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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4069. A.D. 65.

The apostle

(1,) Instructs Timothy respecting the qualifications to be attended to in those who were to be set apart to the office of bishops, or overseers, of the flock of Christ, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 ; and of deacons and their wives, 1 Timothy 3:8-13 .

(2,) Gives Timothy a reason for his writing so particularly to him about these and other church affairs, for directing his conduct as an evangelist, 1 Timothy 3:14-16 .

Verse 1

1 Timothy 3:1. Because some false teachers were now spreading their erroneous doctrines with assiduity among the believers at Ephesus, and it was necessary that Timothy (to whom the care of the church there was committed) should be assisted by some bishops, or elders, and deacons, well qualified to teach the people, the apostle, after observing what an honourable office that of a Christian bishop is, here describes the qualities and virtues necessary in one who desires to attain it. This is a true saying Most certain in itself, and worthy of being always acknowledged and attended to; if a man desire, (or earnestly seek, as ορεγεται signifies,) the office of a bishop Overseer, or pastor of Christ’s flock, frequently termed presbyters, or elders, in the New Testament. See on Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2; he desireth a good work An excellent but laborious employment. “A bishop’s office is termed εργον , a work, to intimate that he must not spend his life in ease and idleness, but in a continued application to the duties of his office. It is also termed καλον αργον , a good, or excellent work, because of its honourableness and usefulness. See on 2 Timothy 2:2. The words καλος and αγαθος are often used promiscuously, to denote what is morally good. But when they are distinguished, καλος includes also the idea of honour, and ογαθος the idea of profit.

Verses 2-3

1 Timothy 3:2-3. A bishop then Or an overseer of the flock of Christ, that he may be capable of such an office; must be blameless In every respect with regard to his moral character, since any thing which might be amiss in that would tend to bring a reproach upon his office, and greatly obstruct his usefulness; the husband of one wife This neither means that a bishop must be married, nor that he may not marry a second wife; which is just as lawful for him to do as to marry a first, and may, in some cases, be his bounden duty. But whereas polygamy and divorce, upon slight occasions, were both common among the Jews and heathen, it teaches us that ministers, of all others, ought to stand clear of those sins. Macknight’s reasoning on this subject is very conclusive. “That the gospel allows women to marry a second time, is evident from 1 Corinthians 7:9; 1 Corinthians 7:39. By parity of reason it allows men to marry a second time likewise. Wherefore, when it is said here that a bishop must be the husband of one wife, and (1 Timothy 5:9,) that the widow, who is employed by the church in teaching the young of her sex, must have been the wife of one husband, the apostle could not mean that persons who have married a second time are thereby disqualified for sacred offices. For in that case, a bishop whose wife dies while he is young, must lay down his office, unless he can live continently unmarried. The apostle’s meaning, therefore, in these canons, is, that such persons only were to be intrusted with sacred offices who in their married state had contented themselves with one wife, and with one husband at a time; because thereby they had showed themselves temperate in the use of sensual pleasures; through the immoderate love of which the Asiatic nations universally practised polygamy. In like manner because, according to our Lord’s determination, persons who divorced each other unjustly were guilty of adultery when they married themselves to others; also because such really had more wives and husbands than one at a time, as was the case with the woman of Samaria, (John 4:18,) the apostle, to restrain these licentious practices, which were common among the Greeks and Romans, as well as among the Jews, ordered that no widow should be chosen to instruct the younger women, but such as had been the wife of one husband only at a time.” Vigilant Intent upon his duty, ready to resist temptation, and careful to preserve his flock from seduction; sober Greek, σωφρονα , prudent; or, as the word also implies, one who governs well his passions, and whose mind is well regulated. He must be lively and zealous, yet calm and wise; of good or comely behaviour As κοσμιον might be properly rendered; implying that his conduct, in all respects, must be such as becomes his office: his discourse, his dress, his visage, his gait, his manners being all suitable to the gravity of his functions. The former word respects the inward man, and this the outward. Given to hospitality Literally, a lover of strangers. As the primitive Christians took a particular charge of orphans, widows, sick people, and of such as were imprisoned for their religion, or spoiled of their goods, so also of strangers; to the care of whom they were led by the manners of the age, and the peculiar circumstances of the times. For many of the first converts, having devoted themselves to the preaching of the gospel, often travelled from one place to another; and as there were no inns in the eastern countries like those used now with us, it was customary for travellers to lodge with their acquaintance, or with such persons as they were recommended to. But all the disciples of Christ, considering themselves as brethren, and as engaged in one common cause for the benefit of the world, they made each other welcome, though unacquainted, to such food and lodging as they could afford. And therefore, when travellers were not acquainted with the brethren in any particular place, all they had to do was to make themselves known as Christians, by declaring their faith, (2 John 1:10,) especially to the bishops, who had a liberal maintenance given them to enable them to be hospitable. Yet the bishop’s hospitality was not to be confined to the brethren: he was to extend it, on occasion at least, even to such heathen strangers as, agreeably to the manners of the times, came to him, drawn by his reputation for wisdom or beneficence. The reason was, by receiving such into his house, he would have an opportunity of recommending the true religion to them by his conversation and example. From this account it is evident, that the hospitality anciently required in a bishop was not what is now meant by that word, namely, the keeping a good table, and an open house for one’s friends and others, who are able to make him a return in kind; but it consisted in entertaining strangers of the character just now described; the poor also, and the persecuted for the sake of religion. Apt, or fit, to teach By having a thorough knowledge of the things he is to teach, a clear manner of expressing his thoughts, and an earnest desire to instruct the ignorant; or one that is himself well instructed in the things of the kingdom of God, and is communicative of what he knows; is both able and willing to impart to others the knowledge which God hath given him. Not given to wine Or any other kind of strong liquor; no striker Not of such a hasty temper as to have so little government of himself as to be ready to strike those who provoke him; or one that is apt to use violence to any one, but who does every thing in a spirit of meekness, gentleness, long- suffering, and love. For the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle toward all men, 2 Timothy 2:24; not greedy Or desirous, rather, of filthy lucre That is, who does not make his ministry subservient to any secular design or interest; that uses no mean, base, sordid ways of getting money; who is dead to the wealth of this world, and makes it appear by his conduct that he is so, and that he lives above it. It is remarkable that the phrase αισχροκερδης , which is here used, and signifies a person attached to sordid gain, is seldom or never used in the New Testament to express any gain, but that which is made or procured by the covetousness of Christian ministers; and “never surely,” as Doddridge observes, “does an eagerness in pursuit of money appear more dishonourable and sordid than in persons of that noble, but, alas! too often prostituted profession.” But patient Επιεικη , gentle, yielding, or moderate; one that does not insist upon the extremity of his right, but is ready to give it up, in some degree, for the sake of peace; not a brawler A contentious person; not covetous Αφιλαργυρον , not a lover of money, or of riches, but who, having food and raiment for himself and those dependant upon him, is content therewith.

