1 Timothy 3:1-16

The opening words (“trustworthy [is] the word”) may either affirm that a woman would be “saved through childbearing” or serve to introduce the declaration that the man who “strives for overseership desires a good work.” An “overseer” or “superintendent” in a congregation had the responsibility of looking after the spiritual interests of fellow believers as would a loving guardian. In times of persecution, overseers would be prime targets, often facing imprisonment, torture, and death. Possibly, because of the grave dangers they faced, Paul stressed that overseership was a good work (not a responsibility to be avoided out of fear). (3:1)

Only men of the highest moral character could be entrusted with the assignment of looking after the spiritual well-being of fellow believers. Paul provided Timothy with guidelines about the qualifications he should look for in men who could serve in this capacity. An overseer should be “blameless” or free from reproach. His conduct and dealings with others should not give rise to questions but should reflect adherence to the loftiest moral standards. (3:2; see the Notes section.)

A man’s being the “husband of one wife” could be variously understood. In the Greco-Roman world, polygamy existed and divorce could be obtained on various grounds. It was not uncommon for married men to have mistresses. So the meaning could be that a man should have only one living wife and be faithful to her. The strictest application would be to take the words to mean that a man who had married a second time should not be considered for appointment as an overseer. While various interpretations are possible, the primary thought appears to be that Timothy should not have considered as suitable any man whose married life was not or had not been exemplary. (3:2)

A man who could serve as an overseer should be “sober” (nephálios), “sensible” (sóphron), “orderly” (kósmios), “hospitable,” and able to teach. (3:2)

The Greek term nephálios can describe a person who is moderate, temperate, or sober. Often the expression relates to one who is moderate in the use of wine. The matter of moderation in drink is mentioned later (in verse 3), and so nephálios may here apply to the use of restraint, not being given to extremes or excesses of any kind. (3:2)

A person to whom the Greek word sóphron is applied would be sensible, thoughtful, or give evidence of possessing good judgment. One whom the Greek expression kósmios describes would be orderly, respectable, dignified, or proper in bearing and in handling daily affairs. (3:2)

The Greek term for “hospitable” is philóxenos and denotes showing love for strangers. Followers of Christ who were commended for their love of strangers opened their homes to fellow believers whom they did not know personally and treated them as welcome guests. (3:2; Philemon 7; 3 John 5-8)

Men who were qualified to teach would have understood the truth about God and Christ and would have been able to convey this to others, providing sound admonition and instruction. (3:2)

Those who would serve as overseers should not overindulge in drinking wine but should be setting an example in moderation. Heavy drinking often leads to fights and brawling, which would also disqualify a man from serving. (3:3)

Overseers should not be violent men who bully others or are quick to come to blows, but they should be gentle, forbearing, tolerant, or courteous. Instead of insisting on the letter of the law, these men would be able to look at matters humanely and understandingly. They would be peaceable, not contentious. (3:3; see the Notes section.)

Overseers must be free from the love of money (literally, “love of silver”). They would be known as honest men who conscientiously paid their debts and did not participate in questionable business practices or deals. (3:3)

A married overseer would be a man who commendably directed, managed, and cared for his own household. His children would be submissive to him, conducting themselves in a laudable manner. They would not be debauched youths. The words “with all dignity” (seriousness or respect) could either relate to the conduct of the children or to the manner in which the father managed the household. Both meanings are found in translations. (3:4) “He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way.” (NRSV) “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” (NIV) “He must have proper authority in his own household, and be able to control and command the respect of his children.” (J. B. Phillips) “He must be one who manages his own household well and controls his children without losing his dignity.” (REB)

If a man is unable to manage or care well for his own household, he would hardly be able to look after a community of fellow believers. A father has more authority in his own family than he would among members of the household of faith. Additionally, natural affection in the family serves as an additional bond. So if a man had difficulty in caring for his own household, he would find it much harder to look after the spiritual well-being of a congregation, where his authority would not be as great and where fewer ties of natural affection existed. (3:5)

A neophyte or a recent convert would not be qualified to serve as an overseer. Such a man could begin to think more of himself than he should, becoming puffed up with conceit. His false view of his own importance could result in a ruinous fall and the condemnatory judgment passed on the devil. Another meaning (conveyed in a number of translations) is that the individual would experience the adverse judgment that the devil desired to be expressed against him. (3:6)

