… he may be puffed up with conceit and fall … (1 Timothy 3.6)
NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow, Nov. 18. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning entitled Devoted: Grow a Spine. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides.
To explore what it means to develop a spine and to devote it to God.
I’m writing these things to you so … you’ll know how you should behave in God’s household. It is the church of the living God and the backbone and support of the truth. Without question, the mystery of godliness is great: he was revealed as a human, declared righteous by the Spirit, seen by angels, preached throughout the nations, believed in around the world, and taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3.14b-16 CEB)
Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.
1. Here’s a sanctified chance to moan a bit. Do you have back trouble? If so, tell us about it. What’s it like, how does it affect what you do, etc.
2. Tell us about some “aggie-engineering” (sorry Aggies; perhaps I should have said “a Rube Goldberg device”) you used to hold something together one time. Think “over-abundance of duct tape,” etc. How’d that work out for you?
These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.
1. vs. 15 – Compare the wording here in several versions. Thoughts? What is the backbone and support of the truth?
2. vs. 15b – What is “the truth” Paul has reference to here? Answer in context.
3. vs. 15a,16 – How is it that the truths expressed in vs. 16 – “the mystery of godliness” – relate to our knowing how to “behave in God’s household?”
These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.
1. If truth is truth, how is it truth needs any “backbone” or “support?”
2. What singular item of the six aspects of the Lord Jesus Christ – “the mystery of godliness” (vs. 16) – do you think of most often? Why? Least often? Why?
3. What does it do for you to know that God is counting on you to courageously and consistently support with your life what he defines as “the truth” in this world?
4. How have you seen the church powerfully living out some of God’s truth?
5. Someone tells you that all “truth” is subjective? How would you respond?
6. Pray together as a group for God’s people – yourself included – to have discernment for what truly matters, what does not, and to have a strong spine for the former.
They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or a bully. (1 Timothy 3.2b-3a CEB)
In our haste to understand what Scripture means to us today, we often get in trouble by not first considering what a text meant to those to whom it was first addressed. Don’t forget now, whenever we’re reading Scripture we’re “reading someone else’s mail” first. When we fail to consider a statement’s original meaning, we’re virtually guaranteed to misunderstand a passage by (knowingly or unknowingly) overlaying the text with our own assumptions, concerns, and questions.
Another hurdle to clear in understanding Scripture involves the fact that we all too easily and frequently “read around” a passage, assuming we understand the meaning of the words used in the text. On occasion, the translation of Scripture we’re using can actually help fuel this fire of misunderstanding.
Both of these factors come into play in a common mistaken impression of Paul’s words to Timothy (1 Timothy 3.2) regarding elders and their teaching.
Quite a number of Christians I’ve come across through the years have indicated to me that they have the impression that an elder/shepherd must regularly teach a Sunday or Wednesday night Bible class in order to continue to be fit to serve as an elder. When I’ve asked them where they got this idea, without fail they’ve consistently steered me toward the King James Version’s rendering of a portion of 1 Timothy 3:2, which reads “apt to teach.” Quite often when I’ve encountered this viewpoint and I’ve noted to the party concerned that the word “apt” deals with “aptitude” and “ability,” I’ve received a great look of surprise in response along with some statement to the effect that they had always taken the word “apt” to mean something of a combination of “willing” and “frequent.”
This is another good example of where simply comparing different English translations of Scripture can greatly open our eyes to matters. For example, notice some of the renderings of the relevant section of 1 Timothy 3:2:
What Paul has in mind for elders here:
And as for teaching what you and I would know as a Sunday or Wednesday Bible class, we need only note that such things did not exist until only relatively recently in human history. Paul was not thinking about a particular type of teaching in a specific setting on set days of the week, but had in view sharing the good things of God at any given time or place.
Note, too, how the order of the words, and not just the words themselves, as they appear in 1 Tim. 3:2-3 are relevant to this very matter. Immediately preceding the concept of an elder being “skilled at teaching” (CEB) is the directive to “show hospitality” while the qualities of not being “addicted to alcohol” and not being “a bully” immediately follow. Imagine an elder taking in and housing a traveler for the night (“hospitable”). In the course of getting to know the traveler, the elder learns they are teaching or living something completely at odds with Christian faith, but perhaps even doing so even in Christ’s name. The elder’s proper response is neither to join in with them in their riotous way of living (“addicted to alcohol”) nor to brutalize them (“bully”), but to consider this an opportunity for the way of the Lord to be taught more accurately to someone. While the instruction may fall on deaf ears in the moment, who knows what seeds planted might germinate and grow later on?
