The First to Timothy 3:1-16

3  This statement is trustworthy: If a man is reaching out to be an overseer,+ he is desirous of a fine work.  The overseer should therefore be irreprehensible,+ a husband of one wife, moderate in habits, sound in mind,+ orderly, hospitable,+ qualified to teach,+  not a drunkard,+ not violent, but reasonable,+ not quarrelsome,+ not a lover of money,+  a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having his children in subjection with all seriousness+  (for if any man does not know how to preside over* his own household, how will he care for the congregation of God?),  not a newly converted man,+ for fear that he might get puffed up with pride and fall into the judgment passed on the Devil.  Moreover, he should also have a fine testimony* from outsiders+ so that he does not fall into reproach* and a snare of the Devil.  Ministerial servants+ should likewise be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in a lot of wine, not greedy of dishonest gain,+  holding the sacred secret of the faith with a clean conscience.+ 10  Also, let these be tested as to fitness* first; then let them serve as ministers, as they are free from accusation.+ 11  Women should likewise be serious, not slanderous,+ moderate in habits, faithful in all things.+ 12  Let ministerial servants be husbands of one wife, presiding in a fine manner over their children and their own households. 13  For the men who minister in a fine manner are acquiring for themselves a fine standing and great freeness of speech in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. 14  I am writing you these things, though I am hoping to come to you shortly, 15  but in case I am delayed, so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in God’s household,+ which is the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth. 16  Indeed, the sacred secret of this godly devotion is admittedly great: ‘He was made manifest in flesh,+ was declared righteous in spirit,+ appeared to angels,+ was preached about among nations,+ was believed upon in the world,+ was received up in glory.’+


Or “manage.”
Or “disgrace.”
Or “a good reputation.”
Or “tested as to whether they qualify.”

Study Notes

This statement is trustworthy: While some hold that the Greek phrase here used refers to what Paul mentioned earlier (1Ti 2:15), the expression “this statement” better describes what follows. Apparently, Paul is indicating that what he is going to say about reaching out to be an overseer is particularly important and worthy of attention.

is reaching out: The Greek verb used here literally means “is stretching out”; it suggests that a man has to exert himself vigorously to qualify as an overseer. In the following verses, Paul lists qualities that imperfect men can develop if they put forth earnest effort. (1Ti 3:2-10, 12, 13) Of course, not only appointed men but all Christians need these qualities.​—Compare Ro 12:3, 18; Php 4:5; 1Ti 3:11; Tit 2:3-5; Heb 13:5; 1Pe 2:12; 4:9.

to be an overseer: It is the responsibility of an overseer to watch over and protect fellow believers entrusted to his care. (See Glossary, “Overseer.”) So he should be a spiritually mature man, displaying the qualities Paul lists in the following verses. Although the Greek word Paul uses can be rendered “office of oversight” (Ac 1:20), it does not imply that an overseer has a position that elevates him above his brothers and sisters. Paul said to the Christians in Corinth: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy.”​—2Co 1:24 and study note; 1Pe 5:1-3.

a fine work: The work of an overseer is described as fine, that is, excellent or useful, but it is still work. One reference states: “The adjective [ka·losʹ, “fine”] expresses the excellence, the noun [erʹgon, “work”] the difficulty of the work.” So an overseer must be selfless, willing to make sacrifices and to work hard for the good of others.

The overseer: Paul here uses the singular form of the Greek term for “overseer” (along with the definite article), but he does not mean that each congregation should have only one overseer. The congregation in Philippi, for example, had more than one overseer. When Paul wrote to the Christians there, he addressed the letter to the congregation “along with overseers and ministerial servants.”​—See study note on Php 1:1; see also study note on Ac 20:28.

irreprehensible: The Greek word used here could also be rendered “above reproach” or “above criticism.” This does not mean that an overseer must be perfect, but no one should be able to make a valid accusation against him. His conduct, his dealings with people, and his way of life should be above reproach. He must be a man of the highest moral standards. (2Co 6:3, 4; Tit 1:6, 7) Some scholars suggest that all the qualifications for Christian men who are appointed as overseers could be summed up in this one word.

