chess02I Timothy 3

New King James Version 1. This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.

The Resultant Version 1.  This is a faithful saying: If any man desires the over-watch, he desires a good work.

Now we come upon the second of these “faithful sayings” that Paul gives us in his personal letters. The first we came on in I Timothy 1:15. Now, we come upon the second. It has to do, as the New King James Version has it, with a man desiring the position of a bishop. Yet we might wonder, what does this mean? And what exactly is a “bishop” in the Bible?

This word as I have quoted it from the New King James Version is, in that version, a holdover from the old King James Version. The King James Version was translated by scholars who were a part of the Church of England or the Anglican Church, and that church authorized this version to be used in the entire Church of England in exclusion of all other versions, which caused it to be called the “Authorized Version.” It was actually the second such authorized version, but the first had been largely unsuccessful.

Now the Church of England was largely a church run by bishops, who were the officers in charge of multiple churches. These bishops had control of the local vicars and their parishes. This institution of bishops was therefore extremely important in the Church of England, and yet it should be clear to any real student of the Bible that there is nothing like the office of a bishop in the Word of God. Therefore the English translators of the Bible, translating to English long before even the King James Version, had picked out the Greek word episkopos and its related words, and had translated these words, whenever it seemed beneficial to them to do so, by using the word “bishop.” This gave a Biblical justification for their organization and use of bishops within their church structure. However, it did absolutely nothing to set forth the real truth of God.

Now the Greek word in question when we come to I Timothy 3:1 is the word episkope. This word is translated “desires the position of a bishop” in the New King James Version. Yet if we really want to get beyond the biased translation of the Anglican Church, we need to examine this word and the words related to it in their context.

The first occurrence of this word is in Luke 19:44, in which our Lord Jesus Christ is mourning over Jerusalem because He knows of the upcoming destruction of the city.

44. and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

The word episkope in this verse is the word translated “visitation.” While there is the idea of visiting in the Greek word episkope, this translation really does not encapsulate the full meaning of the word. We move on to the second occurrence, which is found in Acts 1:20.

20. “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;
‘Let another take his office.’

Peter here is referring to Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed Christ and later out of guilt killed himself. Peter quotes the book of Psalms to justify giving his office to another disciple. The word episkope is translated “office” here in the New King James Version. This is an acceptable translation, but it does not really fully reflect the idea of episkope either. Let us consider the remaining occurrences of this word before we consider what it does mean. The next occurrence is the very one we are currently studying: that is, I Timothy 3:1. Passing over this verse for now, the final appearance of the word episkope is in I Peter 2:12.

12. having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

As in the first occurrence in Luke 19:44, the word episkope is translated here by the word “visitation.” This still does not really clear the matter up for us. Therefore, if we would desire a fuller understanding of what the word means in these passages, we would need to consider the elements of the word itself. The word starts out with the prefix epi. Epi means “upon,” “on top of,” or “over.” Sometimes when used as a prefix it can also be accelerative, like our English “super,” but that does not appear to be the case here. The main part of the word is skope, which means “to see,” “to watch,” “to look,” or “to observe.” Several translations might suggest themselves to us here. “Overseer” would be an obvious one, but the problem is that in our culture this word has taken on the idea of the boss, or even the slave master. Neither of these ideas fits with the Greek. “Over-looker” would carry too much of the connotation of failing to notice things, which also would not properly represent the idea found in the Greek. Perhaps the best translation we could suggest would be that which The Resultant Version has suggested, “the over-watch.” The idea is of one who watches over someone else for his good.

The idea in Luke 19:44 would seem to be that they did not recognize that their God Himself had come to watch over them. The apostles were all meant to be over-watchers over God’s people, and someone else needed to take Judas’ place as an over-watcher. In the day of over-watching (which probably refers to the kingdom time when God will take control of this world and make it His Own), even those who spoke against the believing Jews will have to glorify God when they look back on the good works they had done in their observation.

Next we need to examine the verb associated with this noun. In Greek, the word is episkopeo, which means “to watch over” or “to over-watch.” The first occurrence in the Bible is in Hebrews 12:15.

15. looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

“Looking carefully” represents the word episkopeo, and indicates the fact that these Hebrews were to be watching over one another to maintain their relationships with God and with one another. I Peter 5:2 says a similar thing.

2. Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;

“Serving as overseers” translates episkopeo in this verse. Peter is clearly speaking to leaders here, and is urging them to watch over the believing Israelites, the flock of God. They are not to take a position of over-watching by force and compulsion, but rather are to seek that others will willingly accept their help and guidance. They are also not to serve as over-watchers for dishonest gain. Very good instructions for all who seek to take a position of watching over their fellow believers!

