14 November 2012

The Pastoral Letters (4): I Timothy 3

The lone remaining column of the Temple of Artemis, seen from the streets below the hill of Aysoluk in Selçuk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford


In our tutorial group we are working our way through the Pastoral Letters, and this morning we reach that part in I Timothy where Saint Paul in Chapter 3 outlines the qualities required of those in ordained ministry, men and women, bishops and deacons.

Meanwhile, as it happens, some of the readings this week in the daily lectionary for the Church of Ireland, as we have heard in chapel each evening, are from this letter: I Timothy 5: 1-8 (Monday); I Timothy 5: 9-16 (Tuesday); and I Timothy 6: 11-21 (Thursday).

It was appropriate then that our Service of the Word last night [Tuesday 13 November]used as an affirmation of faith that great hymn at the end of the chapter we are looking at this morning:

He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory. (I Timothy 3: 16)

I Timothy 3

1 Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος: εἴ τις ἐπισκοπῆς ὀρέγεται, καλοῦ ἔργου ἐπιθυμεῖ. 2 δεῖ οὖν τὸνἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι, μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, νηφάλιον, σώφρονα, κόσμιον, φιλόξενον, διδακτικόν, 3μὴ πάροινον, μὴ πλήκτην, ἀλλὰ ἐπιεικῆ, ἄμαχον, ἀφιλάργυρον, 4 τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον, τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐνὑποταγῇ μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος: 5 εἰ δέ τις τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου προστῆναι οὐκ οἶδεν,πῶς ἐκκλησίας θεοῦ ἐπιμελήσεται; 6 μὴ νεόφυτον, ἵνα μὴ τυφωθεὶς εἰς κρίμαἐμπέσῃ τοῦ διαβόλου. 7 δεῖ δὲ καὶ μαρτυρίαν καλὴν ἔχειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξωθεν, ἵνα μὴεἰς ὀνειδισμὸν ἐμπέσῃ καὶ παγίδα τοῦ διαβόλου.

8 Διακόνους ὡσαύτως σεμνούς, μὴδιλόγους, μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας, μὴ αἰσχροκερδεῖς, 9 ἔχοντας τὸ μυστήριοντῆς πίστεως ἐν καθαρᾷ συνειδήσει. 10 καὶ οὗτοι δὲ δοκιμαζέσθωσαν πρῶτον, εἶταδιακονείτωσαν ἀνέγκλητοι ὄντες. 11 γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς, μὴ διαβόλους,νηφαλίους, πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν. 12 διάκονοι ἔστωσαν μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρες, τέκνωνκαλῶς προϊστάμενοι καὶ τῶν ἰδίων οἴκων: 13 οἱ γὰρ καλῶς διακονήσαντες βαθμὸνἑαυτοῖς καλὸν περιποιοῦνται καὶ πολλὴν παρρησίαν ἐν πίστει τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.

14 Ταῦτά σοι γράφω, ἐλπίζων ἐλθεῖν πρὸς σὲ ἐν τάχει: 15 ἐὰν δὲ βραδύνω, ἵνα εἰδῇςπῶς δεῖ ἐν οἴκῳ θεοῦ ἀναστρέφεσθαι, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἐκκλησία θεοῦ ζῶντος, στῦλος καὶἑδραίωμα τῆς ἀληθείας. 16 καὶ ὁμολογουμένως μέγα ἐστὶν τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείαςμυστήριον:

Ὃς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί,
ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι,
ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις,
ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν,
ἐπιστεύθη ἐν κόσμῳ,
ἀνελήμφθη ἐν δόξῃ.

1 The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.

8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; 9 they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. 11 Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13 for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. 16 Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:

He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.

Reading the text:

The Church at Ephesus was troubled by men who taught error and, in at least some cases, lived immorally. Christians, especially women, were harassed and in need of help.

In Chapter 1, Saint Paul urged Timothy in Ephesus (1: 3) both to teach truth and to live a life appropriate to his teachings.

In Chapter 2, Saint Paul stresses the importance of conduct that befits God’s truth on the part of both men and women.

Now, in Chapter 3, Saint Paul takes another step to address the problem of false teachers by ensuring that the Church has leaders who are morally qualified and “above reproach” (3: 2).

