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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-10

Chapter 10


THIS passage is one of the most important in the New Testament respecting the Christian ministry; and in the Pastoral Epistles it does not stand alone. Of the two classes of ministers mentioned here, one is again touched upon in the Epistle to Titus, {Titus 1:5-9} and the qualifications for this office, which is evidently the superior of the two, are stated in terms not very different from those which are used in the passage before us. Therefore a series of expositions upon the Pastoral Epistles would be culpably incomplete which did not attempt to arrive at some conclusions respecting the question of the primitive Christian ministry; a question which at the present time is being investigated with immense industry and interest, and with some clear and substantial results. The time is probably far distant when the last word will have been said upon the subject; for it is one on which considerable difference of opinion is not only possible but reasonable: and those persons would seem to be least worthy of consideration, who are most confident that they are in possession of the whole truth on the subject. One of the first requisites in the examination of questions of fact is a power of accurately distinguishing what is certain from what is not certain: and the person who is confident that he has attained to certainty, when the evidence in his possession does not at all warrant certainty, is not a trustworthy guide.

It would be impossible in a discussion of moderate length to touch upon all the points which have been raised in connection with this problem; but some service will have been rendered if a few of the more important features of the question are pointed out and classified under the two heads just indicated, as certain or not certain. In any scientific enquiry, whether historical or experimental, this classification is a useful one, and very often leads to the enlargement of the class of certainties. When the group of certainties has been properly investigated, and when the various items have been placed in their proper relations to one another and to the whole of which they are only constituent parts, the result is likely to be a transfer of other items from the domain of what is only probable or possible to the domain of what is certain.

At the outset it is necessary to place a word of caution as to what is meant, in a question of this kind, by certainty. There are no limits to skepticism, as the history of speculative philosophy has abundantly shown. It is possible to question one’s own existence, and still more possible to question the irresistible evidence of one’s senses or the irresistible conclusions of one’s reason. A fortiori it is possible to throw doubt upon any historical fact. We can, if we like, classify the assassinations of Julius Caesar and of Cicero, and the genuineness of the Aeneid and of the Epistles to the Corinthians, among things that are not certain. They cannot be demonstrated like a proposition in Euclid or an experiment in chemistry or physics. But a skeptical criticism of this kind makes history impossible; for it demands as a condition of certainty a kind of evidence, and an amount of evidence, which from the nature of the case is unattainable. Juries are directed by the courts to treat evidence as adequate, which they would he willing to recognize as such in matters of very serious moment to themselves. There is a certain amount of evidence which to a person of trained and well-balanced mind makes a thing "practically certain": i.e., with this amount of evidence before him he would confidently act on the assumption that the thing was true.

In the question before us there are four or five things which may with great reason be treated as practically certain.

1. The solution of the question as to the origin of the Christian ministry has no practical bearing upon the lives of Christians. For us the problem is one of historical interest without moral import. As students of Church History we are bound to investigate the origins of the ministry which has been one of the chief factors in that history: but our loyalty as members of the Church will not be affected by the result of our investigations. Our duty towards the constitution consisting of bishops, priests, and deacons, which existed unchallenged from the close of the second century to the close of the Middle Ages, and which has existed down to the present day in all the three great branches of the Catholic Church, Roman, Oriental, and Anglican, is no way affected by the question whether the constitution of the Church during the century which separates the writings of St. John from the writings of his disciple’s disciple, Irenaeus, was as a rule Episcopal, collegiate, or Presbyterian. For a churchman who accepts the Episcopal form of government as essential to the well-being of a Church, the enormous prescription which that form has acquired during at least seventeen centuries, is such ample justification, that he can afford to be serene as to the outcome of enquiries respecting the constitution of the

2. various infant Churches from A.D. 85 to A.D. 185. It makes no practical difference either to add, or not to add, to an authority which is already ample. To prove that the Episcopal form of government was founded by the Apostles may have been a matter of great practical importance in the middle of the second century. But, before that century had closed, the practical question, if there ever was one, had settled itself. God’s providence ordained that the universal form of Church government should be the Episcopal form and should continue to be such; and for us it adds little to its authority to know that the way in which it became universal was through the instrumentality and influence of Apostles. On the other hand, to prove that episcopacy was established independently of Apostolic influence would detract very little from its accumulated authority.

A second point, which may be regarded as certain with regard to this question, is, that for the period which joins the age of Irenaeus to the age of St. John, we have not sufficient evidence to arrive at anything like proof. The evidence has received important additions during the present century, and still more important additions are by no means impossible; but at present our materials are still inadequate. And the evidence is insufficient in two ways. First, although surprisingly large as compared with what might have been reasonably expected, yet in itself, the literature of this period is fragmentary and scanty. Secondly, the dates of some of the most important witnesses cannot as yet be accurately determined. In many cases to be able to fix the date of a document within twenty or thirty years is quite sufficient: but this is a case in which the difference of twenty years is a really serious difference; and there is fully that amount of uncertainty as to the date of some of the writings which are our principal sources of information; e.g., the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles," the Epistles of Ignatius, the "Shepherd of Hermas," and the "Clementines." Here also our position may improve. Further research may enable us to date some of these documents accurately. But, for the present, uncertainty about precise dates and general scantiness of evidence compel us to admit that with regard to many of the points connected with this question nothing that can fairly be called proof is possible respecting the interval which separates the last quarter of the first century from the last quarter of the second.