Finally, we need to examine another Greek word, the noun episkopos. Notice that the only difference between this and our noun episkope is the ending. The meaning seems to be simpler, meaning just an “over-watcher.” Our first occurrence makes this clear, in Acts 20:28.

28. 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 which He purchased with His own blood.

The word here is “overseers,” though this again leads us to think of the idea that the Holy Spirit had made them the bosses over the common people. The reality here is that the Holy Spirit had made them over-watchers, and they were to watch over and shepherd the people of God for their own good. Who were these over-watchers? We can discover this from the verse that sets up this one. In Acts 20:17, Luke tells us:

17. From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

Therefore those who are shepherds and over-watchers in verse 28 are called “the elders of the church” in Acts 20:17. The elders were representative men, and here they are representing the ekklesia of Ephesus. They are to over-watch their fellow believers. The same is true of those in Philippians 1:1.

1. Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Paul and Timothy were writing the book of Philippians together, and they are writing to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, along with the over-watchers and deacons. Again, the word episkopos is translated as “bishops,” though this is not the Biblical concept. Paul and Timothy are writing to the over-watchers of Philippi, along with the deacons (or servants). This same word is used in I Timothy 3:2, which we will save for our exhibition of that passage coming up. Next, we have Titus 1:7.

7. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,

Of course, if one is going to watch over others for their own good before God, one must not be blameworthy, quick-tempered, given to wine, violent, or greedy for money. These are all good criteria, and are things we should seek to attain in our own lives. Finally, we come upon the last appearance of episkopos in I Peter 2:25.

25. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Here Christ Himself is the over-watcher, watching over the souls (the very life) of the Jews who believed. All human shepherds and over-watchers are small and imperfect in their tasks compared to Him. He is the true Over-watcher. Praise God for His care for His people!

Thus, we have seen all the occurrences of this word. We would conclude that the over-watch has to do with watching over other believers for their good. One can visit people in order to watch over them, but that does not mean that the word means “visitation.” It is also not an office, as if one could hold it officially and show the paperwork. No, this is a job believers can to do benefit one another, and is something that we all can practice one with another. Yet it would be best if one made sure he met the criteria before attempting to do so.

So Paul starts off with this faithful saying. Again, this is the second such saying we have come on in this book of I Timothy. It speaks to a man who desires to have the task of the over-watch over others. Paul commends such a man, assuring him that he desires a good work. However, just because he desires it, and just because it is a good work, does not mean that God will automatically permit him to do it. There are some criteria the believers needed to meet before God would consider them as being capable of taking this position of over-watching.

New King James Version 2. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;

The Resultant Version 2. An over-watcher then must be irreprehensible, a one-woman man, watchful, sober, of good behavior, knowing how to take hospitality, having an aptitude for teaching,

Now the Lord through Paul begins to list the qualifications of one who is to be an over-watcher. The first thing he lists is that this one must be blameless. The Greek word is anepilemptos, which The Resultant Version translates as “irreprehensible.” That which is reprehensible is bad and deserving of rebuke or censure. An over-watcher should be irreprehensible, without any reason for blame or censure to be brought against him.

Next, he must be the husband of one wife. We realize that in ancient culture, polygamy was not an uncommon thing. Greek and Roman culture had made monogamy more widespread, at least as far as legal marriages were concerned. Yet polygamy was still common enough in many cultures that it certainly might have been important for God to encourage this. Yet the Greek could be more literally translated as saying that an over-watcher should be a one-woman man. What exactly does this mean? Of course, it is hard to say for certain, but we cannot deny that if a man has just one wife, but has a child by another woman, he is not really a one-woman man, for he must deal with this mother if he wants to have any relationship with his own child (which of course he should have). Such a man could not really be categorized as a “one-woman man” at all. I do not believe that God ascribes to the “one at a time” rule that seems to be the only recognized rule in modern society. Children aside, if we took the idea of a one-woman man in its strictest possible definition, it would be that an over-watcher should only have one woman that he has ever had a sexual relationship with.

As our society falls more and more into perversion and sexual permissiveness and deviancy, we cannot help but admit that this becomes a more and more difficult rule to follow, as such men become harder and harder to find. Yet I do not know that this should deter us all that much. There are several facts I think we should consider about this. One is that nothing is requiring us to actually have any official “deacons” or over-watchers among us. Many churches get in their heads the idea that they are going to follow the Bible regarding setting up their church officers. I suppose this is a good thought, though I would question whether a “church” itself is Biblical, not to mention its officers. Yet leaving this aside, many churches will write up their church constitution or rules that they are going to have an elder board or a deacon board and so forth. (I know that they seldom have a “bishop’s board,” yet this same criteria of a “one woman man” is applied to elders in Titus 1:6.) This board will then have, say, a minimum of six elders. Then they have to go out and find six elders. Well, what if they cannot find six men in their church who meet these criteria? Then they will just have to ignore the criteria. Is this right? To say you are “following the Bible” by choosing elders, but then the very elders you choose violate what the Bible says an elder should be?

