In today’s Bible reading*, Paul tells Timothy what to look for in church leaders. I don’t know that Paul’s checklist is so much a checklist as much as it is a reminder that character matters. And character matters … a lot.
I find it interesting how Bible teachers and commentators read their Bibles. Many modern Bible teachers look at Paul’s qualifications and immediately jump to the bit about elders and deacons not being divorced. (1 Timothy 3:2, 12) Or that’s what we think it says.
Paul’s actual wording is “a man of one woman” or “a husband of one wife”. Yes, Paul could mean that elders and deacons cannot be divorced. But that isn’t what he said. Paul could have used the word “divorce” in his description, but he didn’t. Instead, he worded this qualification in a way that includes polygamy, divorce, and the general way the man looks at women. The way Paul worded it covers it all!
On a parenthetical note, let me say that whether or not Paul was talking about divorce, I don’t think he had our American “no-fault divorce” in mind. I don’t want to get into it here, but “divorce” in the Bible and “divorce” in late Twentieth/Early Twenty-First Century America are not the same. And we can easily run into problems when we impose a modern concept onto the Biblical context.
I also find it interesting how Bible translators do their jobs. Specifically, why do they translate some words one way at one time and translate those same words a different way at another time? My two somewhat-related interests intersect in Paul’s prescription to Timothy when it comes to the service of men and women in the church.
We get the word misogyny and gynochology from the Greek word for woman. This Greek word can be translated as woman or wife, depending on how the word is used. You can’t just say that a Greek word always means one English word in all circumstances. Context dictates how to properly bring the word from Greek into English. Sometimes, the word means woman. Other times, the word means wife. Similarly, the Greek word translated as man can also be translated as husband, depending on the context.
The reason you can’t force a one-to-one correspondence of Greek-to-English words is you run into interpretation issues when the author speaks generically and you translate it specifically or vice-versa. For example, look at Paul’s prohibition of women teaching men in church in yesterday’s reading (1 Timothy 2:12). Is Paul’s concern with women (in general) or wives (specifically) teaching men (in general) or husbands (specifically)? I think by translating the word contextually clears up most of the “problem” passages like the one I’m referring to.
Getting back to Paul’s requirement of male church leaders being a “man of one woman”… Paul was concerned that male leaders should have a single focus on one woman. Church leaders shouldn’t be distracted by multiple wives. And neither should they have “roaming eyes”. They shouldn’t be distracted by other women; they should have eyes for only their own woman.
There’s an application for all of us when it comes to having a single-focus on God when it comes to a growing relationship with Him. This is reinforced by Jesus’ comments when He was questioned on the “Greatest Commandment”. (Matthew 22:36–40)
* Today we are reading 1 Timothy 3.
This devotional was originally published on September 12, 2019.
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