This feature of the problem is sometimes represented by the useful metaphor that the history of the Church just at this period "passes through a tunnel" or "runs underground." We are in the light of day during most of the time covered by the New Testament; and we are again in the light of day directly we reach the time covered by the abundant writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and others. But during the intervening period we are, not indeed in total darkness, but in a passage the obscurity of which is only slightly relieved by an occasional lamp or light-hole. Leaving this tantalizing interval, about which the one thing that is certain is that many certainties are not likely to be found in it, we pass on to look for our two next certainties in the periods which precede and follow it.

3. In the period covered by the New Testament it is certain that the Church had officers who discharged spiritual functions which were not discharged by ordinary Christians; in other words a distinction was made from the first between clergy and laity. Of this fact the Pastoral Epistles contain abundant evidence; and further evidence is scattered up and down the New Testament, from the earliest document in the volume to the last. In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which is certainly the earliest Christian writing that has come down to us, we find St. Paul beseeching the Church of the Thessalonians "to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work’s sake" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). The three functions here enumerated are evidently functions to be exercised by a few with regard to the many: they are not duties which every one is to discharge towards every one. In the Third Epistle of St. John, which is certainly one of the latest, and perhaps the very latest, of the writings contained in the New Testament, the incident about Diotrephes seems to show that not only ecclesiastical government, but ecclesiastical government by a single official, was already in existence in the Church in which Diotrephes "loved to have the preeminence" (3 John 1:9-10). In between these two we have the exhortation in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account". {Hebrews 13:17} And directly we go outside the New Testament and look at the Epistle of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, commonly called the First Epistle of Clement, we find the same distinction between clergy and laity observed. In this letter, which almost certainly was written during the lifetime of St. John, we read that the Apostles, "preaching everywhere in country and town, appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith"-the last words being an inaccurate quotation of the LXX of Isaiah 60:17.

And a little further on Clement writes: "Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the bishop’s office. For this cause, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the aforesaid persons, and afterwards they provided a continuance, that if these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministration. Those therefore who were appointed by them, or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole Church, and have ministered unblamably to the flock of Christ in lowliness of mind, peacefully and with all modesty, and for long time have borne a good report with all-these men we consider to be unjustly thrust out from their ministration. For it will be no light sin for us, if we thrust out those who have offered the gifts of the bishop’s office unblamably and holily. Blessed are those presbyters who have gone before, seeing that their departure was fruitful and ripe, for they have no fear lest any one should remove them from their appointed place. For we see that ye have displaced certain persons, though they were living honorably, from the ministration which they had kept blamelessly" (42., 44.).

Three things come out very clearly from this passage, confirming what has been found in the New Testament.

(1) There is a clear distinction made between clergy and laity.

(2) This distinction is not a temporary arrangement, but is the basis of a permanent organization.

(3) A person who has been duly promoted to the ranks of the clergy as a presbyter or bishop (the two titles being here synonymous, as in the Epistle to Titus) holds that position for life. Unless he is guilty of some serious offence, to depose him is no light sin.

None of these passages, either in the New Testament or in Clement, tells us very clearly the precise nature of the functions which the clergy, as distinct from the laity, were to discharge; yet they indicate that these functions were of a spiritual rather than of a secular character, that they concerned men’s souls rather than their bodies, and that they were connected with religious service (λειτουργια). But the one thing which is quite clear is this, -that the Church had, and was always intended to have, a body of officers distinct from the congregations to which they ministered and over which they ruled.

4. For our fourth certainty we resort to the time when the history of the Church returns once more to the full light of day, in the last quarter of the second century. Then we find two things quite clearly established, which have continued in Christendom from that day to this. We find a regularly organized clergy, not only distinctly marked off from the laity, but distinctly marked off among themselves by well-defined gradations of rank. And, secondly, we find that each local Church is constitutionally governed by one chief officer, whose powers are large and seldom resisted, and who universally receives the title of bishop. To these two points we may add a third. There is no trace of any belief, or even suspicion, that the constitution of these local Churches had ever been anything else. On the contrary, the evidence (and it is considerable) points to the conclusion that Christians in the latter part of the second century-say A.D. 180 to 200-were fully persuaded that the Episcopal form of government had prevailed in the different Churches from the Apostles’ time to their own. Just as in the case of the Gospels, "Irenaeus and his contemporaries" not only do not know of either more or less than the four which have come down to us, but cannot conceive of there ever being either more or less, than these four: so in the case of Church Government, they not only represent episcopacy as everywhere prevalent in their time, but they have no idea that at any previous time any other form of government prevailed. And although Irenaeus, like St. Paul and Clement of Rome, sometimes speaks of bishops under the title of presbyter, yet it is quite clear that there were at that time presbyters who were not bishops and who did not possess Episcopal authority. Irenaeus himself was such a presbyter, until the martyrdom of Pothinus in the persecution of A.D. 177 created a vacancy in the see of Lyons, which Irenaeus was then called upon to fill; he held the see for upwards of twenty years, from about A.D. 180 to 202. From Irenaeus and from his contemporary Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, we learn not only the fact that episcopacy prevailed everywhere, but, in not a few cases, the name of the existing bishop; and in some cases the names of their predecessors are given up to the time of the Apostles. Thus, in the case of the Church of Rome, Linus the first bishop is connected with the two most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, and, in the case of Athens, Dionysius the Areopagite is said to have been appointed first bishop of that Church by the Apostle Paul. This may or may not be correct: but at least it shows that in the time of Irenaeus and Dionysius of Corinth episcopacy was not only recognized as the universal form of Church government, but was also believed to have prevailed in the principal Churches from the very earliest times.

