Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2020


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A Comparative Translation Commentary

On 1 Timothy

(Volume 4:  5:17-20)



Even Church Leaders Are to Conform

to the Proper Standards




                        TCNT:  17 Those Officers of the Church who fill their office well should

            be held deserving of especial consideration, particularly those whose work lies in

            preaching and teaching.  18 The words of Scripture are—‘Thou shalt not muzzle

            the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and again—‘The worker is worth his


                        19 Do not receive a charge against an Officer of the Church, unless it is

            supported by two or three witnesses; 20 but rebuke offenders publicly, so that

            others may take warning.

                        21 I charge you solemnly, before God and Christ Jesus and the Chosen

            Angels, to carry out these directions, unswayed by prejudice, never acting with

            partiality.  22 Never ordain any one hastily, and take no part in the wrong-doing of

            others.  Keep your life pure.  23 Do not continue to drink water only, but take a

            little wine on account of the weakness of your stomach, and your frequent


                        24 There are some men whose sins are conspicuous and lead on to

            judgement, while there are others whose sins dog their steps.  25 In the same way

            noble deeds become conspicuous, and those which are otherwise cannot be





            Elders should receive both respect and, when appropriate, financial support:  “(17) Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  (18) For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’ ”  Anything that is done to help them meet the expenses and needs of everyday life is not a matter of charity but of justly earned income.  Just as anyone else who works hard at their job expects to be treated decently and receive reasonable earnings, so do elders.


            Special respect is due elders who are particularly effective:  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor” (5:17).  Comparative translations of “rule well:”  Although this wording continues to be reasonably popular (ESV, NASB, WEB), “handle their duties well” certainly conveys the intent quite effectively (GW, ISV).  A more wordy way of saying this is “perform their duties wisely and well” (Weymouth).  

            Moving out in a different direction to convey the same message is to refer to those “who direct the affairs of the church well” (NIV).  My two personal favorites, if one is to replace the traditional reading, would be either “the elders who are good leaders” (Holman) or the “elders who provide effective leadership’ (NET).  Both well define what ruling “well” must inevitably include and how it would be defined by appreciative congregational members.

            We run into a potential problem here and that is gutting leadership from the authority that goes with leadership.  Ray C. Stedman argued that the stress should be on the fact that their skills and ideas are so good that they engender support for them:[1]


It is unfortunate that the word rule is used here about an elder’s work. . . . [A]ctually the word is, leads; it is the common word for leadership. . . .  One who leads is not necessarily a boss.  He does not drive people, he leads them.  He goes before and sets the pace and the direction; whether people follow or not depends entirely [our emphasis, rw] upon how much respect he has built in their eyes by his personal character, his abilities, and his gifts. An elder is a man who is able to command the respect of others and get them to follow him in the directions the Lord has set.                          


            Ideally—and in the bulk of circumstances—this is the way it should be.  But ideas are not always so appealing that one can not envision any other credible alternative.  Nor does every elder have such abundant charisma that one automatically wants to go along with everything he has to say.  In those cases, does--or does not--the eldership have the right to make their decision and have the reasonable expectation that the congregation will accept it? 

            Indeed, the word used still retains the idea of authority of position with or without the emphasis on being able to do so predominantly by personal charisma.  Mark Dunagan concisely brings together the definition of the term “rule” found here in various Greek language specialists:  “ ‘To be over, superintend, preside over’ (Thayer).  ‘Literally to stand before, to lead, attend to (indicating care and diligence)’ (Vine).  ‘Be at the head of, rule, direct’ (Arndt).”[2]

Elders, of course, should always be open to constructive argument and disagreement.  If they are so self-centered that they find it impossible to believe that anyone could possibly disagree or have an honest dissent from their preferences, they have no business being elders in the first place.  Such comes under the condemnation of the apostle Peter:  Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  The ESV renders it well when it warns against “domineering over those in your charge.”  

            On the other hand, there is an authority element that must be recognized as well—the definitive decision makers when opinion may be divided or excitement is not overwhelming:  Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).

            As in so much of life, how and when the elders exercise authority must envolve a delicate balance—of making sure that decisions are made and that they are the truly best ones they can come up with . . . while balancing the interests and concerns of the membership at large. 


            It should be noted that Paul is specifically only addressing the right of elders to receive church support:  “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor.”  However this has often been used to establish the right of ministers to “salaried” support as well.  For example, Henry Mahan writes, “He does not encourage the support of lazy, indifferent, professional pulpiteers, but the full support of those who perform the duties of their office well and who labor faithfully in preaching and teaching!  This honor is to be understood as that outward respect shown by words and attitude and a sufficient maintenance materially.”[3]  A sounder approach would be to stress that the same arguments used to support elders are just as convincing when applied to ministers:  They’ve earned it by hard work, good judgment, and time expended in the gospel’s behalf. 

            Also we have the repeated examples of Paul receiving support in his preaching even though he was not an elder--not even married!  In fact Paul defends that right at length in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14.  His conclusion was emphatic, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”  Note that the principle applied to all who “preach” and not just to apostles who preached. 

            This evidence is reinforced by the fact that Paul explicitly extended that right to support to his missionary companion Barnabas (verse 6).  Sometimes this involved receiving financial support from other locations rather than the one where he was currently ministering.  This was the case at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:8-9) and Thessalonica (Philippians 4:14-17).  For more on the potential application of 5:17 to Timothy in particular, see the subsection further below entitled, Could this have anything to do with Timothy’s own support as an evangelist? 


            Comparative translations of “be counted worthy of double honor:”  This is stated as the reward or acknowledgement of “ruling well.”  This is preserved by both NET and WEB.  Although the substitutions of “worthy” (NIV) and “held worthy” (Weymouth) are found, the preference for “considered worthy” are more numerous (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB).

            The “double honor” allusion is even more widespread (ESV, GW, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB, Weymouth).       

            That leaves us with the nature of the honor being referred to.  Two translations tell us that it involves their pay:  “double compensation” (ISV) and “an ample honorarium” (Holman).  That it can (rather than has to) have this connotation has been pointed out by such Greek language specialists as Robert G. Bratcher, who argues that, “The Greek word translated ‘honor” by [the] Revised Standard Version has here the concrete sense of ‘pay,’ ‘wage.’ ”[4]  In other words, in other contexts it might not—which should encourage caution as to whether that is the sole frame of reference intended by Paul as well.                            

            That “honor” (τιμῆς) easily carries with it a monetary connotation is certainly true, as Marvin R. Vincent establishes from the following passages, which we will quote from the KJV:[5]          


                        Matthew 27:6:  because it is the price of blood

                        Matthew 27:9:  pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued

                        Acts 4:34:  and brought the prices of the things that were sold

                        Acts 7:16:  Abraham bought for a sum of money

                        1 Corinthians 6:20:  ye are bought with a price:  therefore


            1 Corinthians 6:20 is specially relevant because, even though it clearly uses the image of monetary purchase, it uses it as a euphemism for something else—the blood of Christ.  The monetary purchase imagery being totally relevant because that blood was obtained at such a hideous price in pain, anguish, humiliation, and even death.

            The language of “buying” would fit gaining greater respect and admiration as well.  In itself the use of that term “double honor” does not have to carry a monetary application except when the context requires it.  In 5:17-18 it is used of receiving food to eat (referring to animals in the Old Testament) and of receiving wages (citing the words of Jesus).[6]  There the monetary element is clear cut.

            On the other hand one could still reasonably argue that increased respect is the point being conveyed.[7]  For example, the word for “honor” found here is τιμῆς (timēs)

and is used of the “honor” that is to be given both God (1 Timothy 1:17) and Christ (6:16).  Obviously a monetary application is impossible.  The third usage in the epistle is in 6:1:  Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.”  Here too a monetary application is impossible:  since when would the servant/slave pay the master?         

            Furthermore 5:1 refers to how “elders” (in the sense of older men) deserve the honor of respect.  An easy tie-in with our current passage could certainly be made:  “When an ordinary elder (older person) is due single ‘honor,’ an elder who leads in the Word of God is worthy of ‘double honor’—the first honor because of his age and the second, or double honor, because of his ministry in the Word.”[8] 

            Other approaches:  R. Alastair Campbell believes that the “double” does not refer to the amount he receives but to the fact that he does:  They should be “receiving not only obedience but financial support” as well.[9]

            Then there is Russell E. Kelly argues that the context is that of public censure (verses 19-20) and that twice as much care (the double honor) should be extended them in evaluating the legitimacy of any claims against them.  (He also attempts to argue that this is the context from 5:1 to 5:24 is one of rebuke / honor / church discipline, but that really seems to push his argument way beyond its strongest roots in verses 19-20.) 

            When all is said and done—and this in no way affects the fact that elders who are particularly successful deserve and have earned additional respect—the point being stressed here just about has to be financial because of the very next verse.  The second example cited there (verse 18) is clearly pay:  “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”  Even the first example is of temporal reward:  “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” 

            Neither makes any primary sense in terms of respect being granted; only of an earthly reward because of hard work.  However they are still also worthy of respect because of the work they have done.  How can one possibly separate the two?  They are interlocked in an unbreakable bond.  Hence, as I see it, it is not a matter of “either/or” but of both being core to Paul’s point.  Provide whatever particular verbal formulation you prefer to express that concept.     


The Monetary Aspect of “Double Honor”


As to financial reward, we certainly read of Paul defending his right to receive compensation for his preaching work, though he also stresses that he normally forewent it—either working himself or receiving help from congregations other than the one he was currently working with.  What we do not seem to read of anywhere else than 1 Timothy 5 is evidence that elders were expected to be paid.

            The Scripture that Paul is about to introduce in connection with the “honor” that is due able church leaders--about the “laborer being worthy of his wages” (5:18)--argues that financial compensation is under consideration at least in large part.  This marks the text as the only apparent one which refers to elders receiving such assistance.  One must assume that if an apostle—like Paul—could pass by such, that elders could as well.  Their responsibilities, their success at it, the time they devoted to it, and their own financial resources would surely be factors involved in the decision.  They would be entitled to it, but, like Paul, might either not personally need it or simply decline it. 

            The “double” is not necessarily to be taken literally but as synonymous with liberality, generousness, being above and beyond the minimum.  Stuart Allen argues the case this way:[10]


The adjective “double” appears to have the sense of generous provision.  If God was concerned for cattle treading the corn and ordained that ample provision should be made for them, surely, the Apostle argues, those who take responsibility in service (“rule well”), specially those who preach and teach (verse 17), should be adequately compensated.    


            Certainly the word “double” in the Bible easily has the connotation not just of twice the literal amount, but also of giving even more than is technically owed.  The “double” money designed to be given to Joseph by his brothers when they returned to Egypt for food supplies (Genesis 43:12, 15) was surely a way of confirming their willingness to pay “top dollar” for their supplies plus a way of assuaging any anger over the money that had mysteriously appeared in their supplies when returning to geographic Palestine.

