Matthew Poole's Commentary
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.1 Timothy 3:1 The office of a bishop is to be esteemed a good work.
1 Timothy 3:2-7 The qualifications requisite in a bishop,
1 Timothy 3:8-13 and in deacons.
1 Timothy 3:14,15 Why Paul wrote these instructions to Timothy.
1 Timothy 3:16 The important truths of the Christian revelation.
This is a true saying; pistov, a faithful saying, that which none can dispute, of which none ought to doubt.
If a man desire the office of a bishop; if a man desire any office to which belongs an oversight of the church of God. The Greek word episkoph signifies in the general an oversight of others; here the following discourse restrains it to an oversight of persons and affairs in the church. The apostle by this phrase determines this employment lawful, and under due circumstances to be desired, and saith of it, that he who desireth it
desireth kalon ergon, a good work, a noble employment; it is a work, the office of the ministry in the church is and ought to be a work. The titles of gospel ministers are not mere titles of honour, and of all works or employments, the ministry is the most noble employment. We (saith the apostle) are stewards of the mysteries of God, ministers of Christ, 1 Corinthians 4:1; ambassadors for Christ, in Christ’s stead, 2 Corinthians 5:20; God’s angels or messengers to churches, Revelation 2:1. It being so good, so great, and noble an employment, it is no wonder that God hath restrained women, the weaker and more ignoble sex, from invading it, for all men are not fit for it, but only such as are hereafter described.
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;In the following description there is the complete character of an evangelical bishop, with respect to the virtues wherewith he must be adorned, and the vices from which he must be exempt, and as to the conduct of his person, and the government of his family, and his carriage to the church, and to those that are without.
A bishop, whoever hath the office of oversight in the church of God,
must be blameless, such a person as none can truly blame for any notorious or conspicuous errors in his life.
The husband of one wife; none who at the same time hath more wives than one, as many of the Jews had; nor was polygamy only common amongst the Jews, but amongst the other Eastern nations; but this was contrary to the institution of marriage. Some interpret this of successive marriage, as if it were a scandalous thing for a minister to marry a second time; but for this they have no pretence from holy writ, or reason, or the practice and custom of nations. Many persons lose their first wives so soon after marriage, that, were not second marriages lawful, all the ends of marriage must be frustrate as to them. The apostle commanding ministers to be the husbands but of one wife, doth not oblige them to marry, if God hath given them the gift of continency, but it establisheth the lawfulness of their marrying, against the doctrine of devils in this particular, which the Church of Rome teacheth.
Vigilant: the word here translated vigilant signifieth also sober, but for that awfrona is after used. He must be one that watcheth his flock, and is attentive to his work; one that will neither be long absent from his flock, nor vet sluggish while he is with them.
Sober; one that is prudent, modest, temperate, that can govern his affections and passions.
Of good behaviour; a man of a comely, decent behaviour, kosmiov, no proud, supercilious man, that despiseth others, nor a morose man, who cannot accommodate himself to others.
Given to hospitality; one that loveth strangers, that is, who is ready to express his love to strangers (especially such as for the truth have left their country) by all courteous offices.
Apt to teach; one that is able to instruct others, and who hath a facility or aptness to it, neither an ignorant nor yet a lazy man.
Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;Not given to wine; the word signifieth a common tippler, whether he drinks to the loss of his reason or no; a wine-bibber, that makes bibbing at a tavern his trade: no sitter at wine.
No striker; no quarreller, that cannot keep his fists off him that provoketh him.
Not greedy of filthy lucre; one that abhors all filthy and dishonest gain, any kind of way.
But patient; epieikh, a fair, equal man, who will not exact the rigour of what he might; a patient, gentle, courteous man, so far from contention, that he will rather part with what is his right.
Not a brawler; amacon, one that will not fight, whether it be with his hand or tongue.
Not covetous; one that doth not love silver, that is, not with an immoderate, sinful love, so as to get it any way.
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;One that ruleth well his own house; if he he one to whom God hath given a family, one who hath given an experiment of his conversation and ability to take care of a church, by the care that he hath taken of his family, and his ruling in that lesser society.
Having his children in subjection with all gravity; one that hath not let his children behave themselves rudely, and indecently, and rebelliously, but kept them in order by a grave demeanour towards them.
(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)For if a man hath a family, and hath showed that he neither hath wit nor honesty enough to govern that little society, which hath his constant presence with it, with what reason can any one presume, that he should be fit to be trusted with the care of the church of God? Which is a larger society, with all the members of which he is not so constantly present, and over whom he hath not such a coercive power, and as to whom a far greater care must be taken.
Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.Not a novice; not a young plant, that is, one that is newly made a member of the church of Christ; such persons are apt to swell in the opinion of their newly acquired knowledge, state, or dignity; and being so lifted up, they will be in danger of such a punishment as the devil for his pride met with, or to be guilty of some ill or indecent behaviour, which may give the devil occasion to accuse them. Others here interpret diabolou more appellatively, and understand by it a man that is an accuser, making the sense this, —and fall into the judgment, censure, or condemnation of men, accusing them for such behaviour.
Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without: the apostle would have ministers men of good reputation amongst such as were without the pale of the church, for that is the meaning of that term, which are without; see 1 Corinthians 5:12 1 Thessalonians 4:12: others might be admitted as members of the church, but not as rulers in it, because the glory of God was much concerned in the reputation of such persons, they were as lights set upon a hill.
Lest he fall into reproach; lest men reproach such persons for their former infamous life, and so prejudice others against the doctrine they bring.
And the snare of the devil; and the snare, either of some accuser, or of the devil, who hath this name from his accusing of the brethren; or lest he fall into some temptation to revenge, hatred, undue anger, or to be cowardly in the discharge of his duty, lest he should by faithfulness provoke others to reproach him for his former course of life.
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;Likewise must the deacons be grave: the term deacon signifies the same with one that ministereth, and is applicable to any that have any service in the church. But it is also a term peculiar to the office of those who serve tables, that is, took care of the poor, for which purpose these officers were first instituted, Acts 6:3; and thus the term is taken, Romans 12:7,8 Php 1:1; and so it here must be interpreted, being distinctly mentioned from the other officers, whose qualifications were before expressed, nor is it required of these officers that they should be didaktikoi, apt to teach. Indeed both Stephen and Philip did preach, but the latter was an evangelist, and it was a time of persecution, when even the more private brethren went every where preaching the gospel. Of these officers he requires, that they should be persons not of light, airy tempers, but serious and composed, men of a modest, seemly carriage.
Not double-tongued; not excessive talkers, or men that regarded not what they said, but talked any thing, according to the place or company they were in or with.
Not given to much wine; not too much attending taverns, and places where wine was sold or drank.
Not greedy of filthy lucre; not greedy of gain, any sordid, base way.
Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.Not ignorant or inconstant persons, but such as were acquainted with the mysteries of the gospel, and believed them, and held to them; and men of a holy life.
And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.The higher officers ought to be proved, ( as well as these of a lower order), as by examination or conference, so (which possibly is here more intended) by an observation of their lives and conversation, for some time before they were admitted into this employment. Then,
being found blameless, they were to be admitted into this employment.
Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.Even so must their wives be grave: must their is not in the Greek, but supplied by our interpreters, and, as some think, ill, judging that he speaks here not of deacons’ wives, but of deaconesses, of such women as had the deacon’s office conferred on them, such a one was Phebe, Romans 16:1; but it may be understood of either, both ought to be not light, airy, tattling persons, but composed, serious, grave people.
Not slanderers; not devils, (so it is in the Greek), that is, persons given to railing and accusing others.
Sober: see the sense of that word, 1 Timothy 3:2.
Faithful in all things; who have approved themselves every way honest, and such persons as may be trusted.
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.See the sense of these words, 1 Timothy 3:2,4, being the qualifications also of a bishop.
For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.Purchase to themselves a good degree; a good degree of honour, so that none hath reason to decline or to despise that office. This seems rather to be the sense, than what pleaseth some better, viz. that they purchase to themselves a higher degree in the ministry of the church; for though it be very probably true, and but rational, that the primitive church did out of their deacons choose their higher officers for the church, yet neither was this done universally as to all persons chosen into those high employments, nor as to all those that used the office of a deacon well, there doubtless being many who had done so, who yet were not didaktikoi, fitted with an ability sufficient to be preachers, without which fitness the primitive church would not choose any to such employment.
And great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus; by the well performance also of the office of a deacon, many obtained a great liberty, or freedom of speech, parrhsian, as to the doctrine of the faith of Christ. For by the exercise of the deacon’s office, they had much converse both with the pastors and members of the church; which converse did not only improve their knowledge in the doctrine of faith, but took off that excessive bashfulness which possesseth many till they come to be fully acquainted with the thing of which, and the persons before which, they are to speak, which we see by daily experience. Or, the apostle intends that courage that arises from a good conscience. Those that are careless and unfaithful in the discharge of their duty, guilt makes them timorous; but the good and faithful servant of God enjoys that liberty and courage which faith in the Lord Jesus gives, and without fear discharges all the parts of his office.
These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:I being now in Macedonia, or at Athens, or some parts thereabouts, have wrote to thee whom I left at Ephesus these precepts about the officers of churches, not being sure I shall, but hoping myself soon to come to Ephesus unto thee; which yet he did not, as we read, for he met Timothy at Troas, Acts 20:5.
