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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

2. In officiary, 1 Timothy 3:1-13.

a. Of presbyter-bishops, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 .

1. A true saying Literally, faithful is the saying. Worthy of reliance is the maxim.

Desire Reach-after, as with the hand. Paul seems unconscious that we may construe that desire into an unholy ambition. Evil is in him that evil thinks. The apostle’s pure mind is thinking only of those who earnestly desire to achieve a good work, in discharging the office.

Bishop The word is the Greek term episkopos, with both ends clipped, the initial p softened, and the central k turned into an aspirate. It is compounded of epi, over, and skopeo, to inspect; and is exactly synonymous with the Saxon overseer or the Latin superintendent. Wesley, in ordaining Coke as bishop, or first of three ordained ministerial grades, preferred the term superintendent to bishop.

The Greek word episkopos was a political term, used by the Athenians to designate those whom they appointed to superintend their foreign dependencies. As the word is used of a Church officer in the Greek Testament only by Paul and his disciple Luke, (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:7,) it is possible that such application originated with Paul. It is now agreed, we believe, generally, by Episcopalian scholars as well as others, that in the New Testament the term is always synonymous with elder. In the present chapter no order is recognised between the bishop and deacon. It is in Timothy himself, the delegate of the apostle, that Episcopalian scholars find the bishop. They thus maintain that while the word bishop, once given to the elder, was afterwards transferred to the first order, yet the order itself is the continuation of the apostolate, divested of its miraculous powers. Others maintain that while elder and bishop were originally one order, the apostles raised certain elders to a higher ordained grade, to whom the term bishop was excusively applied. The Presbyterian scholars, on the other hand, maintain that the apostolic office wholly ceased, and that the only scriptural Church officers are presbyters, or elders, and deacons.

Dr. Adam Clarke’s exposition of this paragraph is hardly less than a curiosity. He seems to suppose it a thing undoubted that episkopos here means diocesan bishop, and brings out very Episcopal conclusions: “Episcopacy in the Church of God is of divine appointment, and should be maintained and respected.… The State has its monarch, the Church has its bishops; one should govern according to the laws of the land, the other according to the word of God.” But writers like Bloomfield, Wordsworth, Ellicott, and Bishop Onderdonk, (in his Episcopacy Tested by Scripture,) find no bishop in the Scripture episkopos.

Verse 2

2 . Polygamy, in St. Paul’s time, was usual with both Jews and Gentiles. It was demoralizing both races. Rabbies had four and five wives. Converts to Christianity involved in polygamy would often present themselves for admission to the Church, and the peculiarities of their case might be considered in the instance of private Christians; but Paul forbids any such entanglement for an elder. 3. Alford admits that the early commentators, Theodoret, Chrysostom, Theophylact, each made the text forbid only polygamy. On the other hand, Fairbairn maintains, truly, that the earliest writers who made it condemn deuterogamy, as Hermas and Tertullian, were ascetically inclined. 4. The uniform shaping of the three expressions obviously applies to polgyamy only. A man whose single wife died, and who marries again a single wife only, is always the husband of one wife. See note on 1 Timothy 4:9.

Vigilant Wide awake, and alert for all opportunities for holy success. Sober Discreet, given to no undignified excitement or levities.

Good behaviour Orderly in external manners and conduct.

Hospitality In especial relation to entertaining Christian brethren; a duty very important in times when the present system of public accommodations but imperfectly existed. 1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2; Romans 12:13.

Apt to teach Possessing full knowledge of Christian doctrine. and naturally gifted to deliver it. See note, Titus 1:9.

Verse 3

3. Not given to wine Avoiding the stimulants that intoxicate, (according to the rule of 1 Timothy 5:23,) unless medical reasons interfere.

No striker The natural result of intoxication, and the natural tendency of the oriental temperament.

Greedy of filthy lucre Literal Greek, not silver-loving.

Verse 4

4. House… children How entirely adverse to Scripture is the requirement of clerical celibacy is transparent from this passage, where the elder’s care of his family is token of his ability to care for his Church. Indeed, Vigilantius, the great opponent of Jerome, had some reason for maintaining that St. Paul required marriage in the clergy.

Verse 5

5. House… church An argument from the less to the greater: from the man’s own house to the house of God. The passage suggests the relations of the episkopos to his Church; those of paternity, rule, instruction.

