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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 5

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

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Verses 1-2

Chapter V

From matters relating to the strictly personal state and behaviour of Timothy, the apostle now proceeds to give a series of directions in respect to the proper method of dealing with persons differently situated as to age and position in life. Reprimand not an elderly person, but exhort him as a brother. That the term πρεσβυτέρῳ here has respect simply to the relative age, not to the official standing, of individuals, seems plain from the connection; younger men being presently mentioned as another class, and afterwards females, first of a more advanced, and then of a younger period of life. This view was taken by Chrysostom, and is now generally followed, although the other was once the more common, and is that also expressed in the Authorized Version. A man full of years should not, the apostle says, be sharply rebuked, or reprimanded; for such undoubtedly is the force of the verb ( ἐπιπλήσσω ): it is originally to strike, to beat, and when used of words spoken to any one, indicates reproof of the severer kind chiding in a rough or acrimonious manner. There was a special propriety in the observance of such a direction by Timothy, being himself still comparatively young, and having consequently to take heed lest his bearing toward his seniors should in any way prejudice his calling (1 Timothy 4:12). But the exhortation is doubtless to be applied generally; it virtually prescribes a rule of procedure for all Christian pastors. They should, even when called to administer reproof to aged offenders, bear in mind that a measure of respect is due to them on account of their age, and in a tender, subdued tone perform the duty imposed on them. Nor should something of this spirit be wanting in respect also to others; for as the elderly were to be exhorted as fathers, so, the apostle adds, should the younger men as brothers, that is, with kindness and affection, though not unmingled, perhaps, at times with severity; for while the exhorting, as the nearer verb, must be chiefly thought of, we are not altogether to lose sight of the reprimanding, which undoubtedly indicates that there might be room at least for earnest and faithful admonition exhorting of such a nature as bespoke cause for censure or regret.

Ver. 2. Elderly women as mothers, the younger as sisters with all purity, the same advice tendered in respect to the female members of the Christian community as had just been given regarding the male, with a marked qualification as to the moral danger incident to work among this portion of the flock: in all purity so as even to avoid the appearance of anything unbecoming or improper. A most necessary caution for all times!

Verse 3

Ver. 3. Honour widows that are widows indeed. It is questioned whether the honouring here enjoined is to be understood in the general sense of showing deference and respect to one, or in the more specific sense of ministering support, relieving and raising one’s condition: a very needless question, as appears to me. The general, and what is also the usual import of the expression, is perfectly sufficient. The widows who are such in reality, those, namely, who are in a truly widowed and forlorn condition, and have a state of mind and behaviour suited to their circumstances, are the proper subjects of respectful and considerate treatment; but the particular direction this should take, the substantial acts in which it should manifest itself, will naturally be determined by the circumstances in which the individuals are placed: if destitute in a pecuniary respect, then of course chiefly in furnishing them with the means of material comfort; but if otherwise, with suitable manifestations of sympathy and regard. Ministrations of the former kind are afterwards specifically noticed (1 Timothy 5:8); but it by no means follows from this (as is supposed by De Wette, Wiesinger, Alford, Ellicott, etc.), that such alone were here in the eye of the apostle: for neither might these be always the chief, nor in any case, indeed, could they be the only marks of honourable treatment which a Christian community should give to persons in that state of bereavement. It seems best, therefore, to take the brief exhortation at the outset as indicating generally the kind of behaviour that should be exhibited toward them; and to see in the directions which follow detailed instructions as to the proper mode of applying it to particular cases.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. If, however, any widow has children or grandchildren ( ἔκγονα , offspring; but remoter than children, τέκνα , τέκνων , Hesych. grandchildren, which was once also the meaning of our nephews), let them first learn to show piety at home (or toward their own house), and requite their parents: προγόνοις , forbears, a Scottish term, exactly corresponds; and so formally does progenitors in English, only this is now commonly used of relatives in the direct line further off than those meant by the apostle. Is is best, therefore, to retain parents, but understanding by it grandparents as well. A widow in the circumstances here supposed occupies a position considerably different from the widow indeed of the preceding verse, having persons residing with her to whom, as her own children, or her children’s children, she is entitled to look for every becoming mark of honour and affection. It primarily belonged to these to do what in them lay to relieve the wants and cheer the loneliness of her widowhood; and for the most part, if that were properly done, no special oversight of the matter would need to be taken by the authorities of the church. Such appears to be by much the most natural interpretation of the passage; so that the children and grandchildren are regarded as the subjects of the learning: “let them learn,” not the any widow (as most of the ancient, and some also of the modern commentators take it, considering the τις χήρα as equivalent to χήραι . Were this latter construction adopted, the showing piety and rendering requitals ( ἀμοιβὰς ἀποδιδόναι ) would necessarily lose their proper force. Filial piety and filial requitals are perfectly natural; for they correspond to the honour due from children to parents, are but different modes of expressing this; but understood of parents with reference to the conduct they should exhibit toward their children, if they can be made at all to bear such a sense, they are certainly not the forms of expression one would have looked for. What chiefly, perhaps, led to the interpretation in question, is a feeling that if widows were not the subject of the verb, there would fail to what goes before the proper apodosis; since there it is what pertains to the widows that is made prominent, while here it is what pertains to the children. In reality, however, there is no ground for such a feeling; for the instruction given is not directly addressed to the parties mentioned, but to Timothy. It is he who is charged to see to it, that matters were rightly ordered in the households of believing widows, and especially that the young should be taught to manifest respect and gratitude toward the mother that bore them, and watched over their infant years. The expression, to show piety ( εὐσεβεῖν ) to such, points back to the fifth commandment, in which the honouring of parents is placed in immediate connection with the reverence and homage due to God, and the things which most nearly concern His glory: that in youthful bosoms is the germ of fealty to God, and so its becoming exercise is reckoned a department of piety. To do this first, therefore, toward their own house, as having a prior claim even in comparison of what is due to the church or house of God, and to do it in the way of substantial ministrations of relief, which in such a case are but returns for similar ministrations formerly received (Matthew 15:4-6), is acceptable before God; He regards it in a manner as done to Himself, and sees in it the earnest of future worth. The homes in which such reverential feelings are cherished, and such acts of lovingkindness are reciprocated, are the best nurseries of the church churches themselves, indeed, in embryo, because the homes of Christian tenderness, holy affection, self-denying love, and fruitfulness in well-doing.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. Turning, then, from such widows and their families to those whom he wished more particularly to press on the notice of Timothy and the officers of the church, the apostle says: But she who is a widow indeed (a widow in the full and proper sense), and desolate, has set her hope on God, and abides in supplications and prayers night and day: she has lost, in a manner, all she had on earth, and now she seeks all from above. The Anna who is mentioned at the threshold of gospel history may be taken as one of the better types of the class, since it is written of her that “she departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” It is not to be supposed, of course, that in every case of this description the entire life was to be devoted to prayer and other religious exercises; for this would commonly be impossible, and even where possible would not be the most profitable course. To preserve the healthfulness of its tone, and its capacity for efficient service, the mind requires variety of employment; and in all ordinary cases, the discharge of relative duties amid the affairs and occupations of life not only may, but should, be ever interchanging with acts of piety. Hence, it will be observed, the temporal expressions are in the genitive ( νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ), indicative of the when rather than the how long; not throughout night and day, but by night as well as by day a steady and regular habit of devotion. The supplications and prayers ( δεήσεσιν καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς ) are not to be sharply distinguished from each other.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. But she that lives deliciously (or wantonly; σπαταλῶσα occurs only again in James 5:5), is dead while she lives: the reverse of the true widow, who was represented as comparatively dead to the world, and alive to God, this person appears to have a relish only for the world and its pleasures, and to be dead to what is of God. The description substantially coincides with that given of the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” Only here the living has respect not so much to a profession of godliness as to the world’s idea of life an unreserved surrender to present objects and entertainments. Such life in the lower sphere involves death in the higher. And though the apostle does not expressly state it, yet it is plainly implied in what he says, that widows living after such a fashion were to be regarded as cut off from the sympathy and oversight extended to true Christian widows.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. And these things enjoin, in order that they may be without reproach namely, the parties referred to in the preceding statements widows more particularly, but along with them also the families which belonged to some of them. They are consequently supposed to be connected with the Christian community, and to be ready to listen to sound instruction. In the next verse, however, a class of characters is noticed that are expressly declared to be unworthy of the Christian name.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. But if any one provides not for his own (that is, his near relatives), and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. Special respect is probably had in this strong declaration to a class of relatives previously mentioned the children and grandchildren of widows; but there is no reason for confining it to such. The declaration itself is quite general, and comprehends other cases as well. It asserts in the most emphatic manner the obligations- springing out of family relationships, as grounded in the constitution of nature, and, so far from being annulled or relaxed by the gospel, only thereby rendered the more sacred and imperatively binding. The parent who refuses (if he is able) to support his children while from youth or infirmity they are dependent on his care and help, or the children who refuse to minister to the sustenance and comfort of aged parents, both alike act an unfeeling and unnatural part: they are not true to the moral instincts of their own nature, and fall beneath the standard which has been recognised and acted on by the better class of heathens. For one, therefore, bearing the Christian name to disregard such claims, is utterly inexcusable; it is not simply dishonouring to Christ, it is to bring reproach on our common humanity.

