1 Timothy 5
William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;
1 Timothy Chapter 5

Having thus generally exhorted Timothy as to his own walk and work, reminded him of the gift conferred, urged on him practical piety and devotedness, and lifted him above all fear from his youth, the apostle goes into full details for his guidance in maintaining order among the saints so favoured of God.

"Reprimand not an elder, but exhort [him] as a father, younger men as brethren, elder women as mothers, younger women as sisters in all purity. Honour widows that are widows indeed; but if any widow hath children or descendants, let them learn first to show piety toward their own house and render requital to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and left desolate, hath set her hope on God and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that devoteth herself to pleasure is dead while living. And these things charge, that they may be irreproachable. But if one doth not provide (neglecteth providing) for his own and especially his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (vers. 1-8).

It is not the official elder who is here in view but any brother advanced in years. Of course the exhortation would apply if possible more to an elder in the official sense. But Timothy was not to speak harshly to an elder generally; he was rather to exhort him as a father. We can all feel how much is implied in this injunction; had we to reproach a parent about any fault, how much reverence would be due! What tenderness in touching that which we might rightly condemn! The humility of grace and respect alone would become us. Indeed love was to characterize his bearing toward younger men also. As brethren, Paul would have him to regard them, and elder women as mothers. Younger women he was to view as sisters in all purity: such is the especial guard in the latter case.

This is practical Christianity in a servant of God, dear to the apostle; and particularly as Timothy was called to act when things were decaying. Order was not the less necessary because it was apt to be forgotten; the nearness of relationship into which the saints are brought by grace exposes to peculiar danger. Nothing is more opposed to Christ than an official position without the need of the full flow of love; so that speech as weld as conduct should be always in grace seasoned with salt. And it was the more necessary in a comparatively young man. If no one was to despise his youth, Timothy was called to give no occasion of stumbling in anything. To this rule the apostle himself submitted that his ministry might not be blamed: "in everything," says he, "commending ourselves as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left; by glory and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers and true; as unknown and well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). Never did the apostle exact so much as, if we may so say, from himself. In dealing with Timothy, Paul is the best example of what he enjoins on Timothy toward others.

Next comes the important case of those who had lost their husbands, and the more so as women were in the old world of that day: "Honour widows that are widows indeed." Such is the introductory exhortation, and therefore the word used, "honour", is expressly of the most general bearing. Some if not many might not need material proof of care; but due regard was to be paid to all that were really widows. By this he means that they lived in a way which marked their habitual sense of this loneliness and that they bowed to it as from God. The later ecclesiastical class may have been founded on such a passage as this; but no such thing really existed as yet so far as scripture informs us. The context makes plain the meaning of the real widow. She had no immediate relations to take care of her, and therefore was the more to be an object of honour; and if destitute, that honour would certainly imply support more or less according to her need. But it is a mistake to limit honour to such a provision, as many a real widow might have no such necessity. "Honour" here as elsewhere must be preserved in its own proper and broad meaning.

"But if any widow has children or descendants, let them learn first to show piety to their own house and render requital to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God" (ver. 4). Such a widow in distinction from those of verse 3 is commended to the immediate relatives, who must learn their duty if they did not know it. Singular to say, most of the ancient Fathers as well as some of the modern Germans, including Winer, understand the widows to be the persons thus to learn: so Chrysostom, Theodoret and others among the Greeks, Jerome, etc., among the Latins, and even Luther and Calvin of Reformation times. But the Syriac stands with others in the true view that it is the children or grandchildren who are called to learn, as best agreeing with the context, besides being of intrinsic soundness morally. Affectionate and pious respect was due from the younger to the widow of their family; and herein lay the strict sense of rendering requital. The church was never intended to swamp the family. Rather should the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ deepen the sense of every duty as well as enlarge the sphere of active love.

Among our English translators Wiclif of course is misled by the Vulgate: "But if any widow hath children of sones, learne she first to govern her hous . . .". Tyndale translated ἔךדןםα "neves"; and so it is in the Protestant versions that followed down to the Authorized; which word at that day seems to have been used for grandsons or descendants generally, though now restricted to the issue of a brother or sister. It is no mistake in the common translation, therefore, but only an antiquated usage which seems best replaced by "descendants." The Rhemish Version, as usual, cleaves to the error of the Vulgate: "let her learn first to rule her own house . . ." The true sense we have seen to be the duty, not of the widow, but of her immediate kin in descent, though as usual the apostle puts it in the largest possible form. If the ἔךדןםα or descendants were exhorted, it is not merely the χήלα or widow who is to be cared for, but οἱ נסόדןםןי, the progenitors.

Only the Geneva Version among the English ones escaped the strange and general error of confounding piety or godliness with ruling one's own house; for which there is no real ground in the phrase or its context.

"Now she that is a widow indeed, and left desolate, hath set her hope on God and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day" (ver. 5). Such is the picture that the apostle draws of the widow who is commended to the church's honour. "But she that devoteth herself to pleasure is dead while living" (ver. 6). The inconsistency of the habitual life in the latter case was most offensive to the apostle's spirit, as it ought to be to all who feel what becomes the house of God in this world. We can never form a right judgment of becoming conduct if we do not bear in mind our relationship to God and the Lord Jesus. How unseemly to despise the chastening of His hand! Was a woman wholly to forget her desolation? Were she happy in the Lord (and this no chastening is intended to touch), the last thing she would indulge in is pleasure, Satan's sorry substitute in the world for happiness above it. Enjoyment of God and His Son not only makes us realize the more the bitterness of a ruined world and of all genuine sorrow in it; but it lifts the heart clean out of it to the things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. It was therefore of great moment to command these things that the saints concerned might be without reproach.

