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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 5

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father.—Two-thirds of St. Paul’s first Letter to Timothy have been taken up with directions, warnings, and exhortations respecting the public duties connected with the office of superintending presbyter, or bishop, of a church like that of Ephesus; from these directions in connection with the public teaching and the official life in the church, the Apostle passes on to speak of the private relations which one in Timothy’s position ought to maintain with individual members of the congregation. And, first, he warns him against a misplaced zeal, which might urge him to unbefitting behaviour towards those older than himself. The enthusiastic and ardent young servant of Christ would see with sorrow and dismay the shortcomings of many an elder member of his flock, and, forgetting to make wise allowance for previous training, thought, and habits, would be likely, unwisely, and possibly unfairly, to find fault. Let him, in the cases of his elders—for the reference is rather to age than to office, as is clear from the reminder of 1 Timothy 5:2, addressed to the “elder women”—instead of open rebuke, use respectful and affectionate entreaties, after the manner of a son, not of an official.

The younger men as brethren.—And as regards the younger Christians of Ephesua, let them not be alienated by an assumption of dignity on the part of the chief presbyter of the Church. Let his relations with these younger members of the family of Christ be rather those of a brother and a friend than of a superior in rank and dignity.

Verse 2

(2) The elder women as mothers.—The same watchful care against all assumption of superiority must also be exercised in his dealings with the Christian matrons of Ephesus.

The younger as sisters, with all purity.—In the case of the younger women, St. Paul adds to his directions respecting brotherly and sisterly regard a grave word, urging upon Timothy, and all official teachers like Timothy, to add to this self-denying, loving friendship a ceaseless watchfulness in all their conversation, so as not to afford any ground for suspicion; for, above all things, the recognised teacher of Christianity must be pure. No one can read and forget the quaint words of advice of St. Jerome: “Omnes puellas et virgines Christi, aut æqualiter ignora aut ægualiter dilige.

Verse 3

(3) Honour widows that are widows indeed.—The mention of the relations of a pastor to the female members of the flock suggests another train of thought. Christianity had, during the thirty years of its history, developed a perfectly new existence for women who professed the faith of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Master’s new and strange (new and strange to the civilised world of that day) command—that the poor, the needy, and the sick should be succoured, that the helpless should be helped, and the comfortless comforted—a blessed calling was invented. so to speaks for Christian women. Their secluded and, in many respects, degraded life in the old world was, in great measure, owing to the fact that till Christ taught the universal duty of charity, women had no recognised public occupation in the world. The charge of the Founder of the new religion provided an endless variety of blessed, happiness-giving work for women of all ages and rank.

The novel prominence, however, of females in such great centres as Ephesus not only necessitated some organisation which should administer the alms, and generally watch over and direct the self-sacrificing labours of the female portion of the community, but also required special vigilance, on the part of the chief pastor and his assistant presbyters and deacons, to prevent the charities of the Church being misused. The widow—the desolate and destitute, the mourning widow indeed, she who is in every sense a widow and has no one to whom to look for aid—she always has a claim on the Church. Not merely is she to be honoured by a simple exhibition of respect, but she is to be assisted and supported out of the alms of the faithful.

Verse 4

(4) But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents (or, nephews).—The Greek word here should be rendered grandchildren; the original meaning of “nephew” (nepotes) has disappeared. Here a warning against allowing the Church to be burdened with a burden which others ought to bear is given, in the form of a pressing reminder to the children or grandchildren of the destitute and desolate widow. It is a solemn and imperative duty for the children to afford all needful succour—a duty not to be evaded by any bearing the Christian name.

For that is good and acceptable before God.—An especial blessing is promised to those who really carry out this too often forgotten duty. (See Ephesians 6:2-3; and also comp. Mark 7:10-11.)

Verse 5

(5) Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate.—St. Paul, after mentioning this exception to the fit objects of the Church’s charity and protection, again returns to this special class of helpless ones: “the widows indeed”—a class, no doubt, in those days of selfish luxury and of extreme misery and hopelessness, often utterly neglected, and not unfrequently left to starve and to perish in want and misery.

It has been asked why, in these official directions to Timothy, the question of relief of poor Christian widows comes so prominently forward. We find also that, in the first years which succeeded the Ascension, many widows in Jerusalem seemed to have been dependent on the Church for sustenance (Acts 6:1). Now we should expect to find in the Church of Christ the same loving care which was taken in the old days, when Israel was a great nation, of these solitary and unhappy women. (Comp. Deuteronomy 24:17, where we find special laws respecting the garments of widows never to be taken in pledge. See, too, such passages as Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 27:19; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:6; also Isaiah 10:2; Malachi 3:5.) Still, this hardly accounts for the statement of Acts 6:1 and these lengthened directions to Timothy. It is more than probable that there were, especially in these Eastern cities, a very large class of these desolate and unprotected women. The practice of polygamy is accountable for this, in the first instance; and the rigid morality of the Christian teaching would place a bar to the female convert from heathenism relapsing into a life where moral restraints were utterly disregarded. The charities of the early Church, especially in Oriental cities, were, without doubt, heavily burdened with this grave and increasing charge—provision for these poor desolate women; and it was to relieve the congregations in some degree that St. Paul wrote these elaborate instructions to Timothy, warning him, as the chief minister of the Ephesian Church, against an indiscriminate charity, and at the same time providing him with a system of severe restraints to be imposed upon the assisted women.

