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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 5

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Instructions in this chapter deal with respect for the aged, concern for sound budgeting practices in a congregation, and especially the problem of overloading the financial burden of the church by the inclusion of persons who should be supported by their own offspring. There is no apparent organization of the materials by Paul in this section; but, like any person writing a letter, he merely jotted down the thoughts as they came to him. Glimpses of concerns with the most far-reaching consequence are frequent in the interesting and helpful teachings of this chapter.

Verse 1

Rebuke not an elder, but exhort him as a father; the younger men as brethren:

Rebuke not an elder … It is apparent that the church office of "elder" is not meant here, but merely older men, a fact apparent from the inclusion of "younger men" in the same verse. "The context shows that the meaning is not a presbyter, but an old man."(F1) Honor and respect of the aged is a Christian principle; but the tragedy is that this ethic is more honored in the non-Christian nations of Asia than in the "Christianized" West. The meaning here is not that an elder must never be accused, because Paul, a little later, made provision for that. The proper sensitivity, respect and regard for the elderly are in view here.

The younger men as brethren … A glimpse of the apostolic conception of the Christian community shines in these verses. Various Christians are as fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, as determined by their age and sex. In fact the church itself has been described as a divine extension of the family, the family being, in every way, just as sacred and divine as the church. In fact, the family antedates either the church or any state; but in the prevalence of sin and corruption, it often happens that the church family preserves more of the genuine family love and mutual concern than may be found in some families. Although the fact does not seem to be in Paul’s thought here, this correct evaluation of all church members as brothers, sisters, etc., is a great deterrent to immorality and other sinful practices.

Verse 2

the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, in all purity.

In all purity Lenski observed that "in all purity" is commonly understood to mean that Timothy is to watch his sexual nature when he is admonishing younger women";(F2) but despite the fact of his denying that this is the correct understanding of the place, the meaning should nevertheless be allowed. Hervey had this conclusion, "See how jealously the apostle guards against any possibility of abuse of the familiar intercourse of a clergyman with the women of his flock."(F3)

Verse 3

Honor widows that are widows indeed.

Honor … "That is, maintain out of the common stock." Spence affirmed the same thing, "The widow is not merely to be honored, but she is also to be assisted out of the alms of the faithful."(F4) This construction of the word "honor" goes back to our Lord’s command that "honor thy father and mother" forbade use of the device of Corban to avoid their financial assistance" (Matthew 15:4-6). The same word occurs again in 1 Timothy 5:17, below, where likewise the meaning includes financial remuneration.

Despite the duty of helping needy widows, however, Paul moved quickly to countermand any intention of the church’s assuming financial obligations that properly belonged to children or other next of kin to those in need. See next verse.

Verse 4

But if any widow have children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety towards their own family, and to requite their parents: for this is acceptable in the sight of God.

Their own family … This is not to be restricted to parents only, or even to grandparents. Lenski’s comment on the Greek words so translated has the following, "They are used with reference to dutifulness toward God, and toward one’s country, or one’s family, including parents, grandparents, and other relatives."(F5)

For this is acceptable in the sight of God … Despite the fact of this being stated positively, as an example of what pleases God, the negative is also true, namely, that failure to heed this injunction is not acceptable in the sight of God.

Verses 5-6

Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, hath her hope set on God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth.

Two classes of widows are pointed out by this, only the first class being entitled to the support of the church. As a practical fact, there are widows indeed who have no relative who can support them; and in these verses Paul indeed allowed and commanded that the truly faithful and God-fearing should be maintained by the congregations.

Continueth in supplications and prayers night and day … cannot mean continuous engagement in the actual offering of prayers, but it speaks of a rule of life and conduct. As Wallis put it, "The whole discussion should be considered in the light of Old Testament teaching where care for the widow is emphasized (see James 1:27)."(F6) It is a high tribute which Paul here paid to the widows supported from the public purse. He does not command them to set their hope upon God, etc., but describes them as already doing so.

She that liveth in pleasure, describes the other type of widow. Although the words are not too specific, a profligate, unwholesome and unspiritual life are indicated.

Is dead while she liveth … This is one of seven passages in the New Testament which speak of "an eternal sin," "the sin unto death," and that state of spiritual hardness which "it is impossible to renew." How sad is the thought that some are already spiritually dead. They may yet live many years before their funerals are held; but as regards the precious hope in Christ, they are dead already. For longer discussion of "An Eternal Sin," see in my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 125-128.

Verse 7

These things also command, that they may be without reproach.

