On the First Epistle to Timothy

Chapter 3:1-7.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 340 - September 1884


Chapter 3:1-7

The character and qualifications for the local charges of bishops and deacons, are next laid down. Timothy, though not an apostle, had a position superior even to the higher of the two, and is here instructed in that which was desirable for each. The prohibition of women from the exercise of authority naturally led the way, when their case was fully disposed of, to the due requisites for such as might desire the good and weighty work of overseeing the house of God. It is a question of government here, rather than of gifts, whatever the importance of gift for the right discharge of the office. Women were excluded: but all christian men were not therefore eligible. Certain weighty qualifications, and circumstances morally clear, were to be sought in such as desired to do this excellent work.

Hence one sees the mistake such as Calvin make when they talk of "ordaining pastors." For "pastors and teachers" the apostle treats in Eph. iv. as Christ's gift for the perfecting of the saints. Ordination there was where either government or even service in external things was the object; and the only lawful authority descended from Christ through the apostles whom He chose (or apostolic delegates, such as Timothy or Titus, specially commissioned to act for an apostle in this respect) to appoint the bishops or elders and the deacons.

No doubt apostles hold an unique place. They stand the first in point of gifts (χαρίσματα, 1 Cor. xii; δόματα, Eph. iv.); but they were also the chief of appointed authorities with title to appoint subordinate authorities in the Lord's name. Hence they, and they only, are seen in scripture appointing presbyters and deacons, either directly or through an authorised deputy in a given sphere like Titus. Never is such a fact heard of as a presbyter ordaining a presbyter or a deacon. It destroys the whole principle of authority descending from above as in Scripture; but, whatever else may or must go, scripture cannot be broken.

If we are familiar with scripture, we shall soon learn that evangelists, and pastors and teachers, are simply Christ's gifts, without question of ordination any more than prophets, whom none (but fanatics that neglect scripture for their own quasi-divine communications) would think of ordaining. They are all alike bound to exercise their gift in immediate responsibility to Him who gave and sent them for ministerial work, for edifying the body of the Christ. Ye men who call for order in this matter, why do ye not heed the order of the Lord, alone recognised in holy writ? Is it that you are so prejudiced as to see nothing but the traditional order of your own sect? Beware of giving up all principle, and if you know your own order to be scripturally valueless, of being content with any order, provided it be human and contrary to God's word. I am grieved deeply for you, my brethren, if the only order you decry is that which is solely founded on and formed by obedience to scripture, alike in what is done or not done. Search and see where you are as to this good work; search the scriptures whether these things are so. God caused His word to be written that it might be understood and obeyed.

The Catholic error is the confusion of ministry and rule with priesthood, and this error is fundamental. It flows from ignorance of the gospel, and is of either Jewish or heathen extraction; where the living relationship of children reconciled to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is unknown. All Christians are priests (Heb. x.; 1 Pet. ii.; Rev 6). Nor is it a question of words' or title only, but of fact. They are brought nigh to God by Christ's blood. Having a great high-priest they are exhorted now to come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. iv.) yea into the holies by the blood of Jesus, by the way which He dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil. None bait a priest of the highest dignity could do so, tremblingly and once a year; whereas "brethren" as such are free to do so habitually. But all Christians are not ministers in the word, only those to whom the Lord by the Spirit has given the gift. Having gifts then differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy," &c. (Rem. xii).

The Protestant mistake is the confusion of gifts with offices or charges.1 The gifts were in association with the body of Christ, as we see wherever they are spoken of. Local charges are never found mixed up with gifts, though individuals might have both. It was when Christ ascended on high that He gave gifts, some beyond controversy to lay the foundation, as the apostles and prophets; others, as evangelists, pastors, and teachers, to carry out the work in its mere ordinary shape. Such is the true source and character of ministry in the word. For ministry is serving Christ the Lord in the exercise of whatever gift may have been given for any purpose of His love. Hence, even in its humblest form, it is essentially in the unity of His body, and not limited to this or that locality: whereas local charge, which line government for its aim, is based on the possession of qualities chiefly moral (with or without specific gift in the word) which would give weight in dealing with conscience, or righteous aptitude in the discharge of external duty. The importance of the distinction is great because men quite ignore the real permanence and universal character of gifts, and merge all in the local charges, which have come to be regarded as inalienable and exclusive fixtures, one of them the minister, the other (singular or plural) being a subordinate office, and in some places the noviciate to the higher grade. The truth seen in scripture is that where the assemblies had time to grow up a little, the apostles used to choose elders or presbyters for the disciples (never the disciples for themselves); which as clearly shows, that there were assemblies which as yet had them not, and might, as some, never in fact have them, for want of apostolic authority (direct or indirect) to appoint them: a comforting consideration for those who cleave to scriptural order and shrink from make-shift, believing that the Lord who so ordered things is worthy of all trust, without inventions of our own in default of that order.

"Faithful [is] the word: if any one is eager for oversight, he is desirous of a good work. The overseer [or bishop] therefore must be irreproachable, husband of one wife, temperate, sober, orderly, hospitable, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker,2 but gentle, not contentions, not fond of money, one that ruleth well his own house, having children in subjection, with all gravity, (but if one knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he care for God's assembly?) not a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the devil's charge [or judgment]. But he must also have good testimony from those without, lest he fall into reproach and a snare of the devil" (ver. 1-7).

