Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Who Is Qualified to Be an Elder? A Careful Analysis of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Part 3 of 5)


The expectations for a congregational overseer include: “not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3, ESV). 

The first of four requisites stated in the negative,1 “not a drunkard,” is also rendered “not an excessive drinker” (CSB), “not given to drunkenness” (NIV), “not addicted to wine” (NASB), “not given to wine” (N/KJV), “no brawler” (ASV). The adj. pároinos, from pará (“near,” “beside”) + oînos (“wine”), is used in the NT only here and in Tit. 1:7. Similar to nēphaléos (v. 2), the primary sense pertains “to one who is given to drinking too much wine, addicted to wine, drunken,”2 while the secondary sense, “quarrelsome over wine” or “drunken behavior,”gives way to its metaphoric usage, “brawling,” “abusive,” “brash,” or “violent tempered.” Should this word be interpreted so narrowly as to limit its meaning to just one of these semantic possibilities to the exclusion of any other option?


It seems unlikely that the adverse effects of intoxicating wine are “scarcely alluded to here,”seeing that Paul is not silent on the use of wine (1 Tim. 5:23) or its abuse (3:8; Eph. 5:18; Tit. 2:3), including implicit allusions (1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2; cf. 1 Thess. 5:6, 8; 2 Tim. 4:5). Drunkenness, however it is to be measured,5 was a problem in antiquity and is clearly condemned in scripture.6 If the word méthusos explicitly identifies one who is a “drunkard” (1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10), it follows that a more descriptive term like pároinos, as intended by Paul and understood by his Greek-speaking readers, would include “drunkenness and its manifestations.”7


Some have concluded that drinking intoxicants is at least tolerated if not celebrated in scripture, so the prohibitions against drunkenness imply the acceptability of discreet usage in moderation.8 But a positive commendation of alcohol consumption drawn out of Paul’s denunciation of its abuse goes beyond the wording and apparent purpose of the relevant texts (discussed further at 3:8),9 especially if some of the troublemakers about whom Paul is concerned were prone to intemperance (note 5:23-24) and disruptive behavior (note 6:4-5; 2 Tim. 2:23). 


Related to and perhaps an extension of the previous thought, the acceptable church leader is “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome …”10 The expression mē plēktēs (“not violent”)11 is also rendered “no striker” (ASV, KJV), “not a bully” (CSB), “not … pugnacious” (NASB), the total opposite of (“but” [allá], a strong adversative) one who is epieikēs (“gentle”)12 or “patient” (KJV), along with ámachos (“not quarrelsome”),13 also rendered “peaceable” (NASB), “not contentious” (ASV), “not a brawler” (KJV), “must not be argumentative” (ISV). There is no place for physical abusiveness (Acts 23:2; 2 Cor. 11:20), or for wounding one’s soul “with cutting, unkind words”14 (cf. 1:9; 2:8). “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness…” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a).


Another must is “not a lover of money,” i.e., “not covetous” (N/KJV), “not greedy” (CSB). The adj. aphilárguros occurs in the NT only here and in Heb. 13:5,15 with the corresponding mē aischrokerdē (“not greedy for money”) in Tit. 1:7. Paul goes on to warn, probably due to the misconduct of agitators, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10,16 note vv. 3-10; 2 Tim. 3:2). The other side of this mandate is generosity and benevolent giving.17

--Kevin L. Moore


     1 Three employ  (“not”), and the other has the alpha prefix of negation, like anepílēptos (“without reproach”) in v. 2. 

     2 BDAG 780. Similar terminology in the LXX includes oinophlugeí, “drunk with wine” (Deut. 21:20), and oinophlugēsōmen, “be drunk with wine” (Isa. 56:12). Note also “tarry long over wine” (Prov. 23:30).

     3 Among the ancient Greeks, the feminine noun paroinía was descriptive of “drunken behavior.” See H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, rev. H. S. Jones.

     4 H. D. M. Spence, “First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy,” in Ellicott’s NT Commentary 190; “It is rather a warning against choosing for the sacred office one given to frequenting noisy banquets, where wild and imprudent words are often spoken.” Conversely, the most straightforward reading, “not near or beside wine,” would include but not be limited to the mere avoidance of drinking parties (James Bales, The Deacon and His Work 25).

