Observations of 1 Timothy 3:1,2 & Titus 1:5,6
Both proponents and opponents of women’s ordination have staked their claim to divergent interpretations of 1 Timothy 3:1,2 and Titus 1:5,6. While some see a plain reading of the verses as clear enough, others are challenging these passages with legitimate, yet more complex textual arguments. What did Paul mean when he wrote that a “bishop . . . [should be] the husband of one wife”? Or literally translated- “a bishop . . . [should be] a one wife husband“? Some view this passage through the lens of “culture”- claiming it should be applied to different times and places in “relevant“ ways. In a future article I will review why the “culturally-conditioned” argument is nothing more than subjectivism since it relies on conjectures, guesses and the social sciences (sociology, anthropology, etc.) rather than the biblical text. Furthermore, it constantly changes with time and location. Recently, some have jettisoned the “culturally-conditioned” argument for a “leading of the Spirit” one. Going so far as to claim that the Spirit cannot fall on the church until it ordains women as pastors and elders. Unfortunately, this is biblically untenable. The conditions for the “Latter Rain” are clearly outlined in Acts 2,3 and Revelation 3:18-20- and women‘s ordination is nowhere mentioned. One often hears the assertion “no conference, union or church should stand in the way of God‘s calling to me . . .” In my last article, we saw that the position of “pastor” (poimen) can indeed be filled by a women- since it is a “Spiritual Gift.” However, the functions of the “pastor” are NOT the same as those of the “bishop” (episkopos) and the “elder” (presbuteros) which are NOT spiritual gifts! Certain objective qualifications must be met before one can “apply“ for those positions (including 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Furthermore, the Spirit does NOT lead the church independently from the written Word He inspired. If some feel God is leading them to become “Bishops“ or “Elders,” the only way to confirm this would be with the “Measuring stick” of Scripture.
Still others feel that to continue “debating theology” is not “biblically practical”, that we don’t need theoretical perspectives, but to focus on being “mission-driven.” They see this “theological” argument as getting in the way of the mission of the church, an ecclesiological issue. But instead of carefully examining the text of Scripture and following a “thus saith the Lord”, they are using pragmatic and emotional reasons (women “pastors” in China, etc.) to buttress their position. “Legal” but questionable policy changes are being hastily pursued in order to vote in changes before the world church can study the issue and respond. These efforts, based on faulty hermeneutics, threaten to further disrupt the global unity of the church.
While this “mission-driven-movement” sounds nice and very “Adventist,” if it is not on rooted in Scripture, but on policy or ecclesiology- the efforts will be unsuccessful. For all these reasons (and others), it is helpful to re-visit the texts upon which those who oppose and affirm women “elders” are based: 1 Timothy 3:1,2 and Titus 1:5-7. My purpose is not to present a scholarly exegesis- but an overview of the clear textual evidence.
“The fact of gender, when considering a word in isolation, is of little importance . . . But in analyzing a sentence as a whole, gender may play a key role, especially when considered along with the adjectives, pronouns, and relative clauses that may be present. Taking note of the gender may alter altogether what a sentence may seem to be saying in English.” Interestingly, in Titus 1:5, the word “elder” (presbuteros) is in the accusative masculine. In the context of verses 5-7, nine of the descriptive nouns and adjectives of presbuteros are in the masculine. In 1 Timothy 3:2, the word for “bishop” (episkopos) is also in the accusative masculine. In the context of 1 Timothy 3:2, there are eight descriptive nouns and adjectives which are also in the masculine. These grammatical parallels seem more than just coincidental. While it doesn’t definitively show that an “elder” or “bishop” should be a “male,” it is grammatically consistent with that conclusion and strongly points that way.
