Overseers and Deacons, 1-16
1 Tim 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.
Overseer – The word is episkopos. It was from this role that that of the bishop emerged. But we have no grounds for holding that NT practice was anything like later ecclesiastical practice. In any case, Paul is much more concerned with describing the character, than with defining the ecclesiastical duties, of the overseer. Paul equates the role of overseer with that of the elder in Tit 1:5-7.
1 Tim 3:2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
- Social – ‘above reproach’
- Moral – ‘the husband of but one wife’
- Mental – ‘self-controlled…able to teach’
- Personal – ‘not violent but gentle’
- Domestic – ‘must manage his own family well’
- Maturity – ‘must not be a recent convert’
This emphasis on character and conduct has often been neglected by the church. The modern church has often been pre-occupied with the issue of the validity of orders, but Paul shows little or no interest in this. ‘Paul is teaching the church that there are more important considerations than the proper arrangements for a service of ordination.’ (Carson, et al, p 376)
The husband of but one wife – Various interpretations have been adopted:
(a) a prohibition against polygamy? But this was very rare in the Jewish and Greco-Roman world of the time.
(b) a prohibition against a man who has divorced and then remarried being an overseer? This is the view favoured by F.F. Bruce (Answers to Questions, p115)
(c) a requirement that an overseer be married?
(d) an idiomatic way of saying that he must be a faithful spouse?
See the discussion in Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament.
Able to teach – ‘The pastor is primarily a teacher. This is the reason for two qualifications for the presbyterate which are singled out in the Pastoral Epistles. First, the candidate must be “able to teach”, 1 Tim 3:2. Secondly, he must “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”, Tit 1:9. These two qualifications go together. Pastors must both be loyal to the apostolic teaching (the didache) and have a gift for teaching it (didaktikos). And whether they are teaching a crowd or congregation, a group or an individual (Jesus himself taught in all three contexts), what distinguishes their pastoral work is that it is always a ministry of the Word.’ (Stott, The Contemporary Christian, 286)
1 Tim 3:3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
1 Tim 3:4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.
1 Tim 3:5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)
‘Christian workers and volunteers sometimes make the mistake of thinking their work is so important that they are justified in ignoring their families. Spiritual leadership, however, must begin at home. If a man is not willing to care for, discipline, and teach his children, he is not qualified to lead the church. Don’t allow your volunteer activities to detract from your family responsibilities.’ (Handbook of Bible Application)
1 Tim 3:6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.
1 Tim 3:7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
1 Tim 3:8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
Barnes argues as follows: ‘The use of wine, and of strong drinks of all kinds, was absolutely prohibited to the Jewish ministers of every rank, when they were about to engage in the service of God, Le 10:9. Why should it, then, be any more proper for a Christian minister to drink wine, than for a Jewish or a heathen priest! Shall a minister of the gospel be less holy than they? Shall he have a feebler sense of the purity of his vocation? Shall he be less careful lest he expose himself to the possibility of conducting the services of religion in an irreverent and silly manner? Shall he venture to approach the altar of God under the influence of intoxicating drinks, when a sense of propriety restrained the heathen priest, and a solemn statute of Jehovah restrained the Jewish priest from doing it?’
‘Earlier in 1 Timothy, Paul had listed among the characteristics of those who would be leaders in the church that they be “not given to drunkenness” (1 Tim 3:3) or “not indulging in much wine.” (1 Tim 3:8) In advice to Titus, elders need to be examples who are “not given to drunkenness,” (Tit 1:7) and the elder women in the church are to be taught not to be “addicted to much wine” (literally, “slaves to wine,” Tit 2:3). In all these injunctions, the emphasis is clearly on moderation; namely, a responsible use of alcohol that does not lead to its control of one’s life. This is in keeping with a central principle of Christian life stated by Paul in Eph 5:18 “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” The only legitimate controlling reality in the believer’s life is to be God’s Spirit. All other controlling realities are, in fact, idolatrous.
