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Deeper Commentary


3:1 The picture we get of Timothy is of a young man with frequent health issues, timid, with a spirit of fear rather than of power and a stable mind, easily tempted by "youthful lusts", easily awed by older, loud mouthed false teachers ["let no man despise your youth"], apt to forget what he had learned from his mother and grandmother; and yet with a desire to minister. And Paul gave him the ministry of being the bishop at Ephesus (1:4), with the brief to charge false teachers not to further teach. I speculated in discussing chapter 2 that he faced a powerful group of women in the church who were influenced by the cults of Eve and Diana, who had to be conclusively dealt with. And he was to model good works and encourage the church to likewise do them. The list of qualifications of a bishop are Paul telling Timothy how he should be; and how he should appoint brethren to leadership who met these criteria. We wonder how ever he coped. But we know- because soon afterwards, the Lord wrote to the church in Ephesus, telling them that they had done well in doing good works and in limiting the false teachers. His words were addressed to "the angel of the church"; either Timothy or those whom Timothy had appointed in leadership. So Timothy for all his weakness of character, which we can probably identify with, did indeed rise above all his limitations and achieve the spirit of what Paul is asking here.

Faithful is the saying- As noted on 1:15, there appear to have been inspired 'sayings' which were accepted as genuine by those with the Spirit gift of discernment. These short sayings were doubtless remembered and were valuable in a largely illiterate community.

If a man seeks the office of a bishop- I assume from :14,15 that Paul is writing with Timothy in view as the bishop of the church at Ephesus: "These things I write to you, hoping to come to you shortly. But if I am delayed, I write so you may know how you ought to behave in the house of God". A bishop or overseer was exactly the role Paul gave Timothy- for Timothy was to be in a position where he could charge church members not to teach (1:3). Perhaps timid Timothy in naive youthful zeal desired to be a bishop- and Paul having made him one, is now telling him what it involves in practice. To 'seek' means literally 'to stretch oneself unto'. So it could be that Timothy actually didn't have the ambition to be the bishop in that difficult situation. Rather, Paul thrust it upon him and he stretched himself out to it, he accepted it, although it clearly was a major stretch for Timothy, well outside his comfort zone.

He desires a good work- There is nothing wrong with spiritual ambition. The Greek epithumeo literally means 'to lust'. The noun is used by Paul when later warning Timothy to "flee youthful lusts" (2 Tim. 2:22). We could translate the phrase before us as meaning that if a man seeks / stretches out to the office of bishop, then he must lust after good work. The passions which are part of our nature must be directed into good work rather than for our own sensual pleasure. Instead of desiring wealth (s.w. 1 Tim. 6:10 "love of money, which some reaching after..."), we are to desire / reach out after spiritual things.  This redirection of sexual or passionate energy is likewise found in Eph. 5:3,4, where we are told that "fornication and all uncleanness, or covetousness" is inappropriate, "but rather giving of thanks". It seems that Timothy failed to make that complete redirection of passion, because he had to be reminded in 2 Tim. 2:22 about fleeing his lusts. In another figure, we are to draw near to God; fleeing lusts means running towards God. And He will draw near to us.

We must be aware that the leadership of the early church was the obvious focus for persecution by the Roman authorities. To desire being a bishop would therefore have been a reflection of self sacrifice and willingness to give up all for the sake of the Lord's work.

3:2- see on Rom. 12:13.

The bishop therefore must be without reproach- Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3 as to what constituted good eldership was shot through with reference to his address to the Ephesian elders [remember Timothy was in Ephesus], where he outlined what manner of man he had been: Blameless = “pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26); Husband of one wife = Paul? Sober = “serving the Lord with all humility of mind” (:19); Given to hospitality = his example was in that he was “ready to support the weak…it is more blessed to give than to receive” (:35) and his whole attitude to care for the Jerusalem poor was evidence enough. Apt to teach = “I have taught you publicly, and from house to house…I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (:20.27). Not covetous = “I have coveted no man’s silver” (:33). One that ruleth his own house well =  Paul as the father of so many. Not a novice = Paul. A good report of them without = “These things cannot be spoke against” (19:36), and witness his appeals to a good conscience before both God and men when on trial.

The husband of one wife- This could refer to not being polygamous; or it could equally mean 'a man of one woman'. These qualifications suggest Timothy was married.

Temperate, sober, orderly, given to hospitality- The Greek philoxenos could be read as being the opposite of xenophobic. A love of strangers / foreigners would not have come easily to any first century Jew; indeed, society was very parochial, with anyone from outside the local area being seen as suspicious. Love was to be shown to one’s own rather than to strangers; and the characteristic of being philoxenos would have been distinctly a Christian virtue. As some bishops may not have had homes large enough to entertain visitors, we can be sure that this word doesn't refer to 'hospitality', but rather as suggested.

