1 Timothy 3 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of 1 Timothy 3)


1. Translate as Greek, "Faithful is the saying." A needful preface to what follows: for the office of a bishop or overseer in Paul's day, attended as it was with hardship and often persecution, would not seem to the world generally a desirable and "good work."
desire--literally, "stretch one's self forward to grasp"; "aim at": a distinct Greek verb from that for "desireth." What one does voluntarily is more esteemed than what he does when asked (1Co 16:15). This is utterly distinct from ambitious desires after office in the Church. (Jas 3:1).
bishop--overseer: as yet identical with "presbyter" (Ac 20:17, 28; Tit 1:5-7).
good work--literally, "honorable work." Not the honor associated with it, but the work, is the prominent thought (Ac 15:38; Php 2:30; compare 2Ti 4:5). He who aims at the office must remember the high qualifications needed for the due discharge of its functions.

2. The existence of Church organization and presbyters at Ephesus is presupposed (1Ti 5:17, 19). The institution of Church widows (1Ti 5:3-25) accords with this. The directions here to Timothy, the president or apostolic delegate, are as to filling up vacancies among the bishops and deacons, or adding to their number. New churches in the neighborhood also would require presbyters and deacons. Episcopacy was adopted in apostolic times as the most expedient form of government, being most nearly in accordance with Jewish institutions, and so offering the less obstruction through Jewish prejudices to the progress of Christianity. The synagogue was governed by presbyters, "elders" (Ac 4:8; 24:1), called also bishops or overseers. Three among them presided as "rulers of the synagogue," answering to "bishops" in the modern sense [LIGHTFOOT, Hebrew and Talmudic Exercitations], and one among them took the lead. AMBROSE (in The Duties of the Clergy [2.13], as also BINGHAM [Ecclesiastical Antiquities, 2.11]) says, "They who are now called bishops were originally called apostles. But those who ruled the Church after the death of the apostles had not the testimony of miracles, and were in many respects inferior. Therefore they thought it not decent to assume to themselves the name of apostles; but dividing the names, they left to presbyters the name of the presbytery, and they themselves were called bishops." "Presbyter" refers to the rank; "bishop," to the office or function. Timothy (though not having the name) exercised the power at Ephesus then, which bishops in the modern sense more recently exercised.
blameless--"unexceptionable"; giving no just handle for blame.
husband of one wife--confuting the celibacy of Rome's priesthood. Though the Jews practiced polygamy, yet as he is writing as to a Gentile Church, and as polygamy was never allowed among even laymen in the Church, the ancient interpretation that the prohibition here is against polygamy in a candidate bishop is not correct. It must, therefore, mean that, though laymen might lawfully marry again, candidates for the episcopate or presbytery were better to have been married only once. As in 1Ti 5:9, "wife of one man," implies a woman married but once; so "husband of one wife" here must mean the same. The feeling which prevailed among the Gentiles, as well as the Jews (compare as to Anna, Lu 2:36, 37), against a second marriage would, on the ground of expediency and conciliation in matters indifferent and not involving compromise of principle, account for Paul's prohibition here in the case of one in so prominent a sphere as a bishop or a deacon. Hence the stress that is laid in the context on the repute in which the candidate for orders is held among those over whom he is to preside (Tit 1:16). The Council of Laodicea and the apostolic canons discountenanced second marriages, especially in the case of candidates for ordination. Of course second marriage being lawful, the undesirableness of it holds good only under special circumstances. It is implied here also, that he who has a wife and virtuous family, is to be preferred to a bachelor; for he who is himself bound to discharge the domestic duties mentioned here, is likely to be more attractive to those who have similar ties, for he teaches them not only by precept, but also by example (1Ti 3:4, 5). The Jews teach, a priest should be neither unmarried nor childless, lest he be unmerciful [BENGEL]. So in the synagogue, "no one shall offer up prayer in public, unless he be married" [in Colbo, ch. 65; VITRINGA, Synagogue and Temple].
vigilant--literally, "sober"; ever on the watch, as sober men alone can be; keenly alive, so as to foresee what ought to be done (1Th 5:6-8).
of good behaviour--Greek, "orderly." "Sober" refers to the inward mind; "orderly," to the outward behavior, tone, look, gait, dress. The new man bears somewhat of a sacred festival character, incompatible with all confusion, disorder, excess, violence, laxity, assumption, harshness, and meanness (Php 4:8) [BENGEL].
apt to teach-- (2Ti 2:24).

