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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

1 Timothy 3:1. A true saying. Better as before, ‘faithful,’ so as to keep the identity of phrase before the English reader.

The office of a bishop, or overseer, was not likely, at the time when St. Paul wrote, to be an object of worldly ambition. The risk was the other way. Men were likely to draw back from the burden of responsibility, and to accept it only by constraint (1 Peter 5:2). Hence the stimulus of a new motive was needed, and was found in the half-proverbial maxim which named the office, with all its labour and risk, as a goodly and noble work for a man to aim at.

Verse 2

1 Timothy 3:2. A bishop most be blameless. Literally, ‘ giving no handle to reproach, unassailable.’

The husband of one wife. The emphasis of the numerical adjective shows that the command is restrictive rather than injunctive, but both this verse and 1 Timothy 3:4 appear to take marriage for granted. It is obvious that in a community much exposed to the suspicions or the slanders of the heathen, this would be a safeguard against many of the perils to which a celibate clergy have always been exposed. What the nature of the restriction was is a more difficult question. Two, perhaps three, solutions present themselves: (1) That the bishop is not to have more than one wife at a time, and that the permission of polygamy by Jewish teachers (Joseph. Ant. xvii. 1, 2; Justin Mart. Tryph. p. 363 100) and among the Greeks made this restriction necessary, that the higher morality of the Christian society might not be impaired in its official representative. Against this is to be set the fact that polygamy was never recognised as permissible for any Christian disciple, and that it was therefore unnecessary to make it a special condition of any ministerial office. (2) That it forbids all second marriages. The prima facie meaning of the corresponding phrase in 1 Timothy 5:9, ‘the wife of one husband,’ is in favour of this view, as is the fact that second marriages were regarded by Christians generally in the first two centuries as more or less disreputable, just short of actual sin, or as (e.g. Athenagoras) some did not shrink from saying, a ‘decent adultery,’ and the traditional rule of the Eastern Church as to the unlawfulness of such marriages in the clergy. The bishop was not to be exposed to the stigma that attached to such unions, connected as they often might be with want of power to control sensuous desire, or with the schemes of the fortune-hunter. (3) A third explanation is, perhaps, more satisfactory. The most prominent fact in the social life both of Jews and Greeks at this period was the frequency of divorce. This, as we know, Jewish teachers, for the most part, sanctioned on even trifling grounds (Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-9). The apostle, taking up the law which Christ had laid down, infers that any breach of that law (even in the one case which made marriage after divorce just permissible) would at least so far diminish a man’s claim to respect as to disqualify him for office. This case would, of course, be included in the more general rule of the second interpretation, but the phrase ‘the husband of one wife’ has a more special emphasis thus applied. St. Paul would not recognise the repudiated wife as having forfeited her claim to that title, and some, at least, of its rights.

Vigilant. Sober ’ in the narrower, modern sense of the word.

Sober. In the wider sense of the word, implying (as in 1 Timothy 3:15) what has been called ‘self-reverence.’

Of good behaviour. The outward expression of self-restraint, in grave and measured bearing.

Given to hospitality. The stress laid on this virtue here and in Titus 1:8, 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, rested mainly on the special trials to which the state of society exposed the early converts. The houses of heathen friends were often shut against them; at inns they were exposed to ridicule and insult. It was the duty of all Christians, and especially of the bishop-elder, as representing the society, to be ready to receive even absolute strangers, supposing always that they brought sufficient credentials (the ‘letters of commendation’ of 2 Corinthians 3:1) to show that they were neither spies nor heretics nor of disreputable life.

Apt to teach. In the older sense of the word, as implying special aptitude and gifts for the work.

Verse 3

1 Timothy 3:3. The words imply that in the haste of the early organization of the Church, mistakes had been made which invested even such characters as those described with the office of a bishop or elder.

Not given to wine. The Greek word is sometimes used, it is said, for the petulant, quarrelsome temper as of a man in his cups, without implying that it actually proceeds from intoxication. There is no reason, however, for not receiving it in its full or literal meaning.

No striker. This condition seems from our modern point of view a strange one, but the history of not a few of the Councils of the Church (e.g. the ‘Robber’ Council of Ephesus, A.D. 449) shows that even in a more advanced stage of Christian culture, it was not altogether needles, and the passing allusion in 2 Corinthians 11:20 (‘If a man smite you on the face’) indicates that some of St. Paul’s personal antagonists had had recourse to this form of argument, as well as to slander and self-assertion.

Not greedy of filthy lucre. The Greek word thus rendered is not found in the better MSS., and seems to have been inserted from Titus 1:7. Its precise meaning is rather that of one who seeks gain by base, disreputable means.