Able to teach- This could imply that some were being chosen as bishops because of their secular status rather than their familiarity with scripture or ability to teach.

3:3 Not given to wine- As noted on :1, Timothy took Paul's words to him very seriously. He had to be later advised to at least take a little wine for his stomach problems; he had totally quit alcohol on the basis of Paul's words here and drunk only water (5:23).

Not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not argumentative, not covetous- The implication would be that within the church, as potential for being chosen as bishop, there were Christians of whom these things were true. We see here the tolerance in the early church when it came to baptism and acceptance of sinners; and yet the way that the leadership positions, the platform, was not at all open.

3:4 One who rules his own family well, having his children in submission with all reverence- See on :15. As explained on :1, Paul is writing specifically with Timothy in view, at least in the first instance. Perhaps Timothy's weak character meant he had a tendency to allow anarchy in his home. And if he indeed was married, then Paul's warning to flee youthful [sexual] lusts and to be a man of one woman (:2) suggest that Timothy was tempted not to be a solid husband.

1 Tim. 3:4,5 lays down that an elder in the house [church] of God must be one who rules his own household well. The implication perhaps is that the ecclesias of which Paul wrote were household churches. The 1st century household was governed by the paterfamilias, the head of the house. In terms of the household ecclesias, this person was the ‘elder’; but to govern a household church required that such a person governed their own domestic household well. My point is that there is an implied equation between the ‘church of God’ and the domestic household; understandable, if the early churches were in fact household groups. Where things would’ve got awkward was if the ‘elder’ or leader of the household church was not in fact the paterfamilias of that house where the church gathered. We are left to imagine wealthy brother A opening up his home to the house church, in which poorer brother B was the leader of the spiritual house. This is the radical import of Paul’s teaching that eldership in the ecclesia was to be based upon spiritual criteria and not human wealth or social position. No wonder the extraordinary unity and social bonding of the early churches proved so attractive and startling to the world. And we in our day are invited to practice similar sociological impossibilities in our ecclesias.

The commands relating to bishops (overseers) stress that he should only be treated as such if his own family is in order (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12). This could suggest that he was the one who had converted others; for the image of our converts being our spiritual children is a frequent one (1 Cor. 4:14,17; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 4:19; Tit. 1:4; Philemon 10; 1 Pet. 5:13). In the same way as a father ought to be respected by his children, so converts ought to respect those who converted them. The fact Paul had made converts and founded ecclesias was used by him as a proof that he deserved at least some respect- they were his ‘seal’, the hallmark that showed him genuine (1 Cor. 9:2). My sense is that the first century Gentile ecclesias were very similar to many Christian groups throughout Africa, Europe and Asia today; somebody was converted by a visiting preacher, and they in turn converted a group of their associates. Such groups need leadership, and the logical leader is the one who converted. This is why elders are defined in Heb. 13:7 as those who preached the Gospel to those they lead. Yet there can be a tendency for groups of converts to forget the eternal debt they owe to those who brought them to new life in Christ, just as there can be a forgetting of responsibility to our natural parents. The respect afforded to such leaders should, however, be qualified by their meeting of the standards Paul lays down: e.g. their own natural children should be well led by them. The integrity and manner of life of those who converted us is what inspires us to carry on

For if a man does not know how to rule his own family, how shall he take care of the church of God?- Maybe the stress is on 'know how'. Timothy as a young parent and husband needed to realize that family life doesn't just happen; there must be a conscious learning how to conduct family life and operationalizing it, rather than just allowing life to take its natural course; which is a frequent reason for the failure of spiritual development in family life.

Perhaps it should be noted that the bishop’s qualification is that he knows how to rule his own house (1 Tim. 3:5). It may be that as with Samuel and other elders, their children or converts do not ‘turn out’ well. If this is because there was a lack of spiritual leadership, this disqualifies a brother. But if he knew how to rule, but they rebelled, then he is not thereby disqualified. Fathers cannot be held responsible for the spiritual failure of their children in all cases (Jer. 31:29,30; Ez. 18- and the example of Yahweh with Israel). Likewise, Paul was clearly a bishop and yet was single. “A bishop must be the husband of one wife” therefore requires us to again read in an ellipsis: ‘[If he is married he must be…] the husband of one wife’.

3:6- see on Lk. 12:49.