An overseer needed to have “good” or favorable “testimony” from persons outside the community of believers. Among persons acquainted with him, he should have a good reputation. There should not be anything in his past that would raise serious questions about his moral character. If he did not have a reputable standing in the community where he lived, the result would most likely be that he would “fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” Upon hearing that the man had weighty responsibility in the community of believers, unbelievers would begin making unfavorable and even slanderous remarks, making him an object of reproach. The “snare of the devil” could refer to the trap into which the devil fell (“sharing Satan’s downfall” [J. B. Phillips] or the trap the devil set (“trapped and disgraced by the devil” [CEV]). The more likely meaning appears to be the trap the devil sets. The scandal would serve the interests of the adversary, with resultant disgrace to the whole congregation. (3:7)

“Servants” or assistants commonly attended to matters involving the physical well-being of fellow believers. They looked after arrangements to care for widows or others needing help on account of unfavorable circumstances. (3:8; compare Acts 6:1-6; 11:28-30.)

The nature of the services they rendered did not require them to be apt in teaching, but they needed to be trustworthy men with a record of commendable conduct. It was vital for them to have the full confidence of the community of believers. Servants had close contact with fellow believers and personal knowledge about their needs. They had to be impartial when rendering essential aid, not overlooking anyone.

Just as there were qualifications for men who would be appointed to function as overseers, “likewise” those who would be designated as servants or helpers had to meet certain requirements. Servants needed to be “serious” or “dignified” in disposition and bearing, not frivolous in their deportment and not treating important matters lightly. (3:8)

In word, servants needed to be completely truthful, not “double-tongued.” They would not be saying one thing when meaning something entirely different or telling one person one thing and someone else something else. They were to be moderate in the use of wine, not being given to heavy drinking. With reference to money matters, servants were to be exemplary, not avaricious or shamelessly fond of dishonest gain. They would not consider using the service that had been committed to them to profit themselves. (3:8)

The “mystery of the faith” is the mystery that has faith in Christ as its object. God’s purpose to forgive sins and to reconcile humans to himself on the basis of his Son’s surrender of his life had long remained a mystery or had been hidden. Once Jesus came to the earth, died sacrificially, rose from the dead, and returned to his Father, the “mystery” was disclosed, being made known by those who responded in faith to Christ and his death for them. To have a “clean conscience” respecting the “mystery of the faith,” a man would need to be upright, harmonizing his life with the example and teaching of God’s Son. This necessitated that servants be exemplary in attitude, deed, and word, maintaining a conscience that was not defiled by sinful ways. (3:9)

Before men could begin serving, they first needed to be “tested.” There should be unmistakable evidence that they had the required qualities and abilities to be able to serve fellow believers in a praiseworthy manner. Once they had proved themselves as qualified and capable, they could function as servants or assistants, provided no valid accusation could be made against them. (3:10)

The Greek word gyné can either denote “woman” or “wife.” So the reference could be to the wives of men who would be appointed as servants or assistants. If Paul had intended this to apply to wives, one would expect that he would have made similar expressions about the wives of those who would serve as overseers. The mention of “women” appears in a context of appointments to serve fellow believers, and this would seem to weigh against taking the reference to be to wives or women generally. (3:11)

In the letter to the Romans (16:1), Phoebe is called a “servant of the congregation in Cenchreae.” It is not likely that this meant she held the appointed office of a deaconess, but she probably ministered to others in a general sense, rendering valuable service to fellow believers. Paul probably entrusted Phoebe to deliver the letter to the Romans, and she doubtless was asked to performer other services in the community of believers. On the basis of the reference to Phoebe as a “servant,” one might reasonably conclude that, in 1 Timothy, the women would be those who were chosen or asked to perform specific services in or for the congregation. (3:11)

As in the case of men who rendered service (3:8), these women would likewise have to be “serious” or dignified in their deportment. They could not be slanderers, given to gossiping and passing on malicious rumors. As was said of those who would serve as overseers (3:2), the women should be moderate (nephálios), temperate, or sober. Their conduct should be free from any excesses or extremes. They should be “faithful,” trustworthy, or dependable “in everything” (literally, “all,” meaning either in all respects or in all matters). (3:11)

Resuming with the qualifications of men who would serve fellow believers, Paul said, “Servants should be husbands of one wife, managing children and their own households well.” Like overseers (3:4), married servants should be exemplary family men, caring properly for their households. Their being husbands of one wife would have the same significance as in the case of overseers. (3:2) Responsible family men would have the trust and respect of the larger family of faith. In being mentioned in addition to the children, the household would have included more than the immediate family members. This may be an implied indication that servants or assistants had the ability to give good direction to others and were skilled in managing affairs. (3:12)