Still, the chief pastor in Ephesus must remember that among the women of his flock there were some widows indeed, with neither children nor grandchildren to assist them, without friends even to cheer their desolate, widowed life. To find out and to succour these poor, sad-hearted, friendless beings, St. Paul reminds Timothy, was one of the duties of a Christian minister.

Trusteth in God.—These, without love of child or friend, cast themselves on the support of the everlasting arms. The language here used by St. Paul pictures, evidently, some loving and trustful character then living, of whom he was thinking while writing the Letter to Timothy. “She hath trusted and still trusts in God; she continues in prayer night and day.”

And continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.—Like Anna, the daughter of Phanuel (Luke 2:36-37), whom some suppose St. Paul took as the model and example for these Christian widows. The meaning of these words, descriptive of a holy life, is not that the earnest and pious bereaved woman should pass her days and nights in the unrelieved monotony of constantly repeated prayers. Such a life, unpractical and useless, would never commend itself to one like St. Paul; the words simply describe the desolate one casting all her care on the Lord, and telling Him, as her only friend, of all her thoughts and actions, her words and her works.

Verse 6

(6) But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.—This is a thoroughly Pauline thought, set forth in other language in the Roman Epistle, Romans 8:13 : “For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” The word in the Greek rendered “she that liveth in pleasure” is very remarkable, and in the New Testament is found only in one other place (James 5:5). The widow-woman who could so forget her sorrow and her duty is spoken of as a living corpse, and sharply contrasted with her far happier sister, who, dead to the pleasures of the flesh, living a life of prayer and of self-denial, in the true sense of the word, may be spoken of as living. A very different estimate of life was held by the greatest of Greek poets, who writes thus of men giving up pleasures: “I do not consider that such a one lives, but I regard him as a living corpse” (Antigone of Sophocles, 1166-7, Dindorf). Comp., too, Revelation 3:1.

Verse 7

(7) And these things give in charge.—That is to say, the duties of widows, as set forth in 1 Timothy 5:5, together with his (St. Paul’s) estimate of the gay and frivolous character painted in 1 Timothy 5:6.

That they may be blameless.—That, whether seeking support from the public alms of the Christian community or not, the widows of the congregation should struggle after an irreproachable self-denying life, and show before men publicly whose servants they indeed were. In these words there seems a hint that the former life of many of these women-converts to Christianity had been very different to the life loved of Christ, and that in their new profession as Christians there was urgent need of watchfulness on their part not to give any occasion to slanderous tongues.

Verse 8

(8) But if any provide not for his own.—This repeated warning was necessary in the now rapidly widening circle of believers. Then, in those early days, as now, men and women were attempting to persuade themselves that the hopes and promises of Christians could be attained and won by a mere profession of faith, by an assent to the historical truths, by a barren reception of the doctrine of the atonement, without any practice of stern self-denial, apart from any loving consideration for others; there were evidently in that great Church of Ephesus, which St. Paul knew so well not a few professed believers in the Crucified who, while possessed themselves of a competence, perhaps even of wealth, could calmly look on while their relations and friends languished in the deepest poverty.

And specially for those of his own house.—The circle of those for whose support and sustenance a Christian was responsible is here enlarged: not merely is the fairly prosperous man who professes to love Christ, bound to do his best for his nearest relations, such as his mother and grandmother, but St. Paul says “he must assist those of his own house,” in which term relatives who are much more distant are included, and even dependents connected with the family who had fallen into poverty and distress.

He hath denied the faith.—Faith, considered as a rule of life, is practically denied by one who neglects these kindly duties and responsibilities, for “faith worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6). Faith here is considered by St. Paul, not as mere belief in the doctrine, or even in a person, but as a rule of life.

And is worse than an infidel.—The rules even of the nobler Pagan moralists forbid such heartless selfishness. For a Christian, then, deliberately to neglect such plain duties would bring shame and disgrace on the religion of the loving Christ, and, notwithstanding the name he bore, and the company in which he was enrolled, such a denier of the faith would be really worse than a heathen.