"But if one neglect providing for his own, and especially his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever." Even nature teaches the contrary. What can be more distressing than, with the possession or even the profession of Christian privileges, to fall short of ordinary righteousness or of family affection? To neglect care for one's relatives and especially for those that compose the household is in the apostle's energetic language to have denied the faith and to be worse than an unbeliever. Unfeeling selfishness is a denial of the faith; for what has not God given to us in His own Son? He who confesses such grace is bound to manifest fruit in accordance with the Christ in Whom he believes. If he refuses, how many heathen would put such a man or woman to shame! It is usually an effort to lay one's own burden on others without any adequate reason, and contrary to the strongest dictates of not love only but propriety. Certainly God's church was never meant to be a club for the exercise of covetousness, but to be a school of divine love, and of righteousness unto holiness. And woe be to those who despise the importance of these injunctions, whether the motive be the lowest personal interest, or the pretension be that Christianity is so high as to exclude these natural relationships! Self, and not Christ, will be found at bottom to be the root of the latter as of the former. Only He gives scope and force to all scripture; whereas error may often hide itself behind one part of the word, which it misuses to deny another part. Faith welcomes and submits to it all. "By faith ye stand."

Next the apostle treats of special provision for a widow who had none bound to care for her. Grace is the life-breath of the saint and of the assembly; but the grace is in harmony, not conflict, with righteousness. There are circumstances and limits which cannot be neglected without loss to man and dishonour to God.

"Let a widow be enrolled not less than sixty years old, wife of one man, witnessed of in good* works, if she reared children, if she entertained strangers, if she washed saints' feet, if she relieved afflicted [persons], if she followed up every good* work. But younger widows refuse; for when they wax wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having as accusation that they slighted their first faith. And withal they learn also [to be] idle, going about the houses; and not only idle but also tattlers and busy-bodies, speaking things that are not fitting. I will therefore that the younger marry, bear children, rule the house, give none occasion to the adversary for railing; for already have some been turned aside after Satan. If any believing [man or woman] hath widows, let [such an one] relieve them, and let not the assembly be burdened, that it may relieve those that are really widows" (vers. 9-16).

* Those two words are not the same. The first means good in the sense of comely, fair, honourable; the second answers to good in the shape of benevolent acts.

Here is much more a widow in a privileged if not official position. But there is no indication of a diaconal class, the age being adverse to any great activity of personal duties of the kind; nor yet of a presbyteral sort, though the least limit of sixty years might be claimed in its support. But there is a total absence in the context of any such functions, whatever scholars may argue from Fathers, Greek or Latin, in order to confirm the idea that female superintendents are in question. The apostle appears simply to contemplate such widows as the assembly is bound to put on the list of its care and bounty; and hence he speaks of past life and ways, not of future duties less or greater.

There is therefore a certain gradation in those described: 1st., widows in general; 2nd., widows really; 3rd., widows on the list of the assembly's special recognition. But no trace appears of an organized, still less, ordained, class of widows, known as this is to have existed afterwards. There is first an age sufficiently advanced for the list, irrespective of any disabling malady which might commend the youngest person if destitute to gracious consideration. Next, it is required that she have been wife of one husband. With this may be compared Luke 2:36-37, though it has no direct bearing on 1 Timothy 3:2, which consequently derives no illustration from it. Then her general character in respect of reputable works is insisted on. Rearing of children (not necessarily her own) is not forgotten; as well as the exercise of hospitality to strangers. Even this alone would not bear the Christian stamp; and the apostle adds that lowly act, so consecrated to deeper meaning by our Lord Himself in John 13 - washing saints' feet; which would be sure to receive an immense impulse from that blessed example, though alas! turned to vanity or a sectarian badge in days of degeneracy. Relief to distressed people in any form follows, and general diligence in whatever called for active benevolence. Widows known so to have lived were to be remembered especially by the assembly, without a word of investing them with ecclesiastical functions for the future. When cared for, they would not assuredly cease to care for others: godly and gracious habits do not so change; and the assembly was not to neglect but honour widows of such a sort.

Younger widows on the contrary Timothy was directed to decline - certainly for the list of which we have just heard, like older ones suitable otherwise; and perhaps even more generally. The apostle adds a reason which would not fail to act on the sensitive spirit of the labourer he is addressing. It is of deep value to see how Christ, and not moral or prudential or personal considerations, weighs in the apostle's mind. So should it be with us. The young widows are judged according to their relationship to Christ. They of all perhaps might have been expected from their personal experience of sorrow to feel that the time is straitened, and that the fashion of this world passes (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). But they lose sight of Christ and His dealings with them and look out for themselves. Instead of seeking to please Him, they wax wanton against Him, and cannot rest without a return to that estate which had just closed for them. Nothing of vows of or office appears here, but what became a younger widow looking for Christ, as all saints are called to wait for Him.