1. “Elder,” “bishop,” “pastor” are different, distinct offices
In the last article we saw that the offices of “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor” (presbuteros, episkopos, poimen) are distinct, although (as we noted) there is some overlap between them. To summarize the findings: the “elder” (presbuteros) deals primarily with executive, administrative and judicial areas of church policy. The “bishop” (episkopos) has supervisory, investigative and guardianship functions, while the “pastor” (poimen) is nurturing, guarding and teaching. We also saw that the “elder” and “bishop” are recognized and selected based upon external, objective criteria (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-8). After evaluation of the candidates based on these biblical standards, they are ordained. On the other hand, as we mentioned, the “pastor” is a spiritual gift that is recognized and affirmed without ordination and an explicit list of “external” qualifications. I described what seemed to be modern equivalent of these positions in the church today. (Please see previous article.)
The significance of these findings can’t be overstated, especially where Christians assert the Holy Spirit’s calling to be a “pastor”. Obviously, the word “pastor” doesn’t have the same meaning that it did in the Bible. So the etymology of this English word has undergone some changes since the New Testament. If one takes the position that the Holy Spirit has given them this gift then the position that they should fill is the poimen. However, if they desire to fulfill the role of the episkopos or presbuteros, even if they are called by the Spirit, they must be evaluated by criteria found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-7. The claim of the Spirit’s leading does not supersede the Spirit’s inspired word, which is used to “test” all “callings”.
2. Lexical (dictionary) meanings for episkopos and presbuteros are delineated for “men”
A word never means what it never meant. The purpose of a lexical (“dictionary”) definition, is to find out what a word meant at the time it was written. An important clue to what episkopos and presbuteros mean today is to understand their meaning when Paul penned Titus and 1 Timothy in the first century A.D. In order to do this, analytical, critical and theological Greek New Testament lexicons, expository Greek dictionaries, Greek-English concordances and New Testament Greek theological wordbooks should be consulted in order to understand. Strong’s Concordance has several weaknesses that I addressed in my previous article and should be probably be avoided when doing serious Bible study (at least it should not be used by itself).
A summary of the definitions are as follows:
- “The name given in Athens to the MEN sent into subdued states to conduct their affairs”
- “A MAN charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others rightly”
- “A body of old MEN” (presbuterion) ; “An old MAN” (presbus, presbutis)
- “Rulers of people, judges, etc., selected from elderly MEN”
- “Aged MEN” ; “In the Christian church they were MEN appointed”
- “Old MEN of the Jewish Sanhedrin” “Officers in the congregation of the Jewish Synagogue”
Interestingly, one area that was intentionally left out of my last study, was the significant use of masculine names (“men,” “man,”) when defining presbuteros and episkopos. Since the purpose of that study was only to show that there is a difference between the three offices, these were omitted. However, from a lexical standpoint, it seems likely that both the “elder” and “bishop” were to be served by men. There is no dictionary definition from the era the New Testament was written that define these Greek words as being filled by “women.” This isn’t a “cultural” issue since the “men” were from both the believing “Jewish community“ (Jewish Sanhedrin, etc.) and the non-believing “Greek community” (Athenian statesmen, politicians). This further strengthens the case against gender neutral inclusion for an episkopos or presbuteros.
3. The lexical (dictionary) definition for “Aner” is limited to three possibilities
As with the preceding section, we must also understand what the meaning of the word translated “husband” (aner) was in the First Century. These meanings are:
- An adult human male (of full age and stature- as opposed to a child or female)
- A husband
- A human being, an individual; someone; a person, generally (in terms of address)
Interestingly, in all the lexicons consulted (around 12), the word aner never means a “female,” “woman,” etc., but can refer to “people in general.” On the other hand, it definitely refers to a “male” or a “husband.” The third definition shouldn’t be considered in Timothy or Titus, since the phrase “human being of one wife” makes no sense. “One wife husband,” or “one woman man” seem to be the clear interpretation of “aner.” Since the context refers to “children” (1 Tim. 3:4) a “wife” (v. 2) and a “house” (v. 4), the most logical and contextually consistent interpretation would be to translate “aner“ as “husband”. Therefore, the Greek phrase “mias gunaikos andra (aner)” should probably be translated “one wife husband.”