This reminds me of the story of David and Bathsheba. We are all aware of the fact that David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of his loyal servant Uriah. Yet I wonder how many have noticed the very interesting statement in II Samuel 11:4.

4. Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.

Remember that David first saw Bathsheba from the palace rooftop as she was bathing. Bathing was not an everyday practice, as many tend to do it in western culture today. Yet bathing was prescribed in the law to cleanse a person from legal and ceremonial uncleanness. When a woman, at least for certain reasons, was unclean, a man was forbidden from having sexual relations with her. It seems that Bathsheba had been cleansing herself from uncleanness when she was bathing. The Bible notes the fact that when David slept with her adulterously, he nevertheless made sure that she was ceremonially clean before doing so. Imagine the hypocrisy of this! Making sure a woman was ceremonially clean so you could sleep with her, while at the same time she is married to another man, so you are violating the law against adultery by doing so! David was certainly guilty here of following the letter of the law, at least one law, while ignoring a much more important matter of the law, and ignoring its heart.

How different from this, we might wonder, is the idea of calling your church officers Biblical names in order to “follow the Bible,” and then totally ignoring the Bible’s criteria for choosing such officers? Is this not just following in outward form one command of the Bible while completely violating another and much more important command? This is simply not right! Surely God will not honor you for using His names, but refusing to use them His way.

Now we must speak for a moment about the reality of disqualification. When we consider that we live in a day when people do not want girls to be disqualified from joining the Boy Scouts, we can understand that we live in a time when no one wants to be disqualified from anything. Yet we might ask why disqualification is really such a bad thing? Do not the things you are qualified for and the things you are not help to define you and your place in life? This is especially true when it comes to the things God would qualify or disqualify you from. And no one is disqualified from being a human being, from being one for whom Christ died, from being saved by grace through faith, from belonging to Christ, or from being “in Christ” and enjoying all the benefits that entails. Have we really ultimately “lost” anything from being disqualified from a certain title, then?

Now when it comes to that, I suppose that I myself would not qualify as an “over-watcher.” Why? Because one of the qualifications is that a bishop must be a “one-woman man.” Well, technically I am a “no-woman man,” and so would not qualify. Does this make me any less a believer? What do I lose by the fact that I cannot be called an “over-watcher”? Of course, I am not seeking any such thing. I suppose someone who was trying to make it on to some church board that called themselves “episcopals” or some such thing might be put out by this, and wish that the criteria would go away.

Yet would it not be better to say, “I may not be qualified to be a bishop or an over-watcher, but that does not stop me from being able to watch over others for their good.” Ultimately, that is what being an over-watcher is about anyway. It is not about power, prestige, or the recognition of your peers, but it is about serving others by watching over them. It would be good if you had at least some of the criteria, though. If your life is a total shambles and you do not remotely resemble the criteria God sets forth, then you had better look for others to watch over you, not the other way around. Yet if you have a lot of experience following God and have through patient focus on the Scriptures learned godliness, then use what you know to watch over those who will listen to you. It is better to actually do the job than to carry the title anyway. Serve others by watching over them according to what you know of godliness, and thus serve Christ. Leave the titles and honors to others.

Because none of us have ever been in Ephesus and seen how these bishops worked, we cannot say exactly what was involved with carrying this title beyond merely watching over others. It is obvious that they had specific tasks and duties, though what those are we cannot say for certain. One thing we do know is that in the Acts period Paul had a major ministry in Ephesus, and most of the Jews and Greeks (ancestral Israelites who had given up on the Israelite culture and lived like the Greeks) had come to faith in Christ. Though some of the newer believers there were probably Gentiles, most of the believers would still have been Israelites. The Israelites in Ephesus would have all lived in community. Since they were the only real counter-culture in the Roman Empire, they were outsiders among all others, and so had to stick together. As such, any leaders among them would not just be religious leaders, but would also be community leaders. There were no lines between “church and state” in their society. Thus, it is quite possible that these over-watchers had community and governmental duties as well as religious ones. This is not something we can directly copy.