            On a more literal basis, the concept of “doubling” is used in a negative sense in scripture as well--of providing far, far more in punishment than merely “equaling” the sin committed.  Hence of the earthly persecuting powers of the first century, Christians were warned that far more was coming on them that what they themselves had suffered:  For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.  Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her” (Revelation 18:5-6).

            In more “everyday” terms, stolen animals were to be reimbursed double (Exodus 22:4) and stolen money the same (Exodus 22:7).  Indeed doubling of various anything illicitly taken:  For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor” (22:9).  The double wasn’t merely a “fine,” it was a means of discouraging repetition and of assuring that the victim came out generously ahead of the loss.   


            Russell E. Kelly attempts to strip the text of the reimbursement for labor (in the ox’s case, by receipt of food) by arguing that there also is a matter of the ox being properly honored:[11] 


In 5:18 the ox is being honored while it is treading the grain.  The emphasis here is on the fact that it is being honored, and not how!  The quotes are included to remind the church of the honor of the elder about to be disciplined. . . .  The real emphasis of 5:18 is on the “double worthiness” of the ox.  While it was normally unmuzzled while not working, it was double-worthy of not being muzzled while working.  Thus the ox “plowed in hope” that it needs would be met.      


            I must admit I cringe at the idea of an ox somehow being “honored,” but even in the loose sense that the term can be used, the fact remains that it is not honor (respect) alone that is under discussion, but also honor as manifested in being permitted to gain a full meal from the work being done.  In human terms, this equates to being “reimbursed” for the time and effort expended.  Hence the second text in the verse, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”  He’s earned it.


            There are still potential problems in applying this approach.  Does this mean that all elders were expected to be paid?  Remember that Paul’s words are only specifically aimed at those “who rule well.”  Not merely competently or ably but in a particularly superior fashion.  “The cream of the crop” we might describe them today.

            Furthermore does “worthy of double honor” mean to literally receive twice as much pay, reimbursement, call it what you will, as someone else? 

            In addition does the “pay” have to be uniformly at the same level for such people?  Two men may both be “ruling well” but the usefulness to the congregation may still be dramatically different—something one would expect reflected in varying reimbursement rather than a uniform doubling.  Taking the expression in the sense of “generous provision” obviously removes such oddities.  (But doing so in a manner counted as fair to all parties could be something very different!) 

            True, the point might be to receive twice as much as the widows on the church’s welfare role.  Paul used explicit “honor” language (1 Timothy 5:3) to argue that widows deserved family support in their old age and when there was no close kin then church support.  But in both cases of the elderly he is not talking just of a dollar amount but of the respect that leads to giving the help they need as well. 

            In their case it is also a matter of necessity and esteem for their pattern of faithfulness to the Lord.  That elders would be given additional “financial honor” makes inherent sense—for their obligations are larger and they have active families they are responsible for.

We speak ill of no man, but there are only so many hours in the day.  If a man takes hours away from providing for his family, does he not deserve extra help--especially if his work is as effective as Paul describes?  The “double” in such a case almost translates into, “be sure you pay him fairly and generously for all the labor he is putting in:  he is not only very good at it, but he is taking time from supporting his family.  They have to eat just as much as anyone else.”

 Even if we rightly conclude that the reimbursement is centered on things monetary and temporal, we should still never neglect to give him in addition the extra psychological reinforcement of encouragement, praise, and appreciation that his commitment fully deserves.[12]  He has also earned (figuratively speaking) “double” the respect given those elders who are not so skilled and envolved in the church’s business.

            It should be remembered, however, that paying generously while making church service “a living torment” for the office holder translates generosity into a mentality of “we are going to financially treat you well but make you rue the day you took the post!”  This would never be done explicitly of course, but if we create that kind of environment we grievously undermine Paul’s intent that our treatment reflect deep and genuine respect.


            Historical note:  Before we pass on to other matters the common assumption is that the support given is financial and that it refers to providing double the support the other people 1 Timothy 5 speaks of helping on a permanent basis--the widows. 

We do know that this literal custom existed at a much later date.  The Didascalia (composed somewhere between 200-250 A.D.) speaks of presbyters and deacons receiving twice as much.[13]  In comparison you might note that 1 Timothy 5 conspicuously does not mention deacons nor does it speak of all elders but only a certain section of them.

The description is expanded in the 370s in the Apostolic Constitutions.  The double support was accepted as routine--at least when one was giving a feast to honor the poor, with the seeming implication that this was standing practice in other contexts as well:[14]


            If any determine to invite elder women to an entertainment of love, or a feast, as our Savior calls it, Luke 14:13, let them most frequently send to such a one whom the deacons know to be in distress.  But let what is the pastor’s due, I mean the first-fruits, be set apart in the feast for him, even though he be not at the entertainment, as being your priest, and in honor of that God who has entrusted him with the priesthood. 

            But as much as is given to every one of the elder women, let double so much be given to the deacons, in honor of Christ.  Let also a double portion be set apart for the presbyters, as for such who labor continually about the word and doctrine, upon the account of the apostles of our Lord, whose place they sustain, as the counselors of the bishop and the crown of the Church.  For they are the Sanhedrin and senate of the Church.  If there be a reader there, let him receive a single portion, in honor of the prophets, and let the singer and the porter have as much.  (2:28) 



            Why did Paul consider this admonition of providing financial “honor” necessary?  It could well be that bad experience the congregation had had with certain elders, predisposed them against providing such extra support—whether interpreted in terms of respect or financial.[15]  Support for even the most laudatory behavior can be perceived as burdensome when previous trust has been abused.  “Once burned, twice shy.” 

            Then there are those with a twisted sense of “equality.”  They perceive as a terrible imposition the recognition that anyone is superior within a group.  This ignores the simple reality that when someone has given abundant “blood, sweat, and tears” in a cause they inherently deserve greater recognition and honor than those who have done far less.  They’ve earned it and to refuse to grant what has been earned is to show disrespect both for that individual and the God who demands it.   


            Could this have anything to do with Timothy’s own support as an evangelist?  If this were the case, then isn’t Paul arguing—or can easily be read as arguing—that Timothy is the man in need of an immediate pay raise?  If it were really about the propriety of how much he was being paid, surely Paul would have been candid enough to reword his argument to make the real issue crystal clear!  Perhaps an addition to our text of, “This is equally true (even more true?) of Timothy who I sent to you.”  After all he had a special interest in this particular man’s welfare.

            However the linkage to this young man at all is created by assuming that Timothy is a “ministering elder” and therefore the language automatically has application to him.  It should be noted that there is no indication that Timothy is an elder nor is he called one.  It is assumed that, as an evangelist, he must have been.  But it is an assumption without proof.

            Furthermore our text makes a clear distinction between Timothy and the elders:  17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor. . .  19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”  Timothy is to be the “judge” (so to speak) of the elders.  Does that not clearly distinguish him from the eldership?

            Furthermore strict qualifications are set for the eldership and a preacher might have able talents but not meet them all--even though he is a fine, honorable, outstanding Christian.[16]  But it is elders who are singled out because they are carrying a double responsibility of both governance and preaching.  Hence the appropriateness of them receiving a “double honor” in recognition of them carrying burdens and responsibilities well beyond any reasonable “call of duty.”

            Yes, an elder can simultaneously be occupied in both “governing” and “preaching” responsibilities--not doing the latter on an occasional basis but as a major function of his life.  Paul’s words clearly imply that not all will.  Indeed it seems quite fair to deduce that he regards the situation as so uncommon that special attention (“double honor”) is earned by that person.  This is not to dismiss the skill and talents of those who “only” do one of these but the special respect due to those who can successfully perform both simultaneously.


            This generosity of spirit is specially encouraged toward those who are involved in the upbuilding of the church’s knowledge and understanding:  especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (5:17).  These words explain who is to receive “double honor.”  This is typically limited to those who are heavily engaged in teaching and preaching.  This is close to Paul’s point but not exactly it:  He is not saying that financial support is limited to those preaching.  Note the context:   Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”  The word is “especially” and not “exclusively.”  In other words he is referring to any elder--“full time teacher” or not--who is performing especially well in his task whether teaching and preaching or not.  Of these successful elders, the elder-preacher combination is given preeminence of verbal honor in Paul’s words and the greatest stress is placed upon them receiving it.    


            To Paul, being a church elder is not merely a prestigious post—good for the ego and reputation among the brethren.  Today we would call their job “administrative,” making sure things got done the right way and on time.  If they didn’t, they had failed at their job.

            Since a qualification for the post was to be “able to teach” (3:2), it follows that all elders were expected to be at least somewhat envolved in that activity.  Why have it as a qualification otherwise?[17]  But, for at least some of them, the involvement was even more intensive and time consuming than for others.  This might be caused by their availability, the specifics of the situation, or because they are simply so good at it that everyone wants to have their talents available on an on-going basis.

            Almost a 150 years ago, J. W. McGarvey had some excellent words on this subject of the relationship of elders and teaching:[18]


But while we are thus compelled, by the obvious meaning of plain words, to admit that there were Elders in the primitive churches who did not labor in word and teaching--that is, who did not preach and teach publicly, we are by no means compelled to admit that it was because they were incapable of teaching.  Capability of teaching being a prescribed qualification for the Eldership, we may not suppose that it was disregarded in the selection of Elders, unless it be in uninstructed congregations.

But Paul does not mention the "Elders that rule well" in a manner to indicate that their appointment was irregular.  There is another way to account for the distinction made without supposing a violation of the law; and that is, that although all of the Elders were capable of teaching, some were more capable than others, and the burden of this part of the work was for this reason assigned to them by mutual consent.

Where a number of men are associated together in an office of [varied] duties, it is almost invariably the case that some are better adapted for one duty, and others for another; and in order to the greatest efficiency of the body they must of necessity adopt a corresponding division of labor.  It is natural, therefore, if not unavoidable, that in the practical working of a board of Elders, some of them should do little else than rule, and others little else than teach and preach. 

Jointly, they are responsible for the teaching and ruling; among themselves they must divide the labor in such way as will accomplish the best results.  The best rule that they can jointly exercise, and the best instruction that they can jointly impart, is what the Lord requires at their hands.

Some of the Christian congregations of the present day are at work on the plan here indicated.  They have a board of Elders, all of whom are capable of teaching, and one of whom is a preacher.  The latter proclaims the gospel to the world in the public assembly, and takes the leading part in the instruction of the congregation. . . .

