Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Pastoral Letters (6): I Timothy 5


‘Do not ordain anyone hastily’ … recent ordinations of priests in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, with priests joining the archbishop in laying on hands

Patrick Comerford

We continue our study of the Pastoral Epistles this morning, moving on to the next chapter in I Timothy.

I Timothy 5:

1 Πρεσβυτέρῳ μὴ ἐπιπλήξῃς, ἀλλὰ παρακάλει ὡς πατέρα, νεωτέρους ὡς ἀδελφούς,2 πρεσβυτέρας ὡς μητέρας, νεωτέρας ὡς ἀδελφὰς ἐν πάσῃ ἁγνείᾳ.

3 Χήρας τίμα τὰςὄντως χήρας. 4 εἰ δέ τις χήρα τέκνα ἢ ἔκγονα ἔχει, μανθανέτωσαν πρῶτον τὸν ἴδιονοἶκον εὐσεβεῖν καὶ ἀμοιβὰς ἀποδιδόναι τοῖς προγόνοις, τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν ἀπόδεκτονἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 5 ἡ δὲ ὄντως χήρα καὶ μεμονωμένη ἤλπικεν ἐπὶ θεὸν καὶπροσμένει ταῖς δεήσεσιν καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας: 6 ἡ δὲ σπαταλῶσαζῶσα τέθνηκεν. 7 καὶ ταῦτα παράγγελλε, ἵνα ἀνεπίλημπτοι ὦσιν. 8 εἰ δέ τις τῶνἰδίων καὶ μάλιστα οἰκείων οὐ προνοεῖ, τὴν πίστιν ἤρνηται καὶ ἔστιν ἀπίστουχείρων.

9 Χήρα καταλεγέσθω μὴ ἔλαττον ἐτῶν ἑξήκοντα γεγονυῖα, ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸςγυνή, 10 ἐν ἔργοις καλοῖς μαρτυρουμένη, εἰ ἐτεκνοτρόφησεν, εἰ ἐξενοδόχησεν, εἰἁγίων πόδας ἔνιψεν, εἰ θλιβομένοις ἐπήρκεσεν, εἰ παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷἐπηκολούθησεν. 11 νεωτέρας δὲ χήρας παραιτοῦ: ὅταν γὰρ καταστρηνιάσωσιν τοῦΧριστοῦ, γαμεῖν θέλουσιν, 12 ἔχουσαι κρίμα ὅτι τὴν πρώτην πίστιν ἠθέτησαν:13 ἅμα δὲ καὶ ἀργαὶ μανθάνουσιν, περιερχόμεναι τὰς οἰκίας, οὐ μόνον δὲ ἀργαὶἀλλὰ καὶ φλύαροι καὶ περίεργοι, λαλοῦσαι τὰ μὴ δέοντα. 14 βούλομαι οὖννεωτέρας γαμεῖν, τεκνογονεῖν, οἰκοδεσποτεῖν, μηδεμίαν ἀφορμὴν διδόναι τῷἀντικειμένῳ λοιδορίας χάριν: 15 ἤδη γάρ τινες ἐξετράπησαν ὀπίσω τοῦ Σατανᾶ.16 εἴ τις πιστὴ ἔχει χήρας, ἐπαρκείτω αὐταῖς, καὶ μὴ βαρείσθω ἡ ἐκκλησία, ἵνα ταῖςὄντως χήραις ἐπαρκέσῃ.

17 Οἱ καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι διπλῆς τιμῆςἀξιούσθωσαν, μάλιστα οἱ κοπιῶντες ἐν λόγῳ καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ: 18 λέγει γὰρ ἡγραφή, Βοῦν ἀλοῶντα οὐ φιμώσεις: καί, Ἄξιος ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ. 19 κατὰπρεσβυτέρου κατηγορίαν μὴ παραδέχου, ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ δύο ἢ τριῶν μαρτύρων. 20 τοὺς ἁμαρτάνοντας ἐνώπιον πάντων ἔλεγχε, ἵνα καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ φόβον ἔχωσιν.21 Διαμαρτύρομαι ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν ἀγγέλων,ἵνα ταῦτα φυλάξῃς χωρὶς προκρίματος, μηδὲν ποιῶν κατὰ πρόσκλισιν. 22 Χεῖραςταχέως μηδενὶ ἐπιτίθει, μηδὲ κοινώνει ἁμαρτίαις ἀλλοτρίαις: σεαυτὸν ἁγνὸν τήρει.

