3:1-7 There is a saying which everyone must believe--if a man aspires to the office of overseer in the Church, it is a fine work on which his heart is set. An overseer must be a man against whom no criticism can be made; he must have been married only once; he must be sober, prudent, well-behaved, hospitable and possessed of an aptitude for teaching. He must not over-indulge in wine, nor must he be the kind of man who assaults others, but he must be gentle and peaceable, and free from the love of money. He must manage his own house well, keeping his children under control with complete dignity. (If a man does not know how to manage his own house, how can he take charge of the congregation of God?) He must not be a recent convert, in case he becomes inflated with a sense of his own importance, and so fall into the same condemnation as the devil did. He must have earned the respect of those outside the Church, that he may not fall into reproach and into the snare of the devil.
This is a very important passage from the point of view of Church government. It deals with the man whom the King James and Revised Standard Versions call the bishop, and whom we have translated overseer.
In the New Testament there are two words which describe the principal office-bearers of the Church, the office-bearers who were to be found in every congregation, and on whose conduct and administration its welfare depended.
(i) There was the man who was called the elder (presbuteros, Greek #4245 ). The eldership is the most ancient of all offices within the Church. The Jews had their elders, and they traced their origin to the occasion when Moses, in the desert wanderings, appointed seventy men to help him in the task of controlling and caring for the people ( Numbers 11:16 ). Every synagogue had its elders, and they were the real leaders of the Jewish community. They presided over the worship of the synagogue; they administered rebuke and discipline where these were necessary; they settled the disputes which other nations would have taken to the law-courts. Amongst the Jews the elders were the respected men who exercised a fatherly oversight over the spiritual and material affairs of every Jewish community. But more nations than the Jews had an eldership. The presiding body of the Spartans was called the gerousia ( Greek #1087 ), which means the board of the elder men. The Parliament of Rome was called the senate, which comes from senex, which means an old man. In England the men who looked after the affairs of the community were called the aldermen, which means the elder men. In New Testament times every Egyptian village had its village elders who looked after the affairs of the community. The elders had a long history, and they had a place in the life of almost every community.
(ii) But sometimes the New Testament uses another word, episkopos ( Greek #1985 ), which the King James and Revised Standard Versions translate bishop, and which literally means overseer, or superintendent. This word, too, has a long and honourable history. The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, uses it to describe those who were the taskmasters, who were over the public works and public building schemes ( 2 Chronicles 34:17 ). The Greeks use it to describe the men appointed to go out from the mother city to regulate the affairs of a newly founded colony in some distant place. They use it to describe what we might call commissioners appointed to regulate the affairs of a city. The Romans use it to describe the magistrates appointed to oversee the sale of food within the city of Rome. It is used of the special delegates appointed by a king to see that the laws he had laid down were carried out. Episkopos ( Greek #1985 ) always implies two things; first, oversight over some area or sphere of work and second, responsibility to some higher power and authority.
Modern scholarship is practically unanimous in holding that in the early Church the presbuteros ( Greek #4245 ) and the episkopos ( Greek #1985 ) were one and the same. The grounds for that identification are: (a) Elders were everywhere appointed. After the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in all the Churches they had founded ( Acts 14:23 ). Titus is instructed to appoint and ordain elders in all the cities of Crete ( Titus 1:5 ). (b) The qualifications of a presbuteros ( Greek #4245 ) and of an episkopos ( Greek #1985 ) are to all intents and purposes identical ( 1 Timothy 3:2-7 ; Titus 1:6-9 ). (c) At the beginning of Philippians, Paul's greetings are to the bishops and the deacons ( Philippians 1:1 ). It is quite impossible that Paul would have sent no greetings at all to the elders, who, as we have already seen, were in every Church; and therefore the bishops and the elders must be one and the same body of people. (d) When Paul was on his last journey to Jerusalem, he sent for the elders of Ephesus to meet him at Miletus ( Acts 20:17 ), and in the course of his talk to them he says that God has made them episkopoi ( Greek #1985 ) to feed the Church of God ( Acts 20:28 ). That is to say, he addresses precisely the same body of men first as elders and second as bishops or overseers. (e) When Peter is writing to his people, he talks to them as an elder to elders ( 1 Peter 5:1 ), and then he goes on to say that their function is oversight of the flock of God ( 1 Peter 5:2 ), and the word he uses for oversight, is the verb episkopein ( Greek #1983 ) from which episkopos ( Greek #1985 ) comes. All the evidence from the New Testament goes to prove that the presbuteros ( Greek #4245 ) and the episkopos ( Greek #1985 ), the elder and the bishop or overseer, were one and the same person.