Verse 6

6. Novice Literal, new-plant; green young convert.

Lifted up with pride At his sudden elevation. Condemnation for pride of the devil, who was cast down to hell for rebellion.

Verse 7

7. Good report… without His public reputation, not only within but without the Church, must be good.

Fall into reproach As disgracing his preaching by his character and practice.

Snare of the devil Who is here a huntsman that sets traps and snares for the ministers specially. And if the minister has lost character with the public amid whom he preaches, the devil has a great advantage both to destroy the value of his preaching and to bring him to a downfall, whether by his own imprudences in difficulty, or by bearing him down by scandal.

Verse 8

8. Double-tongued The liability of subordinates, to be obsequious to superiors and supercilious to inferiors.

Greedy So as to be tempted to embezzle the church funds.

Verses 8-13

b. Of deacons and deaconesses, 1 Timothy 3:8-13 .

In regard to the office of deacon we may first remark, that if the Greek word diakonos, with its cognates, were always rendered deacons, we should have deacons in great number in the New Testament. Thus we should have Matthew 20:26, Let him be your deacon; John 2:5, the mother of Jesus said to the deacons; 12 : 26, The king said to the deacons; Romans 13:4, the magistrate is the deacon of God; Galatians 2:17, deacon of sin. From all which instances, and many more, it appears that the true meaning of the word is servitor. The word is not applied to the seventy sent forth by our Lord; nor to the seven in Acts 6:0, save in the verb form serve. It appears for the first time as an unmistakable church officer in Philippians 1:1; there, as here, used by Paul in connexion with the episkopos. Under sanction from these two texts, however, we may, in Romans 16:1, read deaconess in honour of Phebe; and in Romans 12:7, deaconship; and some hold 1 Corinthians 12:28, helps, to mean deaconships.

In regard to this office in the Church we may note two distinctive points: First. It was not, like prophecy, healing, tongues, etc., an extraordinary gift or charism, bestowed at the will of the spirit without the agency of man. The individual was humanly selected according to qualifications, and probably ordained by the imposition of hands. Second. In all cases, both the word and its connexions embrace generically the idea of subordination and service in sacred function. The deacon was subordinate to the apostle and to the episkopos. Hence, while his duties are not very precisely defined in Scripture, yet throughout the history of the Church a sort of semblance has been maintained in this respect. He may assist the bishop or elder in the ritual; he may, in absence of the elder, read a homily; he may catechize the catechumen, keep order in the congregation, see to the poor, and administer to the necessities of the persecuted.

In modern Protestant Churches the same generic idea of servitorship is variously maintained. In Presbyterian and Congregational Churches, approaching nearer to the model of Acts 6:0 than any other Church, the deacon is overseer of the poor, yet leading the conference and prayer meeting in absence of the minister. In the Methodist Episcopal Church the deacon is a subordinate minister, with a few symbolical exclusions from higher functions, an apprentice rather than a servitor in the ministry. In this respect there appears a parallel from the probable fact that in the New Testament Church the deaconship was a reserve from which the elders were likely to be selected. Note 1 Timothy 5:13.

Verse 9

9. Mystery See note on 1 Timothy 3:16.

Faith In regard to doctrine.

Conscience In regard to moral character and conduct.

Verse 10

10. Proved Not by prefixing a period of probation; but by the scrutiny of the Church and eldership, carefully noting their life, character, and qualifications, and making them a matter of free discussion, in order to a right decision by vote before ordination.

Use the office of a deacon Literally, let them serve.

Verse 11

11. Wives The Greek word may signify either woman or wife. The their is not in the Greek. The question thence arises, whether St. Paul means wives of the deacons, or deaconesses. Note Romans 16:2. The absence of any prescription for the wives of the elders seems very decisive in favour of the latter. The existence of an ordained grade of deaconesses in the early Church was recognised by Tertullian, Origen, and others of the ecclesiastical writers.

Slanderers Not dealing in scandal and personal gossip.