In summation, yes, someone who would serve as an elder in Christ’s church needs to be ready and able to convey to others, in the best of ways, the gospel of Christ, with their live and their words, but no, they do not have to teach in a certain way and at certain times in order to qualify to serve as an elder.
For more concerning elders and teaching, note the Scriptures and eight questions posed under point #9 (“Are they teachable and given to teaching?“) in a recent outline of mine posted on Mar. 12.
Q. All my life I’ve been told and believed that a true Christian must be a tee-totaler. Period. Then I notice while reading my King James Bible that an elder in Christ’s church must not be “given to wine” (1 Timothy 3.3), but the word “given” doesn’t sound like tee-totaling to me. Now I’m confused! What does this passage mean when it says “given to wine?”
A. Short answer: I addressed this question in a post last month. Read that post.
Long answer: Neither this passage, nor the one very similar to it in Titus 1.7, nor the the rest of the Scripture, condemns drinking. What Scripture does consistently condemn is drunkenness. That is, it is not the consumption of alcohol that is generally forbidden by this word, but the abuse of it. That such is the clear meaning of this particular passage is apparent no matter what English rendering a person consults:
Q. Are you saying it’s perfectly fine for Christians to drink? Are you advocating drinking alcohol?
A. Short answer: That would be “No and “No.”
Longer answer: No. However, though the answer to the second question is a categorical “No,” the answer to the first question, while “No” is far more involved than can be addressed by a simple, one-size-fits-all answer without comment. Why? Consideration of it involves both our conscience and our context in life. We mustn’t forget that the one who penned these passages in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 also wrote concerning our conscience (cf. Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8). For some Christians, in some situations, there is nothing wrong with drinking with self-control, while for others, it would not be right at all. What we must not do is impose our conscience on such matters on others.
But let’s not change the subject, as this question does. The passages here in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, were not intended to address this question, much less give anything like a comprehensive answer to such. In these texts, the apostle Paul assumes that at least some Christians drink and that it is fine for some Christians to do so in some settings. The notion that a Christian cannot be a mature disciple of Christ and drink alcohol at all is not found here (or anywhere else in the Bible). The question addressed in these texts is not whether or not there is a specific rule for drinking in any and every form, but whether or not a a candidate for serving as an elder is ruled by drink.
Q. Well, why then would an apostle single out drinking in these lists in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1? Why make a point of mentioning such?
A. A great many (all?) of the individual items in these two lists (1 Tim. 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9) address different aspects of control in a elder candidate’s life. Do they exercise self-control? Do they have control of their attitude? Do they have their emotions under control? Do their habits in life speak of someone who is consistently allowing the Lord to control them? Do they keep their children under control? Do they have healthy control of the way they perceive and make use of money and possessions? And so, it shouldn’t surprise us then – indeed, we would likely expect – that mention would be made as to whether or not an individual is controlling their intake of substances (such as alcohol) or if that person is allowing substances to control them.
Surely a huge factor for this emphasis on the subject of control is the fact that the opponents of Timothy and Titus’ ministry in Ephesus and Crete were people whose lives were clearly out of control. Read all of 1 Timothy and Titus and note how frequently, and in how many different ways, Paul draws attention to such. Consequently, as Paul forms his lists for Timothy and Titus as to what to look for in the selection of elders, it only made good sense for him to highlight matters that stood in clear contrast to those who were wreaking havoc in the church there. Such comments function as commentary on “the qualifications lists.”
Q. So, do you drink?
A. No. Never have, don’t now, and never will – with a will. And the same holds true for all of my immediate family.
When the apostle Paul laid down some qualities for Timothy and Titus look for in individuals they would appoint as elders (1 Tim. 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9), one of those qualities he chose to word with these words in Greek: mias gynaikos aner. That phrase is translated in the KJV:
This sounds simple enough, but upon investigation and reflection, perhaps not so much. What exactly did Paul mean? There are several options.
1. Did Paul mean that anyone who serves as a church elder must have never been married before, whether they had been widowed, deserted, divorced, etc.?
