1st TIMOTHY CHAPTER 3
1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
1 Certus sermo, si quis episcopatum appetit, præclarum opus desiderat.
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
2 Oportet ergo Episcopum irreprehensibilem esse, unius uxoris maritum, sobrium, temperantem, compositum, (vel, honestum,) hospitalem, aptum ad docendum.
3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre: but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
3 Non vinolentum, (vel, ferocem,) non percussorem, non turpiter lucri cupidum, sed æquum, alienum a pugnis, alienum ab avaritia.
4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
4 Qui domui suæ bene præsit, qui filios habeat in subjectione, cum omni reverentia.
5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
5 Quodsi quis propriæ domui præesse non novit, ecclesiam Dei quomodo curabit?
6 Not a novice, lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
6 Non novicium, ne inflatus in condemnationem incidat diaboli.
7 Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
7 Oportet autem illum et bonum testimonium habere ab extraneis, ne in probrum incidat et laqueum diaboli.
1. It is a true saying.
Chrysostom thinks, that this is the conclusion of the preceding doctrine. But I do not approve of the opinion; for Paul commonly makes use of this form of expression as a prelude to what he is about to introduce. Besides, in the former discourse there was no need of so strong an affirmation; but what he is now about to say, is somewhat more weighty. Let these words, therefore, be received as a preface intended to point out the importance of the subject; for Paul now begins a new discourse about ordaining pastors, and appointing the government of the Church.
If any one desireth the office of a bishop.
Having forbidden women to teach, he now takes occasion to speak of the office of a bishop. First, that it may be more clearly seen that it was not without reason that he refused to allow women to undertake so arduous a work; secondly, that it might not be thought that, by excluding women only, he admitted all men indiscriminately; and, thirdly, because it was highly proper that Timothy and others should be reminded what conscientious watchfulness ought to be used in the election of bishops. Thus the context, in my opinion, is as if Paul had said, that so far are women from being fit for undertaking so excellent an office, that not even men ought to be admitted into it without distinction.
He desireth an excellent work.
The Apostle affirms that this is no inconsiderable work, such as any man might venture to undertake. When he says that it is καλόν, I have no doubt that he alludes to the ancient Greek proverb, often quoted by Plato, δύσκολα τὰ καλά, which means that “those things which are excellent, are also arduous and difficult;” and thus he unites difficulty with excellence, or rather he argues thus, that it does not belong to every person to discharge the office of a bishop, because it is a thing of great value.
I think that Paul’s meaning is now sufficiently clear; though none of the commentators, so far as I perceive, have understood it. The general meaning is, that a selection ought to be made in admitting bishops, because it is a laborious and difficult charge; and that they who aim at it should carefully consider with themselves, whether or not they were able to bear so heavy a burden. Ignorance is always rash, and a mature knowledge of things makes a man modest. How comes it that they who have neither ability nor wisdom often aspire so confidently to hold the reins of government, but because they rush forward with their eyes shut? On this subject, Quintilian remarked, that the ignorant speak boldly, while the greatest orators tremble.
For the purpose of restraining such rashness in desiring the office of a bishop, Paul states, first, that this is not an indolent rank, but a work; and next, that it is not any kind of work, but excellent, and therefore toilsome and full of difficulty, as it actually is. It is no light matter to be a representative of the Son of God, in discharging an office of such magnitude, the object of which is to erect and extend the kingdom of God, to procure the salvation of souls which the Lord himself hath purchased with his own blood, and to govern the Church, which is God’s inheritance. But it is not my intention at present to make a sermon, and Paul will again glance at this subject in the next chapter.
Here a question arises: “Is it lawful, in any way, to desire the office of a bishop?” On the one hand, it appears to be highly improper for any one to anticipate, by his wish, the calling of God, and yet Paul, while he censures a rash desire, seems to permit it to be desired with prudence and modesty. I reply, if ambition is condemned in other matters, much more severely ought it to be condemned in “the office of a bishop.” But Paul speaks of a godly desire, by which holy men wish to employ that knowledge of doctrine which they possess for the edification of the Church. For, if it were altogether unlawful to desire the office of a teacher, why should they who spend all their youth in reading the Holy Scriptures prepare themselves by learning? What are the theological schools but nurseries of pastors?