23 Μηκέτι ὑδροπότει,ἀλλὰ οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ διὰ τὸν στόμαχον καὶ τὰς πυκνάς σου ἀσθενείας.

24 Τινῶν ἀνθρώπων αἱ ἁμαρτίαιπρόδηλοί εἰσιν, προάγουσαι εἰς κρίσιν, τισὶν δὲ καὶ ἐπακολουθοῦσιν: 25 ὡσαύτως καὶ τὰ ἔργα τὰ καλὰπρόδηλα, καὶ τὰ ἄλλως ἔχοντα κρυβῆναι οὐ δύνανται.

I Timothy 5:

1 Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, 2 to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters – with absolute purity.

3 Honour widows who are really widows. 4 If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight. 5 The real widow, left alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day; 6 but the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give these commands as well, so that they may be above reproach. 8 And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

9 Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once; 10 she must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way. 11 But refuse to put younger widows on the list; for when their sensual desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry, 12 and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. 15 For some have already turned away to follow Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are really widows, let her assist them; let the church not be burdened, so that it can assist those who are real widows.

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching; 18 for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain’, and, ‘The labourer deserves to be paid.’ 19 Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality. 22 Do not ordain anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.

23 No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

24 The sins of some people are conspicuous and precede them to judgement, while the sins of others follow them there. 25 So also good works are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.

Reading the text:


‘No longer drink only water’ …An elaborate marble fountain supplied fresh waters from channels to the pool in the Baptistery in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In this chapter, Saint Paul begins to give advice on how to deal with a variety of groups in the Church, advice that continues through to the next chapter, up to I Timothy 6: 10.

In this chapter, we have Saint Paul’s advice on how to deal with a variety of people in the Church, including men and women, young and old (5: 1-2), widows (verses 3-16), both older widows (verses 3-10) and younger widows (verses 11-16); and elders (verses 17-25), including their reward (verses 17-18), and their reputation (verses 19-25), which includes advice on protecting their reputation (verse 20), the public rebuke of their sins (verse 20), and the recognition of prospective elders (verses 21-25).

In recent ecumenical dialogue, significant parts of this letter have played important roles to discussing the structures of churches in dialogue, particularly when it comes to the role of bishops and elders. Yet in this chapter we find the “widows” are an equally significant group and a prominent group within the Church. Indeed, there is no parallel contemporary writing giving the same significance to the role and responsibilities of women in religious society, Jewish or Christian.

But the translations we use already prejudice the way we come to read, interpret and apply passages of Scripture, and this chapter if a particularly good example of this from the very beginning.

In verse 1, is the Apostle Paul advising Timothy not to rebuke an older man, but to exhort him as a father? Or is he referring to a priest? What does your translation say?

The word used here is πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros), which gives us the English priest or presbyter. Yes, it was used in Greek at the time to refer to someone who is an elder of person, not necessarily advanced in life, but having seniority by age. It came to be applied among Greek-speaking Jews to members of the Sanhedrin, because in early times the rulers of the people, were selected from among the elderly men. But among New Testament Christians, it refers to those who presided over the assemblies or churches. The New Testament at times appears to use the terms bishop, elders, and presbyters inter-changeably. But why would we think that here, in a passage on discipline in the Church and on pastoral responsibilities, Paul is using this term in a secular rather that priestly way?

We could read this sentence as Paul directing Timothy not to rebuke priests in the Church in Ephesus and, as a new arrival in Ephesus, to treat the other, younger men and older women priests in the Church there as his brothers and sisters in Christ.

We may have here a clear reference to older women who are priests in the Church in Ephesus, but our translations of the original Greek have helped to ensure that this has not become an interpretation that is part of the tradition of the Church. If we were to read it this way, it would change our interpretation of all the verses that follow. Yet this is an obvious reading in the original Greek.

This conflict has not been appreciated by the translators of the RSV and NRSV, who use the translation “the elders” when we come to it later in verse 17.

The ancient Greek verb for rebuke is not the normal word for “rebuke” in the New Testament. This is the only place the word ἐπιπλήξῃς (epiplexis) is used by Saint Paul. Its contemporary use was for an elegant type of upbraiding that is not seeking an answer or a rhetorical device in which the speaker reproaches the audience in order to shame, incite or convince them of a particular point of view. Timothy is told not to enter into silly or demeaning arguments with elders or priests, but to treat them with respect – just as he must treat the younger men in ministry and the older widows with respect and as brothers and sisters.

