to show respect;[31] it is an ongoing function as well.  J. Hampton Keathley III suggests that we should, “underline the word work.  Work is the Greek ergon, which means ‘work, deed, action, task, enterprise, undertaking.’ ” [32]  There is an inherent paradox in his role as a worker in the Divine cause:  In order to be the best of leaders he must simultaneously look upon himself as both that and intensely laboring on their behalf and in their best interests:[33]  As Jesus instructed the apostles, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all” (Luke 6:35).  He is not “padding his own position” (so to speak) but doing everything to improve theirs.

Hence to be a real elder--rather than merely having the title--one must imitate an athlete:  working at it day by day, feeling good or bad, happy or depressed.  Because if you don’t, you give the lie to your claim of being an “athlete”--or of being an elder that is carrying out his appointed responsibilities.  You don’t just have a “title;” you have responsibility as well. 


            The duties include:

            *  Protecting the flock from external and internal spiritual dangers (Acts 20:18) through teaching.  The ability to do so is itself a qualification for the office (verse 2).  He is to have significantly more than the bare minimum of Biblical literacy:  He must be “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).  Upon occasion some will arise who are outright dangerous to true faith and the future of the church will lie in the balance (Acts 20:28-31).

            How much they are actively involved in the bulk of teaching will obviously vary from man to man and the congregational situation and its needs.  Paul himself recognizes this fact in 1 Timothy 5:17:  “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”

            *  There will also be the obligation of visiting the sick among them and praying for them at their home (James 5:14-15). 

            *  However much deacons may be involved in various “practical” aspects of such things as benevolence, it remains the elders’ responsibility to be in charge of and accountable for the money that comes into the church (Acts 11:29-30).

            *  There is the obligation to persistently provide a good role model for the rest of the members (1 Peter 5:3:  “being examples to the flock”).      


            The very fact that these and other aspects of the post involve serious work--including significant investment of time--could easily disqualify a man from the task no matter how much he meets all of the other qualifications.  As an unidentified minister rightly puts it:[34]


The fact that an elder or bishop is given a “work” to do suggests he must be able to do that work.  There are many factors that might make it impossible for a man to do the work of an elder.

(1) A man might be qualified to serve except for certain physical limitations such as age, or is in poor mental or physical health.

(2) Others may have jobs that require too much of their time, or that require extensive out-of-town travel, making almost impossible for this man to be effective in devoting the time he needs to give to the Lord’s flock.

Simply because a man is qualified does not mean he should be appointed if other factors will interfere with his effectiveness.


            In considering being promoted in the business world, the “whole person” has traditionally been taken into consideration.  It wasn’t a matter of prejudice—except when the decision was in the hands of “idiots”—it was a matter that serious new and expanded responsibilities are being added and no one wanted to waste the opportunity on someone who could only partially accomplish the challenges they would face . . . no matter how well meaning, educated, and honorable they might be.  Likewise the church’s leaders should be those who are not only “paper qualified” but also emotionally, physically, and psychologically able to handle the unique challenges that will become part of their life. 


            In modern life at least, much of our time seems to consist of “spinning our wheels:  going through the motions that seem necessary but which don’t really seem to accomplish much of anything.  Futile.  Empty.  Frustrating. 

            Even being an elder can leave a person with those reactions.  Someone needs to provide the leadership and make sure things get done.  Someone needs to stabilize the wavering, politely admonish the foolhardy, and provide the constructive suggestions that help a person through a bad situation.

            Preachers do a lot of this, but it is really the elder leadership that has the primary responsibility.  For one thing preachers will likely “move on.”  With occasional exceptions, elders anticipate “being there permanently.”  For another, elders usually have far greater knowledge of the members since they have been there far longer than the preacher. 

            The unheeded advice, the uncorrected sins, the frustrations of having even your kindest and most well intentioned helpfulness go to waste inevitably gnaw at the soul.  But the job remains “a good work.”  The fact that they won’t listen is not the important thing.  The important thing is that you gave it a mature, full faith effort.  Not to mention that God has respect for such hard working folk that He does not have for the negligent and time servers.


            What is not mentioned in the list of qualifications.  What is conspicuously missing is any reference to the person’s economic status.  All qualifications are set in terms of behavior, not income.  Instead, they are to have the proper “spiritual dispositions and aptitudes.”[35]

            Some rich would be automatically disqualified by a very obvious preoccupation with having and growing their wealth (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  Even so, it would still be the better off members—including the wealthy--who would have the most time available to devote to eldership duties, responsibilities, and opportunities.  In addition there was a societal expectation and practice of individuals voluntarily assuming leadership duties in various contemporary clubs and associations.[36] 

            Hence there would be a natural expectation among both those less well off and those relatively prosperous, that such individuals would willingly seek out such posts if they were otherwise qualified.  But for Christians the pivotal standard had to be not who they were, but what they were.

            But how do you determine that?  By the visible public record of the individual in his various areas of life.  Scott Lindsay points out why this type of criteria had to be given:[37] 


                        You will notice that the qualities listed here are ones which are external

            and observable by others, as opposed to ones which are internal and hidden from

            view.  Why is this the case?  Simply because Paul is a biblical realist.  He knows

            that neither Timothy, nor anyone else in the Ephesian church has the ability to

            look inside a person’s heart to see what is really there.  All they can do is look

            upon the external things--the ways people act, the way they speak, etc.  This is the

            reason why, for example, the list in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 doesn’t say, “ elder must

            be godly....”  Have you ever noticed that?  It doesn’t say an elder must be a deeply

            spiritual person.  It does not say that an elder must have a good heart.

                        Why?  Doesn’t Paul want elders who are godly, and spiritual?  Of course.

            But Paul is instructing the church on the process of choosing elders. Paul knows

            that no one can read a man’s heart.  Even more importantly, it is all too easy to

            misread a person's heart--to think that a person is godly, when he isn’t, or

            spiritual, when he isn't anything of the sort. So what does Paul do?  He focuses on

            the externals, the proof, the public track record of the person in question.






ALL These Qualifications Are Required—Not Just Some:

“A Bishop Then Must Be” (3:2)



            One translation alters this mildly to “must have” (GW) with almost everyone else continuing with “must be” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, WEB, Weymouth).  The one exception could be described as inferentially emphatic rather than the explicit emphasis found in the others, i.e., “is to be” (NIV).

            We are not talking about suggestions or even recommendations, but absolute requirements.  These standards are not negotiable and strength in one area does not make up for the lack in another.  They are criteria demanded of any and everyone seeking the position of “managing” the church of God.  No exceptions are to be made. 

            In the corporate world, few companies simply want a “body.”[38]  Even in the case of low skill and low paying jobs they normally have certain criteria of age, education, and behavior that they expect you to meet.  The more you exceed them, the better candidate you appear to them.

            Note that the wording is individual centered rather than group centered:  If a man desires the position of a bishop” (3:1) . . . then “he [again the individual emphasis] must be” (3:2) . . . and then the details of the qualifications are rolled out.  The wording conspicuously lacks broadening language such as, “the elders must be,” which would at least give a little cover to argue that collectively all of these criteria must be found in the church leadership, but not necessarily each being required in all of them. 

Although this change might allow one to get rid of “troublesome” qualifications (marriage, children; teaching ability; perhaps even gender) it would still be a “rocky road” to make the scenario flexible.  After all, can you picture having a church leadership where you would want to allow anyone slack on matters like having a good reputation outside the church (3:7) or having “good behavior, hospitable” (3:2) . . . not having a drinking problem nor “greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous” (3:3)?  One would be laughed to scorn if they suggested it.  But on what coherent logical grounds could these be any less “flexible” criteria than the earlier ones which many wish to lighten or remove entirely?