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.I do not know how God will dispose of me, though I hope shortly to see thee, and therefore I have written to direct thee how in the mean time thou shouldst carry thyself in the affairs of the church, which I have committed to thee, which is a matter of great moment; for the people which constitute the church of him who is not like the gods of the heathens, a dead man consecrated and made a god, nor a being without life, like their images, but one who hath life in himself and from himself, is
the house of God, a people in and amongst whom he dwelleth, and amongst whom he is worshipped; and of whom he hath a great care, and for which he hath a great love, Christ having died for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, Ephesians 5:26; and which (as a man doth by his house) he is daily enlarging, beautifying, and adorning with the graces of his Holy Spirit, that (as there, Ephesians 5:27) he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Which church is the pillar and ground of the truth, stulov kai edraiwma. We want a good English word whereby to translate the latter of the two words in the Greek, which possibly hath advantaged the great contests about the sense of this text. It comes from edra, which signifieth a star, and a thing to support, and a seat, the place (say some) in which the idol was set in the pagan temples. Thence this word edraiwma is translated, the underpropper, the establisher, any firm basis upon which a thing standeth or leaneth; so that it is much of the same significancy with the former word, which we rightly translate a pillar, the two things signifying in use the same thing, that which underproppeth and holdeth up another thing, as the pillars do the building, and the basis of the image or statue doth the statue. Pillars also were of ancient use to fasten upon them any public edicts, which princes or courts would have published, and exposed to the view of all; hence the church is called,
the pillar and basis, or seal,
of truth, because by it the truths of God are published, supported, and defended, and in it they are only to be found as in their proper seat and place; for to it the oracles and mysteries of God are committed, and in it they are exposed to the notice and knowledge of all, as public edicts are upon pillars. But neither that saving truth, nor the faith which we give to it, is established upon the authority of the church, (as the Romanists vainly pretend), but upon the authority of God the author of it. The church discovers and recommends the truth, but the testimony it gives is not the foundation of its credibility. The universal church (of which the church of Ephesus, over which Timothy had a charge, was a genuine part) is, in the sense before expressed, the pillar and supporter, or seat, of truth.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: the various use of the particle kai in the Greek, which we translate and, maketh it doubtful what is the force of it here, whether it relates to the truth mentioned in the latter part of the former verse, or shows another reason why Timothy should have a care how he behaved himself in the house of God. If to the former, it is exegetical, and opens what he meant by truth, viz.,
the mystery of godliness, by which he means the gospel, which is the doctrine of godliness, being that which teacheth how aright to worship God, and walk before him; this he first calls, then proves to be, a mystery, a great mystery. The word is derived from the heathens, who had mysteries of their superstition and idolatrous religion. A mystery signifies a thing sacred and secret. The heathens also had their greater and lesser gods, and their greater and lesser mysteries. Paul calls the gospel, the doctrine of godliness, a great mystery, and says it is confessedly so, or such without controversy; then he proveth it by telling us what it is, and giving us the sum of it. It teacheth us that he who was truly God: God over all, blessed for ever, ( as the apostle saith), was manifested in the flesh; John 1:14: The Word was made flesh. How an infinite nature could be personally united to a finite nature, so as to make one person, is a mystery, and a great mystery. And this God thus manifested in the flesh was
justified in the Spirit; either by his Divine nature, (which is here as some think called the Spirit), by virtue of which he in the flesh wrought many miraculous operations, and when he was buried he rose again from the dead, by which he was justified, that is, undoubtedly proved to be the Son of God. Or, by the Holy Spirit of God, (the Third Person in the holy Trinity), by whom he was conceived in the womb of the virgin, Luke 1:35.
Seen of angels, who declared his conception, Luke 1:32,33; sang and glorified God when he was born, Luke 2:10,11; ministered to him when he was tempted, Matthew 4:11: who comforted him in his passion, declared his resurrection, Matthew 28:1-20, and attended his ascension, Acts 1:10.
Preached unto the Gentiles: Christ’s being preached to the Gentiles was also a mystery, so great, that Peter would not believe it to be the will of God, till he was confirmed in it by a vision, Acts 10:1-48. This some think is spoken with some reference to the Gentile superstition, who also, (as was said before), had their greater and lesser mysteries, and to the former would admit no strangers.
Believed on in the world: that Christ should, upon the ministry of a few fishermen, and the report the world had received of what Christ did in Judea, be received and embraced by the world as their Saviour, was as great a mystery as any other, especially considering that the doctrine of Christ was as incomprehensible by human reason, as ungrateful to the propensions and inclinations of human nature.
Received up into glory: the resurrection of Christ is not mentioned, because necessarily supposed to his ascension, which he mentioneth as the last thing whereby Christ was declared to be
God manifested in the flesh.