Two questions arise. First, if they were the same, why were there two names for them? The answer is that presbuteros ( Greek #4245 ) described these leaders of the Church as they personally were. They were the elder men, the older and respected members of the community. Episkopos ( Greek #1985 ), on the other hand, described their function, which was to oversee the life and the work of the Church. The one word described the man; the other described his task.
The second question is--if the elder and the bishop were originally the same, how did the bishop become what he did? The answer is simple. Inevitably the body of the elders would acquire a leader. Someone to lead would be essential and would inevitably emerge. The more organized the Church became, the more such a figure would be bound to arise. And the elder who stood out as leader came to be called the episkopos ( Greek #1985 ), the superintendent of the Church. But it is to be noted that he was simply a leader amongst equals. He was in fact the elder whom circumstances and personal qualities had combined to make a leader for the work of the Church.
It will be seen that to translate episkopos ( Greek #1985 ) by the word bishop in the New Testament now gives the word a misleading meaning. It is better to translate it overseer or superintendent.
This passage is further interesting in that it tells us something of the appointment and the duties of the leaders of the Church.
(i) They were formally set apart for their office. Titus was to ordain elders in every Church ( Titus 1:5 ). The office-bearer of the Church is not made an office-bearer in secret; he is set apart before the eyes of men; the honour of the Church is publicly delivered into his hands.
(ii) They had to undergo a period of testing. They had first to be proved ( 1 Timothy 3:10 ). No one builds a bridge or a piece of machinery with metal which has not been tested. The Church might do well to be more strict than she is in the testing of those chosen for leadership.
(iii) They were paid for the work which they had to do. The labourer was worthy of his hire ( 1 Timothy 5:18 ). The Christian leader does not work for pay, but, on the other hand, the duty of the Church which chose him for the work is to supply him with the means to live.
(iv) They were liable to censure ( 1 Timothy 5:19-22 ). In the early Church the office-bearer had a double function. He was a leader of the Church; but he was also the servant of the Church. He had to answer for his stewardship. No Christian office-bearer must ever consider himself answerable to no one; he is answerable to God and to the people over whom God gave him the task of presiding.
(v) They had the duty of presiding over the Christian assembly and of teaching the Christian congregation ( 1 Timothy 5:17 ). The Christian office-bearer has the double duty of administration and instruction. It may well be that one of the tragedies of the modern Church is that the administrative function of the office-bearer has usurped the teaching function almost entirely. It is, for instance, sad to see how few elders of the Church are actively engaged in the teaching work of Sunday schools.
(vi) The office-bearer was not to be a recent convert. Two reasons are given for this advice. The first is quite clear. It is "in case he becomes inflated with a sense of his own importance." The second is not so clear. It is, as the Revised Standard Version has it, "lest he fall into the condemnation of the devil." There are three possible explanations of that strange phrase. (a) It was through his pride that Lucifer rebelled against God and was expelled from heaven. And this may simply be a second warning against the danger of pride. (b) It may mean that, if the too quickly advanced convert becomes guilty of pride, he gives the devil a chance to level his charges against him. A conceited Church office-bearer gives the devil a chance to say to critics of the Church: "Look! There's your Christian! There's your Church member! That's what an office-bearer is like!" (c) The word diabolos ( Greek #1228 ) has two meanings. It means "Devil," and that is the way in which the Revised Standard Version has taken it here; but it also means "slanderer." It is in fact the word used for slanderer in 1 Timothy 3:11 , where the women are forbidden to be slanderers. So then this phrase may mean that the recent convert, who has been appointed to office, and has acquired, as we say, a swelled head, gives opportunity to the slanderers. His unworthy conduct is ammunition for those who are ill-disposed to the Church. No matter how we take it, the point is that the conceited Church official is a bad debt to the Church.