In a still larger number of congregations, an Evangelist is called to the aid of the Eldership.  He preaches and takes the leading part in teaching, while the Elders take the secondary part in teaching, and supreme control in ruling, making use, however, of whatever wisdom and experience the evangelist may possess, to aid them.  This we also pronounce Scriptural; for in this capacity Timothy labored among the Elders at Ephesus, and Epaphroditus among those at Philippi.  Acts 200: 17, compare 1 Timothy 1:3; Philippians 1:1, compare 2:25-30.

But, besides these, we must acknowledge that there are many congregations among us with Elders in office who do not teach, and who are incapable of teaching.  All such should immediately do one of two things--either resign the office, or put into exercise their latent powers, and prove themselves capable of teaching and therefore qualified for the office. 

However, all the congregations should be taught, by the Evangelists who form them to select for the office only men who are capable of teaching, and all Evangelists should be careful to ordain only such to the office.  In this way present evils may gradually be corrected, and a repetition of them in the future, avoided.



Paul singles out those elders who are most active in teaching and calls what they do “labor” (preserved in ESV, WEB, and Weymouth).  Anyone who has ever sweated out the hours or days to accomplish something well understands the serious overtones to that word!  A popular translation substitute that conveys this element is “work hard” (GW) or “work hard in” (NET) and “work hard at” (Holman, ISV, NASB).  When NIV settles for the single word “work” it loses some of the “punch” carried by these longer alternatives.

A. C. Hervey reminds us that “labor” is “a word very frequently used by Paul of spiritual labors (Romans 16:6, 12; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 4:11; Colossians 1:29, etc.).”[19]  This was something expressed in his pattern of “heavy duty” praying for his brethren “night and day” (1 Thessalonians 3:10; 2 Timothy 1:3) and in his pattern of working even “night and day” so that he could preach without burdening local Christians with his financial support (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8).      


            Note that Paul refers to their participation in teaching in its varied forms—“in the word and doctrine.”  None preserve that particular formulation, the closest being WEB with its “the word and teaching.”  Most prefer “preaching and teaching” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NIV, Weymouth), though the NET alters it to “speaking and teaching.”  GW collapses all of this into “teaching the word [of God].”

            What in the world is the difference, however, between “word and teaching”?  Some suspect a contrast between preaching the “word” (especially to non-Christians) and “teaching” more about the faith to fellow believers.[20]  The first might be described as preaching a sermon and the second as teaching a Bible class.

            The first aims at conversion and the second at edification, spiritual enrichment.  In both cases the implied subtext is that both contain “good doctrine,” revealed doctrine, that which God has spoken through the scriptures.  All too easily over the centuries, ideas of men (including those of religious scholars and clergymen of various denominations) have crept into Christianity and have become accepted as if they were true doctrine.”[21]  They have meant well but they have far too often become a substitute for what the scriptures actually have to say.

            Some in our modern world have a bias against the very concept of “doctrine” for it implies an authoritative body of truth and they are spiritual anarchists at heart.  Anything is right if it “feels good” and can be claimed to be an expression of “love.”  Yet the conduct they defend may actually defy what Jesus demanded--or does theoretical “love” allow us to set aside even the Lord’s teaching as well?  But even if one does the latter, if even Jesus couldn’t (by their standards) perfectly “balance love and doctrine” how delusional we must be to think we can!  These contemporaries of ours are in a lose/lose situation either way.

            Nor is this the only way this bias against “doctrine” is created; it also arises out of a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are talking about.  Skip Heitzig writes:[22]


            Doctrine, by the way, is not a professional word, referring to something only theologians get excited about.  Nor is it a cold, hard, outdated word.  Some Christians treat doctrine like it’s some dry and dusty old antique with no relevance for real people and real life.  They even say, “I’m not into doctrine; I’m into Jesus.” 

            That may sound cool and super spiritual, but its way off target biblically.  Paul used the word doctrine twenty times in his writings; it simply means the good, solid, teaching of biblical truth (1 Timothy 4:16).  It’s what the first Christians were primarily committed to (Acts 2:42).  Without doctrine, we wouldn’t have any knowledge of God, Jesus, or how to grow in our faith.  It’s how we get to know God for who He really is!   



            One “scripture” that provides precedent for this is “ ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain’ ” (5:18).  Paul finds “scripture” precedent in two Biblical statements.  (All surveyed texts preserve that wording:  ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB, Weymouth.)

            The first is from the Old Testament, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.”  Minor textual alterations occur in the alternatives, such as speaking of “when it treads” rather than “while” (GW, ESV, WEB only).  The other significant minor alteration is to intensify further the blanket prohibition from “shall not” to “do not” (Holman, NET, NIV) and beyond that to “must not” (ISV) and “never” (GW).

            Although we do not have this custom in industrialized countries, first century people outside of cities were well aware of it:[23]  


                        When threshing was done in the East, the sheaves of corn were laid on the threshing-floor; then oxen in pairs were driven repeatedly across them; or they were tethered to a post in the middle and made to march round and round on the grain; or a threshing sledge was harnessed to them and the sledge was drawn to and fro across the corn.  In all cases the oxen were left unmuzzled and were free to eat as much of the grain as they wished, as a reward for the work they were doing.  The actual law that the ox must not be muzzled is in Deuteronomy 25:4.


           Just as the animal needed food while it was working, the elder (and preacher) needs to have earthly provisions provided for while he works as well.  Just as the ox might or might not eat and how much he eats might well vary from occasion to occasion, similarly what a paid agent of the church needs may also vary.  There is no one set “one rule fits all” kind of situation.

            What is important is that he’s earned it by his labor.  He is not being given “something for nothing.”  He is being allowed to benefit from the work being put into the effort.  If a mere ox is so deserving, how much more so the hard-working teacher and preacher! 


            Is one scripture being quoted or two?  The more conservative answer to this is the latter.  The first text we can clearly locate in the Old Testament and the second may actually be “a commonly accepted truth” that originated with Jesus[24] and was embodied in the gospels we accept as scripture. 

            The more liberal answer to this question is that there is no way possible that could have been the case.  The use of “scripture” to refer to New Testament texts simply didn’t happen till the end of 100s—far too late for this text.[25]  It wasn’t.  It couldn’t.  That settles the matter.

            Admittedly it comes as unexpected use at this early a date.  There was a centuries long tradition of applying the language to the Old Testament, but any point in Paul’s life places First Timothy as some time within the first forty years of Christianity’s birth and that seems a surprisingly quick adaptation of Old Testament language to the new scriptures being revealed.

            Since we have in mind primarily modernist scholar-objectors and not conservative ones at this point, one should remember that the rejection of Pauline authorship of the “pastorals” potentially comes back to haunt them when discussing this matter.  If Paul died by 68 A.D. we are talking about less than forty years; if First Timothy is pseudo-Pauline then we are (by typical dating) talking about thirty years later—going on seventy years after the death of Jesus and the founding of Christianity.

            That is a lot more time for the full implications of the authority of Jesus’ teaching to settle in:  He was an individual who could firmly and authoritatively either replace or correctly interpret the profound misinterpretations of the Jewish law that had become common.  (See the antitheses in Matthew 5 and for a detail argumentation my Old Testament Roots of the Sermon on the Mount [1998] which is currently still in print.)  Even more emphatic on the point of the Torah not being enough is Jesus’ implying or asserting that even prohibited Jewish foods were actually clean and that sin more properly comes from moral evil and not ceremonial violations:


17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also?  Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” 20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.  21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  (Mark 7)


He spoke of terms of His teaching being permanently authoritative (“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away,” Matthew 24:35).  He also spoke in terms of having begun a new revelation of truth that would be completed by His apostles:


12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.  15 All things that the Father has are Mine.  Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.  (John 16)     


            By the time “pseudo-Paul” wrote, would not the implication of such things have fully sunk in?  That Jesus’ teachings composed a fully authoritative alternative source of religious truth, insight, and wisdom?  Or to condense it into one simple word, new scripture?

            But would it even have required that long?  Even within the first few decades these assumptions would already have been fermenting in the souls, hearts, and intellects of the believers.  Could a person read of the traditional Jewish scriptures such things as the following without being compelled to the conclusion that a new revelation, a new fully authoritative system, yes a new set of scriptures were being revealed?      


13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.  And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross [= the Mosaical system]. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.  So let no one judge [= condemn] you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.  

20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.  (Colossians 2)


            Hence, it seems inevitable that—if you accepted and embraced such fundamental truths—that you would come to embrace whatever Jesus had to say, not to mention the apostles who continued to speak His will after His resurrection, as constituting authoritative and binding scripture.  Indeed, I would argue that it would be shocking not to find at least a passing reference or two to such.  Which is exactly what we find in 1 Timothy 5:18.  Hence what began as a bit puzzling and odd becomes, on greater thought, an inevitable.

            If 1 Timothy is genuinely Pauline--and we are convinced that it is--then not only was Luke written within Paul’s lifetime, it was also recognized as just as authoritative “scripture” as that which had been found previously in the Old Testament.  Indeed if Jesus were the Redeemer He is pictured as being . . . and if His teaching originated with God . . . would it not be virtually inevitable for any account circulated with the tacit endorsement of Paul to be regarded as inspired? 

            And such was surely true of the gospel of Luke:  Note in Acts the repeated references to Luke as traveling companion of the apostle Paul.  Was the apostle likely to refer to him and his writings with anything short of endorsement and praise?  However the other gospels came to be generally recognized as authoritative, the pivotal role of Paul in encouraging the use and acceptance of this one in particular is quite logical when one recognizes the close connection between the author and the apostle.   


            Benjamin L. Merkle writes at length to justify the reasonableness of Jesus being quoted as scripture,[26] but we’ll limit ourselves to two remarks about how the grammar of the text requires that Jesus’ words are being quoted as such:[27]         


(1)  There are in fact other passages in the NT where the same construction, IF + Scripture + καί + Scripture is found.  Mark 7:10; Acts 1:20; and Hebrews 1:8-10 all offer parallels.  In each one, καί is used in a normal conjunctive sense in order to join two coordinate clauses that are also scriptural quotations.  This is exactly the case in the present passage.  Questions regarding the coordinate nature of the construction and whether the IF governs one or both of the quotations are not even issues in any of these parallel examples.  Neither should they be in 1 Timothy 5:18.

(2)  Within the Pastoral Epistles themselves there is a parallel that has been ignored by scholars.  . . . [I]n 2 Timothy 2:19 Paul introduces two quotations separated only by καί and preceded by an [implied] IF.  No one suggests that the second quotation in 2 Timothy 2:19 has a different status from the first.  It is recognized that the normal interpretation of such a construction would not posit any discrepancy between the sayings.   