Why did Paul use a word that may not always be referring to a “male” (aner) rather than a word that always refers to a “man” (arsen - pronounced “Are-sane”)? Because arsen does not lexically mean “husband.” It seems that Paul was trying to convey both “maleness” and “marriedness” within the same word. Therefore, the best word he could have used is aner. Another word anthropos also means a “male”, but like arsen, doesn’t define the marital status as aner does. Understanding aner as being a “(male) husband” is a significant point buttressing the argument that a “bishop” must be a “ married man.”
There are 215 references for the word aner in the New Testament. Of these, about 40% do not have “contextual markers.” A “marker” is a word(s) the author uses in context to identify which lexical (dictionary) meaning he intends for the word in question. These 40% are translated in the general sense of “humanity,” “people,” etc. Interestingly, however, when aner is to be interpreted as a “man” or “husband”, there are contextual markers that support that understanding. The remaining 60% have at least one of the following contextual markers:
- NAME OF THE MAN: Mentioned in the immediate context (“Joseph”- Matt. 1:16; “Peter”- Luke 5:8; “Jairus”- Luke 8:41; “Zaccheus”- Luke 19:2; “Adam”- 1 Tim. 2:12; etc.).
- FEMALE GENDER WORDS: In contradistinction from “males” in the same context (“Aged Women”- Titus 2:5; “Woman”- 1 Cor. 11:7; etc.).
- MARRIAGE WORDS: Speak of a “male’s spouse” in contrast to himself (“Wife”- Mark 10:2, 12; “Wives”- Eph. 5:24,25; “Widows”- 1 Tim. 5:9; etc.).
- FAMILY WORDS: Referring to male/female relations and progeny (“Women and children”- Matt. 14:21/Mk 6:44; “Father”- Lk 9:38; etc.).
- REPRODUCTION WORDS: Contrasting a “male” with “female characteristics” (“Virginity”- Luke 2:36; “Adulteress”- Rom. 7:2; “adulterer”- Rom. 7:2,3; “Childbearing,“ etc.).
- CONTEXT: There are times when the context makes it explicitly clear that “males“ are being spoken of (“twelve disciples”- Acts 1:21; The “Apostles”- Acts 5:25; “seven deacons”- Acts 6:3; etc.).
In 1 Timothy 3:2 there are several contextual markers that identify that a “male” is being spoken of: “Wife” (3:2; “Childbearing” (2:15), and “Woman” (2:11,12,14). In Titus 1:5,6, there is the marker “Wife” present. This contextual evidence strongly implies that a “bishop” and “elder” should only be a “male.”
The words “one woman man” or “one wife husband” (mias gunaikos andra) is an interesting and unusual way to communicate this phrase. If Paul wanted to convey a married man, why didn’t he say “a bishop must be a man who is married”? When we look at the syntax (sentence structure) we see that he was describing the quality or character of the man as well as his marital status.
The Greek word for “woman” is gune, and refers to any adult female (including wives). The King James Version translates gune as "woman" 129 times and "wife" 92 times. In 1 Timothy 3:2, gune (gunaikos) is “in the genitive and therefore deals with attribution. It may refer to relationship or quality, for the genitive defines by attributing a quality or relationship to the noun which it modifies."
Tony Capoccia has made the following insightful comment regarding the genitive:
“This should not be considered a possessive genitive, for that would mean that the word in the genitive indicates one who owns or possesses the noun it modifies. In that case the translation would be "a man owned by one woman." Nor can this be considered as a genitive of relationship ("a man who has [possesses] one wife") for there is no indication within the phrase or context that that relationship is implied. It is best to understand this "gunaikos" as being a genitive of quality, that is, giving a characteristic to the noun it modifies.”