Verse 9

(9) Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old.—The question respecting the assistance to be afforded to the poor and destitute widows of the great Asian Church reminded St. Paul of an organisation, consisting of widowed women, which had grown out of the needs of Christianity. He would lay down some special rules here to be observed by his friend and disciple. What, now, is this organisation commended to Timothy in these special directions? Here, and here only in the New Testament, do we find it alluded to; but the instructions in this passage are so definite, so precise, that it is impossible not to assume in the days of Timothy and of Paul, in some, if not in all the great churches, the existence of an official band of workers, consisting of widows, most carefully selected from the congregation of believers, of a somewhat advanced age, and specially distinguished for devotion—possessing, each of these, a high and stainless reputation—they were an official band of workers, a distinct order, so to speak; for these widows, formally entered on the Church’s list, could not possibly represent those poor and desolate widows, friendless and destitute, spoken of above. The minimum age of sixty years would also exclude many; and the advice of St. Paul to the younger ones to marry again could never have been addressed to women wanting even many years of the requisite “sixty.” Were these poor souls to be formally shut out from receiving the Church’s alms? Again, those on the list could never be the same persons whom we hear of as deaconesses (Romans 16:1, and in the Christian literature of the second century). The active duties of the office would have been utterly incompatible with the age of sixty, the minimum age at which these were to be entered on the list. We then conclude these “widows” were a distinct and most honourable order, whose duties, presbyteral rather than diaconic, apparently consisted in the exercise of superintendence over, and in the ministry of counsel and consolation to, the younger women.—That they sat unveiled in the assemblies in a separate place by the presbyters; that they received a special ordination by laying on of hands; that they wore a peculiar dress—were distinctions probably belonging to a later age.

Having been the wife of one man.—Of the conditions of enrolment in this “order,” the first—that of age—has been alluded to; the second—“having been the wife of one man”—must not be understood in the strictly literal sense of the words. It is inconceivable that the hope of forming one of the highly honoured band of presbyteral women depended on the chance of the husband living until the wife had reached the age of sixty years. Had he died in her youth, or comparative youth, the Apostle’s will was that the widow should marry again. (See 1 Timothy 5:14, where St. Paul writes, “I will that the younger women marry,” &c.)

The right interpretation of the words is found in some such paraphrase as, “If in her married life she had been found faithful and true.” The fatal facility of divorce and the lax state of morality in Pagan society, especially in the Greek and Asiac cities, must be taken into account when we seek to illustrate and explain these directions respecting early Christian foundations.

While unhesitatingly adopting the above interpretation of the words “wife of one man,” as faithfully representing the mind of St. Paul, who was legislating here, it must be remembered, for the masses of believers whose lot was cast in the busy world (see his direct command in 1 Timothy 5:14 of this chapter, where the family life is pressed on the younger widow, and not the higher life of solitude and self-denial), still those expositors who adopt the stricter and sterner interpretation of “wife of one man”—viz., “a woman that has had only one husband”—have, it must be granted, a strong argument in their favour from the known honour the univircæ obtained in the Roman world. So Dido, in Æn. iv. 28, says—

“Ille meos, primus qui me sibi junxit, amores
Abstulit, ille habeat secum, servetque sepulcher.”

Compare, too, the examples of the wives of Lucan, Drusus, and Pompey, who, on the death of their husbands, devoted the remainder of their lives to retirement and to the memory of the dead. The title univiræ graved on certain Roman tombs shows how this devotion was practised and esteemed. “To love a wife when living is a pleasure, to love her when dead is an act of religion,” wrote Statius—

“Uxorem vivam amare voluptas

Defunctam religio.”

—Statius, Sylv. v., in Proæmio.

And see, for other instances, Lecky, Hist. of European Morals, chap. 5.

But it seems highly improbable that the delicate and touching feeling, which had taken root certainly in some (alas! in only a small number) of the nobler Roman minds, influenced St. Paul, who, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, was laying down rules for a great and world-wide society, which was to include the many, not the few, chosen souls—was legislating for the masses, to whom such an expressed wish would indeed be “a counsel of perfection” rarely to be carried out; and so, without hesitation, we adopt the more practical interpretation given above.

Verse 10

(10) Well reported of for good works.—Not only must men have no evil to say of her, but she must be well known for her good works, for her kindly willingness to help the weary and heavy-laden ones of the world.

If she have brought up children.—This title to honour must be understood quite in a general sense. It must not, of course, be supposed that St. Paul deemed it necessary to exclude from the order of presbyteral widows the childless mothers. Only the candidate for admission must be well known as one who loves children, and would be ready and willing gladly to discharge any public duties to the little orphan ones of the flock who might be intrusted to her care.

If she have lodged strangers.—If, even in a comparatively humble state, she have been always mindful of the sacred rites of hospitality, a virtue perhaps even more valued in the East than in the more reserved Western countries. In the early days of the new faith, the readiness to entertain and welcome Christian strangers seems to have been an especial characteristic of believers in Jesus of Nazareth.

If she have washed the saints’ feet.—Not perhaps to be understood literally, though the act of the Lord on the night before the Cross had invested this act of common hospitality with a peculiar halo of love and devotion. The woman who was to be admitted into the fellowship of this honoured order must be well known as one who had never shrunk from any act of devoted love, however painful or seemingly degrading.