"Bishopric," or "office of a bishop," misleads here; because the modern office, with which most are familiar, so greatly differs from the primitive reality. For there were in each assembly several, with co-ordinate governmental duties of a circumscribed nature, however valuable and to be honoured in their place. Hence it appears best and wisest, as well as most consistent, to call the function "oversight" and the functionary "overseer," in accordance with the Authorised Version of Acts xx. 28, where the elders of the Ephesian assembly (ver. 17), who met the apostle at Miletus, are so designated. There it will be observed that it is not episcopal rulers of many dioceses, or of separate assemblies, still less the several chiefs! that are styled and called presbyters, because they must have been of the lower grade to attain the higher. But the elders, or presbyters, are called "overseers" or bishops; and this of the single assembly in Ephesus.

What honest man of intelligence can deny that this passage is incompatible with either Episcopacy, or Presbyterianism, or yet Congregationalism, the three distinctive claimants of Christendom? For it is death to "the" minister of the two latter no less than to the "prelate" of the former. They are, all of them, manifest inventions since apostolic times, ill collision irreconcilable with the plain facts and the all-important principles of the days when the divine word regulated those who called on the name of the Lord. And wherein is antiquity to be accounted of, if it be human? What are they but shades of contending earthenware, a pretender higher than any of these, the Papacy, being by far the weakest and the worst of all spiritually? Other scriptures as Acts xiv. 23; xv; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. v. 17; Tit: i. might be readily enforced in confirmation; but to an upright soul I feel it enough to stand on the footing of a single passage of God's word, and so no more is added now. The scripture, we repeat, cannot be broken.

The formula with which the apostle here opens recurs in this epistle, though found but once respectively in the Second to Timothy and in that to Titus. Here it appears three times, on the first (i. 15) and third (iv. 9) occasions with the suited addition, "and worthy of all acceptation," which could not properly be in the case before us, any more than in the Second Epistle, or in that to Titus.

It is a question of government; and faithful the saying: whoever is eager for oversight desires a good or honorable work. Moral qualities, not gifts, are the requisite; and personal or relative circumstances of good report. Hence to be husband of one wife was sought as well as a character free from reproach. How many evangelists God has deigned to bless, who had been shameless sinners in violence, or in corruption! Not such could the overseer be. Again, if a man had more than one wife, he was (not to be then refused fellowship; for many a Jew or Gentile so situated might believe the gospel; but) ineligible to be a holy guardian of order according to God among the saints. Self-restraints and moderation and modesty or good order were sought in one sot over the rest: else the appeal to others must be undermined by his own shortcomings. It was also of moment that active love should be proved in hospitality, as well as intelligence or aptitude to teach, if one were not necessarily a teacher. Yet sitting over wine, and the quarrelsome character it breeds, could not be tolerated for this work, but a gentle uncontentious spirit, free from the love of money, and used to rule well his household, with children subject in all gravity. For there too practical inconsistency would be fatal; and so much the more, as God's assembly needs far more care than one's own house.

Further, one newly come to the faith, "a novice," was objectionable (not of course for the exercise of any gift 3οnfided by the Lord, but) for this delicate position in dealing with others, "lest being puffed he fall into the devil's charge (or judgment, κρῖμα). "Condemnation" is too strong an expression and not the sense intended. The allusion appears to be to the remarkable passage in Ezekiel xxviii. where the King of Tyrus is set forth in terms which seem to reflect a still more exalted creature's fall through self-complacency and self-importance. The whole is wound up by the demand that he should also have good testimony from those that are without "lest he fall into reproach and a snare of the devil." This has nothing of course to do with creature vanity or pride, occupied with its position as compared with that of others. It points to the danger from an ill reputation; for if not kept in the presence of God, (and how hard is this in having much to do with others!) what advantage the consciousness of that would give to the enemy, both to calumniate and to entangle! For one in so public and responsible a place, if the report be not good, Satan knows how to cover him with shame, in his desire to avoid hypocrisy, or to lead into at least the semblance of hypocrisy, if he shrink from shame.

It is not an ordinary saint who suits the serious and honourable work of overseeing; nor can one be surprised, unless vitiated by ecclesiastical tradition or the pride of man unjudged, that an apostle, or a specially qualified apostolic man, is the only one seen in scripture competent to nominate presbyters. Never was the assembly, whatever the piety or intelligence of those who made it up, entrusted with a choice so difficult to discharge. Such are the facts of God's word; which entirely fall in with the principle that authority does not come from below, whatever may be the theories of men ancient or modern, but from above. It is from Christ the Lord, who not only gives gifts as Head of the church, but is also the source and channel of all true authority, as has been already noticed.



1) Some try to eke the error out by the argument that "presbyter" is priest writ large. Very likely the English word is etymologically due to that Anglicised exotic. But in fact of usage they are wholly distinct and "priest" in every version, save the corrupt Rhemish, represents not its ancestor which really means "elder," but the sacrificial officer ἱερεύς.

2) Text Rec. has here the clause, μὴ αἱσκροκερδῆ, "not seeking gain basely," taken apparently from ver. 8 where it is all right, yet more probably from Tit i.