But, as the early Church saw it, the responsibility of the office-bearer did not begin and end in the Church. He had two other spheres of responsibility, and if he failed in them, he was bound also to fail in the Church.
(i) His first sphere of duty was his own home. If a man did not know how to rule his own household, how could he engage upon the task of ruling the congregation of the Church? ( 1 Timothy 3:5 ). A man who had not succeeded in making a Christian home could hardly be expected to succeed in making a Christian congregation. A man who had not instructed his own family could hardly be the right man to instruct the family of the Church.
(ii) The second sphere of responsibility was the world. He must be "well thought of by outsiders" ( 1 Timothy 3:7 ). He must be a man who has gained the respect of his fellow-men in the day-to-day business of life. Nothing has hurt the Church more than the sight of people who are active in it, whose business and social life belies the faith which they profess and the precepts which they teach. The Christian office-bearer must first of all be a good man.
We have just seen that the Christian leader must be a man who has won the respect of all. In this passage there is a great series of words and phrases describing his character; and it will be worth while to look at each in turn. Before we do that it will be interesting to set beside them two famous descriptions by great heathen thinkers of the good leader's character. Diogenes Laertius (7: 116-126) hands down to us the Stoic description. He must be married; he must be without pride; he must be temperate; and he must combine prudence of mind with excellence of outward behaviour. A writer called Onosander gives us the other. He must be prudent, self-controlled, sober, frugal, enduring in toil, intelligent, without love of money, neither young nor old, if possible the father of a family, able to speak competently, and of good reputation. It is interesting to see how the pagan and the Christian descriptions coincide.
The Christian leader must be a man against whom no criticism can be made (anepileptos, Greek #423 ). Anepileptos is used of a position which is not open to attack, of a life which is not open to censure, of an art or technique which is so perfect that no fault can be found with it, of an agreement which is inviolable. The Christian leader must not only be free from such faults as can be assailed by definite charges; he must be of such fine character as to be even beyond criticism. The Rheims version of the New Testament translates this Greek word by the very unusual English word irreprehensible, unable to be found fault with. The Greeks themselves defined the word as meaning "affording nothing of which an adversary can take hold." Here is the ideal of perfection. We will not be able fully to attain to it; but the fact remains that the Christian leader must seek to offer to the world a life of such purity that he leaves no loophole even for criticism of himself.
The Christian leader must have been married only once. The Greek literally means that he must be "the husband of one wife." Some take this to mean that the Christian leader must be a married man, and it is possible that the phrase could mean that. It is certainly true that a married man can be a recipient of confidences and a bringer of help in a way that a single man cannot be, and that he can bring a special understanding and sympathy to many a situation. Some few take it to mean that the Christian leader cannot marry a second time, even after his wife's death. In support they quote Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 . But in its context here we can be quite certain that the phrase means that the Christian leader must be a loyal husband, preserving marriage in all its purity. In later days the Apostolic Canons laid it down: "He who is involved in two marriages, after his baptism, or he who has taken a concubine, cannot be an episkopos ( Greek #1985 ), a bishop."
We may well ask why it should be necessary to lay down what looks obvious. We must understand the state of the world in which this was written. It has been said, and with much truth, that the only totally new virtue which Christianity brought into this world was chastity. In many ways the ancient world was in a state of moral chaos, even the Jewish world. Astonishing as it may seem, certain Jews still practised polygamy. In the Dialogue with Trypho, in which Justin Martyr discusses Christianity with a Jew, it is said that "it is possible for a Jew even now to have four or five wives" (Dialogue with Trypho, 134). Josephus can write: "By ancestral custom a man can live with more than one wife" (Antiquities of the Jews, 17: 1, 2).
Apart altogether from these unusual cases, divorce was tragically easy in the Jewish world. The Jews had the highest ideals of marriage. They said that a man must surrender his life rather than commit murder, idolatry or adultery. They had the belief that marriages are made in heaven. In the story of the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca it is said: "The thing comes from the Lord" ( Genesis 24:50 ). This was taken to mean that the marriage was arranged by God. So it is said in Proverbs 19:14 : "A prudent wife is from the Lord." In the story of Tobit, the angel says to Tobit: "Fear not for she was prepared for thee from the beginning" ( Tobit 6:17 ). The Rabbis said: "God sits in heaven arranging marriages." "Forty days before the child is formed a heavenly voice proclaims its mate."