Not a new convert, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil- There is a word play here, because "new convert" translates a Greek word literally meaning one newly sprouted or puffed up. Seeing Paul is in the first instance writing to Timothy, perhaps he is warning him that as a new convert, he must be aware that he will be prone to pride in his new conversion.

A new convert should not be made an elder because he may fall into “the condemnation of the devil”. This may refer to the Jewish 'devil' eagerly waiting to accuse the leadership of the Christian ecclesia in Ephesus. But diabolos is often used in the pastorals in relation to gossipers (1 Tim. 3:6,7,11; 2 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 2:3). Gossip is the clearest manifestation of the ‘devil’ within our natures, and we should be aware of this. “The condemnation of the devil” may therefore mean that the gossipers, whether within or outside the ecclesia, will more easily condemn a novice. If a brother has behind him all the qualifications listed in 1 Tim. 3, of faithful children, a reputation as stable, patient etc., then such gossips will have less power to condemn him in the eyes of others. Paul indicates that he understands the power of gossip in the church- he knew that a spiritually young elder was going to face slander, as sure as day follows night. And therefore, young elders aren’t a good idea, he concludes. We too need to face up to the reality of gossip, that it will happen, and we need to seek to protect those vulnerable to it before it starts.  

3:7- see on 1 Tim. 6:9.

Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace or into a snare of the devil- "The devil" or false accuser is paralleled with "outsiders" who were waiting to catch Christian leaders in a trap. The church at Ephesus was surrounded by Jews who were bent on destroying Christian congregations and were happy to work with the pagan Government to effect this. Timothy is being warned against being naive, which was perhaps another of his characteristics. There were people out there, perhaps members of the 'Jewish satan' which dogged early Christianity, eager to set snares for people in Timothy's position and indeed any church leader. Not falling into snares himself would enable Timothy to persuasively exhort others not to fall into the snare of seeking wealth (6:9). We are enabled now to better understand Paul's later warning to Timothy to help some escape from the "snare of the devil" which they were caught up in (2 Tim. 2:26). This snare could have involved some Jewish plot aimed at entrapping Christians, perhaps by an offer of wealth or some get rich quick scheme. Hence those chosen for leadership were not to be "greedy for money" (:8). The fact Timothy had become aware of the snares and avoided them empowered him to help others out of them. And that principle is true for us all.

Likewise, deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine- For this to be said we can infer that there were such within the church whom Timothy would consider for the office of deacon. The early church was open to all sinners and some clearly didn't change very quickly if ever; but the leadership structure was to be held to standards of behaviour and doctrinal position. Note too that it was Timothy who would appoint the deacons. Democracy was never used in order to choose leadership.

Not greedy for money- This was important because of how the Jewish satan outside the church was using offers of money in order to ensnare people. See on :7 A snare

3:9 H
olding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience- In discussing chapter 2 I suggested that the believers in Ephesus were under pressure from their pagan background in the Diana cult and also the myths pedalled by Jewish false teachers such as the Eve cult. These cults and indeed all paganism loved the idea of "mystery". Paul is saying that deacons must wholeheartedly be committed to the mystery of the Christian faith. They were to hold it in a good conscience, i.e. not also holding to other mysteries as were the women forbidden from teaching in chapter 2.

3:10- see on Gal. 6:4.

And let them first be tested- This idea of a probation period is found also in the command to Timothy to "Lay hands hastily on no one" (5:17), i.e. do not hastily appoint anyone to office, but require a probation period first. Perhaps here we see a hint that Timothy had a tendency both to naivety and to impetuous, quick action. He was perhaps not naturally a wise man; the way he succeeded at his difficult calling (see on :1) shows the real power of personal change which is possible to those led by God's word.

If they are found blameless, then let them serve as deacons- Gk. 'unacccused'. Perhaps a reference to the way that the church in Ephesus was surrounded by critics eager to falsely accuse ["the devil"] and thereby entrap the unwary in snares. Truly Timothy's position is one not to be envied.

3:11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent- This could mean that their wives served as part of their office as deacon; for Phoebe was a female deaconess. Deacons in this case would refer to husband and wife teams. Or it could be that the sign of a suitable deacon was that he had influenced his wife for spiritual good. Because otherwise, the objection could be raised that a man is not surely to be judged by the behaviour of his wife.

Not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things- “Slanderers” is from the same word as "devil". In the immediate context, the snare of the devil has referred to the schemings of the Jewish and pagan opposition to bring down the church at Ephesus (:6,7). The requirement may be that a deacon's wife was to have no part in those systems. “Temperate” and the other characteristics of a deacon’s wife are the same requirements for the bishop himself (:2; Tit. 2:2). The implication could be that ideally a deacon and his wife should work as a husband and wife team, each with the same spiritual qualifications.