Later in this chapter (I Timothy 5: 20), Timothy is told there are times are when not only an elder should be rebuked, but times when he should be rebuked publicly. So, in this verse, he is not being told he must never rebuke, but he must never rebuke harshly.

When he is told to exhort the senior priest or bishop as a father, I wonder what do you think about the use of the title “father” among some parts of the church, including the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and many Anglicans?

Verses 3-8:

The older widows are already a clear and distinct group in the Church. They are a distinguishable group in Acts 6: 1, and we come across similar groupings in other churches in Asia Minor, for example in Smyrna, in the writings of Ignatius and Polycarp.

Older women are to be treated as mothers, with the respect and honour due to their age. The men among you, as curates, are going to find themselves accepting some amount of “mothering” from some of the older women in your church, and it is proper that you should honour them properly.

The younger women are to be treated as sisters, and the way they are treated is to be pure always and above reproach. How many of our “godly men” are inappropriate, flirtatious and even provocative in our behaviour?

When Saint Paul talks about widows who are really widows, we must remember that at this time there was no social welfare system and widows, who were without support from husbands or grown children, were particularly vulnerable. Honour in this context includes financial support, given in a dignified and honourable way.

But if any widow has children or grandchildren, she has a grown family who can assist her, and who have the first responsibility to so. A “real” widow is one who is on her own and who has no one else to support her.

Those who should be helped by the church must live godly lives. The life lived for mere pleasure and ease is no life at all. It is a living death, whether lived by a young
widow or anyone else.

In the strongest terms, Paul emphasises the responsibility of a man to provide for his family and to do all he could to support them.

Verses 9-10:

Why would Saint Paul suggest that a widow under the age of 60 should not be “put on the list”? He also insists that the widow “on the list” should have been the wife of one man. But he goes on to list her appropriate ministry: good works, bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the saints’ feet, helping the afflicted, and devoting herself to every good work. These are the tasks of all in ministry as we were reminded in our Gospel reading at the Teaching Eucharist on Monday morning (Matthew 25: 31-46). These are foundational for all ministry, a good test for all ordinands, and for all of us in ministry, a good test for whether I should be “on the list.”

Verses 11-16:

What about the younger widows?

You can imagine my distress when I heard this passage being read as the Lectionary reading in chapel one day, and realising that among the ordinand-students in chapel was a woman who had been widowed not just once but, tragically, twice.

She responded with perfect grace and good deal of aplomb.

Are the desires of young widowed men similar?

How many of us have sorted out our lives properly before offering ourselves for ordination, and properly attended to our closest relationships, whether we are widowed, married divorced or single?

What distracts you from your future ministry?

If there is a germ of truth in what Saint Paul is saying here, then it applies to each and every one of, and I can imagine a good-humoured Paul laughing when he heard some thinking this warning only applied to a small group of people, and developing a set of narrow prejudices around what he says, and claiming they have Biblical justification for their own sour tastes for certain passages of Scripture.

Men too can be idle gossips and busy-bodies, saying things we ought not to say, hungering for companionships and relationships that are neither wholesome not holy, or acting not out of love but in reaction to bad romances or spoiled friendships.

Saint Paul concludes with a principle he alludes to three times in this section (I Timothy 5: 4, 5 and 8): the first responsibility for support is at the home; the Church is to support the truly destitute who are godly.

A missing woman

Verse 16 provides an example of how gender-specific interpretations have crept into the traditions of translating Saint Paul’s epistles, and then have forced the agenda on subsequent debates.

The NRSV has: “If any believing woman has relatives who are really widows …” The NIV supplies: “if any woman who is a believer has widows in her family …” The ESV gives us: “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows …”

However, the word “woman” is not in the original Greek text, which simply has the Greek adjective πιστὴ (piste), from πιστός (pistós), faithful.

Verses 17-18:

Elders – and here, once again, Saint Paul uses the word for presbyters or priests – are worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. The regulations here are not the same as those earlier for bishops and deacons, for they deal not with qualification for office but with payment and discipline.

They are not to be muzzled while they work for the Lord’s harvest, and they are not to be exploited financially.

Two of the worst ways of mistreating those who labour in the ministry are to silence them – and there are many ways of doing this – and to see that they are not provided adequately, which then distracts them from their calling.

When Saint Paul says earlier that certain widows are worthy of honour (I Timothy 5: 1), is he speaking of financial support? Or is he drawing a parallel between the honour and ministry of the priests in the Church and the honour due to widows? They receive the same honour. Does this imply they are equal, that they share the same ministry, as men and women?

The principle that those who serve God’s people should be paid is supported in Scripture: see Deuteronomy 25: 4, and Luke 10: 7.

Verses 19-20:

Do not receive an accusation against a priest or elder, someone in ministry in the Church, without supporting evidence from two or three witnesses. Here Saint Paul strikes a balance between believing and acting on every bit of gossip about a leader in the church, and ignoring serious sin in a leader’s life. Either extreme is wrong. Is this the problem in part of the Church today?

John Calvin once wrote: “It is indeed a trick of Satan to estrange men from their ministers so as gradually to bring their teaching into contempt. In this way not only is wrong done to innocent people whose reputation is undeservedly injured, but the authority of God’s holy teaching is diminished.”

Yet many churches have great troubles because sin in the leadership is not dealt with forthrightly.

Verse 21:

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality.”

Saint Paul’s strong words here reflect how seriously he regards the responsibilities of those in ministerial leadership in the Church. We serve the eternal God and must please him first in everything we do.

“Keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality.” In the New Testament, the emphasis is on partiality is usually in terms of social class (James 2: 1-9), but prejudice and partiality based on gender and ethnicity are also condemned (Galatians 3: 26-29).

Verse 22:

“Do not ordain anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.”

Perhaps following the Foundation Course over one or two years, and three years of a full-time MTh course may leave you feeling exhausted, and wondering how anyone might have been ordained hastily. But it does happen. Here Saint Paul warns Timothy against rushing someone into ordained ministry.

Yet, we have all been impatient as students, anxious to live out our calling, to get on with our ministry, looking forward not to our ordination, but to what follows. Wait patiently. Do not rush. Enjoy the time of preparation. Be assured that we are not just teaching you, but praying for you. And do not rush the day ordination itself, either. Wait patiently as the Church prays for the outpouring of the Spirit. And, as that prayer is answered, wait patiently for the Spirit, and do not rush on the events that follow either in the cathedral or in your new parish.

Saint Paul’s advice to Timothy here also calls us to pay attention to our own lives, to avoid clerical scandals.

Verse 23:


The late Donald Soper preaching at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park

Saint Paul also offers medical advice to Timothy: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.”

The late Lord Soper (1903-1998) was a much-loved Methodist preacher, pacifist, socialist and campaigner. He was a regular preacher at Speakers’ Corner, and often preached on temperance.

He once told me how one afternoon as he was preaching a temperance sermon in Hyde Park, a heckler interrupted: “But Saint Paul says ‘take a little wine for the sake of your stomach’.”

Yes, he replied, I take a little wine and rub it on my stomach every night. And it’s amazing how many stomach ulcers I’ve avoided by just rubbing it in. I never waste it on any other part of my body.

Perhaps the important word that is often missed in Saint Paul’s advice here is the word “little.”

In the classical world, water was often impure and Timothy may have had problems with the impure water, and also abstaining from alcohol to set a good example. But wine was safer to drink than water, and Saint. So Paul recognises that it is not wise to sacrifice health for the sake of abstinence.


‘Use a little wine for your stomach’s sake’ … a glass of wine, a glass of water and a cup of Greek coffee in the Pythagóreio Taverna on the harbour-front in Pythagóreio on the south coast of Sámos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Verses 24-25:

In the last two verses in this chapter, Saint Paul faces the difficulty in balancing someone’s faults and failures and someone’s gifts and potential, even when they are not apparent.

In the case of some people, their faults are clearly evident, but the faults of others only become evident later. Similarly, the good works of some are clearly evident, but even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden for too long.

We all have areas of our lives that God alone is dealing with. Perhaps some people are regarded as holy just because they are good at hiding their faults. Sometimes what we see on the outside is not really an accurate portrait, and we have to wait for God’s discernment.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, the University of Dublin (TCD). These notes were prepared for a Bible study with MTh students in a tutorial group on 20 February 2013.

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