a primer on pastors (5)


NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Sun., Apr. 1). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. The primary texts for this sermon are Luke 10.25-37, Ephesians 4.11-13, and 1 Thessalonians 5.12-13. This is the final sermon in a five-part series on elders/shepherds (A Primer for Pastors) and is entitled “To Care For and to Equip God’s People.” You’ll find these LIFE group discussion guides categorized each week here on my site under the category title “LIFE group guides.”


To lay down a basic understanding of the work of a bishop/elder/overseer/shepherd/steward.


He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.” (Mark 9.35-37 CEB)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.41-45 NIV)

The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds … Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, “Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.” (Luke 10.34-35 CEB)

… how can they take care of God’s church? (1 Timothy 3.5 CEB)

So these were the gifts that he gave. Some were to be apostles, others prophets, others evangelists, and others pastors and teachers. Their job is to give God’s people the equipment they need for their work of service, and so to build up the king’s body. The purpose of this is that we should all reach unity in our belief and loyalty, and in knowing God’s Son. Then we shall reach the stature of the mature Man measured by the standards of the king’s fullness. (Ephesians 4.11-13 KNT)

Brothers and sisters, we ask you to respect those who are working with you, leading you, and instructing you. Think of them highly with love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. (1 Thessalonians 5.12-13 CEB)


Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Complete this sentence: “I feel like I’m truly cared for when __________.”

2. Tell us about some tool you often make use of in life. How would your life be different without it?


These questions are intended to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. What is Jesus saying when he says to be “the least of all and the servant of all?” (Mk. 9.33-37)

2. How does Christ’s view of leadership differ from that of the world? Answer from Mark 10.41-45.

3. With Luke 10.34-35 and 1 Tim. 3.5 in view, what does it mean to “take care of” Christ’s church?

4. According to Eph. 4.11-13, what is the purpose of the church being gifted with pastors/teachers?

5. Specifically, how does the last, brief sentence of 1 Thes. 5.12-13 relate to the preceding two?


These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us through his word. Choose some.

1. What does the church become when it is led by world-like leadership? When led as Christ leads?

2. How important to your faith is the inspiration you draw in from seeing others live out the faith?

3. How is your view of God helped by believing he is gifting you with what/who you need to mature?

4. Name something new you’ve learned about shepherds because of this study of elders/shepherds.

5. Name something you already knew about elders/shepherds that was reinforced by this study.

6. Finish this sentence: “Because of the role & responsibility of elders/shepherds, I will seek to _____.”

a primer on pastors (4)


NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Sun., Mar. 25). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. The primary texts for this sermon are Ezekiel 34, John 10.1-18, Acts 20.28-29, and 1 Peter 5.1-4. I’d encourage you to pay particular attention to Ezekiel 34. This is the fourth sermon in a five-part series on elders/shepherds (A Primer for Pastors) and is entitled They Smell Like Sheep. You’ll find these LIFE group discussion guides categorized each week here on my site under the category title “LIFE group guides.”


To lay down a basic understanding of the work of a bishop/elder/overseer/shepherd/steward.


… this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and … and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel … I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down … I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16 TNIV)

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. … the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. … he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. … I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:2-4,11,14-15 TNIV)

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. (Acts 20:28-29 TNIV)

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them … And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:2a,4 TNIV)


Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Tell us of a time you understood your task to be one thing, but wound up doing something else.

2. Tell us about a pet you’ve had to which you, or others, would say you showed special care.


These questions are intended to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. What Bible accounts or verses do you recall that speak of shepherds and/or sheep?

2. Read Ezk. 34:1-10. What sort of trouble do sheep tend to get into or what problems do they have?

3. In light of Ezk. 34:1-10, make a list of all the things the shepherds did that displeased God?

4. Read John 10:1-18. Make a list of what Jesus says good shepherds do. What will the sheep enjoy?

5. How does the word “shepherd” inform/shape the meaning of the word “overseer” in Acts 20:28?


These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us through his word. Choose some.

1. What words come to your mind when you think of the image of a shepherd and their flock? Why ?

2. “Shepherd” had double-meaning in the time of Ezekiel and Jesus. Kings were lauded as “shepherds,” but real shepherds of sheep were often despised. How does this double-meaning come into play with perception of shepherds of God’s flock today?

3. No one aspires to become a bad shepherd, but bad shepherds exist. So, how do they come to be?

4. God describes himself as a shepherd (Ezk. 34). Jesus does, too (Jn. 10). Elders are described as shepherds. How ought an elder feel about mimicking the work of God? How about the sheep?