Failure in faith entails serious consequences on those that bear the Lord's name. Others may be restrained more by character, value for social opinion, or other motives inferior though common in the world. But professing Christians, when they take a true position and swerve from it, fall lower than others; and none so much as those who pique themselves on their fidelity. Faith alone keeps up lowly dependence on the Lord. Those of whom the apostle treats, having cast off their freshness of faith, slip lower and lower. "And withal they learn to be idle, going about the houses," i.e. known as of the saints generally; "and not only idle but also tattlers and busybodies, speaking things not fitting." It is severe, but how true! Was it not called for and wholesome? How often from what seems a little departure great evil ensues? To believe the word of God is to be warned and kept by grace.

Just as in 1 Cor. 7 while the apostle tells us what his judgment is, he lays not down all in the way of commandment (vers. 25, 40). So here, "I will that the younger marry, bear children, rule the house, give no occasion to the adversary for railing: for already some have turned aside after Satan." This was most painful to one that loved the assembly. "She is free to be married to whom she will - only in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:30).

It seems singular that the English Versions since Tyndale should, after "younger", have supplied "women"; for widows only are meant as Wiclif properly rendered. The Rhemish seems exact by expressing neither; but the Greek form precludes the necessity of adding females, and the context is decisive that the apostle speaks of none but those who had lost their husbands.

How different from scripture is the enforced celibacy of nuns, not to speak of monks and priests also! To what moral enormities, as well as wretchedness, this daring encroachment on God's prerogative has given rise for ages! Yet no doubt need be that it grew out of a desire for thorough devotedness. The due limits are laid down in Matthew 19:11-12 and in 1 Cor. 7 as well as here. The unmarried state has its advantages where grace gives the due inward condition, which would surely fit into suited external circumstances and issue in such a life and service as we see in the apostle himself. But this is not given to all, nor is it of man's will but of divine grace. Make it a law, and the grace is destroyed; and a speedy result of sin, shame, and misery proclaims the wisdom of God's ways and the folly of Christendom's. Presuming to do better, they have notoriously fallen not only into the violation of common morality, but into unspeakable turpitude, covered with the veil of hypocrisy, to the ruin of souls and the present worldly advantage of those whose unswerving instinct is doing evil that good may come, whose judgment is just.

The external authority for the shorter reading (ver. 16), πιστή ( A C F G P etc., with some ancient versions and Fathers) is so decided as to sway the chief modern critics, the Revisers, et al.; but the sense resulting is strange and unsatisfactory. Why should the support or relief of a young widow be cast on a believing woman peculiarly? Is this like the sobriety, the largeness, the wisdom, of scriptures. That a believing man or woman should be appealed to on the behalf of such a needy connection is very intelligible; and the text which exhibits this is given by D K L and most of the cursives, with some ancient versions and Fathers. The direction in verse 16 is in no way a mere repetition of the principles laid down in verses 4, 8. In the earlier case (4), if a widow had children or descendants, they were, before others could be rightly called on, to learn pious care for their family in requital of their parents; and this is enforced (8) as a duty of providing so plain that failure in it is denounced as a denial of the faith, and even worse than an unbeliever. Then after describing a widow that is entitled, not here to respect simply as in 5, nor yet to censure as in 6, but to be placed on the list of the assembly's support (as in vers. 9, 10), we are confronted with the delicate question, especially for such a one as Timothy, of younger widows, whose dangers are set forth, answered by the apostle's will about them. This is followed by the call on any believing man or woman connected with such that relief should be given to those that were truly widows. There is no question here of scandal, or of unfitness for official duties: indeed the latter is nowhere, save in men's imagination now or in fact at any time posterior to the apostolic age.

As we had elders in respect of years (proved by the contrast of youngers and of the two sexes) brought before us in the beginning of the chapter, we have here the apostle's injunctions as to official elders or presbyters.

"Let the elders that preside well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those that labour in word and teaching. For the scripture saith, An ox when treading out corn thou shalt not muzzle, and Worthy [is] the workman of his hire" (vers. 17, 18).

It is remarkable how much we may and ought to glean from these few words, decisive as they are of important differences among Christians, and not least of all since the Reformation. For the revival then lay more in shaking off the main hindrance in Christendom to free reading of the Bible, and in a measure to the recovery of the gospel, than in any real intelligence of the assembly or of ministry, or indeed of like matters. Men's notions got cleared of gross superstition, but church truth was the less learned, because it was assumed that there was little or nothing to learn; and so traditional error as to what is of such moment rests on the mass of Christians to this day.

The business of the elders was to rule or take the lead among the saints. They were responsible to see to godly order in public and private; and hence, as we saw in chapter iii., qualities were looked for which would give them moral weight, not only in cheering the weak and timid and tried, but in repressing the forward, and rebuking the disorderly. They are therefore quite distinct from the gifts, of which we hear so much in Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4, and elsewhere. Hence we must distinguish, as scripture does, a pastor from an elder. For as the latter is never enumerated among the fruits of Christ's ascension, the former is incontrovertibly treated as a gift of His love, no less than apostles, prophets, and evangelists, for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).

