Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Desire for and Qualifications of an Overseer – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on October 3, 2014

andy-profile-1In part one of this study we set out to explore the relationship between an elder and what Paul referred to as an “overseer” in 1 Timothy 3. What we learned is that an “overseer” is the same as a “supervisor”, and that it is really a secular term and not necessarily a religious one. In fact, as we studied the text in verse 1, we saw that not all of the assemblies there in Ephesus had overseers. The implication was that they might desire oversight (which Paul called a “good thing”) but it appears as if it was optional. That is something that flies in the face of traditional Protestant orthodoxy and would be worthy of further study.

So having then examined the relationship of elders and overseers, in part two we will study in detail each of the qualifications of an overseer. You can think of this as a job description. If you were seeking a candidate to fill a role, think about what kind of attributes you would want. What are the attributes that make for a good overseer for a home fellowship? Paul lists them in 1 Timothy 3:2-7, and they are as follows:


This quality is pretty straightforward, but we will look at it a little closer. The word in the Greek is ανεπιληπτος (an-ep-ee-layp-tos). It is made up of three parts – “a”, a negative particle meaning no, not, or without; “epi”, meaning over or fully; and “lambano”, meaning to take or to hold securely. Taking all three parts together we have a word the literally means, “not over-taken”. It is actually a judicial term that has to do with being arrested for suspicion of a crime. So an overseer must be one who is without suspect. He must be above reproach.

The husband of one wife

Of all the qualities listed, this one alone has to be historically the most controversial. But what does the text say?  The words in the Greek literally read, “to be one woman’s man”. Notice the “possessive” nature of the text, that the man belongs to one woman. Taken in its most literal context, notice two things about that expression:

  1. It does NOT automatically disqualify a divorced man
  2. It does NOT automatically disqualify a single man

I want to stress the word “automatically” here. Because what this expression speaks to is attitude and character. It is the idea of faithfulness to God’s order of one man cleaving with one woman. The emphasis here has to do with adultery and fornication, because especially in that culture, it was common for men to have mistresses or to engage in relationships with temple prostitutes as part of the pagan religions. A big part of sanctification for the believer has to do with sexual purity (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). The focus here is not on marital status but rather on the man’s sexual morality as it pertains to his sanctification.


I believe this word as translated in the King James is one that had a different meaning in 1611 than what we understand it to mean now in our modern English language. In the Greek, it is the word ναφαλεος (nay-fel-eh-os). Literally it means, sober or free from wine. Taken in a figurative sense, it means circumspect or discrete. Certainly one needing to use proper discernment would not want to have his faculties impaired.


Using another word that also suffers from an archaic definition, perhaps Paul was simply amplifying his meaning on the previous word “vigilant” – saying the same thing with a little more nuance. This word in the Greek is σωφρον (soh-fron). It is a compound word- “so-dzoh”, meaning to save or heal, to make safe, to make well; and “phren”, the midriff, which refers to the center part of the being, the center of emotions. This is the quality of being emotionally stable.

Of good behaviour

The King James rendering of this word does not do it justice. This quality of an overseer is much more than just behaving well. The Greek word is κοσμιος (kos-mee-os) – from the word “kosmos” meaning an orderly arrangement or system. To describe one who is systematic or orderly means he is well disciplined. He exercises self-discipline. His life is not characterized by chaos.

Given to hospitality

There is a saying that I have heard in the retail industry that goes something like this: “All customers are appreciated- some when they come; some when they leave.” The point is that there are some people you just can’t stand, but you tolerate them for the sake of making a sale. However that is not showing genuine hospitality. It is the wrong attitude.

In the Greek, the word is φιλοξενος (fee-lox-en-os) , a compound word from the word “philo”, meaning to be fond of, or friendly; and “xenos”, which is a foreigner; literally an alien; a guest, stranger, or visitor.

Friendly to guests. This suggests a genuine love towards everyone, even the ones who are not that loveable. It is not merely tolerating them simply because you are the host and you want to be polite.

Apt to teach

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Having an aptitude for teaching. Skillful in teaching. This Greek word is διδακτικος (dee-dak-ti-kos) . It comes from the word “didaktos” meaning that which is communicated by teaching. So we are talking about one who has the ability to communicate by teaching.

Now I want to point out the phrase “communicate by teaching”, because this is important. There are many ways to communicate information. There is rhetoric, debate, lecturing, coercion, preaching, and heralding just to name a few. But there is something unique about teaching. Teaching is methodical instruction that produces learning. It is not so much about persuasion. It is not so much about the “how” and the “what.” A skilled teacher enables his students to understand the “why.”