5. If we narrow our field and look, not at the whole Church, but at the Churches of Asia Minor and Syria, we may obtain yet another certainty from the obscure period which lies between the age of the Apostles and that of Dionysius and Irenaeus. The investigations of Lightfoot, Zahn, and Harnack have placed the genuineness of the short Greek form of the Epistles of Ignatius beyond reasonable dispute. Their exact date cannot as yet be determined. The evidence is strong that Ignatius was martyred in the reign of Trajan: and, if that is accepted, the letters cannot be later than A.D. 117. But even if this evidence be rejected as not conclusive, and the letters be dated ten or twelve years later, their testimony will still be of the utmost importance. They prove that long before A.D. 150 episcopacy was the recognized form of government throughout the Churches of Asia Minor and Syria; and, as Ignatius speaks of "the bishops that are settled in the farthest parts of the earth (κατα ταρατα ορισθεντες)" they prove that, according to his belief, episcopacy was the recognized form everywhere. {Ephesians 3:1-21} This evidence is not a little strengthened by the fact that, as all sound critics on both sides are now agreed, the Epistles of Ignatius were evidently not written in order to magnify the Episcopal office, or to preach up the Episcopal system. The writer’s main object is to deprecate schism and all that might tend to schism. And in his opinion the best way to avoid schism is to keep closely united to the bishop. Thus, the magnifying of the Episcopal office comes about incidentally; because Ignatius takes for granted that everywhere there is a bishop in each Church, who is the duly appointed ruler of it, loyalty to whom will be a security against all schismatical tendencies.

These four or five points being regarded as established to an extent which may reasonably be called certainty, there remain certain other points about which certainty is not yet possible, some of which admit of a probable solution, while for others there is so little evidence that we have to fall back upon mere conjecture. Among these would be the distinctions of office, or gradations of rank, among the clergy in the first century or century and a half after the Ascension, the precise functions assigned to each office, and the manner of appointment. With regard to these questions three positions may be assumed with a considerable amount of probability.

1. There was a distinction made between itinerant or missionary clergy and stationary or localized clergy. Among the former we find apostles (who are a much larger body than the Twelve), prophets, and evangelists. Among the latter we have two orders, spoken of as bishops and deacons, as here and in the Epistle to the Philippians (1) as well as in the Doctrine of the

2. Twelve Apostles, presbyter or elder being sometimes used as synonymous with bishop. This distinction between an itinerant and a stationary ministry appears in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, {1 Corinthians 12:28} in the Epistle to the Ephesians, {Ephesians 4:11} and perhaps also in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of St. John. In the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles" it is clearly marked.

There seems to have been a further distinction between those who did, and those who did not, possess supernatural prophetical gifts. The title of prophet was commonly, but perhaps not exclusively, given to those who possessed this gift: and the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles" shows a great respect for prophets. But the distinction naturally died out when these supernatural gifts ceased to be manifested. During the process of extinction serious difficulty arose as to the test of a genuine prophet. Some fanatical persons believed themselves to be prophets, and some dishonest persons pretended to be prophets when they were not such. The office appears to have been extinct when Ignatius wrote: by prophets he always means the prophets of the Old Testament. Montanism was probably a forlorn attempt to revive this much desired office after the Church as a whole had decided against it. Further discussion of the gift of prophecy in the New Testament will be found in a previous chapter (6).

1. The clergy were not elected by the congregation as its delegates or representatives, deputed to perform functions which originally could be discharged by any Christian. They were appointed by the Apostles and their successors or substitutes. Where the congregation selected or recommended candidates, as in the case of the Seven Deacons, {Acts 6:4-6} they did not themselves lay hands on them. The typical act of laying on of hands was always performed by those who were already ministers, whether apostles, prophets, or elders. Whatever else was still open to the laity, this act of ordaining was not. And there is good reason for believing that the celebration of the Eucharist also was from the first reserved to the clergy, and that all ministers, excepting prophets, were expected to use a prescribed form of words in celebrating it.

But, although much still remains untouched, this discussion must draw to a close. In the ideal Church there is no Lord’s Day or holy seasons, for all days are the Lord’s, and all seasons are holy; there are no places especially dedicated to God’s worship, for the whole universe is His temple; there are no persons especially ordained to be His ministers, for all His people are priests and prophets. But in the Church as it exists in a sinful world, the attempt to make all times and all places holy ends in the desecration of all alike; and the theory that all Christians are priests becomes indistinguishable from the theory that none is such. In this matter let us not try to be wiser than God, Whose will may be discerned in His providential guiding of His Church throughout so many centuries. The attempt to reproduce Paradise or to anticipate heaven in a state of society which does not possess the conditions of Paradise or heaven, can end in nothing but disastrous confusion.

In conclusion the following weighty words are gratefully quoted. They come with special force from one who does not himself belong to an Episcopalian Church.