a husband of one wife: Jesus had earlier restored Jehovah’s original standard of monogamy. (Mt 19:4-6) Therefore, a Christian overseer could not be a polygamist, even though polygamy was permitted by the Mosaic Law and was common among non-Christians. Divorce and remarriage were also common, even among Jews. However, Jesus taught that without Scriptural grounds, a Christian could not divorce his wife and marry another. (Mt 5:32; 19:9) While these standards applied to all Christians, overseers and ministerial servants were to set the example. (1Ti 3:12) Further, a married overseer had to be faithful to his wife, not guilty of sexual misconduct.​—Heb 13:4.

moderate in habits: According to one lexicon, the Greek word used here literally means “sober, temperate; abstaining from wine, either entirely . . . or at least from its immoderate use.” However, the word came to be used in a broader sense to describe a person who is well-balanced, controlled, or levelheaded. This verse shows that a Christian overseer must be moderate in all areas of life. In the next verse, Paul makes a more direct reference to the misuse of alcoholic beverages.​—1Ti 3:3.

sound in mind: Or “have good judgment; be sensible.” According to one lexicon, the Greek words rendered “sound in mind” and “soundness of mind” refer to being “prudent, thoughtful, self-controlled.” A person who is sound in mind would show balance and avoid judging matters hastily.

orderly: Lit., “arranged.” An overseer should have a decent, well-arranged pattern of life. The Greek word can also denote good behavior. Thus, a man would not qualify as an overseer if he was unruly or disorderly.​—1Th 5:14; 2Th 3:6-12; Tit 1:10.

hospitable: All Christians need to be hospitable. (Heb 13:1, 2; 1Pe 4:9) However, a brother who is appointed as an overseer should be exemplary in this regard. (Tit 1:8) The Greek term for “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers.” (See study note on Ro 12:13.) Some lexicons define the related adjective here rendered “hospitable” as “having regard for the stranger or visitor” and “generous to guests.” One reference work describes the spirit shown by a hospitable man as follows: “The door of his house​—and of his heart​—must be open to strangers.” So hospitality should be extended not only to his circle of close friends but also to others. For example, Christians are encouraged to show hospitality to the poor or to the traveling representatives of the congregations.​—Jas 2:14-16; 3Jo 5-8.

qualified to teach: An overseer should be a skillful teacher, able to convey Scriptural truths and moral principles to his fellow believers. In his letter to Titus, Paul says that an overseer needs to hold “firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching” in order to encourage, exhort, and reprove. (Tit 1:5, 7, 9 and study notes) Paul also uses the expression “qualified to teach” in his second letter to Timothy. There he says that “a slave of the Lord” needs to show self-control and instruct “with mildness those not favorably disposed.” (2Ti 2:24, 25) So an overseer should be able to reason convincingly from the Scriptures, to give sound counsel, and to reach the hearts of his listeners. (See study note on Mt 28:20.) He needs to be a diligent student of God’s Word in order to teach others who themselves are students of the Bible.

not violent: Or “not a smiter.” The Greek word here rendered “violent” can literally refer to one who strikes another with physical blows. However, the meaning can be broader; the word is also defined as “a bully.” A person may bully others by using cruel or vicious words that can be as painful as a physical beating. (See study note on Col 3:8.) Paul taught that Christians should be gentle and mild, even when they face challenging situations. That inspired standard would especially apply to elders.​—Compare 2Ti 2:24, 25.

reasonable: The Greek word Paul uses here is broad in meaning and can also convey the idea of being gentle, courteous, or tolerant. (See study note on Php 4:5.) Its literal meaning is “yielding.” In using this word, however, Paul is not saying that an overseer would yield to or tolerate wrong or that he would compromise divine standards. Rather, Paul is saying that in matters of personal preference, an overseer would be willing to yield to the views of others. He does not rigidly insist on his own rights or on doing things the way he has always done them. Instead, when it comes to personal views, he respects the preferences of others and he readily adapts to changing circumstances. An overseer is firm in upholding Bible laws and principles, but he seeks to apply those standards in a kind, balanced way. Reasonableness is an aspect of divine wisdom and a hallmark of Jesus Christ’s personality. (Jas 3:17; see study note on 2Co 10:1.) It is also a quality for which all Christians should be known.​—Tit 3:1, 2.

not quarrelsome: See study note on Tit 3:2.

not a lover of money: A person who is focused on acquiring material possessions cannot at the same time give proper attention to shepherding “the flock of God.” (1Pe 5:2) With his sights fixed on the material things of this world, he cannot effectively help God’s people reach out for everlasting life in “the coming system of things.” (Lu 18:30) And he cannot convincingly teach others “to place their hope . . . on God” when he himself is relying on “uncertain riches.” (1Ti 6:17) Therefore, “a lover of money” would not qualify to serve as an overseer. This qualification for overseers is in agreement with inspired counsel given to all Christians.​—Mt 6:24; 1Ti 6:10; Heb 13:5.