            It is clearly assumed by Paul that there would be qualified individuals in the Ephesian congregation to appoint to the position (1 Timothy 1:3).  One might think that because of the presumed size of the congregation—it was in the massive city of Ephesus (population estimates:  c. 200,000 and up) and even if the conversion “yield” was only modest, it would still have resulted in a decent size group within a few years.  Or sooner. 

The only contemporary evidence we have is that the silversmiths of the city were fearful that Paul was converting so many people both there and throughout the province that it ran the danger of harming the market for their idols:  “You see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands” (Acts 19:26).  This is after Paul had spent only “two years” there and in the nearby region (Acts 19:10).


The length of time before being ready to have elders might vary, but the longer the period surely the less excuse not to have qualified personnel!  That Paul expected congregations to get to that point is also suggested by what Paul wrote Titus:  “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:5).  Note the “all” rather than “some” or the limiting rhetoric of “where they have qualified people.”  Paul took it for granted that at this point every congregation would have qualified individuals.  Worst case reading:  That so few would lack prepared individuals, it wasn’t even worth mentioning the very few exceptions.

            There were some Christians converted on the day of Pentecost from Crete (Acts 2:11) and who presumably returned there.  So it is likely that one or more of these congregations went back as far as the 30s.  The appointments Paul calls for are perhaps thirty-some years later.  That might explain the island-wide language in Titus unlike the city-specific language in 1 Timothy:  The gospel had spread throughout the island.  There was simply no excuse any longer not to appoint leaders throughout the area.  (Of course there could be an implicit “where there are no elders” intended to be glossed onto the text—but that would have been something known by the readers of the letter and unknowable to us at our much later date.)   

            Regardless of the specific length of time that had gone by, the idea that all congregations would reach the point of having qualified men is obvious.  A perpetual unofficered church is inherently—so far as scripture goes—absurd.  Of Paul we read:  So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).  In this case the time frame between the congregation being formed and the leadership appointed is unknown but it was taken for granted that the natural Christian goal of learning more about the gospel would result in qualified men being available “in every church.”


            There are two extremes that it is easy to fall into:  allowing unqualified men into the office of elder and, on the other hand, allowing qualified individuals to be disallowed on extremely scanty grounds.  In the first case we have worldly successful businessmen who might erroneously be thought automatically qualified—as if their business stature automatically guaranteed their readiness for the position. 

            Some business folk have developed the right balance of firmness and consideration of subordinate’s differences and specific talents and limits to fulfill their new role quite successfully.  On the other hand, there are those who consider themselves as the authority figure and, like the medieval pope, having made a decision any questioning is viewed as little short of sacrilege.

            The same cautious judgment should be applied to the economically well off members and those with large family and relatives within the group:  Allowing “money” or “connections” to count isn’t wrong . . . so long as it doesn’t blot out any potential negatives the person has as well.  Likewise even the man who will win any “charm offensive”—but is he strong enough to say “no” when it needs to be said?

            At the other extreme are those who will find an excuse to reject anyone and everyone.  The story—probably apocryphal but it’s so “true life” that it’s hard not to believe that it has happened upon occasion:  One ultra-skeptic objected to one individual because many years before he had heard rumors about the individual—no tangible evidence ever found, of course.  But he was manifestly an improper choice:   After all . . . an elder must have a good report of them which are without.”

            Annoyed by the quick dismissal of the just mentioned name, one annoyed member immediately spoke of the next possibility as clearly above criticism both within the church and outside.  The same ultra-critic, of course, wasn’t putting up with this either:  “I’m not so sure . . . because Jesus said, ‘Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!’ ”[39] 

            Test the qualities of the candidate.  Don’t go into the discussion with a sense that the bias has to be in favor of the person—or against him for that matter.  Consider the evidence of congregational experience with the individual when he has participated in the various events and actions of the group.  Has he demonstrated the kind of cooperative behavior and even creative de facto leadership that is needed?  Not to mention does he meet a reasonable—not a superhuman—definition of the qualifications of an elder? 


            “Must be” is not time limited.  If an elder ceases to manifest these attributes he no longer meets the prerequisites that are given.  There is the congregational moral obligation of brethren to remove such now unqualified individuals from office.  The flip side of this is also important:  There is no scriptural justification in removing those who remain qualified:[40]  The post is not “time limited” as to duration.  As to ability, it is surely a different story:  If he no longer has the ability to teach due to the physical or mental limitations of advanced age[41]--or if he has dementia--how can he be regarded as still meeting the requirements? 





Qualification 2:

“Blameless” (3:2)



            The bulk of alternatives to “blameless” stress the lack of legitimate reproach that can be attached to the candidate for eldership.  The most common wording is “above reproach” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV).  Others prefer “without reproach” (WEB) or “irreproachable character” (Weymouth).  The GW produces much the same result by speaking of “a good reputation.”

            A. C. Hervey, in the Pulpit Commentary on this verse observes that that the term used (ἀνεπίληπτος) is only found “here and 1 Timothy 5:7 and 1 Timothy 6:14 in the New Testament; [and is] not found anywhere in the LXX, but [is] used by Thucydides, Euripides, and others, in the sense of ‘not open to attack,’ ‘blameless.’  The metaphor is said (though denied by others) to be from wrestling or boxing, when a man leaves no part of his body exposed to the attack of his adversary.”[42]   

            J. H. Bernard notes that the Greek expression is stronger than certain comparable ones that were available “for it implies not only that the man is of good report, but that he deserves it.”[43]  As the period of review is undergone where the congregation evaluates the credentials of a given individual, the input of varied members as well as the passage of a reasonable period of time will go far to assure that not only does a person seem to have a good reputation but that there is nothing legitimate to compromise that image.  The time for discovering whether a man is “more a scoundrel than a saint” is before appointment rather than after.  It saves turmoil and embarrassment for everyone.

            As A. Rowland suggested, “The world is a poor judge of doctrine, of motive, and of religious hopes and thoughts; but it is a keen and on the whole an accurate judge of character; and when the members and leaders of the Church are recognized by the world as honest, sincere, trusty, pure men and women, Christ will win the day against His foes.”[44] 

            “Blameless” is conceptually interlocked with having a good reputation among outsiders (1 Timothy 1:7).  You would normally expect the person having one of these traits to have both.  The latter however puts the emphasis on what people think you are and “blameless” upon what you are. 

These traits do not mean that no one has ever found fault with the man:  Just because someone has said something—be they non-Christian or Christian--doesn’t necessarily mean it is true or accurate.  We must carefully evaluate the credibility of the accusation, especially when it is vague, imprecise, and runs counter to our long term exposure to the behavior of the elder candidate.  In such cases accusation of a fault has been presented, but falls short of establishing the charge as a legitimate one.[45]  It may have risen from anything from a misunderstanding to envy or some other hostile motive.


            Of course the text does not imply sinlessness for none of us have that—or ever will.  As David lamented, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous” (Psalms 143:3).  Or as 1 John puts it, we both sinned in the past (“if we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us,” 1:10) and, alas, continue to do so in spite of our best efforts (“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” 1:8).

Hence we are always looking for self-betterment as was Paul, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (i.e., for salvation; Philippians 3:12).

            There is a profound difference between recognizing our imperfection and acting like what we do doesn’t matter at all.  The world recognizes this too.

            Yet the problem arises in that serious people can become a victim of their own spiritual seriousness:  they easily seek a hyper-perfection that is utterly unrealistic and the result is that no elders are appointed at all.  Or ever will be.  Yet we read of how the apostle Paul went about and “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:23)--arguing that the qualification level should be findable in the bulk of congregations of a certain size and age.[46]  

What our text is actually aiming at is that we are regarded as honorable and upright; it implies that we are generally recognized as individuals of good and outstanding character.  He must not “have defects that are glaring, that are obvious.”[47]  “It means that these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they stand out as prominent and consistent characteristics[48] --they give every indication of being well-established, ongoing and persistent.  Not a mere temporary aberration, like can be seen in many a politician until he is safely elected. 

