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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Paul cited another well-known saying (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15) to introduce and give support to what he was about to teach.

"Overseer" (Gr. episkopes) is a term that emphasizes this leader’s leadership and management responsibilities and is evidently synonymous with "elder" (presbuteros; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:1) and "pastor" or "shepherd" (poimen; Ephesians 4:11). Paul used the term "elder" more frequently, so I have chosen to use it in commenting on this pericope. At the time Paul wrote the Pastorals the office of elder was common in the churches since he had appointed elders in churches that he had founded (Acts 14:23). The history of the elder office in the church goes back to the elder office in ancient Israel. The Jews continued this organization in their synagogues, which they began during the Babylonian Captivity. [Note: See Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, pp. 137-52.]

". . . while the synagogal eldership did influence church eldership, the influence was of a general nature." [Note: David A. Mappes, "The ’Elder’ in the Old and New Testaments," Bibliotheca Sacra 154:613 (January-March 1997):92.]

Paul did not say that each congregation of Christians required at least one elder to be a church. Moreover there appears to have been more than one elder in some churches (e.g., Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1) but not necessarily in all. Elder was an official position of leadership in the church that carried with it pastoral responsibility (1 Peter 5:1-2). "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.

A person can aspire to hold an office out of good or bad motives. The "trustworthy statement" Paul cited assumed good motives: the desire to do a worthy work, not personal aggrandizement. Church congregations should be careful to investigate the motivation of men who aspire to become elders. Such an aspiration can lead a young man to study, labor, and sacrifice to prepare for leadership in a church. Some do this by enrolling in seminary.

"The saying in fact focuses less on the person than on the position. Thus Paul is not commending people who have a great desire to become leaders; rather, he is saying that the position of overseer is such a significant matter, a noble task, that it should indeed be the kind of task to which a person might aspire. Thus, despite the activities of some, he does not for that reason negate the position itself." [Note: Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy . . ., p. 79.]

Verses 1-7

1. Qualifications for elders 3:1-7

The Ephesian church already had elders long before Paul wrote this letter (Acts 20:17-35).

"If our identification of the false teachers as elders is correct, then Paul’s reason for this set of instructions is that Timothy must see to it that elders are living according to their appointment, that is, by these standards. At the same time, of course, the whole church will be listening in and will thus be given the grounds for discipline of erring elders as well as for their replacement (cf. 1 Timothy 5:22; 1 Timothy 5:24-25)." [Note: Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy . . ., p. 79.]

Verses 1-13

C. The qualifications for church leaders 3:1-13

Paul proceeded from his instructions concerning worship in the church to lay out qualifications for leaders of the church. He did so to give Timothy guidance in selecting these important individuals. He discussed women and leadership in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and now he turned to men and leadership, specifically, the personal qualities necessary for effective church leaders.

"The PE do not give institutional authority to the overseers and deacons. They describe the type of person who may serve the church in a certain role: one whose character is above reproach, who has illustrated management skills at home; who can teach (in the case of the overseers), etc. This person will teach what is true and will refute what is false. While some authority may be implicit in the title and the nature of the position, nowhere does the text explicitly say what is so often asserted by modern writers (e.g., Young, Theology, 22; cf. 120), that the author’s solution to the rise of heresy was to force a structure onto the house of God . . . and appoint authoritative leaders who could combat the error because of their institutional position. There is no explicit institutional authority promoted in the PE." [Note: Mounce, p. lxxxi. His reference is to F. Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Epistles.]

"The nature of the qualifications set out and the broad concern for the leaders’ reputations suggest that respectability of the sort that would sustain or establish the church’s credibility in society was uppermost in mind." [Note: Towner, The Letters . . ., p. 240.]

Verses 2-7

Paul listed 15 characteristics here that should mark the life of a man who aspired to serve as an elder. [Note: See David A. Mappes, "Moral Virtues Associated with Eldership," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:638 (April-June 2003):202-18.]

