《Coffman Commentaries on the Bible – 1 Timothy》(James B. Coffman) Commentator

The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach


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The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

Of the fifteen qualifications mentioned in this chapter, seven are listed in this verse.

Without reproach ... This is the great and all-inclusive qualification. Wuest pointed out that the Greek word from which this comes means "one who cannot be laid hold upon,"[8] that is, a man without a handle, one who has given evil men no occasion whatever to blame or censure him. The late Grover Cleveland Brewer denominated this as really the only qualification for elder, the other qualifications mentioned here and in Titus being merely the checkpoints for determining blamelessness. As Zerr said, of course, "This word has been distorted out of its true meaning, by saying it requires a bishop to be without sin."[9] Sinless perfection is not required of Christians, nor of elders; and those are profoundly in error who make the high standard in evidence here the excuse for appointing none at all. The very fact of Paul's appointing elders in every church immediately after the first missionary journey (Acts 14:23) proves that such officers are absolutely necessary in every congregation; and the fact that one or more of a given group of elders might be declared deficient in given qualifications is not a valid reason for countermanding God's order to ordain elders "in every church."

The husband of one wife ... Dummelow gives the four major interpretations of this that have come down historically, thus:

(1) The presbyter is not to be a Christianized Jew who, under Moses' law, had taken more than one wife. (2) He is not to take a second wife after the death of the first. (3) He is not to marry again while his divorced wife lives. (4) He is to be a man faithful to his wife.[10]SIZE>

Literally all kinds of interpretations of this requirement are to be found in commentaries. White, for example, said, "This does not mean that the bishop must be or have been married."[11] However, this is exactly what it does mean; and even if such a requirement is not in the Greek from which this is translated, it is perfectly obvious that Timothy was here under strict orders to look only in the married community for church officers. Moreover, this requirement refutes the long horror of celibate rulers of the historical church. Under (2), mentioned by Dummelow, it may be observed that the oldest historical interpretations are deeply colored by this very view; but we reject it on the grounds that Paul himself said, "marriage is honorable in all" (Hebrews 13:4 KJV). The ancient views to the contrary were influenced by the ascetic views that eventually led to the flowering of celibacy. As Hervey said, "There is nothing in Paul's writings to suggest the notion of there being anything dishonorable in a second marriage,"[12] provided, of course, such second marriages were due to the death of a previous partner or divorce for Scriptural reason. What is prohibited, absolutely, is polygamy; and there are some who read into this requirement the possibility that some of the Christians from the pagan culture either were, or had been, involved in polygamous marriages; and it is regrettable that, if such was the case, no Scriptural precedents have come down to us throwing light upon the proper handling of such a problem. Gerald Fruzia recently explained how missionaries in Africa confront exactly this situation, requiring that polygamy be abandoned. If the problem exists today, it probably existed in Paul's day also.

De Welt declared this means "one wife at a time";[13] Alford, Wordsworth and Ellicott concur in thinking that what is forbidden is "second marriages for church officers."[14] However, the Greek simply has this, "a man of one woman."[15] As Ward noted, "Above reproach dominates the whole list."[16] Thus, ANYTHING reprehensible in the marital relations of a prospective elder would certainly disqualify him. In this first great requirement is seen the absolute sanctity of the home and that sacred respect and honor of it which dominate the whole Christian doctrine. Significantly, "All of the qualifications listed except aptness to teach and that pertaining to a novice are requirements that apply to all Christians."[17] There are not two standards for so-called clergy and laity, but one standard for all.

Temperate, sober-minded, orderly ... It has often been remarked that the preconditions of leadership in the church are not such things as unusual talent, wealth, power or ability, but sound moral and ethical conduct.

Temperate ... "The literal Greek here is `one who sits long at his wine,'"[18] leading to the rendition, "not given to much wine." That wine was freely used even by Christians in apostolic times is evident in a statement like this; but it should always be remembered that the so-called wines of our times have ten times the alcoholic percentage of wines in that day; and that, even in those times, the people who wanted to set the proper example abstained from wine altogether (see 1 Timothy 5:23).

Such qualifications as temperate, sober-minded and orderly in church elders are absolutely mandatory. The church today is beset with every conceivable fad, fancy, fiction and nostrum that the devil himself can invent; and, for dealing with such things, the church of all ages needs stable, sober, orderly, right-minded men who have the courage and ability to protect and nourish the flock of God.