Verses 9-10

Vers. 9, 10. Very few parts of this epistle have given rise to greater diversity of opinion than the instruction contained in these verses; and from the scantiness of our information respecting the domestic economy of the churches in the earliest times, it may be difficult to present a view of the passage which shall appear free from all appearance of strangeness or uncertainty. It is the more important, however, that we adhere strictly to the natural meaning of the words, and refrain from attempting, as has too often been done, to impose on them a sense derived from what belonged, or is supposed to have belonged, to a much later period. Let a widow be enrolled so the verb καταλέγειν properly signifies: put on the list or register. The question is, what list? and for what specific purpose were names inserted in it? Was the list simply a catalogue of those who were formally recognised as widows of the church, and, as such, were held entitled to special oversight and support? Or was it as widows qualified and admitted to a kind of official position and service in the church?

These questions have been differently answered; and not a few, judging chiefly from the specifications afterwards given by the apostle as to age and character, have supposed that the list in question was composed of persons designated to a place of honour and responsibility either that of deaconesses, or of trusted female ministrants, who were charged with much the same kind of oversight in respect to children and the members of their own sex, that was exercised by the elders over other portions of the community. This view has been held in its stronger form by the opponents of the genuineness of the epistle (Schleiermacher, De Wette, Baur, etc.), who would find here a class of female ecclesiastics of whom some partial and obscure notices occur in the third and fourth centuries, (Tertullian, de Vel. Virg. c. 9: “Ad quam sedem [viduarum] praeter annos LX. non tantum univirae, i.e. nuptae aliquando, eliguntur, sed et matres et quidem educatores filiorum.” Laodic. Concil. can. xi.: “Mulieres quae apud Graecos presbyterae appellantur, apud nos autem viduae seniores, univirae, et matriculariae nominantur, in ecclesia tanquam ordinatos constitui non deb ere.” Epiphanius, adv. Haer. L. iii. c. 79, § 4.: Παρατηρητι ́ ον δε ́, ἀ ́ ρχι διακονισσῶν το ̀ ἐκκλησιαστικο ̀ ν ἐπεδεη ́ θη τα ́ γμα, χη ́ ρας τε ὠνο ́ μαζε, και ̀ του ́ των τα ̀ ς γραοτε ́ ρας πρεσβυ ́ τιδας, spoken, however, simply of deaconesses, some of whom were sometimes called widows, whether they really were such or not. Chrysostom, vol. iii. p. 273, Paris, ed. Gaume, speaks of there being anciently bands of widows, χηρῶν χοροι ́, as latterly of virgins; but he says nothing of consecration to office, or official wor k in the church.) but a class (the writers conceive) of too artificial a nature and too much associated with ascetic notions of excellence to have had a place in the apostolic church. There are others who reject the idea in this form, yet so far adopt it, that they regard the widows spoken of by the apostle as even in his time formed into a kind of distinct order, with the view of performing certain ministrations for the good of the church; so, for example, Mosheim, Wieseler, Conybeare and Howson, Huther, Alford, Ellicott. We may take as a specimen of this mode of representation the note of Conybeare and Howson, one of the most temperate of its kind: “We suppose that the list here mentioned was that of all the widows who were officially recognised as supported by the church; but was not confined to such persons, but included also richer widows, who were willing to devote themselves to the offices assigned to the proper widows. It has been argued that we cannot suppose that needy widows who did not satisfy the conditions of 1 Timothy 5:9 would be excluded from the benefit of the fund; nor need we suppose this. But since all could scarcely be supported, certain conditions were prescribed which must be satisfied before any one could be considered as officially entitled to a place on the hst. From the class of widows thus formed the subsequent order of widows ( τάγμα χηρῶν ) would naturally result.”