For example, what we say will be one criteria others judge us by.  If we are constantly bad mouthing others, our reputation nose-dives.  The same happens if we have made major promises and then proceeded to ignore them or do the very opposite.  On the other hand “if our word is our bond” people come to recognize that as well.

            Which brings us to the other criteria of how people judge us, which is by what we do.  If we go to every church service, but others add to their cussing vocabulary from our ranting at minor annoyances, they can make a pretty good guess of how great an importance our faith really is.  If we repeatedly do things that even those who don’t make much of a claim to morality realize is wrong, we show them what our standards really are and the inconsistency will be noted by even the least argumentative.  We discredit our “faith” as surely as if we were actively prosleytizing for atheism.

            This is not a new insight.  At least as long ago as 2 Clement 13:3 the danger of grievous inconsistency was well known:  “For when the heathen hear from our mouth, the oracles of God, they wonder at their beauty and greatness; afterwards, when they find out that our deeds are unworthy of our words which we speak, they turn from their wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and delusion.”[49]

            So far as they are concerned, they have conclusively refuted the validity of our faith—not by intellectual case-making, but by the manifest lack of it reforming our behavior.    


            The relationship of “blameless” to the remainder of the qualifications has been challenged by commentators.  Some look upon it as a separate prerequisite while others look upon it as carrying the connotation of “blameless in each of the following ways.”  Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the latter is that “blameless” is a very broad term while the rest of the items in the list “are quite specific.”[50]       

            But how is one “blameless” in being “temperate” and “good behavior” for example?  Either one is or one isn’t.  All three stand on their own “feet,” don’t they? 

            Furthermore if there is such a thing as being blameless in doing these, shouldn’t there also be a way to be “blameful” in doing them as well—something that transforms virtues into that which inherently deserves criticism and condemnation?  But can doing the right thing be simultaneously a moral fault as well?  The only way I can see is if the virtue is clearly a pretense--but then how could one be called “temperate” and having “good behavior” in the first place?  One simply doesn’t have either!   

True, in regard to the underlying motive for the conduct that distinction would work, but I can’t judge your underlying motive.  As a human being I can only make an evaluation of what you are doing or not doing.  Hence it seems best to maintain these as clearly distinct and separate items in Paul’s list though it appears hard to see how either approach will result in a different exegesis of the specific items.     





Qualification 3:

“The Husband of One Wife” (3:2)



            Comparative translations:  Although being “faithful to his wife” (NIV) is surely part of what is expected, it is not the point Paul is driving at, which is the fact of marriage rather than the sexual loyalty that should accompany it.  (The latter is stressed in other passages though not in this qualification.)  Some are convinced that this passage is slapping down any tendency to polygamy that may arrive:  “must have only one wife” (GW)--or a rendition that combines both of these elements, “true to his one wife” (Weymouth).


            Because of the popularity of denominational “bishops” that are not married, many have a problem with accepting this requirement as obligatory.  The better approach would be that, since it is explicitly and clearly laid out, why accept the legitimacy of any man who claims to be a bishop but is not married?

            What tears out any shred of possibility that such men were intended to be qualified is found in the existence of a second requirement that also requires marriage:  having his children in submission” (3:4).  No children means unqualified to be bishop/elder for children are supposed to be the product of a marriage, not a youthful dalliance.  And even if we somehow lay that aside as well, the fact remains that the children are with him and under his control:  “having his children in submission . . . for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (3:4-5).     

            (Thousands of words can be spent analyzing “why” the passage couldn’t possibly mean what it twice asserts within a few verses.  Hence in the final book of this series of commentaries, we have a detailed examination of eldership controversies in which a wide array of matters are discussed in more detail, including this one.)  

            For our present purpose of conciseness on the issue, I think the following words that appear to come from Don Martin would sum up the point rather well:[51]


The Holy Spirit could have worded this requirement a number of ways.  For instance, He could have said “the bishop must be married.”  This would mean that he is required to be married, but would not have precluded polygamy (more than one wife). 

He could have said, “the bishop must not be a polygamist.”  This would have forbidden polygamy, but would not have required a marriage state.

“The bishop must have been married only once,” was another choice.  This would prohibit polygamy, but would not have necessarily required a present marriage state.

Instead of all these possible constructions, the Spirit wrote, “the bishop must be the husband of one wife.” This construction requires marriage (present marriage) but forbids polygamy.

[RW:  Or as a different writer compactly puts it, “You either are married to one person or you are not.”[52]  If you are, you meet the qualification.  If you aren’t, you don’t meet the required standard.]          

The question is sometimes raised, “does ‘the husband of one wife’ mean that he can never have been previously married?”  Some contend that the prospective elder can not have ever been married before because such would place him in a questionable situation.

However, in the case of the death of a mate, the living mate is no longer the “husband” (compare Romans 7: 3; the same would be technically true in the case of scriptural divorcement, Matthew 5:32; 19:9).  Hence, if he remarries, he is “the husband of one wife.”  However, remarriage after divorcement does often open the door for problems and questions.


            Requiring marriage makes inherent good sense.  For one thing, he is likely to be at least at least a little older than unmarried males.  In other words, have greater maturity.

Furthermore, if he can’t make a one-on-one relationship with a spouse work, how in the world is his prudence and good sense to be trusted if he has responsibility for a far larger number of people?  A spouse annoys . . . a spouse disagrees . . . a spouse challenges.  (And, yes, the husband does the same to the wife as well!)  If one has not found a constructive manner to handle such potential tensions, how does he have the wisdom and prudence when the responsibility extends to a far larger number of people?  


            The requirement is one that is supposed to exist before and throughout his serving in the position of elder.  Andy Sochor argues the matter this way:[53]


When Paul gave the qualifications, he described what an elder must be.  The Greek word translated “be” is in the present infinitive tense.  It means that he is and continues to be.  In other words, a man must be the husband of one wife when he is appointed as an elder and must continue to be the husband of one wife while he serves as an elder.


            Divorce and death obviously would eliminate his meeting this qualification.  The second is clearly something beyond his control and the first, hopefully, is as well.  In either case he no longer meets the required criteria.  In the case of death, he would again meet the requirements if he remarried.  Likewise if he had remarried after a divorce where his spouse had cheated on him (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). 

            Ron Graham of Australia wisely points out that in our natural preoccupation with the meaning of the last two words in the expression “husband of one wife,” that we easily overlook the “freight” intended to be carried by the first word, “husband.”  He must not be merely married; he must be functioning in the true role that a husband should:[54]


Before any man is made a shepherd of the church, he must have shown himself to be a good husband to his wife.  Some men are not good husbands.  Some men don’t give their woman sufficient companionship. . . .  Some men are more devoted to their career than to their wives.  Some men pay more attention to other women than to their wives.  Some men don’t give their wives freedom to be themselves or credit when they succeed.  Some men spoil their wives.  Some men dominate their wives. . . .  Some men abuse and demoralize their wives.  Some men treat their wives as a chattel. . . .

In fact, some men are just plain disgusting husbands, and quite a few of them I dare say may claim to be Christians.  Such a man is not “one woman's man” in any sense that matters.  Such a man is not qualified to be an elder.

When considering the qualification, “the husband of one wife” we seem to focus on the “one wife” part and think nothing of the “husband” part.  The man needs to be a real husband and a real man.  A real man looks after his wife and devotes himself to her just as the husbandman looks after the vineyard.  This aspect of the qualification is at least as important as the arithmetic in the qualification.