Rather than describing the functions of bishops and deacons, he sets out their qualifications.

Verse 1:

“This saying is sure” or “this saying is true” (Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος, pistos ho lógos): “the word is trustworthy, faithful.” This is the second of Saint Paul’s “true” and “worthy” sayings” (see 1: 15). Of course, there is the possibility that instead of being an opening clause for the chapter that follows, this is the closing or concluding summary for what has been said before.

The New English Bible appears to me to be anodyne in its search for neutrality when it next says: “To aspire to leadership is an honourable ambition.”

The word ἐπίσκοπος (epískopos) may be translated in your Bibles as either bishop or overseer. In Greek culture the word was used of a presiding official in a civic or religious organisation. Here Saint Paul is refers to someone who has overall responsibility for the Church in a city.

The word comes from two Greek words, ἐπί (epí) and σκοπός (skopós), combined to refer to someone who looks over, across, above or down unto some activity, something that is going on. In other words, an overseer, or someone with the responsibility of seeing that things are done by others and are done rightly.

The word ἐπίσκοπος is used in the Septuagint for פָּקִיד (see Judges 9: 28; Nehemiah 11: 9, 14, 22; II Kings 11: 15, I Maccabees 1: 51).

The word has the same comprehensive sense in Greek writings from Homer’s Odyssey (8, 163), and the Iliad (22, 255).

So, in the New Testament we have ἐπίσκοπον τῶν ψυχῶν, guardian of souls, one who watches over their welfare (I Peter 2: 25). The equivalent word from the Jewish background of Christianity is “elder” – although in New Testament we also have πρεσβύτεροι (presbétoroi, elders), which gives us the word priests. The terms for “overseers” and “elders” are used interchangeably in Acts 20: 17, 28; Titus 1: 5-7; and I Peter 5: 1-2. The duties of an overseer were to teach and preach (3: 2; 5: 17), to direct the affairs of the church (3: 5; 5: 17), to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20: 28) and to guard the church from error (Acts 20: 28-31).

The earliest Patristic writings, including the Didache and I Clement, show the Church may have used two terms for local church offices: deacon, and presbyters and or bishops/overseers.

However, this does not mean that the episcopate, in the sense of the holders of the order or office of bishop, developed only later.

It is worth noting that here in I Timothy 3:1, Saint Paul defines being a bishop or an overseer in terms of function (“a noble task”), not in terms of status or office, not in terms of sacramental or cultic function, not in terms of self-authenticating charismatic gifts and not in terms of preaching mission or evangelism. Saint Paul is not encouraging people to seek status but to exercise responsibility in the Church.

However, how do we translate these terms? If we use the word “bishop” are we imposing an understanding of Church office and ministry that has yet to develop? If we use the term “overseer” are we in danger of being reductionist in our understanding of apostolic ministry in the Church? “Overseers” and “servants” may be too general and untechnical, finding the lowest common denominator, while “bishops” and “deacons” may be too formal and specialised as we search for the highest common factor.

Verses 2-7:

The Archbishop-elect of Canterbury, Bishop Justin Welby of Durham ... what are the criteria for being a bishop in the Church? (Photograph: Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris/The Guardian)

Saint Paul then gives us a list of necessary virtues. His code that follows in verses 2-7 gives guidelines for measuring a candidate’s reputation.

If you were on the Crown Nominations Commission, or one of the eleven bishops of the Church of Ireland at a recent electoral meeting, do you think these would have been your priorities in selecting the new Archbishop of Canterbury or the new Archbishop of Armagh? Or would you have emphasised success, business and management skills, ability to have a high media profile and so on?

Indeed, how many of the 12 disciples matched even part of the listing we find here, or would have been kept on the shortlist drawn up by a Board of Nominators for a vacant parish?

In each of the lists in this chapter, the focus is on a person’s reputation both in the Church and outside the Church, on proven moral character and maturity. Duties are hardly mentioned.

Verse 2:

Saint Paul’s list of necessary virtues begins with being “above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher …”

Those in this ministry must be ἀνεπίλημπτον (anepílebton) or “above reproach.” How can this be a pattern of behaviour? It is for others to decide whether I am above reproach, but is it something I can inculcate in myself?