1. The description "above reproach" (irreproachable, Gr. anepilempton, 1 Timothy 3:2; cf. 1 Timothy 5:7; 1 Timothy 6:14; Titus 1:6) means that he should possess no observable flaw in his character or conduct. That is, there should be no cause for justifiable criticism now or in his past (cf. 1 Timothy 3:10) that anyone could use to discredit him and bring reproach on the name of Christ and the church. The Greek word means "not to be laid hold of." This is the main quality that the following ones make clearer or unpack. No one is perfect, but an elder should be a person that no one can legitimately criticize for the way he lives.

2. There have been many interpretations of the phrase "husband of one wife" (Gr. mias gunaikos andra, 1 Timothy 3:2). There are four major views as to what Paul had in mind. First, the elder must be married. Second, he must be married only once. Third, he must be monogamous. Fourth, he must be a moral husband. All the other qualifications are character traits. This may be a clue how we should interpret this one too.

We need to answer three related questions before we can arrive at a proper interpretation of this qualification. First, was Paul looking at the potential elder in his present condition, since his conversion, or over his entire lifetime? What do the other qualifications suggest in this regard? It seems that the man’s present condition is in view primarily. [Note: See Jay E. Smith, "Can Fallen Leaders Be Restored to Leadership? Bibliotheca Sacra 151:604 (October-December 1994):461-65, 478.]

Second, what conditions, if any, result in the dissolution of the marriage relationship besides death (cf. Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; and 1 Corinthians 7:8-16; 1 Corinthians 7:25-28)? I believe remarriage after a divorce does.

Third, under what conditions, if any, does God permit Christians to remarry (cf. Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:2-12; and 1 Corinthians 7:15; 1 Corinthians 7:25-28)? I believe God permits remarriage if the divorced person’s mate has died or has remarried someone else.

View 1: He must be married.
This view sees as disqualified all unmarried men. [Note: See Ironside, p. 78.]
If a man is going to oversee a local church he must have successful experience overseeing a family household (1 Timothy 3:5).The emphasis on "one" in the Greek text suggests a contrast between one or more wives rather than one or no wives.
Paul could simply have said the elder needed to be married if that is what he meant.
To be consistent 1 Timothy 3:4 would require that the elder have children (plural) too. [Note: See Knight, p. 157.]

