Qualifications for Overseers and Deacons, 1-13

3:1 This saying is trustworthy: “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.”

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.

3:2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, 3:3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. 3:4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 3:5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? 3:6 He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. 3:7 And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.

Qualifications for Leadership

  1. Social – ‘above reproach’, like Simeon (Lk 2:25).
  2. Moral – ‘the husband of but one wife’, like Aquila (Acts 18:26).
  3. Mental – ‘self-controlled…able to teach’, like Luke (Lk 1:3) and Apollos (Acts 18:26).
  4. Personal – ‘not violent but gentle’
  5. Domestic – ‘must manage his own family well’
  6. Maturity – ‘must not be a recent convert’

(J.O. Sanders)

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)

Not given to drunkenness – ‘It cannot be inferred, from the use of the word here, that wine was absolutely and entirely prohibited; for the word does not properly express that idea. It means that one who is in the habit of drinking wine, or who is accustomed to sit with those who indulge in it, should not be admitted to the ministry. The way in which the apostle mentions the subject here would lead us fairly to suppose that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense; that he regarded its use as dangerous, and that he would wish the ministers of religion to avoid it altogether. In regard to its use at all, except at the communion or as a medicine, it may be remarked, that a minister will do no injury to himself or others by letting it entirely alone; he may do injury by indulging in it’ (Barnes).

Contra Ben Sinclair (Should Christians Drink Wine and Alcohol?) no fair reading of this verse confirms the view that ‘Paul was forbidding alcoholic wine’ here.

‘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)

3:8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not two-faced, not given to excessive drinking, not greedy for gain, 3:9 holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 3:10 And these also must be tested first and then let them serve as deacons if they are found blameless.

v8 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)

The faith – See Note “Acts 6:7”

3:11 Likewise also their wives must be dignified, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in every respect. 3:12 Deacons must be husbands of one wife and good managers of their children and their own households.

Their wives – γυναῖκας (gunaikas) can mean wither ‘wives’ or ‘women’.  If the latter it could imply that these women were also deacons.

The NET version offers the following points in favour of understanding this verse to refer to female deacons:

(1) The immediate context refers to deacons;
(2) the author mentions nothing about wives in his section on elder qualifications (1 Tim 3:1–7);
(3) it would seem strange to have requirements placed on deacons’ wives without corresponding requirements placed on elders’ wives; and
(4) elsewhere in the NT, there seems to be room for seeing women in this role (cf. Rom 16:1 and the comments there).

The NET favours the interpretation according to which these women are the wives of the male deacons.  The following reasons are given:

(1) It would be strange for the author to discuss women deacons right in the middle of the qualifications for male deacons; more naturally they would be addressed by themselves.
(2) The author seems to indicate clearly in the next verse that women are not deacons: “Deacons must be husbands of one wife.”
(3) Most of the qualifications given for deacons elsewhere do not appear here. Either the author has truncated the requirements for women deacons, or he is not actually referring to women deacons; the latter seems to be the more natural understanding.
(4) The principle given in 1 Tim 2:12 appears to be an overarching principle for church life which seems implicitly to limit the role of deacon to men.

In conclusion:

‘A decision in this matter is difficult, and our conclusions must be regarded as tentative.’

Generally, commentators are not inclined to be dogmatic on this matter.

‘Wives of male deacons’ is favoured by Guthrie (NBC) and some others.

‘Female deacons’ is favoured by Harper’s Bible Commentary, Belleville and many others.

Others, including Fee, Stott and Towner, seem undecided.

We may agree that the matter is not so clear-cut as to give rise to the complaint that

‘The translators of the King James Version chose to refer to Phoebe as merely a ‘servant’ of the church, not as a deacon, and to transfer Paul’s words in 1 Timothy into a comment directed towards the wives of deacons.’ (Rodney Stark, quoted favourably by Beth Allison Barr in The Making of Biblical Womanhood)

Mounce comments:

‘Whatever the specific interpretation of this verse may be, it is not related to the issue of women in leadership since the deacon(ess) does not provide authoritative leadership.’
3:13 For those who have served well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Conduct in God’s Church, 14-16

3:14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you 3:15 in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. 3:16 And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation:
He was revealed in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

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).

A fourfold word-picture of the church

1. God’s household (oikos). The concept is rather more inclusive than that of our modern family. Still, ‘as in any family, relationships are maintained by members behaving appropriately to one another. So the focus here is on the correct behavior of members in the household of God (1 Tim 3:15; Gal 6:10, see also the household codes of behavior, e.g., Eph 5:22-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13 and 5:1-20).’ (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery)

2. The church of the living God (assembly – ekklesia).

3. The pillar of the truth (stulos). ‘In Ephesus, to which these letters were written, the word pillar would have a special significance. The greatest glory of Ephesus was the Temple of Diana or Artemis. “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” (Ac 19:28) It was one of the seven wonders of the world. One of its features was its pillars. It contained one hundred and twenty-seven pillars, every one of them the gift of a king.  All were made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. The people of Ephesus knew well how beautiful a thing a pillar could be. It may well be that the idea of the word pillar here is not so much support-that is contained in buttress-as display. Often the statue of a famous man is set on the top of a pillar that it may stand out above all ordinary things and so be clearly seen, even from a distance. The idea here is that the Church’s duty is to hold up the truth in such a way that all men may see it.’ (DSB)

4. The foundation of the truth (buttress – hedraioma)

The church as the ‘pillar’ of truth

As a pillar supports the building, so the church supports the truth by

  1. Hearing and Heeding it (Matt. 13:9)
  2. Handling it rightly (2 Tim. 2:15)
  3. Hiding it in the heart (Ps. 119:11), and
  4. Holding it forth as the Word of Life (Phil. 2:16).

or, put differently, by

  1. Digesting it (Rev. 10:9). That takes study and meditation.
  2. Defending it (Phil. 1:16)
  3. Disseminating it (Matt. 28:18–20)
  4. Demonstrating its power in consecrated living (Col. 3:12–17).


‘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.’