If she have relieved the afflicted.—Not merely, or even chiefly, by alms, but by all kindly and sisterly encouragement: ever ready to mourn with those that mourn, deeming none too low or too degraded for her friendship, none out of the reach of her sisterly help and counsel.

If she have diligently followed every good work.—This sums up the beautiful character to be sought for in the candidates for membership in this chosen woman’s band. She must be known not merely as a mother and a wife, who had well and faithfully performed the womanly duties of her home life, but men must speak of her as one who had diligently and lovingly sought out the rough places of the world, and who, with a brave and patient self-denial, with a sweet and touching self-forgetfulness, had set herself to perform those kind, good actions the Master loves so well.

In the Shepherd of Hermas, written about A.D. 150, some eighty years after St. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, we have probably an example of one of these honoured widows in the person of Grapte, whose task it was to teach the widows and orphans of the Roman Church the meaning of certain prophecies. The authorship of the Shepherd has also been ascribed to the Hermas mentioned in Romans 16:14. It belongs, however, more probably to the middle of the second century, as stated above.

The criticism which dwells on this celebrated passage, containing St. Paul’s rules for admission into the order of presbyteral widows, and which finds in it subject matter belonging to a date later than the age of St. Paul and Timothy, forgets that, dating from the days when Jesus of Nazareth walked on earth, women had been enrolling themselves among His foremost followers, and had been sharing in the toils and enterprises of His most zealous disciples. We find the Marys and other holy women associated with “His own” in the days of the earthly ministry; they were foremost in the work done to the person of the sacred dead. We hear of them after the Resurrection repeatedly in the Jerusalem Church of the first days. It was the neglect of some of the Hebrew widows which led to the foundation of the deacon’s order. Dorcas, before ten years of the Church’s life had passed, appears to have presided over a charitable company of women at Lydda. Dorcas, no doubt, was but one out of many doing, in different centres, a similar work. Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, the wandering tent-maker of Pontus, early in St. Paul’s career evidently took a leading part in organising congregations of Christians. Lydia, the purple seller of Thyatira, was prominent in developing the Philippian Church. Phebe, under the title of the Deaconess of Cenchrea, was the official bearer of St. Paul’s famous letter to the Roman Church. This passage, dwelling on the growing organisation for women’s work at Ephesus, tells us more, certainly, than the scattered incidental allusions of the Acts and earlier Epistles. But the words of St. Paul speak only of the natural results and development of a great movement, which, dating from the earthly days of the ministry of Christ, was destined to give women a new position among the workers of the world.
The Ephesian organisation here regulated by the Apostle is nothing more than we should expect to find after thirty or thirty-two years of female effort in the Master’s cause.

Verse 11

(11) But the younger widows refuse.—The younger women—younger used in a general sense—must positively be excluded from, and held ineligible for, this presbyteral order.

This direction by no means shuts them out from participation in the alms of the Church, if they were in need and destitute; but it wisely excluded the younger women from a position and from duties which they might in their first days of grief and desolation covet, but of which, as time passed on—as experience had shown St. Paul—they not unfrequently wearied. Those who had put their hands to the plough and afterwards looked back, he proceeds to tell us, would be a hindrance to the Church’s work, and in some cases might prove a subject of scandal and reproach.

For when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ.—The Apostle was looking on to the time when, the first fervour excited by grief and sorrow being past, these younger sisters in many instances would begin again to long after their old pursuits and pleasures. The Greek word rendered “wax wanton” suggests especially the idea of restiveness. They will lose—to use Jerome’s well-known expression—their love for their own proper Bridegroom—Christ.

They will marry.—The sight of domestic happiness enjoyed by other women will affect them. They, too, will long in their poor hearts for home joys; they will weary for the prattle of their own little children.

How much untold misery would have been avoided—how many wasted lives would have been saved for good and useful service, had Churchmen in later times only obeyed the words and carried out the thoughts of Paul, and persistently refused, as did St. Paul and Timothy, to receive the proffered services of women still too young in years for such devoted work, but who, through a temporary pressure of sorrow, dreamed for a moment they would be able to carry out their purpose of a life-long renunciation of the world, its excitement and its joys.
St. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw how too often such renunciation, made under peculiar pressure of circumstances, undertaken with the hot fervour of youth, in later days would become weary and distasteful.

Verse 12

(12) Having damnation.Judgment, not necessarily “damnation.” The Greek word krima is often thus unhappily translated. The context of the passage must in all cases decide the nature of the “judgment,” whether favourable or the contrary. Here it signifies that those who in after days give up a work which for their Master’s sake they had undertaken, expose themselves to a searching judgment, which will thoroughly sift the reasons that induced them to forsake the begun toil, and that, if the reasons be not satisfactory, will be unfavourable, and will surely involve condemnation.