"By our reception or denial of priesthood in the Church, our entire view of what the Church is must be affected and molded. We shall either accept the idea of a visible and organized body, within which Christ rules by means of a ministry, sacraments, and ordinances to which He has attached a blessing, the fullness of which we have no right to look for except through the channels He has ordained (and it ought to be needless to say that this is the Presbyterian idea), or we shall rest satisfied with the thought of the Church as consisting of multitudes of individual souls known to God alone, as invisible, unorganized, with ordinances blessed because of the memories which they awaken, but to which no promise of present grace is tied, with, in short, no thought of a Body of Christ in the world, but only of a spiritual and heavenly principle ruling in the hearts and regulating the lives of men. Conceptions of the Church so widely different from each other cannot fail to affect in the most vital manner the Church’s life, and relation to those around her. Yet both conceptions are the logical and necessary result of the acceptance or denial of the idea of a divinely appointed and still living priesthood among men."

Verse 2

Chapter 11


THE Apostle here states, as one of the first qualifications to be looked for in a person who is to be ordained a bishop, that he must be "the husband of one wife." The precise meaning of this phrase will probably never cease to be discussed. But, although it must be admitted that the phrase is capable of bearing several meanings, yet it cannot be fairly contended that the meaning is seriously doubtful. The balance of probability is so largely in favor of one of the meanings, that the remainder may be reasonably set aside as having no valid ground for being supported in competition with it.

Three passages in which the phrase occurs have to be considered together, and these have to be compared with a fourth.

(1) There is the passage before us about a bishop,

(2) another in ver. 12 (1 Timothy 3:12) about deacons, and

(3) another in Titus 1:6 about elders or presbyters, whom St. Paul afterwards mentions under the title of bishop.

In these three passages we have it plainly set forth that Timothy and Titus are to regard it as a necessary qualification in a bishop or elder or presbyter, and also in a deacon, that he should be a "man of one woman" or "husband of one wife" (μιας γυναικορ). In the fourth passage {1 Timothy 3:2} he gives as a necessary qualification of one who is to be placed on the roll of Church widows, that she must be a "woman of one man" or "wife of one husband" (ενο). This fourth passage is of much importance in determining the meaning of the converse expression in the other three passages.

There are four main interpretations of the expression in question.

1. That which the phrase at once suggests to a modern mind, -that the person to be ordained bishop or deacon must have only one wife and not more; that he must not be a polygamist. According to this interpretation, therefore, we are to understand the Apostle to mean, that a Jew or barbarian with more wives than one might be admitted to baptism and become a member of the congregation, but ought not to be admitted to the ministry. This explanation, which at first sight looks simple and plausible, will not bear inspection. It is quite true that polygamy in St. Paul’s day still existed among the Jews. Justin Martyr, in the "Dialogue with Trypho," says to the Jews, "It is better for you to follow God than your senseless and blind teachers, who even to this day allow you each to have four and five wives" (134). But polygamy in the Roman Empire must have been rare. It was forbidden by Roman law, which did not allow a man to have more than one lawful wife at a time, and treated every simultaneous second marriage, not only as null and void, but infamous. Where it was practiced it must have been practiced secretly. It is probable that, when St. Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, not a single polygamist had been converted to the Christian faith. Polygamists were exceedingly rare inside the Empire, and the Church had not yet spread beyond it. Indeed, our utter ignorance as to the way in which the primitive Church dealt with polygamists who wished to become Christians amounts to something like proof that such cases were extremely uncommon. How improbable, therefore, that St. Paul should think it worth while to charge both Timothy and Titus that converted polygamists must not be admitted to the office of bishop, when there is no likelihood that a one of them knew of a single instance of a polygamist who had become a Christian! On these grounds alone this interpretation of the phrase might be safely rejected.

But these grounds do not stand alone. There is the convincing evidence of the converse phrase, "wife of one husband." If men with more than one wife were very rare in the Roman Empire, what are we to think of women with more than one husband? Even among the barbarians outside the Empire, such a thing as a plurality of husbands was regarded as monstrous. It is incredible that St. Paul could have had any such case in his mind, when he mentioned the qualification "wife of one husband." Moreover, as the question before him was one relating to widows, this "wife of one husband" must be a person who at the time had no husband. The phrase, therefore, can only mean a woman who after the death of her husband has not married again. Consequently the converse expression, "husband of one wife," cannot have any reference to polygamy.

2. Far more worthy of consideration is the view that what is aimed at in both cases is not polygamy, but divorce. Divorce, as we know from abundant evidence, was very frequent both among the Jews and the Romans in the first century of the Christian era. Among the former it provoked the special condemnation of Christ; and one of the many influences which Christianity had upon Roman law was to diminish the facilities for divorce. According to Jewish practice the husband could obtain a divorce for very trivial reasons; and in the time of St. Paul Jewish women sometimes took the initiative. According to Roman practice either husband or wife could obtain a divorce very easily. Abundant instances are on record, and that in the case of people of high character, such as Cicero. After the divorce either of the parties could marry again; and often enough both of them did so; therefore in the Roman Empire in St. Paul’s day there must have been plenty of persons of both sexes who had been divorced once or twice and had married again. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that quite a sufficient number of such persons had been converted to Christianity to make it worth while to legislate respecting them. They might be admitted to baptism; but they must not be admitted to an official position in the Church. A regulation of this kind might be all the more necessary, because in a wealthy capital like Ephesus it would probably be among the upper and more influential classes that divorces would be most frequent; and from precisely these classes, when any of them had become Christians, officials would be likely to be chosen. This explanation, therefore, of the phrases "husband of one wife" and "wife of one husband" cannot be condemned, like the first, as utterly incredible. It has a fair amount of probability: but it remains to be seen whether another explanation (which really includes this one) has not a far greater amount.