Verse 12

12. Briefly reiterating for the deacons some of the qualifications required above for the elders.

Verse 13

13. A good degree An honourable step. The word is well defined in Robinson’s Lexicon New Testament, a step, namely, “of a stair, or door,”

etc.; derived from βαινω , to walk, or advance. Hence unquestionably, we think, Grotius gives the true meaning: “They make for themselves an honourable step, namely, to the presbyterate. For so was the custom of those ages; from the most excellent of the Christian people to select the deacons, and from the most excellent deacons, the presbyters, and from the most excellent presbyters, the president. In the Clementine Constitutions are prayers for the deacon in which we read the words: “Render worthy him who has performed the deaconship to him committed, inflexibly, blamelessly, unimpeachably, to be exalted to a higher step.”

The connexion shows this to be the meaning. The previous verse shadows the qualifications of the eldership as the model for the deacon. The clause following these words promises a greater freedom of exercise as belonging to the next step. The most natural construction, certainly, should view the step as belonging to the sphere of the deaconship. So Wesley, “They purchase a good degree, or step to some higher office.” To the objection that this would be placing an objectionable motive before the deacon, Wordsworth properly replies, that St. Paul is not addressing the deacon at all, but Timothy, the superintendent. Just so he directs Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17) to put a double value upon the best elders.

Great boldness Or freedom of speech; an advance step in liberty of exercise well becoming a higher office.

Verse 14

3. In doctrine.

a. Timothy set as champion of the doctrine of the incarnation against the errorists predicted by the Spirit as about to appear, 1 Timothy 3:14 to 1 Timothy 4:10 .

14. These things Not only the precepts of Church order in 1 Timothy 2:1 to 1 Timothy 3:13, but including the entire charge against the heresies in chapter first. For as the charge is against their false doctrines, so the Church order, in possession of the true doctrine, is the stronghold against them.

Write I Place them on visible monumental records.

Shortly Greek, sooner; that is, sooner than his writing a letter naturally presupposed.

Verse 15

15. If I tarry long So that the letter was a proviso against his failing to come soon, or ever.

Behave thyself in the house of God The word behave unfortunately suggests to the ordinary reader the idea of personal deportment; it really designates Timothy’s official management in governing the Church, in doctrine, ordinations, and administration, according to the directions thus far by Paul prescribed.

House of God Huther objects that if Timothy’s personal management is here intended, then the house of God must mean the Church of Ephesus. Undoubtedly it does. Timothy and the Church of Ephesus are solely here meant, and the whole epistle and all its contents are applicable to other cases only by fair inference. And so it is with a large share of the New Testament. The rule in the immediate case is placed on record for future application to future cases. Huther well notes that the term house of God is the original designation of the temple, Matthew 21:13: thence applied to the Church of the Old Testament, Hebrews 3:2-5; now to the Church of the New Testament in which God dwells, Heb 3:6 ; 1 Peter 4:17. Synonymous is Ephesians 2:22, habitation of God, and 1 Corinthians 3:16, and 2 Corinthians 6:16, temple of God.

Church of the living God Emphatic explanation of the previous phrase.

Living God A solemn and impressive epithet; used, perhaps, to distinguish Jehovah from the lifeless Diana of Ephesus.

The pillar and ground of the truth That St. Paul should, after having called the church a house, then make it but a pillar, has been decried by some critics as a very tasteless anti-climax. And to avoid this objection some very forced interpretations have been invented; as for instance, the making pillar apposition with thou, and identical with Timothy. But this criticism fails to appreciate St. Paul’s purpose in this rapid change of figure. The Church, as the sphere within which Timothy is to administer, is a house; but as a bulwark against the invasion of the errorism predicted in the next verses, it is a pillar and basis. The Church is hereby the pillar and ground, not merely of truth, nor of the truth, as the gospel generally, but of the truth beautifully summarized in the next verse, the truth of the incarnation, against which the errorists of 1 Timothy 4:1-3 are assailants.

Verse 16

16. And for this truth a powerful pillar is required, for without controversy, and confessedly, it must be conceded, even to the errorists, that its mystery is great. But that it is in no discouraged or apologizing tone that the apostle admits this mystery is clear, not only from the six luminous points through which he next traces the history of the incarnation, but from the inverted form of the proposition, Great is the mystery of godliness; a proposition far sublimer than that which he once heard rung through Ephesus, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”

Mystery The same as mystery of the faith in 1 Timothy 3:9. That mystery in a divine religion arising from its transcendent supernaturalism. Of that mystery the incarnation in all its scenes and stages is the centre and sum.