            Explanations of why the words are quoted if they aren’t a recognition of Jesus’ words as constituting scriptural authority and warrant.  Some argue that “the laborer is worthy of his wages” is a summary rather than a quote of what the Old Testament itself taught.  In other words Paul is still invoking the Torah and prophets. To accomplish this these passages are invoked:


            13 ‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him.  The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.  (Leviticus 19)

            14 “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates.   15 Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you.  (Deuteronomy 24)


            Contrast this with “the Scripture says . . . the laborer is worthy of his wages.”  Neither the Leviticus nor Deuteronomy texts say anything about the “worthiness” of his labor.  Instead they target robbing the hard working man of what he has earned by delaying payment of the wages.  They target the abuse of the working person rather than the honorability of the labor. 

            I would agree that “worthy of his wages” would be a logical deduction from what they say, but Paul is quoting a statement that directly deals with the matter unlike the Torah passages that do so only indirectly and by implication.  He treats the truth that “the laborer is worthy of his wages” as if it is directly taught rather than something implied.  Jesus does so directly; the Old Testament only indirectly.  That makes Jesus’ words to far more likely be the source of Paul’s citation.                  


            A second approach is that some have thought that this was a mistake on the part of the writer—he erroneously thought this second adage came from Jesus when it was really just part of what might be called folk wisdom.  Even if that were true the fact remains that both are being cited, rightly or wrongly, as scripture.[28]

            There is a certain grim humor in the claim that pseudo-Paul (as the author is so often assumed to be) could write so convincingly that his “pastoral compositions” were ultimately regarded as scripture—but couldn’t even get right whether what he was quoting was really from the “scriptures!” 

            Assuming that the author really was Paul, it passes from amusing to appalling that one can seriously argue that a man who claimed Divine inspiration could not get the fact right.  Of course, those claiming misattribution of the text are unlikely to be phased by such, simply dismissing it as another of our “naïve” assumptions that, if apostolic, the author was really as well informed as he thought he was.

            How could this misattribution possibly happen?  For some reason—quite possibly the author’s own profound respect for the Old Testament—he simply assumed that this powerful insight surely must have come from such a similar supremely authoritative source as well.  But the gospels clearly present it on the lips of Jesus and Paul being knowledgeable (through both Luke and personal Divine inspiration) would have been fully aware of that. 

            Furthermore even as a popular proverb it would have enjoyed special status and, when invoked by Christians, have been done so because of His particular usage of it.[29]  In other words, we return yet again to this being a quotation of the Lord Himself.  Others may or may not have used the language, but it was His use of it that scarred itself into their collective memory.  It added His own imprimatur of reliability and infallibility to it. 


            A third suggestion is that Jesus’ words are simply introduced as an explanation--justification of the application of the Old Testament text to elder support.  As a conservative commentator words it:  “To support the giving of a double honorarium, Paul first cites Scripture and then a saying of Jesus. . . .  Paul uses the saying of Jesus to interpret the Scriptural citation.”[30]  But would his readers take the invoking of Jesus’ injunction as interpretation or as concurrent scriptural verification of the truth being expressed? 

            If the proposed approach is actually what is in Paul’s mind is this the way he would have said it?  Having introduced the subject by “scripture says” would his readers not expect Paul to then add something along the line of “and does not Jesus endorse this as well when he says the laborer is worthy of his wages?”  He does not introduce Jesus as Jesus but, going by what he actually says, as scripture.  Jesus, if you will, embedded within scripture.     


            Which brings us to a direct study of the second text that provides authority for financial assistance--the admonition that “ ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’ ” (5:18).  There is a difference found here between those who prefer to keep “laborer” (ESV, NASB, WEB) and the majority who opt to substitute “worker” (GW, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV) or “workman” (Weymouth).

The “worthy of his wages” is retained by only three (Holman, NASB, WEB) while everyone else opts for “deserves” (ESV, GW, ISV, NET, NIV, Weymouth).  Perhaps this is because “worthy” can carry a moral connotation, that of deserving the wages as a proper imbursement for the noble work being carried on.  In contrast “deserves” can easily carry the idea of deserving it because it is work. 

When I worked two summers at DuPont right after getting out of high school, I surely “deserved” my wages because I did what I was supposed to; to say that I was “worthy” of it would introduce a different standard of evaluation, it would seem.  On the other hand, Paul—by his strong commendation—clearly regards such elders not only as “deserving” their assistance because it envolves much work, but also being “worthy” of it due to the moral good they were trying to perform.  So it is possible that we are making a distinction that is far more theoretical rather than “real life.”


The remuneration provided is preserved as “wages” in the bulk of versions (ESV, Holman, NASV, NIV, WEB) while almost as many prefer to substitute “pay” (GW, ISV, NET, Weymouth).
            Eight of our ten translations place quotation marks around “the laborer/worker is worthy of his wages” putting it on a strict par with the Scriptural quotation given from the Old Testament, but two conspicuously omit it—both Holman and Weymouth.      

            “The laborer is worthy of his wages” is an obvious quotation of Jesus’ words in Luke 10:7, “the laborer is worthy of his wages.”  In the Greek the words are exactly the same, unlike the “kissing cousin” form of the statement found in Matthew 10:10.[31] 

            A few ancient witnesses accept a modestly different wording here in 1 Timothy 5:18, “ ‘the worker is worthy of his food’—a quotation from Matthew 10:10.”[32]

            Either way Jesus’ words are cited as scriptural authority.  His words and teachings are viewed as authoritative and on a par with the revered ancient teachings of Moses in the Torah.  No faithful Jew would think of challenging the latter.  No faithful Christian should dare think of challenging the former.  And this combination had an even stronger impact on the majority of the earliest Christians since so many came out of a Jewish background.

            Although this is the only time that Paul quotes the teaching, it is not the first time he has referred to the concept being presented.  In writing to the Corinthians he reminds his readers in chapter 9:


13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?  14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.


            It is of more than passing interest that in “setting the stage” for this invocation of Jesus’ personal teaching he cites this same Deuteronomy text:


My defense to those who examine me is this:  Do we have no right to eat and drink?  Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?  Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?  Who ever goes to war at his own expense?  Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit?  Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?

Do I say these things as a mere man?  Or does not the law say the same also?  For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.”  Is it oxen God is concerned about?  10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes?  For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.  11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?  12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?


            In other words the oxen precedent struck Paul as a natural precedent to cite for the right of preachers and teachers to be financially supported.  1 Timothy simply builds upon the foundation Paul had laid in writing to the Corinthians by giving a direct quote of Jesus to back up the claim rather than leaving it with the vaguer “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”

            Oddly Gerd Hafner is convinced that since Paul “felt the necessity to give reasons for his Scripture-based reasoning, and rightly so, [while] the Pastorals seem to take it for granted,” then the author can’t be Paul for the reason is not given again.[33]  Should not one take into consideration the fact that Timothy, as an important collaborator with the apostle, was one who would have already been fully aware of Paul’s underlying reasoning:  hence he felt no reason to repeat what Timothy already knew?  Not to mention that any direct acquaintance with the Corinthians passage would also have informed Timothy of the rationale.  Or are we to assume that the young man was plagued by a sea of forgetfulness concerning a matter that surely had come up more than once?   

            Hafner further finds fault with the reason Paul gives in 1 Corinthians as being out of keeping with known first century Jewish thought where “the ‘literal meaning’ is still present.”  You see, Paul is breaking new ground because his argument relies on “the repudiation of the thought that God could be concerned for oxen” in their own right.[34] 

            So Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 25:4’s repudiation of muzzling an ox when it is treading the grain—a text which serves the only constructive purpose of permitting the animal to feed itself while working—and we are to assume that Paul was so ignorant that he considered that that the text was not designed in any manner to benefit the animal!  Is not Paul’s intended implication:  “Is it oxen alone God is concerned about?  Or does He say it altogether for our sakes to learn from the example?  For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.”

            One may disagree with Paul.  One may even deny his inspiration.  But should one be so contemptuous of the apostle that one regards him as stupid as well?  Does this not turn anti-Pauline prejudice into a spiritual obscenity?       


            Although we have presented at length the case for and against Jesus being quoted as “scripture,” we have not yet examined where He spoke this teaching and we need to turn to that before we finish our discussion of the matter.  We come across this teaching directly once--in regard to the sending out of seventy disciples to places Jesus intended to travel through:  And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages.  Do not go from house to house” (Luke 10:7).  We find the same teaching in Matthew 10:10 where a key word is one more fitting to the historical context in which the teaching was first given:  [Do not take a] bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.”

            Luke’s form of the quote is the obviously intended one since “wages” is used rather than “food.”  A. C. Hervey notes that this reflects well the Greek text:  The laborer is worthy of his hire:   ἄξιος ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὑτοῦ.  In Matthew 10:10 the words are the same as here, except that τῆς τροφῆς (his meat) is substituted for τοῦ μισθοῦ.  But in Luke 10:7 the words are identical with those here used, even to the omission (in the Received Text [= KJV]) of the verb ἔστιν.  The conclusion is inevitable that the writer of this Epistle was acquainted with and quoted from St. Luke's Gospel. . . .”[35]


            In “real life terms” “wages” and “food” become near synonyms for obviously wages are used to buy the food that we consume.  Either directly through the gift of food to us or our purchase of it, our daily survival is provided for.  The fact that Luke was the traveling companion of Paul makes him the obvious individual whose writing is being invoked.  Luke may have adapted the original wording from one that implies the gift of food since that would have been uncommon indeed in the ministry to the Gentile world.  “Wages” was the form of obtaining food that would be essential in that wider non-Jewish social environment. 

            Even in a Jewish context, if one was to provide the same spiritual support for the benefit of others on an indefinite basis, at some point it would be too much for most families to handle.  The idea of others joining in the support would be inevitable as well as the concept that the minister was “working for all of us.  Hence all of us should share in providing his food and a roof over his head”--his wages, if you will.  Hence the transition from “food” to “wages” was inevitable.   


            Those who believe that Luke is from roughly the 70s and 1 Timothy from a few decades later (say the 90s or early 100s) have an obvious explanation for the quotation’s presence but not an obvious one for why 1 Timothy regards it as already accepted as authoritative scripture.  It is still, comparatively, a relatively early date by their reconstruction of Christian history for the concept of canonicity to exist and be embraced for New Testament writings.

            Those of us who accept the letter as genuinely apostolic have a potential problem with its inclusion as well:  How does it occur in a letter written years before the gospel was circulated?  One obvious possibility is that the gospel is actually significantly earlier than often conceded.  There is also the fact that as a traveling companion of Paul, the apostle would have gained great familiarity with the results of Luke’s researches for Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4) even before they were committed to ink.  Luke would already know what he was going to write and Paul be well acquainted with it.  (Or are we going to argue that Luke insisted on maintaining utter silence on all he had learned!?)   