3. We may pass over without much discussion the view that the phrases are a vague way of indicating misconduct of any kind in reference to marriage. No doubt such misconduct was rife among the heathen, and the Christian Church by no means escaped the taint, as the scandals in the Church of Corinth and the frequent warnings of the Apostles against sins of this kind show. But when St. Paul has to speak of such things he is not afraid to do so in language that cannot be misunderstood. We have seen this already in the first chapter of this Epistle; and the fifth chapters of 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians supply other examples. We may safely say that if St. Paul had meant to indicate persons who had entered into illicit unions before or after marriage, he would have used much less ambiguous language than the phrases under discussion.

4. There remains the view, which from the first has been the dominant one, that these passages all refer to second marriage after the first marriage has been dissolved by death. A widower who has married a second wife ought not to be admitted to the ministry; a widow who has married a second husband ought not to be placed on the roll of Church widows. This interpretation is reasonable in itself, is in harmony with the context and with what St. Paul says elsewhere about marriage, and is confirmed by the views taken of second marriages in the case of clergy by the early Church.

(a) The belief that St. Paul was opposed to the ordination of persons who had contracted a second marriage is reasonable in itself. A second marriage, although perfectly lawful and in some cases advisable, was so far a sign of weakness; and a double family would in many cases be a serious hindrance to work. The Church could not afford to enlist any but its strongest men among its officers; and its officers must not be hampered more than other men with domestic cares. Moreover, the heathen certainly felt a special respect for the univira, the woman who did not enter into a second marriage; and there is some reason for believing that second marriages were sometimes thought unfitting in the case of men, e.g., in the case of certain priests. Be that as it may, we may safely conclude that, both by Christians and heathen, persons who had abstained from marrying again would so far be more respected than those who had not abstained.

(b) This interpretation is in harmony with the context. In the passage before us the qualification which immediately precedes the expression, "husband of one wife," is "without reproach"; in the Epistle to Titus it is "blameless." In each case the meaning seems to be that there must be nothing in the past or present life of the candidate, which could afterwards with any show of reason be urged against him as inconsistent with his office. He must be above and not below the average of men; and therefore he must not have been twice married.

(c) This agrees with what St. Paul says elsewhere about marriage. His statements are clear and consistent, and it is a mistake to suppose that there is any want of harmony between what is said in this Epistle and what is said to the Corinthian Church on this subject. The Apostle strongly upholds the lawfulness of marriage for all. {1 Corinthians 7:28; 1 Corinthians 7:36; 1 Timothy 4:3} For those who are equal to it, whether single or widowed, he considers that their remaining as they are is the more blessed condition. {1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 7:7-8; 1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 7:34; 1 Corinthians 7:40; 1 Timothy 5:7} But so few persons are equal to this that it is prudent for those who desire to marry to do so, and for those who desire to marry again to do so. {1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:9; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Timothy 5:14} These being his convictions is it not reasonable to suppose that in selecting ministers for the Church he would look for them in the class which had given proof of moral strength by remaining unmarried or by not marrying a second time? In an age of such boundless licentiousness continency won admiration and respect; and a person who had given clear evidence of such self-control would have his moral influence thereby increased. Few things impress barbarous and semi-barbarous people more than to see a man having full control over passions to which they themselves are slaves. In the terrific odds which the infant Church had to encounter, this was a point well worth turning to advantage.

And here we may note St. Paul’s wisdom in giving no preference to those who had not married at all over those who had married only once. Had he done so, he would have played into the hands of those heretics who disparaged wedlock. And perhaps he had seen something of the evils which abounded among the celibate priests of heathenism. It is quite obvious that, although he in no way discourages celibacy among the clergy, yet he assumes that among them, as among the laity, marriage will be the rule and abstaining the exception; so much so, that he does not think of giving any special directions for the guidance of a celibate bishop or a celibate deacon.

5. Lastly, this interpretation of the phrases in question is strongly confirmed by the views of leading Christians on the subject in the first few centuries, and by the decrees of councils; these being largely influenced by St. Paul’s language, and therefore being a guide as to what his words were then supposed to mean.

Hermas, Clement of Alexandria, of course Tertullian, and among later Fathers, Chrysostom, Epiphanius, and Cyril, all write in disparagement of second marriages, not as sin, but as weakness. To marry again is to fall short of the high perfection set before us in the Gospel constitution. Athenagoras goes so far as to call a second marriage "respectable adultery," and to say that one who thus severs himself from his dead wife is an "adulterer in disguise." Respecting the clergy, Origen says plainly, "Neither a bishop, nor a presbyter, nor a deacon, nor a widow, can be twice married." The canons of councils are not less plain, either as to the discouragement of second marriages among the laity, or their incompatibility with what was then required of the clergy. The synods of Ancyra (Song of Solomon 19), of Neocaesarea (Song of Solomon 3:1-11; Song of Solomon 7:1-13), and of Laodicea (Song of Solomon 1:1-17) subjected lay persons who married more than once to a penalty. This penalty seems to have varied in different Churches; but in some cases it involved excommunication for a time. The Council of Nicaea, on the other hand, makes it a condition that members of the Puritan sect of Cathari are not to be received into the Church unless they promise in writing to communicate with those who have married a second time (Song of Solomon 8:1-14). The "Apostolic Constitutions" (6:17) and the so-called "Apostolic Canons" (17) absolutely forbid the promotion of one who has married twice, to be a bishop, presbyter, or deacon; and the "Apostolic Constitutions" forbid the marriage of one who is already in Holy Orders. He may marry once before he is ordained: but if he is single at his ordination he must remain so all his life. Of course, if his wife dies he is not to marry again. Even singers, readers, and door-keepers, although they may marry after they have been admitted to office, yet are in no case to marry a second time or to marry a widow. And the widow of a cleric was not allowed to marry a second time.