As a mystery of truth it claims our faith and pervades our piety the true rendering for godliness. And this mystery of godliness is the truth, of which the Church of Timothy, being truly its depositary and advocate, is the pillar and basis: its pillar, as a firm defender; its basis, as a true support.

God Of this word, celebrated among scholars, there are in the Greek manuscripts three various readings: God, which, and who. The reading God would render the passage a strong proof-text of the supreme divinity of Christ. The reading which would make it refer to mystery as embracing Christ. But the reading who, has now the, perhaps, unanimous concurrence of scholars. It, then, is a relative pronoun wholly without any grammatical antecedent. To this conclusion commentators like Huther, Alford, Ellicott, Wordsworth, and Fairbairn, as well as critics like Lachmann, Tisehendorf, and Tregelles, are forced.

Connected with this reading is a very interesting history of the text of the Alexandrine MS. in the British Museum. (See our vol. iii, p. 7.) In the Greek the difference between the readings would be very slight to the eye. God and who would be respectively -Θ C and Ο C ; the former being distinguished by two horizontal marks; the one within the letter, and part of it; the other, a sign of contraction above the letter. In the Alexandrine Codex some person (probably Patrick Young, librarian to King Charles I.) had made both the horizontal marks with a fresh pen; for which the reason was assigned that they were both very dim. By this the value of the Codex seemed destroyed as evidence for all future examiners. Dr. Clarke inspected the text, and adopted the conclusion that the new marks were truly a renewing of the old, and that the true reading was God. But in our day the letters have been subjected to a powerful magnifying lens, by Alford, by Wordsworth, and by Ellicott. Their decision is, that what Young may have mistaken for a horizontal mark was the glimmer through the leaf of part of a letter on the opposite page. Huther would account for the relative without an antecedent by supposing that the six rhythmical clauses are so many lines of a primitive Christian hymn. But Alford happily suggests the parallelism of Colossians 1:27, “this mystery, among the Gentiles; which is Christ,” etc. In the present passage the apostle thinks of the mystery as being impersonated in Christ, and so adds his who. The passage, therefore, can no longer be quoted in proof of the absolute deity of Christ; but, rather, as may appear, for his pre-existence.

Manifest in the flesh So he was the eternal Word made flesh. John 1:14. And the same John pronounces him to be antichrist who denies that he has come in the flesh. 1 John 4:2. This was the collision of the apostles with the heretics of 1 Timothy 3:4, “commanding to abstain from meats,” because they held matter to be intrinsically evil, and so denied that a perfect Christ could come in real flesh.

Justified in the Spirit The article to be omitted.

Spirit Christ’s highest nature antithetical to flesh, his lowest.

Justified As the perfect second Adam, as the first was condemned.

Justified As perfectly righteous personally; and as absolutely perfect in the discharge of his Messianic office. Negatively, he was pure from sin; positively, he fulfilled all righteousness. He was on earth the express image of God; showing how God would be and do if God were man.

Seen of angels The whole scene of his incarnate history was transacted beneath the view of the higher intelligences. See our note on 1 Corinthians 11:10. This does not necessarily mean, as Chrysostom, that he had, as second person of the Trinity, been unseen by angels. It only affirms that his incarnate history was under the angelic contemplation. Not merely by glimpses, as we see them in the gospels announcing his birth, strengthening him in the garden, opening his tomb, and attesting his resurrection; but, as we do not see them though they see us, by permanent perception. The three clauses thus far present the incarnate as an observed manifestation; the next three contemplate his Messianic success.

Preached unto the Gentiles Rather, unto the nations, irrespective of race. Such was his commission to his apostles. Matthew 28:19. And so Paul is a teacher of the Gentiles. Chap. 1 Timothy 2:7.

Believed on in the world So that his coming is the world’s great event. It is made a different world by his entering it.

Received up into glory Rather, in glory. His ascension is fully expressed in received up; and at that point the in glory commences.

It is the incarnate Christ in the grandeur of such a history that Timothy is to maintain in Ephesus. It is a summary of the evangelical history, proving Paul to be in truth a fifth evangelist, fully confirming the other four. But against Timothy, and the Church, and this Incarnate, a direful apostasy is soon to muster its ranks, as the verses following will declare.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-timothy-3.html. 1874-1909.
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