By Don Carson on Jun 25, 2013
The Gospel Coalition
D.A. Carson suggests that there is one unique biblical requirement for a church elder--and it may surprise you!
1 Timothy 3:1
D.A. Carson suggests that there is one unique biblical requirement for a church elder—and it may surprise you!
Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition.
James J Green
commented on Jul 15, 2013
D. A. Carson neglected to include a very important requirement that being the first, The husband of one wife . 1 Timothy 3:1 ?This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 ?A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 ?Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 ?One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
I think the most interesting discussion regarding the qualifications for elders and deacons it that there is no where listed qualifications for pastors. That is simply because there were none. Pastoring is a gifting not a church govt position. Look at how the letters were always addressed to elders or how Paul called a meeting with the elders before he left. Just some thoughts for you all, God bless.
Mr Green, perhaps one of the many reasons that Dr. Carson didn't mention the husband of one wife requirement is that here in America, and all of western society, polygamy is illegal (at least for now). Since he was speaking to a group of people who CAN'T have more than one wife, he didn't need to dwell on it. BTW, if you think this refers to divorce, I say prove it! Timothy was speaking to a culture where polygamy was allowed much more than it is today; that's the context of that phrase.
The word "pastor" comes from the Latin word meaning "shepherd." That's the reason the word pastor is not in the N.T. And according to my understanding of the N.T. the shepherd (Latin word "pastor") is the elder. How the paid preacher fits into this picture is up for debate.
In other words 3 (or 4) the qualifications listed for elders ARE qualifications for pastors because they are the same thing.
The verb form of the word we use for pastor is "to shepherd", which means, "To feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep a) to rule, govern b) of rulers c) to furnish pasture for food d) to nourish e) to cherish one?s body, to serve the body f) to supply the requisites for the soul?s need". The noun form, which we see in Ephesians 4:11 speaks metaphorically of the shepherding role some have in the body of Christ. Part and parcel of this is "teacher". They are to exercise the same watchfulness and care over the people of their charge which a shepherd does over his flock; compare the Lord's commission to and restoration of Peter in John 21:15-16. The meaning has historically been held to be that Christ exercised a special care for His church by appointing ?pastors? who would watch over it as a shepherd does over his flock. That is the role of the elders in general, although they may be gifted and talented to exercise that role differently than other elders.
James Green, like many of a few denominations you seem to want to say the husband of one wife means no divorced person... the Bible never says that and in fact to say that would be to discount the Apostle Paul, who was believed to have been married and even God himself who the Bible says "put away" (the same word translated other places as divorced) the Jewish people for their idolatry (adultery). And I noticed you left out another word in your quoting of I Timothy 3 where it says "not given to MUCH wine"... in other words not an alcoholic or drunkard... the Bible never says anywhere that drinking wine is wrong, only that drinking in excess is wrong.
commented on Jul 16, 2013
Based on what the Bible, the requirements refers to a man. So what would be your opinion on women becoming Bishop and would it be okay for a woman to hold other positions in the church.
The Protestant reformation was started because it was found that the Church had removed itself from following Scriptural Guidance, The present day church is also in the same place of tremendous social pressures to remove itself from Biblical instruction. I find that if a person resists the simple wording of the Bible's guidance then they are basically rebelling from God's directives in it, and therefore are seeking to "go about creating their own style or type or new gospel" which I find to be inconsistent with obedience to the word.
Okay I asked a questions and got a lot words, but no real answer. Women position is church. Should women based the requirements stated in the Bible, become Bishops/Elders etc.
commented on Jul 17, 2013
Berlinda -- According to several of Paul's comments, women cannot be elders, pastors or teachers in the church. "The HUSBAND of one WIFE" is very clear language. How can a woman be a "husband"?