The two might be united, doubtless, in the same person. But eldership was a local charge, which needed the authority of an apostle, or an adequate person acting definitely under apostolic commission, to make the desired choice of fitting men. This is clearly shown in Acts 14:23; where, we are told, that Paul and Barnabas chose or appointed elders for the disciples in each assembly. That the disciples chose elders, whom the apostles ordained, is a fiction, perhaps due to the wholly different case in Acts 6 of "the seven," whom the saints at large did select and the apostles appointed over the business of the "tables". The reason of this procedure seems plain. The saints, as they contributed of their goods, were left most wisely to look out from among themselves brethren so endowed as to inspire the confidence of all. But the "gifts" are given by Christ, not by the church, and therefore in this case He alone chooses; and, as authority also is from Him Who invested the apostles with power to act for Him on earth, we see them, directly or indirectly, choosing elders accordingly. Hence Titus was sent for the purpose of appointing elders in every city of Crete (Titus 1:5). Never was the assembly told in scripture to choose such. Directions also are here given to Timothy only, not to the assembly in Ephesus. Authority and power are from above.

So we see both gifts and elders not only subsisting, but this together, in apostolic times. Thus in Acts 15:2; Act 15:32 we hear of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and of Judas and Silas as chief men or guides among the brethren; but these are also described as "prophets," and so they exhorted freely at Antioch, and are never viewed as "elders". "Gift" is in the unity of the body of Christ, and might therefore be exercised as freely in one place as in another. An elder was a local charge, exercised in the particular assembly for which it was appointed; and this, it would seem, not singly but more than one in each church. The distinction will be found sustained everywhere in scripture, and rests on the difference of principle already explained, while both might be found harmoniously working together, as was seen in early days. Let us be subject to the word of God.

The practical bearing of all this is as immediate as it is important. Men have confounded the local charges with the gifts to the immense dishonour of the Lord and to the decided loss of all concerned. Again, economic desires have concurred with the democratic principle (now more rampant than ever) to swamp both gifts and elders by that singular invention, the minister of a church, instead of that which is exclusively found in scripture - a minister of the church. And godly souls are so little versed in the truth as to imagine that this upturning of all ecclesiastical truth and order, as far as this subject is concerned, is so unimpeachably sound that there is no sect at all where the like disorder does not reign: so ruinous is the force of tradition and habit against the confessed meaning of God's word.

It will be argued of course that we ought to have elders, though we have neither an apostle nor an apostolic commissioner to appoint them. But "scripture cannot be broken," as it must be if either an assembly, or a person without the due authority, usurp apostolic functions. It would be holier and humbler to own that we lack apostolic authority as a living reality; and that therefore, though there are no doubt very many among the believers possessed of the qualities required in an elder, it would be more seemly to search the scriptures whether divine principle does not provide for godly order without our assuming what is beyond our power and title. There were many assemblies of old which had not enjoyed the intervention of an apostle to this end and which had no apostolic vicar sent to do this work. Yet the great apostle himself exhorts the saints to own and honour those who laboured and were over them in the Lord, even though they had no official status as elders (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

So to the saints in Rome (where, it would seem, apostles went to be prisoners or to die) these are the words: "Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, [let us occupy ourselves] in ministry; or he that teacheth, in teaching; or he that exhorteth, in exhortation; he that giveth, in simplicity; he that presideth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:6-8). Now here it is expressly a question of gifts direct from the Lord, Who gave and still gives what is needful - yea, far more than is barely needed - for His saints; still though there is no trace of a charge, we find rule as well as teaching and other ministry in their midst. Neither order nor doctrine therefore need fail for want of elders. Base is the spirit that despised an elder. The service was a great boon, and so was most thankfully received and owned and honoured when given. But where they were not and could not be, was it faith to say "we must have elders"? How much better to have used such things as they had, praising Him Who, whatever the lack or the weakness, never fails in His faithful love, but is the same yesterday and today, and for ever!

Similar is the lesson of 1 Corinthians 16:15-16: "Now I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they set themselves to the saints for ministry), that ye also be subject to such and to every one that joineth in the work and laboureth." It is the same principle; for though the apostle had been in Corinth it was but a youthful assembly, and of elders we have not a word, while of gifts a great deal. But did means even there fail, however ill the use they had made of what they had? Let others judge what the apostle here enjoins - of all moment for us today.

Galatians 6:6 proves that the duty of the saints towards one "that teacheth" is not dependent on elders. Of Ephesians 4:11-12 enough has been said for our present purpose; and Php 1:1 compared with verses 14-17 suffices to show that the fullest order consists with the freest preaching, and that the apostle's joy is triumphant even where motives were sadly mixed. Colossians 2:19 is not silent on the joints and bands that knit together the body and so contribute to growth. It is in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 that we find luminous and full instruction on this head; where two things are equally plain, that these saints, but lately converted, had not elders yet that they had simple and sufficient means in God's grace for their orderly walk together. More might be added; but this is surely enough. There were circumstances in apostolically owned and founded assemblies where elders were not; and this affords comfort and instruction in times when they cannot be in the due manner. But the written word prescribes amply for all times. Only a single eye is needed to ensure the light of God.