5. How exactly is it a good shepherd lays down their life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11)?

6. The church belongs to God, not the shepherds (1 Pet. 5.1-2). And so shepherds should _____ (fill in the blank).

questions about elders: what do elders do? (1)


Q. In just a few words, describe exactly what it is church elders are supposed to do. What is their “job description?”

A. In a word, they’re to shepherd God’s flock, the church.

… shepherd God’s church … (Acts 20.28 CEB)

… I urge the elders: Like shepherds, tend the flock of God among you. (1 Peter 5.1-2 CEB)

Q. “Shepherd” the church? They’re supposed to “oversee” the church,” aren’t they?

A. Yes, elders are to oversee/watch over/supervise the church. However, Scripture depicts their oversight as one aspect of “shepherding.”

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20.28 TNIV)

… be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them … (1 Peter 5.1-2 TNIV)

Q. Where did the concept of elders functioning as “shepherds” come from?

A. It comes from the fact this is what God’s leaders have always been to his people.

Those who function as elders/shepherds today, mimic the work of the apostles (such as Paul and Peter). The apostles received this mandate from Jesus Christ our Lord. Our Lord’s direct words to Peter serve as good example:

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs. … Take care of my sheep … Feed my sheep.” (John 21.15,16,17 CEB)

Jesus described his own ministry as like that of a shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10.11 CEB)

In claiming to be the good shepherd, Jesus was claiming to have the role God played with Israel.

The LORD God proclaims: I myself will search for my flock and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out the flock when some in the flock have been scattered, so will I seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered during the time of clouds and thick darkness. I will gather and lead them out from the countries and peoples, and I will bring them to their own fertile land. I will feed them on Israel’s highlands, along the riverbeds, and in all the inhabited places. I will feed them in good pasture, and their sheepfold will be there, on Israel’s lofty highlands. On Israel’s highlands, they will lie down in a secure fold and feed on green pastures. I myself will feed my flock and make them lie down. This is what the LORD God says. (Ezekiel 34.11-15 CEB)

God had spoken this word as a word of judgment against those who has functioned as “under shepherds” to him in Israel (i.e. – elders, kings, etc.). Sadly, those had utterly failed in their responsibility to God and his people and so, God was taking direct control of matters.

The LORD God proclaims: I’m against the shepherds! I will hold them accountable for my flock, and I will put an end to their tending the flock. The shepherds will no longer tend them, because I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and they will no longer be their food. … But I will rescue my flock so that they will never again be prey. … I will appoint for them a single shepherd, and he will feed them. My servant David will feed them. He will be their shepherd. I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be their prince. I, the LORD, have spoken (Ezekiel 34.10,22-24 CEB)

So, where did the concept of shepherding as leadership of God’s people come from? God. His shepherd/servants. Jesus Christ. The apostles. And, we could say the Holy Spirit:

Watch yourselves and the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as supervisors, to shepherd God’s church … (Acts 20.28 CEB)

questions on elders: must an elder always teach a Bible class?

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:

  • apt to teach (KJV)
  • an apt teacher (NRSV)
  • able to teach (NKJV, NAB, NASB, NIV 1984, TNIV, NIV 2011, CEV, NCV, NLT)
  • a good teacher (REB, NJB, KNT)
  • skilled at teaching (CEB)
  • know what he’s talking about (The Message)

What Paul has in mind for elders here:

  • goes to skill, not just willingness;
  • concerns knowledge, not merely sincerity;
  • has to do with not only taking a whack at it, but having a knack for it;
  • is about more than having some answers, but is about being proficient in living them.

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.

questions on elders: can an elder drink?


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:

  • given to wine (KJV, NKJV)
  • given to drink (REB)
  • drink too much wine (NCV)
  • heavy drinker (CEV, NLT, KNT)
  • get drunk (NIRV)
  • drunkard (GNT, NAB, RSV, NRSV)
  • given to drunkenness (NIV 1984, TNIV, NIV 2011)
  • addicted to wine (NASB)
  • addicted to alcohol (CEB)

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.

questions on elders: what indicators do you look for, preacher?


On occasion through the years in ministry, church members have asked me a question that goes something like this: “Hey preacher man, if you were personally selecting those who would serve as elders, what sort of things would you look for the most in people?” Or to put it another way, “As you ask yourself questions about elders to be or elders that are, what sort of questions do you ask yourself about them?

As you might expect, my answer has varied somewhat through the years, as it should, for circumstances change and my understanding of God’s word has evolved. However, four questions have always loomed large in my eyes and I find myself continually coming back to them for it’s clear they find their roots in a number of Scriptures. If I’m not settled on clear, positive answers to these questions, I’m not settled at all in my heart as to that person’s ability to effectively shepherd God’s people.