View 2: He must be married only once.
This view sees as disqualified men who remarry for any reason such as widowers and divorcees. [Note: Kelly, pp. 75-76; King, p. 58; H. P. Liddon, Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, p. 26; Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 416, and You Mean . . ., p. 55; Kenneth Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament, pp. 53-55; Litfin, pp. 736-77.]
Paul urged the unmarried and widows to remain unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7:8.Paul urged the younger widows to remarry (1 Timothy 5:14; cf. 1 Corinthians 7).
The early church looked down on remarriage for any reason. [Note: Kelly, p. 76; William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p. 88.] Remarrying did not disqualify widows from receiving regular support from the church (1 Timothy 5:9).
If a man does not remarry, he provides a better example for the church of what it means to be Spirit-controlled and totally dependent on God’s grace.There is nothing essentially sinful about remarrying when the marriage bond has been broken (1 Corinthians 7:9; cf. Romans 7:2-3).
The phrase "wife of one man" (1 Timothy 5:9), which is identical to "husband of one wife" except for the switch in sexes, in its context seems to mean married only once.Since this appears to be the only moral qualification for the elder office it is unlikely that Paul viewed remarriage as the worst possible moral offense that would disqualify a man.
A variation of this view that some interpreters prefer is that divorce and remarriage disqualify a man, but the death of a wife and remarriage do not. [Note: A. T. Hanson, The Pastoral Epistles, pp. 75, 78; Wiersbe, 2:220.]
There is nothing morally culpable about being a widower, but there is about being a divorcee.Not every case of divorce renders a man morally culpable (blameworthy).
View 3: He must be monogamous.
This view sees as disqualified any man who is married to more than one woman at a time. This would include bigamists, polygamists, and perhaps remarried divorcees depending on the circumstances of their divorce. [Note: Hiebert, First Timothy, p. 65; Robertson, 4:572; Simpson, p. 50.]
The emphasis on "one" wife in the Greek text contrasts with more than one wife.To be consistent we would have to conclude that polyandry was also common (1 Timothy 5:9), but it was not. [Note: Knight, p. 158.]
Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures practiced polygamy at this time. [Note: Barclay, pp. 87-90.] If this is all Paul meant, he hardly needed to mention it since polygamy was inappropriate for all Christians, not just elders (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:2).
View 4: He must be a moral husband.
This view sees as disqualified any man who is or has been morally unfaithful to his wife (or wives if he is remarried). [Note: Towner, The Letters . . ., pp. 250-51.] Some interpreters view any divorce as infidelity, others only divorce in which the husband has been unfaithful.
This is an idiomatic use of the phrase "husband of one wife." It means a "one-woman man."Paul could have said "faithful to his wife" if that is all he meant.
Paul seems to use "wife of one man" in the same way in 1 Timothy 5:9 to describe a faithful wife.Since God commanded all Christians to be morally pure Paul must have meant more than this here.
Since this is the only moral qualification for an elder we should probably interpret it broadly as forbidding immorality.
One variation of this view is that the man must be a faithful husband now even though he may have been unfaithful in the past (before and or after his conversion). [Note: Ibid.; Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 80; William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, p. 121; Lenski, pp. 580-82; Gene Getz, The Measure of a Man, pp. 28-31; Knight, p. 159; Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy . . ., p. 81.]
This interpretation is consistent with the other qualifications for elders all of which deal with the man’s present condition.All the other qualifications for elders view the man’s total record of behavior, not just his present condition.
God forgives all sin and so should the church.A presently faithful husband may have established a record of previous unfaithfulness that would make him a bad example as an elder.
The consequences of sin usually follow even though God does forgive the guilt of all sin. For this reason, immorality in marriage disqualifies a man.
A second variation of this view is that the man must have proved himself faithful in the past (either all his life or since his conversion) as well as in the present. [Note: See Homer A Kent Jr., The Pastoral Epistles, pp. 129-30, for the view that he has to have been faithful all his life, and Robert L. Saucy, "The Husband of One Wife," Bibliotheca Sacra 131:523 (July-September 1974):229-40, for the view that faithfulness since conversion is all Paul required.]
Paul must have had the man’s record of behavior in view since the other qualifications require that we take the past into consideration.The church should forgive all sin since God does.
If Paul had meant that God wipes away the consequences of sin as well as its guilt, he did not need to give any qualifications. Almost any Christian presently walking in fellowship with God could qualify.

The qualification "the husband of one wife" seem to preclude the possibility of women holding this office. Paul could have said "the partner or mate of one spouse." The fact that all the qualification words in 1 Timothy 3:2 through 7 are masculine in gender supports this conclusion.

3. "Temperate" (Gr. nethalion, 1 Timothy 3:2) means sober, vigilant, clear-headed, and well-balanced (cf. 1 Timothy 3:11; Titus 2:3).

4. "Prudent" (Gr. sothron, 1 Timothy 3:2; cf. Titus 2:5) means self-controlled (NIV), and the same Greek word reads "sensible" in Titus 1:8.

"Such a man, such a bishop, will not speak rashly, will be a person of sound judgment, will be master of himself, and of his situation." [Note: King, p. 59.]

5. "Respectable" (Gr. kosmios, 1 Timothy 3:2) means orderly, of good behavior, dignified and decent in his conduct. Some translators rendered the same Greek word "modest" in 1 Timothy 2:9.

6. "Hospitable" (Gr. philoxenos, 1 Timothy 3:2) means one who opens his home to others. This was an especially essential quality in the early church since there were few public accommodations for traveling ministers and much need to take in needy Christians temporarily (cf. Acts 16:15; Acts 16:40). Hospitality is also very important today (cf. Romans 12:13; Titus 1:8). The Greek word means "loving the stranger." An elder should be a person who reaches out to strangers, the unsaved as well as believers, and makes them feel at home in his house.

7. The phrase "able to teach" (Gr. didaktikos, 1 Timothy 3:2) means apt, qualified, and competent to explain and defend the truth of God. This is the only qualification that involves ministry skill or gift. Some elders evidently gave more time to this ministry than others did (1 Timothy 5:17), but all had to be competent in the Scriptures (cf. Titus 1:9). The style of communication undoubtedly varied according to individual gifts (mass communication, small group teaching, personal instruction, etc.). Nevertheless all would have been expected to teach only after prayerful meditation on the Word and practical application of the Word to their own lives.