Because they have cast off their first faith.—Though, probably, no vows respecting marriage were required from those widows who devoted themselves to the Lord’s service, yet virtually such a solemn enrolment partook of the nature of a life-long engagement—an engagement which, if they married again, must necessarily be given up.

Such a going back, such a giving up the higher and the more devoted life—the life of self-sacrifice, of self-abnegation—for the ordinary joys and cares of domestic life, for the useful but still every-day pursuits of ordinary men and women—such a going back, would be indeed a casting off their first faith, and such an example of backsliding could not fail to harm the cause of Christ.

Verse 13

(13) And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house.—The first fervour of their devotion and renunciation of self will have cooled, their very occupation will become a snare to them—the going about to the various dwellings for the object of consoling, instructing, assisting, would give them, now that their minds were no longer exclusively turned to religious thoughts, and their hearts were no more alone filled by Jesus, many an opportunity of wasting precious hours, of indulging in frivolous, if not in harmful, conversation; and this the Apostle seems to have feared would be the result of these visits, and the fruit of their work, if the younger sisters were enrolled in the official list, for he speaks of such becoming “not only idle, but tattlers also and busy bodies, speaking things which they ought not.”

Verse 14

(14) I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house.—Here the Apostle deliberately expresses his will that in these Christian communities the younger widows should not, in the first fervour of their zeal, when borne down by sorrow, attempt anything like an ascetic life, which they would probably tire of after a season; they would thus, in the long run, instead of benefiting, positively injure the cause of Christ. St. Paul’s practical mind, guided by the Spirit of God, has left us no impossible rules of perfection, no exaggerated praises of asceticism, of lofty self-denial, no passionate exhortings to a life made up entirely of self-sacrifice and of self-surrender.

He knew the ordinary man or woman was incapable of such exalted heroism, and therefore was too wise, too loving, even to recommend a life which few could live. It was not that the Master, Christ, and the greatest of his servants, St. Paul, did not themselves prize and admire the higher ideal and the nobler life—for was it not their own? Did not one attain to it, and the other die in his hero-efforts to reach it? But Master and scholar in their gospel of the world have left commands that all, not the few, can obey—have enjoined a life which all, not the few, may live.

Give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.—The reference here is not to the devil—as would at first appear probable from the direct reference in the next verse—but to the enemy of Christ—the sneering worldly man, who, jealous of a faith which he declines to receive, and envious of a life in which he will not share, is always on the look-out to discover flaws and failings in the avowed professors of a religion which he hates. (Comp. Titus 2:8.)

Verse 15

(15) For some are already turned aside.—It was the backsliding of these “nameless” ones, probably, which had been the immediate occasion of these directions to Timothy. Although these unhappy sisters had worked such great mischief to the cause of Christ, still St. Paul, with his tender grace and love, forbore to mention any by name. They had undertaken a task too severe for them to carry out, and had miserably failed. He spares these poor erring sisters, but directs the chief pastor of the Church at Ephesus, how to guard against such fatal results for the future.

After Satan.—They had swerved from the narrow, thorny road of self-denial which they had chosen for themselves, and perhaps dreading, after their public profession, to form afresh any legal marriage ties, had followed that downward path of sensuality which surely leads to Satan.

Verse 16

(16) If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them.—This is not what, at first sight, it appears to be—a mere repetition of the injunction of 1 Timothy 5:4; 1 Timothy 5:8. There the duties enjoined were what may be termed filial; the love, respect, and kindness to the aged was especially pressed on the younger, on the children and grandchildren of the desolate, on the master of the house or family to which the aged widow belonged. Here the reference belongs exclusively to the younger widows, who (see Note above) were, no doubt, very numerous in a great Asian Church like Ephesus; for the future of these women, often still young and totally unprovided for, St. Paul was very anxious. Until a new home was found for such, of course the Church cared for them, but this heavy burden on the Church’s alms must be lightened as much as possible. It was the plain duty of relatives to care for these in their hour of destitution and sorrow. The Church would have many a one, still comparatively speaking young, utterly dependent on its scanty funds—friendless as well as homeless.

It has been asked: How is it that, considering the prominence here given to the questions (a) of the support of Christian widows, (b) of the rules respecting presbyteral widows, who evidently occupied a position of dignity and importance in the Church of the first days, no other mention of this class in the community (with the exception of Acts 6:1; Acts 9:39) appears in the whole New Testament.

This has been pressed as one of the arguments pointing to a much later date for the writing of the Epistle; but the question is, after all, readily and conclusively answered. With the exception of the short Epistle to Titus, the subject of the internal organisation of a church is nowhere handled. There is no room or place for such a mention in any of the more exclusively doctrinal or apologetic Epistles. In the broad field of ecclesiastical history occupied by the Acts, the two casual allusions above referred to, in the Churches of Jerusalem and Lydda, tell us of the existence of and the care for these widows in the communities of Christians, even in the earliest years of the Church’s existence.