Patient. Better ‘ forbearing. ’ The reasonable temper which does not insist even on actual rights, and still less on satisfaction for real or supposed injuries.

Not a brawler. The English word, though somewhat obsolete, expresses the meaning of the Greek, ‘ not quick in quarrel.

Not covetous. Somewhat too general, ‘ Not a lover of money.’

Verse 4

1 Timothy 3:4. One that ruleth well his own house. Like the former condition, ‘the husband of one wife,’ the qualification seems to presuppose the experience of home life as practically the best, if not the necessary, preparation for the pastoral office.

Verse 5

1 Timothy 3:5. For. Literally ‘ but,’ the reason being implied rather than stated in the imaginary case which the apostle puts as involving obvious unfitness.

Take care. The change of words assumes that ‘presiding,’ the position of authority, involves watchful carefulness over those subject to it. The contest between ‘his own house’ and the ‘Church of God ‘presupposes the definition of that Church as the house or family of God, which we find in 1 Timothy 3:15.

Verse 6

1 Timothy 3:6. Not a novice. Not referring to general inexperience, but specially to the state of one newly planted in the Church by conversion, and yet more definitely by baptism.

Lifted up with pride. Better, ‘ besotted’ or ‘beclouded.’ The explanation commonly given of the word (τυφωθεὶς ) connects it with τ ῡ ρος, as smoke or mist, obscuring or dimming our perception of realities. There is sufficient evidence that the word was thus used both in earlier and later Greek. I am inclined, however, to suggest that St. Paul used the term with a more technical and definite meaning. The word τ ῡ ρος (the original of our modern ‘typhus’) had come to be used, from Hippocrates downward, to describe a particular class of fever, of which stupor or delirium were characteristic symptoms, and this would seem to be precisely what St. Paul has in view. The neophyte suddenly raised to power is excited as by the fever of authority, and, as we say, ‘loses his head.’ The word was likely from its history to be familiar to St. Luke, and thus takes its place in the induction which tends to show that intercourse with him influenced the phraseology of St. Paul’s later Epistles.

The condemnation of the devil. Grammatically in the Greek, as in the English, the words are ambiguous and may mean either (1) the judgment which the devil passes; or (2) the judgment passed on him. The analogy of ‘the snare of the devil’ in the next verse, so far as it goes, is in favour of (1 ), but is outweighed by the general analogy of Scripture, in which the devil is always, as the word διάβολος implies, the accuser and the slanderer, but not the judge, of man. Accepting (2), therefore, the words imply a reference to the Rabbinic view of the history of Satan, how, created in perfect excellence, his first act (here comes in the parallelism with the novice) was to admire himself, and so, fevered with ambition, to aspire after equality with God, and thus to bring upon himself the sentence of condemnation.

Verse 7

1 Timothy 3:7. A good report from them that are without. As a matter of practice, the word points to more than general reputation. The ‘report’ μαρτυρία was testimony direct and formal, hose ‘without’ are, of course, as in 1 Corinthians 5:12, the non-Christian members of the community in which the candidate for the Episcopate resided. From them, as employers, friends, neighbours, he was to obtain letters testimonial as well as from the brethren.

Into reproach and the snare of the devil. Both words in the Greek are without the article, and both may accordingly be taken in connexion with ‘the devil.’ Practically it makes little difference in the sense. The ‘reproach,’ even if it were thought of as originating with the Tempter, must in the nature of the case have been uttered by human lips. Where the man who entered on a responsible office had no reputation established by direct testimony to fall back upon, he had but slender defence against calumnies and reproaches. If they came on him, he was liable to fall into the snare of passionate resentment, or reckless defiance, or yet more reckless despair.

Verse 8

1 Timothy 3:8. The deacons likewise. As the ‘bishops’ and ‘elders ‘were titles applied to the same persons, expressing different aspects of their relation to the Church, there is, of course, no mention of the ‘elders’ as an intermediate order. The absence of that order, as contrasted with the recognition of the three grades in the Ignatian Epistles, is, so far as it goes, evidence of the early date of the Pastoral Epistles. There is a certain touch of inferiority in the conditions named for the deacons, as compared with those for the Episcopate. No teaching power is required. The danger of intemperance is expressed in stronger terms; the evil of the love of base and fraudulent gain, the special temptation of those who had the charge of the Church’s alms, is more prominent.

Verse 9

1 Timothy 3:9. The mystery of the faith. The truth hidden before, but now revealed to the initiated-Comp. ‘the mystery of godliness’ in 1 Timothy 3:16, and the use of the word in Ephesians 3:3-5. Guided by the analogy of that passage, and by 1 Timothy 5:8; Jude 1:3, it seems better to take faith here in its objective sense, but that and what is called its subjective meaning are so blended together in St. Paul’s thoughts that it is scarcely possible to draw a hard and fast line of demarcation between them.