Given to hospitality ... In the times during which Paul was writing, there were not many inns of the type available today; and many Christians were required to travel, some being displaced from their homes by persecutions, and others traveling in the spread of the gospel or the service of the church. Elders were to be chosen from that class of Christians who opened their doors to fellow-saints in need or distress. Little reference is made here, if any, to the type of hospitality that says, "Come over to my house and have a good time; and later we can go over to yours for the same purpose." White is probably correct in supposing that "The duty of the elders was closely connected with the maintenance of external relations, which was their principal function."[19]

Apt to teach ... The Christian life is a life of study and learning. Ill-informed elders are a contradiction in terms. Every elder should be able to shut the mouths of the gainsayers, shield the church from false teaching, and see to it that truth and truth alone is fed to their charges. The inroads of so-called "higher" or "source" criticism of the New Testament, the current development of the most notorious and amoral philosophies, the advocacy of such things as homosexuality, abortion, etc., place an additional burden upon elders to be well taught and able men. As Lenski said, "Aptness to teach means not merely a natural aptitude, but the qualification of having been taught, as well."[20] It is regrettable that this qualification is sometimes overlooked.

[8] Kenneth S. Wuest, op. cit., p. 52.

[9] E. M. Zerr, op. cit., p. 171.

[10] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 997.

[11] Newport J. D. White, op. cit., p. 111.

[12] A. C. Hervey, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21,1Timothy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 51.

[13] Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 59.

[14] A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 50.

[15] Kenneth S. Wuest, op. cit., p. 53.

[16] Ronald A. Ward, Commentary on 1,2Timothy (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1974), p. 54.

[17] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 579.

[18] Kenneth S. Wuest, op. cit., p. 56.

[19] Newport J. D. White, op. cit., p. 113.

[20] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 584.

Verse 3
no brawler, no striker; but gentle, not contentious, no lover of money;

The best comment on these terms is perhaps the basic definitions of the Greek words from which they have been translated, although the meaning comes through clearly enough in their English derivatives. The following definitions are from Wuest:[21]

Brawler: a fighter, a contentious person, one who goes about with a chip on his shoulder.

Striker: this noun speaks of a bruiser, one who is ready with a blow, a pugnacious, contentious, quarrelsome person.

Gentle: means one who is kind, considerate and sensitive to the feelings of others, not harsh, rude or blunt in his behavior.

Not covetous, no lover of money: the word AVARICIOUS may be used to translate the thought here.SIZE>

Striker ... The current application of this word to participants in labor disputes should not cloud the meaning here. Even as late as the times of Sir Walter Scott, a striker was one who went around thumping people on the head with a quarterstaff. "Skull-breakers" is a synonym.


[21] Kenneth S. Wuest, op. cit., pp. 56,57.

Verse 4
one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

The emphasis in this verse is not upon procreative ability, but upon the ability to rule, a well-disciplined family being the surest evidence of such a trait in one considered for the eldership. Some, discerning this, have gone so far as to declare that:

The requirement is not that an overseer must have children, that a childless man could not be chosen, but that when he has a family, as most men have, any children, should be in subjection.[22]SIZE>

Even if such a viewpoint is true, which this author doubts, it would be far better to choose able family men with children; and something else should be done, if at all, with the greatest reluctance and with the absolute necessity of doing so if any elders at all were to be appointed. This view is included here because of the usual dependability of its advocate, and not through any agreement with it, but also for the purpose of strengthening the argument for allowing fathers of only one child to be appointed. The overstressing of the "children" requirement has reduced the process of choosing elders in some churches to a mere census of the children!

Regarding the question of whether a man with only one child could be appointed, Zerr has this illuminating comment:

The captain of a sinking ship orders that women with children should enter lifeboats first. This does not mean that women with only one child Would be denied entrance. Sarah remarked (Genesis 21:7), "Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have borne him a son."[23]SIZE>

Thus, the Scriptural use of the plural "children" to include also the meaning of a single child is fully established from the Old Testament.

Not the number of the children, but their behavior is in view here. Paul would state in the very next verse that a man unable to control his own household should not be entrusted with the government of a church.

With all gravity ... This is not a grace of childhood, but should be applied to the dignity and decorum of the father.

