1 Timothy 3

In this chapter Paul gives directions as to those things which qualify a man for doing the work of an overseer, and similarly for a man or woman doing the work of a servant. “Bishops, priests and deacons" are three “orders" recognized in the established church but they have no such likeness in the New Testament. The Scripture teaches that all believers are priests, that some believers are servants and a lesser number are over-seers. The New Testament (a.v.) translators were not permitted to alter recognized ecclesiastical terms, for their sponsors could see what untold damage to their established systems would be done were proper translations to be given. The word “bishop" should be replaced by the word “overseers" (which in Acts 20. 28 the A.v. translators did, though the R.v. restored the word “bishops"), the word “deacons" by the word “servants”, the word “baptize" by “immerse”, and so on.

Overseers - their Character and Work. The phrase “office of a bishop" represents but one word, which might be rendered “overseership”. It occurs again in Acts 1. 20 relating to Judas. There is no word corresponding to “office” in the Greek, and as the reader can test for himself, all references to such work denote a self-sacrificing service rather than an official position. The Revised Version translators were at least fair in that they put the word “overseer’ in the margin of 1 Timothy 3. 1.

The word “bishop" is but a shortened and anglicized Greek word, and the word “deacons" also is an anglicized Greek word. Both are misleading as tending to suggest divine approval of a vast system of archbishops, bishops, deacons and various subsidiary officers all foreign to the early days of Christianity and of the New Testament.

It is a “good”, or beautiful, work to take care of the church of God but plainly anyone who does so must be spiritually and morally qualified to do so. Although the word “bishop" is here used in the singular, it is only used in a generic sense, for in Ephesus, Philippi and elsewhere there was a multiplicity of bishops in one church, whereas now-a-days in certain circles there is but one bishop over many churches. Such is topsyturvy Christendom. The qualifications are essential – note “must" in verse 2. They are not optional. If today we can find no-one fully so qualified, it seems that we must seek God that we may approximate nearer and nearer to the divine standard. There must be personal, domestic and social fitness.

As to the qualifications we may remark: “husband of one wife" is restrictive, not injunctive. An unmarried* man or widower is not disqualified because of this. But in places where polygamy was current, a polygamous man would be disquali-fied from such a position but not disqualified from church fellowship. If Paul had meant that only a married man could serve as an overseer then he would have disqualified himself, for it would seem that he was a widower. (As a member of the Sanhedrin previously he would have been at that time a married man). Besides he would have contradicted his own statement in 1 Corinthians 7. 32. See also Matthew 19. 12. The present writer recalls that he owes an enormous debt to two bachelor overseers in the days of his childhood and early manhood.

The reader should consult the Revised Version and other reliable translations to get some idea of the wide range of thought covered by the various words used. “Of good be-haviour" is rendered elsewhere as “orderly”, “dignified”. “Apt to teach” does not necessarily involve the idea of public preaching; a man may be very apt to teach privately but have no gift of public speech. But clearly if one is to care for the saints he must be thoroughly acquainted with the Word of God and its meaning. He must be master in his own house, for plainly if he cannot rule his children, then he reveals in-competence “to take care” of the church of God. Luke 10. 35 is to the point here. The definite article before the word “devil" both in verses 6 and 7 leads one to the conclusion that Paul is alluding to Satan, and not to “slanderers" in general as some suggest. A reference to Ezekiel 28 and also to 2 Timothy 2. 26 would also seem to justify this conclusion.

* The Editors would point out that some teachers believe that verses 4 and 5 imply that3 in an ideal case, all elders should be married men with children, so that these standards can actually be the proved experience of all elders.

Deacons and their Work. This word relates to those who perform any service specifically for the church. It is the Holy Spirit who appoints overseers but the church chooses its servants (see Acts 6 and compare also v. 10). Here again the reader should consult as many reliable translations as he is able and also W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary to get the idea of the wide range of thought covered by the various words used. For the performance of any particular service there should be competency, and this can only be discovered by prior testing. If the prior test is satisfactory then “let them serve" in that particular capacity. This service appears to be open both to men and women, though restricted to their appropriate spheres, V. 11, Phebe was one such, Rom. 16. 1. Those who serve the church well gain to themselves a good standing before the saints, and great boldness in the faith, knowing that their lives commend it, and it does not condemn them.

There seems little doubt that “overseers" and “servants" were two recognized groups of believers within the framework of the church (see Phil. 1. 1) entrusted with specific work on behalf of the church, the former caring primarily for the believers spiritual well-being, and the latter caring also for the material things relating to the daily affairs.

A Local Church - Described. In verse 15, the apostle describes a local church. The definite articles are omitted, for he is specifying its character, and it would seem making provision thereby for the sad times later to be when not all believers in one place could claim to be the house of God, the church of the living God, or the pillar and ground of the truth in that place. Originally it was so. But the division has come in, breaking up the unified witness. The omission of the definite article shows the character or nature of the company. It is God’s house, for the ordering of which He has the right to specify what should and what should not be done. It is a congregation of a living God, not an assemblage of people interested in dead idols. It is pillar and ground, stay or bulwark of the truth. Just as Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, elevates the man and is firmly based at its foot, so too a local church should give prominence to the truth. Ephesus was noted for its magnifical temple to Diana and its strong pillars, but that of which Paul writes is spiritual and not material. If the Ephesians cried “Great is Diana (Artemis) of the Ephesians”, Paul could counter that with “great is the mystery of godliness”.

If verse 16 is an extract from an ancient hymn, as is asserted by some, then here we have given in poetic form a credal state-ment touching the Lord Jesus. The Revised Version appears to give the correct reading. We prefer* “He who”, the pro-noun, referring to the Lord Jesus, making the following phrases easier to understand.

Each phrase is antithetical to the other, being arranged in three pairs. Flesh, spirit; angels and Gentiles; world and glory. Only as to the first and the last do they appear to be chrono-logical: His manifestation and His ascension.

The manifestation of the Lord Jesus in flesh implies His prior eternal being and His dual natures, i.e. His deity and humanity. The reader should refer to John 1.14; 1 Peter 1.20; 1 John 1. 2; 3. 5, 8 and other similar passages.

His justification in Spirit may relate to the anointing by the Spirit at His baptism, or if we read Spirit with a small V it may refer to His own inner consciousness of ever pleasing the Father. His resurrection also may be in view.

His being seen of angels need not be limited, for they were attendant at His birth, His temptation, His experience in the garden of Gethsemane, at His resurrection and at His ascension.

His being preached among the nations is recorded in the book of the Acts as the fulfilment of His command to His apostles after His resurrection, Matt. 28. 19; Mark 16. 15.

His being believed on in the world is self-evident, the existence of churches here and there demonstrating it.

His being received up in glory, R.v. {not "into glory"), *s recorded by Mark and Luke, and mention is made of it by the Lord Jesus in John’s Gospel.

* The question whether the original Greek text was “God” or “He who" has been much debated, and is a complicated and subtle issue. Eds.