It is guardedly put, and yet in one leading point it seems to go beyond what there is any distinct warrant for in the passage itself; namely, in its speaking of “the offices assigned to the proper widows.” Of such offices the text makes no mention; and the existence of them can only be regarded as matter of more or less probable presumption and inference, from the conditions attached to the reception of individuals into the widow list. Yet a conclusion drawn from such premises must obviously be very uncertain, especially if the requisite characteristics be only such as respectable elderly females in a Christian community might be expected generally to possess. For, in that case, why might they not have been prescribed as a necessary safeguard against the abuse of the church’s benefactions? a security that those whom it sought to embrace and cherish as its peculiar charge from the Lord, were really worthy of the honour? And nothing more than this apparently is either indicated in the apostle’s language, or needed to explicate its meaning. It is certain, first of all, that here, and in all he says respecting widows, such as he calls widows indeed, it is simply what the church is called to do for them, not anything it might exact of them, that he brings formally into notice: they are contemplated throughout as the fitting objects or recipients of a special kind of beneficent treatment from the religious community. It is certain, also, that from the commencement of the church, and pre-eminently in that mother church which in such things crave the tone and impulse to the other churches, widows merely as such were brought prominently into view; and that not only was adequate provision made for the relief of their necessities, but a special class of officers also appointed to see that the provision was properly administered: so far from being required to do anything like deacon work, they were themselves the subjects in whose behalf such work was called into operation. Further, it is undoubted that all the earlier commentators understood the apostle’s description of widows merely as the almswomen of the church (Chrysostom, Jerome, Theodoret, Œc., and Theophylact): the conditions specified for enrolment were viewed by them merely as the traits of character which qualified those who possessed them for being the accredited pensioners of the church’s bounty. And in a matter of this sort, which touches upon the general sense and usage of the church, the concurrent testimony of those ancient expositors is entitled to the greatest weight, and is far more than sufficient to counterbalance some obscure allusions or stray usages appearing in particular localities. Finally, the age at which the enrolment of widows was to be made not under sixty, a period of life in such a district as Asia Minor relatively much higher than in our cooler and healthier climate confirms the supposition that, as a rule, no active labour was expected of them. They were already of the aged and infirm class; and if they were expected to serve the interests of the church, it must have been chiefly by the more contemplative and quiet exercises of piety “by supplications and prayers night and day.” These were, no doubt, important services, and are the only ones in the least hinted at by the apostle; but they were such as belonged to the private sphere of the Christian life, and required no ecclesiastical consecration or official standing to authorize and sanction them. (Such, also, was the view taken by Neander: “Since Paul only distinguished them (i.e. the widows in question) as persons supported by the church, without mentioning any active service as devolving on them; since he represents them as persons who, as suited their age and condition, were removed from all occupation with earthly concerns, and dedicated their few remaining days to devotion and prayer; and since, on the contrary, the office of deaconess certainly involved much active employment, we have no ground whatever for finding in this passage deaconesses, or females out of whose number deaconesses were chosen.” Planting of Christian Church, B. iii. c. 5.) In short, from the whole tenor of the apostle’s description, viewed in connection with what is known of the circumstances of the time, there seems no reason for supposing any other class of persons to have been meant under the designation of enrolled widows, than those commonly known by the name of widows; yet only such of that class as from their advanced age and approved character were deemed worthy of the church’s affectionate care and support. After the lapse of some centuries, notices occur of a particular dress, and a separate place in the church, being assigned to such widows; but Scripture and the earlier church records know nothing of this, nor of any specific work of a diaconal or presbyteral kind, having been by the church generally required of them. Younger widows, we have good grounds for believing, were not unfrequently accepted to the office of deaconess; but there is no proper evidence whatever to show that such widows as those here mentioned by the apostle were invested with any sort of office, or were called to do anything but such pious and free-will service as their own hearts might prompt, and their limited opportunities might enable them to perform. (In this I state merely the general result, and consider it unnecessary to examine the few passages in detail which are relied on by those who hold another view, but which are far too vague and general for their purpose.)

In regard now to the particular qualifications indicated by the apostle for the widows who were to be put on the list, it is to be borne in mind that, while the persons possessing them were alone to have the full recognition and enjoyment of what was due to the church’s almswomen, there is nothing in his instructions to warrant the supposition that widows who in some respects fell short of them might not be admitted to occasional relief, and receive all proper ministrations of kindness. Such, for example, as were comparatively young far from having reached the age of sixty might for a time require very great sympathy and liberal support; but it would have been a misfortune, rather than a benefit for them, if an apostolic injunction had been issued, giving them something like an abiding claim on the church’s beneficence, and entitling them henceforth to rank among its objects of charity. That would have only served to paralyze personal exertion, and relax the ties of family relationships. The regular widow list the list of such as were really desolate, infirm, and helpless was wisely associated with a comparatively advanced age. As to the construction, the γεγονυῖα should undoubtedly be connected with what precedes: who is, or has become, not less than sixty years old; comp. Luke 2:42. Our translators, after Jerome, Luther, Calvin, etc., joined it with what follows.

Wife of one man. The proper determination of the term widow, as here used by the apostle, may be said to carry along with it a corresponding explanation also of this expression to establish for it a freer, in opposition to the more stringent, sense sometimes put on it. For nearly all the arguments and authorities which are adduced in favour of its being understood of absolute monogamy, proceed on the supposition that the class of persons referred to were not simply widows of advanced age, but of ecclesiastical rank, invested with a measure of sacerdotal dignity, and hence called to a somewhat peculiar sanctity. We have already seen that this notion rests on no solid ground, that the persons in question were merely the desolate and helpless widows whom God’s providence had thrown on the bounty of the faithful the aged almswomen of the church. And of such persons, surely the whole that could justly be required, either by the dictates of reason or by the great principles of Scripture on the subject of marriage, was that they should be chargeable with no indecency in their married life, and never stood related to but one living husband. This much was necessary to their occupying the position of exemplary widows; but one cannot say more, whether the matter is viewed with respect to the law of God or to the known usages of society. The correct sense, therefore, I believe to be that given by Theodoret: ( Και ̀ ἐντεῦθεν δῆλον, ὡς οὐ τη ̀ ν διγαμι ́ αν ἐκβαλλει, ἀλλα ̀ το ̀ σωφρο ́ νως ἐν γα ́ μῳ βιοῦν νομοθετεῖ. Οὐ γα ̀ ρ ἀ ́ νω το ̀ ν δευ ́ τερπον γα ́ μον νομοθετη ́ σας σωματικῆς ἀπολαῦσαι θεραπει ́ ας ἐκωλυσε τη ̀ ν δευτε ́ ροις ὁμιλη ́ σασειν γα ́ μοις, ὁ ́ ς γε το ̀ ἀγαθο ̀ ν ποιεῖν προ ̀ ς πα ́ ντας διαγορευ ́ ει.) “It is hence manifest that he (the apostle) does not reject second marriages, but ordains that they live chastely in matrimony; for, having before established the lawfulness of a second marriage, he did not prohibit her that had entered into a second marriage from enjoying her bodily nurture he, namely, who clearly exhibits what is good for all.” And Chrysostom, though, from a misapprehension as to the position and duties of those designated widows, he supposed the expression before us intended to exclude second marriages of any kind, yet did so only on the ground of affording leisure for increased spiritual activity: ( Δια ̀ τι ́ γἀρ, εἰπε ́ μοι, δευτε ́ ρος οὐχ ὁμιλῆσαι γα ́ μοις προτρε ́ πει; Ἁ ́ ρα κατε ́ γων τοῦ πρα ́ γματος; Οὐδαμῶς· τοῦτο γα ̀ ρ αἱρετικῶν· ἀλλʼ ἀπησχολῆσθαι βουλο ́ μενος λοιπο ̀ ν αυʼτη ̀ ν ἐν τοῖς πνευματικοῖς, και ̀ προ ̀ ς τη ̀ ν ἀρετη ̀ ν μεταταξασθαι· ου ̓ γα ̀ ρ ἀκαθαρσι ́ ας ἀλλα ̀ ἀσχολι ́ ας ὁ γα ́ μος.) “Why, I ask, does he not permit second marriages to be contracted? Is it because he disapproved of the thing? By no means. For to do that was the part of heretics; but that the widow might be able to devote herself to spiritual things, and be occupied with virtue: for it is not impurity, but want of leisure, which marriage brings along with it.”