Accordingly, they who have been thus instructed not only may lawfully devote themselves and their labours to God by a voluntary offering, but even ought to do so, and that too, before they have been admitted into the office; provided that, nevertheless, they do not thrust themselves forward, and do not, even by their own wish, make themselves bishops, but are only ready to discharge the office, if their labours shall be required. And if it turn out that, according to the lawful order, they are not called, let them know that such was the will of God, and let them not take it ill that others have been preferred to them. But they who, without any selfish motive, shall have no other wish than to serve God and the Church, will be affected in this manner, and, at the same time, will have such modesty that they will not be at all envious if others be preferred to them as being more worthy.
If any one object, that the government of the Church is a matter of so great difficulty, that it ought rather to strike terror into the minds of persons of sound judgment than to excite them to desire it; I reply, that the desire of great men does not rest on confidence of their own industry or virtue, but on the assistance of “God, from whom is our sufficiency,” as Paul says elsewhere. (2 Cor. 3:5.)
At the same time, it is necessary to observe what it is that Paul calls “the office of a bishop;” and so much the more, because the ancients were led away, by the custom of their times, from the true meaning; for, while Paul includes generally all pastors, they understand a bishop to be one who was elected out of each college to preside over his brethren. Let us remember, therefore, that this word is of the same import as if he had called them ministers, or pastors, or presbyters.
2. A bishop, therefore, must be blameless.
The particle therefore confirms the exposition which I have given; for, on account of the dignity of the office, he concludes that it is requisite that he be a man endowed with rare gifts, and not any person taken out of the crowd. If the expression used had been “a good work,” as the ordinary translation has it, or “an honourable work,” (honestam,) as Erasmus has translated it, the inference would not have been suitable.
He wishes a bishop to be blameless, instead of which, in the Epistle to Titus, he has used (Tit. 1:7) the word ἀνέγκλητον, meaning by both words, that he must not be marked by any infamy that would lessen his authority. There will be no one found among men that is free from every vice; but it is one thing to be blemished with ordinary vices, which do not hurt the reputation, because they are found in men of the highest excellence, and another thing to have a disgraceful name, or to be stained with any baseness. In order, therefore, that a bishop may not be without authority, he enjoins that there shall be made a selection of one who has a good and honourable reputation, and not chargeable with any remarkable vice. Besides, he does not merely lay down a rule for Timothy what sort of person he must select, but likewise reminds every one of those who aspire to that rank, to institute a careful examination of himself and of his life.
The husband of one wife.
It is a childish fancy to interpret this as meaning “the pastor of a single church.” Another other exposition has been more generally received, that the person set apart to that office must be one who has not been more than once married, that one wife being since dead, so that now he is not a married man. But both in this passage and in Titus 1:6, the words of the apostle are, “Who is,” and not “Who hath been;” and in this very Epistle, where he treats of widows, (5:10,) he expressly makes use of the participle of the past tense. Besides, in this way, he would contradict himself; because elsewhere he declares that he has no wish to lay a snare on the consciences.
The only true exposition, therefore, is that of Chrysostom, that in a bishop he expressly condemns polygamy, which at that time the Jews almost reckoned to be lawful. This corruption was borrowed by them partly from a sinful imitation of the Fathers, (for they who read that Abraham, Jacob, David, and others of the same class, were married to more wives than one at the same time, thought that it was lawful for them also to do the same) and partly from neighbouring nations; for the inhabitants of the East never observed that conscientiousness and fidelity in marriage which was proper. However that might be, polygamy was exceedingly prevalent among them; and therefore with great propriety does Paul enjoin that a bishop should be free from this stain.
And yet I do not disapprove of the opinion of those who think that the Holy Spirit intended to guard against the diabolical superstition which afterwards arose; as if he had said, “So far is it from being right and proper that celibacy should be enforced on bishops, that marriage is a state highly becoming in all believers.” In this way, he would not demand it as a thing necessary for them, but would only praise it as not inconsistent with the dignity of the office. Yet the view which I have already given is more simple and more solid, that Paul forbids polygamy in all who hold the office of a bishop because it is a mark of an unchaste man, and of one who does not observe conjugal fidelity.
