The Qualifications of Elder
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money” 1 Timothy 3:1-4
3:1 “It is a trustworthy statement”: Here is a statement that can be relied upon (1:15; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8). What follows is very important and worthy of confidence. “If any man”: Clearly, the elder must be a man (3:2). Notice the word “any”; as long as a man was qualified he could serve, regardless of his social and economic background. “Aspires”: “To stretch oneself, that is, reach out after (long for)”. “Signifying the mental effort of stretching oneself out for a thing, or longing after it (Vine, “Desire”, p. 298). “It points to an aspiration such as causes a young man to study, labor, and sacrifice in order to equip himself for leadership in the church” (Hiebert, p. 63). Becoming qualified for this office and the office itself demands an output of energy. “The overseership is not a mere honor to be enjoyed. It is a good work, but it is work” (Kent, p. 124). “He desires to do”: To set the heart upon, that is, long for and desire earnestly. The same type of desire is found in 1 Peter 5:2 “Not of constraint, but willingly”. Translations here read, “Not as though it were forced upon you” (Gspd); “Not reluctantly” (Wey); “Not because you are compelled” (TCNT). “Overseer”: The term “overseer” is equivalent to the term “bishop” (KJV), and it refers to the same function or office as the terms “elder” and “pastor”. See Acts 20:17, 28-31; Titus 1:5ff and 1 Peter 5:1-3. In the New Testament we find a plurality of such men overseeing only one local congregation (1 Peter 5:1-2; Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:17). “It is a fine work”: This reveals that the work is not only “good” intrinsically, but outwardly also. Apparently Paul felt it necessary to dwell on the spiritual glory of such a vocation, which ought to outweigh all the counsels of worldly prudence”(Hiebert, p. 64). The office of an elder will involve “work” (1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:13).
3:2 “An overseer, then, must be”: The term “must be” means it is necessary, there is need of, it behooves, is right and proper (Thayer, p. 126). “One must or has to” (Arndt, p. 172). “It is necessary” (Reese, p. 111). The qualifications are “musts” and to remain qualified the elder must continue to possess the following qualifications. This protects the congregation from a man who is no longer qualified and the elder from a congregation that seeks to remove them without just cause. Each qualification is to be treated with full respect and none of them are optional. The “must be” applies to all of the qualifications and not just the word “blameless”. Some have tried to argue that these qualifications are only “ideals” for which the elder strives, yet being married and having children are actually things that people achieve. “Above reproach”: One against whom no evil charge can be sustained, not open to accusation. Lit., that cannot be laid hold of, hence not open to censure (Vine, p. 228). One against whom it is impossible to bring any charge of wrong doing such as could stand impartial examination. This does not mean sinless (1 John 1:8); but rather a man who corrects his sins and is no longer held to blame in the sight of men and God. Consider the elder Peter (1 Peter 5:1; Galatians 2:11ff). “His conduct should be of such a nature that no handle is given to anyone by which to injure his reputation... it does refer to consistent, mature Christian living which gives no occasion for public reproach” (Kent, p. 125). “The husband”: It is clear that the elder must be a man. “A word never used of the female sex” (Vine, p. 34). This “office” involves teaching, a teaching of both men and women, publicly and privately, Christians and non-Christians (3:2; Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 5:2). Placing a woman in this office would place her in the position of violating 1 Timothy 2:12.
3:2 “Of one wife”: “Mias gunaikos andra” literally means, of one wife a husband. Translations: “one wife’s husband” (Ber); “must have only one wife” (Wms), “he must be married only once” (Moffat). Some say lit., this means a “one woman man”. “One”: The husband of only one wife or a husband married only once; the same as 1 Timothy 3:12; Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 5:9 (Arndt, p. 231). Please note that such a qualification would not only prohibit more than one, but it equally demands one. Catholic commentators have tried to argue that the “wife” in this section is the church, yet such is an abuse of the context (3:4). In the context the elder’s family is clearly distinguished from the church. Some say that the thrust behind this qualification was directed against polygamy, yet “if the Scriptures forbid polygamists to have fellowship with the church (1 Corinthians 7:1-2) what would be the point of Paul telling Timothy not to appoint them to the eldership? If the elders are taken from the membership of the church, and if church membership would not tolerate polygamists, how could this passage be only a condemnation of polygamy?” (Phillips, p. 109). The concept that Paul is only legislating against polygamists in the eldership just does not add up, especially when you consider the like expression “wife of one man” in 1 Timothy 5:9. How many women in the First Century had harems of men?
Can the elder be Scripturally married more than once?