It is needless to go into any detailed proof on the subject; for what is said here in respect to widows is but another aspect of the same question which has already been discussed at some length in respect to ministers at 1 Timothy 3:2, and much of the proof which was advanced there is à fortiori applicable here. A considerable show of proof for the opposite view can no doubt be produced, and has been produced, in particular by Vitringa ( Synag. Vet. L. iii. P. i. c. 4), and others who have followed in the same line. But the passages chiefly relied on are greatly more numerous than cogent. One large class of them the one most directly bearing on the point originated in the heretical asceticism of the second century, and owes its ecclesiastical form and prevalence mainly to the vigorous Montanism of Tertullian. All passages of that class should be put entirely aside. Then the rest, being those which celebrate the superior merit of women who were univirae, and as such were alone deemed fit for performing certain rites in the Cerealia, passages chiefly relating to earlier Roman feeling and usage, have respect to an essentially different sphere from that which concerns the constitution and government of the church of Christ. They relate partly to the conscious worth, sometimes proud self-assertion, of Roman matrons, grounding itself on the strength and constancy of attachment to a loved and honoured spouse, and partly to the conviction of special honour and felicity belonging to such as had enjoyed an unbroken conjugal relationship. As more peculiarly favoured by the gods, ceremonies performed by these were naturally supposed to be more acceptably and auspiciously done than by others. But for the time and region in connection with which the apostle here wrote, for the class of persons in respect to whom he wrote, and the interests he had more immediately in view, for all this there is no proof that can justly be said to bear upon the point at issue; none, that is, tending to show that second marriages by women were per se, and apart from anything illegal and indecent in the mode of contracting them, deemed so questionable in their relation to female honour and virtue, as to debar the persons who contracted them from a title, in their old age, to the respect, and sympathy, and beneficence of the better portion of society. In the absence of all proof of this description, and on the great principle set forth by the apostle himself here and in other parts of his writings, we hold that the specification, wife of one man, should be taken as expressive simply of a chaste and faithful spouse one true to her marriage vow while the person to whom it was made lived, whether that vow might be taken once merely, or again.

The other qualifications are: well reported of in respect to good works, if she brought up children, if she entertained strangers, if she washed the feet of saints, if she relieved the distressed, if she followed after every good work. The things mentioned call for no particular explanation or defence; they are the prominent characteristics of an exemplary Christian matron, partly under the distinctive forms suited to those ancient times, but in spirit applicable to all times. The verbs are all in the indefinite past implying if at any time a widow has so acted if her past conduct has been of such a kind! The bringing up of children must refer to the members of her own family, and, of course, could only be intended as a qualification in the cases where such a family existed not excluding those who might in all other respects have maintained the most blameless deportment, but wanted the opportunity of proving themselves to be good nurses and trainers of children. Viewed generally, the things required of those who in old age and dependent circumstances were to receive the esteem and support of the church, were such as gave evidence of a faithful, kindly, maternal disposition amid the ordinary duties of domestic life.

Verse 11

Ver. 11. But younger widows decline namely, to put on the list of widows entitled to special guardianship and sustenance on the part of the church. The reason follows: for when they shall become wanton (The future, καταστρηνιάσωσιν, seems the better reading, being that of א , C, D, K, L.) against Christ they desire to marry. The compound verb καταστρηνιάω is found only here, but in Revelation 18:9 we have the simple verb στρηνιάω , which occurs also in the later Greek comedy, and in the sense of wantoning, or living deliciously; so that καταστρ . is to wanton against, to surrender oneself to a carnal and luxurious course of life, as antagonistic to the claims and calling of Christ. Though the apostle represents this as a general thing to be expected in the case of young widows, if they should be admitted to a place on the regular widow list, it is clear he can only be understood to mean that it is what would not be unlikely to happen; and even a few cases happening of a palpable drawing back into a vain, worldly, pleasure-seeking course of life, after being formally received among the desolate, world-renouncing, heart-stricken widows of the church, could not but bring great reproach and scandal upon the religion of the gospel. If any should actually fall into such a backsliding course, it would be at least a mitigation of the evil that the church had not formally numbered them among its orphaned household. As to the marrying, however, or desiring to marry again, which is given by the apostle as the evidence of a wanton disposition, it must plainly not be isolated, but viewed in connection with the circumstances. They might have re-married, as he presently states, without incurring any blame, yea, with his own approval and advice. But as contemplated by him, the re-marrying was the fruit of a growing insensibility to spiritual things, the result of a light, frivolous, sensual tone of mind, fretting under the yoke of Christ, and seeking to break loose from the restraints imposed by it upon the heart and conduct. So that nothing less than an utter shipwreck of the spiritual life was supposed to be involved in the new and backward direction taken by the parties in question.

Verse 12

Ver. 12. Hence the severe judgment pronounced on their case: having condemnation, because they made void their first faith not broke their vow or promise to the church to remain in perpetual widowhood, and which, if it had been referred to, could at most have been designated their former, not their first faith; but their simple faith in Christ and consecration to His service when they first assumed the Christian name, and were admitted by baptism into the church. Bengel: Prima fides, primi temporis fides, quam initio habebant, priusquam viduis adscribebantur. So also Calvin, who, with reference to the other view, justly remarks, it affords too tame a sense, and asks, why the apostle should in that case have said first faith? He therefore holds that the charge is of a much heavier kind namely, “that they had fallen away from the faith of their baptism, and from Christianity. For so is it wont to be the case, that they who once overstep the bounds of modesty prostitute themselves to all manner of shamelessness.” The greater part of modern commentators follow Tertullian, Chrysostom, and others of the ancients, whose ascetic tendencies naturally led them to see here the breach of a promise of widowhood, coupled with active service to the church. But of such a promise and of such service nothing whatever (as we have seen) is said by the apostle, and indeed it belongs to a much later period. If the placing of the persons in question on the church’s list of widows proceeded on a sort of tacit understanding or purpose that they would continue in widowhood, it is the whole that can fairly be supposed. And to represent a simple departure from such an understanding or purpose as of itself inferring a renunciation of their Christian faith, and an incurring of divine condemnation, had been a severity which it seems impossible to reconcile with the genius of the gospel, or with the liberty conceded and sanctioned by the apostle himself. It is not, therefore, we conclude, the simple question of adherence to a state of widowhood, or of departure from it, but such a course of defection from the decorum and purity becoming the gospel of Christ as argued a virtual abandonment of the faith.