3:12 Let deacons be men of one woman- Not polygamous, or at least, not womanizers, focused upon their wife as their one woman.

their children and their own families well- As noted on :5, family life was not to be allowed to just follow a natural course. There was to be conscious leadership.

3:13 For they that have served well as deacons
gain to themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus- The "for" connects with the previous verse, talking about ruling in one’s own family. The idea may be that if they have served as deacons in their own family first, then they will be qualified to do so in the church. In the process of being a deacon, faith is developed. The very process of service and obedience leads to greater faith in practice in the upward spiral of spirituality. The “good standing” is surely before God and not men.

3:14 See on Acts 20:25 I know.

These things I write to you, hoping to come to you shortly- Paul had appointed Timothy the bishop of the church at Ephesus (1:4), and so we are to read these principles about eldership as Paul reminding Timothy of how he should be living. This is not to say that the principles do not have wider, general application; but the first context reference was to Timothy. These principles were to explain to Timothy how he personally should behave in the church (:15).

3:15 But if I am delayed- Paul had no miraculously provided itinerary. He realized the many variable factors in the life of a believer.

I write so you may know how you ought to behave in the house of God- The existence of house churches within the Ephesus ecclesia would explain the slightly unusual Greek construction here which in the Greek speaks of behaviour “in a house of God”. Maybe Paul refers to the same distinction between house churches and larger gatherings in Ephesus when he advises that a bishop should rule well his own house [church] and have his children in subjection (:4,5). There is a common New Testament understanding of ‘children’ as referring to converts; and the Greek word translated “rule” is only used elsewhere, both in 1 Timothy and in the rest of the New Testament, about ‘ruling’ or ‘providing for’ the church in a pastoral sense (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 3:14). This interpretation would solve a commonly observed difficulty- that the children of many fine elders aren’t not always believers, they’re not always “in subjection”, and neither were those of many Biblical heroes. And further, seeing even the children of believers ultimately have freewill choice, how can it be that church leaders are held as it were responsible for their children’s choices? If we understand the ‘ruling’ here to mean spiritual provision for those in one’s own house church, as a qualification for appointment to being a minister of the larger, joint congregational gatherings- then this difficulty disappears. And this idea- of being faithful over a household and then being promoted to greater responsibility- would then be an obvious allusion to the Lord’s parable about the faithful house-manager [AV “steward”] who is then promoted to greater responsibility in the Master’s own household (Lk. 12:42 compared with Mt. 24:45).

Which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth- I have pointed out that most of the Ephesian church were Gentiles- hence the letter to the Ephesians several times refers to "you Gentiles". Most of them would have been converts from the temple of Diana, which was put out of business by the Christian preaching. And yet as noted on chapter 2, various rituals and ideas associated with temple worship had not been fully jettisoned by all the converts. Paul here uses language associated with a temple- and applies it to the ecclesia or church of God, making the point that the true temple is the Christian community and not an edifice with literal pillars and foundations. The oikos of God uses a word elsewhere translated "temple" (Lk. 11:51). The final phrase "of the truth" may simply mean that the true edifice, the real pillar and foundation of the temple, was the ecclesia- the group of individual Christian believers, and not any literal physical edifice. Excavations of the temple of Diana / Artemis at Ephesus have found that its pillars were an unusual feature of it- there were 127 pillars, 60 feet high, supporting a striking roof. It would've been easily identified by the large number of pillars all around it. All that now remains standing of the temple is in fact one pillar. So without doubt it is the temple of Diana, from whence many of the converts had come, which was the point of the allusion; the true pillars and supports [NEV "ground"] of God's temple were the converts. Contrary to what was being taught, no physical building had any significance in God's saving plan. And this confirms our suggestions on chapter 2, that the converts had brought with them the baggage from Diana worship. The church at Ephesus may well have been relatively small, a house church or a group of Christian homes. And yet this was the true temple, compared to that of Diana.

And without controversy, great is the mystery of reverence towards God: He who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory- See on :9 The mystery.

1 Tim. 3:16 speaks of how Christ was:

    1. God manifest in the flesh [on the cross]
    2. justified in the Spirit [in the resurrection- Rom. 1:4]
    3. seen of angels [at the resurrection]
    4. preached unto the Gentiles
    5. believed on in the world
    6. received up into glory [the ascension].