"The PE make it clear that the primary leadership is in the hands of the teachers. . . . Paul sees the church led by its teachers, those who can preach the truth and refute error; its primary leadership does not lie in the hands of administrators." [Note: Mounce, pp. 185-86.]

Neither does it lie in the hands of "worship leaders."

8. "Not addicted to wine" or "not given to drunkenness" (NIV; Gr. me paroinon, 1 Timothy 3:3) means not a brawler, playboy, slave of drink, or drunkard (cf. Titus 1:7; 1 Corinthians 11:21). Paul evidently used "wine" to represent any enslaving beverage. We are probably correct in extending its meaning to include any destructive addiction (drugs, gambling, pornography, etc.).

The larger issue of the Christian’s drinking of wine and other intoxicating beverages has been the subject of extensive teaching. Most scholars have concluded that moderation rather than abstinence is what God commanded (cf. 1 Timothy 5:23). However some base a case for abstinence on the fact that in Bible times the alcoholic content of wine was much less than it is in modern times. Modern alcoholic beverages fall into the category of strong drink that the Scriptures forbid. [Note: See Robert Stein, "Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times," Christianity Today 19:19 (June 20, 1975):9-11; and Norman Geisler, "A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking," Bibliotheca Sacra 139:553 (January-March 1982):46-56.]

9. Not "pugnacious" or "violent" (NIV; Gr. me plekten, 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7; lit. a giver of blows) describes a striker. This is a person who resorts to physical or verbal violence to vent his anger and or to settle disputes.

10. "Gentle" (Gr. epieikes, 1 Timothy 3:3) means patient and forbearing (Titus 3:2; 2 Corinthians 10:2).

11. "Uncontentious" (Gr. amachos, 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7) describes a person who is not quarrelsome (NIV). He is not a fighter or a brawler (cf. James 3:7).

12. The meaning of "free from the love of money" (Gr. aphilarguros, 1 Timothy 3:3) should be obvious (cf. Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2). Note that it is the love of money rather than the possession of it that is the disqualifying factor. Poor people as well as the rich may love money. Moreover not all rich people love it. The opposite attitude is contentment (cf. Philippians 4:11).

"This means the candidate’s attitude toward material wealth ought to be one of healthy detachment, but certainly not irresponsibility." [Note: Towner, 1-2 Timothy . . ., p. 87.]

"One who finds that he can make big money in part-time secular work is apt to be diverted from an effective ministry." [Note: Earle, p. 365.]

13. "Manages his own household well" (Gr. tou idiou oikou kalos proistamenon, 1 Timothy 3:4; Titus 1:6) means that he has control of his family. Family members submit to his leadership out of respect for him (cf. Proverbs 24:3-4; Proverbs 27:23; Ephesians 6:4). The elder’s responsibilities in the church are quite parental, so he should have proved his ability in the home before he receives larger responsibility in the church (cf. Matthew 25:14-30). The home is the proving ground for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:5). Again, Paul assumed children in the home but did not require them, I believe. [Note: Cf. Lea, p. 112; and Mounce, pp. 158, 177, 185.]

14. "Not a new [recent, NIV] convert" (Gr. neophutos, 1 Timothy 3:6) also requires a judgment call. How new? There should be evidence that he can function as an elder (teaching, leading, defending the faith, etc.) without becoming conceited. Conceit is what put Satan where he is, so the church should guard new converts from it by keeping them back from premature appointment as elders. The elders Paul appointed soon after he planted churches probably had backgrounds in the Old Testament.

"The new believer is more likely to see such a position of leadership as an opportunity for personal advancement and to fail to understand the gravity of the task." [Note: Towner, 1-2 Timothy . . ., pp. 88-89.]

15. "A good reputation outside the church" (Gr. marturian kalen echein apo ton exothen, 1 Timothy 3:7) with unbelievers is essential so that he will not bring reproach on the name of Christ and the church.

"Does he pay his bills? Does he have a good reputation among unsaved people with whom he does business? (See Colossians 4:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:12.)" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:221.]