Verse 13

Ver. 13. Other proofs are here given of their tendency in that direction, and such as would naturally grow by the comparative ease in which they might be enabled to live in consequence of the pecuniary support ministered to them by the church. Moreover, they learn also to be idle, going about from house to house. The connection seems plainly to require that the expression in the first clause, ἀργαὶ μανθάνουσιν , should be taken in the sense here ascribed to it; for it immediately follows, and not only to be idle, but tattlers also, etc., clearly implying that idleness had been predicated of them in what went before. The construction is certainly peculiar, but is merely, after all, as well stated by Winer ( Gr. § 45), “an abbreviated mode of expression, such as we sometimes find elsewhere with an adjective (Plato, Euthyd. 276, b, οἱ ἀμαθεῖς ἄρα σοφοὶ μανθάνουσιν , and frequently διδάσκειν τινὰ σοφόν ), which does not, like the participle, include the notion of time and mood. This exposition,” he adds, “which is adopted by Beza, Piscator, and others, and has recently been approved by Huther, is supported by the fact that ἀργαὶ is taken up again in the following clause as the principal word.” He therefore justly discards the interpretation which had been given by some previous expositors, coupling the verb μανθάνουσιν with the participle following, περιερχόμενοι , and rendering, they learn to go about idle. But this is not really the sense that would be gained by so construing the passage, as μανθα ́ νειν when followed by a participle having reference to the subject, signifies, not to learn, but to perceive, understand, or remark (see also Jelf, Gr. § 683). The apostle justly regarded it as a great evil, and the proof of a frivolous, unsanctified, worldly spirit, that young widows should fall into idle, gossiping habits, and unwise in the church to place them in circumstances which would tempt them into such ways. The later expressions in the verse merely point to the different forms which the evil in the case supposed naturally assumes: ( φλύαροι , loose talkers, babbling out whatever might come into their minds; περίεργοι , busybodies, intermeddling with affairs which did not properly concern them; λαλοῦσαι τὰ μὴ δέοντα , speaking things which they ought not, which were not befitting, or, as it may be explained, carrying about reports and sayings from one family to another, and so giving rise to serious misunderstandings, jealousies, and strife. The plain remedy for all this, the most effective check against it, would manifestly be to throw those younger widows as much as possible on their own resources, and encourage them to take any fitting opportunity that might present itself of obtaining a settlement in life, and having households of their own to occupy them. And this is precisely what the apostle advises in the next verse.

Verse 14

Ver. 14. I wish, therefore, that the younger [widows] this is certainly what must be supplied, widows alone being the subject of discourse, not generally women marry, bear children, manage the house, give no occasion for reproach to the adversary. The therefore indicates the connection with what precedes: Since the case is such, so great a tendency among the younger widows to turn from the chastened, spiritual course which becomes them, and betake to the improprieties just mentioned, I give as my deliberate mind (for such is the force of βούλομαι ) that they should marry, etc. In their position as widows, especially if widows alimented by the church, they were exposed to temptations which usually they were unable to resist; let them therefore get, if they can, into circumstances which will withdraw them from the temptations, and afford scope for the exercise of the ordinary domestic virtues. And when it is said, as a further reason for this, that occasion of reproach would be cut off from the adversary, by the adversary must plainly be understood, not any particular individual either in this world or the world of spirits (Chrys., also Huther, the devil), but collectively such as stood arrayed against the cause of the gospel, and were ready to catch hold of anything in the life of Christians which might be turned into a weapon of assault. The closely parallel passage of Titus 2:8, though differing in the mode of expression, confirms this view: “that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” Here also the hostile party are personified as one.

Verse 16

Ver. 16. If any woman that believes hath widows, let support be given to them, (There are two variations here from the received text. The first and most important i s the simple πιστη ́ (instead of πιστο ́ ς ἠ ̀ πιστη ́), the reading of א , A, C, F, G, P, also the Vulg. as represented by the Cod. Amiat. (si qua fidelis), Cop., Arm., and some of the Fathers. The other reading is found only in D, K, L of the older MSS., and was doubtless introduced as a correction, because it seemed strange that a charge of the kind given here should be connected with believing females only, and not also with men. But the whole section treats of female obligations; and the oversight of widows in a household properly belonged to the female head of each. The other change is ἐπαρκει ́ σωω, instead of ἐπαρκει ́ τω, the reading of א , A, F, G.) and let not the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are widows indeed. A return is here made to the principle of private beneficence with respect to young or widowed relatives, and that for the purpose of extending it somewhat beyond the line indicated in vers. 4 and 8. In these earlier verses the children and widows spoken of were relatives of the nearer kind; they belonged to the believer’s household, and had consequently the strongest claim on the means and resources of the house. But now a wider circle is embraced. There might be widows, the apostle suggests, who were not constituent members of a believer’s family, such as a sister, or stepdaughter, or niece; and in cases of that description, the home resources (if adequate) should, according to the apostle, be charged with the maintenance of the bereaved, so as to allow the benefactions of the church to be applied to the support of those who were widows in the stronger sense, destitute in themselves, and without the sympathy of any near Christian relative to fall back upon. The direction is founded on the great principle everywhere recognised in the gospel, that the grace of salvation comes, not to supplant, but to sanctify and elevate, the relations of nature, and the affections these are fitted to call forth; so that its influence should be manifested in honouring to the full the claims of kindred, and rendering obedience to them more prompt, and generous, and noble. That only a believing woman is mentioned as possibly having widows to whom such private kindness and support should be extended, is merely to be regarded as defining more closely the class of cases referred to cases in which a widow might be conveniently taken charge of by a Christian female, and made part of the household. A very limited class, usually; and the charge is put somewhat generally: Let support be given them, without saying how. She must interest herself in obtaining it.

Verse 17

Ver. 17. Let the elders who govern (or preside) well, be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in word and teaching. That elders alone are mentioned in connection with the government or presidency of the churches, is again a clear proof that they were the only spiritual overseers known to the apostle. But whether the passage is available to prove that there was in the apostle’s days a formal distinction among those who bore the common name of presbyter as that some were set apart to the work of both teaching and ruling, and others to that simply of ruling is certainly not expressly said, and has often been disputed, as well by Presbyterian and Independent writers as by Roman Catholics and Episcopalians. Vitringa has discussed the matter at considerable length in his work on the Synagogue (L. ii. c. 3); and though on other grounds favourable to the existence of a body of ruling elders in congregations, and deeming them capable of doing much good service, he yet holds this passage to be incapable of rendering support to such a view, and especially on three grounds: 1. That the term presbyters is everywhere used by Paul and by the other sacred writers in reference to the stated, ordinary, and perpetual pastors of the church. 2. That the qualifying epithet also, προεστῶτες , is always applied to the same class of officers, and to these only. 3. That the τιμή required to be given them has respect, if not exclusively, yet mainly, to the support due to them on account of their official ministrations, a support proper only to those who were known to be engaged in the discharge of clerical functions. These are substantially the grounds on which the same view is maintained still, with the additional consideration of a historical kind frequently introduced, that ecclesiastical antiquity is silent respecting a class of presbyters whose duty was to rule merely, as contradistinguished from both ruling and teaching. Here we have to look at it simply in an exegetical point of view; and in this respect, the closing portion of the note of Ellicott gives, so far, what must be regarded as the fair and natural import of the apostle’s language: “The concluding words, ἐν λόγῳ καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ , certainly seem to imply two kinds of ruling presbyters those who preached and taught, and those who did not; and though it has been plausibly urged that the differentia lies in κοπιῶντες , and that the apostle does not so much distinguish between the functions as the execution of them (see especially Thorndike, Prim. Gov. ix. 7), it yet seems more natural to suppose the existence, in the large community at Ephesus, of a clerical college of governing elders, some of whom might have the χα ́ ρισμα of teaching more eminently than others.” But it must in fairness be added, that this teaching qualification appears here rather as a separable adjunct than an essential attribute of the presbyteral function, a gift which, in so far as possessed and faithfully exercised, would materially contribute to the efficiency of the office, and entitle him who so held it to special honour, yet not so as to disqualify those who wanted it from discharging, and even discharging with credit, its primary duties. Seeing it was a spiritual community which was here under consideration, a certain didactic power must be understood to have belonged to every one who could rightly take part in the government of its members; for it belonged to his office that he should at least be able to discern between carnal and spiritual in the characters of men, be capable of testing their knowledge in divine things, and by private fellowship and friendly admonition, if not otherwise, subserve the interests of truth and righteousness among them. So much must be supposed inseparable from the office of presbyter, as held by every qualified person; but the gift of teaching in the more distinctive sense, or, in modern phrase, of preaching the gospel with intelligence to the edification of others, is not represented as indispensable. A man might as a presbyter govern, and even govern well, without it. And, indeed, as Lightfoot remarks ( Com. on Philip. p. 192), having respect to the actual state of things in most of the early churches, “ government was probably the first conception of the office,” hence also in this passage governing is the distinctive epithet coupled with presbyter; yet he justly adds, “that the work of teaching must have fallen to the presbyters from the very first, and have assumed greater prominence as time went on.” This was a species of development which, in the natural course of thirds, could not but take place, as the visits became rare of the first heralds of the gospel, as the more special charismata of the Spirit also began to be withdrawn, and the churches themselves grew in their membership, and naturally called for greater fulness and variety in public min5trations of word and ordinance. The teaching function would naturally, in such circumstances, come more and more into requisition; and the presbyters who more peculiarly possessed it would also, as a matter of course, rise into greater prominence, and in process of time come to be regarded as alone properly entitled to the name of presbyter. Yet the process was very slow and gradual, as in the Ignatian epistles, with all the extravagance that otherwise characterizes them, the president of the presbyterate (bishop, as he is there termed) appears to have taken upon himself nearly all the more distinctive parts of public worship; and so late even as Cyprian’s time, presbyters and presbyter-teachers were still spoken of as sometimes distinct indicating, apparently, that persons might possess the one function without also possessing the other (Ep. 23, Oxford Exodus 29:0).