Verse 17

(17) Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.—More accurately rendered, “Let the elders (presbyters) who rule well.” The consideration of the position and qualifications of certain ruling elder women (the presbyteral widows) reminded St. Paul of certain points to be impressed on Timothy connected with the rank and honour due to the more distinguished presbyters associated with him in the Ephesian congregations.

Attention should be directed here to the vast powers intrusted to the “presiding presbyter” of such a Church as Ephesus (to use the title of Bishop in the ecclesiastical sense would be as yet an anachronism. It probably was, however, of general use within thirty years from the date of the Epistle, certainly before the close of the century). In addition to the general office of supervisor, one in the position of Timothy evidently had the distribution of the several grades of honours and remuneration among the presbyteral order (1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 5:21). To him, as presiding elder, belonged the functions of supreme judge in all matters ecclesiastical and moral, relating to the varied officials of both sexes connected with the Church. The right of ordination which, when the Apostles and the first generation of believers had passed away, became the exclusive work of the bishop, is here (see 1 Timothy 5:22) specially intrusted by an Apostle to Timothy, the chief presbyter and apostolic representative in the Church of Ephesus, in the words: “Lay hands suddenly on no man.”

The elders (presbyters) to whom Timothy was to accord some special honour, were those who, in the congregations and Christian schools of so great a city as Ephesus, in addition to their many duties connected with organisation and administration, were distinguishing themselves in a marked manner by their preaching and teaching.
Among the devoted and earnest presbyters in these Asian churches, some there were, doubtless, who possessed the special gift of teaching, either in the class-room or the preacher’s chair. Those who, possessing, well and faithfully exercised these invaluable gifts were to be in some way preferred by the chief minister. The “double honour” (timè) is a broad inclusive term, and seems to comprehend rank and position as well as remuneration—victu et reverentiâ, as Melancthon paraphrases the words “double honour.” Timothy is here directed to confer on the more distinguished of the order of presbyters, official rank and precedence, as the reward of faithful and successful work.

Verse 18

(18) For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.—The quotation is from Deuteronomy 25:4.

The idea in the Apostle’s mind, when he quoted the words of Moses, was: If, in the well-known and loved law of Israel, there was a special reminder to God’s people that the very animals that laboured for them were not to be prevented from enjoying the fruits of their labours, surely men who with zeal and earnestness devoted themselves as God’s servants to their fellows, should be treated with all liberality, and even dignified with especial respect and honour.

And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.—It is possible, though hardly likely, that St. Paul, quoting here a well-known saying of the Lord (see St. Luke 10:7), combines a quotation from a Gospel with a quotation from the Book of Deuteronomy, introducing both with the words “For the Scripture saith”—Scripture (graphè) being always applied by St. Paul to the writings of the Old Testament. It is best and safest to understand these words as simply quoted by St. Paul, as one of the well-remembered precious declarations of the Lord Jesus.

Verse 19

(19) Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.—By the “elder” here we must understand a presbyter—the ordained minister of the Church. St. Paul has been directing his son in the faith, and successor in the government of the chief Asian Church, carefully to watch for, and to reward by dignity and honour, the services of the more zealous and distinguished presbyters. He now tells him that the other matters, besides zeal and successful service among the Church’s professed officers, will come before him when he stands at the helm of the Church. Charges—owing, possibly, to jealousy, party feeling, suspected doctrinal error—will not unfrequently be brought against a presbyter. Such an accusation is only to be received by Timothy when the evidence is perfectly clear. Every possible precaution against simply vexatious charges brought against one occupying the hard and difficult position of a presbyter, must be taken by the presiding minister. The reference is to Deuteronomy 17:6.

Verse 20

(20) Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.—The Apostle here, apparently, is still referring exclusively to that order of presbyters whose more meritorious members he had directed Timothy to honour with a special honour, and towards whose accused members he instructed him how to act. He now passes to the question how to deal with these responsible officers of the Church when they were proved to be notoriously sinning. While, on the one hand, the earnest and devoted men were to be honoured with “a double honour”—while every possible legal precaution was to be taken in the case of those being accused—on the other hand, when proved to be men continuing in sin and error, their punishment must be as marked as in the other case was the reward. The errors and sins of teachers of the faith are far more dangerous than in those who make up the rank and file of congregations, and require a more severe and more public punishment.

It is not improbable that St. Paul was especially alluding here to false teaching—to errors of doctrine on the part of some of the Ephesian presbyters. He seems, in his parting address at Miletus to the elders (presbyters) of this very Ephesian Church, to have foreseen such a grievous falling away in the future among their company—“Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Compare also the Epistle to this same Church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:4-5). As the sin, whatever has been its nature, has been committed by men intrusted with a responsible and public charge, so the rebuke and punishment must also be in public, that the warning may then spread over the whole of the various congregations composing the Church, and thus “others also may fear.”