“Married only once”: Does this mean that a bishop must be married and cannot be single or widowed? Surely it does not mean that others may be polygamists? May a bishop be divorced?

The phrase used here is μιᾶς γυναικὸς (mias ginaikos), literally, a “one-woman man.” There is no first-century evidence of the use this uncertain phrase in connection with divorce. Yes, of course it disbars polygamists, but this is hardly Saint Paul’s intention. Nor is he likely to exclude those who are widowed and remarry. Later in this letters, Saint Paul actually encourages those who are widowed to marry again (see I Timothy 5: 14). The New Testament also allows for divorce in certain circumstances, including a case of adultery (see Matthew 5: 32; 19: 9) and perhaps in the case of desertion by an unbelieving spouse (I Corinthians 7: 15). Furthermore, there is nothing to exclude from consideration those who fall into this “exceptional” category.

I think what is being asked for here is faithfulness in marriage on the part of those who are married. What I do in my private life has consequences for the Church.

“Temperate”: The word here is νηφάλιον (niphálion) or νηφάλιος, or sober, calm, astute, dispassionate, circumspect, collected, or temperate in behaviour, clear-headed or vigilant.

“Sensible”: σώφρονα (sóphrona) also means of sound mind, moderate as to opinion and passion, prudent, master of oneself, discreet, self-restrained, serious-minded. Similar words are used in Romans 12: 3 and I Peter 4: 7.

“Respectable” (κόσμιον, kósmion) is a Pythagorean concept that might be translated in today’s language as “self-contained.” It means not so much being worldly but having a mind or character that is ordered in the same way as God’s created order, the cosmos, is – balanced and ordered, contained in balance within the skin of God’s created order. There are frequent references in the Pastoral Letters to self-control as a basic element of the Christian life (see I Timothy 2: 9, 15; II Timothy 1: 7; Titus 2: 2, 4, 5, 6). It is the ability to take charge of the mind, which includes the possibility of being open-minded. This allows control over impulses (to overindulge the physical appetites, to think wrong thoughts about others and ourselves) which without control would drive us to excessive behaviour.

Filoxenia … welcoming strangers on the Greek island of Zakynthos

“Hospitable”: φιλόξενον (philóxenon), loving strangers. We once stayed in an hotel on the Greek island of Zakynthos with the name Φιλοξενία, Philoxenía, “love to strangers,” “hospitality.”

Hospitality is a virtue valued in the Classical Greek and Roman world. From at least the time of Homer, hospitality mean not only welcoming but being generous to strangers, guests. For the Church, hospitality is not merely a virtue, but an imperative. For persecuted Christians in the Empire, hospitality may have more than a welcome … it could mean survival. When the Pastoral Letters mention hospitality in connection with bishops, deacons and women in ministry (I Timothy 3: 2, 5: 10; Titus 1: 8), the advice is not exclusive but exemplary – the New Testament enjoins Christians to practice hospitality (Romans 12: 13; I Peter 4: 9), but, who are then to be examples.

“An apt teacher”: διδακτικόν (didaktikón) means “skillfull in teaching” or “well able to teach.” This qualification applies to both preaching and teaching (see I Timothy 5: 17; II Timothy 2: 1) and refuting the heresy (II Timothy 2: 24; Titus 1: 9).

Verse 3:

Saint Paul then continues his lists by listing four behavioural traits that should not be found in a bishop: “not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.”

Drunkenness and violence rule out someone from office-holding. The terms used here are μὴ πάροινον (mi pároinon), “not given to much wine,” and μὴ πλήκτην, ἀλλὰ ἐπιεικῆ (mi plíktin, alla epieiki), “not violent but gentle,” or even “nonviolent” (see also Titus 1: 7). Nonviolence may be a better translation, as it involves an ethical commitment rather than restraint, and links better with the next characteristic of not being “quarrelsome,” ἄμαχον (amakhon). We must not merely get along with others and be agreeable, but we must positively encourage plurality and diversity of “churchmanship” within the Church. Unlike the false teachers in Ephesus who were known for their quarrels, we must promote and pursue harmony and peace.