On the whole, therefore, we seem warranted to draw from the passage the following conclusions: That while it furnishes no ground for maintaining that any formal distinctions were made between one member and another of the presbyteral body as to ruling and teaching, the function of government was originally the more prominent element in their collective calling; that the discharge of this function, from its very nature, involved a certain capacity for conveying spiritual instruction, though it might often be only in a private and conversational manner; that, however, the gift of ministering publicly in the exhibition of gospel truth became gradually more important for the interests of religion, and necessarily distinguished, according to the degree in which it was possessed and exercised, one presbyter from another; so that the respect and honour due to all for their office sake, more especially gathered around those who, besides being faithful in governing, also proved successful in instructing and edifying the members of the flock.

As to the mode of expression to be given to this higher estimate of that class of elders, indicated here by double honour, διπλῆς τιμῆς , there can be no doubt, from that follows in the next verse, that it includes pecuniary remuneration; but “that τιμή here designates only such remuneration, or precisely a definite salary, is what cannot be made out, either from the expression or from the connection. Τιμή is consideration, honour, here certainly used with a particular respect to remuneration as he special mode of expressing it” (Huther). Consequently the epithet double is not to be taken in the strict sense, as if the presbyters in question were to have awarded to them exactly twice as much as the others, or, as some would take it, twice as much as the widows mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:16; for this would imply that the term honour must be limited to the definite sense of pay or salary, which it does not properly bear. Hence, also, the supposed allusion (by Hammond, for example) to the double portion of the firstborn, indicating that “the bishop who dischargeth his duty or prefecture well, should be looked upon in all respects as one that hath the primogeniture of maintenance as well as dignity,” falls of itself to the ground. Double is but a specific mode, common in all languages, of expressing much or greater in comparison with something else (hence Theodoret explains by πλείονος ); and this emphatic attribution of honour, expressing itself in substantial gifts and marks of respect, was to be given to those who devoted themselves most to the ministry of the word, in proof, as Milton puts it, that “laborious teaching is the most honourable prelaty that one minister can have above another in the gospel.”

Verse 18

Ver. 18. For the Scripture saith, the for implying that the passage to be quoted supports the sentiment just expressed, Thou shalt not muzzle an ox while treading out, namely, the corn; or, as it might be expressed, Thou shalt not muzzle an ox when threshing. But the form of expression points to the peculiar mode of threshing in the East, by driving oxen over heaps of corn lying on the barn-floor, and either by their feet, or by means of a hurdle drawn after them, bruising the mass so as to separate the grain from the straw and chaff. It was a clumsy and imperfect style of operation, but the prevalent one in Bible lands and times. The passage respecting it is taken from Deuteronomy 25:4, and is one of a series of directions enjoining kind and considerate behaviour. It is the only one that has immediate respect to the lower animals; all the rest bear on the conduct that should be maintained toward one’s fellow-creatures, and especially toward those who might be in the unhappy position of bondmen; so that we can scarcely suppose this somewhat exceptional instruction could have been designed for the exclusive benefit of oxen. We may rather suppose it was intended, by carrying the injunction to cultivate a tender and beneficent disposition so low, to make it all the more sure that such a disposition should be exercised toward brethren of one’s own flesh, most especially toward those who were laying themselves out in self-denying labours for the public good. It is therefore a perfectly legitimate application which is made of the passage here, and in 1 Corinthians 9:9, to the labourers in the Christian ministry. Such an application is in entire accordance with its spirit and aim, and can hardly be termed, in the ordinary sense of the word, typical. It is merely to carry the kind and considerate treatment which it sought to foster and call forth into a related but higher sphere to claim for the divinely-commissioned labourers in God’s spiritual harvest something akin to what a provision in the law had required of men toward the inferior animals that helped them in the harvest-field of nature. One claim, in a manner, and yet another; for the higher species of labourers here, and the unspeakably nobler service rendered by them, obviously gave an immensely greater strength to the obligation. If that was fitting, then how much more this!

The apostle, however, enforces his exhortation by another saying one relating to the service of rational creatures: And the labourer is worthy of his hire. Is this also to be reckoned a scriptural quotation? or is it referred to simply as a maxim of ordinary life? The former opinion has the sanction of several commentators, and latterly it has been advocated by Baur and those of his school as one of their arguments for transferring the authorship of the epistle to a period subsequent to the apostolic age, a period when New Testament Scripture had come to be formally quoted, as previously was done with the writings of the Old Testament. It is a kind of argument in which the wish is father to the thought. There is no reason for supposing that the apostle meant his reference to Scripture to extend further than the peculiar passage selected from Deuteronomy. What follows is a common proverb, which did not require to be backed by inspired authority, and which in a similar way is employed by our Lord in an address to His disciples (Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7). It is perfectly possible, and indeed altogether probable, that St. Paul was cognisant of the use which had been made of it by our Lord: for both in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:0), and in his address to the elders of Ephesus, he expressly alludes to specific utterances of Christ in the latter case, indeed, to one that has found no record in any of the Gospels (Acts 20:35); and it is not to be imagined that the apostle should have remained ignorant to the close of his life of so important a part of our Lord’s instructions as the great missionary address in which this passage occurs. But that affords no ground for supposing that he, or any other person in his name, meant the maxim under consideration to be regarded as a formal quotation from it: the object in view was best served by adducing a proverbial saying, which the common sense of mankind their sense of what is just and right has made current in respect to those who have laboured for their interest, that the labourer is worthy of his hire. If so in the commonest relations and employments of life, how should it be otherwise in that special field of labour which is occupied by the faithful minister, and which involves much that is peculiarly trying to flesh and blood? But this prudential maxim, it should be added, is introduced, like the legal prescription before it, merely for the sake of the general principle embodied in it; and to argue from it, as some do, that only pecuniary remuneration or salary was all that the apostle had in his eye in the honour due to teaching presbyters, is to press the matter too far, and to make a use of the one saying that cannot properly be made of the other.