3. Not given to wine--The Greek includes besides this, not indulging in the brawling, violent conduct towards others, which proceeds from being given to wine. The opposite of "patient" or (Greek) "forbearing," reasonable to others (see on Php 4:5).
no striker--with either hand or tongue: not as some teachers pretending a holy zeal (2Co 11:20), answering to "not a brawler" or fighter (compare 1Ki 22:24; Ne 13:25; Isa 58:4; Ac 23:2; 2Ti 2:24, 25).
not covetous--Greek, "not a lover of money," whether he have much or little (Tit 1:7).

4. ruleth--Greek, "presiding over."
his own house--children and servants, as contrasted with "the church" (house) of God (1Ti 3:5, 15) which he may be called on to preside over.
having his children--rather as Greek, "having children (who are) in subjection" (Tit 1:6).
      gravity--propriety: reverent modesty on the part of the children [ALFORD]. The fact that he has children who are in subjection to him in all gravity, is the recommendation in his favor as one likely to rule well the Church.

5. For--Greek, "But."
the church--rather, "a church" or congregation. How shall he who cannot perform the lesser function, perform the greater and more difficult?

6. not a novice--one just converted. This proves the Church of Ephesus was established now for some time. The absence of this rule in the Epistle to Titus, accords with the recent planting of the Church at Crete. Greek, "neophyte," literally, "a young plant"; luxuriantly verdant (Ro 6:5; 11:17; 1Co 3:6). The young convert has not yet been disciplined and matured by afflictions and temptations. Contrast Ac 21:16, "an old disciple."
lifted up with pride--Greek, literally, "wrapt in smoke," so that, inflated with self-conceit and exaggerated ideas of his own importance, he cannot see himself or others in the true light (1Ti 6:4; 2Ti 3:4).
condemnation of the devil--into the same condemnation as Satan fell into (1Ti 3:7; 2Ti 2:26). Pride was the cause of Satan's condemnation (Job 38:15; Isa 14:12-15; Joh 12:31; 16:11; 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6). It cannot mean condemnation or accusation on the part of the devil. The devil may bring a reproach on men (1Ti 3:7), but he cannot bring them into condemnation, for he does not judge, but is judged [BENGEL].

7. a good report--Greek, "testimony." So Paul was influenced by the good report given of Timothy to choose him as his companion (Ac 16:2).
of them which are without--from the as yet unconverted Gentiles around (1Co 5:12; Col 4:5; 1Th 4:12), that they may be the more readily won to the Gospel (1Pe 2:12), and that the name of Christ may be glorified. Not even the former life of a bishop should be open to reproach [BENGEL].
reproach and the snare of the devil--reproach of men (1Ti 5:14) proving the occasion of his falling into the snare of the devil (1Ti 6:9; Mt 22:15; 2Ti 2:26). The reproach continually surrounding him for former sins might lead him into the snare of becoming as bad as his reputation. Despair of recovering reputation might, in a weak moment, lead some into recklessness of living (Jer 18:12). The reason why only moral qualities of a general kind are specified is, he presupposes in candidates for a bishopric the special gifts of the Spirit (1Ti 4:14) and true faith, which he desires to be evidenced outwardly; also he requires qualifications in a bishop not so indispensable in others.

8. The deacons were chosen by the voice of the people. CYPRIAN [Epistle, 2.5] says that good bishops never departed from the old custom of consulting the people. The deacons answer to the chazzan of the synagogue: the attendant ministers, or subordinate coadjutors of the presbyter (as Timothy himself was to Paul, 1Ti 4:6; Phm 13; and John Mark, Ac 13:5). Their duty was to read the Scriptures in the Church, to instruct the catechumens in Christian truths, to assist the presbyters at the sacraments, to receive oblations, and to preach and instruct. As the "chazzan" covered and uncovered the ark in the synagogue, containing the law, so the deacon in the ancient Church put the covering on the communion table. (See CHRYSOSTOM [19], Homily on Acts; THEOPHYLACT on Luke 19; and BALSAMAN on Canon 22, Council of Laodicea). The appointing of "the seven" in Ac 6:1-7 is perhaps not meant to describe the first appointment of the deacons of the Church. At least the chazzan previously suggested the similar order of deacons.
double-tongued--literally, "of double speech"; saying one thing to this person, and another to that person [THEODORET]. The extensive personal intercourse that deacons would have with the members of the Church might prove a temptation to such a fault. Others explain it, "Saying one thing, thinking another" (Pr 20:19; Ga 2:13). I prefer the former.
not greedy of filthy lucre--All gain is filthy (literally, "base") which is set before a man as a by-end in his work for God [ALFORD] (1Pe 5:2). The deacon's office of collecting and distributing alms would render this a necessary qualification.