This verse has the effect of binding the laws enunciated in this chapter upon all generations of Christians; it is Paul’s way of emphasizing that his words in this letter are not merely good advice for a young preacher, but they are the law of God for the church of all ages.

Verse 8

But if any man provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.

Spence has the following comment on this verse:

The circle of those whose support and sustenance were the responsibility of the Christian is here enlarged. Not merely parents and grandparents, but "he must assist those of his own house." Even dependents connected with the family who may have fallen into poverty and neglect are included.(F7)

Charity begins at home, and so do all other obligations of the Christian life. As White said:

One of the most subtle temptations of the devil is his suggestion that we can best comply with the demands of duty in some place far away from home. Jesus always said, "Do the next thing; begin at Jerusalem, etc." The path of duty begins from within our own house, and we must walk it on our own street.(F8)

Verses 9-10

Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she hath brought up children, if she hath used hospitality to strangers, if she hath washed the saints’ feet, if she hath relieved the afflicted, if she hath diligently followed every good work.

Let none be enrolled … This means, let none be enrolled upon the list to receive church support except those with the qualifications outlined in these verses. As Lipscomb said:

This did not necessarily preclude aid to widows who were younger and in need; but these were the ones who were to be enrolled in the class whom the church maintained in comfort and in honor.(F9)

There are some who fancy that they find here the beginnings of monastic orders, but full agreement is felt with Wallis, who said:

Here are details about the qualifications of widows to be supported by the church. (1) It was proper that they should have already reached old age. (2) There was a mutual obligation between the church and those widows, who were to consecrate themselves to the service of the church, which would have been altogether intolerable, if there was still a likelihood of their being married.(F10)

There are many questions about this list of widows which we are not able to answer. As Lenski said, "Everybody would like to know more about this listing, but this one sentence is all we have."(F11)

Certainly, the excuse for monastic orders of women, which is imputed to these lines, is totally wrong. The women in this list were mothers with children, past the age of sixty, already known and honored in the church for their good works. Whatever service they may have given to the church in such things as teaching, visitation of the sick, etc., was evidently undertaken by them upon a voluntary basis, which was quite natural in view of their being supported by the church. This was a far different thing from the exploitation of young women in monasticism.

Having been the wife of one man … This is the same word used in 1 Timothy 3:2, that the husband of one wife could be an elder; and the meaning would appear to be the same. The past perfect is used here because the husband (by the definition of widow) would already have been dead. The similarity of the qualification, however has led some to assert that these were the "female presbyters"! But as Lenski said, "These women were not congregational officers, such as elders or deacons."(F12)

1 Timothy 5:10 both begins and ends with "good works," which, like a pair of book ends, encloses the list of services mentioned; and this was very fortunate. Otherwise, it might have been alleged that "foot washing" was a church ordinance. White was impressed with the fact that:

It is characteristic of the sanity of Christianity that as typical examples of good works, St. Paul cites the discharge of commonplace duties, "the daily round, the common task."(F13)

Verse 11

But younger widows refuse: for when they have waxed wanton against Christ, they desire to marry;

Our interpretation of this is: Do not take any young widows into this list of those to be supported by the church; because, as time goes on, they will wish to marry; and, due to their youth and lack of experience, they will become idle, gad around from house to house, tattle and carry tales. This cannot mean that any young widows in need would be refused all assistance; because there is evidently a certain class of widows involved in these instructions.

Verse 12

having condemnation, because they have rejected their first pledge.

Some find a "vow of celibacy" in "pledge"; but nothing like that is in the word. It simply refers to their pledge of loyalty to Christ at the time of their conversion. In the pagan culture of that time, a Christian widow’s marrying again was altogether likely to mean marrying a pagan, marrying out of the church, a thing Paul denounced in the Corinthian letter. These instructions were not merely theoretical postulates; they were grounded in the solid experience and inspiration of the holy apostle. To have had young widows or marriageable age on the list of those supported by the church would have led to all kinds of preposterous and ridiculous situations, all of which would be avoided by the proper respect for Paul’s words here.

Verse 13

And withal they learn also to be idle going about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.

See under preceding verse for comment regarding this, also a paraphrase of what is thought to be the meaning of it.

Verse 14

I desire therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children, rule the household, give no occasion to the adversary for reviling:

The proper life-style for young widows is that of remarriage, to a Christian husband, of course, and the rearing of a family, not that of a paid retainer of the church.

The younger widows … "We do not attribute to Paul the statement that all widows up to the age of sixty should marry. `Younger’ here refers to the youthful widows."(F14)

Rule the household … "The Bible does not contradict itself; and it teaches that the husband is to have the rulership over his wife and household."(F15) The meaning, therefore, is that she shall rule her household subject to the authority of her husband.