It must have occurred to many expositors that this would be nicely chronological- were it not for stages 4 and 5. “Preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world” seems a clear reference to the great commission- to preach the Gospel of the resurrection to all the world, and whoever believes it will be saved. But the tenses are definitely past tense, not future. Indeed, the whole passage seems to have Mark’s record of the resurrection, preaching commission and ascension specifically in mind [not surprising if tradition is right in saying that this Gospel was learnt by heart by candidates for baptism in the early church]. I would suggest that Paul is using a Hebraism although writing in Greek (and E.W. Bullinger provides scores of other examples of where Paul does this, in Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible). Paul is thinking in the Hebrew ‘prophetic perfect’ tense, to describe something yet future as already past, so sure is it of fulfilment. He is referring to the great commission when he speaks of Christ as “preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world”; and he is giving a chronological account of the Lord’s resurrection, with reference to Mark’s Gospel record. But he sees the command to go and preach to the Gentiles, to make them believe, as so sure of being obeyed that he speaks of it in the past tense. The fact the Lord asked us to do this, for all the many reasons outlined in this study...this of itself is such a strong imperative to do it that Paul sees it as already done. And so the Lord’s bidding should weigh as heavily with us. In fact, He had just the same idea when in Luke’s record of the commission He says: “Beginning at Jerusalem you are witnesses” (Lk. 24:48 RVmg., cp. Acts 1:8). What He meant, according to Mark’s version, is that ‘You are to go world-wide and be witnesses’. But He speaks as if they have already done this, as if He were saying: ‘Go and be world-wide witnesses, you are witnesses, it’s axiomatic to your experience of my resurrection that you will witness, so I see it as if its already being done, even as you stand here before me’.
L.G. Sargent, quoting C. Spicq, tabulates the following parallels in The Gospel Of The Son Of God p. 210 (Birmingham: CMPA):

Mark 16:9-19

1 Tim.  3:16

:12 appeared (i.e. was manifested) in another form

manifest in flesh

:15 preach the gospel

preached unto the Gentiles

:15 into all the world…:16 he that believeth

believed on in the world

:19 was received up into heaven

received up, into glory


1 Tim. 3:16 seems to have been a well-known confessional formula in the first century church; perhaps it was recited by the candidate in the water before being baptized. It can be read as a chronological description of the Lord's death and resurrection:
1. "God was manifested in the flesh" in the Lord's crucifixion, not just His life. The manifestation of the Son was supremely in His death (s.w. 1 Jn. 3:5,8; 4:9 cp. Jn. 3:16; Heb. 9:26 Gk.; Jn. 17:6 cp. 26).
2. "Justified in the Spirit" - the resurrection (Rom. 1:4)
3. "Seen of Angels" - at the tomb (Mt. 28:2)
4. “Preached unto the Gentiles for belief in the world' (Gk.)- cp. Mk. 16:15,16
5. "Received up into glory" - what happened straight after the commission to preach the Gospel world-wide.

This chronological approach suggests that "God was manifest in the flesh" refers to the Father's especial manifestation in His Son's crucified human nature during those hours of final suffering- rather than just to His birth. There on Calvary, Almighty God Himself was supremely revealed. He, God Himself, was despised and rejected by men; His love and self-sacrifice were so cruelly spurned; He was spat upon and made the song of the drunkards (Ps. 69:12). The same word for “manifest" occurs in other passages which relate it to the crucifixion:
- Heb. 9:26: “For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself".
- 1 Pet. 1:19-20: “...But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world [as the sacrificial lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Rev. 13:8], but was manifest in these last times for you".
- I Jn. 3:5-8: “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins [on the cross]; and in him is no sin... For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil", which He did through His death (Heb. 2:14-18).
It may be added in passing that the same word is also used about the final manifesting of the Lord Jesus at His return (Col. 3:4; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Jn. 2:28; 3:2). This explains the link between the cross and His return; who He was then will be who He will be when He comes in judgment. And this explains why the breaking of bread, with its focus upon the cross, is a foretaste of our appearing before Him then.  See on Jn. 1:14; 19:19.

Another option is to see this hymn as based upon the hymns which went with enthronement ceremonies: "Jeremias and Spicq add a history-of-religions dimension by suggesting that in form the hymnic quotation is patterned, perhaps unknowingly, after the enthronement ceremony in ancient Egypt. The first stage is exaltation: the new king receives divine attributes (lines 1 and 2). The second stage is presentation: the deified king is presented to the gods (lines 3 and 4, here to angels and men). The third stage is enthronement: the king receives his rulership (lines 5 and 6)". In this case, "believed on in the world" would refer to acceptance by the masses of his kingdom. "Manifest in the flesh" would also make it clear that the King was not the God who was being manifest in his flesh.