There are other expressions that God could have used to express the meaning of “one wife at a time”, such as, “the bishop must be married”. Admittedly a lexicon is a human authority; and yet Arndt and Gingrich (considered by many to be the best in N.T. word definitions) define “one” here as “single, only one”, ”the husband of only one wife or a husband married only once” (Arndt, p. 231).
Does a man lose this qualification when his wife dies?
In previous studies on this subject the adult class brought out a good point, and challenged a common assumption as to what the purpose is behind the elder having a wife”? Is it to gain experience in ruling his household? Or was it for support in his work as an elder? In addition, some women are mentioned in 3:11 (presumably the wives of the elders and deacons). This indicates that elders and deaconshave wives of character. Would this not imply the wives are living? That is, before a congregation appoints men, they must consider the character of their wives as well. The argument that once a man has proven he can lead a wife and family, he still remains qualified even though his wife dies, because he has not lost the experience of ruling well, rests on the assumption that she exists only for his experience of having a family and ruling them.
3:2 “Temperate”: “Vigilant” (KJV). Clear headed, self-controlled, to be calm, dispassionate and circumspect, wise caution may be included; attentive. Sober and wary; not given to frivolity of mind, common sense and collected in spirit. The work of an elder requires a clear, vigilant mind, unhampered by drunkenness or self-ego. It means the bishop must be a self-controlled, watchful, alert man, having a foresight to know the end of a course being followed. The word itself had meant abstaining from wine entirely, and is so used by the First Century writer Josephus. It had also a metaphorical usage in the sense of spiritually sober, calm, and sober in judgment.“Prudent”: The same word is found in Titus 1:8. Sensible, master of himself, curbing one’s desires and impulses, thoughtful, self-controlled, one who is not flippant. Not that the elder must be long-faced, but that he should be earnest and have a balanced judgment to relegate fun to its proper place. Those who lightly esteem spiritual responsibility and cannot “get serious” are not equipped to be elders.“Respectable”: Dignified, unruffled, a well ordered life, having respect for order. “His discourse, dress, visage, gait, his manners, must all be suitable to the gravity of his function” (MacKnight, p. 209). A man living with decorum. His is not childish, clownish, rude, crude, sour, boisterous or boorish. Remember, he will be relating to people both in and outside the church. The eldership is not place for a man who is known for unfinished plans and unorganized activity” (Reese, p. 116). “Hospitable”: Generous to guests, having a love of strangers. This is a man with an open heart and an open home. The elder is not some man in an ivory tower, but rather he is a sociable man, a companion of the congregation, he is assessable to the members; they are welcome in his home. “Persecution, poverty, and the plight of widows and orphans gave additional opportunity for hospitality to be exercised” (Kent, p. 132). “Able to teach”: Titus 1:9 more precisely defines the amount of knowledge and skill in teaching that the elder needs to possess. He must know the word and he must be willing to use it, to exhort with it, and to refute, exposing the error of those that stand in opposition. He must have a working knowledge.
3:3 “Not addicted to wine”: Literally, the expression is “not beside wine”. “It is not merely drunkenness that is here prohibited; if it was, we would doubtless have the word which is appropriated to the expression of that idea. Neither is the idea of ‘much’ in the original. Of course “wine” in New Testament times was diluted with water. Since drunkenness is a progressive state (Ephesians 5:18), this forbids not only intoxication but the careless movement toward that state as well.“Nor pugnacious”: A bruiser, one ready with a blow, contentious, a quarrelsome person (Titus 1:7). Someone who is ready and eager to fight; a bully, a quick-tempered individual who strikes back when annoyed. “Ungoverned temper, ready to resent insult or wrong, real or imaginary” (Lipscomb, p. 147). The elder will often find himself in hostile situations, and such a place is not for the person who cannot control his temper. The elder must have his strength under control.“But gentle”: Equitable, fair, moderate, forbearing, “that considerateness that looks humanely and reasonably at the facts of the case” (Vine, pp. 144-145). Yielding, kind, the man who is not offended easily, the man who is easy to be approached. Though he does not compromise God’s standards, he yields and forebears where he can. He needs to be considerate toward the feelings of others, patient with the weak, and exercise his authority in a manner in which people do not feel that they are being domineered.“Uncontentious”: He does not argue just for the sake of arguing. He is not offensively aggressive, but is humble. “An ill-tempered, arrogant, assertive disposition will create problems, but never settle them” (Reese, p. 118). “Free from the love of money”: “He who wishes to become rich also wishes to become rich soon”. He cannot be a miser, neither can he be a person willing to sell his principles for money. “The man who would be qualified to be an elder must be far removed from making the acquisition of earthly treasure his chief goal in life” (Reese, p. 119).