     5 See K. L. Moore, “Here’s Why I Don’t Drink Beverage Alcohol,” Moore Perspective (28 Sept. 2013), <Link>.

     6 Lev. 10:9; Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Isa. 5:11; 28:1-8; Luke 21:34; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:3. 

     7 C. J. Ellicott, Critical and Grammatical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles 58. This would clearly be at variance with “above reproach … sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable ” Otherwise, one could excuse a prospective overseer’s drunkenness as long as he is not abusive. “The primary problem with alcohol is that it muddles the mind. Unclear thinking leads to behavior that is selfish and sinful. Christianity seeks to elevate your mind and heighten your self-awareness so that you can behave more responsibly and compassionately. Lucidity and love go hand in hand. Conversely, alcohol and abuse are frequent companions” (Aubrey Johnson, Dynamic Deacons: Champions of Christ’s Church 23).

     8 Robert James Utley, Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey 42-44; Preston Sprinkle, “What Does the Bible Really Say About Drinking Alcohol?” Relevant (15 Sept. 2014), <Web>. A number of pro-drinking arguments fail to consider the significant difference between wines of antiquity (often diluted to avoid intoxication), prior to the invention of distilled liquors, and today’s more potent beverages, not to mention the respective environments of necessity and survival vs. the enjoyment of (dependence on?) a chemical depressant. 

     9 Lynn Anderson says “that Paul’s references to wine are not a teetotaler’s proof texts,” but neither do they provide legitimate biblical sanction for social drinkers. Anderson goes on to concede that if one values his “freedom to drink wine more highly than the freedom to lead the church, that person is ‘given to’ (addicted to) wine!” (They Smell Like Sheep 1:162-63).  

     10 The BMT/TR includes mē aischrokerdē (“not greedy for money”), which is practically synonymous with aphilárguros (“not loving money”) that follows, and it occurs in Tit. 1:7.

     11 In the NT only here and in Tit. 1:7.

     12 In the NT only here and in Phil. 4:5; Tit. 3:2; Jas. 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:18.

     13 In the NT only here and in Tit. 3:2. Cp. Prov. 14:29; 15:18; 26:21; 29:22.

     14 H. D. M. Spence, “First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy,” in Ellicott’s NT Commentary 190. 

     15 Minus the alpha prefix of negation, philárguros (“loving money”) is used in Luke 16:14; 2 Tim. 3:2.

     16 The noun philarguría (“love of money”) occurs only here in the NT. See also Eccl. 5:10-17; Mark 10:17-25; Luke 12:15-21. 

     17 Prov. 3:9; Acts 11:29; Rom. 12:1-2; 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8:1-12; 9:2, 5-7; Gal. 6:6-10; Eph. 4:28.


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Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Who Is Qualified to Be an Elder? A Careful Analysis of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Part 2 of 5)

