Before I get started I would like to make it clear that I am not speaking for any group nor anyone else for that matter but am simply attempting to put forth what I believe the Lord has revealed to me and hopefully continuing to reveal to me. Please do as scripture exhorts and prove (test) all things but I implore you that your test be kept strictly with what scripture says and not according to what other men say or have said or any tradition.
The content of this paper was published on the site in August 2019 and it was initially entitled “What Is A Church and Qualifications Of An Elder”. Since then I felt it would be better to separate these two topics into two distinct writings. Some things have been added and some things have been removed from the original writings.
I recently received an email (I was not the only recipient) with a couple of questions about this topic. I replied but thought it might be a good topic to delve into a little bit more than what my reply entailed.
Here is the question that I am hoping to deal with here.
“Here is the situational question: (I would like the scriptural support and nothing else for your answers): ...We all know that the body of believers is made up of sinners, so could the one sinner with a hope that is divorced and/or remarried be appointed Elder?”
I would like to start off with what I consider to be the qualifying statement of the question. By that I mean what was contained in the parenthesis: “I would like the scriptural support and nothing else for your answers.” I very much appreciate and agree with this statement! When asked a question we should NEVER answer it with a “So-and-So believes” or “Elder So-and-So said this” or the “So-and-So Confession says”. Scripture is very clear that His people, when asked, should be ready to give an answer and reason for the hope that is within (1 Pet. 3:15). It should be an answer of what the Lord is showing or revealing to that person from scripture and not based on emotions. I hope that is what I have been given to proclaim within this article.
The qualification of an Elder is not something that is hidden in Scripture nor is it something to take lightly. The qualifications or standards are very clearly penned in two different letters by Paul to two different brethren. They are included in Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus.
Paul starts if off with telling Timothy: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. (1 Timothy 3:1)”
To have a desire for the office of bishop is a good work. But, this desire is not to be a selfish desire for gain and to make sure it isn’t the rest of the requirements that the Lord gave to Paul must be met which are:
A bishop then must be:
And then Paul essentially tells Titus the exact same requirements: “To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:
Let’s take a little time to go over what these qualifications actually mean.
“A bishop then must be...” Please don’t overlook this little word “must”. It is also in our other qualification list in verse 7 of Titus 1. This word means just what it says “must, need, necessary” and is the qualifier for both of these lists. There are no IFs, ANDs or BUTs about it. These qualifications are REQUIRED to be met in order for a man to be an Elder (Bishop).
“Blameless”. The word “blameless” does not mean to be sinless for we all know that is an impossibility in our flesh and if one claims to be without sin he is a liar (I John 1:10). The word “blameless” means “inculpable, unrebukeable, without blame and without or above reproach”. The word “inculpable” means “without fault; unblamable; that cannot be accused (1828 Webster Dictionary)”. Please also see: Luke 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:8; Philippians 2:15; 1 Thess. 2:10; 5:23; 2 Pet. 3:14.
“The husband of one wife”. Is this passage stating that an Elder (Bishop) MUST be married to qualify? I don’t believe it is for that would go against what Paul told the Corinthian brethren in his first letter to them. “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (I Corinthians 7:8-9)” As you read this passage I hope one thing jumps out at you loud and clear. What I am talking about is there can be NO female elders. This passage clearly states “The husband” and unquestionably a female cannot be a “husband”. The gender for this word in the Greek is masculine and in contrast the Greek word for “wife” is in the feminine gender. What this passage is stressing is that if the man is married than he can only be married to ONE wife. The word “one” in Greek is just that, “the primary numeral – one”. I will go over this a little more in-depth a little later. Please also see: John 4:16-18; Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:7-9.
“Vigilant”. The Greek word basically means “sober”. In English it means “carefully observant or attentive; on the lookout for possible danger”. Please also see: 1 Pet. 5:8
“Sober”. The Greek word means a “mind that is self-controlled, temperate, discreet”. Please also see: 1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8.
“Of good behaviour”. These three words in the translation are only one Greek word and it means “orderly, modest”. The only other time this same Greek word is used is in this same letter but in chapter 2 verse 9 where Paul is exhorting the women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel...”
“Given to hospitality”. Again these three words in the translation are only one Greek word which means “fond of guests, hospitable”. Please also see: Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:9.
“Apt to teach”. Only one word in Greek as well and it means “instructive”. Please also see: Acts 17:22-31.
Paul starts this list off with what the qualifications an Elder must have. Below we shall see him continuing his list with what he must not have. The word “not” is a “primary particle of qualified negation (Strongs)”.
“Not given to wine”. Does this mean that an Elder cannot drink wine or alcohol? No it just means that he is not given to wine. He is not a drunkard. Please also see: Eph. 5:18; 1 Tim. 5:23.
“No striker”. He cannot be a pugnacious quarrelsome smiter. Please also see: 2 Tim. 2:24-25.