presiding over: Or “managing.”​—See study note on Ro 12:8.

presiding over his own household in a fine manner: The meaning of the phrase “presiding over,” or “managing,” is clarified by verse 5. There Paul likens the way a husband is to preside over his family to the way an overseer is to “care for the congregation of God.” (1Ti 3:5) According to one reference work, the verb rendered “care for” in that verse “implies both leadership (guidance) and caring concern.” So the context shows that a husband and father is to be, not a harsh ruler or a dictator, but a man who lovingly cares for his family.​—See study note on 1Ti 3:5.

having his children in subjection with all seriousness: The phrase “with all seriousness” seems to refer to “his children” and not, as some suggest, to the father. Christian children can be “in subjection with all seriousness” by being obedient, respectful, and well-behaved. They act in a way that is appropriate to their age and circumstances. The Bible shows that it is natural for children to laugh and to play. (Lu 7:32; compare Ec 3:4; Isa 11:8.) At 1Co 13:11, Paul acknowledges that when he was a child, he spoke, thought, and reasoned “as a child.” So he is not suggesting that children should be expected to reason or behave as if they were adults.

care for: The Greek word used here is also used by the Gospel writer Luke in the illustration of the neighborly Samaritan who “took care of” a man who had fallen victim to robbers. (Lu 10:34, 35) An overseer should likewise tenderly “care for” the needs of those in the congregation.

a newly converted man: Paul uses a Greek word that literally means “newly planted.” In a figurative sense, this expression refers to someone who has recently become a Christian. (Compare 1Co 3:6-8, where Paul likens the disciple-making work to planting.) Here Paul makes it clear that a man who is appointed as an overseer must be a mature Christian, not one who recently became a believer.

puffed up with pride: See study note on 2Ti 3:4.

and fall into the judgment passed on the Devil: Paul cites the warning example of the perfect spirit creature who became Satan the Devil. Instead of fulfilling the assignment God gave him, the Devil got “puffed up with pride.” His pride and selfish ambition led to his downfall and judgment. Paul thus shows that before a man can be entrusted with authority as an overseer in the Christian congregation, he needs time to demonstrate that he is truly humble. A humble man follows the pattern of Jesus, who was never ambitious for more authority.​—Php 2:5-8; Heb 5:8-10.

fall into reproach and a snare of the Devil: A Christian man who is appointed to be an overseer needs to have “a fine testimony” from people outside the congregation. If he were to be appointed despite having a bad reputation, he would bring reproach on himself, on the congregation, and especially on Jehovah. Also, he would be in danger of falling into one of the snares of the Devil, such as pride or ambition, which might lead him to disobey God. (1Ti 3:6; 2Ti 2:26) Paul’s wording also allows for the idea that “reproach” is part of the “snare” set by the Devil. Satan would delight to see the Christian congregation reproached because of the bad reputation of an overseer.

Ministerial servants: Or “Assistants.” A rendering of the Greek word di·aʹko·nos, which is often translated “minister” or “servant.” In this context, it refers to those who were appointed to be servants in the congregation and assistants to the body of elders. It appears that they helped with many practical matters related to the smooth functioning of the congregation. Such assistance freed the elders to focus on teaching and shepherding.​—See Glossary, “Ministerial servant”; study note on Php 1:1; see also study note on Mt 20:26.

serious: The Greek word rendered “serious” at 1Ti 3:8, 11, and Tit 2:2 could also be rendered “worthy of respect,” “dignified,” or “honorable.” In order to qualify as a ministerial servant, a man should conduct himself in a dignified manner that would win respect. He should be reliable and dependable, taking his duties seriously.

double-tongued: Or “deceitful in speech.” Lit., “double-talking.” The expression Paul here uses conveys the idea of being insincere. A man appointed to be a ministerial servant or an overseer must not be hypocritical, perhaps flattering others or misleading them for his own benefit. Also, he must not be deceptive, saying one thing to one person and the opposite to another. (Pr 3:32; Jas 3:17) Rather, he must be truthful and straightforward, a man whose word can be trusted.