But here it might be objected, that what is sinful in all ought not to have been condemned or forbidden in bishops alone. The answer is easy. When it is expressly prohibited to bishops, it does not therefore follow that it is freely allowed to others. Beyond all doubt, Paul condemned universally what was contrary to an unrepealed law of God; for it is a settled enactment, “They shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24.) But he might, to some extent, bear with that in others which, in a bishop, would have been excessively vile, and therefore not to be endured.
Nor is this a law laid down for the future, that no bishop, who already has one wife, shall marry a second or a third, while the first wife is still living; but Paul excludes from the office of a bishop any one who shall be guilty of such an enormity. Accordingly, what had been once done, and could not be corrected, he reluctantly endures, but only in the common people. For what was the remedy for those who, under Judaism, had fallen into the snare of polygamy? Should they have divorced their second and third wives? Such a divorce would not have been free from doing wrong. Since, therefore, the deed was done, and could not be undone, he left it untouched, but with this exception, that no bishop should be blemished by such a stain.
Sober, temperate, modest.
The word which we have translated sober, Erasmus has translated (vigilantem) watchful. As the Greek word νηφάλεος admits of either signification, the readers may make their own choice. I have preferred to translate σώφρονα, temperate, instead of sober, because σωφροσύνη has a more extensive meaning than sobriety. Modest means one who conducts himself with decency and propriety.
The “hospitality” here spoken of, is toward strangers, and this was very common among the ancients; for it would have been reckoned disgraceful for respectable persons, and especially for those who were well known, to lodge in taverns. In the present day, the state of matters is different; but this virtue is and always will be highly necessary in a bishop, for many reasons. Besides, during the cruel persecution of the godly, many persons must have been constrained frequently to change their habitation; and therefore it was necessary that the houses of bishops should be a retreat for the exiles. In those times hard necessity compelled the churches to afford mutual aid, so that they gave lodgings to one another. Now, if the bishops had not pointed out the path to others in this department of duty, the greater part, following their example, would have neglected the exercise of humanity, and thus the poor fugitives would have been greatly discouraged.
Able to teach.
In the epistle to Titus, doctrine is expressly mentioned; here he only speaks briefly about skill in communicating instruction. It is not enough to have profound learning, if it be not accompanied by talent for teaching. There are many who, either because their utterance is defective, or because they have not good mental abilities, or because they do not employ that familiar language which is adapted to the common people, keep within their own minds the knowledge which they possess. Such persons, as the phrase is, ought to sing to themselves and to the muses. They who have the charge of governing the people, ought to be qualified for teaching. And here he does not demand volubility of tongue, for we see many persons whose fluent talk is not fitted for edification; but he rather commends wisdom in applying the word of God judiciously to the advantage of the people.
It is worthwhile to consider how the Papists hold that the injunctions which the apostle gives do not at all belong to them. I shall not enter into a minute explanation of all the details; but on this one point what sort of diligence do they observe? And, indeed, that gift would be superfluous; for they banish from themselves the ministry of teaching as low and groveling, although this belonged especially to a bishop. But everybody knows how far it is from observing Paul’s rule, to assume the title of bishop, and boast proudly of enacting a character without speaking, provided only that they make their appearance in a theatrical dress. As if a horned mitre, a ring richly set in jewels, or a silver cross, and other trifles, accompanied by idle display, constituted the spiritual government of a church, which can no more be separated from doctrine than any one of us can be separated from his own soul.
3. Not addicted to wine.
By the word πάροινον, which is here used, the Greeks denote not merely drunkenness, but any intemperance in guzzling wine. And, indeed, to drink wine excessively is not only very unbecoming in a pastor, but commonly draws along with it many things still worse; such as quarrels, foolish attitudes, unchaste conduct, and other things which it is not necessary to describe. But the contrast which is added shortly afterwards, shows that Paul goes farther than this.
Not a striker, not wickedly desirous of gain.
As he contrasts with “a striker” one who is not quarrelsome, and with him who is covetous of dishonest gain (ἀφιλάργυρον) one who is not covetous, so with τῷ παροίνῳ, him who is addicted to wine, he contrasts one who is gentle or kind. The true interpretation is that which is given by Chrysostom, that men of a drunken and fierce disposition ought to be excluded from the office of a bishop. As to the opinion given by Chrysostom, that “a striker” means one who wounds with the tongue, (that is, who is guilty of slander or of outrageous reproaches,) I do not admit it. Nor am I moved by his argument, that it will be no great matter, if the bishop do not strike with the hand; for I think that here he reproves generally that fierceness which is often found in the military profession, and which is utterly unbecoming in the servants of Christ. It is well known to what ridicule they expose themselves, who are more ready to strike a blow with the fist, and—we might even say—to draw the sword, than to settle the disputes of others by their own sedate behaviour. Strikers is therefore the term which he applies to those who deal much in threatenings, and are of a warlike temperament.