9. the mystery of the faith--holding the faith, which to the natural man remains a mystery, but which has been revealed by the Spirit to them (Ro 16:25; 1Co 2:7-10), in a pure conscience (1Ti 1:5, 19). ("Pure," that is, in which nothing base or foreign is intermixed [TITTMANN]). Though deacons were not ordinarily called on to preach (Stephen and Philip are not exceptions to this, since it was as evangelists, rather than as deacons, they preached), yet as being office-bearers in the Church, and having much intercourse with all the members, they especially needed to have this characteristic, which every Christian ought to have.

10. "And moreover," &c. [ALFORD].
be proved--not by a period of probation, but by a searching inquiry, conducted by Timothy, the ordaining president (1Ti 5:22), whether they be "blameless"; then when found so, "let them act as deacons."
blameless--Greek, "unexceptionable"; as the result of public investigation unaccused [TITTMANN].

11. their wives--rather, "the women," that is, the deaconesses. For there is no reason that special rules should be laid down as to the wives of the deacons, and not also as to the wives of the bishops or overseers. Moreover, if the wives of the deacons were meant, there seems no reason for the omission of "their" (not in the Greek). Also the Greek for "even so" (the same as for "likewise," 1Ti 3:8, and "in like manner," 1Ti 2:9), denotes a transition to another class of persons. Further, there were doubtless deaconesses at Ephesus, such as Phœbe was at Cenchrea (Ro 16:1, "servant," Greek, "deaconess"), yet no mention is made of them in this Epistle if not here; whereas, supposing them to be meant here, the third chapter embraces in due proportion all the persons in the service of the Church. Naturally after specifying the qualifications of the deacon, Paul passes to those of the kindred office, the deaconess. "Grave" occurs in the case of both. "Not slanderers" here, answers to "not double-tongued" in the deacons; so "not false accusers" (Tit 2:3). "Sober" here answers to "not given to much wine," in the case of the deacons (1Ti 3:8). Thus it appears he requires the same qualifications in female deacons as in deacons, only with such modifications as the difference of sex suggested. PLINY, in his celebrated letter to Trajan, calls them "female ministers."
faithful in all things--of life as well as faith. Trustworthy in respect to the alms committed to them and their other functions, answering to "not greedy of filthy lucre," 1Ti 3:8, in the case of the deacons.

12. husbands of one wife--(See on 1Ti 3:2).
ruling their children--There is no article in the Greek, "ruling children"; implying that he regarded the having children to rule as a qualification (1Ti 3:4; Tit 1:6).
their own houses--as distinguished from "the Church of God" (see on 1Ti 3:5). In the case of the deacons, as in that of the bishops, he mentions the first condition of receiving office, rather than the special qualifications for its discharge. The practical side of Christianity is the one most dwelt on in the Pastoral Epistles, in opposition to the heretical teachers; moreover, as the miraculous gifts began to be withdrawn, the safest criterion of efficiency would be the previous moral character of the candidate, the disposition and talent for the office being presupposed. So in Ac 6:3, a similar criterion was applied, "Look ye out among you seven men of honest report." Less stress is laid on personal dignity in the case of the deacon than in that of the bishop (compare Notes, see on 1Ti 3:2,3).

13. purchase to themselves a good degree--literally, "are acquiring . . . a . . . step." Understood by many as "a higher step," that is, promotion to the higher office of presbyter. But ambition of rising seems hardly the motive to faithfulness which the apostle would urge; besides, it would require the comparative, "a better degree." Then the past aorist participle, "they that used the office of deacon well," implies that the present verb, "are acquiring to themselves boldness," is the result of the completed action of using the diaconate well. Also, Paul would not probably hold out to every deacon the prospect of promotion to the presbytery in reward of his service. The idea of moving upwards in Church offices was as yet unknown (compare Ro 12:7, &c.; 1Co 12:4-11). Moreover, there seems little connection between reference to a higher Church rank and the words "great boldness." Therefore, what those who have faithfully discharged the diaconate acquire for themselves is "a good standing-place" [ALFORD] (a well-grounded hope of salvation) against the day of judgment, 1Ti 6:19; 1Co 3:13, 14 (the figurative meaning of "degree" or "step," being the degree of worth which one has obtained in the eye of God [WIESINGER]); and boldness (resting on that standing-place"), as well for preaching and admonishing others now (Eph 6:19; a firm standing forth for the truth against error), as also especially in relation to God their coming Judge, before whom they may be boldly confident (Ac 24:16; 1Jo 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; Heb 4:16).
in the faith--rather as Greek, "in faith," that is, boldness resting on their own faith.
which is in Christ Jesus--resting in Christ Jesus.