All these rigorous views and enactments leave little doubt as to how the early Church understood St. Paul’s language: viz, that one who had exhibited the weakness of marrying a second time was not to be admitted to the ministry. From this they drew the inference that one who was already in orders must not be allowed to marry a second time. And from this they drew the further inference that entering into a marriage contract at all was inadmissible for one who was already a bishop, presbyter, or deacon. Marriage was not a bar to ordination, but ordination was a bar to marriage. Married men might become clergy, but the higher orders of clergy might not become married.

A little thought will show that neither of these inferences follows from St. Paul’s rule; and we have good reason for doubting whether he would have sanctioned either of them. The Apostle rules that those who have shown want of moral strength in taking a second wife are not to be ordained deacons or presbyters. But he nowhere says or hints that, if they find in themselves a want of moral strength of this kind after their ordination, they are to be made to bear a burden to which they are unequal. On the contrary, the general principle, which he so clearly lays down, decides the case: "If they have not continency, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." And if this holds good of clergy who have lost their first wives, it holds good at least as strongly of those who were unmarried at the time of their ordination. Those Churches, therefore, which, like our own, allow the clergy to marry, and even to marry a second time, after ordination, may rightly claim to have the Apostle on their side.

But there are Churches, and among them the Church of England, which disregard the Apostle’s directions, in admitting those who have been more than once married to the deaconate, and even to the episcopate. What defense is to be made of an apparent laxity, which seems to amount to lawlessness? The answer is that there is nothing to show that St. Paul is giving rules which are to bind the Church for all time. It is quite possible that his directions are given "by reason of the present distress." We do not consider ourselves bound by the regulation, which has far higher authority than that of a single Apostle, respecting the eating of blood and of things strangled. The first council, at which most of the Apostles were present, forbade the eating of these things. It also forbade the eating of things offered to idols. St. Paul himself led the way in showing that this restriction is not always binding: and the whole Church has come to disregard the other. Why? Because in none of these case is the act sinful in itself. While the Jewish converts were likely to be scandalized by seeing their fellow-Christians eating blood, it was expedient to forbid it; and while heathen converts were likely to think lightly of idolatry, if they saw their fellow-Christians eating what had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, it was expedient to forbid it. When these dangers ceased, the reason for the enactment ceased; and the enactment was rightly disregarded. The same principle applies to the ordination of persons who have been twice married. Nowadays a man is not considered less strong than his fellows, because he has married a second time. To refuse to ordain such a person would be to lose a minister at a time when the need of additional ministers is great; and this loss would be without compensation.

And we have evidence that in the primitive Church the Apostle’s rule about bigamists was not considered absolute. In one of his Montanist treatises Tertullian taunts the Catholics in having even among their bishops men who had married twice, and who did not blush when the Pastoral Epistles were read; and Hippolytus, in his fierce attack on Callistus, Bishop of Rome, states that under him men who had been twice and thrice married were ordained bishops, priests, and deacons. And we know that a distinction was made in the Greek Church between those who had married twice as Christians, and those who had concluded the second marriage before baptism. The latter were not excluded from ordination. And some went so far as to say that if the first marriage took place before baptism, and the second afterwards, the man was to be considered as having been married only once. This freedom in interpreting the Apostle’s rule not unnaturally led to its being, in some branches of the Church, disregarded. St. Paul says, "Do not ordain a man who has married more than once." If you may say, "This man, who has married more than once, shall be accounted as having married only once; you may equally well say, The Apostle’s rule was only a temporary one, and we have the right to judge of its suitableness to our times and to particular circumstances." We may feel confidence that in such a matter it was not St. Paul’s wish to deprive Churches throughout all time of their liberty of judgment, and the Church of England is thus justified.

Verses 14-16

Chapter 12


ST. PAUL here makes a pause in the Epistle. He has brought to a close some of the principal directions which he has to give respecting the preservation of pure doctrine, the conduct of public worship, and the qualifications for the ministry: and before proceeding to other topics he halts in order to insist upon the importance of these things, by pointing out what is really involved in them. Their importance is one main reason for his writing at all. Although he hopes to be with Timothy again even sooner than might be expected, he nevertheless will not allow matters of this gravity to wait for his return to Ephesus. For, after all, this hope may be frustrated, and it may be a long time before the two friends meet again face to face. The way in which Christians ought to behave themselves in the house of God is not a matter which can wait indefinitely, seeing that this house of God is no lifeless shrine of a lifeless image, which knows nothing and cares nothing about what goes on in its temple; but a congregation of immortal souls and of bodies that are temples of the living God, Who will destroy him who destroys His temple. {1 Corinthians 3:17} God’s house must have regulations to preserve it from unseeming disorder. The congregation which belongs to the living God must have a constitution to preserve it from faction and anarchy. All the more so, seeing that to it has been assigned a post of great responsibility. Truth in itself is self-evident and self-sustained: it needs no external support or foundation. But truth as it is manifested to the world needs the best support and the firmest basis that can be found for it. And it is the duty and privilege of the Church to supply these. God’s household is not only a community which in a solemn and special way belongs to the living God: it is also the "pillar and ground of the truth." These considerations show how vital is the question, In what way ought one to behave oneself in this community?