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2, ESV).
The verbal expression “must be” [deî … eînai] (vv. 2, 7; cf. Tit. 1:7) marks the entire section as non-optional criteria (incl. character traits, abilities, life circumstances), enabling the church to identify the qualified leaders among them and eliminate those who do not meet these conditions.1 The current virtue list, which is in stark contrast to the vice list of 1:9-10, is not descriptive of a super-Christian but simply a mature and faithful Christian. He is known not only for his beliefs but also for his character. 
An interesting contrast between 1 Timothy and the letter to Titus is that Titus was to “appoint” [kathístēmi] leaders where they were lacking (1:5), with no such directive given to Timothy. The Ephesus church had elders in the past, having been warned of false teachers arising among them (Acts 20:17, 28-30). In the current letter to Timothy, a distinction is made between elders who rule well and deserve to be honored, and those who are sinning and subject to public rebuke (5:17-25).2
The preliminary requirement is that he be “above reproach” or “blameless” (ISV, N/KJV). The adjectival anepílēptos appears only three times in the NT, all in this letter, applicable to overseers (3:2), worthy widows (5:7), and the evangelist Timothy (6:14). It stands at the head of the list and is more general than the other expectations, serving as an umbrella term under which the rest fall.3 It is closely related to the adj. anégklētos (“unreprovable,” “blameless”), occurring five times in the NT with respect to deacons (3:10), elders (Tit. 1:6, 7), and all Christians in the end (1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 1:22).4 This is not to be understood as sinless perfection or faultless in the absolute sense (1 Pet. 1:19) but according to what is expected of all forgiven sinners who follow Christ (Rom. 6:1-18), with the condition, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard …” (Col. 1:23).5 The directive is more robust than simply having “a good reputation,” though certainly included (1 Tim. 3:7), describing a person of integrity and solid proven character.6 He is not under a cloud of suspicion. He is not culpable in that no legitimate reason for criticism can be cited or exploited to his discredit.
He must be “the husband of one wife7 (cf. v. 12; 5:9), which disqualifies a single man (cf. 4:3),8 a woman (cf. 2:11-12),9 an active homosexual (cf. 1:10),10 a polygamist (cf. 1 Cor. 7:2),11 or someone unscripturally divorced and remarried (cf. Rom. 7:2-3).12 The essential quality, beyond marital status, is demonstrated fidelity, whether or not Paul had each of the above scenarios in mind as he penned these words.13 A man’s moral character is evident as he is “faithful to his wife” (NIV). Note also that he is to be an actively involved family man (vv. 4-5), immeasurably advantaged by having a wife who is devoted, hospitable, and a good mother, not to mention the kind of woman depicted in 2:9-15.
He must be “sober-minded,” the adj. nēphaléos14 also rendered “self-controlled” (CSB), “temperate” (ASV), “sober” (GNT), “stable” (ISV), “vigilant” (KJV). The primary sense is to be free from the influence of intoxicants, “sober, temperate, abstinent in respect to wine.”15 The secondary meaning is “level-headed” or “clear-headed.”16 Some take the injunction here in its literal sense (total abstinence from beverage alcohol),17 some see a probable “reference to moderate use of wine,”18 while others view it strictly in the metaphoric sense, “sobriety of spirit.”19 At the very least a man who is mentally and emotionally unstable is not qualified. But even moderate consumption of ethyl alcohol causes mood changes, lowered inhibitions, and impaired judgment,20 contrary to what is expected here.
He must be “self-controlled,” also rendered “sensible” (CSB, RSV), “prudent” (NASB), “sober” (KJV) or “sober-minded” (ASV, NKJV). The adj. sōphrōn occurs in the NT only here and in Tit. 1:8; 2:2, 5 in regard to elders, older men, and younger women instructed by older women. It is nearly synonymous with the preceding nēphaléos, without the implicit allusion to inebriants. The basic sense is “well-balanced” in God’s sight, entailing the curbing of impulses and desires, not merely by sheer determination but as someone who “is commanded by God.”21 It is cognate with sōphrosú (“self-control,” 1 Tim. 2:9, 15).22 This character trait protects one’s integrity and dictates how he deals with potential pitfalls involving sexual temptation, anger, contentiousness, alcohol, money, authority, doctrine, et al.