All covetous persons are wickedly desirous of gain; for, wherever covetousness is, there will also be that baseness of which the apostle speaks. “He who wishes to become rich wishes also to become rich soon.” The consequence is, that all covetous persons, even though this is not openly manifest, apply their minds to dishonest and unlawful gains. Accordingly, he contrasts with this vice the contempt of money; as there is no other remedy by which it can be corrected. He who will not patiently and mildly endure poverty will never escape the disease of mean and sordid covetousness.
Mild and not quarrelsome.
He contrasts with “the striker” the man who is “not quarrelsome.” Mild—which, we have said, is contrasted with being “addicted to wine”—is the term applied to him who knows how to bear injuries with a gentle and moderate disposition, who forgives much, who passes by insults, who neither makes himself be dreaded through harsh severity, nor exacts with full rigour. Not quarrelsome, one who avoids disputes and quarrels; for, as he elsewhere writes, “the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome.” (2 Tim. 2:24.)
4. Who ruleth well his own house.
Hence it is evident, that Paul does not demand that a bishop shall be unacquainted with human life, but that he shall be a good and praiseworthy master of a household; for, whatever may be the admiration commonly entertained for celibacy and a philosophical life altogether removed from ordinary custom, yet wise and thoughtful men are convinced by experience, that they who are not ignorant of ordinary life, but are practised in the duties of human intercourse, are better trained and adapted for governing the Church. And, therefore, we ought to observe the reason which is added, (ver. 5,) that he who does not know how to rule his family, will not be qualified for governing the Church. Now, this is the case with very many persons, and indeed with almost all who have been drawn out of an idle and solitary life, as out of dens and caverns; for they are a sort of savages and destitute of humanity.
Who hath his children in subjection with all reverence.
The apostle does not recommend a clever man, and deeply skilled in domestic matters, but one who has learned to govern a family by wholesome discipline. He speaks chiefly of children, who may be expected to possess the natural disposition of their father; and therefore it will be a great disgrace to a bishop, if he has children who lead a wicked and scandalous life. As to wives, he will speak of them afterwards; but at present, as I have said, he glances at the most important part of a house.
In the Epistle to Titus, (1:6,) he shows what is here meant by the word reverence; for, after having said that the children of a bishop must not be unruly and disobedient, he likewise adds, “nor liable to the reproach of profligacy or of intemperance.” He therefore means, in a word, that their morals shall be regulated by all chastity, modesty, and gravity.
5. And if any one know not how to rule his own house.
This argument, drawn from the less to the greater, is in itself manifest, that he who is unfit for governing a family will be altogether unable to govern a people. Besides that it is evident that he is destitute of the virtues necessary for that purpose, what authority will he have over the people, seeing that his own house makes him contemptible?
6. Not a novice.
There being many men of distinguished ability and learning who at that time were brought to the faith, Paul forbids that such persons shall be admitted to the office of a bishop, as soon as they have made profession of Christianity. And he shews how great would be the danger; for it is evident that they are commonly vain, and full of ostentation, and, in consequence of this, haughtiness and ambition will drive them headlong. What Paul says we experience; for “novices” have not only impetuous fervour and bold daring, but are also puffed up with foolish confidence, as if they could fly beyond the clouds. Consequently, it is not without reason that they are excluded from the honour of a bishopric, till, in process of time, their proud temper shall be subdued.