For the truth, to the support and establishment of which every Christian by his behavior in the Church is bound to contribute, is indisputably something great and profound. "By the admission of all, the mystery of the Christian faith is a deep and weighty one; and the responsibility of helping or hindering its establishment is proportionately deep and weighty. Other things may be matter of dispute, but this not. Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness."

Why does St. Paul speak of the truth as "the mystery of Godliness?" In order to express both the Divine and the human aspects of the Christian faith. On the Divine side the Gospel is a mystery, a disclosed secret. It is a body of truth originally hidden from man’s knowledge, to which man by his own unaided reason and abilities would never be able to find the way. In one word it is a revelation: a communication by God to men of Truth which they could not have discovered for themselves. "Mystery" is one of those words which Christianity has borrowed from paganism, but has consecrated to new uses by gloriously transfiguring its meaning. The heathen mystery was something always kept hidden from the bulk of mankind; a secret to which only a privileged few were admitted. It encouraged, in the very center of religion itself, selfishness and exclusiveness. The Christian mystery, on the other hand, is something once hidden, but now made known, not to a select few, but to all. The term, therefore, involves a splendid paradox: it is a secret revealed to every one. In St. Paul’s own words to the Romans, {Romans 16:25} "the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations." He rarely uses the word mystery without combining with it some other word signifying to reveal, manifest, or make known.

But the Christian faith is not only a mystery, but a "mystery of godliness." It not only tells of the bounty of Almighty God in revealing His eternal counsels to man, but it also tells of man’s obligations in consequence of being initiated. It is a mystery, not "of lawlessness," {2 Thessalonians 2:7} but "of godliness." Those who accept it "profess godliness"; profess reverence to the God who has made it known to them. It teaches plainly on what principle we are to regulate "how men ought to behave themselves in the household of God." The Gospel is a mystery of piety, a mystery of reverence and of religious life. Holy itself, and proceeding from the Holy One, it bids its recipients be holy, even as He is Holy Who gives it.

"Who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory."

After the text about the three Heavenly Witnesses in the First Epistle of St. John, no disputed reading in the New Testament has given rise to more controversy than the passage before us. Let us hope that the day is not far distant when there will be no more disputing about either text. The truth, though still doubted, especially in reference to the passage before us, is not really doubtful. In both cases the reading of the A.V. is indefensible. It is certain that St. John never wrote the words about the "three that bear witness in heaven": and it is certain that St. Paul did not write, "God was manifest in the flesh," but "Who was manifested in the flesh." The reading "God was manifested in the flesh" appears in no Christian writer until late in the fourth century, and in no translation of the Scriptures earlier than the seventh or eighth century. And it is not found in any of the five great primary MSS., except as a correction made by a later scribe, who knew of the reading "God was manifested," and either preferred it to the other, or at least wished to preserve it as an alternative reading, or as an interpretation. Even so cautious and conservative a commentator as the late Bishop Wordsworth of Lincoln declares that "the preponderance of testimony is over whelming" against the reading "God was manifested in the flesh." In an old Greek MS., it would require only two small strokes to turn "Who" into "God"; and this alteration would be a tempting one, seeing that the masculine "Who" after the neuter "mystery," looks harsh and unnatural.

But here we come upon a highly interesting consideration. The words that follow look like a quotation from some primitive Christian hymn or confession. The rhythmical movement and the parallelism of the six balanced clauses, of which each triplet forms a climax, points to some such fact as this. It is possible that we have here a fragment of one of the very hymns which, as Pliny the Younger tells the Emperor Trajan, the Christians were accustomed to sing antiphonally at daybreak to Christ as a God. Such a passage as this might well be sung from side to side, line by line, or triplet by triplet, as choirs still chant the Psalms in our Churches.

"Who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory."

Let us assume that this very reasonable and attractive conjecture is correct, and that St. Paul is here quoting from some well-known form of words. Then the "Who" with which the quotation begins will refer to something in the preceding lines which are not quoted. How natural, then, that St. Paul should leave the "Who" unchanged, although it does not fit on grammatically to his own sentence, But in any case there is no doubt as to the antecedent of the "Who." "The Mystery of godliness" has for its center and basis the life of a Divine Person; and the great crisis in the long process by which the mystery was revealed was reached when this Divine Person "was manifested in the flesh." That in making this statement or quotation the Apostle has in his mind the Gnostics who "teach a different doctrine" (1 Timothy 1:3), is quite possible, but it is by no means certain. The "manifestation" of Christ in the flesh is a favorite topic with him, as with St. John, and is one of the points in which the two Apostles not only teach the same doctrine, but teach it in the same language. The fact that he had used the word "mystery" would be quite enough to make him speak of "manifestation," even if there had been no false teachers who denied or explained away the fact of the Incarnation of the Divine Son. The two words fit into one another exactly. "Mystery," in Christian theology, implies something which once was concealed, but has now been made known; "manifest" implies making known what had once been concealed. A historical appearance of One Who had previously existed, but had been kept from the knowledge of the world, is what is meant by, "Who was manifested in the flesh."