[22] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 586.

[23] E. M. Zerr, op. cit. p. 173.

Verse 5
(but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

See comment under preceding verse.

DeWelt asked:

If one be incapable of governing so small a society as his own family, but suffers his children to be disobedient and vicious, how shall he govern in a proper manner that greater and far more important society, the church of God?[24]SIZE>


[24] Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 59.

Verse 6

not a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

The elevation of a recent convert to the eldership might easily issue in an inordinate pride upon his part; and, therefore, wherever possible, men of settled experience in living the Christian life should be chosen. Young churches might at times find it difficult to find men of this qualification; indeed, it has been suggested that when Paul himself appointed elders on the first missionary tour (Acts 14:23), they might not have been totally free of question on this count. From this, we conclude that the overall order to "ordain elders in every church" should not be set aside on the pretext that no one, in the strictest sense, measures up to all of the qualifications in any perfect manner.

Being puffed up ... These words are from [@tufoo], meaning literally "to raise a smoke, emit smoke, or smolder,"[25] hence metaphorically, "to blind with pride or conceit."

Into condemnation of the devil ... This refers not to any condemnation that may be exercised by Satan, because the prerogative of condemnation is not one that pertains to Satan at all; therefore, it means the condemnation into which Satan and the fallen angels fell when God condemned them. The strict meaning of the Greek word makes possible an opposite interpretation with the meaning that "the snare of the devil"[26] is intended by this. Lenski, however, giving an extensive analysis, said of this alternative rendition that "it is untenable."[27] Consonant with this view is also the fact of pride having been the occasion of the fall of Satan, exactly the temptation of a novice prematurely elevated to the eldership. Wuest also connected these things as follows: "The condemnation of the devil refers to the fact that Satan is under the condemnatory sentence of God, since sin was motivated by pride."[28]

[25] Kenneth S. Wuest, op. cit., p. 58.

[26] A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 52.

[27] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 589.

[28] Kenneth S. Wuest, op. cit., p. 58.

Verse 7

Moreover he must have good testimony from them that are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

These same qualities are required of elders, and sufficient comment on them was made above. A synonym for GRAVE is "honorable". Double-tongued, found only here in the New Testament,[29] means DECEITFUL, lacking in integrity.

Not greedy of filthy lucre ... indicates a man who is not inordinately fond of making money.


[29] A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 52.

Verse 9
holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

The mystery of the faith ... Here is the same as "the great mystery" mentioned a few moments later (1 Timothy 3:16). The doctrine of mystery as unfolded in the New Testament is rather extensive, as fully elaborated in The Mystery of Redemption.[30] See more on this under 1 Timothy 3:16.

Pure conscience ... Paul made a great deal of the conscience; and, while a clear conscience does not prove one is right, an impure conscience most certainly proves one to be wrong.


[30] James Burton Coffman, The Mystery of Redemption (Abilene, Texas: ACU, Press).

Verse 10
And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless.

And let these also first be proved ... This requirement of having first to be tested was also mandatory in the case of the elders. As Lenski expressed it:

The fact that such a testing was to be applied also to overseers is so self-evident from the conditions laid down in 1 Timothy 3:2-8, that "also" now refers to it. Paul states that the testing is likewise quite necessary in the case of the deacons.[31]SIZE>

This is a very important point to be noted, because in it lies the certainty that the women to be mentioned in the same breath are the wives of both elders and deacons, the same requirements in their wives being mandatory for both. The testing mentioned here applies to both elders and deacons; and the qualification of their wives also applies to the wives of both classes of officers.


[31] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 597.

Verse 11
Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.

Hervey summarized the three possible meanings of this verse, making it applicable to: (1) the wives of the deacons; (2) the wives of the elders and deacons; or (3) the women deacons.[32] Hervey, like so many present-day commentators opted for the third meaning, but this commentator is certain that the third meaning is wrong.

If the women in view here had been deacons, Paul would have called them deacons, which he certainly did not do; and furthermore, in the very next verse Paul said that deacons "must be husbands of one wife," leaving women out of sight altogether as possible holders of this office.