Lest he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
The judgment or condemnation of the devil may be interpreted in three ways; for some take Διαβόλου (of the devil) to mean Satan; and others, to mean slanderers. I give the preference to the former view; because it rarely happens that “judgment” means slander. But again, “the judgment of Satan” may be taken either actively or passively. This latter sense is adopted by Chrysostom, with whom I willingly agree. There is an elegant contrast, which heightens the enormity of the case, “If he who is placed over the Church of God fall, by his pride, into the same condemnation with the devil.” Yet I do not reject the active signification, namely, that he will give the devil occasion for accusing him. But the opinion of Chrysostom is more correct.1
7. A good report from those who are without.
This appears to be very difficult, that a religious man should have, as witnesses of his integrity, infidels themselves, who are furiously mad to tell lies against us. But the apostle means, that, so far as relates to external behaviour, even unbelievers themselves shall be constrained to acknowledge him to be a good man; for, although they groundlessly slander all the children of God, yet they cannot pronounce him to be a wicked man, who leads a good and inoffensive life amongst them. Such is that acknowledgment of uprightness which Paul here describes. The reason is added,—
Lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil; which I explain in this manner: “lest, being subject to reproach, he begin to be hardened, and abandon himself the more freely to all iniquity, which is to entangle himself in the snares of the devil.” For what hope is left for him who sins without any shame?
8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
8 Diaconos similiter graves, non bilingues, non multo vino deditos, non turpiter lucri cupidos:
9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
9 Habentes mysterium fidei in pura conscientia.
10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.
10 Et hi probentur primum; deinde ministrent ubi irreprehensibiles comperti fuerint.
11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.
11 Uxores similiter graves, non calumniatrices, sobrias, fideles in omnibus.
12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
12 Diaconi sint unius uxoris mariti, qui honeste præsint liberis et domibus suis.
13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
13 Nam qui bene ministraverint gradum sibi bonum (vel, honestum) acquirunt, et multam libertatem in fide, quæ est in Christo Iesu.
8. Likewise the deacons.
There is no reason why the diversity of interpretations should lead us to entertain any doubt. It is certain that the Apostle speaks of those who hold a public office in the Church; and this refutes the opinion of those who think that domestic servants are here meant. As to the view given by others, that it denotes presbyters who are inferior to the bishop, that is without foundation; for it is manifest from other passages, that the term bishop belongs alike to all presbyters. All are constrained to acknowledge this; and more especially a passage in the first chapter of the Epistle to Titus proves clearly that this is the meaning. (Tit. 1:7.) It remains to be stated that we understand “the deacons” to be those who are mentioned by Luke, (Acts 6:3,) and who had the charge of the poor. But those who wish to have a more full account of the duties of deacons may consult the Institutes.1
Grave, not double-tongued.
The first four virtues, with which he wishes them to be endowed, are of themselves sufficiently well known. Yet it ought to be carefully observed that he advises them not to be double-tongued; because it is a vice which it is difficult to avoid in the discharge of that office, and yet ought, more than anything else, to be kept at a distance from it.
9. Holding the mystery of faith.
As if he had said, “Holding the pure doctrine of religion, and that from the heart, with a sincere fear of God;” or, “Being well instructed in the faith, so as not to be ignorant of anything which it is necessary for Christians to know.” He gives to the sum of Christian doctrine the honourable appellation of a mystery; as indeed God, through the gospel, reveals to men on earth a wisdom which angels in heaven behold with admiration; and, therefore, we need not wonder if it exceed human capacity.
Let us therefore remember that it ought to be embraced with the deepest reverence; and because we could never, by our own strength, ascend to such a height, let us humbly entreat God to impart it to us by the Spirit of revelation. On the other hand, when we see wicked men either ridicule those doctrines or have no relish for them, let us acknowledge that it is owing to the grace of God that those things which have been hidden from others are in our hearts, and before our eyes, as Moses says, (Deut. 30:11.)
Thus he wishes that deacons should be well instructed in “the mystery of faith;” because, although they do not hold the office of teaching, yet it would be exceedingly absurd to hold a public office in the Church, while they were ill-informed in the Christian faith, more especially since they must frequently be laid under the necessity of administering advice and consolation, if they do not choose to neglect their duties. It is added, in a pure conscience, which extends to the whole life, but chiefly that they may know how to obey God.
10. And let those be first tried.
He wishes that they who are chosen should not be unknown, but that their integrity should be ascertained, like that of the bishops. And hence it is evident, that they are called blameless who are not stained by any marked vice. Besides, this trial is not for a single hour, but consists in long experience. In a word, when deacons are to be ordained, the choice must not fall at random, and without selection, on any that come to hand; but those men are to be chosen who are approved by their past life in such a manner that, after what may be called full inquiry, they are ascertained to be well qualified.