Verse 20

Ver. 20. Those that sin rebuke before all, in order that the rest also may have fear. The participle being employed to designate the offending parties, τοὺς ἁμαρτάνοντας , implies more than an occasional act of transgression; it denotes persons who are given to sinning, or are known as sinners. Such Timothy is instructed to rebuke openly, before all (for there can be no doubt that the ἐνώπιον πάντων is intended to qualify the rebuking). He was to adopt so severe a method in order to vindicate the cause of righteousness in the community, and to strike fear into others, that they might be deterred from pursuing like devious courses. Hence the case of such is to be distinguished from that of those who may have been overtaken in a fault, and who should, as elsewhere advised, be tenderly dealt with (Galatians 6:1); and in the original instructions given by our Lord respecting grounds of offence among the members of His community, it was clearly implied that a quiet settlement of matters which involved a certain amount of moral blame may and often should be effected, sometimes without the intervention of any church action, and sometimes again by means of it (Matthew 18:15). From the very nature of things, it must always be matter for thoughtful consideration how rebuke should be administered so as best to secure the ends of discipline. Not merely the particular kinds of sin to be dealt with, but the state of society also at the time, must be carefully taken into account, though still there are great landmarks to be stedfastly maintained; and a faithful church must leave no room to doubt that “she cannot bear them that are evil.” Some would understand the class of persons described as sinning, and in consequence deserving of rebuke, only of the elders mentioned in the preceding verse. But this is arbitrary, as in the words themselves there is no proper ground for the limitation; and the one verse does not appear to be any way dependent on the other.

Verse 21

Ver. 21. I solemnly charge thee before God and Christ Jesus, (This is undoubtedly the correct reading, being that of א , A, D, F, Ital., Vulg., Cop., Ǣth., etc., while the received text, Κυρι ́ ου Ἰη. Χ, has quite inferior support.) and the elect angels, that thou keep these things without prejudging, doing nothing by partiality. The rendering of διαμαρτύρομαι by adjure, as is done by Alford, seems rather too strong; judging from the general use of it by the apostle, a solemn charge or asseveration is what appears to be meant by it (1 Thessalonians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:14, 2 Timothy 4:1). For the purpose of enforcing upon the attention of Timothy, and impressing deeply upon his conscience, the directions which had been given respecting the right ordering of things in the house of God, the apostle now brings his disciple face to face, as it were, with the Redeeming God and Saviour, together with the holy angels in the sanctuary above, and charges him before these glorious witnesses to carry out his instructions, and do all in the sincere, earnest, conscientious manner which became a true servant of Christ. That the angels meant are holy angels, admits of no doubt; but why they should here here and nowhere else be designated elect, is not so easily determined. By some (for example Mosheim, Conybeare) it has been understood to denote angels of a more select class the guardian angels of Timothy and the church of Ephesus, or such angels as were wont to be employed in fulfilling special embassies to men an altogether fanciful notion. By much the greater number of interpreters take the epithet in the sense of good or holy, so as to make it comprehensive of all who are not fallen or apostate angels; and so, apparently, we must hold in substance, though still without losing the more distinctive import of the term elect, which implies, indeed, their holiness, but presents them rather as the select objects of God’s love (Huther), and perhaps also as His more peculiar instruments of working. As regards the nearer circle of His intelligent and willing agents, they are His chosen ones; and as such they are here brought into consideration, along with God the Father and Jesus Christ, with the view of stimulating the mind of Timothy to the conscientious discharge of his duty, and carrying him above all the sinister motives and inferior considerations which might tend to create an improper bias in his mind, and dispose him to act from respect of persons. A realizing sense of the glorious beings who were looking down upon him from the world of spirits, would be the most effectual safeguard against such a weak compliance.

Verse 22

Ver. 22. Lay hands on no one hastily: with what design? Was it for ordination to ecclesiastical offices? or absolution from scandalous offences? The latter view has found not a few supporters both in former and present times; it is advocated at great length by Hammond, who adduces quotations from the Fathers to show how common the practice was, on receiving offenders back into church communion, to grant them absolution by the imposition of the bishop’s hands; so, too, De Wette, Wiesinger, Ellicott. But the evidence is of too late a kind: it altogether fails for the apostolic age, or even the generations immediately subsequent to it. Nor, when the practice had come in, were the better patristic commentators influenced by it in their interpretation of the passage: Chrysostom, Theodoret, Theophylact, all understand the apostle to refer to imposition of hands as connected with ordinations. Thus, Theodoret briefly notes, as if there were no proper room for difference of opinion: “For one ought first to inquire into the life of him on whom hands are to be laid (or who is ordained), and so to invoke on him the grace of the Spirit.” Besides, as a man’s own writings are our safest guide to a correct understanding of his expressions, we have two other passages in these Pastoral epistles which make mention of the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:7), and they both refer to the matter of ordination. In both, indeed, Timothy himself was the subject, having been by imposition of hands set apart to special service in the gospel, and entitled to look for corresponding endowments of the Spirit to qualify him for it. With these examples before us, it would obviously be quite arbitrary here to suppose the apostle starting off to matters of an entirely different kind, without the slightest intimation that he was now using the expression in another sense than he elsewhere employed it. It is true he had just been speaking of offences, and of the importance of dealing with them in an impartial and faithful manner. But it was in perfect keeping with this, that an exhortation should be given Timothy to beware of making rash appointments to the ministerial office to take pains beforehand to ascertain the godly life of the persons who should receive the appointment, lest he should be found stamping with his formal approval, and raising to the government of the church, men who were themselves, perhaps, of doubtful character, or amenable to discipline. Hence it is added: neither participate in other men’s sins. He would virtually have done so, if he was remiss in his appointments to the higher offices in the church, and did not carefully distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy. And further: keep THYSELF pure. The emphasis is on thyself, which is hence placed first in the original. Not only beware, by hasty ordinations or otherwise, of coming into improper alliance with the sins of others, but see that thine own conduct is free from any marked blemishes, and that no one may have occasion to take up against thee the taunt, “Physician, heal thyself.” The epithet pure (ἁγνός ), therefore, should be taken in its general sense of blameless, or holy (2 Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 4:8; 1 John 3:3), not in the specific sense of chaste, to which there is nothing in the context to limit it. At the same time, there can be no doubt that impurity of this description, or even any approach to it, would of all things be the most fatal to Timothy’s character and usefulness.