He must be “respectable,” “orderly” (ASV), “of good behavior” (NKJV), “dignified.”23 The adj. kósmios occurs in the NT only here and in 2:9 (regarding how women are to adorn themselves). It is the observable demonstration of the preceding attribute. The overseer “must not only be wise and self-restrained in himself, but his outward bearing must in all respects correspond to his inner life.”24 It would be comparable to díkaios (“upright,” “just”) in Tit. 1:8. In collaboration with the relational qualities subsequently listed, it enhances his interpersonal skills and the effectiveness of his influence. 
He must be hospitable,” or “given to hospitality” (ASV, KJV), translated from the compound philóxenos, a combination of phílos (“friend”) + xénos (“stranger”), lit. “a friend of strangers.” This adj. is found in the NT only here, Tit. 1:8, and 1 Pet. 4:9; the noun form philoxeníappears in Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2. Due to the scarceness and poor conditions of public lodging in antiquity, providing visitors with food and shelter was a virtual necessity. Hospitality under one’s own roof was deeply rooted in ancient society, highly valued, and even viewed as an obligation.25 The large number of itinerant evangelists and other Christian travelers made this particularly relevant to the early church (cf. 3 John 5-8).26 “Hospitality, like most of these qualities, was a practice required of all believers in general, which leaders were to exemplify,”27 and having a hospitable wife would be most advantageous. Paul regularly relied on the hospitality and provision of fellow-Christians,28 including at Ephesus among these brethren and prospective leaders (2 Tim. 1:16-18; cf. Acts 20:18-20). 
He must be “able to teach,” or “apt to teach” (ASV, KJV), “an able teacher” (NET), “an apt teacher” (RSV); the adj. didaktikós used in the NT only here and in 2 Tim. 2:24. This is the first listed qualification based on ability rather than character (although character cannot be disregarded, 1 Tim. 4:12-16), not included as a requirement for deacons. Being qualified to teach is not optional (cp. 1 Tim. 1:3-7; 2:3-7; cf. Jas. 3:1); it is essential for a church leader to be capable of communicating God’s word clearly and faithfully. While the ISV rendering “teachable” may not capture the full sense here, the meaning is “not merely a natural aptitude, but the qualification of having been taught, as well”29 (cf. Tit. 1:9a; 2 Tim. 2:2). Being “ready to teach” is understood, but what about skilled in teaching?
Although some are more observably capable than others (note 1 Tim. 5:17),30 whether one teaches publically or in private is not the issue. Comparatively few would be considered gifted public speakers (note 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 10:10; 11:6), but one can effectively teach in other ways, incl. small group settings or more privately in various instructional, counseling, or advising situations. In fact, one could argue that most teaching opportunities are not of a public nature. Some of the most effective pastoral work can be done in the foyer or parking lot after church services, or through personal contact during the week. A man might have the gift of gab or a knack for emotionally stirring the crowds, but he is not qualified without adequate biblical knowledge and the competence to teach and courage to defend sound doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17; cf. 1:10; Tit. 1:9; 2:1; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Heb. 5:13-14).
--Kevin L. Moore
     1 The “spiritual ones” in a congregation (exhibiting “the fruit of the Spirit”) are recognizable (Gal. 5:226:1), including those who are “mature,” “strong,” and “faithful” (1 Cor. 2:6; Rom. 15:1; 2 Tim. 2:2). The good works of certain ones “are clearly evident” (1 Tim. 5:25; cf. 4:15). When individuals demonstrate their commitment and faithfulness by their regularity, hard work, and caring spirit, their spiritual leadership is to be “recognized” or “acknowledged” (1 Cor. 16:18).