As we study the qualifications of an elder it becomes clear that two things were important to Paul. The man could not be guilty of doing something seriously wrong, and other people had to perceive his conduct as proper for a Christian.

The elder was an "overseer." This implies he was over any other local church officials as well as other Christians in the church. There is no evidence in the New Testament that God intended overseers to govern groups of churches. A hierarchy did exist as long as the apostles were alive, but the New Testament reveals no provisions for the maintenance of such a hierarchy. However the absence of prohibitions concerning a hierarchy can also be an argument for it. I would conclude, therefore, that God neither condemned nor commanded organizations of local churches. It is a matter of choice whether churches want to band together in denominations or fellowships and submit themselves to overseeing officials.

Why should elders meet these qualifications? Why should churches not just appoint their best men as elders? The effective operation of each church depends on its leadership. The New Testament does not legislate the details of church operations. Therefore it is important that the men making these decisions be spiritual men who set a good example and have the respect and confidence of the other church members. [Note: See Mounce, p. lix; and especially Ed Glasscock, "The Biblical Concept of Elder," Bibliotheca Sacra 144:573 (March-May 1987):66-78, for a fine summary of this subject. One of the most comprehensive popular studies of eldership is Strauch’s Biblical Eldership.]

Verses 8-10

"Likewise" (1 Timothy 3:8) indicates that Paul was describing an office different from that of elder when he spoke of deacons. "Deacon" (Gr. diakonos, 1 Timothy 3:8; lit. servant) is a word the New Testament writers used frequently. In time the churches recognized official servants of the churches, and these people held office as deacons. A list of 12 qualifications follows.

1. "Men of dignity" (Gr. semnos, 1 Timothy 3:8) means worthy of respect.

2. "Not double-tongued" (Gr. me dilogous, 1 Timothy 3:8) means not two-faced, saying one thing or living one way part of the time and another at other times; honest, not hypocritical, sincere; men of integrity.

3. "Not addicted to much wine" means not an addict (Gr. me oino pollo prosechontas, 1 Timothy 3:8; cf. elder qualification #8).

4. "Not fond of sordid gain" means he does not love "dirty money" (Gr. me aischrokerdeis, 1 Timothy 3:8; cf. elder qualification #12).

5. "Holding the . . . faith with a clear conscience" (Gr. echontas to mysterion tes pisteos en kathara syneidesei, 1 Timothy 3:9) describes a man of conviction who behaves in harmony with his beliefs. "The mystery of the faith" is the body of doctrine that God has given us by special revelation. Today "mystery" implies knowledge withheld, but in the Bible it often means knowledge revealed.

6. "Beyond reproach" (Gr. anegkletoi, 1 Timothy 3:10; cf. elder qualification #1) means without reasonable grounds for accusation. This was to be true of him in the past as well as in the present, having passed the test of time. Paul was not referring to some type of ordination examination. [Note: See Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy . . ., p. 87.]

"The meaning is not [either] that they should be given a trial appointment as deacon, but rather that the church should constantly be examining and testing the members of the congregation, so that whenever the need for selecting deacons arises, they will know what members are qualified for appointment." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, "Behind the Word ’Deacon:’ A New Testament Study," Bibliotheca Sacra 140:558 (April-June 1983):154.]

Verses 8-13

2. Qualifications for deacons 3:8-13

Paul continued his instructions concerning order in the life of the local church by setting forth qualifications for the deacons. He did this to insure Spirit-controlled assistants for the elders.

". . . this passage does not spell out the functions of a deacon but simply clarifies the type of person who qualifies to be a deacon. Overseers and deacons are distinct in function but similar in character." [Note: Mounce, p. 196.]