“Not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient”. Here we see a contrast “not greedy but patient”. How do these two fit together? The Greek word for “greedy of filthy lucre” means “sordid” which means immoral or unethical. But “patient” means just the opposite, “gentle, moderate”. Please also see: Prov 15:27; 1 Thess. 2:9; 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:8; 1 Tim. 6:10-11; 1 Pet. 5:2.
“Not a brawler”. Means to be peaceable, not a fighter. Please also see: Matt. 5:39; Rom. 12:18.
“Not covetous”. Means to be without covetousness, not greedy of filthy lucre. Please also see: Acts: 20:33; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Pet. 2:1-3.
“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” Just like above with the qualification “husband of one wife”, I don’t believe that this passage is stating that an Elder (Bishop) MUST have children to qualify. But, it is stating that IF he does then he must be one who presides morally and honestly over his own family. His children know he is in charge and they are subject to that in all honesty. Then Paul nails it down harder with his rhetorical question and basically says that if a man is unable to rule or preside over his own house then there is no way that he would be able to take care of the church of God.
“Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” A novice is one “who has been newly planted” or better yet a “young convert”. The word “young” from the description has no implication of age for a “young” convert can be young in age to very old in age. It basically means “new”. Take Paul for an example: After his experience on the road to Damascus he was taken away for fourteen years before he stepped into the shoes of an Apostle. Here you have Paul who was taught by the best of his time, skilled in the law and religious circles but he was still “new” to the faith and needed to be taken away for a time to learn the truth. Paul is very clear why a “novice” cannot be an Elder and that is because he is more likely to give in to pride and think he is more than he ought to.
“Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” “But now wait a minute, why should we care what the world thinks of us? They are going to hate us anyway so why not make their lives miserable?” I have heard this excuse used for being a jerk to those who are without. Are we supposed to try and live up to what the world expects a “Christian” to act like? No! We live our lives as the Lord has directed us. On the same note we are to do everything we do as unto the Lord. We are to give it our all as if we were working to please the Lord. He is the one who has set us up in the position we are in. This statement falls right in line with the previous about not being a novice. Please also see: Rom. 12:18; 1 Cor. 10:32; Gal. 5:22-23.
“If any be blameless”. I dealt with this above – same same Greek word for “blameless” therefore the same meaning.
“The husband of one wife”. I dealt with this above – same meaning.
“Having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.” As stated above, I don’t believe this means that he MUST have children but only if he does then this qualification MUST be met. The word “faithful” means trustworthy therefore his children must be trustworthy. The word “riot” means “excess, riot” and the word “unruly” means “insubordinate, disobedient”. Then Paul was given to take it a step further. Not only MUST the children not be given to excess or insubordination but they can not even be accused of such. To me the complimentary verse to this passage is quoted above in 1 Timothy: “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;” In other words if the man rules his own house well then his children will be in subjection to him and therefore not be accused of excess or insubordination.
“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God;”. I dealt with part of this above – same Greek word for “blameless” therefore the same meaning. The word “steward” simply means overseer.
Now we see Paul going back to the fact that an Elder (Bishop) must be blameless. Why would he do that? To me Paul is stressing the importance of blamelessness and gives a little explanation on the different factions on what it means to be blameless. As a side note: This list to Titus is opposite in format then the list in 1 Timothy. What I mean is that in 1 Timothy Paul starts with the positive of the list and ends with the negative. In this list he starts with the negative and ends with the positive.
“Not selfwilled”. They are not to be self-pleasing or arrogant. Please also see: 2 Pet 2:1-10.
“Not soon angry”. They are to not to be prone to outburst of temper, easily angered, easily provoked or or inflamed with resentment (which is what the Greek word for “soon angry” means) but they are to be patient for they shall receive many questions and many accusations. Please also see: Prov. 14:17; 15:18; 16:32; Eccl. 7:9; James 1:19-20.
“Not given to wine”. This subject was dealt with above.
“No striker”. This subject was dealt with above.
“Not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality”. Notice that Paul uses a contrast here again. Both of these were dealt with above. Also, this contrast is where Paul starts focusing on the positive qualifications.
“A lover of good men”. He is a promoter of virtue. Please also see: Amos 5:15; 1 John 3:14.
“Sober”. This subject was dealt with above.
“Just”. The Greek word means “equitable” which means that one deals fairly and equally with all concerned. Please also see: 2 Cor. 7:2; 1 Thess. 2:10.
“Holy”. This Greek word means “properly, right”. Please also see: 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 1 Thess. 2:10; 2 Thess. 3:7.
“Temperate”. This subject was dealt with above.
“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” He must properly hold the faithful word (notice it is singular and not plural – there is only ONE truth) as he has been taught. He will not be swayed by every wind of doctrine nor will he be swayed by the charismatic new-comer that comes with something new and exciting. The truth NEVER changes and by him exhorting that truth he may be able to convince the gainsayers, those which contradict and deny the truth.