     2 “Timothy must see to it that elders are living according to their appointment, that is, by these standards. At the same time, of course, the whole church will be listening in and will thus be given the grounds for discipline of erring elders as well as for their replacement …” (G. D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus 78-79). 
     3 Mark Baker, “A ‘Perfect’ Elder? Blamelessness in the Qualifications for Elders and Deacons in the Pastoral Epistles,” ETS 72nd Annual Meeting (Nov. 2020).
     4 Consider also the adj. ámōmos (“blameless,” “unblemished”) in Eph. 1:4; 5:27; Phil. 2:15; Col. 1:22; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:19; Jude 24; Rev. 14:5; the adj. ámemptos (“blameless,” “without defect”) in Luke 1:6; Phil. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Thess. 3:13; the adv. amémptōs (“blamelessly”) in 1 Thess. 2:10; 5:23; the adj. áspilos (“spotless”) in 1 Tim. 6:14; Jas. 1:27; 1 Pet. 1:19; 2 Pet. 3:14; the adj. amōmētos (“unblemished,” “blameless”) in 2 Pet. 3:14; and the adj. akéraios (“unadulterated,” “innocent”) in Matt. 10:16; Rom. 16:19; Phil. 2:15.
     5 See also Acts 11:23; 14:22; Heb. 3:14; 2 Pet. 2:18-22; 1 John 1:6–2:6; Rev. 2:10. 
     6 Cf. Acts 6:3; 16:2; Rom. 5:3-4; Phil. 2:22. Lynn Anderson observes “that elders must be people who are consistent enough in character to earn the trust and respect of those who know them” (They Smell Like Sheep 1:160, emp. in the text). 
     7 More literally “a-man-of-one-woman” (J. Payes, “Guardians of the Church” <Link>). 
     8 Note that Paul was unmarried (1 Cor. 7:7-8) and never refers to himself as an “elder” or “overseer,” whereas Peter, as a married man, does (1 Cor. 9:5; 1 Pet. 5:1). Being “the husband of one wife” implies neither less than one nor more than one.
     9 See K. L. Moore, “A Woman’s Service in the Church,” Moore Perspective (27 Dec. 2014), <Link>. 
     10 See K. L. Moore, “Postmodernism and the Homosexual Christian: Part 2,” Moore Perspective (5 Dec. 2014), <Link>. 
     11 See K. L. Moore, “Was Polygamy Ever Acceptable to God?” Moore Perspective (21 March 2018), <Link>. 
     12 See also Gen. 2:24; Matt. 5:31-32; 19:1-10; Mark 6:17-19; 10:1-10; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10-11. On the so-called “Pauline Privilege” (1 Cor. 7:12-16), see K. L. Moore, “The Biblical Doctrine of Divorce and Remarriage: Part 3,” Moore Perspective (14 May 2015), <Link>. If a man’s wife dies, the marriage bond is severed (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39); in a subsequent union with an eligible marriage partner he is still “the husband of one wife” (a one-woman man). On the question of a scripturally divorced and remarried man, see Kyle Butt, “Examining the ‘Husband of One Wife’ Qualification,” AP (2012), <Link>.
     13 The directive “is positive in tone and stresses faithfulness in marriage, rather than prohibiting some specific unsanctioned form of marriage” (I. H. Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, ICC 478). 
     14 This descriptive term occurs in the NT only here, in v. 11, and in Tit. 2:2.
     15 H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 277; see also J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek NT 426. Josephus used the word for total abstinence from wine (Ant. 3.12.2). Nephalism is the total abstinence from alcoholic beverages.
     16 BDAG 672; R. J. Goodrich and A. L. Lukaszewski, A Reader’s Greek NT 459. The verbal nēphō (1 Thess. 5:6, 8; 2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8) also means, in its primary sense, to “be sober” or to “abstain from wine,” but metaphorically to “be sober-minded” or “have clear judgment.” Cf. H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 277; W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of NT Words 1067; The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance and Lexicon 592.
     17 C. J. Ellicott, Critical and Grammatical Commentary 57; not synonymous with v. 3, which addresses the outward exhibition of excess. 