Give no occasion to the adversary for reviling … Spence’s comment on this is:

The adversary here is not the devil, but the sneering worldly man, jealous of a faith he will not receive, envious of a life he will not share, and always on the lookout for flaws of followers of a religion which he hates.(F16)

The particular slander Paul was guarding against was discerned by Lenski in this:

The charge, or danger, was not that those young widows would become strumpets. But many of them were ready to enter into a pagan marriage without Christ, without their first faith; they became pagans again in order to suit a pagan husband. Plenty of such cases occur to this day.(F17)

Verse 15

for already some are turned aside after Satan.

It was no theoretical danger Paul guarded against. Only God can know what shame and loss had already come to the church in Ephesus from the very situation Paul was dealing with in this passage.

Verse 16

If any woman that believeth hath widows, let her relieve them, and let not the church be burdened; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.

This merely applies all that was said of a man having widows in his household, earlier in this chapter, with equal force to affluent or wealthy widows, who are here made responsible in the same manner as were the men.

And let not the church be burdened … The thought is not that the church would not step in,"(F18) where those responsible were not doing their duty, but that they should not be called upon to do so.

Relieve them … No definite method is suggested, but there are many instances in which one widow can provide a home for another.

Verse 17

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in the teaching.

All of the elders were "apt to teach" by definition, and all were associated together in the rulership of the church; and therefore there is no distinction here between so-called classes of "elders," a conceit that finally issued in the development of the monarchical bishop of later ages. Timothy had just been instructed to show the proper regard and respect to all elderly persons; and here is the admonition to let that honor be even more conspicuous in his dealings with the elders of the church. It is true enough that financial remuneration seems to have been a part of the honor owed, as evidenced in the next verse; but this writer agrees with Gould, who has this:

It is difficult to believe that this means simply "a double stipend" as the New English Bible (1961) renders it … The day had not yet arrived when the church’s ministers would receive full support. It was still customary for the church’s leaders to support themselves, just as the apostle himself did.(F19)

Verse 18

For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his hire.

Thou shalt not muzzle the ox … This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4, one of Paul’s favorite passages, which he also quoted in his advocacy of support for gospel preachers in 1 Corinthians 9:9. From both this and the second quotation he was about to give, it is certain that 1 Timothy 5:17 has reference to financial remuneration.

And, The laborer is worthy of his hire … There is absolutely no doubt that Paul here classified this second quotation as "Scripture," to which he attributed both this remark and the one from Deuteronomy. But, where is this Scripture? It is certainly not in the Old Testament. It is in the New Testament:

Matthew 10:10 has this: "The laborer is worthy of his food?’ Luke has the words verbatim, "even to the omission of the verb (in the Greek)."(F20) "For the laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7).

Thus Paul here quoted from the Christian gospels, extending to them the full authority and status of Scripture. As 1 Timothy was written during that period shortly before Paul’s second imprisonment, the bearing of this on the date of Luke’s gospel, which he here quoted, should not be overlooked. Here is an insurmountable denial of the late dating of Luke. "The conclusion is inevitable that the writer of this epistle was acquainted with and quoted from the gospel of Luke."(F21)

Of course, some of the critics are "perplexed" by Paul’s equating a word of Christ (quoted from the gospels) with the Law of Moses, charging that he evidently "forgot what he was doing"! Such are the writhings of a wounded serpent. As White said, given the respect and honor and adoration in which Paul held Jesus Christ, "It would have been surprising were he not to have esteemed his words at least as authoritative as the Law which he superseded."(F22)

Verse 19

Against an elder receive not an accusation, except at the mouth of two or three witnesses.

The instruction here is that no charge is to be received unless it is substantiated by two or three witnesses, not merely that two or three are to be called to hear the accusation presented, as some have alleged. The case in view here is that of a ruler of the church who is indeed guilty of sinful conduct; and, in order to keep trivial, untruthful and irresponsible charges from being made, the apostle instructed that two or three witnesses were to be ready to testify against an elder before any charge would even be considered. Hervey said this means: "Suffer no man to accuse a presbyter unless he is accompanied by two or three witnesses able to back up the accusation."(F23)

Verse 20

Them that sin reprove in the sight of all, that the rest also may be in fear.