Here are those four questions (each of them being stated two different ways) long with four Scripture texts that cause these questions to come to my mind.

1. What is their life like toward the weak? or Does this person show genuine heart and help for the vulnerable and hurting or do they live their life relatively insulated from engagement with the struggling?

In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20.35 CEB)

Many people are content to spend their life avoiding the troubles of others, unless, of course, those troubles find themselves in the lives of their closest friends. Some of the same, and many others, will give of their interest, time, thought, and support only to those who are their perceived equals or those they consider greater than themselves. Few they are who will not only serve, but will truly sacrifice their life for those who cannot give them something, even only their gratitude, in return.

Those who could be fit to shepherd are those who often leave the comfort zone of the ninety and nine and go to traverse the canyons and thorn patches of life to try to assist a weak sheep. However, if the only real evidence in their life is hanging out with their friends and schmoozing the strong, then I don’t consider them shepherd material at all.

2. How do they engage God’s word? or Is this someone who bathes themselves in Scripture, consumes the word, carefully considers and reflects on God’s revelation, and bends over backwards to live out what they understand of God’s will?

… work hard by speaking and teaching … (1 Timothy 5.17 NCV)

Someone who can lead others to God can do so only as they live by God’s word themselves. And I don’t mean by having a very general understanding of God’s word and can reference or quote a few commonly known Scriptures. I mean their great pleasure in life is that God has spoken and they are so elated by this fact that they hang on his every word. Consequently, it’s obvious that their life revolves around what God has said. They read Scripture, and all of it. They wrestle with it, trying to grasp all that is being said. They dig deep below the surface meaning of the words and mine out the treasures of God. They think seriously about how they can put it into practice and not merely how it applies to others. They change through time as they grow in their understanding of the word and their understanding of the word changes through time as they move from a diet of milk to meat.

Now the text in 1 Timothy 5.17 uses the phrase “work hard” in conjunction with how an elder engages God’s word and the Greek word behind that phrase is kopiao. Listen to what this word means and how it’s used in the Bible:

“In the NT, the kopos word group is used in three main ways: it refers to hard manual labor (like the farmer in 2 Tim. 2.6), or to working to physical exhaustion (cf. John 4.6); Paul often uses it to refer to Christian ministry; and with the verb parecho (‘to offer, supply, give’), it means ‘to trouble’ or ‘bother’ someone …” (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, p.386)

Show me someone who sweats in their grappling with, and use of, God’s word in their own life and for others and I’ll show you someone who has the start for a proper foundation for building a life of godly leadership of God’s people. If I can’t often see sweat trails of the word on a person’s neck, I look elsewhere for the shepherding of my soul.

3. What do their prayers reveal about them? or Is this someone who prays essentially the same, safe, familiar prayers over and over and over or is this someone who clearly has an unending, brutally honest, giving-and-not-just-asking conversation with God going on in their life?

… the elders should pray over them …Prayer that comes from faith … (James 5.14a,15a CEB)

Our words reveal who we are inside and when we reveal to others the words we use in speech to God, we cannot help but reveal deep things about ourselves. Like is there really any depth there? If an individual isn’t trying to grow and stretch themselves in the way they talk with God, do they have any real business talking to me about him, much less trying to lead me to him? People whose prayers have basically remained unchanged for months or even years at a time need not apply for the post of elder in my book.

4. What are they exemplifying for the church to become? or What might we realistically expect the church to look like in the future if we followed the current trajectory this person’s life and teaching appears to be on?

… be good examples to them. (1 Peter 5.3 NCV)

While we can’t change the past and we can’t know the future, we can see what sort of example a person is living of Christ in the present in light of where they have come from in the past. If there has been no significant change in a person’s life in years, I can’t reasonably expect them to lead others to change their lives in the future.

Similarly, I can look at a person and ask myself, “Is the sort of life I see in that person what I want to hold up to my children, and their children, as a target to aim for in their development through life in the coming years?” Can I say to them, “Grow up to be like them in the way they walk with God?” If I can say that of someone then I can have the more confidence of where this congregation of Christ’s church is headed.

questions on elders: the husband of one wife?


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:

“… the husband of one wife …” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6a 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:

  • If any be blameless [not able to be successfully accused of any bad thing]
    • B the husband of one wife [husband faithful to wife]
    • B having faithful children [children faithful to father]
  • A not accused of riot or unruly. [not successfully accused of bad things]

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)