Verse 21

(21) I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ.—More accurately, as well as more forcibly rendered, “I solemnly charge thee.” “Lord” must be omitted before Jesus Christ, the older authorities not containing the word. The sense of the passage remains the same. Very solemnly is Timothy adjured to carry out the varied duties of his great charge, the government of the Church of Ephesus, impartially—doing nothing hastily, ever watchful of himself. St. Paul has just pressed upon him how needful it was to exercise care in the case of an accused presbyter. He must listen to no charge except several competent witnesses were produced to support the accusation. He now reminds Timothy—the chief presbyter—of the ever present unseen witnesses of his conduct (see Hebrews 12:1). In that awful presence—in sight of the throne of God, with Messiah on the right hand, and the angels, the chosen attendants and ministers of God, gathering round about the throne—would Timothy guide and rule the congregations of Christians in that famous Eastern city.

The Church of Ephesus had been built up and consolidated by the personal presence and influence of St. Paul, resident there some three years; and at the time when St. Paul wrote to Timothy it was second in numbers and in influence to none of the early groups of congregations (except, perhaps, to the Christian communities of Syrian Antioch). Placed by an Apostle as the first head of such a community, intrusted with one of the greatest and most important charges in Christendom, Timothy indeed needed to be watchful. Well might St. Paul remind him of the tremendous witnesses who would be present in his hour of trial.

And the elect angels.—St. Paul had been speaking of the internal organisation of the church on earth, and had been dwelling, first, on rank and order among women, and secondly, among men, especially directing that a special position of honour should be given to the more distinguished and zealous of the presbyteral order. The term “elect” here given to certain of those blessed spirits—in whose sight, as they stood and ministered before the throne of God, Timothy would rule over the charge committed to him—would seem to imply that, as on earth, so in heaven are there degrees in rank and variety in occupation. These holy ones are probably termed “elect” as especially selected by the Eternal as His messengers to the human race, as was Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. (See Luke 1:19.) St. Paul loves to refer to the ranks and degrees of the host of heaven. (See Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16.) But it is possible that these “elect angels” were those blessed spirits who “kept their first estate,” and had not fallen. (See 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 1:6.)

That thou observe these things.—The “things” Timothy was to observe, as ever in the presence of so august a company of witnesses, were the varied points touched upon in the preceding verses, relating to the internal organisation of the church over which he was presiding, especially bearing in mind (for St. Paul again refers to this point) his words which bore upon judgment of presbyters—the men whose lives and conversation were to be an example to the flock.

Without preferring one before another.—More literally, without prejudice. He who presides over a great Christian community must be above all party feeling. That unhappy divisions existed in the churches, even in the lifetime of the Apostles, we have ample evidence, not only in the inspired writings, but also in the fragments we possess of the earliest Christian literature.

Doing nothing by partiality.-Although these reminding words, and those immediately preceding, were written with especial reference to the judicial inquiry Timothy would be constrained to hold in the event of any presbyter being formally accused either of a moral offence or of grave doctrinal error in his teaching, yet they must be understood in a far broader sense. The presiding elder in Ephesus must never forget that he bears rule, not only over one school of Christian thought, but over all men who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and Redeemer.

Verse 22

(22) Lay hands suddenly on no man.—This command refers primarily to the solemn laying on of hands at the ordination of presbyters and deacons. It no doubt also includes the “laying on of hands” customary, apparently, even in the Apostolic age, on the absolution of penitents and their re-admission to church fellowship.

Neither be partaker of other men’s sins.—By thus negligently admitting into the ministry unfit persons—by carelessly and without due caution readmitting persons to a church fellowship, which by their evil life they had forfeited—Timothy would incur a grave responsibility, would in fact “be a partaker” in the sins and errors committed by those men, some of whom he had carelessly placed in important positions in the church, others of whom he had restored to communion before they had given sufficient evidence of their repentance. To limit, however, the reference of the command of St. Paul here to the laying on of hands in the ordination of presbyters and deacons, would imply a greater corruption in the church at that early date than is credible. Surely the number of “unfit” persons seeking the high and holy, but difficult and dangerous, posts of officers in a proscribed and hated community, would hardly by themselves have warranted such grave warning words as “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins.”

Keep thyself pure.—The word “pure” here has a broad and inclusive signification. It, of course, denotes the urgent necessity of one holding Timothy’s high and responsible office being pure and chaste in word and deed and thought; but here it also presses on the chief presbyter of Ephesus the imperative necessity of keeping himself, by ceaseless watchfulness, pure from all reproach in the matter of selecting candidates for the ministry, or in the restoring of the lapsed sinners to church fellowship.

Verse 23

(23) Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.—Those who argue that this Epistle was the artificial composition of an age subsequent to St. Paul’s, and was written in great measure to support the hierarchical development, which, they say, showed itself only in the century after St. Paul’s death, have no little difficulty in accounting for the presence of such a command as this. It can, in fact, only be explained on the supposition that the letter was, in truth, written by St. Paul to Timothy in all freedom and in all love: by the older and more experienced, to the younger and comparatively untried man: by the master to the pupil: by an old and trusted friend, accustomed to speak his whole mind, to one his inferior in years, in rank, in knowledge. No ecclesiastical forger of the second or third century would have dreamed, or, had he dreamed, would have dared to weave into the complicated tapestry of such an Epistle such a charge as “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine—considering thine often infirmities.”

