Buried Talents: Elders, Wives of One Husband? Part 3

2. Are the qualifications described in 1 Timothy and Titus intended as laws or merely indicative of to whom God has given the gift of leadership?

Objectively viewed, it is hard to argue that the qualification lists in 1 Timothy and Titus are “laws.” As we have discussed in the context of Galatians, Paul has very principled reasons for not making himself into the next Moses. Moreover, there is internal evidence that these are not laws.

First, why are the lists in Titus and 1 Timothy different? Is God’s eternal law of who can be an elder different in Crete (the destination of Titus) than in Ephesus (the destination of 1 Timothy)? It would appear so. While the lists are similar, Titus and Timothy were working out of two different rulebooks, if rulebooks they are.

(Titus 1:6-9) An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

(1 Tim. 3:1-7) Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

The following chart compares the two qualification lists:


1 Timothy


above reproach

husband of one wife

husband of one wife








hold firmly to sound doctrine

able to teach

not given to much wine

not given to drunkenness

not violent


not quick-tempered

not quarrelsome

not pursuing dishonest gain

not a lover of money

manage own family well

children not wild and disobedient

children obey with proper respect

not a recent convert

good reputation with outsiders

children believe

not overbearing

loves what is good



As the table demonstrates, the two lists are very similar, but different. For example, we in the Churches of Christ have customarily held that an elder must have at least one (some say two) Christian children. That limitation is from Titus. But Paul told Timothy that it is enough if an elder has children who obey with proper respect, a very different thing indeed. A child may be obedient and yet be too young to be a Christian. And Paul told Timothy to ordain no recent converts, and yet Titus was given no such instruction.

Do these inconsistencies threaten the inspiration of the passages? Not at all, but they tell us much about their nature.

Second, the test for who could be a deacon in Acts 6 is simply “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Why is this rule different from the rules laid out by Paul regarding deacons and elders? Indeed, Paul told the elders in Ephesus that the Holy Spirit had “made them overseers” (Acts 20:28). The most natural interpretation of this statement is that the elders were made overseers by the Spirit by being filled with the Spirit — that is, by receiving the gifts of the Spirit associated with being an elder, such as the gifts of administration and leadership.

Could it be that the rules are not different at all? Maybe what Paul is saying in the Pastorals is, “Timothy and Titus, these are the characteristics that you look for to determine who has wisdom and is filled with the Spirit.”

As numerous commentators have pointed out, the characteristics of an elder or deacon are characteristics that all Christians should have. The exceptions to this rule are the apparent requirements that elders and deacons be married and fertile (and have fertile wives).

But Paul and most (if not all) the apostles were single. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:

1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. … 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—34 and his interests are divided. … 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

If Paul believes that marriage is required for a man to be a deacon (so he can lock doors, keep the building maintained, handle the treasury) or an elder, then he certainly changed his tune from 1 Corinthians 7. But I have too much respect for inspiration to believe that Paul changed his mind or exaggerated his recommendation of celibacy. He was quite sincere when he wrote 1 Corinthians 7, and he never changed his mind.

There is no imaginable reason why a man must be married and have children in order to be a deacon. Paul would agree. He says that a man is a better servant of God if he is single! And he truly wishes that all men were single so they could better serve God!

Does Paul wish that there were no elders or deacons? And if an apostle is a better apostle for being single, how can we conclude that the man locking the building (or waiting on tables) must be held to some supposedly higher standard?

The only conclusion we can reach and still take Paul at his word is that the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus are not laws but indicative of the real test — whether someone is full of wisdom and the Spirit — at the time and place the letter was written.

In fact, Paul characterizes his own statements as “a trustworthy saying” (1 Tim. 3:1), hardly the language of a lawgiver. Any other interpretation causes Paul to contradict himself — and requires a man to be married and fertile in order to wait on tables!

Third, there are other verses that specify the qualifications of elders, and they speak in terms of gifts, not sex, marital status, or fertility.

(1 Cor. 12:28-30) And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?

The Greek word translated “administration” literally means “(a) steering, pilotage; (b) metaphorically, governments or governings, said of those who act as guides in a local church.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. This is certainly an apt description of the eldership. And yet Paul’s discussion is in terms of spiritual gifts. Paul points out—

(1 Cor. 12:18-21) But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

The gift of administration is from God, and it is a sin to tell anyone with the gift that the church does not (or cannot) use that gift.

(Eph. 4:7, 11-13) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. … It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

We next see that being a pastor (elder) is a gift from God. The only qualification mentioned is whether a Christian has been so gifted.

(Rom. 12:6-8) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

“Govern” is defined in Strong’s Dictionary as “to stand before, i.e. (in rank) to preside, or (by impl.) to practise:—maintain, be over, rule.” It is the same verb used by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:4 and 12 with respect to elders and deacons “ruling” their households well. And yet, in Romans, the only requirement for leadership is having the gift to lead. Moreover, the language is a command. If one has the gift to lead, one must lead and lead diligently. The command applies to women as well as to men.

Realize that 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Romans were all written well before 1 Timothy or Titus. How were the Christians who received these letters to understand them? Surely, each Christian had to understand that he or she should humbly determine his or her gifts and then use those gifts in God’s service.

Paul did not tell the Corinthians, Ephesians, or Romans that his teaching only applied to men! It would have been the rarest of women in the First Century world who had the ability to lead. This is just not so today. If a woman has the gift, we are commanded to let her use the gift.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to Buried Talents: Elders, Wives of One Husband? Part 3

  1. Alan says:

    Sorry– reposting due to a blockquote mistake.

    First, why are the lists in Titus and 1 Timothy different?