For all that, the Jewish law allowed divorce. Marriage was indeed the ideal but divorce was permitted. Marriage was "inviolable but not indissoluble." The Jews held that once the marriage ideal had been shattered by cruelty or infidelity or incompatibility, it was far better to allow a divorce and to permit the two to make a fresh start. The great tragedy was that the wife had no rights whatsoever. Josephus says: "With us it is lawful for a husband to dissolve a marriage, but a wife, if she departs from her husband, cannot marry another, unless her former husband put her away" (Antiquities of the Jews, 15: 8, 7). In a case of divorce by consent, in the time of the New Testament, all that was required was two witnesses, and no court case at all. A husband could send his wife away for any cause; at the most a wife could petition the court to urge her husband to write her a bill of divorcement, but it could not compel him even to do that.
In face of that situation, things came to such a pass that "women refused to contract marriages, and men grew grey and celibate." A brake was put upon this process by legislation introduced by Simon ben Shetah. A Jewish wife always brought her husband a dowry which was called Kethubah. Simon enacted that a man had unrestricted use of the Kethubah, so long as he remained married to his wife, but on divorce he was absolutely liable to repay it, even if he had "to sell his hair" to do so. This checked divorce; but the Jewish system was always vitiated by the fact that the wife had no rights.
In the heathen world things were infinitely worse. There, too, according to Roman law, the wife had no rights. Cato said: "If you were to take your wife in adultery, you could kill her with impunity, without any court judgment; but if you were involved in adultery, she would not dare to lift a finger against you, for it is unlawful." Things grew so bad, and marriage grew so irksome, that in 131 B.C. a well-known Roman called Metellus Macedonicus made a statement which Augustus was afterwards to quote: "If we could do without wives, we would be rid of that nuisance. But since nature has decreed that we can neither live comfortably with them, nor live at all without them, we must look rather to our permanent interests than to passing pleasure."
Even the Roman poets saw the dreadfulness of the situation. "Ages rich in sin," wrote Horace, "were the first to taint marriage and family life. From this source the evil has overflowed." "Sooner will the seas be dried up," said Propertius, "and the stars be raft from heaven, than our women reformed." Ovid wrote his famous, or infamous, book The Art of love, and never from beginning to end mentions married love. He wrote cynically: "These women alone are pure who are unsolicited, and a man who is angry at his wife's love affair is nothing but a rustic boor." Seneca declared: "Anyone whose affairs have not become notorious, and who does not pay a married woman a yearly fee, is despised by women as a mere lover of girls; in fact husbands are got as a mere decoy for lovers." "Only the ugly," he said, "are loyal." "A woman who is content to have only two followers is a paragon of virtue." Tacitus commended the supposedly barbarian German tribes for "not laughing at evil, and not making seduction the spirit of the age." When a marriage took place, the home to which the couple were going was decorated with green bay leaves. Juvenal said that there were those who entered on divorce before the bays of welcome had faded. In 19 B.C. a man named Quintus Lucretius Vespillo erected a tablet to his wife which said: "Seldom do marriages last until death undivorced; but ours continued happily for forty-one years." The happy marriage was the astonishing exception.
Ovid and Pliny had three wives; Caesar and Antony had four; Sulla and Pompey had five; Herod had nine; Cicero's daughter Tullia had three husbands. The Emperor Nero was the third husband of Poppaea and the fifth husband of Statilla Messalina.
It was not for nothing that the Pastorals laid it down that the Christian leader must be the husband of one wife. In a world where even the highest places were deluged with immorality, the Christian Church must demonstrate the chastity, the stability and the sanctity of the Christian home.
The Christian leader must be sober (nephalios, Greek #3524 ) and he must not over-indulge in wine, (paroinos, Greek #3943 ). In the ancient world wine was continually used. Where the water supply was very inadequate and sometimes dangerous, wine was the most natural drink of all. It is wine which cheers the hearts of gods and men ( 9:13 ). In the restoration of Israel she will plant her vineyards and drink her wine ( Amos 9:14 ). Strong drink is given to those who are ready to perish, and wine to those whose hearts are heavy ( Proverbs 31:6 ).