Where elders exist, those that preside well were to be deemed worthy of double honour. For honour was due to an elder as such, double honour if he did his work well. There is no comparison with any preceding class. And "honour" means what it says; though it would be strange honour that could neglect their wants. But there is especial value, beyond that double honour, due to those that labour in word and doctrine. This also is notable and instructive. Ruling was the aim of their institution; but if they laboured in word and teaching, it had peculiar price in the apostle's eyes. All did not so labour. They were not "teachers," though aptness to teach was sought in one eligible for the office. The Presbyterian system may be far from a resemblance; but others surely are more distant still; while in all sects the minister is in contrast with the facts of scripture.

But to make "double maintenance"* out of the text is as mistaken as to deduce from it two classes of elders - lay elders that shared the government without maintenance, and clerical or ministerial elders that taught publicly as well as privately. The truth conveyed is opposed to both of these contending schemes, as divine truth never can really mix with any polity of human origin. But false interpretation begets and fosters pseudo-criticism. Thus even so ripe a scholar and able a reasoner as Bp. Bilson,† under the influence of a foregone conclusion, would resolve the participles with the article in verse 17, like the participle without it in verse 18, as if they were alike conditional. "Presbyters if they rule well are worthy of double honour, specially if they labour in the word:" or, "Presbyters for ruling well are worthy of double honour, specially for labouring in the word." To bear such a sense the construction ought to have been anarthrous: with the article as it stands in each clause, it is a described or defined case, and not a conditional one, and the true force is given in the Authorized Version as well as the Revised. To take those "labouring," in the sense of travelling from place to place to visit the churches is not only without the least foundation but opposed to the clearly revealed fact that the elders were, as such, local charges, and had no title from their office save to rule or preside in the assembly in which they were appointed.

* There are cases where τιμή means price (as Matthew 27:6; Mat 27:9; Acts 4:34 Acts 5:2-3, Acts 7:16, Acts 19:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23); but these are all in the New Testament. Extend it to "maintenance" in 1 Timothy 6:1 or to the verb in v. 3, and see what would result. "Double maintenance" or "price" here would be a heathen, not a Christian, idea.

† The Perpetual Government of Christ's Church, ed. Eden, Oxford, 1842, pp. 9, 191.

The true meaning then of the apostolic injunction is that the elders that preside well should be counted worthy of double honour - honour in their office, honour because it was excellently filled, with especial distinction for those of the elders that labour in word and teaching: which clearly all might not do and some could not equally do. For presiding is a delicate and difficult task, demanding tact and moral courage more than public exposition or the like, and assiduous perseverance, in the face of frequent discouragement and trial as well as opposition, calls for such "labour," rather than moving from place to place like an apostle, prophet, or evangelist, from all which eldership is wholly distinct. "Honour" is the right version and sense, not "maintenance" or "price" though, as we have seen, it often means so elsewhere. But here such a force is only tolerable in eyes rendered dim by the mist of evil influence and habits in Christendom. "Honour" however, as the true and larger word, would imply this where support was needed, as is suggested by the quotations that follow in verse 15.

In every case then, whether they were needy or above need, those that rule well are to be held worthy of double honour. For such an elder if wealthy or with competent means, would it be truly honouring him to give him a salary or even money? He who wrote now to Timothy impressed the very reverse in the strongest way from his own example on the elders of the assembly in Ephesus assembled at Miletus (Acts 20:33-35). But here it was important to indicate that an elder who rules well is to be deemed worthy of such honour as would neither let him want nor turn him aside from his absorbing work to provide the bread that perishes. Such men ought no more to be forgotten than the evangelists (1 Cor. 9), though the latter may labour "without," the former "within." Indeed the same scripture (Deuteronomy 25:4) is cited, though it be from the less to the greater in both cases, a remarkable witness to the depth of God's word below the surface. In the citation there is a difference in the order, as well as in the word for "muzzle," κημόω [B D F G] in 1 Corinthians 9:4 being the more technical, φιμόω in 1 Timothy 5:18 the more general, but both meaning the same thing.

There is a second scripture cited which calls for more notice as presenting matter of peculiar interest, arising possibly from its cast. The workman [is] worthy of his "hire," or "wages," may be proverbial; but the apostle quotes the phrase expressly as "the scripture." Whence did he draw it? From the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:7); for so it stands there to the letter, not in Matthew 10:10 where the Lord declares the workman worthy "of his food."* Surely this is the more instructive (not to speak of its bearing on the date of our Epistle as necessarily subsequent to Luke's Gospel), as it is a decisive instance of an apostle's quoting from another inspired man as "scripture." So Peter in his Second Epistle (2 Peter 3:15-16) speaks of "our beloved brother Paul's" epistles as part of "the scriptures." It is unwarrantable to contradict Theodoret and Theophylact, who say that one citation is from the Old Testament and the other from the New. Everywhere else no doubt the two apostles speak of the Old Testament as scripture; but each of them as here predicates scripture of the New at least once, which is as authoritative as if said a dozen times. It was uncalled for save here; but here it is of all importance, let Wieseler, Baur, or others, reason as they may. It is put, not as only explanatory of the first, but as an added and distinct quotation.

* Dr. Bloomfield (Rec. Syn. viii. 269) is therefore short of the truth in referring to Matt. 10; the elder Rosenmüller errs in saying that Paul added it de suo; and Heinrichs wanders still farther.