    Because Paul was instructing the two men to do two different things. He told Timothy what instructions to give those men who aspired to be elders (1 Tim 3:1). He told Titus to actually appoint elders (Titus 1:5).

    Note that Ephesus already had elders (1 Tim 5:17). Note also that Paul planned to come soon (1 Tim 3:14). So there was no rush, and reason to delay appointment until Paul came. And there is no indication that the men who aspired to be elders were qualified at that point in time.

    The gift of administration is from God, and it is a sin to tell anyone with the gift that the church does not (or cannot) use that gift.

    The role of elder is from God, and it is sin to ignore the qualifications God said they must have in order to appoint someone who does not meet those qualifications. The gift of administration is not sufficient to qualify someone to be an elder. In fact, it is not even listed as a requirement in either passage. Perhaps that should be a clue to us that elders are not intended to be administrators.

  2. Jay,
    Thanks for highlighting the logical inconsistency of so many of the traditional positions the "churches of Christ" have taken over the years.

    I continue to hope people will cease looking for proof texts to justify their positions and read the text with refreshed eyes.

  3. Alan says:

    A couple of additional comment on the concept of mandatory gift-using. If that logic were true, then it was sinful to restrict the Levitical priesthood to Levites only. Other tribes had equally talented people. But God had the right (and still does) to select people for that role by any criteria he wanted.

    If everyone who thinks he has a talent therefore has the birthright to use it in the church, we will end up with a congregation full of preachers and nobody sitting in the pew listening. Use of talents is not for the benefit of the one possessing it, but for the benefit of the church. If the church has a need for only two or three people to use a certain talent, then any others with that talent are not needed and are expected to restrain themselves. (1 Cor 14:27)

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    The verse you quoted is not limiting any individual in the context that you have expressed. That verse is explaining that more than one or two at any one time creates confusion, but it also states “and each in turn”. Thus, all are allowed to participate. Can you show us other text in scriptures that communicate your directions that some are required to, “restrain themselves”?

  5. aBasnar says:

    As the table demonstrates, the two lists are very similar, but different.

    Well, the same s true for Christ’s parables in the synoptic gospels. the reason, i think, is obvious: The written word follows the oral teaching. Christ told his parables not only once, but often, and most likely with variations. The same is true for Paul’s teachings that were taught orally first (but nonetheless binding 2Th 2:15 – a VERY important verse). So to have two different lists of qualifications does not mean that these lists are contradictinng themselves, but they have the same purpose and principles. They make us look forthe right persons.

    When I look at the title of this post, however, I see a dangerous attitude:

    Elders, Wives of One Husband?

    This is taklen a statement that is even in both lists, turning it upside down. So you flatly take a 180° different position to a key-qualification in which both lists agree. Not only both lists, but also the teaching that is taught frequently in the NT that leadership is male. Just today a got an -email that addressed it, and I was surprized to even find the same phrase in there. Let me quote:

  6. aBasnar says:

    (Hit the send button too soon) – Here’s the quote (by Patrick Donahue)

    Pastors (elders) are leaders/overseers over the congregation (Acts 20:17,28, I Peter 5:1-2).

    The Bible PRECLUDES a woman from taking on this leadership role:
    • I Corinthians 11:3 the head of the woman is the man
    • Ephesians 5:22-24 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
    • I Timothy 2:11-12 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
    • I Timothy 3:2 “A bishop then must be … the husband of one wife” – (because it is a leadership role) – Can a woman be a husband ?

    Conclusion: The woman’s role is not the leader of the congregation.

    This is a fork in the road, Jay. Fooling arozund with God’s word on leadership roles, turning it apside down, is in effect denying a command of the Lord (1Co 14:34-38) which results in

    a) not being recognized yourself (according to Nestle Aland)
    b) being counted among the ignorant (according to the Majority Text)

    I think neither is the place you’s d like to be nor would be fitting to you. So, PLEASE, WHY do you do this? Why is it that you – although it is not your general approach to scripture – in this issue go against and beyond of what is written? Don’t you fear that God really meant what He said three times in the Bible, warning us not to add nor to take away from His word? Such alterations (Wives of one husband instead of husband of one wife) are not only provocative, but the whole issue is terribly harmful to the churches of Christ.


  7. Charles McLean says:

    Jay wrote: “Indeed, Paul told the elders in Ephesus that the Holy Spirit had “made them overseers” (Acts 20:28). The most natural interpretation of this statement is that the elders were made overseers by the Spirit by being filled with the Spirit — that is, by receiving the gifts of the Spirit associated with being an elder, such as the gifts of administration and leadership.”
    Jay, I think a much more appropriate interpretation would be that these elders were pointed out to the apostles and to the Ephesian believers by the Holy Spirit in much the same way as Paul and Barnabas were set apart in Acts 13. Now if by “natural”, you meant “consistent with how we find leaders in other spheres”, you may be right.

  8. Charles McLean says:

    I do believe, Jay, that we have to address the reality of I Cor 11:3 in this. Now, I am speaking as one who has sat under the public teaching and prophecy of gifted women, and taken their counsel as from God Himself. So, I am certainly NOT of the “sit down and hush, you X chromosomes” school.

    I can’t say I understand the entire implication of I Cor 11:3, but it does seem to indicate some order of authority that involves gender. Yes, I think it would be an error to try to read this as a set of military ranks or an org chart. That does not seem to be Paul’s context. We are all under one Shepherd King. But we would be wise to get a better handle on this passage, and not dismiss it in service of a greater good. Paul does not speak here only culturally, but appears to refer to divine order.

    Oh, and I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus. It is a wholly Western reading to turn this godly counsel into a “list of disqualifications” as we have done. It’s inconsistent with how the Spirit leads the church and leaves us instead with leadership by the guy with the shortest rap sheet.

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