greedy of dishonest gain: This expression (also found at Tit 1:7) basically refers to someone who, according to one lexicon, is “shamefully greedy for material gain or profit.” (Compare 1Ti 3:3; 1Pe 5:2.) Lovers of money put their relationship with Jehovah at risk, and greedy people will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (1Co 6:9, 10; 1Ti 6:9, 10) For good reason, such men do not qualify to be overseers or ministerial servants. They would likely take advantage of fellow Christians. For instance, appointed men might be entrusted with handling congregation funds and distributing them to the needy. Any who were “greedy of dishonest gain” would be tempted to steal some of the money, not only harming the congregation but also offending Jehovah.​—Joh 12:4-6.

the sacred secret of the faith: This phrase apparently refers to truths about the Christian faith. These truths had been secrets, or they had been unknown, until God revealed them to followers of his Son. So a ministerial servant had to do more than assist the elders in practical ways. He also had to be a firm and loyal supporter of revealed truth, eager and able to defend this body of beliefs.

a clean conscience: See study note on Ro 2:15.

Women should likewise: When Paul outlines the qualifications for appointed men, he also lists similar qualities for Christian women. The Greek word here used can mean either women or wives. (1Ti 3:2, 12) So the counsel that follows would apply to all Christian women, especially the wives of those entrusted with responsibility in the congregation.

husbands of one wife: See study note on 1Ti 3:2.

presiding in a fine manner: See study note on 1Ti 3:4.

great freeness of speech: See study note on 2Co 7:4.

God’s household: Paul calls the entire congregation of anointed Christians “God’s household.” This word picture is used several times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (See study notes on Ga 6:10; Eph 2:19.) It conveys the idea that Christians are organized as a close family unit and enjoy a pleasant familylike atmosphere.

the living God: This descriptive phrase was often used in the Hebrew Scriptures. (De 5:26; 1Sa 17:26, 36; Isa 37:4, 17) In this context, it contrasts Jehovah, “the living God,” with the lifeless idols worshipped by pagans in Ephesus and elsewhere. Paul may also have used this phrase to remind Christians of the superiority of their worship.

a pillar and support of the truth: Paul uses two architectural terms in a figurative way to describe the Christian congregation. Pillars were sturdy structural features of many large buildings in Paul’s day; they often served to hold up a heavy roof. Paul may have had in mind the temple in Jerusalem or some impressive buildings in Ephesus, where Timothy was then residing. (Paul also used the term “pillars” at Ga 2:9. See study note.) Here at 1Ti 3:15, Paul describes the entire Christian congregation as a figurative pillar that upholds the truth. The Greek word for “support” means “that which provides a firm base for something.” The word may also be rendered “foundation,” “buttress,” or “bulwark.” Paul uses the two words in combination to emphasize that the congregation was to uphold and support the sacred truths of God’s Word. In particular, those entrusted with oversight in the congregation had to be “handling the word of the truth aright.” (2Ti 2:15) Paul saw the matter as urgent; he wanted Timothy to do all that he could to strengthen the congregation before the great apostasy took hold.

the sacred secret of this godly devotion: This is the only place in the Scriptures where these two expressions, “sacred secret” and “godly devotion,” occur together. (See study notes on Mt 13:11; 1Ti 4:7.) Paul here focuses on this sacred secret: Could any human live a life of perfect godly devotion? When Adam selfishly rebelled against Jehovah in Eden, he failed in that regard. So the question was full of meaning for his descendants. For some 4,000 years, the answer was a mystery, or a secret. No imperfect descendant of Adam and Eve could keep perfect integrity. (Ps 51:5; Ec 7:20; Ro 3:23) But Jesus, a perfect man like Adam, showed godly devotion in every thought, word, and action, even under the most severe tests. (Heb 4:15; see study note on 1Co 15:45.) His personal attachment to Jehovah was based on unselfish and heartfelt love. By setting a perfect example of godly devotion, Jesus provided the answer to this sacred secret for all time.

godly devotion: For a discussion of the expression “godly devotion,” see study note on 1Ti 4:7; see also study note on 1Ti 2:2.