This is not to say that the ancient world was not fully alive to the dangers of strong drink. Proverbs speaks of the disaster which comes to the man who looks on the wine when it is red ( Proverbs 23:29-35 ). Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler ( Proverbs 20:1 ). There are terrible stories of what happened to people through over-indulgence in wine. There is the case of Noah ( Genesis 9:18-27 ); of Lot ( Genesis 19:30-38 ); of Amnon ( 2 Samuel 13:28-29 ). Although the ancient world used wine as the commonest of all drinks, it used it most abstemiously. When wine was drunk, it was drunk in the proportion of two parts of wine to three parts of water. A man who was drunken would be disgraced in ordinary heathen society, let alone in the Church.
The interesting thing is the double meaning that both words in this section possess. Nephalios ( Greek #3524 ) means sober, but it also means watchful and vigilant; paroinos ( Greek #3943 ) means addicted to wine, but it also means quarrelsome and violent. The point that the Pastorals make here is that the Christian must allow himself no indulgence which would lessen his Christian vigilance or soil his Christian conduct.
We have translated sophron ( Greek #4998 ) by prudent, but it is virtually untranslatable. It is variously translated of sound mind, discreet, prudent, self-controlled, chaste, having complete control over sensual desires. The Greeks derived it from two words which mean to keep one's mind safe and sound. The corresponding noun is sophrosune ( Greek #4997 ), and the Greeks wrote and thought much about it. It is the opposite of intemperance and lack of self-control. Plato defined it as "the mastery of pleasure and desire." Aristotle defined it as "that power by which the pleasures of the body are used as law commands." Philo defined it as "a certain limiting and ordering of the desires, which eliminates those which are external and excessive, and which adorns those which are necessary with timeliness and moderation." Pythagoras said that it was "the foundation on which the soul rests." Iamblichus said that "it is the safeguard of the most excellent habits in life." Euripides said that it was "the fairest gift of God." Jeremy Taylor called it "reason's girdle and passion's bridle." Trench describes sophrosune ( Greek #4997 ) as "the condition of entire command over the passions and desires, so that they receive no further allowance than that which law and right reason admit and approve." Gilbert Murray wrote of sophron ( Greek #4998 ): "There is a way of thinking which destroys and a way which saves. The man or woman who is sophron ( Greek #4998 ) walks among the beauties and perils of the world, feeling love, joy, anger, and the rest; and through all he has that in his mind which saves. Whom does it save? Not him only, but, as we should say, the whole situation. It saves the imminent evil from coming to be." E. F. Brown quotes in illustration of sophrosune ( Greek #4997 ) a prayer of Thomas Aquinas which asks for "a quieting of all our impulses, fleshly and spiritual."
The companion word is kosmios ( Greek #2887 ), which we have translated well-behaved. If a man is kosmios ( Greek #2887 ) in his outer conduct it is because he is sophron ( Greek #4998 ) in his inner life. Kosmios ( Greek #2887 ) means orderly, honest, decorous. In Greek it has two special usages. It is common in tributes and in inscriptions to the dead. And it is commonly used to describe the man who is a good citizen. Plato defines the man who is kosmios ( Greek #2887 ) as "the citizen who is quiet in the land, who duly fulfils in his place and order the duties which are incumbent upon him as such." This word has more in it than simply good behaviour. It describes the man whose life is beautiful and in whose character all things are harmoniously integrated.
The leader of the Church must be a man who is sophron ( Greek #4998 ), his every instinct and desire under perfect control; he must be a man who is kosmios ( Greek #2887 ), his inner control issuing in outward beauty. The leader must be one in whose heart Christ's power reigns and on whose life Christ's beauty shines.
The Christian leader must be hospitable (philoxenos, Greek #5382 ). This is a quality on which the New Testament lays much stress. Paul bids the Roman Church to "practise hospitality" ( Romans 12:13 ). "Practise hospitality ungrudgingly to one another," says Peter ( 1 Peter 4:9 ). In the Shepherd of Hermas, one of the very early Christian writings, it is laid down: "The episkopos ( Greek #1985 ) must be hospitable, a man who gladly and at all times welcomes into his house the servants of God." The Christian leader must be a man with an open heart and an open house.