We are all familiar with the Lord’s word about this subject.  A husband is to love his wife as himself, and with the same character of love with which Christ loved the church and sacrificed himself for her (Ephesians 5:25-33).  A husband is to live with his wife in an understanding way, and to treat her as a fellow heir of the grace of life (1Peter 3:7).  That is the kind of man any sensible woman looks for as a husband.  And that’s the kind of man the Lord looks for as an elder:  One woman’s man.  


            The kind of man being described is one whose “love and affection and heart is [exclusively] given to one woman, and that being his lawful and wedded wife.  This means that the Biblical leader is not a playboy, an adulterer, a flirt, and does not show romantic or sexual interest in other women, including the depictions or images of women in pornography.”[55]  He is not a mere “husband” in “title” but in fact. 





Qualification 4:

“Temperate” (3:2)



            Comparative translations:  Interestingly, some of the suggested substitutes represent variants of alternatives we would have expected under the next qualification (“sober-minded”).  Indeed the exact same expression, “sober-minded,” is one of them (ESV), as is the related “be sober” (GW).  “Stable” (ISV) is certainly an element within being considered temperate but hardly a full synonym.  Holman’s “self-controlled” seems to be the best substitution.

            The underlying Greek word is one that usually refers to avoiding alcoholic beverages in any form.[56]  Others hesitate at going quite that far.  “The literal Greek here is ‘one who sits long at his wine’ ([quoting] Kenneth S. Wuest,  Word Studies, Volume 3, page 56), leading to the rendition, ‘not given to much wine.’ ”  There is, however, a warring tension between saying “much wine” and saying “any wine” as seen in the fact that the same commentator who quotes Wuest immediately tries to effectively require the latter from the existence of the former:  “That wine was freely used even by Christians in apostolic times is evident in a statement like this; but it should always be remembered that the so-called wines of our times have ten times the alcoholic percentage of wines in that day; and that, even in those times, the people who wanted to set the proper example abstained from wine altogether (see 1 Timothy 5:23).”[57]

            However the generalization of the condemnation from alcohol in particular—the most visibly obvious form of excess—to excess in general would be a quite logical broadening of the concept--from one “narrow” limitation into a rule governing all behavior.  The latter makes the most sense because alcoholic indulgence to excess is specified as such in verse 3’s reference to “not given to wine.”    

            The 19th-20th century usage of “temperate” to refer to either a very moderate drinker or, more commonly, to a total abstainer could hardly be the point here.  Hence it seems inevitable that Paul’s intent is upon demanding self-control in all areas of life rather than just one:  Hence not given to excess in any quarter of one’s life.[58]  In other words, a guiding principle of restraint for all behavior. 

            Therefore it is a reference to “how an elder thinks and reacts in general” rather than a reference to one narrower trait.[59]  He is “someone who is not given to extremes.  They are reliable and trustworthy, and you don’t have to worry about wide swings of vision, mood, or action.”[60]


To be “temperate” includes being not hot-tempered, not given to vehement or violent outbursts.  The fact that this is a qualification shows that most who succumb to this mind frame are already this way before the appointment to leadership.  It is a “red flag” waving in the sky against their selection.  But if the appointment is made anyway, should it be any surprise if his ego becomes worse than it was originally?  Out of a twisted understanding of his real status, he develops a “sense of calling, convincing himself that anyone who hinders him is actually hindering the Lord.”[61]  Then his worst habits gain—in his deluded eyes—a virtual mantle of sanctity.  He won’t claim infallibility, but he will act as if he has it.

This comes at the price of the things an elder is supposed to be . . . urgently needs to be, both for the congregation’s sake and for his own reputation--that is, a person who is self-controlled.  “Steady and reliable.”  The proper choice is one who is going to keep their cool when others start to panic.  He might even be a “zealot” for some cause—fill in the blank for your own favorite—but he will be a quiet zealot in its behalf.  He won’t turn a disagreement into a war if he can possibly avoid it—even if he passionately argues his case.  He recognizes that change must come voluntarily rather than through verbal or psychological coercion.

The position of elder can easily become a “high stress job” because of the wide variety of temperaments and backgrounds that must be dealt with.  Some of the issues that arise will leave the elders puzzled and wondering “what in the world do we do with this”?  Self-control and the ability to avoid flying out of control is essential.[62] 

Especially since, sooner or later, you will inevitable run into someone who is a walking, talking, irritant.  Perhaps just to the elders, but equally possible to the congregation as a whole.  What is the best approach to keep the congregation on an even keel and avoid needlessly escalating the existing problem?  It takes real wisdom and insight rather than a fiery temper to do so. 





Qualification 5:

“Sober-Minded” (3:2)



            Comparative translations:  “Prudent” (NASB) and “use good judgment” (GW) have been used as replacements.  Being “self-controlled” (ESV, ISV, NIV) would be the inevitable result of such prudence and good judgment.  The reverse is also true:  the traits are ones that go together.  Decisions made would, therefore, be “sensible” ones (Holman, ISV, WEB)--rational, well thought out, not extreme.  The individual with this approach to matters would not attempt to do things to be deliberately annoying or troubling to others if they could honorably avoid doing so.  They would be restrained even when irritated.  They would not “fly off the handle.”    


            Archibald A. Allison points out that the underlying Greek is used in such a manner as to convey such traits as these:  prudent, thoughtful, self-controlled.  The word refers to wisdom, good sense, a sound mind, good judgment.”[63]

            Stan McMahan notes that, “with this word (νηφάλιον), Paul extends the picture of the man’s character by describing how he thinks:  he is a man of unclouded and unimpaired judgment.  He is marked by temperance in the use of anything that might hinder such judgment.[64]

            William Barclay suggests that the best guide to understanding the connotations of the word is to analyze how a different form of it is used:[65]


                        We have translated sophron (σώφρων) by prudent, but it is virtually

            untranslatable.  It is variously translated of sound mind, discreet, prudent, self-

            controlled, chaste, having complete control over sensual desires.  The Greeks

            derived it from two words which mean to keep one’s mind safe and sound.  The

            corresponding noun is sophrosune (σωφροσύνη), and the Greeks wrote and

            thought much about it.

                        It is the opposite of intemperance and lack of self-control.  Plato defined it

            as “the mastery of pleasure and desire.”  Aristotle defined it as “that power by

            which the pleasures of the body are used as law commands.”  Philo defined it as

            a certain limiting and ordering of the desires, which eliminates those which are

            external and excessive, and which adorns those which are necessary with

            timeliness and moderation.”  Pythagoras said that it was “the foundation on which

            the soul rests.”  Iamblichus said that “it is the safeguard of the most excellent

            habits in life.”  Euripides said that it was “the fairest gift of God.”

                        Jeremy Taylor called it “reason’s girdle and passion’s bridle.”  Trench

            describes sophrosune (σωφροσύνη) as “the condition of entire command over the

            passions and desires, so that they receive no further allowance than that which law

            and right reason admit and approve.”   


The “sober-minded” individual would be the serious minded in contrast with the “who cares” irresponsible individual.  They may laugh and be a good companion for dinner or travel, but they would never permit any such attributes to blind-side them into acting irresponsibly or without proper regard to consequences.  Such a person wants to change, not destroy.

They have mastered the ability to keep their behavior and emotions under control.  They have learned how to reject any inner inclination to blow things out of proportion—either in their own minds or how they outwardly react to things that annoy them.[66]  They avoid rash and unthought out decisions.[67]  They recognize that an ill thought out “solution” may create an even bigger set of problems.

