On the First Epistle to Timothy

Chapter 5:19-25.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 349 - June 1885


Chapter 5:19-25

It is not only, however, a question of paying honour to the presbyters that take the lead well. They were exposed in the duties of their office to frequent misunderstanding and detraction. Those whom an elder had to rebuke for a fault, might, and, if unbroken, would resent it; and the ill-feeling would, if unjudged, betray itself in evil speaking. Others again, if arrested in their unruly and factious ways, would, if not brought to repentance, cherish a hard and bitter spirit against such as warned of and put a stop to their mischief. These or the like admonitions might at length issue in positive charges against one or another in local charge who had given umbrage wisely, or perhaps imprudently. Timothy, who was not a mere elder, but in a peculiar position of superior authority, doing in his measure apostolic work, was liable and likely to hear damaging reports, and is therefore cautioned by the apostle. For we are, or should be, not ignorant of Satan's devices.

"Against an elder receive not an accusation except at [the mouth of]1 two or three witnesses" (ver. 19). The principle of the law for extreme cases righteously applies to what is analogous not only in things but as to persons also. None so open to the assaults of the disaffected; and therefore divine wisdom checks the tendency to entertain such charges unless gravely supported: else oversight would become a dreaded work to exercise, instead of a good work to which a grave brother might aspire. One cannot therefore agree with Chrysostom &c. that it is a question here of age as at the beginning of the chapter, but of an office which called for a guard not so requisite ordinarily. Scripture gives no countenance to the democratic self-importance which loves to reduce all to the same dead level. There are differences in administration, which are not only recognised of God but carefully provided for in their moral consequences, as we see here and elsewhere. A Christian like an Israelite might be charged by a single witness, though confirmation was needed to convict him with a serious result. An elder could not even have a charge preferred against him rightly, save on the testimony of two or more. Righteousness takes the circumstances into account, and not souls merely; and Timothy must respect the authority of others whose fidelity might imperil them, if he would not undermine what the Lord had set up, not only in his own place, but in all that are set to discharge variously the duties of preserving the truth, godliness, and order.

2" Those that sin rebuke [or rather, convict] before all, that the rest also may have fear. I testify [or charge thee] before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels that thou keep these things apart from prejudice, doing nothing according to partiality" (ver. 20, 21). The first of these has nothing specially to do with the elders, but breaks into the larger field of the saints in general. And as the apostle, while sustaining the elders in a work which must provoke the injurious tongues of the unruly, was far from sheltering an elder when impeached on adequate testimony, so here he insists that there should be no sparing those that are guilty of persistent wrongdoing. To limit the range of τ. ἁ. as if it meant only "the sinning" presbyters naturally leads to think of "the rest" of that class, to the loss of a solemn injunction in no way restricted, as "before all" ought to demonstrate. It would seem that the copula δέ was inserted chiefly by western influence under the prejudice that the passage as a whole has that narrow, instead of the general, reference with which last its absence from the best and most authorities falls in. The Authorised Version like the other Protestant English versions weakens the effect by omitting the verb "have," which adds to the permanence of the fear produced. We can understand the better then how solemnly the apostle adjures his young fellow-labourer in a task so serious and demanding such moral courage, especially from a tender gentle spirit, not to speak of his youth, which had danger for himself as well as from others already pointed out (iv. 12).

But the sense of God before his soul, with whose presence he binds up "Christ Jesus," would give firmness and decision, and keep love and obedience indissoluble and active, in contrast with the moral laxity which usurps the name of that holy affection, as far from it really as God is from fallen man whose evil will is allowed. There is but one article in the first part of the apostle's ground of appeal, not because it is one person as G. Sharpe hastily supposed, but to mark their entire association, which could not be unless they stood on the same level of divine nature and glory. The one article τοῦ simply identifies the two persons in a common object, as the τῶν following marks off the "elect angels," however exalted, as having no title to be so identified. Christ Jesus could be and is put with God as on the same ground: not so the elect angels, though introduced connectedly, yet apart, as witnessing now, net merely in the future scene of glory. Compare 1 Cor. xi. 10. Reference to any angels save those that kept their own first or original estate would be here altogether incongruous.

It may be well also to notice that the Authorised Version seems to lose the distinction between προκρ. and vροσκλ., words, as far as the New Testament is concerned, only found here. For the former refers naturally to "prejudice" which condemns a case before hearing or duly hearing it; as the latter expresses an undue inclination or "favour" for one side, even if one should hear both. Timothy is admonished by the most sacred associations to watch against any bias either way. Now "preferring one before another" is partiality; whereas "prejudice" (the marginal alternative of the Authorised Version, not "preference" as in the Revised Version's margin) is the true counterpart.