Berlinda, if one reads all the passages of Scripture that talk about the qualifications of Elders, Bishops and Deacons it makes it very clear that those offices within the church are allocated only to men. I do not find anywhere in Scripture that totally forbids women to teach, in fact it does say for older women to teach younger women, but the restriction seems to be talking about teaching men or any position of authority over men. It is my belief from reading the Bible many times that women can and do have the gift of teaching but it is directed at other women and children. There are also examples of women "appealing" to those in authority such as Abigail with David. But in the New Testament church while we see many examples of godly women serving in the church, we never see examples of them being deacons, elders or bishops.
Surely in Romans 16:1, Phoebe is referred to as a female deacon...?
Jonathan Wilson -- The Greek work for deacon is "diakonos", which means servant or courier. So Phoebe was either a servant of the church or a letter carrier for the church. Either way, she was not an elder in the church.
I never suggested Phoebe or any other woman was an elder, but a deacon. The original Greek says 'ousan diakonon' being [the female] deacon of the church in Cenchreae.
Prescott Jay Erwin
The answer, Berlinda, is not that women do not/cannot possess the capabilities necessary to carry out the duties of the office of bishop/elder, the question is whether capable women SHOULD do so. According to the Bible, male headship appears to be the economy of God. It's really a question of humility. There are many other avenues of service in the church for gifted women as well as gifted men who are not qualified to serve in the office of bishop/elder. The ambitious NEED, the driving DESIRE to be vested with the office is an issue of pride when the Bible is pretty clear in a straightforward reading of the qualifications. When we have to enter the realm of speculation in order to accommodate someone's ambition -- male or female --we get ourselves into trouble.
I was taught that a key rule in interpreting any literature was to interpret less clear phrases or in this case scripture in the light of more clear scripture in Galatians 3 it says very clearly, In Christ there is no male nor female, why then should we make distinction in church offices. If keeping scripture is so important there are a lot of things we must worry far more about
commented on Jul 18, 2013
John Marshall: you are quite right. Let Scripture interpret Scripture, the clearer passages can and do help us with the less clear passages. Believing that the Bible is not contradictory, I have to take what appears in Galatians to be pretty clear and then look at all the passages in Paul's letters where he upholds distinction and ask myself, "What's going on here? Is Paul in Galatians contradicting everything he's written in his other letters? Is Paul contradicting the overall biblical theology of male headship?" We have to go back to context to discover that the passage in Galatians is not addressing order in the household of God, but is all about salvation: there's not one way Jews are saved and another for Gentiles; there's not one way that freemen are saved and another for slaves; there's not one way males are saved and another for females. No, there's one way: faith, not the Law. In regard to SALVATION, we're all one in Christ. So that resolves that conundrum. The question remains, then, given that there is undeniably a distinction made, "Why is there a distinction with regard to SERVICE?" Several things become clear. First of all, the fact that there is a mandate for male headship in both the household of the family and the household of God does not mean males are superior either in being or ability -- or service -- just that the calling is different. Paul makes this clear especially in 1 Corinthians 12; we have different gifts and different callings and just because one appears to be more "honorable" than another doesn't mean it really is, nor that it's more important, it's just different.
Jonathan Wilson: Many of us know just enough Greek and Hebrew to be dangerous -- especially when we get into the syntactical usage of masculine and feminine, a concept largely foreign to the English language. The verse in Romans 16 cannot be used, based on diakonon being in the feminine, that Phoebe was vested with and serving in the office of deacon. Just very quickly one must moderate that position based on the preceding text. In 15:8 the EXACT same word is used with regard to Christ, who was neither female nor in the office of deacon. In 15:25 and 31, the word is used in reference to Paul and his service, the masculine used in 25 and the feminine used in 31, but in neither instance is it used with reference to the office of deacon. There may be other recourse to argue for Phoebe holding the office of deacon, but the use of the feminine here cannot make your case.
commented on Jul 19, 2013
@Prescott, while I would agree with you about male headship in the family, whenever the words "head" and "church" are together in the Bible, the head ALWAYS refers to Christ, NOT the male sex. The male sex is never referred to as head when regarding the church. To extrapolate from male headship in the home, a principle of male headship in the church, overall, is to read more into the Scriptures than is actually there, I believe. I have a question for you, though. Do you believe that 1 Timothy 3 also disqualifies single men or widowers from being elders, since they also are not husbands?