Verse 23

Ver. 23. No longer drink water that is, water exclusively but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thy frequent ailments. The direction here given is in itself plain enough. For some reason not specified, but probably from a desire to testify against prevailing excess by the strictest example of moderation, Timothy had become what is now called a total abstainer: he drunk only water; and the apostle counsels him to relax to some extent in this practice; and instead of restricting himself to water as a beverage, to use a little wine, on the special ground that this might be (medicinally) beneficial to his stomach, and a corrective to his frequent ailments. This has appeared to many too low a ground, considered by itself, for a direction carrying with it apostolic authority, and occurring in the midst of others bearing on pastoral duty. It has consequently been regarded by some, and still is by Ellicott, as having a moral rather than a dietary aim as a kind of qualification or counterpoise to the charge immediately preceding: Keep thyself pure, but do not therefore deem it necessary to refrain from using a little wine, as thy health may occasionally require, or think of going into ascetic rigour regarding it. Undoubtedly the passage quite naturally admits of being applied against abstinence from wine on ascetic principles, since it shows that the materials of food and drink are to be primarily considered with reference to the sustenance and health of the body, and that there is no merit in abstinence from their moderate use per se: in so far as they may be temporarily or habitually disallowed by any one, it should be only on grounds of fitness and expediency, whether derived from the physical or the moral aspect of things. But that is all. To say that the direction was occasioned by the actual appearance of the ascetic tendency in the church, and with the design of checking its progress, is a quite gratuitous assertion, and has the natural cast and impress of the direction against it; although, when that tendency did discover itself, and even led some to object to the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper, this passage was most justly appealed to as a proof to the contrary. But when we find the apostle himself assigning a reason for the particular advice he tendered to Timothy, why should any other be sought for? Was it unbefitting one ambassador of Christ to charge another, amid the toils and troubles of his work, to pay some regard to his bodily health, and to take such food and nourishment as was deemed best for the purpose? No one surely will be disposed to allege that especially since our Lord Himself did not think it beneath Him, in one of His last discourses with His disciples, to give them instructions of a quite cognate nature: He charged them, with a view to their bodily protection and support, to take with them scrip as well as purse, and a sword and garments (Luke 22:36); in other words, to neglect no proper precautions for their outward safety and well-being. This instruction to Timothy bears the same general character. He had a great, and in many respects irksome, work to do, with the disadvantage of a delicate and often ailing frame; and if care were not taken to place it under proper dietary treatment, he would inevitably become more or less incapacitated for duty: there might especially ensue that sort of nervous debility and depression, which more almost than anything besides, unhinges the firm resolve of the soul, and disposes it to shrink from the less pleasing parts of pastoral duty. The principle involved, then, in this prudential advice to Timothy, is in its most natural and obvious sense capable of the fullest vindication; it is, indeed, of practical moment for all times; the laborious pastor or evangelist, if he is wise, will never neglect it: for his work’s sake, as well as for his personal comfort and advantage, he will endeavour to keep his bodily frame in a sound and healthful condition. And as regards the specific means recommended for this end, the taking of a little wine, the apostle is to be contemplated merely in the light of a friend, exhorting to the use of what was then understood to belong to the proper regimen for such infirmities as Timothy was labouring under. Granting even that wine might not, in the present advanced state of medical science, be found the best specific for his peculiar ailments, that would argue nothing against the propriety of the prescription as coming from the pen of an apostle. He necessarily wrote from the point of view common to him and his contemporaries, having regard to what was then believed to be best; and possibly, if we knew more fully the circumstances of the case, it might even still be deemed such: no one, at least, can certainly affirm it to have been otherwise. On every account, therefore, we ought to take the advice tendered by the apostle in its simplest and most obvious import. So considered, it has its value (as already stated in the Introduction) in an apologetic respect, incidentally witnessing to the apostolic authorship of the epistle; its value, also, as an indication of the regard that should be had, even by the most distinguished of God’s servants, to the proper regimen and health of the body; and finally, its value as a testimony to the lawfulness of such kinds of food as are adapted to the weal of the body, subject only to considerations of propriety, as contradistinguished from the restrictive prohibitions of a false asceticism.

But if, in dealing with a matter of this kind, we may in one respect take into consideration the change of times, so should we also in another. “How few are there now-a-days,” Calvin justly asks, “for whom it might be necessary to interdict water! how many who have to be urged to the restricted use of wine! Moreover, we see here how needful it is for us, even when we desire to act rightly, to seek from the Lord a spirit of prudence, that we may keep the moderation which He would have us to observe! A general rule is laid down, that we should maintain such temperance in meat and drink as may be conducive to our personal health, not for the purpose of prolonging life, but that so long as we continue in life we may be serviceable to God and our neighbours.” He then refers to the Carthusians, who carry their asceticism so far, that they would rather die than taste a bit of flesh; and adds: “But if the temperate and abstemious are enjoined not to injure their health by too great reserve, no slight punishment awaits the intemperate, who by surfeiting and drunkenness impair their energy. Such persons are not to be admonished, but rather, as brute animals, to be driven from their pabulum.”

Verse 24

Ver. 24. The sins of some men are manifest πρόδηλοί , the πρό having respect to place rather than to time, manifest before or in the sight of men going before to judgment; with some, again, they follow after. The connection of this passage with the preceding cannot be regarded as very close. That it has respect to persons seeking ordination seems to me improbable. It may most fitly be viewed as a supplementary remark that on reflection presented itself to the apostle in respect to the sins of men, which had been the subject of discourse a little previously. Thoughts more directly personal to Timothy, yet growing out of that subject, had meanwhile been introduced by the apostle; and now he reverts to the subject itself, for the purpose of drawing a distinction between one class of sins and another. Some are so notorious, whether from their own nature or from the manner of their committal, that no doubt or uncertainty can prevail respecting them: they are unmistakeable violations of the law of God, and, as it were, herald the doers of them to judgment, crying (like the blood of Abel) for vengeance. By judgment, therefore, I would understand chiefly God’s, though not excluding man’s. It is not said how Timothy should deal with persons guilty of such offences; but the conclusion was obvious. What so manifestly defied the authority and provoked the condemnation of Heaven, must meet with an uncompromising opposition on the part of Christian pastors, and call forth merited rebuke. But besides these, there are sins of a less heinous and more covert kind, which seem rather to follow after than to go before the person who commits them, yet so follow as inevitably some time to let the mournful secret out. But as this may not be immediately, all needful precautions should be taken that the real state of things should be ascertained.

Verse 25

Ver. 25. In like manner also, the works that are good are manifest, and those that are otherwise cannot be hid. The τὰ before καλὰ is evidently designed to give prominence to the quality of the actions as good; and this is best brought out in the English idiom by rendering, not the good works, but the works that are good. It is a general proposition, and is not to be limited to the some men immediately preceding, whose bad deeds done in secret ultimately come to light. Deeds fully deserving the name of good have a kind of self-evidencing character; they speak in a manner for themselves; and those which are of a different description, even though for a time, or under certain aspects, they may appear otherwise, will by and by be discovered in their true character. They cannot be hid that is, when the searching light of God’s judgment is let in upon them; but the saying is strictly applicable only to that, and so confirms the view taken of the judgment in the preceding verse. But Christian men, of course, and especially Christian rulers, should, as far as they are called to act in such matters, be at pains to have the truth brought to light.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Timothy 5". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/1-timothy-5.html.
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