This is a special instance and does not nullify the instructions of Christ in Matthew 18:15 ff (see discussion of this in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 279-282). In the case of an elder, or other church leader, who is fairly convicted of gross wrongdoing, he should be rebuked and denounced publicly. The wise words of Lipscomb on this are:

When we cover up sins in the church, we corrupt the morality and virtue of the church and destroy its efficacy to honor God or to save men. Evil teachers and evil men must be exposed and purged out of the church, or the church becomes corrupt and becomes a synagogue of Satan instead of a church of Jesus Christ.(F24)

Verse 21

I charge thee in the sight of God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality.

The elect angels … are here represented as witnessing the work of Christians on earth, as in Hebrews 1:14. The word "elect" in this place has the meaning of the faithful angels, the ones not carried away by the rebellion of Satan. "The epithet elect probably has the same force as HOLY in our common phrase, the holy angels."(F25)

Without prejudice … Absolute fairness on the part of any person charged with the solemn duties of hearing complaints and solving difficulties in a church is a basic requirement if there is to be either peace or justice in a church. Hervey pointed out that this word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament and suggests that our English word does not do full justice to the term in the Greek, which also carries with it the meaning of "preference."(F26)

Doing nothing by partiality … An elder, or a minister, must not be partial as regards his activity among the members. Many a ministry has been wrecked on this shoal. There is a kind of partiality that develops a little "clique" of the preacher’s special friends, or gives undue attention and publicity to the work of a few, instead of to the many, which is critical of conduct in some which is allowed in others, etc., etc. All such partiality is self-destructive of the minister’s effectiveness and unproductive as far as the church is concerned.

Verse 22

Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be partakers of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.

Lay hands hastily on no man … means, "Do not get in a hurry to name any man as an elder." The imagery is that of the laying on of the hands of the presbytery which accompanied the ceremony in the earliest times.

Neither be partakers of other men’s sins … This warns that the person responsible for appointing elders who prove unfaithful is, in a sense, partaker of their sins, unless due deliberation, investigation and testing preceded such unfortunate appointment. However, the share of the sins of others is not borne by the minister who properly observes these restrictions, restraints and precautions. The same applies to the presbytery itself in the normal situation where they name additional elders to aid in the guidance of the church.

Keep thyself pure … This has primary reference to the matter of irresponsible appointment of church elders, just mentioned.

Before leaving this verse, it may be inquired, "Why has the laying on of hands largely disappeared from the ceremonial in churches?" Lenski’s answer is as good as any:

It is only symbolical, confers no divine power or gift of the church of God that would bless a person; but it accompanied the prayers of the church that God would bless the person with all that he needs for his Christian life, or in the case of the minister, for his holy office and work.(F27)

Although the laying on of hands has ceased, in large degree, it is fervently to be hoped that the prayers for those charged with solemn responsibility have not!

Verse 23

Be no longer a drinker of water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and for thine often infirmities.

This little verse is a jewel. It reveals Timothy as a total abstainer from alcohol; but it is amazing what the commentators make of this. One asserts that since the drinking water was bad in those times, Paul is here admonishing Timothy to use wine instead of water. The restriction "little wine," of course refutes that notion. Others have thought that Paul here advised Timothy to "liquor himself up a bit" in order to improve his courage and ability to carry out Paul’s orders!

It was the illness of Timothy that led to this instruction; and one cannot help wondering if perhaps the good physician Luke had a hand in this prescription.

Of extremely great value is the bearing this verse has on the authenticity of 1 Timothy. Spence said:

Those who argue that this Epistle is an artificial composition of an age subsequent to that of Paul’s … have no little difficulty in accounting for such a command as this. It can in fact be explained only upon the supposition that the letter was, in truth, written by St. Paul to Timothy … No ecclesiastical forger of the second or third century would have dreamed, or had he dreamed, would have dared to have included a verse like this.(F28)

If, despite the hardship and the universal custom of wine-drinking, Timothy refrained from the use of it in order to be a good example, consenting to use it only upon a doctor’s prescription, is there not in this sufficient motivation for "teetotalers" today? Indeed there is!

Verse 24

Some men’s sins are evident, going before unto judgment; and some men also they follow after.

This is merely a comment to the effect that, in spite of all proper investigations, it is impossible, always, to know whether or not a given candidate is fitted for holy office in the church. The next verse would assure Timothy that his best judgment would be sufficient.

Verse 25

In like manner also there are good works that are evident; and such as are otherwise cannot be hid.

This means that "the truth will out" eventually, as it regards any man, however discreet, secretive or hidden may be his actions from the public scrutiny. The effect of both of these last two verses is to stress the importance of not being hasty in the ordination of elders.

This verse (1 Timothy 5:25) is to warn Timothy against hasty condemnation, as the former (24) had been to warn against hasty approval.(F29)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-timothy-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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