            In addition to these realities, a few observations by Glen A. Peoples would be appropriate to note other explanations as to how one could theoretically explain the presence of the quotation in Paul’s letter:[36]            


            One easy answer is to say that the Gospel of Luke copied from St. Paul. That would explain why the saying appears in both books, but it doesn’t at all explain why Paul would quote this saying as something contained in scripture.

            You might be tempted to say that Paul’s letter was tampered with and this quotation was smuggled in by Christians after the Gospel of Luke was written. But this would have been a wholly unmotivated thing to do.  Christians had no reason to say that Luke’s Gospel had been written early if it had actually been written in the 70s or later.  They were not facing down critics who alleged that the Gospels were written late and are therefore unreliable, and in any event they could have simply dismissed the argument on the grounds that a Gospel written down in the 80s is not too late.  There is also no evidence of a textual variant in 1 Timothy 5:17–18 showing that this quotation has ever been lacking. All the evidence shows that this quotation has always been present in Paul’s letter.

            You might want to say that perhaps Paul was referring to the testimonies about Jesus that were circulating before the Gospel of Luke was written.  This isn’t impossible and there is little doubt that Paul knew of such testimony, but it is very unlikely that this is what he means here, given that Paul said that this saying was contained in scripture, γραφὴ (graphe) in Greek, a term that specifically means something written.  This would be unprecedented for Paul, who uses γραφὴ numerous times, and always to refer to something in writing, as he did in his next letter to Timothy and in other places (Romans 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; Galatians 3:8, 22; 4:30).

            But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture (γραφὴ) is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:14-16



            In regard to Paul quoting Jesus from during His earthly ministry, this is not the only time he does so in his writings.  There are, of course, also those teachings and quotations he cites as given to him during his call to apostleship and apostolic service.  Here, though, we are interested in those things that the Lord said during His earthly life and demonstrating that the introduction of His words in 1 Timothy is not out of line with his occasional practice in other situations as well--though admittedly this is the only time that he explicitly labels his quote as being found in the scriptures.    

            The first case of citation is found in Acts 20:35: “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak.  And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  This is not recorded in any of the four gospels but it would be hard to seriously argue that this did not accurately present His sentiments based upon that which is recorded.

            Furthermore the insistence that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” seems an inevitable corollary of what Jesus taught in Luke 6:35-38:  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.  For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.  Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  The two sentiments are clear cut reflections of the same way of thinking.  If the One who said one of these did any great amount of teaching and preaching--and Jesus clearly did--the saying of the other was surely inevitable!

            The second quote we find is that of Jesus’ words at the institution of the Lord’s Supper: 


                                                23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:  that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

            26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.


            The institutional words are recorded in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20.

            So for Paul to quote the earthly words of Jesus would be unusual, but not unprecedented.  The fact that he does so on multiple occasions surely argues that he was well acquainted with many things beyond those that he mentions.


            Of course we should also mention that on one occasion he refers to Jesus’ earthly ministry teaching without directly quoting the Lord.  He does this when he cites Him as authoritative in regard to condemning unrestricted divorce (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).  With such passages in mind it is hardly surprising to find Paul warning Christians against such:  Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord:  A wife is not to depart from her husband.  But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  



            Charges against an elder must be well verified and the guilty reprimanded in public:   “(19)  Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  (20) Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.”  Is there a human being alive, who doesn’t receive a certain amount of criticism?  How much more, those who are in responsible positions of leadership—business, political, religious, in any type of group.  Hence one should never automatically assume that negative reports and gossip are necessarily valid.[37]  It isn’t that it is impossible to be true, but that we aren’t to be credulous. 

            Even when we trust well the criticizer, we still must also verify their accuracy.  Good people do, upon occasion, get their facts thoroughly messed up.  Hence we are to separate fact from fiction.  Truth from vindictive axe-grinding or self-deception.   


1 Timothy 5:1 is sometimes cited as also referring to our current topic.  In the KJV reading it is, “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren.”  “Elder” is retained by those recent adaptations devoted to the absolute minimum alteration in the KJV (American King James; Jubilee Bible 2000; King James 2000, for example).  But move beyond the late 19th century ASV and ERV and you find “elder” routinely being replaced by “older man” and parallel language.  The context, as we argued in our discussion earlier of 5:1, decisively establishes that as the intent.

The point was the attitude and rhetoric in the criticism:  that was the subject under consideration.  One was to approach it not as if one is to hammer someone into agreement but with courtesy, respect, and the desire to correct the situation.

Further evidence that office holding “elders”—not older members in general—are the focus in verses 19-20 is found in the fact that this is a continuation of a discussion of such individuals that is begun in verse 17:  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”  These are not just chronologically maturer members but the administrative leadership cadre.  The language used simply would not describe that broader grouping.[38]     


Does 5:1 have any interaction with 5:19-20?  Since office holding “elders” are, by the very term applied to them, normally “older men” one would anticipate there being.  Even if chronological age is virtually identical, I would still argue that the attitude in correction would properly be the same--as respectful as possible but still insisting that the situation needs to be corrected rather than brushed under the table and ignored.  Would not one expect that to be the ideal in any such encounter regardless of age or position?  How would you desire to be treated in such a situation?  What approach would create the maximum chance you would be willing to change rather than “dig in your heels” and reject whatever is said?

The situation in 5:1 envolves one where the encounter can be private and, in most situations, that would still be preferable.  Unquestionably the public knowledge of the criticism is not specified as necessary in 5:1.  But the fact that the confrontation in 5:19-20 is to be public (“in the presence of all”) argues that we have. . . .

(1) both serious misbehavior in mind,

(2) it concerns those who occupy the very public  post of elder rather than just someone chronologically older, and

(3)  private, preliminary efforts to rectify the situation have failed so public rebuke is the only option left.  What could--relatively speaking--be handled far “gentler” due to the private setting of the encounter must now be dealt with much “sterner” and making it a matter of public record. 

  However does this require that all criticism of the eldership must be funneled through the minister?  The issue here is significantly different:  who does the public criticism rather than who challenges elder behavior in private.  That option is always open to members.  And if that fails to work--or the person feels too uncomfortable in raising the matter on their own--one can well imagine the complaint being channeled immediately to the preacher instead. 

In other words it would be an option from the very beginning but not the only proper method of handling the situation.  However be careful to note that before the minister can do anything publicly, confirmatory evidence must be available that (1) “sin” is envolved and (2) that it can be verified by “two or three witnesses.”


Just how wide an array of matters are properly subjected to such an official investigation and hearing?  There are relatively simple controversies of the same type that could occur between any two “regular” members and which can be handled through the informal process of discussion and constructive “argument.”  (The word doesn’t have to always have a negative connotation!)  

But here the language used shows us that something very serious is at issue and not those types of things that can be dealt with in a more “casual” and “informal” manner.  Paul W. Elliott concisely lays out two of the evidences that point in that direction:[39] 


·  The word translated “accusation” is kategoria, which means “a formal accusation before a tribunal.”  If a ruling elder is to be accused of wrongdoing or false teaching, it is to be done in a formal way, because it is a serious matter for the church.

·  The word translated “rebuke” in verse 20 is elegcho, which, unlike epiplesso . . . has both an investigative and an adjudicative sense. . . . Elegcho means both “to call to account and demand an explanation” and also “to convict and refute if found culpable, and thus put to shame.”


Just what kind of issues fall into this kind of category?  Serious and blatant personal misconduct would surely do so.  It seems impossible to avoid including severe doctrinal distortion as well.  Is the grievous bending of behavioral norms somehow unacceptable while doing the same to the Divinely revealed truths of the Bible to be brushed under the rug?  Perhaps the biggest problem is that in today’s debauched world, it has become fashionable to ignore both kinds of evil . . . while those with a different set of bent personalities insist upon lowering the standard of censure to cover just about any  disagreement that they wish to whip up a “spiritual lynch mob” over.  Neither is right nor ever will be.


The Differences with Matthew 18


            It would be useful to compare and contrast our current text with the church discipline procedure laid out in Matthew 18:


15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”  17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.


Here the role of the witnesses is to confirm the content of the meeting between the two brothers—to verify what was said and what was not said.  (For more discussion of the matter see the “Aside” section further below.)  In 1 Timothy 5:19-20 the witnesses serve a very different function:  “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”  Here they serve the function of each independently verifying that a certain action or injustice has indeed been carried out.  They are not witnesses of trying to work out a conflict, but of the reason that there is something to be criticized in the first place—because it was observed or known by all the witnesses themselves. 

In the case of serious misbehavior who else would be more logical to handle the case and its consideration?  Would not the closest possible to a “neutral party” be the minister?  Would he not be the most appropriate person to route and manage the complaint procedure?  After all, he is not (normally) an elder and thereby the danger of “an eldership investigating itself” and coming to a self-interested and biased conclusion is minimized as much as the danger can be.


An Aside on the

Meaning of Matthew 18:15-18


Most interpreters rightly take the approach that Matthew 18 concerns witnesses to the effort to work out reconciliation--and to report what was envolved in the effort and who said what in the discussion.  A minority disagree and argue that they are witnesses of the very excess being criticized to the perpetuator.  (If so why not bring them in the first place rather than wait until the second visit?)  The very rarity of the alternative approach justifies us digressing a bit to provide an analysis of the reasoning behind it.[40] 

Key to this approach are two claims.  The first is that Jesus is “quoting”—note how the NKJV puts the wording in quotation marks in verse 16—and that the quote is to the Old Testament provision that any crime have multiple witnesses before any temporal punishment could be afflicted.  In other words they are present in Matthew 18 to confirm that an observed evil has occurred. 

This assumes that Jesus is actually quoting the text and, although that is quite possible, none of the typical references to a pre-existing law as authoritative in its teachings are found—the kind of language that often accompany such allusions:  direct quotation of a text as prophecy (Matthew 1:22-23; Luke 3:4-6), “you have heard that it was said to those of old” (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31), “for David himself said by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 12:36), “it is written” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2:9; 3:19; 1 Peter 1:16), “is it not written in your law” (John 10:34), “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 13:35), “He [i.e., God] who said” (James 2:11), “what was spoken to you by God, saying” (Matthew 22:31-32), “the scripture says” (1 Timothy 5:18), etc.      

Hence we could easily have here not so much a direct quotation as an allusion.  The language is the same not because it is a quotation describing the same kind of situation but because it fits this different one as well.  The charge to be brought before the church is that an evil has been done and that an effort to heal the breach has failed.  The multiple witnesses are present to verify the latter:  it has been attempted--and to confirm what was said and not said and what was done and not done in the effort.   

The second foundational claim behind the alternate approach is that because of the Old Testament usage of “witness” as “witness to the original event” that must be the meaning here.  (It would lead us too far astray, but does any long-term student of the Scriptures really believe that the New Testament always uses the quoted text in the same way as the original setting?  Are not the examples quite numerous that it does not?  It finds the language quite germane and relevant, but not always the original context and purpose.)