Perhaps. This is certainly the interpretation that colors the translation offered by the NRSV:
“… married only once …” (Titus 1:6a NRSV)
2. Was Paul trying to say the person who serves as an elder must not be guilty of polygamy?
Perhaps. Some English renderings are of this persuasion:
“… with only one wife.” (Titus 1.6a J.B. Phillips)
” … the husband of [but] one wife …” (Titus 1.6a AB)
This is also the line of thought to which the NIV seems to lean, in both an older edition (NIV 1984) and all the more so in the latest edition (2011):
“… the husband of but one wife …” (Titus 1:6a NIV 1984)
“… must have only one wife …” (Titus 1:6a NIV)
Incidentally, some renderings show both of the preceding options (1 and 2); one in the text and the other in a footnote. The GNT (Good News Translation; aka: Today’s English Version) is an example of such, using the phrase “have only one wife” in the text and the phrase “be married only once” in a footnote.
3. Or did Paul intend to communicate that whoever serves as an elder in Christ’s church must be undeniably faithful to their mate?
Perhaps. More than one English translation certainly takes this tack. For example:
“… faithful to his wife …” (Titus 1:6a ERV)
“… faithful to his wife …” (Titus 1:6a NLT)
“… faithful to their spouse … (Titus 1:6a CEB)
Now while it may be obvious to many, it may not be apparent to all, so let’s just say it right here: translation requires interpretation. There’s simply no such thing as an “interpretation-free” rendering of another language. This fact alone accounts for no small number of the variations we encounter in English translations of the Biblical text. This is just another good reason why it’s often helpful to compare different translations of the Bible and to truly think about what is recorded in each. Variation need not unsettle us or cause us to lose confidence in the rendering of the Biblical text, either. Quite the opposite, actually, for being aware of such variation deepens our engagement with the text and often reveals nuances in meaning, translators’ tendencies, and more.
Further, our task in interpreting Scripture is to try as much as possible within us not to read into the text our own culture, expectations, or concerns. Instead, we should strive to let the text speak to us from its original context. That is, among other things, to let the culture and setting of the time in which the text was first penned to color our understanding of it.
Take, for example, the possibility that Paul had polygamy in his sights when he included the phrase mias gynaikos aner in 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus. Polygamy was anything but unknown in Paul’s time and in some Gentile areas in which Paul ministered. This fact certainly makes this interpretation of the phrase in 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6 possible, but the additional fact that polygamy would certainly have been encountered much less frequently in urban settings, and especially in areas with particularly strong Roman influence, makes this specific understanding of the text less likely.
In addition to the great need to consider a text in its cultural context is the crucial concern to construe a text in its literary context. Or, to put it in other words, it’s vital that we understand a statement in view of the statements in which it is nested. If you’ve ever been misunderstood or your words taken out of context then you know what we’re saying here. “A text taken out of its context becomes a mere pretext for saying something else.”
As to the possibility of rendering of Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6 in such a way that it seems to immediately give rise to subjects such as death of a spouse, divorce of a mate, desertion by a wife, etc. in connection with an elder, we should investigate the surrounding context to see if such subjects are discussed. However, when we seine 1 Timothy and Titus with these matters in mind, we find nothing in our net. This certainly diminishes the possibilities that Paul had such in his sights when he penned the phrase mias gynaikos aner (“one woman man”).
By this process of elimination through consideration of the cultural and literary contexts of the statement, we’re left with the possibility that what Paul was trying to get across to Timothy and Titus was the perspective that those to be considered for service as an elder in the church must show undeniable faithfulness/fidelity to their mate.
This interpretation of the text certainly fits the immediate cultural context of Ephesus well (where Timothy ministered) in addition to Crete (where Titus served). And, best of all, it emphatically fits the surrounding literary context we find in 1 Timothy and Titus. Timothy’s ministry was strongly affected by false teachers who were advocating immorality/infidelity (2 Timothy 3.6). Similarly, Titus is reminded in a number of ways that his ministry attention should be given to matters involving self-control (2:2,6), young wives loving their husbands (2:4), teaching all to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions (2:12), and to not become slaves once more to “passions and pleasures” (3:3). All of these concerns go straight to the heart of fidelity and faithfulness to one’s mate.