It is not only, however, a question of paying honour to the presbyters that take the lead well. They were exposed in the duties of their office to frequent misunderstanding and detraction. Those whom an elder had to rebuke for a fault, might, and, if unbroken, would resent it; and the ill-feeling would, if unjudged, betray itself in evil speaking. Others again, if arrested in their unruly and factious ways, would, if not brought to repentance, cherish a hard and bitter spirit against such as warned of and put a stop to their mischief. These or the like admonitions might at length issue in positive charges against one or another in local charge who had given umbrage in his duty, or perhaps acted imprudently. Timothy, who was not a mere elder but in a peculiar position of superior authority, doing in his measure apostolic work, was liable and likely to hear damaging reports, and he is therefore cautioned by the apostle. For we are, or should be, not ignorant of Satan's devices.

"Against an elder receive not an accusation except at [the mouth of]* two or three witnesses" (ver. 19). The principle of the law for extreme cases righteously applies to what is analogous not only in things but as to persons also. None so open to the assaults of the disaffected; and therefore divine wisdom checks the tendency to entertain such charges unless gravely supported: else oversight would become a dreaded work to exercise, instead of a good work to which a grave brother might aspire. One cannot therefore agree with Chrysostom, et al. that it is a question here of age as at the beginning of the chapter, but of an office which called for a guard not so requisite ordinarily. Scripture gives no countenance to the democratic self-importance which loves to reduce all to the same dead level. There are differences in administration, which are not only recognized of God but carefully provided for in their moral consequences, as we see here and elsewhere. A Christian like an Israelite might be charged by a single witness, though confirmation was needed to convict him with a serious result. An elder could not even have a charge preferred against him rightly, save on the testimony of two or more. Righteousness takes the circumstances into account, and not souls merely; and Timothy must respect the authority of others whose fidelity might imperil them, if he would not undermine what the Lord had set up, not only in his own place, but in all that are set to discharge variously the duties of preserving the truth, godliness, and order.

* The earlier English Versions had "under," probably influenced by the Vulgate. The Pesh. Syriac seems nearer the mark. "Before," as Winer prefers, suits magistrates better than witnesses with whom the accused were confronted. This however is the textual rendering of the Authorized Version, with "under" in their margin, as in Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, and those of Geneva and Rheims, which is at least better. For the point pressed is not "before," or "in presence of" witnesses, though Dean Alford says it is literally, which would be ἐםώניןם, ἔלנסןףטום, or ἀנέםבםפι according to the shade or emphasis required, and hence not "confronted with" as Mr. T. S. Green has it, but at the consenting testimony of two or three. In Hebrews 10:28, it is the dative (not genitive as here), and hence with a slight increase of forge, where again the older English Vv. give "under" save Wiclif who has "bi". The sense is that the despising transgressor died without mercy, but on the testimony of two or three. Were it judges, dicasts, or the like (as in 1 Corinthians 6:1), ἐנί might well bear the sense of "in presence of," but hardly with "witnesses." "To" Titus well gives the sense in 2 Corinthians 7:14. [N.B. - "Dicasts" were Greek officials of the law.]

"*Those that sin rebuke [or rather, convict] before all that the rest also may have fear. I testify [or charge thee] before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels that thou keep these things apart from prejudice, doing nothing according to partiality" (vers. 20, 21). The first of these has nothing specially to do with the elders, but breaks into the larger field of the saints in general. And as the apostle, while sustaining the elders in a work which must provoke the injurious tongues of the unruly, was far from sheltering an elder when impeached on adequate testimony, so here he insists that there should be no sparing those that are guilty of persistent wrong-doing. To limit the range of τὸץע בלבספבםןםפבע (ver. 20) as if it meant only "the sinning" presbyters naturally leads to think of "the rest" of that class to the loss of a solemn injunction in no way restricted, as "before all" ought to demonstrate. It would seem that the conjunctive δέ was inserted chiefly by Western influence under the prejudice that the passage as a whole has that narrow, instead of the general, reference with which last its absence from the best and most authorities falls in. The Authorized Version like the other Protestant English versions weakens the effect by omitting the verb "have," which adds to the permanence of the fear produced. We can understand the better then how solemnly the apostle adjures his young fellow-labourer in a task so serious and demanding such moral courage, especially from a tender gentle spirit, not to speak of his youth, which had danger for himself as well as from others already pointed out (1 Timothy 4:12).

* Lachmann and Alford insert in brackets δέ "But," with A D, some Latin copies, Gothic, or al.: but all other MSS and Vv. reject.

But the sense of God before his soul, with Whose presence he binds up "Christ Jesus," would give firmness and decision, and keep love and obedience indissoluble and active, in contrast with the moral laxity which usurps the name of that holy affection, though as far from it really as God is from fallen man whose evil will is allowed. There is but one article in the first part of the apostle's ground of appeal, not because it is one person, as Gr. Sharpe hastily supposed, but to mark their entire association, which could not be unless they stood on the same level of divine nature and glory. The one article τοῦ simply identifies the two persons in a common object, as the τῶν following marks off the "elect angels," however exalted, as having no title to be so identified. Christ Jesus could be and is put with God as on the same ground: not so the elect angels, though introduced connectedly, yet apart, as witnessing now, not merely in the future scene of glory. Compare 1 Corinthians 11:10. Reference to any angels save those that kept their own first or original estate would be here altogether incongruous.