 But neither of the two approaches impacts the bottom line:  After all, having failed at reconciliation, it was only proper to take witnesses.  This “nails down” what both sides are claiming.  There is no longer room for “shading” or altering claims.  By either side.  They are, indeed, first hand witnesses—not of the alleged original deed, but of what the accused and accuser are claiming about their inability to reconcile.  

That they are to be active participants as well is implied by “if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” (verse 17a).  They are to attempt to facilitate reconciliation rather than being just observers.  A congregational member has a serious problem and they want to help work it out.



According to Paul, to assure that only responsible accusations be considered there had to be at least two witnesses confirming the charge:  “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (5:19).  “Do not receive” for consideration except under these conditions.  The NASB duplicates this, as does the WEB (though combining the first two words into “don’t”).  “Do not/Don’t accept an accusation against” is the choice of three versions (Holman, ISV, NET).  Single translations prefer “do not admit” (ESV), “don’t pay attention to” (GW), and “never entertain” (Weymouth).  All three convey the idea well except for Weymouth since “entertain” has been transformed in its major usage today to mean something you enjoy and which gives pleasure—which is something far from the point Paul is making!

The only--and arguably the best--recasting of this part of the entire instruction is, “Don’t pay attention to an accusation” (GW).  That roughly equates to “if there is only the barest whiff of a problem—don’t even worry about it since if there were a true problem it would be far, far more likely to have more supporting evidence than this!”

Luke T. Johnson  suggests that, “The negative imperative in this verse may bear the nuance of ‘stop receiving.’ ”[41]  This makes a great deal of sense; it may well represent what had been happening.  As Paul’s appointed delegate, one can easily manage disgruntled members taking their real or imaginary grievances to him and his having to waste much time needlessly on those who harbored overwrought imaginations and personal hostilities.  If Paul knew as much about the relatively recent events in Ephesus as the letter surely implies--and if Timothy was already following this course--would he not have written something along the line of, “Continue to not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses”?


We saw in Matthew 18:15-18 that the demand for witnesses in the matter of church discipline was to prove how the effort at reconciliation had failed to work out an inter-member problem and that this was to be done before the matter was taken to the congregation as a whole.  Here in 1 Timothy 5 it is to verify that sin has truly been committed. 

In demanding multiple witnesses, both Paul and Jesus are walking in a strong Old Testament tradition.  This was part of its effort to assure that the maximum of reliability be obtained and injustice be avoided.  Indeed, in secular matters the effort to rig the evidence was to produce severe retaliation—whatever punishment you yourself were trying to inflict (Deuteronomy 19:15-20):  


15 “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. 16 If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, 17 then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. 18 And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, 19 then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. 20 And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”


Although Paul is dealing not with civil justice but religious justice, the emphasis upon having trustworthy multiple witnesses is evident in both texts.  Deuteronomy is especially useful because it shows that having multiple accusations is the beginning point—but then they must be examined to see if they are valid:  the judges shall make careful inquiry” (19:18).  This is no place for either favoritism or credulity.  Reputations are at stake and sufficient enquiries made to assure that one has the truth as far as it is obtainable.

In Jesus’ teaching, you take your case directly to the party who did you wrong and then bring witnesses to establish that the two of you are still in disagreement and exactly what it is you disagree over.  Then it goes to the church. 

In contrast, Paul has the complaining individual go to the preacher with his problem and bring the supporting evidence.  His or her testimony alone is insufficient.  There must be others as well to back up the report of misconduct.  The elders are de facto “judges” over the congregation—its official rulership.  Bringing charges against them is inherently a difficult problem especially if they have the least desire to brush it all under the rug or dismiss even a blatant injustice simply because it would be embarrassing to them.

By having the minister deal with this investigation and try to straighten out the alleged wrongdoing, congregational unrest is minimized and the danger of retaliation by the eldership minimized.  (It would be a virtual admission of the validity of the accusations.)  An unrepentant and unreformed elder would then have no one to blame but himself if the issue then must be presented to the congregation and responsibility placed upon the offender.  Public humiliation in other words.


Note that the elder is not be crucified on a cross of rumor delightfully spread from person to person.  Instead, when there genuinely is a problem, something constructive is to be done about it.  As one cynical but wise preacher rightly put it, “ ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ may be a good slogan for a volunteer fire department, but it does not apply to local churches.  ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ could possibly mean that somebody’s tongue has been ‘set on fire of hell’! (James 3:6).”[42]

Furthermore, Paul tells us that charges are not to be accepted as valid on one person’s allegation alone.  Instead there need to be “two or three witnesses”--a rendering preserved in all our translations.  (Caveat:  Both the initial online Weymouth I used had “two of three” as did three other sites with the same book.  A printed text from my own library had the traditional “two or three.” Hence we apparently have an overlooked typo in whoever prepared the first online version that was adapted into varying other formats by others.)

Our assertion that the charge is to be examined, evaluated, and accepted as valid only upon confirmed evidence is not what our text explicitly says:  explicitly it only demands that the preacher, “not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses”--but that surely carries the implication of “receive” in the sense of accepting as well-founded.  This is another case of necessary inference:  there simply seems no way possible that the text could mean anything else.  Otherwise why would he act upon it at all?  Furthermore some translations put this necessary inference into the text, asserting that the charge “is supported” by these witnesses (GW, Holman, ISV) or “confirmed” (NET).             

What the nature of their proof is is unstated.  The most obvious would be that the objectors had seen the elder do something out of line or improper.  But there are functional equivalents such as having what the person has said in writing.  Or having heard him mention it to others.  

The preacher must be willing to receive validatable evidence but he is not to be credulous or allow himself to be taken advantage of.  He had to walk a tightrope of assuring justice while also protecting against injustice being done.  As minister for the congregation, he was the obvious figure to take the matter to.  In legal terms, the other elders would be “interested parties,” subject to the temptation to minimize any real problem lest it compromise the reputation of the eldership or to use the opportunity to repay any old grievances that had been hidden from the public eye.  

This procedure also protects the elder from maladjusted and abusive personalities that have little or no concern with objective facts and truth, but who have a bitter “axe” of one kind or another that they want to wield against a disliked authority figure:[43]


This procedure is designed to protect the elder from trivial, false or evil accusations.  It also protects him from accusations based on rumors, gossip or internet slander.  It is part of the territory:  Church elders are often targets of criticism since they are all imperfect in their life and doctrine, and the best of men can be picked apart.  

Furthermore, elders are often subjected to unrighteous criticism because the standard to which they are held is often higher than any elder is able to meet.  It is common for church members to fall into merciless criticism, because elders are sinners and have weaknesses and inadequacies.  However, the process commanded by God in 1 Timothy 5 protects elders from unnecessary accusations by immature, unnecessarily offended or envious parties.


This approach is proper not only because it is inherently proper, but because it manifests the kind of attitude and mind-frame we are supposed to have toward the church leadership.  The apostle Paul himself wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:  12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.  Be at peace among yourselves.”  “Esteem them” equals “show them great respect” (CEV), “regard them very highly” (Holman), “hold them in the highest regard” (ISV). 

They have a hard job and they deserve respect for all the effort they put into it.  To entertain (much less start!) a rumor about a pastor that would cast aspersion upon his character or conduct is a violation of the kind of respect that is owed.  It also has the potential to undermine his credibility and hinder his ministry.”[44]  In other words, you ultimately not only run the danger of injuring him personally but the church as well.  “Friendly fire” that wounds a church—even divides it—can quite easily arise out of personal vendettas.       


            What Paul demands is proof rather than rumor.  Verify because you have personal evidence of the matter instead of merely repeating what has been passed on to you!  For exaggeration easily occurs as stories get passed around.  (No wonder Paul insists upon multiple witnesses of what happened in this chapter!)  A denominational preacher humorously poked fun at a sad human tendency in a story that was apparently old at the time he spoke it--but still containing an important caution for recent rumormongers as well . . . regardless of their target in preachers, elders, or “regular” churchgoers:[45]


            There’s a story going about that I told my wife not to go to a certain church that has wild meetings.  They say my wife went anyway, and I dragged her out of the church by her hair, and I hurt her so badly she had to go to the hospital.  Let me respond to these accusations.  First of all, I never told her to stay away from that church.  Second, I didn’t drag her out by her hair. Third, she never had to go to the hospital.  Lastly, I’ve never been married so I don’t have a wife.


John Calvin’s commentary, though thinking of evangelists/ministers in particular, is found quoted in various studies because of its obvious relevance to our theme.  It deserves a place here as well, with emphasis on its original and proper 1 Timothy application to elders—which, of course, in no way changes the harm done to preachers when such underhanded tools are used against them!  As he wrote:[46]


Thus not only is wrong done to innocent persons, in having their reputation unjustly wounded, (which is exceedingly base in regard to those who hold so honorable a rank,) but the authority of the sacred doctrine of God is diminished.

And this is what Satan, as I have said, chiefly labors to accomplish. . . .  Not only so, but as soon as any charge against the ministers of the word has gone abroad, it is believed as fully as if they were already convicted.

We need not wonder, therefore, if they whose duty it is to reprove the faults of all, to oppose the wicked desires of all, and to restrain by their severity every person whom they see going astray, have many enemies.  What, then, will be the consequence, if we shall listen indiscriminately to all the slanders that are spread abroad concerning them?


            Paul was naturally desirous of protecting others from false and misleading accusations not only because it was inherently right in itself, but because he had suffered such false charges himself.  For example the accusation was widespread among Jewish Christians “that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:21).  Among the other accusations against him:[47]


            He was a lousy speaker.  For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10); “has nothing worth saying” (CEV); “a terrible speaker” (GW); “as for eloquence he has none” (Weymouth).

            That he was willing to receive wages from outside the congregation but not from the congregation he was preaching at.  Some of the Corinthians felt quite aggrieved at this (2 Corinthians 11:7-9). 

            That he was crazy.  “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you” (2 Corinthians 11:13).  “So if we were crazy, it was for God.  If we are sane, it is for you” (GW).  Note the undertone of sarcasm.  They were being ridiculous and he had no intention of giving it serious credit.

            Singling him out for harshness that he did not display toward them.  “I’m talking to you as I would talk to children.  Treat us the same way we’ve treated you.  Make a place for us in your hearts too” (2 Corinthians 6:13). 

            They even falsely charged him with outright sinfulness.  “But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:2).


No doubt we could lengthen that list but this provides a quite adequate sampling of why he would be sensitive to people making false charges--those that could not be backed by good evidence (1 Timothy 5:19).