Verse 10

1 Timothy 3:10. Let these also first be proved. Not, as the English word suggests, by an experimental probationary period of service, though this is not perhaps excluded, but tested in whatever might seem expedient by evidence as to their past life. If they stood that test, and were found open to no charge, then they were to ‘serve’ or, more literally, to ‘ work as deacons.’

Verse 11

1 Timothy 3:11. Even so must their wives. The mention of women in this parenthetic way is, in any case, remarkable, seeing that the writer returns to the deacons in the next verse. The English of the Authorised Version is a possible rendering, but the absence alike of the article and the pronoun in the Greek, and the obvious parallelism with 1 Timothy 3:8 (διακο ́ νους ω ̔ σαυ ́ τως γυναικο ̀ ς ω ̔ σαυ ́ τως ), make it far more probable that St. Paul is speaking of the women who had a like work, the deaconesses of the Apostolic Church, to whom he refers in Romans 16:1, Phoebe, the servant (διάκονος) of the Church at Cenchrea.’ As there was no feminine form of the word, it was necessary to use ‘women;’ but it is clear that we are dealing with qualifications for office, not with general advice applicable to all. The functions of these deaconesses (the ministr œ of whom Pliny (Ep. x. 96) speaks in writing to Trajan) were probably analogous to those of their male colleagues the distribution of alms to their own sex, caring for the sick, nursing orphan children, instructing female converts, and helping in the administration of their baptism.

Not slanderers. The word so translated is that which commonly appears as the name of the devil, as the great slanderer and accuser of man and God. The Pastoral Epistles are the only part of the New Testament in which it appears in its generic sense.

Faithful. Chiefly in the sense of ‘trust-worthy ‘ in all the details of their work.

Verse 12

1 Timothy 3:12. After the parenthetic digression, the list of qualifications for the deacons is continued, the conditions of good reputation being identical with those for the bishops.

Verse 13

1 Timothy 3:13. Purchase for themselves a good degree. The English rendering sounds hard and technical, but it is not easy to suggest a better. ‘Step,’ ‘station,’ ‘rank,’ ‘position,’ have been pro-posed, and all (except perhaps the first, which yet is the more literal) fairly represent the meaning of the word. In any case the meaning is obscure. We have (1) ‘They gain for themselves an upward step, a higher position,’ sc. the office of a bishop-elder; and (2) ‘They gain a noble position where they are.’ The arguments for (2) preponderate. It is not in harmony with St. Paul’s character to suggest promotion as a motive for work, but rather to urge that a man should abide in his calling (1 Corinthians 7:20). There is no evidence that such promotion was common in the Apostolic Age, when men were made deacons or bishops according to their special gifts. Accepting (2), the thought is that the humbler work may be made as noble as the higher.

Great boldness in the faith. Is the boldness one of feeling or utterance? Is the ‘faith’ the trust of the man in God, or the creed which he believes? No certain answer can be given to these questions, but so far as it is necessary to define where possibly the writer did not define, the latter view seems preferable.

Verse 14

1 Timothy 3:14. Shortly. Literally, ‘sooner’ than was expected. It would seem as if St. Paul had left Ephesus for Macedonia, and wrote giving directions for a probably lengthened absence. Then something like a change of plan suggests itself. He could not tell whether it will be possible. We cannot tell whether it was carried into effect.

Verse 15

1 Timothy 3:15. The home of God. The true Bethel, in which through the Spirit. God manifests His presence. The title, at first applied locally, as in Genesis 28:17; Genesis 28:19, and continuing so applied throughout the whole period of the Old Testament, received a new significance in the teaching of our Lord. The promise to Peter led naturally to the inference that the ecclesia which was to be ‘built’ upon the rock was the house of God in a higher sense than that in which the name had been given to the Temple at Jerusalem. St. Paul is never weary of dwelling on the thought from every point of view ( 1Co 3:9 ; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:22), and the Epistle to the Hebrews depicts the same image (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 3:5-6). The word rendered ‘Church’ of course had not as yet any local or material imagery connected with it, and was simply equivalent to ‘congregation.’