Verse 11

Does this verse refer to female deacons? [Note: Robertson, 4:575; Towner, The Letters . . ., p. 265; et al.] Historically most interpreters have preferred this view. [Note: Mounce, pp. 203, 207-12.] Others believe it refers to the wives of male deacons. [Note: Knight, pp. 171-72; Mounce, p. 204; et al.] Still others believe it refers to unmarried women who assist the deacons. Exegetically it is very hard to decide. [Note: See Robert M. Lewis, "The ’Women’ of 1 Timothy 3:11," Bibliotheca Sacra 136:542 (April-June 1970):167-75; Charles C. Ryrie, The Place of Women in the Church, pp. 85-91; and Herbert Frohnhofen, "Women Deacons in the Early Church," Theology Digest 34:2 (Summer 1987):149-53.] I think it probably refers to female deacons for the following reasons. First, there is nothing about the office as such that would exclude a woman. Second, it seems unusual that Paul would prescribe qualifications for wives of deacons but not for wives of elders. Third, the fact that he inserted special qualifications for women in his list of deacon qualifications seems to indicate that he considered these women as deacons.

Paul described Phoebe as a deaconess (servant, Gr. diakonon) of the church in Cenchrea in Romans 16:1. This may mean she was simply a servant of the church. However the term he used allows for the possibility that she occupied the office of deaconess in her church.

"The office of deaconess is not certain in the New Testament church, but the preponderance of evidence suggests that women had this ministry, for it is certainly seen in the postapostolic period." [Note: H. Wayne House, "The Ministry of Women in the Apostolic and Postapostolic Periods," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:580 (October-December 1988):390. Cf. Hendriksen, pp. 132-33; and Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy . . ., p. 88.]

The apostle cited four special qualifications for these women.

7. "Dignified" means worthy of respect (Gr. semnas, 1 Timothy 3:8).

8. "Not malicious gossips" (Gr. diabolos) describes those who do not slander others.

9. "Temperate" (Gr. nephalious) means well balanced (elder qualification #3, 1 Timothy 3:2; cf. Titus 2:2).

10. "Faithful in all things" (Gr. pistas en pasin) means completely trustworthy.

Verse 12

Returning to the male deacons, Paul added two more qualifications.

11. They must be the "husbands of one wife" (Gr. mias gunaikos andres) elder qualification #2, 1 Timothy 3:2).

12. They must also be "good managers of their children and their own households" (Gr. teknon kalos proistamenoi kai ton idion oikon; cf. elder qualification #13, 1 Timothy 3:4-5).

Verse 13

The rewards for faithful service as a deacon are two: a good reputation, and increased confidence in dealing with other people and with God (cf. Matthew 20:26-28; Mark 10:43-45). Presumably this confidence builds on a clear conscience.

Paul said nothing about the duties of deacons. This indicates that he did not associate specific tasks with the office. He seems to have intended that deacons should function as official servants of the church in whatever capacity the elders may see a need for this. They were in effect the elders’ assistants.

"1 Timothy 3:1-13 thus presents a twofold pattern for the official ministry of the church, that of oversight (episkopos) and that of service (diakonos)." [Note: Knight, p. 175.]

Whereas the elder office apparently arose out of Jewish religious life, the deacon office seems to have developed from an incident in the early history of the church (i.e., Acts 6:1-6). Luke did not call the men appointed to assist the apostles in Acts 6 deacons in that passage. Nevertheless this event apparently led to the official appointment of deacons (servants) as assistants to the elders who served especially in the realm of physical and material needs. [Note: See Strauch, pp. 367-72.]

"An analysis of the data seems . . . to indicate the existence of oversight by a plurality of church leaders throughout the NT church in virtually every known area and acknowledged or commended by virtually every NT writer who writes about church leadership." [Note: Knight, pp. 176-77.]

Verses 14-15

Paul wrote that he hoped to join Timothy soon.

"A pseudonymous writer would hardly have put in this phrase. Paul’s hopes were not to be realized, but he did not know that." [Note: Robertson, 4:575.]

In view of the context, Paul evidently was thinking of the local church when he spoke of it as a household and as a pedestal. [Note: See Robert A. Carlson, "An Evaluation of 1 Timothy 3:15 as a Pauline Description of the Nature and Task of the Local Church" (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2002).] The first (domestic) figure is common in Paul’s writings (2 Timothy 1:16; Titus 1:11; cf. Titus 1:5; cf. Titus 1:12). The local church is a family of believers (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1-2). It should, therefore, conduct its corporate life as a family rather than as a business, a country club, an entertainment center, a military group, or some other organization.