We now come to an exhortation which has been pressed improperly, I doubt not, into the interpretation of ver. 20, from which it is quite distinct, so as to bind all these verses into an intimately connected whole. We have seen reason to infer that this is an error, and that ver. 20 bears generally on offenders, instead of being confined to sinning elders, though there is no sufficient ground to exclude both 19 and 20 from the charge in 21. But ver. 22 opens out a new thought, and there again the apostle would have his young colleague alert on the watch-tower. "Lay hands quickly on no one, neither be partaker in others' sins; keep thyself pure " (ver. 22). It has been assumed that the act of laying on hands here pertains to the instituting of elders. But this is a hasty thought; for even if it were the fact, which is very probable, that hands were laid on elders when chosen, it is certain that imposition of hands had a far larger connexion, and that it was a sign of blessing conferred or of fellowship in commending to God's grace, when there was no question of the presbyterate. "The seven" (Acts vi.) had apostolic hands laid on them, which gave dignity to a work easily apt to degenerate, though the apostles themselves till then did not disdain to fulfil it. Hence it is not improbable that a similar form of inauguration may have been when elders were appointed. But scripture has carefully veiled it, if it were so; and, it is but a little venture to say, most wisely; for its omissions are never without design, any more than its insertions, or the manner of them. May it not have been on the same principle as Mary's interposition (John ii.) was hot encouraged, and as Peter's word to our Lord (Matt. xvi. 23), after a high commendation of his confession of Himself, drew out the sternest rebuke ever by Him administered to a disciple? Was it not foreseen that a superstitions meaning would, in process of time, be assigned to the act, against which scripture raises its silent protest if people only knew how to profit by it, seeing that in not a, single instance are hands said to be laid on presbyters? Hands were laid on Timothy, and even the elders joined in doing so, when the apostle conveyed the gift of God that was given him. Hands were laid on Barnabas and the apostle himself, when prophecy named them for a special mission, for which the Spirit separated them and sent them among the nations (Acts xiii). But it would be ignorant prejudice that could confound either of these very distinct cases where hands were imposed, with eldership, or even with what people call ordination. Assuredly Barnabas and Saul were already recognised as most honoured servants of the Lord. Compare Acts ix. xi. Gal. is for the one who, though greatest by far, was the younger in that work. This (and it is by no means all that might be adduced) is ample to prove that laying on of hands has in scripture a more extensive application than the very narrow one to which some have reduced the verse before us, even if it were without doubt applied to elders, which in scripture it undoubtedly never is.

The true deduction therefore is that the injunction has no special, if indeed any, link with elders, but was meant to warn Timothy against haste in all such acts. What has been drawn from scripture still more decidedly confutes Dr. Hammond's notion (revived of late by some at home and abroad) that the words refer to that act on the absolution 'of penitents and their re-admission to church-fellowship. Euseb. H.E. vii., Concil. Nic. can. 8, Suicer's Thes. ii. 1576, Gingham's Ant. xviii. 2, 1, clearly indicate this as an early ecclesiastical custom; but that it has the smallest title to be scriptural remains to be proved. Huther, who is not often to be commended, is right in claiming for the reference the large extent of its usage in scripture, rashness in any part of it being a danger in proportion to its importance.

The full bearing of this first command gives perhaps the more significance to the words that follow, "neither be a partaker in others' sins; keep thyself pure." Haste in according that well-known sign of fellowship, even if not the conveyance of spiritual power as sometimes, might accredit fair-seeming men, ere long to develope into enemies of the cross of Christ. What a sorrow would not this occasion to so sensitive a heart as Timothy's! Especially he then would do well to bear in mind the danger of sharing their sins by haste on his part.

Then follows the closing appeal: "Keep thyself pure." Chastity to which Wiclif and the Rhemish V. confine this last word is but part of what the apostle impresses on Timothy. The purity required emphatically in himself would the better help to guard against looseness in sanctioning formally men who would make sad havoc of the flock of God or dishonour the Master by forsaking the work through love of the present age, if they did not fall into gross sins or bring in privily heresies of perdition.

That these exhortations are not so confined as has been supposed, but embrace godly and moral order, after speaking of elders in good and evil, seems plain from ver. 23: "Be no longer a water-drinker, but use a little wine on account of thy stomach and thy frequent illnesses."3 This appears to be a parenthetic statement of touching consideration for the scrupulous. mind of Timothy, if he thought personal purity incompatible with what his weak bodily state demanded. How striking the juxtaposition! Nor was it a private letter, which would no doubt have corrected the mistaken and injurious asceticism of this young servant of the Lord, but have left others to suffer similarly from that day to this; and especially in this day of ours which popularly regards the revival of ancient Gnostic error, as if it were a deed of special moral worth, yea, a weapon of divine temper to exalt man and win the world. But he is indeed a poor believer who could hesitate between all the opinions of medical men (were they agreed), and all the arguments of teetotal reformers on the one hand, against these few words of the apostle on the other. For they are but dust, His own an inspired word that which can never decay. The provident care which thus anticipated and delivered from the snares of men in ancient or modern times is thus to be remarked with thankfulness. Alford's modification seems beneath grave notice and due to his error of regarding all this context as bearing on the prescription of Timothy's duties as to elders; whereas we have seen that it has far broader aims.

Nor should we omit to notice the caution thrown in, whilst maintaining liberty as to every creature of God and duty to use what is beneficial in weakness —"a little wine:" why "a little" if it were no more calculated to excite than water? The nature of the wine is thus intimated, and the impropriety of indulging in excess guarded against.