14. write I . . . hoping--that is, "though I hope to come unto thee shortly" (1Ti 4:13). As his hope was not very confident (1Ti 3:15), he provides for Timothy's lengthened superintendence by giving him the preceding rules to guide him. He now proceeds to give more general instructions to him as an evangelist, having a "gift" committed to him (1Ti 4:14).
shortly--Greek, "sooner," namely, than is presupposed in the preceding directions given to him. See my Introduction on this verse. This verse best suits the theory that this First Epistle was not written after Paul's visit and departure from Ephesus (Ac 19:1-20:38) when he had resolved to winter at Corinth after passing the summer in Macedonia (1Co 16:6), but after his first imprisonment at Rome (Ac 28:17-31); probably at Corinth, where he might have some thoughts of going on to Epirus before returning to Ephesus [BIRKS].

15. But if I tarry long--before coming to thee.
that--that is, I write (1Ti 3:14) "that thou mayest know," &c.
behave thyself--in directing the Church at Ephesus (1Ti 4:11).
the house of God--the Church (Heb 3:2, 5, 6; 10:21; 1Pe 4:17; 1Co 3:16, "the temple of God"; Eph 2:22).
which is--that is, inasmuch as it is.
the church--"the congregation." The fact that the sphere of thy functions is "the congregation of the living God" (who is the ever living Master of the house, 2Ti 2:19, 20, 21), is the strongest motive to faithfulness in this behavior as president of a department of the house." The living God forms a striking contrast to the lifeless idol, Diana of Ephesus (1Th 1:9). He is the fountain of "truth," and the foundation of our "trust" (1Ti 4:10). Labor directed to a particular Church is service to the one great house of God, of which each particular Church is a part, and each Christian a lively stone (1Pe 2:5).
the pillar and ground of the truth--evidently predicated of the Church, not of "the mystery of godliness" (an interpretation not started till the sixteenth century; so BENGEL); for after two weighty predicates, "pillar and ground," and these substantives, the third, a much weaker one, and that an adjective, "confessedly," or "without controversy great," would not come. "Pillar" is so used metaphorically of the three apostles on whom principally the Jewish Christian Church depended (Ga 2:9; compare Re 3:12). The Church is "the pillar of the truth," as the continued existence (historically) of the truth rests on it; for it supports and preserves the word of truth. He who is of the truth belongs by the very fact to the Church. Christ is the alone ground of the truth in the highest sense (1Co 3:11). The apostles are foundations in a secondary sense (Eph 2:20; Re 21:14). The Church rests on the truth as it is in Christ; not the truth on the Church. But the truth as it is in itself is to be distinguished from the truth as it is acknowledged in the world. In the former sense it needs no pillar, but supports itself; in the latter sense, it needs the Church as its pillar, that is, its supporter and preserver [BAUMGARTEN]. The importance of Timothy's commission is set forth by reminding him of the excellence of "the house" in which he serves; and this in opposition to the coming heresies which Paul presciently forewarns him of immediately after (1Ti 4:1). The Church is to be the stay of the truth and its conserver for the world, and God's instrument for securing its continuance on earth, in opposition to those heresies (Mt 16:18; 28:20). The apostle does not recognize a Church which has not the truth, or has it only in part. Rome falsely claims the promise for herself. But it is not historical descent that constitutes a Church, but this only, to those heresies (Mt 16:18; 28:20). The apostle does not recognize a Church which has not the intermediate; the "ground," or "basement" (similar to "foundation," 2Ti 2:19), the final support of the building [ALFORD]. It is no objection that, having called the Church before "the house of God," he now calls it the "pillar"; for the literal word "Church" immediately precedes the new metaphors: so the Church, or congregation of believers, which before was regarded as the habitation of God, is now, from a different point of view, regarded as the pillar upholding the truth.