"This metaphor served to elevate the community of believers as the ’location’ of God’s presence on earth. The church has become His base of operation in the world." [Note: Bailey, p. 354.]

The second (architectural) figure is of a pedestal that supports something set on top of it. "Pillar and support" is a hendiadys for "supporting pillar [foundation]." Each local church supports the witness of each believer in it and holds that testimony up before the world in which untruth abounds. Paul did not elaborate how it does this here, though the models suggested by the terms "shepherd" ("pastor"), "elder," "overseer," and "deacon" provide some clues. [Note: See A. Duane Litfin, "The Nature of the Pastoral Role: The Leader as Completer," Bibliotheca Sacra 139:553 (January-March 1982):57-66.] What the believer proclaims is the "truth," the whole truth God has revealed in His Word, but especially God’s redemptive plan.

Verses 14-16

D. The nature of the local church 3:14-16

Paul explained his reason for writing this epistle and, in particular, what he had just said. He also prepared for what he would yet say. He did so to impress on Timothy a view of the church that was foundational to all his instructions in this letter.

"It is now generally recognized that this paragraph is the heart of the Pastoral corpus . . ., which puts the instructions of the corpus into proper perspective." [Note: Mounce, p. 214. Cf. Guthrie, p. 87.]

Verse 16

His mention of this message led Paul to glorify it. By common confession among Christians this mystery of godliness is great. It is a mystery in that God has made His plan known to us only by special revelation in the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 3). It is a mystery of godliness in that it leads to and results in godliness in those who accept it. It is great in its preeminent importance and in its worldwide scope.

Paul evidently quoted a fragment of a hymn or a statement of the apostolic church that summarized this message. It appears to have been such in view of its concise rhythmic parallelism and assonance in Greek. Each of the words translated "revealed," "vindicated," "beheld," "proclaimed," "believed on," and "taken up," ends with the in the Greek text, and the preposition en follows each verb (except "beheld," which has no following preposition). Three couplets depict Jesus Christ as the essence of this mystery and view His work as completed. Other views are that the hymn consists of one stanza with six lines or two stanzas with three lines. [Note: See Towner, The Letters . . ., pp. 277-85.]

". . . this phrase the mystery of godliness forms a connection between the appearance of Christ, which the hymn celebrates, and Christian living: the mystery is the essence of godliness." [Note: Idem, 1-2 Timothy . . ., p. 99.]

The six strophes probably describe Christ’s (1) incarnation, (2) resurrection, (3) post-resurrection sightings (probably by angelic messengers), (4) proclamation by the disciples (between His resurrection and ascension), (5) regeneration of those who heard and believed this witness, and (6) ascension. This interpretation has in its favor the chronological sequence of Christ’s entire earthly ministry.

Other interpreters view these descriptions as follows. (1) God revealed Jesus Christ in flesh (human nature) in His incarnation, and (2) the Holy Spirit vindicated His claims in His resurrection. (3) Human messengers saw and worshipped Him following His resurrection and ascension into heaven, and (4) His disciples proclaimed Him to all people through the worldwide preaching of the gospel. (5) Those who accept the gospel on earth believe on Him, and (6) God received and exalted Him in glory following His ascension.

This saying presents the work of Christ as comprehensive in time. From His incarnation on, Jesus Christ is the most important figure in human history. Notice also that two realms are in view in this hymn, the earthly and the heavenly. There are three references to the earthly realm in lines 1, 4, and 5. Likewise there are three references to the heavenly realm in lines 2, 3, and 6. Thus the movement of thought is alternately from the earthly realm, to the heavenly, back to the earthly, and finally back to the heavenly. This structure emphasizes the comprehensive nature of Christ’s work in space. He has brought together the earthly and heavenly spheres of existence. He has reconciled human beings to God.

Specifically, He has bridged the gap between things that have always been poles apart. These are flesh (the physical) and spirit (the spiritual), angels (those closest to God) and Gentiles (those farthest from God), and the world (the present sphere of existence) and heaven (the future sphere of existence).

"The first of the three couplets presents Christ’s work accomplished, the second his work made known, and the third his work acknowledged." [Note: Knight, p. 183.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-timothy-3.html. 2012.
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