The next 6 qualities in the list are all related. Paul presents three together in a series and then contrasts them with the next three. Collectively, each group of three words describes an overall character.

Not given to wine

The word here is παροινος (par-oy-nos). It comes from the words “para”, meaning near or beside and “oynos”, which means wine. Literally, the word means “staying near wine”. This is most likely an idiom for a drunkard or an alcoholic.

No striker

This is the word πληκτης (plake-tace), from the word “plaso” meaning to pound or flatten out. This is one who does not resort to physical violence.

Not greedy of filthy lucre

Here, the word is αισχροκερδης (ah-ee-schro-ker-dace), made up of the words “aischros”, meaning shameful or disgraceful, and “kerdos”, meaning gain, more specifically, personal gain, monetary or otherwise. So this word is referring to personal gain that is obtained in a shameful, disgraceful, or unscrupulous manner.

Notice how the three words together paint a picture of character. One who is a drunkard, who resorts to physical violence, and who seeks personal gain in an unscrupulous manner. Then, following the transitional word “but”, Paul compares this picture with the picture described by three contrasting traits.


The modern use of the English word here does not convey an accurate meaning in the Greek. The word is επιεικης (ep-ee-eye-kace), which means to be yielded over, gentle, and moderate. Temperance might be a better way of describing it.

Not a brawler

This is the word αμαχος (a-mach-oss). We get the word “macho” from this word, and it refers to making war. This trait describes someone who does not make war but is peaceable.

Not covetous

This word in the Greek is αφιλαργυρος (a-fee-lar-goo-ros), taken from the word “philo”, to be fond of; and “arguros”, which means silver, either the metal itself or silver coins. Literally, this is one who is not fond of money. This speaks of a relative indifference towards the seeking of riches.

Notice the contrasting parallel relationship between the two sets of words:

(not) a drunkard                                  “but” à                 yielded, gentle, moderate (temperate)

(not) physically violent                       “but” à                 peaceable

(not) seeking unscrupulous gain       “but” à                 indifferent towards money

The last three qualities differ in two respects. First, they are more than just one word qualities, rather, each quality is a detailed expression.  Second, all three of them come with a specific admonition or warning attached.  Let’s examine each closely:

Ruleth well his own house

The idea of “ruling well” is made up of two Greek words. The first word is προιστημι (pro-is-tay-mee), a compound word which means to stand in front of, not in terms of physical position but rather in terms of higher rank or seniority. This gives the implication of leadership. The second word in the Greek is καλως (kal-oce), and it means literally or morally good, as something that is an ideal quality. This speaks to character and quality of leadership.

Paul expands on his definition of good leadership by adding the subordinating clause, “having his children in subjection with all gravity.” To be in subjection is the Greek word υποταγη (hoo-po-tag-ay), which means to be under an orderly, systematic arrangement, or to be assigned or disposed to a specific lot.

A man who has the qualities of leadership that are morally ideal is characterized by having children who understand who’s in charge. They understand where they rank. In other words, the man has done a good job of training his children (Proverbs 22:6). They are not rebellious, and they recognize their father’s place as the head of the home.

It is important to note here, that this does not speak to the father’s place as an authority, but rather to his ability to lead by teaching and persuasion. Children who are well taught are more inclined to follow their father’s leadership and mimic his example (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4).

Ideal leadership in the home translates to ideal leadership as an overseer in the assembly. Paul makes this admonition with his rhetorical question, “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the assembly of God?”

Not a novice

The word translated as “novice” in the King James is the Greek word νεοφυτος (nee-oh-foo-tos). It contains the prefix “neo” meaning new, and the root word “foo-oh”, meaning to puff or swell up, like a germinating seed; sprouting. The idea here is of something that is newly sprouted. We sometimes use the word “neophyte” to describe someone who is unskilled and just learning how to grow in a particular discipline; someone who is not mature. This is a perfect description of the newly converted believer. They have not grown and matured enough in their spiritual life to be able to use the kind of discernment that is necessary to lead others. A baby Christian would find himself at great risk if put into a position of supervision.

It is no coincidence that the same root word “foo-oh” shares a similar root with another word, φυσιοω (foo-see-o-oh) that means to become inflated or puffed up with pride (see 1 Corinthians 5:2, 8:1, 13:4, Colossians 2:18). This is exactly Paul’s point to Timothy regarding a new believer. They run the risk of becoming proud and conceited and experiencing judgment, just as Satan’s pride brought judgment upon himself. Of course, this is not to say that the believer will receive the actual judgment as Satan received. But he will receive judgment, perhaps in some form of Fatherly chastening.