“A man who is easily excitable or emotionally unstable would not be sober minded.  To be caught up in a religious frenzy or irrational emotionalism is not to be sober-minded.”[68]  In other words, that includes the things being done in the name of religion.  Much of the religious world around us virtually define spirituality in terms of emotional extremes expressed in their church services.  This should be a characteristic of neither the members nor their leaders.     


They do not confuse emotion with truth but revere truth far above personal preferences.  They have not forgotten what is truly important and value it as such.  Don DeWelt argues from this premise when he writes that the word means “balanced judgment; not carried away by every ‘wind of doctrine.’  Men are needed in the church today who hold such deep-seated convictions that no amount of difficulty will move them from their faith and work.”[69]




Qualification 6:

“Of Good Behavior” (3:2)



            Comparative translations:  “Well behaved” (Weymouth) certainly fits.  “Respectable” (ESV, Holman, GW, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV) works well--if one can maintain front and center the morality aspect of the word rather than its older use to describe the “respectable” parts of society, with its overtones not of character but of snobbery.

“Modest” (WEB) would certainly be an ingredient of “good behavior,” but does it do more than touch upon one aspect of it?  (In all fairness, however, it should be noted that the Greek term is the same one rendered “modest” in discussing women’s attire in 1 Timothy 2:9.)[70]  In other words avoiding flamboyance and a “show off” mentality—attitudes that could, logically, be quite appropriately applied to both attire and personal character as well.

Stan McMahan notes that “the word (σώφρονα) is exclusively found in the Pastoral Epistles and indicates moderation in lifestyle and habit.”[71]  The elder is not a man of extremes--such as ultra-pious alternating with ultra-promiscuous.  Instead he consistently pursues the same path of honorable and restrained conduct.

            A person “of good behavior” is one who avoids the excesses that even our almost-anything-goes society still recognizes as extremely inappropriate.  (If it violates even that consensus, why would a Christian want to come anywhere near it?)  It also envolves avoiding actions and behaviors that scripture censures.  For the “Code of Christian Behavior” is embodied in that work and envolves far more than the minimums unbelieving society expects.

            Sometimes we rightly speak of people “losing it” and “acting like fools.”  That is the antonym for good behavior—the polar opposite.  “Well behaved” describes the self-control that is so essential.[72]  Not only for children but also for adults that means a sense of what is right and appropriate in a given situation.

            One Alaskan preacher suggested that:[73]


This denotes a man who acts and speaks with dignity and sensitivity.  Not one given to mockery, ridicule, sarcasm, or mimickery to win an argument or defend his position.  But rather one who speaks with grace, seasoned with salt. (cf. Colossians 4:5-6; Titus 2:6-8)

a. The idea is to persuade with one’s speech, not drive a wedge of discord by disrespect and impudence or rudeness.

b. Their speech should not only be doctrinally true, but presented in a respectable manner.


            The elder is a man who far prefers to use language constructively rather than destructively.  The man who is interested in convincing rather than humiliating.  The man who is laying the foundation that may lead to long term reconciliation even on points of disagreement instead of spreading the poisoned seeds that lead to needless division. 


            These are some additional efforts to translate the term we are interested in, culled from translations beyond our standard ten:


orderly” (Good News Bible; David H. Stern, Complete Jewish Bible,


                        orderly life” (Centenary, 1924)

                        a man of disciplined life” (Phillips)

                        of regular habits” (Charles K. Williams, New Translation, 1963)

                        well behaved” (Contemporary English Version)

                        fine behavior” (William F. Beck, N.T. in Language of Today, 1963)

                        courteous” (New English Bible, 1961; Revised English Bible, 1989)

                        mannerly” (Hugh J. Sconfield, Authentic N.T., 1958)





Qualification 7:

“Hospitable” (3:2)



            A few flesh the thought out with “hospitable to strangers” (ISV, Weymouth).  Think of those that gave Paul and other early Christians a roof over their heads and meals to eat while they were traveling—often traveling in the cause of Christ but at other times simply because personal affairs or their businesses carried them into other places.  The person you see regularly at church you are expected to exercise the routine every-day demands of “hospitality” toward and few have a problem with this.  But showing it to those whose presence is only temporary and may never have the opportunity to provide “reciprocal” hospitality requires a significantly deeper commitment.  Such “hospitality is not so much about social interaction – though there would be some of this–but it is about providing material help to one who is in need.”[74]  Someone from a different community, perhaps even a different region or country.

            Hence the qualification means “he is quick to open his heart and home to others.  He is not afraid to meet new people.  He’s able to make them feel relaxed and welcome.”[75]


            Even from a practical standpoint this was a highly desirable trait:  Our modern tradition of clean and quality motels and hotels were simply unavailable:[76]


The references in the Mishnah attest to the wide use of inns at least in the first two centuries A.D. in Palestine.  (Although written in A.D. 200, the Mishnah can also reveal Jewish practices and laws common early in the first century.)  A consistent point, however, in the Mishnaic references is the bad reputation of the public inn.  Inns and innkeepers were not held in high esteem, at least by the rabbis formulating Mishnaic law.

The Mishnah places innkeepers on the lowest scale of degradation and states that “Cattle may not be left in the inns of the gentiles since they are suspected of bestiality” (m. Abodah Zarah, 2.1).  In addition the Mishnah states that the word of an innkeeper is to be doubted:  “The Sages said to Rabbi Akiba, ‘And should not a priest’s wife be [deemed as trustworthy] as the mistress of an inn?’  He answered, ‘only when the mistress of the inn could be deemed trustworthy!’”


            Polybius (c. 129 BC) indicates that, at least in the Italy of the time, costs were normally per diem.[77]  Ancient inns differed as to whether the food they provided was part of their daily charge or whether it was an “add on” based upon what the individual preferred that the inn stocked.   

Sanitary conditions and food were uncertain and would vary immensely from one location to another.  “Buyer beware” was the undoubted axiom of the day.  (Where feasible, it was wiser to work from the premise, “Buyer don’t buy!”)  Although such places’ reputation for disease was undoubtedly encouraged by their use for prostitution—and the disease that could spread thereby—that was far from the only potential problem.  Unhealthy physical accoutrements and the danger of contaminated food (to keep prices low or to edge out a little extra profit) were an ongoing danger. 

Not to mention the varying health of other travelers who stayed in the same place.  A second century apocryphal gospel fragment speaks of how one unfortunate traveler became sick as the consequence of “journeying with lepers and eating with them in a pandocheion.[78] 

This was so common a consequence of inn stay that when Artemidorus wrote his second century treatise on how to properly interpret dreams he warned that dreaming of[79]


an innkeeper (pandocheus) portends death for the sick.  For he resembles death in that he receives everyone.  But for all other men, he foretells afflictions, and distress, movements and trips.  And the reason is obvious.  What need is there, then, to explain something so clear?  And an inn (pandocheion) has the same meaning as an innkeeper.               


            In addition to the normal problem of finding a place that was trustworthy to leave one’s goods and possessions and wasn’t doing double duty as a site for illicit behaviors, it was quite natural that Christians would have a natural desire to see each other.  They were likely relatively few in number in most places[80] and the traveler would feel isolated enough being in a unfamiliar community. 

Even if familiar with the city from past visits, there would be a natural desire to room with those who shared this new faith.  It would be psychologically reassuring both to the visitor and the one extending the hospitality to meet and enjoy the presence of an outsider from a distant place.  The curiosity “bug” runs deep in the human species and there would be a natural interest in how these visitors were both similar and different from the locals.  Not to mention details about how their own town or region was different from where they currently were. 