Those guilty of doing blatant wrong are to be publicly censured for their behavior:  “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all” (5:20).  Some translations leave the idea that the public rebuke is aimed at anyone caught committing a condemned sin:  “those who sin” (GW, Holman, WEB), are “guilty of sin” (NET), and probably by the NIV’s “those elders who are sinning.”  In other words a habit is not under consideration but simply the occurrence of it at all.

Other translations leave the impression that habitual sin of a specific nature is under consideration.  That certainly is the concept when we read of “those who persist in sin” (ESV) and “those who continue in sin” (NASB).  Similarly when we read of “those who “keep on sinning” (ISV) and “persist in sin” (Weymouth).  A documentable “track record” of doing this.

Ryun Chang provides a concise summary of how and why translations differ on this point:[48]


The difference between the two versions stems from the Greek phrase “tous hamartanontas” (from hamartanō), which is given in the present participle tense.  While NASB and ESV translate it as “Those who continue to sin” and “Those who persist in sin,” respectively, NIV 1984 and 2011 render it as, “Those who sin” and “who are sinning,” respectively.  According to NASB, a pattern or repetitiveness of sin must first be confirmed in order to proceed with the public disciplining of the erring elder.  However, the two NIV renderings may appear to suggest one-off sin (limited to a single time) that has occurred recently.

So, which translation is more literal to the Greek?  Since in the Greek, “the present participle tense indicates continuous action” (Summers 1950, p. 89), the NASB and ESV rendering seems more literal.  This, however, doesn’t mean that the NIV translation is less accurate since both ways of translating the present participle tense (in this case, “continue to sin” or “sin”) are accepted by Bible translators.  For instance, NASB and NIV switch places with respect to translating the same verb (hamartanō) given in the present participle tense (ho hamartanōn) in 1 John 3:6: While NASB renders it as, “No one who sins has seen Him or knows Him,” NIV translates it as, “No one who continues to sin.”


“Rebuke in the presence of all” does not necessarily rule out a preliminary effort at private correction.    According to the particular sin under discussion, such an effort might be feasible.  In such cases, unless our goal is public humiliation rather than moral reform, there seems no other alternative to begin with.  But that would not always be the case because of the nature of the offense or how well known it is . . . or the repetition of it after it is thought to have been successfully confined to “past history.”

Of course there are situations so extreme that it is unimaginable that any leeway would be given in the first place.  But that isn’t the kind of case that Paul has directly in mind:  surely he is thinking of the mundane, down to earth evils than we humans fall into.  

The key would seem to be not the number of sins but their severity and the response to them coming to light:  repentance and change have either not been attempted or have failed.  Although “sin is sin” we also all know there is a profound difference between what is relatively “minor” and what is “gut-wrenching.”  At some point things reach the level where they can no longer be worked out in private correction but has to be taken public.  In other cases misbehavior is so major, well known, or repetitious that a private working out of the problem is no longer practical even to begin with.   


If it has reached this level, then the backsliding elder is to be faced with serious censure.  The most popular way of describing this is to “rebuke” them (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET), followed by “reprove” (NIV, WEB, Weymouth).  “Reprimand” (GW) certainly does a good job here as well.

  This is to be done before an audience.  This is described as “in the presence of all” (still favored by ESV, NASB, Weymouth).  Also suggested has been “in the sight of all” (WEB), “in front of everyone” (GW, ISV), “before all” (NET), and “before everyone” (NIV).  Holman replaces all this with the more concise, “Publicly rebuke.” 

In other words, in front of the entire congregation.[49]  Of the ten translations we have utilized for comparison, nine leave an element of ambiguity in regard to this point, leaving it to exegesis to come to a conclusion.  The one that seems the closest to being an exception is the GW, which reads, “Reprimand those leaders who sin.  Do it in front of everyone so that the other leaders will also be afraid.”   

Others limit the hearers to just those who are elders.[50]  This action puts them on notice that  they will no more be tolerated when committing grievous excesses than this particular elder had been.  It warns the other elders to “not even think about it.”  However isn’t this implicit as well when the matter is taken to the entire congregation?

Furthermore in considering the “elders only” approach we quickly run into a major problem:  most congregations seem to only have two or three elders.  How in the world does “in the presence of all” imply that there can be only one or two others to hear the censure along with the accused?  Even when we get up to a half dozen men the language seems stretched.  Hence the language best fits the entire congregation being in Paul’s mind.

Such public condemnation demonstrates the seriousness of what has happened and shows that there is one standard for the entire membership and that there are no “favorites” immune from criticism.  The fact that the highest ranking members are called to account is unquestionably a warning to everyone else in the congregation that no one is beyond censure for improper behavior.

That the rebuke should be congregationally delivered makes inherent sense.  Unless it is done this way, how can the membership be assured that the offense has unquestionably been dealt with rather than non-publicly “brushed under the rug” with the assurance “we’ve handled it in private”?  (Leaving the where, when, and how unknown.)

The congregation chose these men as elders.  They have compromised or even betrayed their trust.  Shouldn’t the membership at large have the inherent right to know and see that corrective action has been attempted?


The concept of a “rebuke” within the context of provable sin, can carry one of two overtones.  The less severe one is if the elder has indicated a willingness to seek Divine forgiveness and the prayers of the brethren.  In that case there is a rebuke of sorrow that it ever was permitted to happen in the first place.  But if the person is adamant and has refused to express remorse for what he have done, then it carries the overtone of a severe public criticism for having set such a terrible example. 

Either way our text requires a public mention and criticism of the behavior.  Ryun Chang puts it this way:[51]


The main verb in 1 Timothy 5:20 is elegchō, given in the present imperative, which “has to do with action which is in progress.”  Taken literally, it is as if Paul were saying, “Continue rebuking him.”  This suggests that once the repetitiveness and recency of the erring elder’s sin has been established, the public reproof needs to be urgent and thorough.

Lastly, at this juncture, one may raise this question, “If the erring elder repents, then does he still have to undergo public rebuke?”  1 Timothy 5:20 doesn’t indicate that the rebuking is contingent upon whether or not he repents.  The Greek particle hina (“so that” or “in order that”) is used here to express purpose, not based on whether the erring leader repented, but the confirmation of the accusation. 

The primary purpose of the public rebuke is not necessarily to persuade the erring leader to repent (although that would be encouraged), but to warn others of colossal consequences of sinning as a spiritual leader.   A good cross-reference is James 3:1 that says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.



The purpose of the public reprimand is to assure that everyone will recognize that disreputable behavior will not be tolerated:  “that the rest also may fear” (5:20).  The fact that this individual has been called to account is a warning that no one has a “blank check” to behave irresponsibly.  If even the leadership is censurable, then no one in the congregation is too “obscure”--or too “unimportant”--to feel that their own excesses are beyond challenge and will be ignored.

The intent of the public disavowal is to assure that everyone else “may fear”—not fear needlessly, but fear the consequences of their own excesses being similarly exposed and denounced.  WEB expands this to “be in fear,” the ESV to “stand in fear,” and the NASB prefers “be fearful.”  Substituting “be afraid” are the GW, Holman, and ISV.  Although such readings are quite accurate as far as they go, the fact that it is intended as a “warning” to one and all surely brings out the intended message even better (NET, NIV, Weymouth).


Note that this action was to be taken if continuance in sin is confirmed.  Period.  Their reaction to the charge has become an irrelevancy; all that is at issue is the manner and nature of the public rebuke that must be made.  But are we being too generous in our interpretation?  Could Paul be insisting upon the public rebuke of the elder caught in sin even if he has determined to repent?

Scott Brown, among others, has conceded that the rebuke, in the Greek text, can be read as being hinged upon the elder continuing to sin.  He responded by noting that though this was one way the language can be read, it is not the only one.  Furthermore he regards the approach as, inherently, extremely improbable:[52]


What if the man says he repents:  does he then escape the rebuke?  This passage gives no indication that repentance suspends rebuke.  In fact, there is no mention of repentance in the text.  Paul's instructions are very clear.  The purpose of this rebuke is not to produce repentance in the elder--important as that may be--but to cause all “to fear.”

The issue here is not excommunication (whether that happens or not).  The issue is the public exposure and reproof of one who holds a high office.  No one gets a pass in Christ’s churches when it comes to sin, especially not its elders.  While true repentance is a critical matter in the elder’s relationship with the Lord and His church, it is important to remember--the explicitly stated purpose of the rebuke is not repentance, but the causing of fear. . . .

If repentance suspends the need for rebuke, then the command would be very rarely put into practice. It would mean that the command to rebuke would only be applicable if the elder was wanton, belligerent and willfully continuing in public sin.  But if he was living an immoral life or embezzling, even in the recent past, and was found out, and stopped, the sin would be covered up. . . .

It makes the command nearly pointless for its lack of usefulness, and almost unemployable as a command except in the most rare cases.  In the case of sins of a financial or moral nature, for instance, the very act of getting caught almost always brings these sins to an immediate stop.

            One can see two useful results of such an action.  In the first place the person deserves a rebuke.  He has acted dishonorably and could have brought upon the entire congregation public shame and embarrassment as well.  In connection with that, it warns the congregation that even the most “important” members are not immune to public criticism if their behavior deserves it.  The flip side of that is that John Q. Member is too.

            Our own view, expressed earlier, is that the rebuke is public whether the person has repented or not.  The nature of the rebuke however would change according to the mind frame of the elder’s approach to his sin.  A “rebuke of sorrowful necessity” to the repentant in contrast to a “stern reproach and censure” of one who can’t comprehend there is anything he needs to do.  And if the elder foolishly repeats the evil yet again what is left but the strongest rebuke? 

            If at least two members consider the behavior so outrageous they have given evidence to the preacher, is there any other choice when their criticism is valid?  Others probably already know about the situation.  If they don’t, surely word of an uncorrected problem will get around--the only question being when and under what circumstances.  The alternatives are deal with the problem or let it fester and grow into something far worse.                 



* * *



Does the elder lose his office as part of the “rebuke” even though that is not explicitly stated?  The elder has been rebuked before the congregation but Paul has not directly specified whether he is to be removed from office.  It is easy to integrate the apostolic instruction with Jesus’ words if the final step in Matthew 18:17 then has to occur, “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”  In other words, if this final step at reconciliation fails then he is to be rejected even as a member.  His church office is lost by default because he is no longer counted a faithful member.

Indeed, in conditions this serious—that it has to be made a public issue and the sin has not been put firmly in the past—how in the world could he be permitted to continue in office?  Hasn’t it gone so far that there is now no other choice?  The alternative is that the appointment to the eldership is irrevocable regardless of future actions however inappropriate, outrageous, heretical, or even depraved. 

Hence the removal of the man from office would be required in at least certain circumstances.  One could imagine a “one off” idiotic behavior or action that was so out of place--and recognized as such by a repentant elder--that public censure alone was adequate.  Indeed is this not the most probable explanation for the only punishment explicitly mentioned:  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (5:20)?