The pillar and ground of the troth. The words admit grammatically of three possible constructions. (1) They may be taken, with a change of punctuation, in connexion with what follows. (2) They may stand in apposition with the ‘Church of the living God’ as the nearest substantive. (3) They may be connected with the pronoun implied in the opening words, ‘that thou mayest know,’ and so be applied to Timothy himself. Of these (1) may be rejected as having but little authority, involving an awkward anti-climax, and leaving the sentence from which the words are thus detached to close abruptly. (2) has the greatest weight of authority, both patristic and modern, in its favour. Against it there is the confusion of metaphor thus introduced, the ‘house’ of the previous clause being used as a ‘pillar’ in a larger fabric. (3) has in its favour some great names (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzen, and Basil), the consensus of the three implying something like the interpretation of a school of theologians, and yet more the fact that elsewhere the metaphor of the ‘pillar’ is elsewhere, as in Galatians 2:9, Revelation 3:12, applied to individual persons. On the whole, there-fore, there seems reason for adopting it. Even here, however, there is a certain mingling of imagery, the ‘pillar’ being also the ‘ground’ or ‘foundation.’ Possibly the word so rendered may be taken in the wider sense of ‘support’ or ‘prop.’ In Revelation 21:14 and Ephesians 2:20, however, the ‘foundation’ is identified with ‘prophets and apostles.’

Verse 16

1 Timothy 3:16. Without controversy. Confessedly’ answers better to the purely affirmative element of the Greek word.

Is the mystery of godliness. As interpreted by the language of this Epistle, the phrase stands parallel to ‘the mystery of the faith’ in 1 Timothy 3:9; i.e., the word ‘godliness’ is taken in a half objective sense as the religion which men profess, and the ‘mystery’ here, as there, is the truth once hidden, but now revealed, in a creed, but yet also even more in a Person.

God was manifested in the flesh. For the various readings of the Greek, see note below. Here I assume that which gives in the English ‘ who was manifested.’ The apparent anomaly of an antecedent in the neuter and a relative in the masculine finds its parallel and explanation in Colossians 1:27, where we have ‘the mystery which (or who) is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ The Truth is the Person. If the reading thus adopted seems at first less strong as a proof of the Godhead of the Son than that previously received, it must be remembered that it is in closer accordance with the language of St. John, ‘The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14). The structure of the whole sentence, the rhythmical parallelism of its clauses, the absence of conjunctions, makes it all but certain that we have here the fragment of a primitive creed or hymn, the confession made by converts at their baptism, or chanted afterwards in worship.

Justified in the Spirit. Better, ‘justified in spirit’ The Greek simply expresses an antithesis to ‘in the flesh’ of the previous clause. ‘Justified’ in the sense of ‘declared to be righteous,’ with perhaps a special reference to the voice from Heaven at His baptism.

Seen of angels. The formulated utterance of the thought which St. Paul expands in Ephesians 3:9-10. The mystery of the Incarnation was manifested not to men only but to angels as at the Temptation, the Agony, the Resurrection.

Was preached unto the Gentiles. Better ‘ among.’ The words expressed the relation of the mystery of godliness to mankind, as the previous clause its relation to the higher order of spiritual beings.

Was believed on in the world, received up into glory. The visible and invisible are again brought into antithesis. The historical position of the Ascension as preceding the conversion of the Gentiles is inverted so as to end with the thought that He who was received up in glory abides there for ever. The progress of His kingdom in the world is but the partial manifestation of the glory of the kingdom in Heaven.

Note on 1 Timothy 3:16.

The evidence in favour of the reading which has been adopted above may be briefly stated for the English reader. The three readings in the Uncial or capital letters of the more ancient and therefore authoritative Mss. are as follows:

(1) ΘΣ the abbreviated form of ΘΕΟΣ , ‘God.’

(2) ΟΣ the relative pronoun in the masculine, ‘who.’

(3) Ο the relative pronoun in the neuter, ‘which.’

Of these (1) is found in some of the older MSS., but not without indications, in some cases, of the lines which distinguish Θ from Ο , and mark the contraction, having been retouched or inserted by a later hand, in most of the later Mss. in cursive or running hand, and in some quotations by the later Greek fathers and a few versions.

(2) is found in the Sinaitic M.S., and according to the latest investigations was the original reading of the Alexandrian; in the Gothic, Synac, and Coptic Versions, and in quotations in Cyril of Alexandria and some other Fathers.

(3) is found as one of the readings in the Cambridge Codex, in all the Latin Versions, and in quotations in all the Latin fathers except Jerome.

Looking to the facts that (1) and (2) were so closely alike that the latter might easily be altered into the former, and that men might be tempted on dogmatic grounds to make the alteration, while there would be little or no temptation the other way; that the change to the neuter form of the pronoun might naturally have been made by a transcriber for the sake of grammatical agreement with the substantive ‘mystery;’ and that the evidence for (2) is even by itself stronger than for either of the other two, there ought, it is believed, to be little hesitation in adopting it. Among recent critics (Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, Ellicott, and Wordsworth) there is a consensus in its favour.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/1-timothy-3.html. 1879-90.
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