What can we best take away from the instructions for choosing over-watchers, then? First of all, we can see that there is a need for older, more mature believers to watch over and help younger and more ignorant ones. It is good if believers are not segregated by age, but that we have believers of all different levels of maturity together, so that the older can help and over-watch the younger. “Older” and “younger” here has more to do with time as a follower of Christ and maturity in Him than it does with years since birth, although the two can tie together. Those who have gone through life and lived more-or-less Godly, then, should be anxious to help younger believers do and accomplish the same thing. The tendency in our society, for young people to look to their peers for help, is not good, as it is often a case of fools asking other fools for advice. We need over-watchers among the believers, whether these have an official title or not.

Secondly, I would not encourage anyone to actually try to take on the title of an over-watcher, or any Biblical title as given in I Timothy or Titus, unless he meets all the criteria. One can do some of the work of an over-watcher if he at least meets a good portion of the criteria and has some knowledge of God and experience at Godly living. Yet no one should take on God’s titles without following God’s rules. Yet a church might say, “We have a constitution, and it says we must have six elders. Yet we cannot find six men in the church who meet the criteria in Titus. We have to find someone to fill these positions, so we must then ignore the criteria.” To that I say, what in the world are you doing writing a church constitution that is going to force you to violate the Word of God? You do not need to specify how many elders you have in your church. Either God will send you men who meet all the criteria, or He will not. You have no say in it, and you cannot force the issue by your constitution. The members of your church board do not need to be called “elders” anyway. Why not just call them something else, if you don’t want to have to follow Biblical criteria? Nothing is forcing you to use God’s names. But do not take God’s names, and then blaspheme them by putting people in them that do not fulfill God’s criteria. This is not right, and you will not receive any reward from the Lord for doing it.

Finally, I think that, whether we are in any church or official group of believers or not, these kinds of lists of criteria give us standards that are good for believers to strive to live up to. If God wanted over-watchers to be this way, it is obvious He wanted all His people led to be this way as well. Whether or not we are seeking any such position, we can learn from these lists of criteria what the way God would like all His people to be really is. If it is already too late for us to meet criteria like “one-woman man,” at least we know that that is the goal and can live that way from now on, as well as teaching it to our children or supporting it in any discussion or other way we can. We can support avoiding dependence on alcohol, greed, poor household management, and so forth. We should live these things out in our own lives, as well as encouraging them in the lives of those we come in contact with. This sort of criteria for leaders is not just for leaders, but is something that we all can and should learn from. Praise God, then, that these important things are written about in the Word of God!

Therefore one of the qualifications for an over-watcher is that he must be a one-woman man. Next, he must be “temperate” or “watchful.” The Greek word is nephalios. The idea is being sober, calm, or circumspect. It can also have to do with abstaining completely from wine, or at least from its immoderate use. This latter idea is repeated again in verse 3 in a negative sense.

Next we have “sober.” This seems on the surface to be a repetition, but the word in Greek is completely different, sophron. It seems to come from the root of the word “saved,” along with the word for “mind.” We might get the idea of having the mind of someone who is saved, but that is not really correct. The word for “saved” in Greek, sozo, is also translated “healed” in many of its occurrences in the New Testament. In this case, that idea is probably meant. The idea is of a whole and undiseased mind, or of a sound mind. Obviously one who is not sound in mind and thinking would not make a good leader. Considering how many have their minds trained up by television rather than the Word of God, sound thinking is a rare commodity in our day! Sellers suggests that this could also mean “knowledgeable.”

Next we have “of good behavior.” This is actually the same word translated “modest” (New King James) or “decorous” (Resultant Version) in I Timothy 2:9 regarding women’s apparel. It is the Greek word kosmios, related to kosmos, the word for an orderly system or arrangement. It has to do with behaving in an orderly, proper way. We might say it would have to do with good manners, courtesy, and appropriateness in behavior.

The next criteria for an over-watcher is “hospitable,” or, as The Resultant Version suggests, “knowing how to take hospitality.” Really both are important for anyone in an over-watching position over the believers. A Godly person should both be a good host, and know how to be a good guest. Some people have a tendency to take advantage of those who are known as God’s servants when it comes to being guests. They think that a minister should run a free hotel service for anyone who wants to come to town to visit. Of course, it could be that one would be invited, and that is fine. Yet the hospitality of a Godly person should not be taken advantage of. One of the Lord’s people should not be a poor host, but he should not be a mooch, either. The Greek word is philoxenos, or literally a “lover of strangers.”

The next criteria, the final one in this verse, is “able to teach,” or “having an aptitude toward teaching.” The Greek word is didaktikos, related to didaktos, the word for “teacher.” It is clear that one who is watching over others and who is going to correct them when they are going wrong must have an aptitude for teaching them so he can guide them into the right way. If he sees them going wrong but does not know how to express this to them or how to teach them to go the right way, then his over-watching does little good. He need not be a teacher himself, but he must at least have an aptitude toward it or his over-watching will mean little.