The conjunction “for” (gar) seems to link the commendable position of servants in their own families and their entire household to a positive result in the community of believers. When serving fellow believers well as exemplary family heads, they gain a good standing for themselves and “much boldness in the faith that [is] in Christ Jesus.” Their being good family men and caring well for the needs of fellow believers in their capacity as servants would gain them the respect, trust, and appreciation of the congregation. In handling their responsibilities within the community of believers, such good servants would have “boldness,” not having their self-confidence undermined on account of failing to manage household affairs properly. “Boldness in the faith that [is] in Christ Jesus” may refer to the faith that is focused on the Son of God. Therefore, within the family of fellow believers, exemplary servants or assistants would have confidence in speaking and caring for essential matters. There is a possibility that “faith that [is] in Christ Jesus” refers to the faith in his Father that he manifested while on earth. In that case, a man’s serving well in the community of believers would be an expression of the kind of faith Jesus Christ exemplified. (3:13)

Paul hoped that he would shortly be able to join Timothy in Ephesus. In the event his intention did not materialize and he was delayed, he had written what he did so that Timothy would know how to conduct himself in the community of believers. The apostle referred to this community as the “congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth.” It is God’s congregation, for he purchased it with the blood of his own Son. (Acts 20:28) As a pillar, the congregation upholds the truth, specifically the message concerning Christ and what his Father made possible through him. This would require that the members individually function as defenders and upholders of the truth that the community of believers shared in common. A “support” is a foundation or a firm basis. With the individual members adhering closely to it, the truth is supported as if resting on a solid foundation. (3:14, 15)

Paul continued, “And confessedly great is the mystery of godliness: [He] was manifested in flesh, justified in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” Like the “truth” and the “mystery of faith,” the “mystery of godliness” is summed up in Christ. God’s purpose always had been to have humans be at one with him through his Son, but that purpose remained hidden or secret for generations until it was revealed in the first century CE. (3:16)

The “godliness” associated with this mystery may be the godliness that distinguishes the lives of those who put faith in Christ. He is the object of the revealed mystery, which is confessedly or undeniably “great,” giving rise to admiration and wonder. The aspects about the “mystery” are expressed poetically, suggesting that they were part of an early Christian composition. (3:16; see the Notes section.)

God’s unique Son was revealed in the flesh, living as a man on earth. His being justified or vindicated “in spirit” may refer to his having been raised from the dead through the operation of the holy spirit and thus vindicated as truly being God’s Son. (3:16; compare Romans 1:4; Ephesians 1:17-20.)

The Greek word ángelos can designate either a heavenly or a human messenger. At the time Jesus rose from the dead, angels did see him. (Matthew 28:2-6; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12) If the reference is to human messengers, these would have been all who saw the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, enabling them to be witnesses to his having been raised from the dead. (3:16)

Christ’s disciples proclaimed the message about him to the people of the nations. In the world of mankind, individuals responded, coming to believe that Jesus Christ is indeed God’s Son. At the time of his ascension to heaven, he was taken up in glory. He was then in the highly exalted state of the one to whom his Father had granted all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) While on earth, God’s Son had been in a state of humiliation, but he returned to the heavenly realm in a state of matchless glory or magnificence as the Lord of angels and all humans, both living and dead. (3:16; Philippians 2:9-11)


The Greek words for “overseer” and “servant” (3:2, 8) are not to be understood as designating “church offices” or “church positions” in the sense that the terms “bishop,” “deacon,” and “deaconess” are understood today. In the first-century congregations, “overseer” and “servant” were not titles designating an office but were descriptive of the work or service the individual performed.

In verse 3, certain manuscripts add “not avaricious [me aischrokerdé],” or shamelessly fond of dishonest gain.

The Greek word for “serious” (semnós) is missing in a few manuscripts, including the original text of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus.

In 3:16, the reading “confessedly great” has the best manuscript support. A few manuscripts read, “we confess as great.”

The first word following “mystery of godliness” and which has the best manuscript support is hós, meaning “who.” Other manuscripts read (which) or theós (God). Copyists may have chosen to correct hós, changing it to the neuter pronoun to make it agree with the neuter gender of the noun mystérion (mystery). In early manuscripts, theós was commonly abbreviated by omitting the vowels. As a result, copyists may have misread the pronoun hós as the abbreviated form of theós. Another possibility is that copyists deliberately changed hós to theós, using the noun that reflected the prevailing theological view regarding Christ.