Further along the lines of keeping the original literary context in view is evidence from the immediate literary context of the statement. The phrase mias gynaikos aner is immediately followed by a reference to the faithfulness of the prospective elder’s children. And so it is rendered in the KJV:
“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.” (Titus 1:6 KJV)
Paul commonly uses chiasm in his writing and if his intent in meaning was fideltity/faithfulness on the part of the elder toward his wife, then a nice, simple chiasm comes into view:
With all of the preceding in view, it now certainly seems most likely that Paul’s specific concern when he wrote his instructions to Timothy and Titus to appoint elders and that such should be mias gynaikos aner was to simply say – nothing more, and nothing less – that such a person needs to be:
” …committed to his wife …” (Titus 1.6a The Message)
” …faithful in marriage.” (Titus 1.6a CEV)
“… faithful to his wife …” (Titus 1.6a TNIV)
As I’ve been teaching and preaching during the month of March on elders/shepherds, some have expressed their concern over the CEB‘s use of the word “should” in 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9. Let me address that concern.
Just so that we’re all on the same page, let’s place the relevant portion of the CEB’s rendering of 1 Timothy 3.1-7 on the table. As we do so, I’ll underscore the appearances of the word “must,” “should,” and “shouldn’t.”
This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor in the church, they want a good thing. So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse … They should show hospitality … They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or a bully. Instead they should be gentle … They should manage their own household well—they should see that their children are obedient … They shouldn’t be new believers … They should also have a good reputation … (1 Timothy 3.1-7 CEB)
To help understand the reason for concern, consider a portion of another English rendering of 1 Timothy 3. Following is an excerpt from the most recent edition of the NIV. I’ve taken the liberty of underlining the word “must” in this extract.
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach … He must manage his own family well … He must not be a recent convert … He must also have a good reputation …”
Now as I understand it, the concern expressed works like this …
The word “should” doesn’t have the same meaning as the word “must.” The latter speaks of necessity while the former does not. What are the CEB translators trying to do here? Water down God’s word? Why not just repeat the word “must?” After all, they used it in vs. 2.
In reply to this concern, let me make five observations while saying: “I’m very thankful I minister with people who give a care for God’s word and that it be rendered well!”
First, the exact same Greek word lies behind the words “must” and “should” in the Greek New Testament. That’s right. Read that sentence again. The word is dei and is used over one hundred times in the New Testament. Further, it is commonly rendered in a variety of ways (i.e. – ought, must, should, had to, etc.) in all major English translations of the New Testament. And so, case closed! But, let’s go on.
Second, the word dei means necessity. The entry for dei (under the heading “Should”) in William D. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words reads like this:
Verb: dei … (101x). dei occurs frequently in the NT especially in Luke. It has a basic meaning of something being “necessary.” See must.
Do note the words “necessary” and “must.” That’s right, in the language of the New Testament, “should equals “must” and “must” equals “should.” We know the Bible doesn’t always use words the way we use them today, but sometimes we forget. When it comes to understanding the Bible, we do well to learn the meaning of words as the Bible defines them. We must not impose our understanding (or lack thereof) on the Bible’s words. And so, the distinction made in the minds of those concerned between the words “must” and “should” does not exist in Scripture.
Third, there is only one appearance of the word dei in 1 Tim. 3.1-7. Meaning, the other appearances that commonly appear in English translations throughout the course of 1 Tim. 3.1-7 (such as multiple instances of “must” or “should”) are not in the Greek NT, but are simply additions to the context by the translators to assist in the ease of reading the text in English.
Fourth, the effect of the rendering in 1 Timothy 3.1-7 in the CEB is that everything flows out from the singular appearance of dei in vs. 2. There was no intent or attempt on the part of the translators to diminish things at all.
Or, to put it another way, visualize the CEB’s rendering of 1 Timothy 3.1-7 as an outline:
… the church’s supervisor must be without fault.
The point is obvious. Given the “must” (dei; vs. 2), everything else “should” fall into place for everything that follows the “must” (dei; vs. 2) is commentary as what it looks like to be “without fault” in what aspects of life a person should clearly be “without fault.”
Fifth, in the Titus text (1.5-9), the words “should” (Titus 1.7) and “must” (Titus 1.9) are used as synonyms. Note also that the structure is the reverse of that in 1 Timothy 3. That is, instead of having his comments flow from a point (1 Tim. 3.2), in Titus they flow to a point (Titus 1.9). In Titus the “shoulds” are taken in by the “must” of the person who pays “attention to the reliable message as it has been taught to them so that they can encourage people …” (vs. 9). As the passage in Timothy is commentary on what it means to live a blameless life, the Titus text fleshes out what a person’s life will be like if they’re paying attention to God’s reliable message.
In summation, the CEB’s use of “should” and “shouldn’t” in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 does not, nor was it intended, to dim or downplay the responsibilities of those who could be considered candidates for a church’s eldership. The concern is mistaken and misplaced.