     18 N. J. D. White, “First and Second Timothy,” EGT 4:112.
     19 J. E. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the NT: Handbook to the Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy and Titus, <Web>; corresponding to egkratēs (“restraining,” “self-controlled”) in Tit. 1:8. See also D. Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles 81; G. D. Fee, 1-2 Timothy, Titus 81.
     20 See K. L. Moore, “Here’s Why I Don’t Drink Beverage Alcohol,” Moore Perspective (28 Sept. 2013), <Link>.
     21 K. S. Wuest, Pastoral Epistles 46. 
     22 Compare also egkráteia (“self-mastery,” “self-restraint,” “self-control”) in Acts 24:25; Gal. 5:23 (a “fruit of the Spirit”); 2 Pet. 1:6; cf. Prov. 25:28.
     23 N. J. D. White, “First and Second Timothy and Titus,” EGT 4:112. A respectable man “displays the courage to develop and pursue his own convictions. He makes his decisions based on his values rather than on pragmatism or mere expediency. He operates out of integrity and is driven by principle, not politics” (L. Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep 1:165).  
     24 H. D. M. Spence, Ellicott’s NT Commentary 3:190.
     25 See K. L. Moore, “The Sociocultural Context of the NT (Part 7): Hospitality,” Moore Perspective (7 Aug. 2019), <Link>.
     26 Letters of recommendation helped open doors of hospitality for traveling Christians (cf. Rom. 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 16:10-12; also Phil. 2:25-30; Col. 4:7-9; Eph. 6:21-22). D. J. Moo, commenting on Rom. 12:13, observes that Paul calls upon his readers to “put into practice the love and concern for one another …. to have fellowship with, to participate in, the ‘needs’ of the saints. These ‘needs’ are material ones: food, clothing, and shelter… sharing of our material goods …. to go out of our way to welcome and provide for travelers” (Epistle to the Romans NICNT 779-80). See also Acts 2:44-45; 4:35; 6:3; 20:34; 28:10; Eph. 4:28; Phil. 2:25; 4:16; Tit. 3:14; 1 John 3:17; Rev. 3:17. On the negative side, see Luke 9:51-55; 2 John 7-11; 3 John 9-11.
     27 Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy and Titus 252.
     28 Acts 9:19; 16:15, 34; 18:1-3; 20:11; 21:4, 7-10, 16-17; 28:13-14; 24:23; Rom. 15:24; 16:2, 23; 1 Cor. 16:6; Gal. 1:18; Philem. 22; 2 Tim. 1:16-18; cf. 2 Tim. 4:13. 
     29 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon 584. Being teachable is actually a way of teaching by example (note 1 Pet. 5:3), modeling humility and receptivity.
     30 In 1 Cor. 12:29 Paul rhetorically asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?” The implied answer is “no.” Not everyone in the 1st-century church was expected to be a teacher, any more than everyone was an apostle, a prophet, or a miracle worker. But in Heb. 5:12 we read, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers …” These two passages are addressed to two different audiences in separate places and times, dealing with two very different issues. In 1 Cor. 12 Paul is confronting the problem of jealousy and discord due to the misuse of miraculous gifts; each member should be contributing his/her part for the benefit of the whole body. In this context, “teachers” fulfil a special role in the church (cf. Jas. 3:1). In Heb. 5 the problem is lack of spiritual growth and maturity. There comes a time when all Christians ought to be “teachers” in some sense, whether by (a) example (Matt. 5:13-16; Rom. 16:19; 1 Tim. 3:7; 4:12, 15; 5:25; 1 Pet. 2:11-12); (b) open confession of one’s faith (Matt. 10:32; Heb. 4:14; 10:23); (c) defence of the faith (1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 3); (d) fulfilling one’s “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-21; cf. Matt. 28:18-20); and/or (e) developing and utilizing God-given teaching talents (Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11). It is this latter (more specific) sense that is considered in 1 Cor. 12, whereas in Heb. 5 the broader sense is in view.
Related PostsQualifications of Elders Part 1Part 3Part 4Part 5
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Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Who Is Qualified to Be an Elder? A Careful Analysis of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Part 1 of 5)