11. Likewise the wives.
He means the wives both of deacons and of bishops, for they must be aids to their husbands in their office; which cannot be, unless their behaviour excel that of others.
Let the deacons be.
Since he mentioned wives, he lays down the same injunction about deacons as he had formerly laid down about bishops; namely, that each of them—satisfied with having but one wife—shall set an example of a chaste and honourable father of a family, and shall keep his children and his whole house under holy discipline. And this refutes the error of those who understand this passage as referring to domestic servants.
13. For they who have served well.
Owing to a practice which came into use one or two centuries after the death of the apostles, of choosing presbyters from the order of deacons, this passage has been commonly interpreted as describing elevation to a higher rank, as if the Apostle called to the honour of being presbyters those who had faithfully discharged the office of a deacon. For my own part, though I do not deny that the order of deacons might sometimes be the nursery out of which presbyters were taken, yet I take Paul’s words as meaning, more simply, that they who have discharged this ministry in a proper manner are worthy of no small honour; because it is not a mean employment, but a highly honourable office. Now by this expression he intimates how much it is for the advantage of the Church to have this office discharged by choice men; because the holy discharge of it procures esteem and reverence.
How absurd is it for Papists to maintain that, in making deacons, they do what Paul enjoins! First, why do they make deacons but to carry the cup in a procession, and to feed the eyes of the ignorant with I know not what ridiculous exhibitions? Besides, they do not even observe this; for not a single deacon has been made, during the last five hundred years, except that, after taking this step, he may immediately rise to the priesthood. What impudence is it, to boast of elevating to a higher rank those who have ministered well, when they confer their priesthood on none but those who have never touched a single part of the former office!
And much liberty in the faith.
With good reason does he add this; for there is nothing that tends so much to produce liberty as a good conscience and a life free from crime and reproach; as, on the contrary, timidity must be the lot of those who have a bad conscience. And if they sometimes make a valiant boast of liberty, yet it is not uniform and constant, nor has it any weight. For this reason he describes also the kind of liberty. “In the faith,” says he, which is in Christ; that is, that they may serve Christ with greater boldness; as, on the other hand, they who have acted basely in the discharge of their office may be said to have their mouth shut and their hands tied, and are unfit for doing good; because no reliance—no authority is given to them.
14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly.
14 Hæc tibi scribo, sperans brevi ad te venire.
15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
15 Quodsi tardavero, ut videas quomodo oporteat in domo Dei versari, quæ est Ecclesia Dei viventis, columna et firmamentum veritatis.
16 And, without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
16 Et sine controversia magnum est pietatis mysterium; Deus manifestatus est in carne, justificatus in Spiritu, visus Angelis, prædicatus, Gentibus, fidem obtinuit in mundo receptus est in gloria.
14. These things I write to thee.
He holds out to Timothy the hope of his coming, partly in order to encourage him, and partly in order to repress the insolence of those who grew more haughty on account of his absence. And yet he does not make any feigned promise to Timothy, or terrify others through false pretence; for he fully expected that he would come, as it is probable that he came, if he wrote this epistle at the time when he passed through Phrygia, as is related by Luke. (Acts 18:23.) Let us look on this as a proof how great was his anxiety for the churches, when he could not endure to delay for a short time a remedy for a present evil. Yet immediately afterwards he adds, that he wrote this epistle for the purpose of informing Timothy, if it should happen that he were delayed longer than he thought.
15. How thou oughtest to conduct thyself.
By this mode of expression he commends the weight and dignity of the office; because pastors1 may be regarded as stewards, to whom God has committed the charge of governing his house. If any person has the superintendence of a large house, he labours night and day with earnest solicitude, that nothing may go wrong through his neglect, or ignorance, or carelessness. If only for men this is done, how much more should it be done for God?
In the house of God.
There are good reasons why God bestows this name on his Church; for not only has he received us to be his children by the grace of adoption, but he also dwelleth in the midst of us.
The pillar and foundation of truth.
No ordinary enhancement is derived from this appellation. Could it have been described in loftier language? Is anything more venerable, or more holy, than that everlasting truth which embraces both the glory of God and the salvation of men? Were all the praises of heathen philosophy, with which it has been adorned by its followers, collected into one heap, what is this in comparison of the dignity of this wisdom, which alone deserves to be called light and truth, and the instruction of life, and the way, and the kingdom of God? Now it is preserved on earth by the ministry of the Church alone. What a weight, therefore, rests on the pastors, who have been intrusted with the charge of so inestimable a treasure! With what impudent trifling do Papists argue from the words of Paul that all their absurdities ought to be held as oracles of God, because they are “the pillar of truth,” and therefore cannot err!
