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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 5

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

1 Timothy 5:1. Rebuke not an elder. The question naturally rises whether the word ‘elder’ is to be taken in its official sense or as referring to age only. The fourfold classification of which this is part is all but decisive in favour of the latter. On the other hand, we must remember that age and office were then more closely connected (as in 1 Peter 5:1-2) than at a later period, and that though the language was general, St. Paul may well have had in his thoughts those who, being elders in both senses of the word, were those with whom Timothy was most brought into con-tact. So in Acts 5:6, the ‘young men’ who are named appear to have had functions corresponding to those of the later ‘deacons,’ and the two words stand as parallel to each other (‘the younger ‘and ‘he that serveth ‘) in Luke 22:26. The train of thought seems to rise out of a slight fear lest the counsel, ‘Let no man despise thy youth,’ should lead Timothy to rush into the opposite extreme, and to forget the respect due to the more advanced years of those whom he was called to guide.

Rebuke, The Greek word implies, more than the English, a certain vehemence and acrimony. As a man would point out, if necessary, the faults of his own father, with counsel that implied sympathy and respect, so was Timothy to deal with those older than himself whose faults he could not altogether ignore.

Brethren. Better perhaps ‘ brothers’ as giving the natural rather than the conventional sense of the word.

Verse 2

1 Timothy 5:2. The exhortation is, of course, parallel to that in 1 Timothy 5:1, but something more was needed to guard against suspicion and scandal. The free intercourse of a brother with brothers was not equally possible in this case, and therefore the limiting clause is added, ‘in all purity.’

Verse 3

1 Timothy 5:3. The verses that follow depend for their right interpretation on a true estimate of the position of the ‘widows’ in a Christian community in the Apostolic Church, and this seems accordingly the right place for bringing together the data for such an estimate. (1) At the beginning of the Church’s life we find them recognisd as a distinct class, maintained wholly or in part out of the common fund of the disciples (Acts 6:1). So in Acts 9:39, they appear as recipients of the bounty of Dorcas. It was natural, however, in the simple communism of the period, that some conditions guarding against abuses should be attached to these privileges, that where there was still any capacity for work, that work should be required of them. And thus they became more and more an order of women leading a devout life. We enter here on the rules which St. Paul thought expedient.

Honour widows. Possibly, as the context indicates, with the secondary meaning of ‘support,’ as in Acts 28:10, and, to some extent, even in the Fifth Commandment. The addition, ‘that are widows indeed,’ implies a half-humorous reference to the class of those who claimed the privileges but did not answer to the ideal.

Verse 4

1 Timothy 5:4. The first group thus excluded from those that answer to the name of ‘widow,’ are such as have ‘children or nephews’ (i.e. grandchildren) who are able to support them.

Let them learn. On simply grammatical grounds, the words may refer either to the widows or the children, and each view has found supporters. There can, however, be little or no doubt that the latter is the true reference. ‘Let them show their piety’ not ‘at home,’ but ‘to their own house or family.’ As with the Romans and the Jews, so in some measure even with the Greeks, duty to parents came under the head of piety rather than of legal obligation.

Parents. Strictly speaking, ‘progenitors’ or ‘ancestors,’ the word being chosen in order to include the grandchildren.

Verse 5

1 Timothy 5:5. Desolate, i.e. left alone, in contrast with the widow who has children or grandchildren.

Trusteth. Better, ‘ has set her hope on God.’

In supplications and prayers night and day. The parallelism with Luke 2:37 suggests the idea that St. Paul may have heard from his companion of the perfect picture of true widowhood presented by Anna the prophetess. The words may point either to personal devotions or to attendance at all meetings of the Church for that purpose.

Verse 6

1 Timothy 5:6. She that liveth in pleasure. The English words give the sense, but not the terseness or the vigour of the Greek verbs. ‘ She that plays the wanton’ comes somewhat nearer, but implies one form of evil too definitely.

Is dead. Spiritually dead, and therefore to be treated as such for the purpose in band, and her name to be struck off the register of those entitled to support.

Verse 8

1 Timothy 5:8. The precept is general, and in its terms includes the duty of parents to provide for their children as well as that of the children to provide for the parents. Practically, as the latter duty had been already enforced in 1 Timothy 5:4, it is probable that the words point to the duty of the widow to ‘provide’ not in the material sense; but, in contrast to the wasteful wantonness of the spurious widow, to ‘ exercise forethought’ for those connected with her. It would perhaps be too bold a change to translate ‘ she hath denied the faith,’ but that would, it is believed, give St. Paul’s meaning.

His own those of his own household. Better, in each case, ‘ her own.’ The latter as the closer word the former, like our phrase ‘his people,’ including servants, labourers, dependants of any kind.

Worse than an infidel. Better ‘ unbeliever,’ as not involving the stigma which now attaches to the secondary sense of the word; ‘worse,’ because the heathens as a rule laid stress on filial piety; worse, as sinning more against light and knowledge.

Verse 9

1 Timothy 5:9. The negative conditions are followed by the positive.

Let not a woman be taken into the number. Better, ‘ entered on the register or list.’ The word implies a systematic, organized relief of poverty, guarded, as far as possible, against the indiscriminate almsgiving that tends to pauperism. Probably, indeed, the ‘registered widows’ were a selected band chosen out of the order for special distinction, fulfilling the more rigid conditions that entitled them to permanent support. It would seem hard to enforce all these rules as indispensable on all applicants for relief.

Under threescore years of age. On the assumption just suggested, the age would be urged as a security for gravity, and staid experience, On the more common interpretation, a woman under sixty might be thought of as still able to earn her own living.

The wife of one husband. As in the corresponding phrase of 1 Timothy 3:2, ‘Married once and once only,’ the second marriage, in any case, involving some loss of claim to reverence. There is no hardship in the rule interpreted in the way now suggested. As commonly understood, it involves the anomaly that St. Paul afterwards recommends the ‘younger widows’ to take a step which would deprive them in their old age of all claim to maintenance.

Verse 10

1 Timothy 5:10. Well reported of. Including, as in the parallel of 1 Timothy 3:7, the testimony of those outside the Church.

If she have brought up children. The Greek word seems purposely chosen to leave it open whether the children thus brought up were her own or those, orphans or destitute, of whom she had taken charge-Looking to the nature of the next condition, it would seem as if something more than the instinctive duties of motherhood were contemplated. It hardly seems probable that the apostle meant to contrast the performance of those duties with the general neglect that prevailed among the women of the Empire, still less with such crimes as abandonment or abortion.

If the have lodged strangers. The isolated position of a small Christian community in an Asiatic town, the utter loneliness of a Christian traveller arriving in such a town, gave a prominence to the exercise of hospitality which made it incumbent on poor as well as rich (Hebrews 13:2; 3 John 1:5). We need not picture to ourselves a woman of the upper class as exercising the virtue after a stately fashion. The humblest cottage might give scope for its highest form.

If she have washed the saints’ feet. As in John 13:14, the typical instance of extremest humility in ministration, analogous to the test of kissing a leper’s flesh which Francis of Assisi imposed on his disciples.

Verse 11

1 Timothy 5:11. Refuse, i.e. decline to place them on the register of those entitled to special privileges.

Wax wanton. Another of the vigorous colloquial phrases of the Epistle, implying partly wilful resistance, partly lascivious desire.

They will marry. The Greek is more emphatic: ‘They will or desire to marry.’

Verse 12

1 Timothy 5:12. Having damnation. As in 1 Corinthians 11:29, in the general sense of the word, ‘ coming under condemnation.

Their first faith. We best understand these words by bearing in mind the teaching of 1 Corinthians 7:34. Marriage was in itself honour-able, but it was not compatible with self-consecration to a life of special labour, such as that of the ‘registered’ widows. When a widow entered on that life, she practically betrothed herself to Christ. If she again fell back on merely human affections, she was abandoning her ‘first faith,’ the love of her espousals. The words suggest the thought that the word ‘widow’ might possibly be conventionally extended to include all women who undertook the duties of the order, whether actually such in the common sense of the word or not

Verse 13

1 Timothy 5:13. The very functions of the registered widows would tend in the case supposed to aggravate the evil. Their work of ministration, like that of a District Visitor or Sister of Mercy in modern times, involved frequent visits to many houses; and this might easily pass into simple idleness, or still worse, into the laborious idleness described in the word ‘busybodies,’ carrying to one family the tittle-tattle of another things that for this reason or that ought not to be spoken of.

Verse 14

1 Timothy 5:14. Younger women. Better, ‘younger widows;’ for it is of these as a class, and not of women in general, that St. Paul is speaking, though, as above suggested, the word may not necessarily have implied actual widowhood.

Bear children. The special word is as deliberately chosen as the more general one in 1 Timothy 5:10.

The adversary. Standing by itself, the word might suggest the thought of a reference to the great spiritual adversary; but St. Paul’s use of the word elsewhere (1 Corinthians 16:9; Philippians 1:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:4), turns the scale in favour of the more general meaning the Jewish or heathen enemy of the Gospel.

To speak reproachfully. Literally, ‘for the sake of, with a view to reproach.’ The general interpretation connects it with the ‘occasion,’ as one supplying materials for reproach.

Verse 15

1 Timothy 5:15. Some. Obviously limited by the context to the so-called ‘widows.’ The formula, so common in these Epistles, implies that St. Paul knew, and that Timothy would understand, of whom he thus speaks. The warning was not uncalled for. Facts had shown that there was urgent need for it.

Are already turned after Satan. Better, ‘ have been turned’ The Greek, indeed, refers to some definite time present to St. Paul’s thoughts, probably that of his last visit to Ephesus. Those of whom he speaks had been turned out of the right path by the great Adversary, and so were exposed to the revilings of those who, consciously or unconsciously, were doing his work.

Verse 16

1 Timothy 5:16. If any man. Added as an afterthought, as enlarging the scope of the rule previously given in 1 Timothy 5:4. Not children or grandchildren only, but any relatives on whom the widow had claims, were to regard it their duty, as members of the Church, to support them, so that the funds of the Church might be applied only to maintain those that were ‘widows indeed.’ Here, as before, they are, I believe, distinguished from the widows on the register the former entitled simply to relief, the latter to special privileges; the former probably doing the work of deaconesses, the latter set apart for functions analogous to those of the elders.

Verse 17

1 Timothy 5:17. Worthy of double honour. The apostle is practical enough to recognise even the value of money - payment as a recognition of higher gifts well used. The word ‘honour,’ as in Acts 28:10, clearly implies such payment, even if it is not necessarily confined to it. The rule implies that the ‘elders’ of the Church were not all equally gifted. Some succeeded in their pastoral work; some failed. Some laboured in the more conspicuous and exhausting work of public preaching (the ‘word’) and continuous class-teaching (‘doctrine’), and for this there was to be a provision, such as that which we often find made for the dean of a cathedral or the head of a college, to twice the amount of that given to the other elders. Measured by modern standards, even the ‘double’ stipend was probably such as would only attract one of the artisan class, and for him came as a compensation for the loss of profit involved in his calling; but 1 Peter 5:2 shows that it was enough to tempt some to take the work for the sake of the pay.

Verse 18

1 Timothy 5:18. The Scripture saith. It is interesting to note that St. Paul had already quoted (in 1 Corinthians 9:9) and reasoned on the verse from Deuteronomy 25:4, going below the letter to the principle on which it rested, and applying that principle as a law of action for men in their dealings with each other. The other quotation presents a question of greater interest. The words, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire,’ are found in Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7. Did St. Paul cite them from either of these Gospels, and so recognise their claim as Scripture, side by side with the law of Moses? Looking to the facts (1) that St. Paul had some years before quoted from ‘the words of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 20:35); (2) that he had for several years been in the constant companionship of St. Luke, and that the compilation of the Third Gospel must at least have been begun by this time; (3) that St. Peter applies the term ‘Scripture to St. Paul’s own writings (2 Peter 3:16); (4) that St. Paul quotes an account of the Last Supper which we find in St. Luke (1 Corinthians 11:23; Luke 22:19); (5) that there is at least an apparent reference to other writings than those of the Old Testament in ‘the Scriptures of the prophets’ in Romans 16:26, and ‘the prophecy of the Scripture’ in 2 Peter 1:20 (both of which passages refer, I believe, to the prophetic work of the Christian, not the Jewish Church), there seems a strong preponderance of evidence for thinking that the words are taken from some written account of our Lord’s work and teaching, and that that record was probably at least the groundwork of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

Verse 19

1 Timothy 5:19. Against an elder. Here the context is obviously in favour of the official sense. The rule of ‘two or three witnesses,’ which in Deuteronomy 19:15 is given as applicable to all judicial testimony, is here specialized as applying à fortiori to a case where there was a presumption in favour of the accused.

Verse 20

1 Timothy 5:20. Them that sin rebuke before all. The precept, apparently general, is defined by the previous context. If the result of the trial of a presbyter shows that he is living in sin (the Greek implies continuance), the judge is not to hush up the matter in a private audience. Openly, in the presence not only of the other presbyters, but of the whole congregation, he is to be rebuked as one convicted of sin, so that his example may serve as a warning to them also as well as to those of his own order.

Verse 21

1 Timothy 5:21. I charge thee. The solemnity of the adjuration here, as in 2 Timothy 4:1, implies a latent fear that the youth, the asceticism, the sensitiveness of Timothy might lead him beyond the line of strictly judicial action, to prejudice against the accused, or partiality in his favour.

The elect angels. The meaning of the adjective is not quite clear. In one sense all good angels were among God’s elect; but the word is probably used of those who were chosen specially for ministering to the righteous judgments of God, and who, therefore, are thought of as looking on, approving or condemning, as the conduct of the earthly judge is in accord, or at variance, with His. The thought of angels as assessors in the final judgment meets us in our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 25:31.

Without preferring one before another. A mistranslation. Read, as above, ‘without prejudice ’ in the sense of without pre-judging.’

Verse 22

1 Timothy 5:22. Lay hands suddenly on no man. The words have been referred by some writers as carrying on the series of rules for Church discipline, to the imposition of hands which accompanied the pardon and readmission of the penitent. It is doubtful, however, whether that practice prevailed thus early, and the train of thought, as such, is continuous on the more common interpretation. The best way to avoid the scandal of a trial was to be cautious at the outset, and to decline the complicity in the guilt of others which might follow on a hasty ordination.

Keep thyself pure. The primary and usual meaning of the word is that of chastity. Here it refers probably to the risk of mental contamination incident to the trial of offenders against purity. It is probable that then, as in later ages, most of the cases that called for the exercise of discipline were of this nature, and it was hardly possible to hear evidence of the details of such sins without the danger to which St. Paul thus briefly alludes.

Verse 23

1 Timothy 5:23. Drink no longer water. The interpretation thus given of the previous counsel seems to me to afford the only natural and tenable answer to the question why a matter apparently so irrelevant is thus abruptly introduced. All experience shows that it is the weakened bloodless brain that can least control its thoughts, and is most open to the assaults of impure imaginations. One who was necessarily brought face to face with the danger, or who needed promptness and decision to guard against it, would find it his wisdom to keep body and brain in a state of healthy equilibrium; and St. Paul, with whom all bodily discipline was a means and not an end, saw (not improbably under St. Luke’s guidance) that what Timothy needed for that equilibrium was a moderate use of the stimulant which he had hitherto (possibly following St. Paul’s example) denied himself. The special reason given, ‘for thy stomach’s sake,’ savours of the medical adviser, and as if it were added lest the disciple should draw a wrong inference from the previous words and plunge into more rigorous austerities. So an Abernethy might have said, in his rough way, of a like case, ‘If be must deal with such things, don’t let him go into the filth on an empty stomach.’

Verse 24

1 Timothy 5:24. Going before to judgment. After the advice given parenthetically, the latter returns to the subject of Church discipline. The ‘other men’s sins’ in which Timothy is not to be a partaker, are of two classes (1) flagrant, notorious, so conspicuous even before the trial, that they scarcely need witnesses, are, indeed, as the accusers who bring the criminal before the judge; (2) those which do not come out at first, but, as it were, creep on, and dog the man’s steps, and at last overtake him. Receiving the words as applicable chiefly to the precept against hasty laying on of hands, they contain a warning against assuming fitness from the absence of open scandal. Even in such cases a careful inquiry was not to be neglected. It is obvious that the judgment spoken of is man’s and not God’s, temporal and not eternal in its results.

Verse 25

1 Timothy 5:25. They that are otherwise cannot be hid. The previous verse had been directed against hasty acceptance or acquittal. This is against hasty condemnation or rejection. In some cases a man’s good deeds are clear and patent, in others meliora latent. ‘Better than the seen lies hid,’ but that, too, cannot be hid for long. Enquiry will bring it to the light of day in spite even of the wish or humility of the doer. If we inquire carefully, and have the gift of insight, we shall find out before long what men are and what they have been doing.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 5". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/1-timothy-5.html. 1879-90.
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