23 September 2021

I Timothy 3:1-13

‘My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long’ (Psalm 71:15)

Psalm 71:17-24


This is a difficult passage from 1 Timothy in many respects. As the marginal notes in the NRSV show, it is not always clear what the original Greek text means. The modern reader however has to confront two wider challenges. We are familiar with bishops and deacons as officers selected, trained and ordained to serve, not only in the local congregation but in the wider Church. In I Timothy we are at a stage before that development had taken place and we do not know the details. ‘Bishop’ literally means ‘overseer’ and ‘deacon’ ‘servant’. Here they are clearly formal offices but confined apparently to the local congregation.

Secondly the passage reflects a patriarchal world view, in which it was assumed that the man controlled and was responsible for the conduct of his wife and children. We need to identify in this passage the values which still hold in today’s very different social setting.

Verse 2 in unclear. When it says a bishop should only be married once, it is unlikely to refer to polygamy, but appears to rule out remarriage after divorce or bereavement. In verse 11 it is not clear whether the reference is to women deacons (compare Romans 16:1) or to deacons’ wives.

To Ponder:

  • Which of the qualities listed do you think are the most important for a Christian leader today?
  • How important is the public standing of a Christian leader (verse 7)? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England.

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