Finally, in this list, a bishop is “not a lover of money,” ἀφιλάργυρον (aphilárgiron). This implies generosity and a simple lifestyle. “Live simply that others may simply live,” is advice that has been ascribed variously to Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, but that I first associated with Simple Lifestyle Movement founded by Horace Dammers, Dean of Bristol Cathedral, in 1972. It is advice that also comes straight from Saint Paul and the Pastoral Letters.

Verses 4-7:

Saint Paul concludes his profile of the ideal bishop with three conditions, each accompanied by a statement of rationale.

1, He cites proficient management of the household. An Irish comedian asks whether his audience knows the difference between a house and a home and replies: “A house is where you live; a home is where your children put you.” In Greek, δόμος (dómos) is a building, while οἶκος (oikos) is a home. Οἶκος refers not merely to a house, but to a household, to the extended family, which should be a model for society as a whole. Of course, we cannot read this condition to exclude the unmarried or those who live on their own.

2, A bishop must not be a recent convert or a new believer (verse 6). This is not because such a person may lack leadership skills, but because they may lack spiritual maturity. Otherwise, there is a danger of becoming conceited and falling under the condemnation of the devil (see Job 1: 6-11; Revelation 12: 10).

3, The bishop must be well thought of by outsiders (verse 7), just as much as a bishop must be “above reproach” (see verse 2). One of the earliest missionary tools of the church was how the first Christians were perceived by outsiders: “See how these Christians love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39: 7). How Christians and Church leaders behave today is often one of the reasons people give for not going to Church and rejecting Christianity.

Verses 8-13:

This next section describes the qualities needed to be a deacon, “one who serves” in the Church. The first deacons were appointed in the Church in Jerusalem to care for the physical needs of the congregation, especially the needs of the Greek-speaking widows who felt excluded and discriminated against (see Acts 6:1-6).

Deacons were leaders in the Church, and their qualifications parallel those of the bishops and come under the same careful scrutiny.

Verse 8:

The qualities listed in verse 8 relate to conduct that can be seen and observed: “serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money …”

“Serious”: σεμνός (semnós) means being august, venerable, or reverend, to be venerated for character, to be honourable and have transparent integrity. The NIV translates the word as “worthy of respect” (see I Timothy 2: 2; Titus 2: 2). If you ever wondered why people in ordained ministry are called “reverend,” then here we have a Biblical precedent. The word σεμνός describes a person of dignity, who both gives and receives respect.

The literal but negative “not double-tongued” (NRSV), is given the positive rendering “sincere” in the NIV. The Greek here, δίλογος (dílogos) refers to saying the same thing twice, repeating it, being double tongued or double in speech, in other words, saying one thing to one person but another to another, with the intent to deceive.

In addition, the deacon must have control over drinking and must not be greedy for money, similar qualities expected of a bishop.

Verse 9:

The words in the phrase “they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith” are translated in the NIV as “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith” The phrase τὸ μυστήριον τῆς πίστεως (to mystírion tis písteos) is one of Saint Paul’s favourite phrases (I Corinthians 4: 1; II Corinthians 2: 7; 4: 1; Ephesians 3: 3-9). Anglican ordinals have traditionally referred to bishops, priests and deacons as “ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (see also the Collect of the Third Sunday of Advent, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 243).

A vine is cleaned by pruning and so is ready to bear fruit ... over-ripened grapes on a vine needing pruning in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

“with a clear conscience”: ἐν καθαρᾷ συνειδήσει (en kithara sineidísei). The word καθαρός (katharós) means clean, pure, even purified by fire. It could refer to the way a vine is cleaned by pruning and so is ready to bear fruit, or to a priest or Levite who is ritually clean and pure. Συνείδησις (sineídisis) refers to the conscience, as the soul distinguishes between what is morally good and bad. Here, Saint Paul appears to mean ethically pure and free from corrupt desire, from what is false. They must not be connected with false teachers.

Perhaps some of those false teachers had already exercised ministry in the Church in Ephesus. For Saint Paul, the clear conscience is the organ of decision that allows one to move from faith to action.

Verse 10:

Being “blameless,” ἀνέγκλητος (anénglitos), refers to not being called to account, to someone who is not to be reproved or blameless. The quality is equivalent to being “above reproach” (see verse 2; compare Titus 1: 6-7), and is conveys much more than the simplistic NIV translation: “there is nothing against them.”