16. And--following up 1Ti 3:15: The pillar of the truth is the Church in which thou art required to minister; "AND (that thou mayest know how grand is that truth which the Church so upholds) confessedly (so the Greek for 'without controversy') great is the mystery of godliness: (namely), HE WHO (so the oldest manuscripts and versions read for 'God') was manifested in (the) flesh (He who) was justified in the Spirit," &c. There is set before us the whole dignity of Christ's person. If He were not essentially superhuman (Tit 2:13), how could the apostle emphatically declare that He was manifested in (the) flesh? [TREGELLES, Printed Text of the Greek New Testament]. (Joh 1:14; Php 2:7; 1Jo 1:2; 4:2). Christ, in all His aspects, is Himself "the mystery of godliness." He who before was hidden "with God" was made manifest (Joh 1:1, 14; Ro 16:25, 26; Col 1:26; 2Ti 1:10; Tit 2:11; 3:4; 1Jo 3:5, 8). "Confessedly," that is, by the universal confession of the members of "the Church," which is in this respect the "pillar" or upholder "of the truth."
the mystery--the divine scheme embodied in CHRIST (Col 1:27), once hidden from, but now revealed to, us who believe.
of godliness--rather, "piety"; a different Greek, expresses godliness (1Ti 2:10). In opposition to the ungodliness or impiety inseparable from error (departure from the faith: "doctrines of devils," "profane fables," 1Ti 4:1, 7; compare 1Ti 6:3). To the victims of such error, the "mystery of piety" (that is, Christ Himself) remains a mystery unrevealed (1Ti 4:2). It is accessible only to "piety" (1Ti 3:9): in relation to the pious it is termed a "mystery," though revealed (1Co 2:7-14), to imply the excellence of Him who is the surpassing essential subject of it, and who is Himself "wonderful" (Isa 9:6), surpassing knowledge (Eph 3:18, 19); compare Eph 5:32. The apostle now proceeds to unfold this confessedly great mystery in its details. It is not unlikely that some formula of confession or hymn existed in the Church and was generally accepted, to which Paul alludes in the words "confessedly great is the mystery," &c. (to wit), "He who was manifested," &c. Such hymns were then used (compare Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). PLINY [1.10, Epistle, 97], "They are wont on a fixed day before dawn to meet and sing a hymn in alternate responses to Christ, as being God"; and EUSEBIUS [Ecclesiastical History, 5.28]. The short unconnected sentences with the words similarly arranged, and the number of syllables almost equal, and the ideas antithetically related, are characteristics of a Christian hymn. The clauses stand in parallelism; each two are connected as a pair, and form an antithesis turning on the opposition of heaven to earth; the order of this antithesis is reversed in each new pair of clauses: flesh and spirit, angels and Gentiles, world and glory; and there is a correspondence between the first and the last clause: "manifested in the flesh, received up into glory" [WIESINGER].
justified--that is, approved to be righteous [ALFORD]. Christ, while "in the flesh," seemed to be just such a one as men in the flesh, and in fact bore their sins; but by having died to sin, and having risen again, He gained for Himself and His people justifying righteousness (Isa 50:8; Joh 16:10; Ac 22:14; Ro 4:25; 6:7, 10; Heb 9:28; 1Pe 3:18; 4:1 1Jo 2:1) [BENGEL]; or rather, as the antithesis to "was manifest in the flesh" requires, He was justified in the Spirit at the same time that He was manifest in the flesh, that is, He was vindicated as divine "in His Spirit," that is, in His higher nature; in contrast to "in the flesh," His visible human nature. This contrasted opposition requires "in the Spirit" to be thus explained: not "by the Spirit," as ALFORD explains it. So Ro 1:3, 4, "Made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." So "justified" is used to mean vindicated in one's true character (Mt 11:19; Lu 7:35; Ro 3:4). His manifestation "in the flesh" exposed him to misapprehension, as though he were nothing more (Joh 6:41; 7:27). His justification, or vindication, in respect to His Spirit or higher being, was effected by ALL that manifested that higher being, His words (Mt 7:29; Joh 7:46), His works (Joh 2:11; 3:2), by His Father's testimony at His baptism (Mt 3:17), and at the transfiguration (Mt 17:5), and especially by His resurrection (Ac 13:33; Ro 1:4), though not by this exclusively, as BENGEL limits it.
seen of angels--answering to "preached unto the Gentiles" (or rather "among the nations"; including the Jews), on the other hand (Mt 28:19; Ro 16:25, 26). "Angels saw the Son of God with us, not having seen Him before" [CHRYSOSTOM].' "not even they had seen His divine nature, which is not visible to any creature, but they saw Him incarnate" [THEODORET] (Eph 3:8, 10; 1Pe 1:12; compare Col 1:16, 20). What angels came to know by seeing, the nations learned by preaching. He is a new message to the one class as well as to the other; in the wondrous union in His person of things most opposite, namely, heaven and earth, lies "the mystery" [WIESINGER]. If the English Version, "Gentiles," be retained, the antithesis will be between the angels who are so near the Son of God, the Lord of "angels," and the Gentiles who were so utterly "afar off" (Eph 2:17).
believed on in the world--which lieth in wickedness (1Jo 2:15; 5:19). Opposed to "glory" (Joh 3:16, 17). This followed upon His being "preached" (Ro 10:14).
received up into glory--Greek, "in glory." However, English Version may be retained thus, "Received up (so as now to be) in glory," that is, into glory (Mr 16:19; Lu 24:51; Ac 1:11). His reception in heaven answers to His reception on earth by being "believed on."