            Hospitality, of course, is not a virtue that either can or should be restricted to would be elders alone.  It is a frame of mind and behavior that, as opportunity and occasion arises, should be practiced by all Christians.  In Romans 12:13 Paul speaks of how all Christians should be “given to hospitality.”  Nor should one resent “having to do it.”  As Peter wrote all Christians, “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling (Holman, ISV, NET:  without complaining; NASB:  without complaint; Weymouth:  extend ungrudging hospitality)” (1 Peter 4:9).  The author of Hebrews speaks of how we might be taking care of those far beyond our greatest guess of their importance:  “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).

            People who received such a welcome would naturally appreciate it and carry word back with them, building up a congregation’s reputation in their own home city.  As Ralph Earle suggests, “A valuable by-product was that believers from widely scattered areas would get to know each other, thus cementing lines of fellowship.”[81]

Take the relationship of visitors from Rome to Corinth.  In First Clement (if an early date, c. 60-70 A.D; if a later date, in the 90s), the author expressed horror at the division caused in Corinth by “a few reckless and arrogant persons” (1:1).  This was not just some kind of abstract distaste for division, but also because they knew the positive good that the congregation was quite capable of--their own members had repeatedly received an abundant welcome when among them:[82]


For has anyone ever visited you who did not approve your most excellent and steadfast faith?  Who did not admire your sober and magnanimous piety in Christ.  Who did not proclaim the magnificent character of your hospitality?  Who did not congratulate you on your complete and sound knowledge?  For you did everything without partiality, and you lived in accordance with the laws of God, submitting yourselves to your leaders and giving to the older men among you the honor due them.

You instructed the young people to think temperate and proper thoughts; you charged the women to perform all their duties with a blameless, reverent, and pure conscience, cherishing their own husbands, as is right; and you taught them to abide by the rule of obedience, and to manage the affairs of their household with dignity and all discretion.  (1:2-3)      


            Paul would surely have told the Ephesians, among whom Timothy worked--if he had had the opportunity--that this is exactly the kind of mind frame that should control their own attitude, actions, and behavior as well.


            The opportunity or need to show hospitality to newcomers to town may or may not be rare in a given location today; the opportunity to show it to ongoing, current church members, however, is an opportunity that is always readily available.  Richard C. Nickels suggests elders should interpret the term broadly rather than narrowly in their actual conduct and his reasoning makes sense:  Certainly this means more than putting up with people who drop by.  It means having a great care for serving others, getting to know and appreciate others, listen to their problems, lending them help when in need, and so much more.  Care and concern for other people is certainly a major criterion for a faithful minister.”[83]

            Thinking along the same line is David R. Pharr, who writes of how the requirement “implies more than willingness to open one’s home; it suggests such approachableness that makes others welcome in all circumstances.”[84]  We are genuinely interested in them and their situation in life and in how their spiritual relationship with the Lord is developing.[85] 

            Not out of some desire to play “policeman” on their life, but to encourage them to seek improvement where they need it and to assist them in any way we can as they do so.  Life is hard; change is often difficult.  Encouragement and our prayers may even be the only thing we can contribute on a personal basis.  But that can still be invaluable in helping a person through the rough spots of life.

            A person who is “hospitable” is a person who is clearly not a spiritual hermit, developing his own spirituality--perhaps--but out of contact with everyone else.  Although I suspect D. A. Carson actually has preachers more in mind than his subject matter of elders, his warning is clearly applicable in both contexts:  The Christian pastor / elder / overseer must not be a hermit or a recluse, must not be someone who wants always to be isolated from people.  It won’t do to have a pastor who is a great reader of books and a disciplined thinker, but who loves the church only in the abstract, while being unable to stand people.  The ministry is about touching people’s lives.”[86]  This requires repeated and ongoing interactions with others, one aspect of which is surely “hospitality.”




Qualification 8:

“Able to Teach” (3:2)



            Comparative translations:  The problem with this rendering (also found in the GW) is that it easily produces a minimalist interpretation of its intent:  that the text covers even a person with a marginally developed ability; one who is (barely) “able to teach.”  He knows how to do it, but lacks any real skill at it.  Hence to avoid this, a better way of expressing the intended concept is that of “an able teacher” (NASB, NET).  The quality and development of that ability is implied by “good at teaching” (WEB) and “with a gift for teaching” (Weymouth). 

            To speak of being “teachable” (ISV) would probably lead most listeners to think that the point is having a willingness to be taught by others or of one who is willing to change their mind.  But the point is not their own receptiveness to learning from others--which certainly ought to be present as well--but on their personal capacity to convey the gospel message . . . or any other kind of message for that matter . . . to others.

            Although the words are not found in the Titus list, the trait is actually described at far greater length:  holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).  Hence able to effectively teach the gospel truth.  Paul’s speaks in his second letter to Timothy in terms applicable to both preachers and elders: 


                        24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to

            teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God

            perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and 

            that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having

            been taken captive by him to do his will.  (Chapter 2)   


            Even in our secular business world, the person who holds an analogous post to elder—a “supervisor” or “superintendent”—finds it difficult to avoid having at least some implicit teaching duties attached to his position . . .  that is if he intends to get his instructions and orders carried out in the way intended and in the most effective manner possible.  But we also have specialists within that category who are really good at this and who may be called “trainers” as well.  Likewise, all elders need to have the teaching skill but there will also be specific ones who need to “be counted worthy of double honor” because of their special ability and amount of time devoted to this particular function (1 Timothy 5:17).

            Easily overlooked is “that in that long list of qualifications, all of the qualifications but one are basically character qualities.  In other words, all of the qualifications have to do with a man’s life:  what is he like personally, what is he like in terms of his relationship with unbelievers in the world of business and vocation, and what is he like in the context of his family–but all of the qualifications except one are character qualities.” 

            Yet even here, character ultimately enters the picture when the skill is actually exercised:  What a person is--their nature, attitudes, and priorities--are revealed. . . .  what is taught on and what is avoided . . . whether the role of teacher is used for education or destruction of others . . . and whether the message is presented arrogantly or as one sincere person helping other sincere seekers to understand God’s will better.


            The ability to teach well need not apply equally to all situations where one exercises the talent.  For example, some are best in small groups while others are virtually born “pulpiteers!”  It is natural for the expression of the teaching ability to be primarily exercised in whatever social contexts where the skill is the greatest.[87]  That not all elders would do much in the way of pulpit preaching seems clearly implied by Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 5:17:  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”  In other words all will not do so.[88]  


The fact that capacity and even a developed skill to teach are needed surely implies that part of the purpose of having elders and bishops is not just to be “administrators” but to develop the scriptural knowledge skills of their members.  They don’t just arrange for others to teach but they are quite capable of doing so themselves on an occasional or on-going basis.  There is a profound difference between giving others plenty of opportunities to teach and allowing one’s own ability to atrophy through neglect and lack of practice.  How and where it is used is within their own discretion of course; but it is still essential to keep the skills intact and usable.[89]         

            An elder also needs to be able to present the truth in the most intellectually appealing manner.  To the extent that others are willing to learn at all, it is his job to be able to teach them in such a manner that it makes sense to them and they will give it the full consideration it deserves.  In other words, he not only knows the truth, he is also one of those who can “explain, illustrate, and communicate the truth of the gospel” in an effective manner.[90]  You need to be able to apply Bible truth to the varied issues and problems of life.  Prejudice against the truth is bad enough; when you haven’t really given them a half-way decent case why it is the truth, does not responsibility for part of their unbelief fall onto your own shoulder as well?