When I look at passages such as in 1Ti 3, I don't look to see who it DISqualifies, but who it qualifies -- in other words, I try to take a positive approach from the start. So, I'm not reading these passages with an eye toward who should NOT do it, but who SHOULD. In this particular passage I take my first clue about all that follows from the first word in v. 2: dei, which means "that which must necessarily take place, often with the implication of inevitability" (Louw-Nida). These are the things that must necessarily characterize the one appointed to the office of overseer, and inevitably so because otherwise the one appointed is not really an overseer, but is something else -- in the same way that not everyone tending flocks are shepherds, but many are simply hired hands (Joh 10:12-13). In regard to the specific phrase in v. 2 you're asking about, I prefer to go with the straightforward reading of the Greek "mas gunaikos andra" (one-woman man; one-wife husband); discerning what this means is the responsibility of the local church. We can play around with all kinds of nuances in order to bind or loose in regard to application and understanding, but it comes down to what must necessarily and inevitably be true for one to be an overseer, rather than simply one who carries out the role of an overseer, which is often demonstrated when there is a time of difficult testing. If nothing else is clear in that phrase, however, it IS clear that Paul is referring to someone of the male gender. I'll answer your other point about male leadership in the family household vs. the household of God later. Now I have to head to an "intentional community" weekend -- until Christ is formed in us (Gal 4:19).
@Prescott, I agree that the emphasis of the text is on who is QUALIFIED, rather than who doesn't qualify, although the latter is implied by the former. You are correct, the literal translation is "one-woman-man," and it should be taken as a single phrase. In other words, these are not three independent words, but three words describing one idea. What no complementarian has ever been able to explain to me is why they are willing to recognize nuance in the "one-woman" part of the phrase, but not in the "-man" part of the phrase. It is ONE phrase, and it must be interpreted as a whole. D. A. Carson is a complementarian, so he would agree with you that this text qualifies only men. However, his major point, which I agree with, is that the emphasis of these qualifications is on CHARACTER, specifically, modeling the character that is expected from ALL christians. When looked at from this perspective, it seems that the primary concern in the requirement of being a "one-woman-man" is more about faithfulness to one's spouse, rather than simply about having the right chromosomes. Looking at the broader context of the NT teaching on the nature of Christian leadership gives weight to this reading, as well. Now, I understand that you would not agree with such a reading, and I respect that. I have no intention of changing your mind. However, I believe this reading has as much legitimacy as one which recognizes singles or widowers as qualified for being an elder, even though they have "no woman" (as opposed to "one woman). Either there is room for nuance in the entire phrase, or there isn't. Anyway, I wish you the best in your plans this weekend, and I look forward to your further thoughts. God bless!
commented on Jul 20, 2013
Just a quick note, Bro. Bill: good, godly, sincere people can disagree on this passage, so I'm right with you as far as that goes. I will say this, though, in regard to the one phrase upon which you have landed: yes, it must be taken as a whole, but one must recognize that within that phrase not all words bear the same weight. "Mas" and "gunaikos" together have an adjectival relationship to "andra," the direct object; "one-woman" describes the kind or quality of "man," for "mas gunaikos" is an attributive genitive -- it is attributing something to "andra." Now aside from that, one cannot divorce (no pun intended) this phrase from its larger context within 1Timothy. Backing up, we discover Paul is, in fact, suggesting -- insisting -- that OVERseers be men, males based not simply on "I do not permit," as if this were simply a personal preference, but based on 1) creation order and 2) role in the Fall. In other words, Paul is not JUST talking about character, period, he is talking about the character of the male who would be overseer. It is both. Now, you may disagree that only males may serve as overseers, but the argument cannot be made from this text, especially with reference to this particular phrase, that Paul did not intend gender as well as character.