Verse 11:

A new sentence begins at verse 11, and Saint Paul lists instructions that refer to women (NRSV).

The Greek word used here refers to woman of any age, whether single, married or widowed. The Greek uses neither the phrase “wives” (NIV) nor “deaconesses” (NIV margin), nor “women deacons.”

Given the context of the sequence of listings in this chapter, Saint Paul is simply referring to women in ministry in the Church in Ephesus. The requirements parallel exactly those for deacons, with an exact replication of the sentence structure in verse 8.

In the absence of the actual term “deaconess,” we must not allow the translator to be a traitor in this passage. This reference to “women” in a code listing requirements for the office of bishops and deacon is sufficient to conclude that women with those qualities may also hold these offices in the Church. They are to lead lives that command respect or to be serious, they are avoid double talk, to be temperate and to be faithful in all things.

Verse 12:

There is a reminder then of the responsibilities deacons have towards their spouses, their families and their households.

Verse 13:

Verse 13 concludes the list of requirements for office with an encouragement to those who serve well. Saint Paul reminds us that deacons who serve well will receive a two-fold reward: they will gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith.

Verses 14-16:

This chapter comes to a climax in verses 14-16 with his exposition of the “mystery of our religion” or the “mystery of godliness” (εὐσεβείας μυστήριον, efsevias mysterion), reverence, respect, piety towards God, when it comes to the sacred mysteries, religious truths, God’s hidden or unspoken purpose for humanity and salvation.

Verse 14:

Many of the Greek inscriptions at the theatre in Miletus are still legible today … Saint Paul said farewell to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Paul expresses the hope of returning to Ephesus and seeing Timothy again. He had already said farewell at Miletus to the elders of Ephesus (see Acts 20: 17-38). However, the hope he expresses here was never realised.

Verse 15:

As we come towards the end of this chapter, we find in one phrase is the reason why the Pastoral Epistles were written – they were written to tell Christians how to behave within the Church. The Greek word Paul uses here for “to behave” is ἀναστρέφεσθαι (anastréphesthai), from ἀναστρέφω (anastrépho), which can mean to turn upside down, to overturn, to turn back, to turn this way and that, to turn oneself about, to sojourn or dwell in a place. Metaphorically, it means to conduct oneself, to behave oneself, to live. It describes what we might call my walk and conversation, my whole life and character, and especially in my relationships with other people. In the Church, we must be friends with God and friends with each other.

Saint Paul goes on to use four words that describe four great functions of the Church: οἶκος, ἐκκλησία, στῦλος and ἑδραίωμα.

1, The Church is the οἶκος (oikos) or household of God. First and foremost we must be a family. Love of God can exist only where we love one another as in a household with the same parents, as brothers and sisters.

2, The Church is the ἐκκλησία (ekklesía) or assembly of the living God. The word ἐκκλησία means a company of people who have been called out. We have not been self-selecting or elected, we have been called out. In Athens, the ἐκκλησία or governing body of the city was made up of all the citizens meeting in assembly.

3, The Church is the στῦλος (stilos) of the truth. When a journalist colleague in The Irish Times was ordained a few years before me, he was told jokingly that he was moving from being “a column in the Times to being a “pillar of the Church.” However, in Ephesus, the word pillar had a special significance. One of the Seven Wonders of the World was the Temple of Artemis or Diana, which was the centre of the cult that gave rise to the cry: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19: 28). This Temple had 127 pillars, each one the gift of a king, all made of marble, many crowned with the statue of a great public or historic figure, and some studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. The pillars of the temple of Ephesus were its crowning pride and glory. As the pillar of truth, the Church should be visibly so in order that all may see it as such.

4, And the Church is the ἑδραίωμα (hedraíoma) bulwark, stay, prop, support, foundation or buttress of the truth. A bulwark or buttress supports a building and keeps it standing up. The Church is to hold up truth before the world.

Verse 16:

Trinitarian symbolism in the clerestory lights in Lichfield Cathedral one night last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

This chapter concludes with a great Trinitarian hymn, in which Saint Paul affirms the divinity and humanity of Christ. However, the word God, Θεος, which is inserted in the KJV and other versions, and is in a footnote in the NRSV and the NIV, is not in the oldest Greek texts.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 14 November 2012.

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