So, taking what Paul tells Titus here, I believe we can safely say that if an Elder is “not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” then he is “blameless”.
I hope that you have noticed something very important here with these two lists. With most of these qualifications we see “two” of the same qualifications between these two passages of Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 18:16 “...that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Therefore because of that these qualifications are extremely important for an Elder (Bishop) to have! I hope you see that the position of Elder, Bishop or Overseer is not a light thing nor something to be taken for granted. These passages are not a wish list, not a list of suggestions nor a list of multiple choices. And that is why Paul later says, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Tim. 5:17)”
I hope you were given to look up the cross-references I put with most of the passages above. In a few of them you will have noticed that Paul is not asking anything more of the Elders than he himself has exemplified. One example that I want to mention is in his first letter to the brethren at Thessalonica “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameable we behaved ourselves among you that believe: (1 Thess. 2:10 emphasis added)”. Another example worthy of mentioning is in his second letter to the brethren at Thessalonica: “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. (II Thessalonians 3:7-9 emphasis added)”.
Getting back to the initial question, it was also stated: “We all know that the body of believers is made up of sinners,...”
Yes we are all sinners and no one is worthy in and of themselves to stand as a Bishop or Elder of a local assembly. Yet, by the Lord’s decree, Paul (who considered himself to be the “chief of sinners”) was given to clearly set qualifications and standards (not suggestions) of who these men (for it cannot be a female) can be and to ignore them is setting one up for dire consequences.
And to continue with the above quote “...so could the one sinner with a hope that is divorced and/or remarried be appointed Elder?”
I hope that by going through the qualifications of an Elder as outlined above you should have your answer to the question posed. But, just to reiterate, one qualification is that an Elder must be blameless which doesn’t mean sinless but it does mean that he is to be inculpable, unrebukeable, without or above reproach. Let me ask a couple of simple questions here:
“If an Elder divorces his wife, is he blameless in this? Scripture says he “causeth her to commit adultery. (Matt. 5:32)”
“If an Elder marries a divorced woman, is he blameless? Scripture says “he that marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matt. 5:32)”
Another qualification is that the Elder must be the husband of ONE wife. Let me delve into what I believe this section of the verse (or better yet this qualification) means.
The Greek word for “one” means the “primary numeral one” and it also has the aspect of being the “first”. And quite interestingly it is the exact same Greek word used in these following verses (emphasis added):
“I and my Father are one. (John 10:30)”
“As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. (I Corinthians 8:4)”
“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (I Corinthians 8:6)”
“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:6)”
There is only ONE God. And in similar fashion an Elder can only have ONE wife. As a contrast look at these verses.
“The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. (John 4:17-18)”
Here we see Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. We read the full story in verses six through 26 of the book of John. Jesus is sitting at the well resting, and when the woman approaches the first thing he says to her is “give me to drink”. She was blown away why this Jew would talk to her seeing that she was a Samaritan. He says some magnificent things to her but what I want to focus on is the verses quoted above. The Samaritan woman states that she has “no husband”. Jesus says to her “Thou hast well said, I have no husband...and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.” Jesus is agreeing with her that she has no husband because the man she is living with now is not her husband. But, we can’t just skip over the middle part which says, “For thou has had five husbands…” He is calling them “husbands”. In other words they all are still her husbands and therefore she has more than ONE husband.
From this can we not see that if an Elder is divorced and remarried then he has more than ONE wife? Or if he is married to a divorcee then he is committing adultery because she now has two husbands. And if we take into consideration what the verses below state, I believe that a man that is divorced and remarried or married to a divorcee is disqualified from being an Elder, Bishop or Overseer.
“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. (Luke 16:18)”
“It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)”
“And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. (Mark 10:2-11)”
Let me finish this with one more verse for your consideration:
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. (II Thessalonians 3:6)”
To me this is very STRONG language. Paul says “we command you, brethren”. This is not something to take lightly nor to just set by the wayside. This is something to pay attention to. He then takes it even one step further by stating that the command is “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. There is authority in this statement! The command is that “ye withdraw yourselves…” The word “withdraw” means to “abstain from associating with”. So, who is this group that we are commanded to abstain from associating with? The group is brethren that walk “disorderly and not after the tradition which he received of us.” What does it mean to “walk disorderly”? In the context of this verse it points to those “which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” But what does the word “disorderly” itself mean? It means “out of ranks (often so of soldiers), inordinate, deviating from prescribed order of rule”. The word “inordinate” means “excessive; immoderate; not limited to rules prescribed, or to usual bounds. (1828 Webster Dictionary)” We see from the meaning of the word that it goes way beyond just being lazy or being busybodies. So, if Paul commanded the Thessalonian brethren to withdraw themselves from those that had become lazy and busybodies, how much more should we withdraw ourselves from men who are “deviating from the prescribed order of rule” which are clearly proclaimed in these qualifications of an Elder?
Updated: June 2020
p.s., All verses are quoted from the KJV.