The Two Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy
1- Conditions for nominees for the position of bishop (1 Tim. 3:1-7)
St. Paul moves from instructions concerning the congregation’s spiritual life, to basics of pastoral care. He starts with rules for ordaining bishops1. The precise meaning of “bishop” or “episkopos” is “overseer.” This rank, which is higher than elder or presbyter, is the oldest ecclesiastic rank (Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5). These ranks, though, are sometimes used interchangeably (1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9). We also note that, in his epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul sends his greetings to the bishops and deacons, without mentioning elders or presbyters – which suggests that “priests (or presbyters)” and “bishops” are sometimes used as synonymous.
The Book of Acts tells us that St. Paul, in his last trip from Asia to Jerusalem, came to Miletus, summoned the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17), and told them: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God …” (Acts 20:28) In this passage, “elder” and “bishop” refer to the same person. However, the increasing number of elders in the second century and beyond led to the bishop’s prominence in the ecclesiastic hierarchy – hence, a person who oversees elders and their service.
We also note in this chapter that St. Paul speaks of rules governing bishops and deacons – with no mention of elders. This suggests that St. Paul uses the word “bishop” to denote “elder,” especially as Timothy, then, was occupying the position of bishop – in that capacity he would not ordain bishops, rather, presbyters who would fulfill and supervise tasks associated with the service.
+ In the beginning, St. Paul portrays the aspiration to priesthood as a good thing, as long as intentions are honorable; the aim must be a sincere desire to be dedicated to the Lord’s service.
+ The first condition is for the person to be blameless. In other words, the person’s conduct must be exemplary, without any hint of imperfection that risks damaging the service or its reputation, not to mention being offensive to others, and having to bear the consequences.
+ Concerning his marital life, he must be “the husband of one wife,” which means he cannot be polygamous since, not only does polygamy damage chastity that Christianity preaches, but also it casts a shadow over the person’s reputation. Although Adam had one Eve (Gen. 1:27 and Mat. 19:4), Jews and pagans practiced polygamy and a wife could be divorced for any reason (Mat. 19:8). This principle still applies in the Orthodox Church for priests; in the event of a priest becoming a widower, he is not permitted to re-marry. A married priest may socialize with families in his congregation without risking any offence; he can also appreciate, and deal with, marital problems2.
It should be noted, though, that the biblical text requires the nominee to be monogamous, assuming that he is already married; an unmarried nominee, on the other hand, is not required to get married. With the advent of monasticism in the fourth century, our fathers felt that bishops should be celibates or monks; the reasoning behind this is that a bishop should be dedicated to serving his bishopric with its wide responsibilities of shepherding its con_greg_ation, priests and deacons, and without the risk of being impeded by his personal family pro_blems. The priest, however, must be married3.
+ Concerning personal attributes, a bishop must be:
“Temperate” [sensible, serious, balanced, and in full control of his conduct, speech and instincts], “sober-minded” [alert], of “good behavior” [dignified and commanding respect], “hospitable” [generous, open-hearted, and appreciating his responsibilities towards his church and to having a home open to new-comers, those arriving from distant places, and the needy regardless of their faith – Rom. 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9], “able to teach” [qualified to know, interpret and experience the word of God, set the example, preach it, and transmit it to those whom he serves – Titus 2:7].
+ A bishop should also be “not given to wine.” Like all other substances, wine is good, “All things indeed are pure,” (Rom. 14:20), and “… every creature of God is good.” (1 Tim. 4:4) Furthermore, at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, Christ changed the water to good wine (John 2:10), and the Church commemorates this miracle as one of the minor feasts of the Lord. Wine is also used in the Passover and in the Eucharistic mystery. In the Old Testament, wine was the natural drink (Judges 9:13 and Amos 9:14), and has useful applications (Proverbs 31:6). On the other hand, too much wine leads to offences, drunkenness, dissipation, and a smeared reputation; the Bible tells us that wine “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) We must also remember what happened to Noah when he was drunk and became uncovered (Gen. 9:18-27), to Lot with his two daughters (Gen. 19:30-38), and to Amnon with his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:28-29). St. Paul advised Timothy, who had a stomach ailment, to have a small amount of wine (1 Tim. 5:23); on the other hand, he wrote to the Ephesians: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,” (Eph. 5:18). In taking care to not offend others (especially beginners and doubters) about drinking wine, or eating flesh sacrificed to idols, he said, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” (Rom. 14:21) Also, “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Cor. 8:13) On this subject, Paul laid down several principles:
* “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:22 & 23)
* “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.” (1 Cor. 8:8)
* “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful … not all things edify ... but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23)
* “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15 & 16)
+ It is insufficient for the Lord’s servant to refrain from wine addiction; he must also be “not violent, not quarrelsome” since such behavior is typical of drunkards, who cannot control their behavior and resort to violence. The Lord’s servant must be just like his Master: tolerant, non-violent, and “not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.” (Mat. 12:19) This is because everyone is his brother or sister, and he cannot be anyone’s enemy.
+ The Lord’s servant must not love money, hence, he must not be “greedy for money,” since, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10) The love of money is a sin, directly opposed to the teachings of the Holy Bible: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (1 John 2:15) Being “greedy for money” means seeking to accumulate wealth by any means. The love of money is not only a huge obstacle in the path of service, but also a betrayal of Christ’s law and precepts; such a person has no place in Christ’s circle. Money is a means for serving God, for evangelizing in His name, and for helping the poor, the widow, the stranger and the orphan. Worshipping money, on the other hand, represents a departure from the Faith. A bishop or presbyter could very well start his service as a chaste and upright person; but, with the passage of time and because of those who offer him money, he may be lured into loving money that, previously, had not been his tendency. It is thus imperative to refrain from loving money, from beginning to end; additionally, he must guard himself against the snares of lust, when dealing with women of all ages, and be careful not to fall from grace.
+ A bishop must also be a good example to follow, as an ideal family man, hence, “one who rules his own house well,” since Christian selfless love ties him to his spouse. “Having his children in submission with all reverence,” means that he raised godly children, submitting to their parents who offer them loving care. Naturally, his success in managing his household would be a good indication of his qualifications to care for the Church of God.
+ A bishop should also be “not a novice;” in other words, he should be well-established in the knowledge of Christ and the Gospel, in full command of, and able to teach, the Faith’s fundamentals, while leading an unconditional Christian life. Otherwise, not only could his teachings lead people astray, but also his shallowness and selfishness could puff him up, thereby rendering him an easy prey for Satan.
+ Finally, a bishop “must have a good testimony among those who are outside,” meaning, he must have good testimony from non-believers, so that the Church might maintain good relationships with her surroundings and with government establishments.
(To be contd.)
- In the O.T., Moses appointed “seventy men of the elders of Israel” to help him shepherd the con_gregation (Numbers 11:16). The group of elders who led the Roman government was called the “Senate;” this is also the name of one of the two groups of the U.S. Congress. ↩
- In some cases, the Church permits the ordainment of celibate priests. ↩
- The priest’s celibacy remained a condition in the Catholic Church for many centuries, despite negative results, and the difficulties that Catholic priests suffer; some of them are demanding permission to get married after their ordainment – some opted to leave the priesthood in order to get married. There does not seem to be any indication of changes in this regard, although the Catholic Church now permits priests to be married in those areas where priests in the prevailing denominations are married. ↩