In light of these prohibitions against the excessive use of alcohol, Paul’s advice to Timothy, “Stop drinking only water and use a little wine” (emphasis mine), implies that Timothy may have concluded, from the warnings against excessive use, that total abstinence was called for. It may even be that the false teachers, in their prohibition against certain foods, (1 Tim 4:3) had argued for total abstinence.
In any case, Timothy’s total rejection of alcohol seems to have had harmful consequences for his health. So Paul, in keeping with his warnings against abusive use, counsels for the use of “a little wine.” In this, he is simply reflecting the common use of wine, especially for medicinal purposes, in the ancient world. Its beneficial effects “against dyspeptic complaints, as a tonic, and as counteracting the effects of impure water, were widely recognized in antiquity”54-11 and are confirmed by modern medicine. Paul’s view on this matter may have been backed by the advice of his fellow worker Luke, the beloved physician.’ (HSB)
1 Tim 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.
The faith – See Note “Acts 6:7”
1 Tim 3:10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
1 Tim 3:11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
1 Tim 3:12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.
1 Tim 3:13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
1 Tim 3:14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that,
1 Tim 3:15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
How people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household – Note that it is not ‘God’s house’ (a building) that is referred to here, but ‘God’s household’ (a people). ‘Formerly, his peculiar residence was in the temple at Jerusalem; now that the temple is destroyed, it is in the church of Christ, among his people.’ (Barnes)
The church of the living God – The revelation of God is confirmed in the life of the Christian church and in the experience of its individual members. The church’s testimony was confirmed by works of power, Heb 2:4; its remarkable growth can be explained only by the power of God, Acts 16:5 Mt 13:31-32; its continuing life demonstrates the reality of the living God, 1 Tim 3:15; its preservation is explained by the promise of Christ, Mt 16:18 Acts 5:38-39; individual members have found their search for God rewarded, Heb 11:6; have come to know God in Christ in personal experience, 1 Jn 1:1-2 5:20; feel God’s presence, Acts 23:11 Mt 28:20 Heb 13:5; have their lives transformed, 2 Cor 5:17 3:18; and have an irrepressible testimony, Acts 4:20.
The pillar and foundation of the truth – ‘The meaning is that the church’s role is to uphold the truth of the gospel.’ (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery)
‘The Christian church, whether universal or local, is intended by God to be a confessional church. The church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth”. Revealed truth is thus likened to a building, and the church’s calling is to be its “foundation” (holding it firm so that it is not moved) and its “pillar” (holding it aloft so that all may see it.’ (Stott, Christ the Controversialist, 26).
1 Tim 3:16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: he appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
‘1 Timothy 3:16 has been identified as a piece of preformed tradition, perhaps a hymn, setting forth a series of contrasts between Jesus’ earthly life and his exalted status. The six lines of the hymn form three pairs of contrast between the mundane and spiritual spheres (following an a b b a a b pattern). The third line, “he Christ was seen by angels” corresponds with the second and sixth lines: “he was vindicated by (or”in”) the Spirit;” “he was taken up in glory.” The positive note struck in these three lines would suggest that Christ’s appearance before angels refers to his exaltation in the presence of angels of glory who acclaimed honor and praise to the exalted Lord, perhaps in triumphal procession. The notion of angels accompanying God and the exalted Christ reappears in 1 Tim 5:21, where Timothy is warned “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels” to keep the instruction of church discipline.’ (DPL)
The mystery of godliness – ‘is the fundamental doctrine centred in the Person of Christ, which is the source and criterion of all Christian devotion and behaviour.’ (NBD) Although the word eusebia (‘godliness’) is usually used for our religious duty towards God, it evidently is being used here for ‘the godliness’, the objective content of the gospel, just as in these letters the word ‘faith’ often stands for ‘the faith’.