That brings us to the second and intertwined question:   Under what conditions should he lose his church position of leadership?  Clear cut moral misconduct is the subject matter in 1 Timothy 5, but if it were blatant sin of a different type could the principle possibly avoid application as well?  It is hard to see how.

A denominational group has issued a quite useful survey of quite germane “non moral issues” over which an elder should be forced out or encouraged to resign and because of its quality we’ll use it as the “jumping off point” for our own discussion.  They entitle it “Non-disciplinary Causes for Resignation or Removal of an Elder” and provide six guidelines, which we will condense into five, freely adding on to it our own comments and ideas from other sources.


            “1.  The Discovery of Biblical Disqualification(s) After Appointment as an Elder.”[53]  A good faith investigation and consideration of an individual will normally verify the suitability and qualifications of his to become an elder.  However occasionally something is so well hidden or little known that the information will be unavailable to the congregation.  This may be out of a predetermined decision of the would-be leader or it may be it simply did not seem particularly relevant at the time.    

            Far more likely is that the individual clearly met the qualifications at the time of appointment but those qualifications have now dissipated.  Perhaps the most obvious case are those over which the elder has theoretical power, but which can be gutted due to actions and forces beyond his control.  We can think of the restrained and obedient behavior of one’s children in particular.  At some point in growing up, one or more may become utterly uncontrollable.  Nothing the elder can do seems to rein it in.  Through no fault of his own, how can he be viewed as any longer meeting the criteria set for his holding the office in chapter 3?   


 “2.  Inability or Persistent Failure to Perform the Biblical Function(s) of an Elder.”[54]  On a personal level, one can imagine the successful businessman finding his corporate function envolving so much time and effort that there is simply no way that he has the time available to fulfill his duties as a functioning elder.  Since he no longer can do the work, how in the world can he, in good conscience, retain the post?  The conscientious individual will likely resign or, if things are likely to change, request what would amount to a hiatus or leave of absence so that these other matters can be handled and he then return to being a functioning elder.  But if he is unable to recognize his obligation to take such a step, does the wise congregation permit the situation to continue indefinitely? 

One can imagine a similar situation arising due to personal health or family circumstances that are beyond his control.  His own health (physical or mental) or that of his wife could make him incapable, indefinitely, of doing more than merely showing up at church services—if that.  Family or personal pressures may be so eating up both his time and emotional resources, that there is simply nothing left for church duties.  This is not to condemn him.  Everyone of us has seen it happen to someone, whether a church officer or not.


 3.  Unresolved Doctrinal Disharmony.”[55]  In other words he is so far out of line with a major Biblical truth that he has become, in effect, a “heretic.”  I put the word in quotation marks because all church members who have above the most minimal knowledge of scripture will eventually find themselves in disagreement on something that someoneor the latest church periodical fad—will blast as unforgivably out of line.  In some cases, that is blatantly true.  (For example think of someone trying to introduce infant baptism in place of believer baptism.) 

On the other hand, great caution still needs to be exercised because the specific claim can easily become a tool for a loud church faction to agitate “their” issue far beyond its legitimate importance.  When faced with such challenges it is the obligation of the Christian to determine on his or her own what the truth is by carefully considering both sides. 

Not to mention the consistency of application of those agitating the matter.  I recall a case of where a faction moved to fire our local preacher.  I emphatically raised the point in the discussion:  “I disagree with him on X, but I know full well I also disagree with you [the person leading the discussion] on the same subject.  Now everyone has the right to know where else on the same matter that the lines are going to be drawn.” 

In other words, have we set the precedent for ourselves being repudiated by the church?  They could implicitly be “voting” to expel themselves!  No attempt was made to answer the question.  I have no way of knowing how great a role this played in the outcome, but the issue was dropped later in the meeting and the protestors ultimately left.  This is a legitimate question to be applied in all such controversies:  How broadly is this decision to apply?         


            “4.  Unresolved Philosophical Disharmony.”[56]  This is “fancy language” for the inability of the eldership to agree on the basic approaches and direction the congregation should take to carry out its mission.  The compilers of this list proceeded to apply the principle this way:  “If a single elder insists on pulling in a substantially different and incompatible direction regarding a major matter, and if he remains unyielding despite all attempts to harmonize his vision with that of the elder team, he must step down or be removed.” 

            I don’t really like the sound of that, but is there really that much practical alternative?  How can a seriously divided leadership accomplish much of anything?  The Old Testament adage found in Amos 3:3 would seem to have an obvious application here:  Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?”    


5.  Personal Desire or Physical Limitations.[57]  The compilers make some appropriate remarks about the two.  What we would like to emphasize however is what they have to say about the decision to voluntarily throw in the towel, “In such cases, before the elder steps down, diligent attempts should be made to encourage the man, who may simply be frustrated, discouraged, or excessively harsh in his self-examination (assuming the other elders and members of the church see him as qualified and effective).” 

Just about every Christian has gone through periods of the “downs,” when they were discouraged and seemed to stay that way.  The same can be true of elders.  They are no more immune to such human weaknesses than anyone else.  Hence the need to assure that the decision to resign is a well thought out one and that it would be unreasonable to encourage them any further to hang on to their post when so deeply dispirited.

            The second category they single out is “a need for rest.”  The man is simply tired out and needs some time off to recuperate.  We recognize this in our secular jobs.  Would it seem so out of line to permit such in the church’s leadership as well?  To allow him to “take time off” from his eldership responsibilities for a stated period?



[1] Ray C. Stedman, “Help for Elders,” at:  (Dated November 8, 1981; accessed January 2016.)  


[2] Mark Dunagan, Commentary, internet.  We have left out the page numbers cited by Dunagan since they could easily vary from one edition to another of the specified reference works.


[3] Henry Mahan, Commentary,  internet. 


[4] Robert G. Bratcher, 51. 


[5] Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies (1886), on 5:17.  Online edition at:  (Accessed October 2015; March 2020.) 


[6] Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” 380.


[7] Ron Daniel prefers to take it to mean that they deserve to be respected far more than they are actually paid:  Now this doesn't mean that their pay should be doubled.  It means that they should be thought of in the minds of the pastor and congregation as being worth twice what they are paid.”   “Sermon Study Notes:  1 Timothy 5:1-25,” at:  (Accessed January 2020.) 


[8] Russell E. Kelly, “First Timothy 5:17-20:  Worthy of Double Honor,” at:  (Accessed:  January 2016.)     


[9] R. Alastair Campbell, The Elders:  Seniority within Earliest Christianity (London:  T & T Clark, 1994), 202-203.


[10] Stuart Allen, Pastoral Epistles, 293.


[11] Russell E. Kelly, “First Timothy 5:17-20,” internet.     


[12] Claire S. Smith.  Pauline Communities, 69.


[13] Didascalia, 2:26, where the quotation is given from R. Hugh Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), at:  (Accessed March 2020.)


[14] Apostolic Constitutions, translated by James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 7 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886), revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight, at: (Accessed March 2020.)


[15] William E. Wenstrom, “1 Timothy 5:17-20” 3, at  (Dated 2011; accessed January 2016.)     


[16] Johnson, S. Lewis, “A Further Word About the Elders (1 Timothy 5:17-25),” at:  (Accessed January 2020.) 


[17] Don DeWelt, Timothy and Titus, 105.


[18] J. W. McGarvey, Eldership, 63-65.


[19] A. C. Hervey, “1 Timothy,” internet.     


[20] Arichea and Hatton, 126.


[21] Harold Rhodes, “What Is Doctrine?”  Part of the Life, Hope and Truth website, at:  (Accessed March 2020.)  


[22] Skip Heitzig, The Bible From 30,000 Feet:  Soaring In One Year from Genesis to Revelation (Eugene, Oregon:  Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 530, via Google Book online.


[23] William Barclay, 1 Timothy, internet.


[24] Thomas Constable, Expository, internet.  He endorses neither approach.


[25] Benjamin L. Merkle, “Use of Scripture,” 211, and note 40 (211), citing sources who reason this way.


[26] Ibid., 212-214.  


[27] Ibid., 212.


[28] Ibid., note 44 (213).                         


[29] Ibid., note 44 (213).                         


[30] Robert H. Gundry, 844.


[31] Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 275.


[32]  Philip W. Comfort, Text, 665.


[33] Gerd Hafner, Deuteronomy, 141.


[34] Gerd Hafner, Deuteronomy, 141.


[35] A. C. Hervey, “1 Timothy,” internet. 


[36] Glen Andrews Peoples, “St. Paul Quoted the Gospel of Luke,” part of his “Right Reason” website, at:  (Dated January 2015; accessed January 2020.)


[37] Don DeWelt, Timothy and Titus, 105.


[38] Paul W. Elliott, “Is It Biblical?,” internet.    


[39] Ibid.  These are the second and fourth of the four points he raises.   


[40] For an excellent presentation of this alternative approach, see Ken Newberger,  “Matthew 18:15-17:  The Most Misapplied Passage on Church Conflict,” at:  (Dated 2012; accessed January 2016.)


[41] Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 279.


[42] Wiersbe, as quoted by Thomas Constable, Expository, internet.


[43] Scott Brown, “Nine Ways Church Elders Are to Be Held Accountable,” at:  (Dated January 6, 2014; accessed January 2016.) 


[44] Tom Ascol, “How to Fire Your Minister,” Founders Journal, Winter 2003, as reprinted at:  (Accessed January 2016.) 


[45] David Guzik, “How To Treat People in the Church:  1 Timothy 5,” part of the Enduring Word Commentary, at:  (Dated 2018; accessed January 2020.) 


[46] As quoted by Tom Ascol.  “How to Fire,” internet. 


[47] These are among the examples--reworded from the original author--as provided by Mike Willis, “Personal Charges Against Paul,” Truth Magazine, February 6, 1997.  At:  (Accessed January 2020.)


[48] Ryun Chang, “Question:  What Is the Proper Understanding of 1 Timothy 5:19-20, Particularly in light of the Differences in Translations Among the Versions?,” part of the Acts International Ministry website.  At:  (Accessed January, 2015; November 2016.)   


[49] The interpretation is found, among others, in Scott Brown, “Elders,” internet, Robert H. Gundry, Testament, 844, and Claire S. Smith, Pauline Communities, 331.


[50] Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” 381, and William R. Vincent, Word Studies, internet edition.


[51] Ryun Chang, “Proper Understanding,” internet.   


[52] Scott Brown, “Nine Ways,” internet.  We have transposed the final paragraph from earlier in the essay. 

[53] Christ Fellowship Elders [specific identities not provided], “Removal of An Elder,” at:  (Dated 2004; accessed:  January 2016.)     


[54] Ibid.      


[55] Ibid.       


[56] Ibid.      


[57] Ibid.