It may be well to notice also that the Authorized Version seems to lose the distinction between προκρίלבפןς and πρόףךכיףים, words, as far as the New Testament is concerned, only found here. For the former refers naturally to "prejudice" which condemns a case before hearing or duly hearing it; as the latter expresses an undue inclination or "favour" for one side, even if one should hear both. Timothy is admonished by the most sacred associations to watch against any bias either way. Now "preferring one before another" is partiality; whereas "prejudice" (the marginal alternative of the Authorized Version, not "preference" as in the Revised Version's margin) is the true counterpart.

We now come to an exhortation which, I doubt not, has been pressed improperly into the interpretation of verse 20, from which it is quite distinct, so as to bind all these verses into an intimately connected whole. We have seen reason to infer that this is an error, and that verse 20 bears generally on offenders, instead of being confined to sinning elders, though there is no sufficient ground to exclude both 19 and 20 from the charge in 21. But verse 22 opens out a new thought, and there again the apostle would have his young colleague alert on the watch-tower: "Lay hands quickly on no one, neither be partaker in others' sins; keep thyself pure" (ver. 22). It has been assumed that the act of laying on hands here pertains to the instituting of elders. But this is a hasty thought; for even if it were the fact, which is very probable, that hands were laid on elders when chosen, it is certain that imposition of hands had a far larger connection, and that it was a sign of blessing conferred or of fellowship in commending to God's grace, when there was no question of the presbyterate. "The seven" (Acts 6) had apostolic hands laid on them, which gave dignity to a work easily apt to degenerate, though the apostles themselves till then did not disdain to fulfil it. Hence it is not improbable that a similar form of inauguration may have been when elders were appointed. But scripture has carefully veiled it, if it were so; and, it is but a little venture to say, most wisely; for its omissions are never without design, any more than its insertions, or the manner of them. May it not have been on the same principle that Mary's interposition (John 2:3) was not encouraged, and that Peter's word to our Lord (Matthew 16:23) after a high commendation of his confession of Himself, drew out the sternest rebuke ever by Him administered to a disciple? Was it not foreseen that a superstitious meaning would, in process of time, be assigned to the act, against which scripture raises its silent protest if people only knew how to profit by the omission?

In not a single instance are hands said to be laid on presbyters. Hands were laid on Timothy, and even the elders joined in doing so, when the apostle conveyed the gift of God that was given then. Hands were laid on Barnabas and the apostle himself when prophecy named them for a special mission, for which the Spirit separated and sent them forth among the nations (Acts 13:3). But it is extreme and ignorant prejudice that could confound either of these very distinct cases where hands were imposed, with eldership, or even with what people call ordination. Assuredly Barnabas and Saul were already recognized as most honoured servants of the Lord. Compare Acts 9, 11, Gal. 1, for the one who, though greatest by far, was the younger in that work. This (and it is by no means all that might be adduced) is ample to prove that laying on of hands has in scripture a more extensive application than the very narrow one to which some have reduced the verse before us, even it if were without doubt applied to elders, which in scripture it undoubtedly never is.

The true deduction therefore is that the injunction has no special, if indeed any, link with elders, but was meant to warn Timothy against haste in all such acts. What has been drawn from scripture still more decidedly confutes Dr. Hammond's notion (revived of late by some at home and abroad) that the words refer to that act on the absolution of penitents and their re-admission to church-fellowship. Euseb. H. E. vii. 2, Concil. Nic. can. 8, Suicer's Thes. ii. 1576, Bingham's Ant. xviii. 2, 1, clearly indicate this as an early ecclesiastical custom; but that it has the smallest title to be scriptural remains to be proved. Huther, who is not often to be commended, is right in claiming for the reference the large extent of its usage in scripture, rashness in any part of it being a danger in proportion to its importance.

The full bearing of this first command gives perhaps the more significance to the words that follow, "neither be a partaker in others' sins; keep thyself pure." Haste in according that well-known sign of fellowship, even if not the conveyance of spiritual power as sometimes, might accredit fair-seeming men, ere long to develop into enemies of the cross of Christ. What a sorrow would not this occasion to so sensitive a heart as Timothy's! Especially then he would do well to bear in mind the danger of sharing their sins by haste on his part.

Then follows the closing appeal: "Keep thyself pure." Chastity to which Wiclif and the Rhemish Version confine this last word is but part of what the apostle impresses on Timothy. The purity required emphatically in himself would the better help to guard against looseness in sanctioning formally men who would make sad havoc of the flock of God or dishonour the Master by forsaking the work through love of the present age, if they did not fall into gross sins or bring in privily heresies of perdition.