A good report of them which are without

This is a rather lengthy phrase, so let’s dissect it.   The expression “good report” is made up of two Greek words. The first is μαρτυρια (mar-too-ree-ah) which refers to evidence or testimony such as might be given in a trial. The second word in the Greek is again the word καλως (kal-oce), literally or morally good, as something that is an ideal quality. So this expression “good report” has to do with having a testimony that is morally ideal.

The second part of the phrase, “of them which are without” is actually only one Greek word, εξοθεν (ex-o-then), meaning the outside; externally. In the context here with respect to the assembly, this can be referring to those outside of the assembly- for example, those from other assemblies, and by implication, unbelievers.

What that gives us is a quality of having a testimony that is morally ideal externally. You could think of it as having good references. Please notice how this closely relates to the very first quality at the beginning of the list, being above reproach. One whose external testimony is suspect runs the risk of falling into reproach. The word translated “reproach” is the Greek word ονειδισμος (on-eye-dis-mos). It comes from the word “oneididzo” meaning “to defame”. So falling into reproach means to have a defamed reputation, a testimony that is the exact opposite of being morally ideal.

Paul tells us how this happens. It is a snare, a trap that the devil specifically sets in place. If a careless, undiscerning believer is not careful, he will fall into this trap and thus sully his morally ideal reputation. How many Christians have let themselves fall into traps laid by the devil and have thus disqualified themselves from service?

As I mentioned in part one, what Paul is doing here is very similar to what happened in Acts 6.  The apostles did not use their authority to declare who would be deacons.  They trusted in the ability of the assemblies to select their own based on certain qualifications.  They allowed the assemblies to manage themselves.  Likewise, Paul trusts that those assemblies in Ephesus that are desiring oversight have the ability within themselves to select the right person based on this list of qualifications.  He did not use apostolic authority to appoint elders to a place of authority over the assemblies.  As we seek to return to a New Testament model of home fellowships, we can never underestimate the ability of the laity and the emphasis of fellowship over authority.


3 Responses

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  1. John said, on July 22, 2017 at 12:34 PM

    In the MICE church I visited as a passenger, everyone knew well in advance who would be elders (the affluent ones with the merc and the pools), deacons (ditto, especially ones with young kids; the more, the better your chances), head of men’s ministry (a pedophile, as true as God!). Even the women’s ministries were pre-planned. The single people were simply ignored as though they did not exist. Am I judging that lot? Call it what you want, but let me apply the requirements as mentioned in this article to that church of MICE: A pastor that would walk away while you talk to him, lose his temper at the slightest most insignificant matters; husbands who yell and put down their wives and kids in front of everyone, pastors/elders who physically hit (because there is a verse somewhere in the Bible about a rod and a child and blah blah blah) their kids in front of everyone (guess who is going to grow up and turn against parents) and then smugly advise everyone to do it because that’s what God wanted. Poison me. Today.

    There is not ONE “church” that can meet all those requirements; however, in a loving home fellowship setting, those requirements would almost come naturally…because it’s the way it’s supposed to be.

    BTW, the incident in which the son who hit (in front of other “church” members) by his dad (they called it “discipline” because God had told him to hit the guy (16 years old) caused a family rift that lasted for 5 years, led to various adulterous affairs that everyone knew about, hitting on young women (18 years old), dodgy dealings, etc., and yet this “godly man” who had been “appointed by God Himself” (probably face-to-face while exchanging bribes) remained in his official church “position” because he danced when the pastor and his fakes played the tunes.

    We need men (and women of courage) of God; we don’t need MICE. Never.


  2. chemamn said, on November 21, 2018 at 12:36 AM

    I like your exegesis on elders from 1 Timothy. I curious as to how you incorporate the direction to Titus to go through Crete and put things in order including appointing elders.


    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on November 21, 2018 at 9:03 AM

      This is a great question, and I think a quick look at the Greek may give some insight. The expression “ordain elders in every city” appears to be a command, but in the Greek this phrase is in the subjunctive mood, not imperative. This seems to indicate a suggestion, that it might be a good idea to appoint overseers in order to remedy those things that are lacking in certain assemblies. In other words, Paul’s instruction to Titus is, take a look at the assemblies and figure out what their issues are and you might need to help them choose an overseer if you think it would help them. I think this is still consistent with the optional status of overseers and in no way suggests an authority but rather a position of watchman.


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