From this measure of digression, dependent on the call to keep himself pure, the apostle resumes the more direct connection with not partaking in others' sins (ver. 22). "Of some men the sins are openly manifest, going before unto judgment; and some also they follow after, and, likewise also the good works are openly manifest, and those that are otherwise cannot be hid" (ver. 24, 25). A holy mind seeks not to occupy itself with the sins of others, save when duty calls for it imperatively. But there is no excuse for the carelessness which would expose one to be continually deceived. It was therefore of importance to lay down principles of divine wisdom to guide where mistake is easy and its consequences might be deplorable. If the sins of some men are notorious and point to that solemn judgment where there is no mercy to mitigate the just doom of those who despised it in their contempt of God's truth and grace, there are some also whose sins follow after; and this is surely no less dreadful in the reality if appearances be saved, the deception of which is apt to ensnare not others only but the guilty themselves, making the end still more bitter though most righteous. On the other hand a like difference is found in that which grace produces, for the works that are comely are openly manifest, and those that do not come thus at once into notice cannot be concealed any more than He could who is their source (Mark vii. 36). That this flows out of and is connected with the warning given to Timothy, against sharing anther's sins, and especially in sanctioning unworthy workmen or discouraging such as might be vessels meet for the Master's use, is true: But to confine the instruction to the choice or rejection of candidates in the Lord's work seems to be the narrowness of man's mind and foreign to the studiously comprehensive terms of the apostle, in which he looks at things large and deep far beyond.

Yet was it no mean man who thus commented "Some there are who offer themselves to ordination, whose scandalous lives are known beforehand; and run, before their tender of themselves to this holy function, into just censure; others' offences are not known, till after they be ordained. Likewise also, on the contrary, the good works and holy carriage of some, that put themselves to the holy calling, are well known and approved beforehand; So as thou needest not make scruple of laying thy hands upon them: and as for them that are otherwise, if thou do diligently enquire after their demeanour and conversation, they cannot be hid from thy notice; so as thou may refrain to admit them." So Bp. Hall (iv. 429, 430, ed. Pratt, 1808). Yet such a limitation, through attaching 24, 25 strictly to the preceding context, reduces the thought immensely below the unforced bearing of the words, when seen to rise to the Lord's judgment by and by; while the latter, if allowed fully, would in no way hinder the profit which the true meaning affords for present use.



1) The earlier English Versions had "under," probably influenced by the Vulgate. The Pesch. Syriac seems nearer the mark. " Before," as Winer prefers, suits magistrates better than witnesses with whom the accused were confronted. This however is the textual rendering of the Authorised version, with "under" in their margin, as in Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, and those of Geneva and Rheims, which is at least better. For the point pressed is not "before" or 'in presence of" witnesses, though Dean Alford says it is literally, which would be ἐνώπιον, ἔμπροσθεν, or ἀπέναντι according to the shade or emphasis required, and hence not "confronted with" as Mr. T. S. Green has it, but at the consenting testimony of two or three. In Heb. x. 28 it is the dative (not genitive as here), and hence with a slight increase of force, where again the older English w. give "under" save Wiclif who has "by." The sense is that the despising transgressor died without mercy, but on the testimony of two or three. Were it judges, dicasts, or the like (as in 1 Cor. vi. 1), ἐρί might well bear the sense of "in presence of," but hardly with witnesses. "To" Titus well gives the sense in 2 Cor. vii. 14.

2) Lachman and Alford in brackets insert δέ, "But," with AD, some Latin copies, Gothic, &c.: but all other MSS. and Vv. reject.

3) Paley (Works v. 298, ed. vii.) remarks that in such an Epistle "nothing but reality, that is, the real valetudinary situation of a real person, could have suggested a thought of so domestic a nature, But if the peculiarity of the advice be observable, the place in which it stands is more so. . . . The direction to Timothy about his diet stands between two sentences as wide from the subject as possible, The train of thought seems to be broken to let it in. Now when does this happen? It happens when a man writes as he remembers; when he puts down an article that occurs the moment it occurs, lest he should afterwards forget it." It may be quite true that no forger of Paul's name writing in an after-day would have thought of such an intercalation, which, in its indifference to what men generally would account literary order, would surely have been avoided, especially in the dignified ideal of an apostolic letter to his vicar. But does not the tone reveal a pain. fully human standard of regarding an inspired work? Were it only the correspondence of "a man," the comment would be unobjectionable; but what irreverence to talk of Paul’s putting it down the moment it occurred lest he should afterwards forget it? Calvin however speaks with even greater laxity, mentioning without a reproof that some suppose the sentence thus introduced was not written by Paul! and pleading his custom of intermingling a variety of things stated without arrangement! Besides, he dares to hint that a marginal note may have found its way into this passage through the mistake of transcribers! What! where not a single MS. uncial or cursive, not a single Version of east or west, not a single early ecclesiastical writer, Greek, Latin, or aught else, attests either an omission or an insertion in this passage? It is therefore demonstratively Paul's; or else we have absolutely no certainty for the genuineness of anything the apostle ever wrote,