‘He . . . in glory’: The phrases within the single quotes may have been taken from a well-known saying or possibly from a song sung by the first-century Christians. (Compare study note on Eph 5:19.) Scholars base this conclusion on the structure, the sentence rhythm, and the parallelism of the original Greek text.

was made manifest in flesh: This phrase applies to Jesus, apparently from the time of his baptism in the Jordan River. (See study note on Mt 3:17.) At that moment, Jesus of Nazareth became Jehovah’s Anointed One, or Messiah. Though his origin was in heaven, Jesus was a perfect flesh-and-blood human and often referred to himself as “the Son of man.”​—Mt 8:20; see Glossary, “Son of man.”

was declared righteous in spirit: This phrase refers to the time when Jehovah resurrected his Son from the dead to life as a spirit. (1Pe 3:18) Upon resurrecting Jesus, Jehovah granted him immortal life. (Ro 6:9; 1Ti 6:16) God thus confirmed that Jesus had proved righteous in every way.​—See study note on Ro 1:4.

appeared to angels: After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to unfaithful angels, or demons, and pronounced God’s judgment on them. (1Pe 3:18-20) These angels, the ones who rebelled in Noah’s day, are now in figurative bonds. They exist in deep spiritual darkness, and they are apparently restrained from materializing in human form.​—2Pe 2:4; Jude 6.

was preached about among nations: After Pentecost 33 C.E., Christians began preaching to circumcised Jews and proselytes, including those who had been living among the Gentile nations. (Ac 2:5-11) Later, the message was spread among the Samaritans. (Ac 8:5-17, 25) Then, in 36 C.E., Peter witnessed to Cornelius and other uncircumcised Gentiles who had assembled in the home of Cornelius. (Ac 10:24, 34-43) Paul, Timothy, and other missionaries later declared the good news in Asia Minor and Europe. (Ac 16:10-12) About 60-61 C.E., Paul could write that the Christian message had been “preached in all creation under heaven.”​—Col 1:23 and study note; see also Ac 17:6; Ro 1:8; 15:24, 28; Col 1:6; App. B13; and Media Gallery, “Pentecost 33 C.E. and the Spreading of the Good News.”

was believed upon in the world: The first-century Christians spread the good news about Jesus “to the ends of the earth.” (Ac 1:8 and study note) As a result, people in various parts of the world became believers. For example, in the book of Acts, we read of new believers in Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, and Iconium (Ac 13:48; 14:21, 23), Philippi (Ac 16:12, 33, 34), Thessalonica (Ac 17:1, 4), Beroea (Ac 17:10-12), Athens (Ac 17:16, 34), and Ephesus (Ac 19:17-20).

was received up in glory: Here Paul refers to Jesus’ ascension to heaven. (Ac 1:9, 10) Jehovah placed Jesus at His right hand, giving him more glory than any other creature in the universe.​—Mt 28:18; Joh 17:5; Php 2:9; Heb 1:3, 4.


Timothy Meets With Fellow Elders in Ephesus
Timothy Meets With Fellow Elders in Ephesus

While serving as an elder in Ephesus, Timothy receives a letter from the apostle Paul. (1Ti 1:3) No doubt both Timothy and his fellow elders benefit greatly from this spirit-inspired letter. In it, Paul lists the qualifications for men who are to serve as elders or ministerial servants in the Christian congregation. (Ac 20:17, 28; 1Ti 3:1-10, 12, 13) He encourages Timothy to “become an example” to fellow believers and to apply himself to public reading, exhortation, and teaching. (1Ti 4:12, 13) Paul also reminds Timothy not to neglect the special gift, or assignment, that “the body of elders” had given him.​—1Ti 4:14.

“He Was Made Manifest in Flesh”
“He Was Made Manifest in Flesh”

Shown here is a page from the Codex Sinaiticus, a parchment manuscript of the fourth century C.E. The inset in the image includes the part of 1Ti 3:16 that many translations have rendered “He was manifested in the flesh,” or they have used similar expressions. However, as can be seen in the image, someone made an addition above the original text and added two letters to change the wording from “He” to “God.” (This addition was made later, probably in the 12th century C.E.) A similar change can be found in some other early manuscripts. As a result, a number of Bible translations here read “God was manifest [or “manifested”] in the flesh” (King James Version; New King James Version), giving the impression that God himself appeared as a human of flesh and blood. However, as some reference works point out, Greek manuscripts earlier than the eighth or ninth century C.E. do not support the use of the word “God” in their original wording. (See, for example, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament, by Roger. L. Omanson.) So a careful study of ancient manuscripts helps scholars to uncover the few erroneous readings that crept into later manuscripts.​—See App. A3 and Glossary, “Codex Sinaiticus.”