commented on Jul 22, 2013
@Prescott, I appreciate your thoughts, and I agree with you whole-heartedly that "good, godly, sincere people can disagree on this passage." My purpose here is not to try to change your mind, simply to demonstrate that there is another legitimate way to interpret the text. If we limit ourselves to 1 Timothy 2-3 alone, I think you make some valid points. But when we place the text in its larger contexts, I think there is room for much more nuance in this passage than some have allowed for. For example, historic context. Timothy was ministering in Ephesus, where the religious life was driven by a female deity (Artemis) served by a female priesthood. Paul is clear that women should be taught the Scriptures (2:11), but obviously he did not intend for this to be taken as a sign that he wanted to establish a similar "female-only" Christian priesthood. When he writes, "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (v.13-14), it is very possible that his intention was not to elevate men over women in the leadership of the church, but rather to PREVENT women from elevating themselves over men. Whether or not one ultimately accepts this interpretation, the historic context DOES allow it as a possibility. Moving away from 1 Timothy, however, my original purpose for commenting here was to respond to the larger idea that there is some sort of "mandate for male headship in....the household of God." Like I said, while I do believe in male headship in the home, I see no reason to extrapolate that to the household of God as a whole. Again, every time the NT talks about the head of the Church, it always refers to Christ. Every time, no exceptions. Christ alone is the head of the church. Christ alone has been given all authority in heaven and earth, and he exercises that authority through the church as a whole, both men and women. So, if a pastor or a church believes by conviction from the study of God's word that only men should be "overseers," I have no issue with that. I think there is enough evidence to support such a position (even though I personally believe there is even stronger evidence to support the opposite position). But there is no evidence at all to support "male headship in the household of God." Being an overseer does not give one a position at the head of a local church. That position already belongs to Christ, and he shares it with no one. There can only be one head. Anyways, those are just some of my thoughts. Again, I have appreciated the kindness and respect of your comments. Civility is too often thrown away when debating an issue such as this one, and it has been a pleasure to be able to discuss this in a civil way with you. We may disagree, but in the end, we are both brothers in Christ! May God bless you and your ministry!
Bro. Bill: Oh, boy, do I agree with you in regard to civility in these kinds of discussions. Some of it may have to do the inability to discern "tone;" we do often come across as more prickly than we ought. But then again, some ARE more dogmatic than others and that's fine, too. We can still live together in peace if not total unity. I would never place the issue of male leadership in the Church as a first-order doctrine (like the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ, His virgin conception, His substitutionary atonement, His resurrection and return, the Trinitarian nature of God, etc.), although I do believe it is related to them.
You are, of course, correct here that there is One, and only One, Head of/for the Church -- Christ Jesus -- and perhaps it is an unfortunate choice of words to talk about male HEADship under Christ in the Church, but I think that's more an issue of semantics than substance. Talking about Christ's Headship OF/FOR the Church and male headship/leadership IN the Church may help clarify, but I think probably would not alleviate your concerns. To say "there is no evidence AT ALL to support 'male headship in the household of God,'" however, may be going too far, for in the context of the Church, Paul wrote this: "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (1Co 11:3). Given, Paul was discussing prayer here, not Church leadership, he IS specifically discussing authority in the Church context. And while some have argued well that "head" even as used in regard to Christ has more to do with being the source of nourishment, etc., rather than authority, "head" with regard to Christ does also bear the connotation of authority, interestingly even in one of the passages they cite most: Colossians 1:18. They ignore or overlook the statement in both 17 and the end of 18 denoting His primacy over everything. So, one cannot say there is "no evidence at all" to support male headship in the context of the Church, even in reference to authority.