The ancient world was very careful of the rights of the guest. The stranger was under the protection of Zeus Xenios, the Protector of Strangers. in the ancient world, inns were notoriously bad. In one of Aristophanes' plays Heracles asks his companion where they will lodge for the night; and the answer is: "Where the fleas are fewest." Plato speaks of the inn-keeper being like a pirate who holds his guests to ransom. Inns tended to be dirty and expensive and, above all, immoral. The ancient world had a system of what were called Guest Friendships. Over generations families had arrangements to give each other accommodation and hospitality. Often the members of the families came in the end to be unknown to each other by sight and identified themselves by means of what were called tallies. The stranger seeking accommodation would produce one half of some object; the host would possess the other half of the tally; and when the two halves fitted each other the host knew that he had found his guest, and the guest knew that the host was indeed the ancestral friend of his household.
In the Christian Church there were wandering teachers and preachers who needed hospitality. There were also many slaves with no homes of their own to whom it was a great privilege to have the right of entry to a Christian home. It was of the greatest blessing that Christians should have Christian homes ever open to them in which they could meet people like-minded to themselves. We live in a world where there are still many who are far from home, many who are strangers in a strange place, many who live in conditions where it is hard to be a Christian. The door of the Christian home and the welcome of the Christian heart should be open to all such.
The Christian leader must be possessed of an aptitude for teaching (didaktikos, Greek #1317 ). It has been said that his duty is "to preach to the unconverted and to teach the converted." There are two things to be said about this. It is one of the disasters of modern times that the teaching ministry of the Church is not being exercised as it should. There is any amount of topical preaching and any amount of exhortation; but there is little use in exhorting a man to be a Christian when he does not know what being a Christian means. Instruction is a primary duty of the Christian preacher and leader. The second thing is this. The finest and the most effective teaching is done not by speaking but by being. Even the man with no gift of words can teach, by living in such a way that in him men see the reflection of the Master. A saint has been defined as someone "in whom Christ lives again."
The Christian leader must not be a man who assaults others (plektes, Greek #4131 , a striker). That this instruction was not unnecessary is seen in one of the very early regulations of the Apostolic Canons: "A bishop, priest or deacon who smites the faithful when they err, or the unbelievers when they commit injury, and desires by such means as this to terrify them, we command to be deposed; for nowhere hath the Lord taught us this. When he was reviled, he reviled not again, but the contrary. When he was smitten, he smote not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." It will not be likely that any Christian leader will nowadays strike another Christian, but the fact remains that blustering, bullying, irritable, bad-tempered speech or action is forbidden to the Christian.
The Christian leader must be gentle. The Greek is epieikes ( Greek #1933 ), another of these completely untranslatable words. The noun is epieikeia ( Greek #1932 ) and Aristotle describes it as "that which corrects justice" and as that which "is just and better than justice." He said that it was that quality which corrects the law when the law errs because of its generality. What he means is that sometimes it may actually be unjust to apply the strict letter of the law. Trench said that epieikeia ( Greek #1932 ) means "retreating from the letter of right better to preserve the spirit of right" and is "the spirit which recognizes the impossibility of cleaving to all formal law...that recognizes the danger that ever waits upon the assertion of legal rights, lest they should be pushed into moral wrongs...the spirit which rectifies and redresses the injustice of justice." Aristotle describes in full the action of epieikeia ( Greek #1932 ): "To pardon human failings; to look to the law-giver, not to the law; to the intention, not to the action; to the whole, not to the part; to the character of the actor in the long run and not in the present moment; to remember good rather than evil, and the good that one has received rather than the good that one has done; to bear being injured; to wish to settle a matter by words rather than deeds." If there is a matter under dispute, it can be settled by consulting a book of practice and procedure, or it can be settled by consulting Jesus Christ. If there is a matter of debate, it can be settled in law, or it can be settled in love. The atmosphere of many a Church would be radically changed if there was more epieikeia ( Greek #1932 ) within it.
The Christian leader must be peaceable (amachos, Greek #269 ). The Greek word means disinclined to fight. There are people who, as we might put it, are "trigger-happy" in their relationships with other people. But the real Christian leader wants nothing so much as he wants peace with his fellow-men.
The Christian leader must be free from the love of money. He will never do anything simply for profit's sake. He will know that there are values which are beyond all money price.