Verses 4-6

1 Timothy 3:4-6. One that ruleth well his own house That not only rules it, but rules it well, and keeps his family in good order: that rules it so as to promote religion and virtue in all its members; rules it calmly, but firmly; never using harshness where gentleness and love will produce the desired effect; having his children If he be a father; in subjection, with all gravity Or seriousness; for levity undermines all domestic authority: and he must thus rule his house both that he may set a good example to other masters of families, and that he may thereby give proof of his ability to preside over the church of God. For if a man know not how to rule his own house So as to preserve a due decorum in the family where he has such a natural authority; how should he be able to take care of Or to govern, in a proper manner, that greater and more important society, the church of God In which there will be such a diversity of characters and dispositions, and over which it will be impossible for him to maintain an equal inspection and influence? Not a novice νεοφυτον , literally, one newly ingrafted, namely, into the body of Christ, or newly planted, namely, in the garden of his church; that is, one newly converted. Such were not to be made bishops, or presbyters; because, being yet but imperfectly instructed in the Christian doctrine, they were not fit to teach it to others. Besides, as their zeal, constancy, fidelity, and other graces, had not been sufficiently tried, they could have had but little authority, especially with the brethren of longer standing and greater experience. Lest being lifted up with pride Greek, τυφωθεις , puffed up, with this new honour conferred upon him, or the applause which frequently follows it; he fell into the condemnation of the devil The same into which the devil fell, or be guilty of the sin of self-conceit and high-mindedness, for which the devil was condemned.

Verse 7

1 Timothy 3:7. Moreover, he must have a good report That is, a fair or good character, or good testimony, namely, as to the time past; of them that are without That are not Christians; lest he fall into reproach By their rehearsing his former life; and the snare of the devil Which Satan might make a snare of to discourage and cast him down, or in some other way entangle him in unbelief and sin. Here Macknight remarks, “It is intimated, that the sins which a person has formerly committed, when cast in his teeth after he becomes a minister, may be the means of tempting him to repeat these sins, by the devil’s suggesting to him that he has little reputation to lose. Nor is this the only evil. The people, knowing his former miscarriages, will be less affected with what he says to them. All who are candidates for the ministry ought to consider these things seriously.”