The reminder was, no doubt, suggested by St. Paul’s own words, with which he closed his solemn direction respecting Timothy’s dealings with the accused presbyters, and the care to be used in the laying on of hands: “Keep thyself pure.” That Timothy possessed—as did his master Paul—a feeble body, is clear from the words “thine often infirmities.” He was, above all things, considering his great position in that growing church, to remember “to keep himself pure, but not on that account to observe ascetical abstinence, and so to weaken uselessly the frail, perishable, perhaps ever dying body, in which he must work that great work committed to him in the master’s church. Abstinence from wine was a well-known characteristic feature of the Essene and other Jewish ascetic sects. We know there was frequent intercommunion between Alexandria and Ephesus (see Acts 18:24); and it has even been conjectured that Apollos, who taught publicly at Ephesus, was himself a famous Essene teacher. The practice of these grave and ascetic Jews, many of whom became Christians, no doubt affected not a little the habits and tone of thought of the Ephesian congregations. Hence the necessity of St. Paul’s warning against allowing the bodily power to be weakened through abstinence and extreme asceticism.

Verse 24

(24) Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.—The preceding verse was parenthetic, and suggested by his fears lest the effect of his direction to his son in the faith to keep himself pure might lead Timothy to the practice of a useless and unhealthy asceticism. St. Paul now returns and closes the subject on which he had been instructing his representative at Ephesus. He tells him, in his choice of men to fill the public positions in the Church of God—in his public inquiries into their conduct and teaching—in his inquiries respecting sinners, who, having forfeited their position as members of the community, were seeking re-admission into church fellowship, not to forget there were two classes of sins: the one class public and open, heralds, so to speak, of the judgment to follow. In the case of men sinning thus, the church’s chief pastor would have no difficulty in determining upon his course of action. But there was another class of sins—silent and, as far as public and general knowledge went, unknown—only published after judgment had been given. To rightly estimate such characters will require much care and penetration, and this will be part of Timothy’s work. The judgment (krisis) here mentioned is that of Timothy as shown in the careful selection of candidates for ordination—in determining what sinners are fit for restoration to church fellowship—in pronouncing sentence in the matter of accused presbyters.

Verse 25

(25) Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.—In his difficult post Timothy might fear lest, especially in his selection of men for the Lord’s service, true nobility of character might not unfrequently escape his notice and be overlooked, and that thus the best and truest might never be enrolled on the register of church officers. St. Paul bids him take courage in the thought that in many a case self-sacrifice, generosity, stern principle, will be sufficiently manifest to guide him in his choice of fit persons for the holy calling; and in those rarer cases where the higher and sweeter virtues are hidden, he may be sure that in God’s good season these too will become known to him, in ample time for him to call them also into his Master’s service.


IT has been suggested, with considerable ingenuity, that 1 Timothy 5:25 belongs to, and is an introduction of, a new division of the Epistle, where the Apostle gives Timothy instructions respecting certain teachings to be addressed to different ranks in the Christian society of Ephesus. The connection with 1 Timothy 5:24 then would be—as it is in the case of sins, so, too, it is in the case of good works. These latter are not always on the surface distinguishable. Some, of course, are manifest, but there is many a noble life the secrets of which will only come to light at the last day—“they cannot be hid” THEN. And this is too often the case with that unhappy class (the slaves), “those under the yoke,” of whom the Apostle was about to speak (1 Timothy 6:1-2). It is possible that St. Paul meant here to turn Timothy’s attention especially to those in slavery, that he might diligently search out the noblest and most devoted, and ordain (see 1 Timothy 5:22) them to perform sacred duties, so that each class—the slaves as well as the rich and well-born—should possess representatives among the ordained ministers. This is at least possible when we consider the vast number of slaves—not a few of them, too, possessing high culture—in the world known by St. Paul and Timothy.

In connection with, but not necessarily linked with, this thought is an interpretation of the general subject matter of the sixth chapter, which views the whole as instructions to the three broad divisions into which Christian society of the first century may be said to have been roughly divided:—

(1) SLAVES . . .

1 Timothy 5:25 to 1 Timothy 6:3. Instructions respecting slaves, who possessed nothing of their own.

1 Timothy 6:4-5. The allusion to the false teachers, whose teaching respecting slavery was very different from his.


1 Timothy 6:6-16. St. Paul introduces the warning against covetousness and the wish to be rich, the special danger of the middle class—the free, but who were the reverse of wealthy—to which order Timothy belonged. Then followed


1 Timothy 6:17-19. Special instructions to the rich and the highly horn.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-timothy-5.html. 1905.
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