The masterpiece of divine wisdom. ‘Here was the masterpiece of divine wisdom, to contrive a way to happiness between the sin of man and the justice of God, Rom 11:33. This astonished man and angels. If God had put us to find out a way of salvation when we were lost, we could neither have had a head to devise, nor a heart to desire, what God’s infinite wisdom had found out for us. Mercy had a mind to save sinners, and was loath that the justice of God should be wronged. It is a pity, says Mercy, that such a noble creature as man should be made to be undone; and yet God’s justice must not be a loser. What way then shall be found out? Angels cannot satisfy for the wrong done to God’s justice, nor is it fit that one nature should sin, and another nature suffer. What then? Shall man be for ever lost? Now, while Mercy was thus debating with itself, what to do for the recovery of fallen man, the Wisdom of God stepped in; and thus the oracle spake:- Let God become man; let the Second Person in the Trinity be incarnate, and suffer; and so for fitness he shall be man, and for ability he shall be God; thus justice may be satisfied, and man saved. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God, thus to make justice and mercy kiss each other! Great is this mystery, “God manifest in the flesh,” 1 Tim 3:16.’ (Watson, A Body of Divinity, 72f)
He appeared in a body – lit. ‘he was manifested in the flesh’. This phrase is key in the NT doctrine of the incarnation:-
‘The hymn quoted in 1 Tim 3:16 speaks of ‘he was manifested in the flesh’ (so RSV, following the true text).
John ascribes to the spirit of antichrist any denial that Jesus Christ has ‘come in the flesh’. (1 Jn 4:2; 2 Jn 7)
Paul says that Christ did his reconciling work ‘in his body of flesh’ (Col 1:22; cf. Eph 2:15), and that by sending his Son ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ God ‘condemned sin in the flesh’. (Rom 8:3)
Peter speaks of Christ dying for us ‘in the flesh’ (sarki, dative of reference: 1 Pet 3:18; 4:1).’ (NBD)
There is uncertainty about whether this should read, ‘God appeared in a body,’ ‘he appeared in a body,’ or ‘who appeared in a body’. Nevertheless, the incarnation is clearly taught, as in Jn 1:14 and Rom 1:3.
Vindicated by the Spirit – or, ‘in the spirit’ (i.e. in his spiritual nature). There would appear to be a contrast with the statement earlier in the verse, lit. ‘he was manifested in the flesh’. Since the first statement concerns our Lord’s humiliation, the present statement would then refer to his exaltation.
Seen by angels – According to Fee, this probably refers to the worship given by angels to the resurrected and glorified Christ.
Taken up in glory – Some translations have ‘into glory’ (indicating the place, rather than the state).
‘The rendering “in glory” is preferable; it refers to the manner of our Lord’s ascension rather than to the place to which he ascended. When in Acts 1:9 we are told that “a cloud received him our of their sight”, we could probably think of the cloud of the divine presence which declared while concealing the glorious Shekhinah (cf. Ex 40:34; Mk 9:7). (F.F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p116)
Coming at the end of the list, this seems chronologically out of place. But if, as Fee thinks, the reference is to the resulting triumph of Christ’s exaltation rather than to the event itself, then it answers the first item (‘manifest in the flesh’) perfectly – the one emphasising Christ’s humble incarnation, the other his glorious exaltation. The ascension is the climax in this catalogue of Christ-exalting events.
Taken up, or ‘received’. ‘That which, with respect to Christ, is called ascension, is, with respect to the Father, called assumption. He went up, and the Father received him. Yes, received so as none ever was received before him, or shall be received after him.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)
Fee asks, Why this hymn, with these emphases, at this point in the letter? He suggests two answers to this question: ‘First, the double emphasis on humiliation/exaltation, focusing on the present, triumphant glory of Christ, probably stands in some kind of contrast to the Christology of the false teachers…Second, Paul is about to return to a censure of the false teachers, with an exhortation to Timothy to stand in sharp contrast to them. This hymn prepares for that censure by boldly expressing what the truth is all about, as a contrast to their demonic errors.’