There is ample evidence to support the understanding of male leadership in the Church, as you have conceded, and in modern parlance, the word "head" may or may not be appropriate. The more important issue, I believe, is the NATURE of the leadership and the oversight being done by the overseers. Leadership in the Church -- even male leadership -- is NOT PRIMARILY about exercising authority, especially not in the manner of "lording it over" others, but IS PRIMARILY about care, nurture, cleansing, support, teaching, etc., and above all modeling faithful living in submission to Christ and everything He has commanded (Mat 28:20; of course, obedience to Christ's commands is not in the old way, the letter, but the new way, the spirit). And finally, let me add that regardless of whether or not one prefers the word "head" in discussion of roles in the Church, Paul also makes it clear in 1 Cor 12 that "the head cannot say to the feet, 'I have no need of you;'" ALL have their role in the body, it's ALL important, it's ALL for the good of the rest of the body, but God has placed ALL in the body just as it pleased HIM, and the Spirit has gifted ALL as HE wills. Women should NEVER think that they have a less honorable, less gifted, less important, role simply because the Lord has established male oversight and leadership in the Church. While certain women may possess some natural leadership abilities, I do not believe the gifts and calling to fulfill those roles in the Church. There are clearly women who are naturally gifted communicators and some who are spiritually gifted communicators, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they are called and gifted to fill leadership roles in the Church (in other words, a woman -- or a man, for that matter -- may have the gift and calling to preach, but it doesn't necessarily follow that she -- or he -- is called to be a pastor/elder/overseer). Anyway, I suppose I've thoroughly expressed my point. Take it for what it is: the view of a country preacher. God's blessings to you!
commented on Jul 23, 2013
@Prescott, thank you for your continued discussion. Let's take a look for a moment at 1 Corinthians 11. What does it mean that a "man is the head of a woman"? You are correct that the word "head" has connotations of authority, for example in Colossians 1:18. But we need to remember that language is fluid, and words can have different shades of meaning, even when used by the same author, depending on the context. Looking at the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, it seems likely that what Paul means by "head" in this specific context is, in fact, source (twice, Paul points out that woman was made from man). On the other hand, there isn't anything in the immediate context to suggest that Paul is speaking of authority by his use of the word "head." So, while "head" does clearly refer to authority in other passages, it doesn't seem to be referring to authority in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not provide any evidence to support the idea of exclusive male "headship" or authority or leadership in the church, and if one wishes to argue for such a position, one would have to look somewhere else. Paul's concern in the overall passage is more about maintaining distinct gender identities in worship, rather than about elevating one gender identity over the other in terms of leadership or authority. Now, I agree with you as far as 1 Corinthians 12. Not everyone has the same role. Everyone has their own role, and all of the roles are important. But there is also nothing in 1 Corinthians 12 to suggest that any of the roles, or "gifts," listed are exclusive to one sex alone, and not the other. Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to share your point of view, as well as for considering my own. Like I said, I don't intend to change your mind, and it is not my place to do so even if I DID intend so! I trust that same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures will lead us to a more accurate understanding as we study those Scriptures, as long as we are open to following him wherever he leads us. I just think there are a lot of assumptions and presuppositions that are read into passages such as 1 Timothy 2-3 and 1 Corinthians 11 that are, upon more careful inspection, simply not there. If nothing else, I hope that I may have helped someone look at these texts from a new perspective, and see if maybe we haven't been missing the point! I hope you enjoy the rest of your week. Blessings to you.
Bro. Bill: I would only say that three things mitigate against your position on 1 Cor 11, those being: 1) verse 10 "Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head," very clearly stated, source is a reason for the authority; 2) the context is regarding practice in the church, as is clear from its overall place in the letter as well as in the periscope at vv. 5 and 16-18; 3) it seems Paul is not writing about maintaining gender distinction -- let's not say "gender identity" -- in religious practice, but rather that gender distinction is the reason for the authority and that it is illustrated in the nature of gender differences. However, in the end I think the overall point may be missed on the basis of misunderstanding what leadership and authority means. It isn't about "elevating" one gender above another. There is to be NO lording authority over another, whether the other be male or female. As long as that idea is maintained and pride gets in the way, this friction will continue. I find it to be a similar situation to what Moses faced. Moses' calling was to minister to the Children of Israel by leading them out of Egypt and to the promised land. Why Moses? One reason: the sovereign choice of God. But "Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses... and they said, 'Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?'" (Num 12:1-2). Well, yes, He had spoken through both Aaron and Miriam -- she being called a prophetess in Exodus 15 -- but their jealousy and ambition (pride) moved them to try to usurp Moses' role -- and the placement of Miriam's name before Aaron's here suggests that this incident was at her instigation. The passage says "Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth (v. 3), so notice how Moses exercised his "authority," his leadership role: Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "O God, heal her, I pray!" (Num 12:13). THAT's what it's all about: people accepting God's sovereign choice with regard to leadership and authority and that authority being carried out not as some elevation over another, nor submission as some kind of diminishment, but rather as the manner of ministry in the church. It is interesting that in 1 Cor 11, Paul begins that periscope writing: "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you..." (v.2) and ends writing: "But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you..." (vv.17-18). Why? Because some where "inclined to be contentious" on this matter -- and others, as was demonstrated in the prior passages and would be in the succeeding passages. I won't continue to write on this lest someone misconstrue our back-and-forth as being contentious, but be assured that I respect you and your work as you diligently seek to accurately divide the Word of Truth, knowing that one day the Lord will bring us into the perfect unity of the faith\and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a complete man, to the measure of the maturity of the fullness of Christ -- I'm not yet near that maturity! Yours in Him.
commented on Jul 24, 2013
@Prescott, I have not seen our exchanges as contentious at all, it has been quite cordial from my perspective. And I doubt many people are still following this thread. Still, I respect your desire to move on, so allow me to simply respond to a few of your comments in closing. 1 Corinthians 11:10 does not clearly teach what you think it does, unless you are already working with the a priori assumption of male headship in general. Notice the specific reason for why "a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head": it is BECAUSE OF THE ANGELS. Now let's look at some context. Earlier, Paul wrote that "the saints will judge the world," and that "we are to judge angels" (6:2-3). So, considering this text, the authority referred to in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is not male authority over females, but HUMAN authority (including female authority) over the angels. This is confirmed by the even larger context of the Scriptural narrative as a whole. We both agree that there are differences between the sexes. Male and female are not interchangeable. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made humankind "male and female." But in the very next verse we see God commanding THEM (both the man and the woman) to "have dominion" over the entire creation. Now, when we consider all of the evidence, what Paul seems to be saying in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is this: even though Paul had written earlier in the letter to the Galatians that in Christ there is no more male or female, Paul does not mean to imply that the difference between the two sexes are no longer there. So he instructs the Corinthians to maintain those distinctions in the context of worship, according to the cultural norms of their times (we, of course, would maintain the distinctions according to our own cultural norms--this is why we do not require women to keep their heads covered in church today). Because it is in worship that we anticipate who we truly are, being fully and truly male and fully and truly female, together reflecting the image of God, and together having authority over the entire creation. That's the whole point: in the NT authority is shared by the whole Church. It is exercised by the whole Church. Just like in creation, authority was exercised by both the man and the woman. The NT Church is the new humanity. In the OT, after the fall, God exercised his authority through select people, judges and kings and prophets and priests. But in the NT, the entire church is a nations of kings and priests. So, like I said earlier, if your study of Scripture leads one to conclude that 1 Timothy 3 qualifies only men for the role of overseer, I respect that. But one should not reach that conclusion on the basis of some supposed "principle" of male headship in the Church, because there is none in Scripture. Every text you've offered in support of that idea, we have seen that when you suspend that a priori assumption, and examine it closely and in context, can be interpreted in a different way (and a more Biblical way, in my view) that does not support that assumption. Anyway, it has been a pleasure to be able to discuss this issue with you. I offer these thoughts as something to think about. And I have appreciated, not only you sharing your thoughts with me, but doing so in a respectful and Christlike manner. It is evident that the Spirit of God is at work in you! This discussion has helped me to clarify this important issue even further in my mind. I wish you God's richest blessings in your ministry!
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