First, we ought to see why Paul adorns the Church with so magnificent a title. By holding out to pastors the greatness of the office, he undoubtedly intended to remind them with what fidelity, and industry, and reverence they ought to discharge it. How dreadful is the vengeance that awaits them, if, through their fault, that truth which is the image of the Divine glory, the light of the world, and the salvation of men, shall be allowed to fall! This consideration ought undoubtedly to lead pastors to tremble continually, not to deprive them of all energy, but to excite them to greater vigilance.
Hence we may easily conclude in what sense Paul uses these words. The reason why the Church is called the “pillar of truth” is, that she defends and spreads it by her agency. God does not himself come down from heaven to us, nor does he daily send angels to make known his truth; but he employs pastors, whom he has appointed for that purpose. To express it in a more homely manner, is not the Church the mother of all believers? Does she not regenerate them by the word of God, educate and nourish them through their whole life, strengthen, and bring them at length to absolute perfection? For the same reason, also, she is called “the pillar of truth;” because the office of administering doctrine, which God hath placed in her hands, is the only instrument of preserving the truth, that it may not perish from the remembrance of men.
Consequently, this commendation relates to the ministry of the word; for if that be removed, the truth of God will fall to the ground. Not that it is less strong, if it be not supported by the shoulders of men, as the same Papists idly talk; for it is a shocking blasphemy to say, that the word of God is uncertain, till it obtain from men what may be called a borrowed certainty. Paul simply means what he states elsewhere in other words, that since our “faith is by hearing,” there will be no faith, unless there be preaching. (Rom. 10:17.) Accordingly in reference to men, the Church maintains the truth, because by preaching the Church proclaims it, because she keeps it pure and entire, because she transmits it to posterity. And if the instruction of the gospel be not proclaimed, if there are no godly ministers who, by their preaching, rescue truth from darkness and forgetfulness, instantly falsehoods, errors, impostures, superstitions, and every kind of corruption, will reign. In short, silence in the Church is the banishment and crushing of the truth. Is there anything at all forced in this exposition?
Having ascertained Paul’s meaning, let us return to the Papists. First, by applying this eulogium to themselves, they act wickedly; because they deck themselves with borrowed feathers. For, granting that the Church were elevated above the third heaven, I maintain that it has nothing to do with them in any manner. Nay, I even turn the whole passage against them; for, if the Church “is the pillar of truth,” it follows that the Church is not with them, when the truth not only lies buried, but is shockingly torn, and thrown down, and trampled under foot. Is this either a riddle or a quibble? Paul does not wish that any society, in which the truth of God does not hold a lofty and conspicuous place, shall be acknowledged to be a Church; now there is nothing of all this in Popery, but only ruin and desolation; and, therefore, the true mark of a Church is not found in it. But the mistake arises from this, that they do not consider, what was of the greatest importance, that the truth of God is maintained by the pure preaching of the gospel; and that the support of it does not depend on the faculties or understandings of men, but rests on what is far higher, that is, if it does not depart from the simple word of God.
16. Great is the mystery of godliness.
Again, here is another enhancement. That the truth of God might not, through the ingratitude of men, be less esteemed than it ought, he extols its value, by stating that “great is the secret of godliness;” that is, because it does not treat of mean subjects, but of the revelation of the Son of God, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom.” (Col. 2:3.) From the greatness and importance of such matters, pastors ought to judge of their office, that they may devote themselves to the discharge of it with greater conscientiousness and deeper reverence.
God manifested in the flesh. The Vulgate translator, by leaving out the name of God, refers what follows to “the mystery,” but altogether unskilfully and inappropriately, as will clearly be seen on a bare perusal, though he has Erasmus on his side, who, however, destroys the authority of his own views, so that it is unnecessary for me to refute it. All the Greek copies undoubtedly agree in this rendering, “God manifested in the flesh.” But granting that Paul did not express the name of God, still any one who shall carefully examine the whole matter, will acknowledge that the name of Christ ought to be supplied. For my own part, I have no hesitation in following the reading which has been adopted in the Greek copies. In calling the manifestation of Christ, such as he afterwards describes it, a “great mystery,” the reason is obvious; for this is “the height, depth, and breadth of wisdom,” which he has elsewhere mentioned, (Eph. 3:18,) by which all our senses must unavoidably be overwhelmed.