Verses 8-9

1 Timothy 3:8-9. Likewise the deacons Of whom see on Acts 6:3-4, and Philippians 1:1; must be grave Or serious, as some render σεμνους : men of a steady, decent, and venerable behaviour. No mention is made of presbyters, or elders, as distinct from bishops; evidently because (as has been observed on 1 Timothy 3:1, and Php 1:1 ) they were not distinct from them; but the two names were used promiscuously for the same persons. Not double-tongued Deceitful and dissembling, speaking one thing in one company, and another in another; not given to much wine Which would render them utterly unfit for their office; not greedy, or desirous of filthy lucre See on 1 Timothy 3:3. “With what abhorrence does the apostle everywhere speak of this! All that is gained, (above food and raiment,) by ministering in holy things, is filthy gain indeed! Far more filthy than what is honestly gained by raking kennels, or emptying common sewers.” Wesley. Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience Well instructed in, and firmly believing, all the great doctrines of the gospel, and adorning them by a correspondent practice; or steadfast in faith, and holy in heart and life. Although the apostle did not mention it, Timothy would readily infer from this direction concerning deacons, that it was equally necessary in bishops as in them to be sound in the faith, and holy in life. As soundness in the faith was required in deacons, it is probable they were sometimes, if not generally, employed in teaching; but whether by preaching or catechising is not certain. They likewise acted as readers in the congregations.

Verse 10

1 Timothy 3:10 . Let these also (The word also implies that the same rule was to be observed with relation to bishops) first be proved “By the examination,” says Whitby, “of the soundness of their faith, and the purity of their former lives: and then let them be admitted to use the office of a deacon, being thus found blameless.” And he shows, by a quotation from the Life of the Emperor Severus, written by Lampridius, and from the epistles of Cyprian, that such an examination was used at the ordination of both bishops and deacons in the churches of the early Christians, and that it was a practice derived from the apostles. Some, however, think that the apostle required, in this direction, that no one should be made either a bishop or a deacon, till he had given proof both of his steadfastness in the faith, and of his genuine piety and good conduct during a reasonable space of time after his conversion: or, that the persons admitted to these offices should be under trial for a while, how they conducted themselves therein, and then afterward, if they gave satisfaction, they should be confirmed in them.

Verse 11

1 Timothy 3:11. Even so must their wives Namely, the wives of the deacons; be grave Serious in their deportment; not slanderers Or false accusers of the brethren and others; sober Or watchful, (as νηφαλεους may be rendered,) for occasions of doing good, and guarding against every temptation to evil; faithful To God, their husbands, and the poor; in all things Committed to their care, lest their imprudent and unfaithful conduct should bring the character of their husbands under suspicion. The apostle, however, may be understood here, as not only speaking of the wives of the deacons and bishops, but of the believing women in general, and particularly of those who were invested with any office in the church. So the Vulgate interprets his meaning, having here, mulieres similiter pudicas, the women in like manner must be modest. Chrysostom also, and the Greek commentators, with most of the Latin fathers, were of opinion that the apostle, in this passage, is speaking both of those women who, in the first age, were employed in ministering to the afflicted, and of those who were appointed to teach the young of their own sex the principles of religion. As the manners of the Greeks did not permit men to have much intercourse with women of character, unless they were their relations, and as the Asiatics were under still greater restraints, it was proper that an order of female teachers should be instituted in the church for instructing the young of their own sex. These, it seems, were generally widows, Clement of Alexandria reckoning widows among ecclesiastical persons, Pædag., lib. 3. c. 12; and Grotius tells us that these female presbyters, or elders, were ordained by imposition of hands till the council of Laodicea.

Verses 12-13

1 Timothy 3:12-13. Let the deacons As well as the bishops; be husbands of one wife That is, such as have shown their temperance by avoiding polygamy and causeless divorce; (see on 1 Timothy 3:2;) ruling their children, &c. This qualification, which was required in bishops likewise, shows how anxious the apostle was that all who bore sacred offices should be unblameable in every respect; knowing that the disorderly behaviour of the members of their family might give occasion to suspect that they had been careless of their morals. For they that have used Have discharged; the office of a deacon well, (see Romans 12:7-8,) purchase to themselves a good de gree Greek, βαθμον , step, namely, toward some higher office; and great boldness From the testimony of a good conscience; in the faith which is in Christ Jesus Namely, in professing and teaching it, for even the wicked must respect persons who show so much benevolence and activity in relieving the poor, the afflicted, and the persecuted.

Verses 14-16

1 Timothy 3:14-16. These things Concerning the character of persons fit to be intrusted with the office of bishops or deacons; I write, hoping to come to thee shortly It seems evident from hence, that Paul intended to have come back to Timothy at Ephesus in a little time, but was providentially called another way; but, as Doddridge observes, it can by no means be concluded from hence that Paul wrote this epistle to Timothy after his imprisonment at Rome. But if I tarry long If I am hindered from coming, I give thee these instructions in the mean time; that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself That is, how to discharge thy office properly; (which is the scope of the whole epistle;) in the house of God In which thou hast the honour to bear so high an office, even in that house, or family, which is the church of the living God Where he is worshipped in spirit and in truth by his believing people, manifests his special presence, and bestows peculiar blessings. The tabernacle first, and afterward the temple, obtained the name of the house or habitation of God, because there the symbol of the divine presence resided, 1 Samuel 1:7; Matthew 21:13; Matthew 23:38. But under the gospel dispensation no material building or temple is called the house of God. That appellation is given only to the church of God, or to those societies of men who profess to believe in Christ, and join together in worshipping God according to the gospel form. The pillar and ground Or support, as εδραιωμα signifies; of the truth That is, of the whole system of gospel truth. “Some commentators think Timothy is called, in this passage, the pillar and support of the truth, for the same reason that Peter, James, and John are called pillars, (Galatians 2:9,) and that the particle ως , as, should be supplied before these words, and the clause translated thus: That thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself, as the pillar and support of the truth in the church, of the living God. But, not to insist on the harshness and irregularity of this construction, it must be observed, that seeing the interpretation of the passage hath been much contested, a word, which entirely changes the apostle’s meaning, should by no means be inserted in the text on mere conjecture, because in that manner the Scriptures may be made to speak any thing which bold critics please.” Macknight. According to the common reading, the church of God is evidently here called the pillar and support of truth. And since the apostle must be understood as speaking, not of any particular falsely pretended, fallen, or corrupt church, but of the true, genuine, catholic church, or, as he expresses himself, the church of the living God, consisting of all the true churches of Christ throughout the world, and comprehending all true believers and lovers of God, all who hold the mystery of faith in a pure conscience; (1 Timothy 3:9;) this church, so constituted, may with perfect propriety be termed the pillar and support of the truth, as preserving, from age to age, the Holy Scriptures, which attest the truth, and as always believing and maintaining the great fundamental articles of the Christian faith. Bengelius, however, and many others, adopt a different reading, so far as to end the sentence with the church of the living God, and to begin the next with the words following, thus: The mystery of godliness is the pillar and ground of truth, and confessedly a great thing. And this reading is approved by Witsius, Whitby, Doddridge, Wesley, and many other eminent commentators. According to this interpretation, by the mystery of godliness we are to understand that wonderful and sublime doctrine which is revealed in the gospel, and immediately specified in six articles, which sum up the whole economy of Christ upon earth.

God was manifest in the flesh Namely, the Word that was in the beginning with God, and was God, was incarnated, (John 1:14,) in the human nature of Jesus, conceived by a miracle in the womb of the virgin, and born of her, to whom, therefore, the divine names of God, Lord, and Jehovah, are repeatedly given in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; as also the divine titles of the true God, 1 John 5:20; God over all blessed for ever, Romans 9:5; Jehovah of hosts, Isaiah 8:13-14; Hosea 12:5; the Lord of glory, 1 Corinthians 2:8; the Holy One and Just, and the Prince of life, Acts 3:14-15; the first and last, Revelation 1:17. To him divine attributes are ascribed; omnipresence, Matthew 18:20; omnipotence, Philippians 3:21; omniscience, Revelation 2:23. And divine works, namely, those of creation, John 1:3; preservation, Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3; redemption and salvation, passim, and judging all mankind at the last day, Matthew 25:31-32, &c. And to him, as we have very often seen in the course of these notes, divine worship was frequently paid by those divinely-inspired persons, who could not be mistaken, particularly in a matter so momentous. He was manifested in the form of a servant, in the fashion of a man, for thirty-three years, his divine glory frequently breaking forth through the veil of his humanity, especially in the wisdom of his discourses, in the power of his miracles, in the holiness of his spotless life, and in his unspeakable and never-ceasing benevolence, beneficence, and other divine virtues, and in a peculiar manner when he was transfigured on the holy mount, 2 Peter 1:16-17. Justified in the Spirit The Lord Jesus appeared on earth in all the infirmity and frailty of mortal flesh, poor, despised, persecuted, and at last put to death as a blasphemer; yet he professed and maintained a high claim, the highest possible, even that of being the Messiah, the Son of God in a peculiar sense, and one with his Father, John 8:58; John 10:30; John 10:36. Now how could he be justified in making this claim? He was justified in, or by, the Spirit Namely, the Holy Ghost; 1st, That Spirit had moved holy men of old, (2 Peter 1:21,) to utter many predictions concerning him, and these were all exactly fulfilled in him. 2d, The Spirit descended upon him in a visible form at his baptism, and pointed him out as the person, whom the voice from heaven declared to be God’s beloved Son; and this Spirit he possessed without measure in its gifts and graces, as his doctrine, life, and miracles showed. 3d, By this Spirit he was raised from the dead, (1 Peter 3:18,) and thereby powerfully demonstrated to be the Son of God, Romans 1:4. 4th, He baptized his disciples with this Spirit, particularly on the day of pentecost, according to the prediction of the Baptist, (Matthew 3:11,) and his own often-repeated promise, and thereby convinced of sin those that did not believe in him, whether Jews or Gentiles, and showed them to be inexcusable in resisting such evidence; giving full proof, at the same time, that he himself was righteous, John 16:7-10.