The noun andra is the accusative singular of aner. “This accusative functions here as an object of the main verb ‘be’ along with a long list of other accusative nouns and participles. Stated simply, the clause is ‘Therefore . . . an elder must be . . . a man . . .’ The words ‘one woman’ modify "man" to explain what kind, or to qualify the noun by attributing to him this character.” N.T. Greek scholar Robertson adds that genitive of quality (also called attributive genitive). ‘expresses quality like an adjective indeed, but with more sharpness and distinctness.’ “Since the other qualification in 1 Timothy 3 deal with the man's character and since the grammatical structure is more naturally consistent with this emphasis, it seems best to understand the phrase as meaning that he is a one-woman type of man” or “a one-wife type of husband”.
In conclusion, the unique way of expressing the phrase “one wife husband” was Paul’s method of representing the “character” of "the bishop" ("ton episkopon") as well as his marital status. Syntax doesn’t negate the lexical, contextual and comparative evidence that has already shown that aner also refers to a “male husband.” Rather, the syntax shows what KIND of a “husband” Paul is referring to. Scholar Getz makes the following observation: "Paul needed it very clear that an elder in the church was to be a 'one-wife man' — loyal to her and her alone." The emphasis of sentence structure shows that the “bishop” must be completely faithful to his wife, and emphasizes moral purity. The syntax does not change the marital or gender status that we have already affirmed; it only clarifies its quality.
The context of 1 Timothy 3:1,2 extends back into chapter two. The foundation of what Paul lays for the office of the episkopos, is rooted in the creation and fall account of Genesis two and three. The issue of “teaching” and “women keeping silence” is the subject of my next article, so I won’t address this interesting topic now. We see Paul addressing the “authority” of man over a “woman” for two reasons. First, “Adam was formed first” (v. 13). Second, “Adam was not deceived” (v. 14). Genesis two and three give us some clues of Adam’s role as the leader/head of his “home”:
- God gave Adam instructions on how to care for the Garden (2:15)
- God instructed Adam in regards to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
- Adam named all the living creatures (2:19,20)
- Adam named “the Woman” (2:23)
- Only after Adam ate the fruit, were their “eyes opened” (3:7)
- God called unto “Adam” first (3:9)
- Man shall leave parents, “cleave” unto his wife- a sign of protection, guardian
Interestingly, the roles of the episkopos and presbuteros are similar to those seen in Adam’s functions. The executive and administrative roles of the presbuteros are seen in Adam’s naming the animals, directing the custody of the garden, and naming of “the Woman”. The supervisory and investigative functions are seen in Adam’s role as the informant of God’s will concerning the Tree of Knowledge and man’s “leaving father and mother.” The second reason for man’s “authority” over “woman” was rooted in the statement “Adam was not deceived.” Adam momentarily “investigated” the matter in his mind and knew what was right. He chose to follow his wife, however, and sinned blatantly. His ability to discern the deception (while Eve did not) play a role in why Paul mentions that “Adam was not deceived.” However, most importantly, Paul’s foundation for 1 Timothy 3 is rooted in the Genesis creation and fall account, not culture.
Our overview of 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 shows that a convincing biblical argument can be made for a “male” “elder” or “bishop”. Grammatical considerations showed that contextual nouns and adjectives are in the masculine, thus matching the genders for episkopos and presbuteros. The lexical considerations gave additional evidence that the offices of the episkopos and presbuteros, whether as “rulers of people, judges, statesmen, Sanhedrin, etc.”, were filled by “men.” Furthermore, the definition for aner (“husband”) supports a “male”/“husband” understanding over “humans in general.” A comparative study (using contextual markers) demonstrated that aner, when referring to a “male,” contains at least one each in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6. Further supporting the contention that Paul intended “males” to be the episkopos and presbuteros in the church. The syntactical considerations emphasizes the character of the “husband” while not negating the gender. Finally, the theological/contextual considerations shows that the office of episkopos (and by extension the presbuteros) are rooted in the creation and fall account, not in culture.
All references for this article are available in a PDF file. Download PDF here.