Both the KJV and Nestle Greek-English New Testament translate the word "wives" instead of "women" in this verse, and that is doubtless the correct rendition. It is alleged that the word "women" is ambiguous in the Greek, and well it may be; but in context the word has to mean wives. To make it read "female deacons" is a gross transgression of the word of God. This verse says absolutely nothing about any female deacons; and the supposition that it does would mean that no qualifications whatever are laid down for the wives of elders and deacons, a fault that no man has the right to charge against the apostle Paul. This verse on the qualities of officers' wives is absolutely mandatory to be observed. The wrong kind of wife can ruin any elder or any deacon; and to make the qualifications in sight here applicable to a whole new class of church officials would be to make Paul guilty of a very glaring omission.

But isn't Phoebe called a deaconess (Romans 16:1)? Yes, indeed; but policemen are also called deacons of God (Romans 13:4), the Greek word being the same in both cases (except for the gender). See exegesis on this in my Commentary on Romans under those verses. In this connection, it is proper to note that if Paul had meant these women to be installed as "deaconesses" he certainly knew the word and would have referred to them in this passage by their proper title. The New Testament word "apostle" is used in its both official and limited sense and also in a secondary and more general sense when applied to men like Barnabas and Silas, who were not, strictly speaking, "apostles." The view here is that "deaconess" as applied to Phoebe, in the same manner, does not mean that she was officially a deacon in the church of the Lord. It should always be remembered that deaconess translates the Greek word for "servant," and that, for centuries, the translators have rendered the word "deacon" only when the official church office was meant. But in the case of Romans 13:4 and Romans 16:1, they usually rendered it "servant." That is the way the KJV renders both places; and the gratuitous injection of the official title DEACON into Romans 16:1 in some subsequent versions is absolutely incorrect and misleading.

If churches were commanded to appoint women deacons, where is the record of it, either in the New Testament or in the custom of the historical church? When women deacons are appointed, they are appointed without divine authority and with no adequate list of qualifications to serve as guidelines for their appointment. If 1 Timothy 3:11 is to be construed as the standard for appointing women deacons, why, it may be inquired, did Paul list fifteen qualifications for elders, and four for so-called deaconesses? Such a view simply does not make sense.


[32] A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 53.

Verse 12
Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

Let deacons be husbands of one wife ... This disqualifies any woman from serving as an official deacon. The notion that Paul laid down hard and fast regulations regarding the marital status of both elders and (male) deacons, and he then authorized a whole new echelon of (female) deacons without specifying any marital qualifications whatever, is too unreasonable to believe. No! The people who are determined to appoint female deacons will have to find their authority and their guidelines somewhere else than in the New Testament. See comment on this clause under 1 Timothy 1:2.

Verse 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.

As Lipscomb remarked, "Through service of the deaconship a man grows into the qualifications and fitness for the work of an elder."[33]


Probably the greatest class of men on earth today are the elders and deacons of churches of our Lord throughout the world. Their work is that of constant service and study, not in some ivory tower, but in the boiling crucible of daily life, where the word of God and its application to pressing human problems are their constant daily concern. The hours of toil, unrequited by any human emoluments, the ceaseless care of the churches, the countless meetings, the unending solicitation on their part of cooperation from the membership, with no means of enforcing it except by the sheer weight of their spiritual and moral authority - these qualities of their service, together with the marvelous success which crowns their efforts, give evidence of the genuine greatness which marks the character and conduct of elders and deacons of the Lord's church.

This commentator has had the honor of knowing literally hundreds of elderships and deaconships throughout the United States, and the quality of character and ability exhibited by all of them is the most truly amazing phenomenon ever observed by this writer. Surely such men are the servants of the Most High.

This verse concludes the Pauline instructions for the appointment of elders and deacons.


[33] David Lipscomb, Commentary on 1Timothy (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1942), p. 151.

Verse 14
These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly;

This verse is slightly apologetic. As White said:

It expresses an excuse for the brevity and incompleteness (from one point of view) of the instructions, and also an expectation that they are sufficient to serve their temporary purpose.[34]SIZE>

Did Paul return to Timothy in Ephesus?

We have no means of knowing. He wrote to Titus about the same time and told Titus to come to Nicopolis for the coming winter, which was probably a few months hence, so that before going to Nicopolis Paul hoped to visit Timothy in Ephesus.[35]SIZE>

[34] Newport J. D. White, op. cit., p. 117.

[35] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 605.

Verse 15
but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

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