            Hence “able to teach” involves not only knowing the facts, but also understanding the best manner to present it in order to be convincing to others.  That doesn’t mean you have to be “a Rhodes scholar.”  It does mean that you have mastery of the subject sufficient to get your case over in an intellectually appealing manner.  It is essential that one has “a thorough knowledge of the things he is to teach [and] a clear manner of expressing his thoughts” so that others can understand what is being driven at.[91]

            Furthermore, there is both a “positive” and a “negative” aspect to this skill.  Although it is important to be able to effectively teach the truth, one also needs to develop the knowledge and ability to refute religious and moral error as well.[92]  You must not only know the truth but also have the ability to effectively apply the scriptures to such subjects.[93]  Even an individual who has not been indoctrinated in one of the many systems of religious error that exist in any age, may stumble on one point or another.  Inevitably there will be those who would reject an erroneous theological system, but who have latched onto some particular aspect of one of them through their own independent misunderstanding of the text.  Telling them that they are wrong may or may not do any good.  Showing them why they are is a different story. 


            An elder might well be teaching before the entire congregation or have charge of a Bible class—either short term or long term.  Or a congregation might well encourage short-term studies of a few months on an agreed topic to be held in a member’s home with an elder in charge.  The denominational world sometimes calls these “mini-churches” with however many study groups existing still assembling in the entire congregation on Sundays.[94]

            How actively envolved in teaching elders will be, will vary according to a congregation’s unique circumstances.  The wording in 1 Timothy 5:17 clearly indicates that all won’t necessarily be teaching on a regular basis:   Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”

If you are blessed with a significant number of members, it would be nothing short of dereliction of duty to expect the elders to do all the teaching.  Perhaps they might not even need to do any of it on a regular basis.  Their duty includes assuring the spiritual development of the members and by encouraging those who can teach to actually do it both takes a load off themselves and assures that others gain the opportunity to fully develop their own skills as well.


            Paul does not insist that the elder be brilliant in teaching.  Nor does he require any special degree of eloquence.[95]  Jack Spencer sums it up concisely, “He is saying that all elders must be ready and willing to share their knowledge of spiritual truth whenever the need arises in the course of their work.  In other words, not all elders are teachers by gift, but all must be able to speak with wisdom about spiritual truth.”[96]

All the requirement demands is the ability and willingness to do it in a capable manner.  And where an elder may be on that spectrum of capability will vary immensely from able to superb.  It is like secular topics:  If your teacher rises above the basic level of skill and knowledge through a demonstrated expertise greater than most, you count yourself blessed indeed.  I once had a graduate professor who—even after I had worked a long day—could get me fully absorbed in the political and social intricacies of Yugoslavia as it fell apart in the 1990s.  He sailed past “good” into the category of “superb.”  When a Bible teacher (elder or not) has such polished and developed skills, the congregation has much to be thankful for as well.

Although one does teach when one preaches, “teaching” is a far broader term that also encompasses class situations such as those we have just examined.  It also includes informal setting contexts that grow out of private interactions with others as well.  “Personal work” is the term I was brought up with to describe such.  Some will be far better at that than in a “pulpit” setting or vice versa.  Obviously, the setting in which the individual elder is most capable would be the preferable one for the bulk of his efforts. 

A Presbyterian minister tells this story about his father who was a church elder:[97]


Now, this [requirement] doesn’t mean that this elder is great behind a pulpit or a podium.  Not every elder is.  . . . Not many of us would be teaching, if that was the requirement.  My dad was scared to death behind a pulpit or a podium.  He would do it if you made him, and he’d do a good job when he did it, but generally he’d rather work behind the scenes.  But give him a Coke and a package of peanuts, and sit him behind his desk, and he could teach you more about life in fifteen minutes that a lot of people could teach you in many hours.  He was a discipler, naturally, but he liked to do it behind the scenes, quietly–one-to-one, in smaller groups. The pulpit and the podium was not his area of strength.

The elder is to be able to teach.  That doesn’t mean that they have to be great behind the podium.  It means that they are to be able to disciple the people of God in sound doctrine and living [in whatever format works best for them].


            After teaching on something you should have more knowledge on the subject than when you began.  But even when you began, you should have enough textual experience that you can make your way without making major interpretive blunders that will make you look foolish.

“Able to teach” surely implies a sufficiently deep factual knowledge to be able to handle the subject matter—whatever it may be.  If there isn’t, aren’t you only marginally removed from “the blind leading the blind?”  You don’t have to have the in-depth knowledge of a PhD equivalent, but you need to have enough of a background where the odds are good that you will guide your class successfully through the subject matter.

How will an elder candidate demonstrate this?  If he has been a pulpit preacher and/or a class room teacher in the past, then the brothers and sisters will already have a good idea of whether his “knowledge base” and “skills base” have successfully matured. 

Strangely enough, preachers have been told by would be elders that they thought themselves qualified for the post, even though they did not know the names of all the books of the Bible.[98]  Could that person be knowledgeable enough to be genuinely qualified?  Surely he is going to have to do a whole lot more than others to demonstrate it!        


            “Able to teach” also surely implies the ability to teach in language and a manner that others can understand what is being taught.  If it doesn’t, then teaching is reduced to little more than empty oration, going on and on and on . . . conveying nothing of value to the listener because either your words are meaningless or presented on such a level that you are miles above their intellectual level.

            If you are in a class for advanced students, that may be one thing, but even there the limitations of your audience must always be taken into consideration if you are to fulfill the core duty of any teacher—effective communication.

            Furthermore, there are fine men who simply don’t have the ability to teach.  They can be of sterling character and as honorable as humanly possible.  But this skill is simply beyond them so their role in the congregation will need to envolve other things than the top leadership positions.


            One final point:  Logically “able to teach” includes able to explain the gospel to outsiders--not merely church members.  Although one’s employment is for earning the money to support oneself and family and there is no need to be constantly talking about one’s religion, it is hard to see how one can meet the purpose behind this qualification unless upon occasion one has mentioned the gospel to them.  It may be inviting them to services, mention of where you attend services and how you do so regularly, even short or extended discussion of religious topics.  These would vary depending upon where you are working, possible hostility to religious and moral convictions present there, and the specific individuals you are dealing with.  But is it credible that if you take religious matters seriously, others won’t have any knowledge of your faith after an extended relationship?  You are not supposed to be a mere office holder; you are supposed to be an embodied of gospel faith as well.

            One Baptist preacher spoke of how one of the greatest disappointments of his life was talking with a local businessman who had known a church member for two decades--and yet had no idea he claimed to be a Christian, where he went to church services, or that he was an office holder in that congregation![99]   



[1] Brian Bell, Commentary on the Bible, at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.)   


[2] Wayne Jackson, “Did All Christians in the First Century Possess Miraculous Gifts?,” at:,  (Accessed:  November, 2019.)


[3] George W. Knight III, The Faithful Sayings in the Pastoral Letters ([Netherlands?]:  J. H. Kok N.V. Kampen, 1968), 61.


[4] Benson, Commentary.    


[5] DeWelt, Timothy and Titus, 61, however, overlooks the marriage requirement not being imposed on all Christians. 


[6] Yarbrough, 87.  For his reasons for connecting 3:1a with 3:1b see 91-93.


[7] Ibid. makes the same argument (88 and n. 132, p. 88) but uses the term “aphoristic nature” instead:  “By ‘aphoristic’ is meant a short concise statement of a principle, or an embraced general truth.”


[8] Arichea and Hatton, 64.


[9] Even Ibid, who are clearly (?) trying to make room for such a broader holding of church office, concede that this totally breaks with first century church practice (64). 


[10] Mark Dunagan, Commentary on the Bible, at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.) 


[11] Arichea and Hatton, 64.


[12] Wuest, 52.


[13] Bradley Cobb, “Motivation for Becoming an Elder” (part of the Gravel Hill Church of Christ website), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)          


[14] Quoted by Gordy, 169.


[15] John Piper, “Biblical Eldership” (part of the Desiring God website), at:  (Dated May 1, 1999; accessed:  August 2016.)           