That these exhortations are not so confined as has been supposed, but embrace godly and moral order, after speaking of elders in good and evil, seems plain from what follows in verse 23: "Be no longer a water-drinker, but use a little wine on account of thy stomach and thy frequent illnesses."* This appears to be a parenthetic statement of touching consideration for the scrupulous mind of Timothy, if he thought personal purity incompatible with what his weak bodily state demanded. How striking the juxtaposition! Nor was it a private letter, which would no doubt have corrected the mistaken and injurious asceticism of this young servant of the Lord, but have left others to suffer similarly from that day to this; and especially in this day of ours which popularly regards the revival of ancient Gnostic error, as if it were a course of special moral worth, yea, a weapon of divine temper to exalt man and win the world. But he is indeed a poor believer who could hesitate between all the opinions of medical men (were they agreed), and all the arguments of teetotal reformers on the one hand, against those few words of the apostle on the other. For they are but dust, God's own is an inspired word - that which can never decay. The provident care which thus anticipated and delivered from the snares of men in ancient or modern times is thus to be remarked with thankfulness. Alford's modification seems beneath grave notice and due to the error of regarding all this context as bearing on the prescription of Timothy's duties as to elders; whereas we have seen that it has far broader aims.

* Paley (Works, vol. v. 298, ed. vii.) remarks that in such an Epistle "nothing but reality, that is, the real valetudinary situation of a real person, could have suggested a thought of so domestic a nature. But if the peculiarity of the advice be observable, the place in which it stands is more so. . . . The direction to Timothy about his diet stands between two sentences as wide from the subject as possible. The train of thought seems to be broken to let it in. Now when does this happen? It happens when a man writes as he remembers; when he puts down an article that occurs the moment it occurs, lest he should afterwards forget it." It may be quite true that no forger of Paul's name writing in an after-day would have thought of such an intercalation, which, in its indifference to what men generally would account literary order, would surely have been avoided, especially in the dignified ideal of an apostolic letter to his vicar. But does not Paley's tone reveal a painfully human standard of regarding an inspired work? Were it only the correspondence of "a man," the comment would be unobjectionable, but what irreverence to talk of Paul's putting it down the moment it occurred lest he should afterwards forget it! Calvin however speaks with even greater laxity mentioning without a reproof that some suppose the sentence thus introduced was not written by Paul! and pleading his custom of intermingling a variety of things stated without arrangement! Besides, he dares to hint that a marginal note may have found its way into this passage through the mistake of transcribers! What! where not a single MS., uncial or cursive, not a single Version of east or west, not a single early ecclesiastical writer, Greek, Latin, or aught else, attests either an omission or an insertion in this passage? It is therefore demonstrably Paul's; or else we have absolutely no certainty for the genuineness of anything the apostle ever wrote.

Nor should we omit to notice the caution thrown in, whilst maintaining liberty as to every creature of God, and duty to use what is beneficial in weakness - "a little wine": why "a little" if it were no more calculated to excite than water? The nature of the wine is thus intimated, and the impropriety of indulging in excess guarded against.

From this measure of digression, dependent on the call to keep himself pure, the apostle resumes the more direct connection of not partaking in others' sins (ver. 22). "Of some men the sins are openly manifest, going before unto judgment, and some also they follow after; likewise also the good works are openly manifest, and those that are otherwise cannot be hid" (vers. 24, 25). A holy mind seeks not to occupy itself with the sins of others, save when duty calls for it imperatively. But there is no excuse for the carelessness which would expose one to be continually deceived. It was therefore of importance to lay down principles of divine wisdom to guide where mistake is easy and its consequences might be deplorable. If the sins of some men are notorious and point to that solemn judgment where there is no mercy to mitigate the just doom of those who despised it in their contempt of God's truth and grace, there are some also whose sins follow after; and this is surely no less dreadful in the reality if appearances be saved, the deception of which is apt to ensnare not others only but the guilty themselves, making the end still more bitter though most righteous. On the other hand a like difference is found in that which grace produces; for the works that are comely are openly manifest, and those that do not come thus at once into notice cannot be concealed any more than He could Who is their source (Mark 7:36). That this flows out of and is connected with the warning given to Timothy against sharing another's sins, and especially in sanctioning unworthy workmen or discouraging such as might be vessels meet for the Master's use, is true. But to confine the instruction to the choice or rejection of candidates in the Lord's work seems to be the narrowness of man's mind and foreign to the studiously comprehensive terms of the apostle, in which he looks at things large and deep and far beyond.

Yet was it no mean man who thus commented: "Some there are who offer themselves to ordination, whose scandalous lives are known beforehand; and run, before their tender of themselves to this holy function, into just censure; others' offences are not known, till after they be ordained. Likewise also, on the contrary, the good works and holy carriage of some that put themselves to the holy calling are well known and approved beforehand; so as thou needest not scruple about laying thy hands upon them; and as for them that are otherwise, if thou do diligently enquire after their demeanour and conversation, they cannot be hid from thy notice; so as thou may refrain to admit them." So Bp. Hall (iv. 429, 430, ed. Pratt, 1808).

Yet such a limitation, through attaching verses 24, 25 strictly to the preceding context, reduces the thought immensely below the unforced bearing of the words, when seen to rise to the Lord's judgment by and by; while the latter, if allowed fully, would in no way hinder the profit which the true meaning affords for present use. The truth, when understood as the Holy Spirit presents it, is invariably better than man's thought however bright, or his tradition however prevalent; and Christ is the only way.

The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.
Honour widows that are widows indeed.
But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.
Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.
But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.
And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man,
Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;
Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.
And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
For some are already turned aside after Satan.
If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure.
Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.
Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.
Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
1 Timothy 4
Top of Page
Top of Page