Let us now examine the various clauses in their order. He could not have spoken more appropriately about the person of Christ than in these words, “God manifested in the flesh.” First, we have here an express testimony of both natures; for he declares at the same time that Christ is true God and true man. Secondly, he points out the distinction between the two natures, when, on the one hand, he calls him God, and, on the other, expresses his “manifestation in the flesh.” Thirdly, he asserts the unity of the person, when he declares, that it is one and the same who was God, and who has been manifested in the flesh.
Thus, by this single passage, the true and orthodox faith is powerfully defended against Arius, Marcion, Nestorius, and Eutyches. There is also great emphasis in the contrast of the two words, God in flesh. How wide is the difference between God and man! And yet in Christ we behold the infinite glory of God united to our polluted flesh in such a manner that they become one.
Justified in the Spirit.
As the Son of God “emptied himself,” (Philip. 2:7,) by taking upon him our flesh, so there was displayed in him a spiritual power which testified that he is God. This passage has received various interpretations; but, for my own part, satisfied with having explained the Apostle’s real meaning, as far as I understand it, I shall add nothing more. First, justification here denotes an acknowledgment of divine power; as in Ps. 19:9, where it is said, that “the judgments of God are justified,” that is, are wonderfully and absolutely perfect; and in Ps. 51:5, that “God is justified,” meaning that the praise of his justice is illustriously displayed. So also, (Matt. 11:19, and Luke 7:35,) when Christ says, that “Wisdom hath been justified by her children,” he means that they have given honour unto her; and when Luke (7:29) relates that the publicans “justified God,” he means that they acknowledged, with due reverence and gratitude, the grace of God which they beheld in Christ. What we read here has, therefore, the same meaning as if Paul had said, that he who appeared clothed with human flesh was, at the same time, declared to be the Son of God, so that the weakness of the flesh made no diminution of his glory.
Under the word Spirit, he includes everything in Christ that was divine and superior to man; and he does so for two reasons: First, because he had been humbled in “the flesh,” the Apostle now, by exhibiting the illustration of his glory, contrasts “the Spirit” with “the flesh.” Secondly, that glory, worthy of the only-begotten Son of God, which John affirms to have been seen in Christ, (John 1:14,) did not consist in outward display, or in earthly splendour, but was almost wholly spiritual. The same form of expression is used by him, (Rom. 1:3, 4,) “Who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared by the power of the Spirit to be the Son of God;” but with this difference, that in that passage he mentions one kind of manifestation, namely, the resurrection.
Seen by angels, preached to the Gentiles.
All these statements are wonderful and astonishing; that God deigned to bestow on the Gentiles, who had hitherto wandered in the blindness of their minds, a revelation of his Son, which had been unknown even to the angels in heaven. When the Apostle says, that he was “seen by angels,” he means that the sight was such as drew the attention of angels, both by its novelty and by its excellence. How uncommon and extraordinary the calling of the Gentiles was, we have stated in the exposition of the second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Nor is it wonderful that it was a new spectacle to angels, who, though they knew about the redemption of mankind, yet did not at first understand the means by which it should be accomplished, and from whom it must have been concealed, in order that this remarkable display of the goodness of God might be beheld by them with greater admiration.
Obtained belief in the world.
It was above all things astonishing that God made the Gentiles, who were heathens, and the angels, who held uninterrupted possession of his kingdom, to be equally partakers of the same revelation. But this great efficacy of the preached gospel was no ordinary miracle, when Christ, overcoming all obstacles, subdued to the obedience of faith those who seemed to be altogether incapable of being tamed. Certainly nothing appeared to be less probable—so completely was every entrance closed and shut up. Yet faith vanquished, but by an incredible kind of victory.
Lastly, he says that he was received into glory; that is, from this mortal and wretched life.
Accordingly, as in the world, so far as related to the obedience of faith, so also in the person of Christ, the change was wonderful, when, from the mean condition of a servant, he was exalted to the right hand of the Father, that every knee may bow to him.
John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon