1 Timothy 3:1
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
(a) If any man. Over the next seven verses Paul outlines the desirable qualities of an overseer or elder. This list contains ten gender-specific words (man, he, his, etc.) which are not in the original text. They have been added by translators. The addition of these masculine words has led some to conclude that women cannot be elders. This conclusion cannot be supported by this text.
When talking about who can be an overseer, Paul deliberately used gender-neutral language. A more accurate translation of his words would be, “if any one aspires to the office of overseer.” Paul was not opposed to women in leadership, and he named and praised several women who led churches.
Further reading: “Is the King James Bible sexist?”
(b) Overseer. Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders (Tit. 1:5) and then gave him instructions on how to appoint overseers (Tit. 1:7). An elder is an overseer. There is no difference. An overseer, or elder, is responsible for leading the church, a role they fulfil primarily by setting a good example, by teaching and praying for the sick (Tit. 1:9, 1 Pet. 5:1-3, Jas. 5:14).
1 Timothy 3:2
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
The husband of one wife. In other words, don’t appoint polygamists or philanderers. A man who had multiple wives, or who acted like he had multiple wives, was a faithless man. Such a man could not be trusted to care for the bride of Christ. “Instead, recruit reliable people. Choose those who are faithful, not philandering; steady, not shifty; loyal, not lascivious.”
Some use this verse to disqualify women from eldership. They seem to miss the female elders and deacons named in the Bible. Paul was not disqualifying unmarried or divorced men from eldership, nor was he ruling out women. He was speaking against the practice of polygamy.
Further reading: “If a woman can’t be a husband, she can’t be a pastor. Right?”
1 Timothy 3:8
Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,
(a) Deacons. Having outlined the qualifications of an elder, Paul turns his attention to deacons. What is the difference? While elders oversee or lead the church, deacons serve as ministers.
(b) Men of dignity. Some Bible translations include gender-specific terms (man, he, his, etc.), which are not in the original text. The addition of these masculine words has led some to conclude that women cannot be deacons. This conclusion cannot be supported by this text. A more accurate translation of Paul’s words would be, “Deacons likewise must be dignified.” Paul was not opposed to women being deacons. He named and praised Phoebe, a female deacon, in Romans 16:1.
1 Timothy 3:10
These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.
(a) These men. The word men is not in the original text. Paul took extraordinary care to include gender neutral terms when listing the qualifications for elders and deacons. A more accurate interpretation would be, “let them also be tested first.”
(b) First be tested. What is the deacon test? You’re reading it. In these verses Paul lists the desirable attributes of a deacon. Someone who does not possess these attributes will probably not make a good deacon.
(c) Deacons; see entry for 1 Tim. 3:8.
1 Timothy 3:12
Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
Husbands of only one wife. In other words, don’t appoint polygamists or philanderers.
A man who had multiple wives, or acted like he had multiple wives, could not trusted to care for the bride of Christ. Paul was not ruling out unmarried or divorced men, nor was he ruling out women. Indeed, he names and praises Phoebe, a female deacon, in Romans 16:1. See also the entry for 1 Tim. 3:2.
1 Timothy 3:13
For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Great confidence in the faith. Those who serve well become respected and acknowledged leaders in the community of faith.
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