"Justified in the spirit." Spirit here cannot mean the Holy Spirit, as the A.V. would lead us to suppose. "In spirit" in this clause is in obvious contrast to "in flesh" in the previous clause. And if "flesh" means the material part of Christ’s nature, "spirit" means the immaterial part of His nature, and the higher portion of it. His flesh was the sphere of His manifestation: His spirit was the sphere of His justification. Thus much seems to be clear. But what are we to understand by His justification? And how did it take place in His Spirit? These are questions to which a great variety of answers have been given; and it would be rash to assert of any one of them that it is so satisfactory as to be conclusive.

Christ’s human nature consisted, as ours does, of three elements, body, soul, and spirit. The body is the flesh spoken of in the first clause. The soul (ψυχη), as distinct from the spirit (πνευμα), is the seat of the natural affections and desires. It was Christ’s soul that was troubled at the thought of impending suffering. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." {Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34} "Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour". {John 12:27} The spirit is the seat of the religious emotions: it is the highest, innermost part of man’s nature; the sanctuary of the temple. It was in His spirit that Christ was affected when the presence of moral evil distressed Him. He was moved with indignation in His spirit when He saw the hypocritical Jews mingling their sentimental lamentations with the heartfelt lamentations of Martha and Mary at the grave of Lazarus. {John 11:33} It was in His spirit also that He was troubled when, as Judas sat at table with Him and possibly next to Him, He said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me". {John 13:21} This spiritual part of His nature, which was the sphere of His most intense suffering, was also the sphere of His most intense joy and satisfaction. As moral evil distressed His spirit, so moral innocence delighted it.

In a way that none of us can measure, Jesus Christ knew the joy of a good conscience. The challenge which he made to the Jews, "Which of you convicteth Me of sin?" was one which He could make to His own conscience. It had nothing against Him and could never accuse Him. He was justified when it spake, and clear when it judged. {Romans 3:4; Psalms 51:4} Perfect Man though He was, and manifested in weak and suffering flesh, He was nevertheless "justified in the spirit."

"Seen of angels." It is impossible to determine the precise occasion to which this refers. Ever since the Incarnation Christ has been visible to the angels; but something more special than the fact of the Incarnation seems to be alluded to here. The wording in the Greek is exactly the same as in "He appeared to Cephas"; then to the twelve; then He appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then He appeared to James; then to all the Apostles; last of all, as to one born out of due time, He appeared to me. {1 Corinthians 15:5-8} Here, therefore, we might translate "appeared to angels." What appearance, or appearances, of the Incarnate Word to the angelic host can be intended?

The question cannot be answered with any certainty; but with some confidence we can venture to say what can not be intended. "Appeared to angels" can scarcely refer to the angelic appearances which are recorded in connection with the Nativity, Temptation, Agony, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. On those occasions angels appeared to Christ and to others, not He to angels. With still greater confidence we may reject the suggestion that "angels" here means either the Apostles, as the angels or messengers of Christ, or evil spirits, as the angels of Satan. It may be doubted whether anything at all parallel to either explanation can be found in Scripture. Moreover, "appeared to evil spirits" is an interpretation which makes the passage more difficult than it was before. The manifestation of Christ to the angelic host either at the Incarnation or at the return to glory is a far more reasonable meaning to assign to the words.

The first three clauses of this primitive hymn may thus be summed up. The mystery of godliness has been revealed to mankind, and revealed in a historical Person, Who, while manifested in human flesh, was in His inmost spirit declared free from all sin. And this manifestation of a perfectly righteous Man was not confined to the human race. The angels also witnessed it and can bear testimony to its reality.

The remaining triplet is more simple: the meaning of each one of its clauses is clear. The same Christ, who was seen of angels, was also preached among the nations of the earth and believed on in the world: yet He Himself was taken up from the earth and received once more in glory. The propagation of the faith in an ascended Christ is here plainly and even enthusiastically stated. To all the nations, to the whole world, this glorified Savior belongs. All this adds emphasis to the question "how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God" in which such truths are taught and upheld.

It is remarkable how many arrangements of these six clauses are possible, all making excellent sense. We may make them into two triplets of independent lines: or we may couple the two first lines of each triplet together and then make the third lines correspond to one another. In either case each group begins with earth and ends with heaven. Or again, we may make the six lines into three couplets. In the first couplet flesh and spirit are contrasted and combined; in the second, angels and men; in the third, earth and heaven.

Yes, beyond dispute the mystery of godliness is a great one. The revelation of the Eternal Son, which imposes upon those who accept it a holiness of which His sinlessness must be the model, is something awful and profound. But He, who along with every temptation which He allows "makes also the way of escape," does not impose a pattern for imitation without at the same time granting the grace necessary for struggling towards it. To reach it is impossible-at any rate in this life. But the consciousness that we cannot reach perfection is no excuse for aiming at imperfection. The sinlessness of Christ is immeasurably beyond us here; and it may be that even in eternity the loss caused by our sins in this life will never be entirely cancelled. But to those who have taken up their cross daily and followed their Master, and who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, will be granted hereafter to stand sinless "before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple." Having followed Christ on earth they will follow Him still more in heaven. Having shared His sufferings here, they will share His reward there. They, too, will be "seen of angels" and "received up in glory."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/1-timothy-3.html.
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