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Topic 18: 1 Timothy 3:1-2: “…the office of bishop…”


I Timothy 3:1-2 focus on the position of and qualifications for an episcope (overseer, bishop).

1 Timothy 3:1 reads, “The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.”

Let’s take a closer look.  English translations of 1 Timothy 3:1 often obscure the integrity and point of the Greek text.

(A) A male pronoun is often added to the English translations where no pronoun at all is called for in the Greek text.

(1) In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul employs the Greek tis which refers to “anyone,” male or female. [For the following I am indebted to Joseph Webb,        , and Joann Lepper, “A Fresh Vision of a Woman’s Glorious Heritage in Christ.”]

(2) Tis is properly translated “any one, anything, someone, something; many a one or thing” (Arndt/Gingrich, pg. 827).  Thayer adds that it is an “indefinite … pronoun” (pg. 625).  It always has an indefinite referent, applying to either male or female or both.

(3) “So chapter 3 of 1 Timothy opens with ‘If anyone aspires to oversight’” (Webb, pg. 43).

(4) Read 1 Timothy 3:1 and following.  All of the pronouns “in English are male pronouns: ‘he desires’ (v. 1), ‘he must manage’ (v. 4), ‘his own household’ (v.5), ‘how can he care for God’s church’ (v.5), ‘he may be puffed up’ (v.6), ‘He must be well thought of,’ (v.7), and ‘he may fall into the reproach of the devil’ (v.7)” (Webb, pg. 42).

(5) “The fact is. … that the repetition of the ‘he’ in the text … is simply not a correct handling of the verbs and pronouns contained within those verbs.  In the Greek text, no pronoun is inserted at any point where the ‘he’ appears in the above list.”

(6) “‘He’ is only part of the correct translation.  The third person singular pronoun could also be translated as ‘she.’ It is without question most accurate to translate the pronoun each time it appears as ‘he or she’” or “the one who …”

(7) “The pronoun, instead, is always ‘implied’ within the verb form that is used.  In every instance listed above, moreover – and that includes virtually every verb in the text – the Greek verb is in the third person singular and should always be translated as ‘he,’ ‘she,’ or ‘it.’”

(8)  “With this line up of male pronouns – and it is this way in virtually all English translations – it is little wonder that the reader … would assume that it calls for men to fill the positions of leadership and for woman to be excluded” (Webb, pg. 41).

(9) “We are required by tis to translate them with ‘he or she’ because only the ‘he or she’ harmonizes with the inclusive indefiniteness of tis, the ‘formative pronoun’” of this text (Webb, pg. 43).  “The insertion of tis indicates that anyone without regard to sex, could aspire to the work of oversight.”

(10) Greek has sex-specific words for males and females, which Paul does use in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to distinguish male and females.  Here he avoids those specific words.

(B) 1 Timothy 3:4 contains the Greek proistamenon, a present middle participle.  It is attached to no specific pronoun.  “The participle itself has gender but the writer is quick to neutralize the masculine gender by inserting the indefinite pronoun [tis] in a repetition of the ‘manage’ statement which follows immediately.”

(1) Proistamenon means “managing.”  It may literally be translated, “managing one’s own household well …”

(2) The similar issue holds with the verbs in verses 6 and 7, which accurately translated would read “Not a recent convert, or being puffed up, he or she [third person singular] fall into the condemnation of the devil” and “being well thought of by outsiders, or he or she [third person singular] may fall into the reproach and the snare of the devil.”

(C) “If the apostle Paul had intended to indicate that ‘if any male aspires to oversight,’ he could have very clearly stated that, and given his penchant for precision, would have done so” (Webb, pg. 43).

(D) Therefore, 1 Timothy 3:1 and following may be translated as follows: “If anyone sets the heart on being an overseer, he or she desires a noble task…managing the family well…(If anyone does not know how to manage the family, how can he or she take care of God’s church?)  He or she must also have a good reputation…so that he or she

(E) 1 Timothy 3:2 reads, “Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife … “

(1) This passage is used by those opposed to women pastors to “prove” that God wants only males to be in the pastoral office.  But the point of the passage is not the gender of the bishop, but the behavior of one who holds the position of overseer.

(2) “… the husband …“:  The point is the marital status and fidelity of  a bishop to the spouse.

(3) The bishop must also have “children who obey him..”  If we follow a logic which says Paul is requiring only males because he says “husband of one wife,” we would end up concluding that to be a bishop one must be a husband and also have fathered children.

(4) Such reasoning would disqualify Paul himself (who was unmarried) as well as Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12).