Seen of angels However regardless men might be of this astonishing mystery, this manifestation of God in the flesh, the angels viewed it with deep and constant attention and great interest, as a most astonishing and instructive spectacle, more mysterious than any work of creation, or dispensation of providence, and giving them such views of their Maker’s justice and grace, and especially of his love, as they had not had before, 1 Peter 1:12. Accordingly they worshipped him at his entrance into the world, Hebrews 1:6; celebrated his birth, Luke 2:9-13; ministered to him in the desert, Matthew 4:11; and in his agonies, Luke 2:43; were present at his resurrection and ascension, Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10.

Preached to the Gentiles This also is termed a mystery Ephesians 3:4-6; Colossians 1:25; where see the notes. And if we consider how the Gentile world was sunk in idolatry and vice of every kind, and that whoever preached the gospel to them must testify against their abominable practices in strong terms, and therefore had every reason to expect the most violent opposition and ill usage, even to imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom, we must allow both that God manifested astonishing grace in sending his apostles to preach the gospel to them, and that these his messengers displayed amazing fortitude in going so willingly to preach it. Believed on in the world This was a still greater mystery; 1st, That a poor, mean, and persecuted man, crucified as the vilest malefactor, should be believed on as the Messiah expected by the Jews and all nations the Son of God the Saviour of the world. 2d, That his gospel, so simple and unpromising in appearance, preached without wisdom of words, and by men who had not the advantage of wealth, power, or learning to recommend them, and whose doctrine condemned the reigning idolatry, should be believed in as a revelation from God: especially as, 3d, It could not prevail but it must evidently overthrow the heathen idolatry, established and revered for ages, and bring all the esteemed doctrines of the philosophers into discredit, and therefore would certainly be opposed and persecuted by the three classes of people of the greatest power, the priesthood, the philosophers, and the Roman emperor, with all subordinate kings and magistrates. 4th, Whoever believed it were under an indispensable obligation to confess it; and whoever did so was in danger of suffering the loss of all things, imprisonment, torture, and death. But notwithstanding all these obstacles in the way, Jesus and his gospel were believed on in the world. “This undeniable fact, of which the evidence remains at this day, is mentioned as a part of the mystery of godliness, because it is a strong proof of the truth of Christ’s resurrection, and of the spiritual gifts and miraculous powers by which the apostles and their assistants are said, in the Christian records, to have spread the gospel through the world. For, to believe that the multitudes, not only among the barbarous nations, but among the learned Greeks and Romans, who forsook their native religion and embraced the gospel, were persuaded to do so merely by the force of words, without the aid of miracles and spiritual gifts, is to believe a greater miracle than any recorded in the gospel history.” Macknight.

Received up into glory When his ministry on earth was completed; when he had fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, and answered the ancient types; taught the whole truth belonging to his new dispensation, and confirmed it by miracles; had set his followers a perfect example; expiated sin by dying, broke the power of death by his resurrection; giving his disciples clear proof thereof by frequently appearing to them, as well as by showing them that the ancient prophets had foretold these things; and had given them their commission and all needful instruction; He, who had so long tabernacled in our frail nature in a state of poverty, reproach, and suffering, was received up into glory: that is, as the eternal Son of God, he resumed the glory he had with his Father before the world was; (John 17:5;) his human nature was transformed and glorified, and in his complete person, as God and man, he was placed at the head of the whole creation for the good of his church, (Ephesians 1:20-22,) invested with all authority and power in heaven and on earth, and constituted the final Judge of men and angels.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/1-timothy-3.html. 1857.
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