[16] J. Hampton Keathley, III, “Qualifications for the Evaluation of Elders and Deacons,” at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)   


[17] Cobb, “Motivation.”         


[18] J. Ligon Duncan III, “What God Wants in Elders,” at:  (Preached August 8, 2004; posted 2013; accessed:  September 2016.)     


[19] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 212. 


[20] Ibid.


[21] Wuest, 52.


[22] Keathley, “Qualifications.”        


[23] Thomas Constable, Expository Notes, at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.)   


[24] John MacArthur, “Answering the Key Questions About Elders” (part of the Grace to You website), at:  (Dated:  1984; accessed:  August 2016.)     


[25] Arichea and Hatton, 65.


[26] Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 3:1-7,” at:

Esco_lindsay%5Esco_lindsay.Timothy.15.html/at/I%20Timothy&npsb;3:1-7.  (Dated July 2009;accessed:  July 2019.) 


[27] Phil Ryken, “Qualifications for Elders,” at:  (Dated February 10, 2006; accessed:  October 2016.) 


[28] Ibid.        


[29] Dunagan, Commentary. 


[30] S. Davies on 3:1-7 in Joseph S. Exell, editor, Biblical Illustrator. 


[31] Gary Hampton, Commentary on Selected Books, at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.) 


[32] Keathley, “Qualifications.”       


[33] David Guzik, “Qualifications for Leaders”(part of the Enduring Word Commentary), at:  (Dated 2018; accessed:  July 2019.) 


[34] [Unidentified Author], “Overview of Qualifications, Selection and Appointment of Elders:  Lesson One:  Introduction” (part of Rose Street Church of Christ, Anchorage, Alaska website), at:  (Dated 2014; accessed:  September 2016).  The material was in outline form and we have adapted the physical form of it in our quotation. 


[35] Harding, Tradition, 139.


[36] Ibid., 140.


[37] Scott Lindsay.  “1 Timothy 3:1-7.”   


[38] Bradley Cobb, “Qualifications for Elders (Part 1)” (part of the Gravel Hill Church of Christ website), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)     


[39] As quoted by David R. Pharr, “Qualifications of Elders” (reprinted from The Spiritual Sword at the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ website), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)    The previous observations about wealth and family connections were inspired by other comments he makes.


[40] Dunagan, Commentary. 


[41] Ibid.


[42] A. C. Hervey, “1 Timothy,” Pulpit Commentary; Joseph Exell and Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones, general editors; online, at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.)   


[43] J. H. Bernard, Greek Testament on 3:2.


[44] A. Rowland on 3:1-7 in Joseph S. Exell, editor, Biblical Illustrator.    


[45] Don Martin, “Elders, Their Work and Qualifications,” at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)         


[46] James B. Coffman, Commentary on 1 Timothy, online at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.). 


[47] Dan Duncan, “Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13).”  Due to being in pdf form, it needs to be accessed through link at:  (Preached 2014; accessed:  July 2019.) 


[48] Keathley, “Qualifications.”       


[49] Quoted by Chiao Ek Ho, 253.                                   


[50] Arichea and Hatton, 66.


[51] Don Martin, “Elders.”   


[52] Bradley Cobb, “Qualifications for Elders (Part 9) (part of the Gravel Hill Church of Christ website), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)   


[53] Andy Sochor, “Elders in Every Church (Part 4):  Other Qualifications for Elders” (part of a series originally preached October-November, 2015), at:  (Dated July 11, 2016; accessed September 2016). 


[54] Ron Graham, “Husband of One wife” (part of the Australia website), at:  (Accessed:  September 2016).    


[55] David Guzik, “Qualifications for Leaders.”   


[56] Arichea and Hatton, 67.


[57] Coffman, 1 Timothy, online   


[58] Bratcher, 28.


[59]  Archibald A. Allison, “Biblical Qualifications for Elders,” Ordained Servant, volume 3, number 4 (October 1994), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)      


[60] David Guzik, “Qualifications for Leaders.”    


[61] Tim Challies, “Five Ugly Qualities of the Anti-Elder,” at:  (Dated December 1, 2014; accessed:  October 2016.)


[62] [Unidentified Author], “Elders, Their Work and Qualifications,” at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)         


[63] Archibald A. Allison, “Biblical Qualifications for Elders,  Ordained Servant, October 1994.      


[64] Stan McMahan.  Qualifications For Overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:  An Exegetical Paper, page 9, at:  (Accessed:  August 2019). 


[65] William Barclay.  Daily Study Bible on 1 Timothy, at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.) 


[66] Arichea and Hatton, 67.


[67] Bradley Cobb, “Qualifications for Elders (Part 2)” (part of the Gravel Hill Church of Christ website), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)    


[68] [Unidentified Author], “Scriptural Qualifications of Elders” (part of the Church of Christ at Creekwood website), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)       


[69] DeWelt, 61.


[70] Arichea and Hatton, 67.


[71] Stan McMahan.  Qualifications For Overseers, 9.   


[72] Bratcher, 28.


[73] [Unidentified Author], “Overview of Qualifications, Selection and Appointment of Elders:  Lesson Three” (part of Rose Street Church of Christ, Anchorage, Alaska website), at:  (Dated 2014; accessed:  September 2016.)  


[74] Andy Sochor, “Elders in Every Church (Part 2):  Character Qualifications for Elders #1” (part of a series originally preached October-November, 2015), at:  (Dated 2016; accessed September 2016.)


[75] Steve J. Cole.  “What Does An Elder Look Like? (1 Timothy 3:2-7),” at:  (Preached 1994; published April 2013; accessed:  July 2019.) 


[76] [Unidentified Author], “Inns and Innkeeping” (part of the American Bible Resources website), at:  (Accessed:  October 2016).


[77] Olivia R. Constable, Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World:  Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge, United Kingdom:  Cambridge University Press, 2003), 17.


[78] As quoted by Ibid., 17.


[79] As quoted by Ibid., 16-17.


[80] Arichea and Hatton, 67.


[81] Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” 364. 


[82] Revised English translation of Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Father in English (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Academic, 2006).


[83] Richard C. Nickels, “Ten Basic Qualifications of an Elder” (part of Bible Studies website), at:  (Accessed:  August 2016.)      


[84] David R. Pharr, “Qualifications of Elders.”            


[85] Ron Daniel, “Sermon Study Notes:  1 Timothy 3:1-13,” at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.) 


[86] D. A. Carson, “Defining Elders” (a talk given at Capitol Hills Baptist Church), at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.)


[87] Dunagan, Commentary. 


[88] S. Lewis Johnson, “The Office of the Deacon (1 Timothy 3:8-13),” at:  (Accessed:  July 2019.)   


[89] Andy Sochor, “Elders in Every Church (Part 4).”   


[90] Henry Mahan, Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament, at:  (Accessed:  July 2019). 


[91] Benson, Commentary.   


[92] Arichea and Hatton, 67.


[93] Dan Duncan, “Elders and Deacons.”    


[94] I found Daniel B. Wallace’s remarks, “Who Should Run the Church?  A Case for the Plurality of Elders,” at: (accessed:  November 2015), very interesting when he suggests, in effect, that this was the sense in which house congregations existed in cities with large populations—each with an elder in charge of that particular meeting place for week-day Bible studies but with all gathering together as one group on Sunday.      


[95] David Padfield, “Elders and their Work” (part of the Church of Christ in Zion, Illinois website), at:  (Accessed:  September 2016). 


[96] Jack Spencer, “Elders and Spiritual Gifts—Part 1,” at:  (Accessed:  September 2016.)       


[97] J. Ligon Duncan III, “Elders.”        


[98] As for example, David Padfield. 


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