In the first two chapters of 1 Timothy, Paul has instructed his true son in the faith to confront error and wage the good warfare (1:1-20), followed by what is expected of the church regarding prayer (2:1-8a) and the deportment of men and women (2:8b-15). The next section highlights a very important aspect of guarding and directing the church, the designated leaders, beginning with the requirements for those serving as overseers (3:1-7). 
The qualifications listed in 1 Timothy and in Titus (1:4-9), each representative rather than exhaustive, are effectively parallel and complementary, with differences in wording but not in substance. Paul could readily take for granted that his respective addressees, two of his closest colleagues, would already know certain doctrinal truths without the need to be explicitly stated. It is therefore prudent for modern exegetes to compare the relevant texts and use each as a commentary on the other, different audiences and circumstances notwithstanding.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1, ESV). 
The saying is trustworthy,” a formula used only in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (here and in 1:15; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Tit. 3:8), preceding “weighty and memorable truths,”presumably already well known among the brethren. The conditional particle eí (“If”) does not preface an obligation but makes an assumption about “anyone” (in a position to do so) who “aspires to” or “seeks” (cf. ASV) leadership in the church. The verb orégō essentially means to “stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something” (Thayer), whether in a bad sense (6:10)2 or in a good sense (Heb. 11:16).3
The trustworthy saying does not commend an “ambitious seeking” (note vv. 3, 6; cp. 1:7) but “seems only to denote the definite character, and perhaps manifestation, of the desire, the ‘stretching out of the hands to receive’ …”4 The parallel expression that follows, “he desires,” from the intensified compound verbal epithuméō (epí, “upon” + thumós, “passion”), means to “set one’s passions upon,” whether bad (“covet,” “lust”)5 or good (“desire,” “aspire to”),6 the latter sense intended here. This is characteristic of one who is mature in the faith and firmly committed to the Lord’s work. 
The object is “the office [‘position,’ NKJV] of overseer,” or simply “to be an overseer” (CSB, NIV) or “bishop” (N/KJV, N/RSV). The single noun episkopē generally conveys the idea of “visitation” – to investigate and judge people’s character and works (Luke 19:44; 1 Pet. 2:12) – applied particularly to the activity of “oversight” or “overseership” (cf. Num. 4:16; 1 Chron. 24:19, LXX). The role of apostle is described in Acts 1:20 as episkopē, variously rendered “bishoprick” (KJV), “position of overseer” (NRSV), “overseership” (Darby), or more generically “office” (ESV, NASB, NKJV), “position” (CSB), “place of leadership” (NIV). Including the word “office” in the translation suggests status, although the “position” under consideration is more of a functional role involving responsibility and practical leadership (cf. Tit. 1:7a). 
In 1 Timothy 3 the corresponding noun epískopos7 in v. 2 identifies a leadership position in the local church, viz. “overseer” or “bishop” (ASV, N/KJV) in the sense of “superintendent” or “guardian,” especially of souls (1 Pet. 2:25; cf. Heb. 13:17). Three Greek words are employed in the NT to designate this role of congregational leadership: episkópoi (“overseers” or “bishops”),8 presbutéroi (“elders” or “presbyters”),9 and the verbal form of poiménes (“shepherds” or “pastors”). These terms are used interchangeably and apply to the same individuals: pastors = shepherds = bishops = overseers = presbyters = elders (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2; cf. Eph. 4:11).10 As indicated by the list of requirements that follows, this is not a disengaged board of directors but an effective team of pastoral mentors.11
Each community of the Lord’s church is autonomous,12 and only the local congregation is organized on earth with a plurality of qualified men (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9) serving as the principal leaders (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2-6, 23; 20:17, 28; 21:17-19; Eph. 4:11-12; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Jas. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; cf. 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7, 17). The oversight exercised by these men is limited to the respective congregations in which each has membership (1 Pet. 5:2).13 There is no example in the NT of multiple churches overseen by one person or the same governing body, or of a Christian assembly governed by a lone pastor/ shepherd/ bishop/ overseer/ presbyter/ elder (cf. Acts 14:23; 20:17). 
To aspire to congregational overseership is to desire a noble task” [kaloû érgou], “a noble work” (CSB), “a good work” (NKJV). Paul employs the adj. kalós (“good,” “noble,” “honorable”) more than any other NT writer (41x out of 101 occurrences), with its highest concentration in 1 Timothy (16x).14 The noun érgon, as used here, means more than a momentary, temporary, or short-term “task.” This is an ongoing “work” (cf. 2:10; 5:10, 25; 6:18), including tiresome laboring [kopiáō] (5:17; cf. 4:10). Elsewhere Paul identifies the prevailing marks of leadership as “work”15 and “labor”16 (1 Cor. 16:16), affirming in 1 Thess. 5:12-13, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor [kopiáō] among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work [érgon] …” 
Rather than an ambitious striving for recognition and status,17 the desire is for arduous work coupled with weighty responsibility, as service to the Lord’s church is the priority and is observable in what leaders and prospective leaders are already doing.18 Certain ones “devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15). The word translated “devoted” (“addicted,” KJV) is the aorist form of tássō, meaning to “appoint,” “assign” or “put in charge” (BAGD 805-806).19 It seems they had actually appointed themselves to this ministry, not that they usurped the wishes of the congregation, but they saw what needed to be done and got busy.20 Paul says, “that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with [us]” (1 Cor. 16:16). While in a sense all Christians are to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5), here we find an example of unilateral submission similar to that expressed in Heb. 13:17. These men were not self-appointed leaders but self-appointed workers and laborers, and Paul acknowledges this as a quality of true leadership.
Anything done voluntarily is usually valued more than what is done by request or by compulsion (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2). The leadership aspirations of which Paul speaks, however, are insufficient without the qualifications that follow,21 where the focus is not on duties of office but on attributes of the person. 
--Kevin L. Moore
     1 H. D. M. Spence, in C. J. Ellicott’s NT Commentary 3:182; cp. Rev. 21:5; 22:6. Some have suggested the statement here points to the previous paragraph. See, e.g., A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT 4:572.
     2 With respect to the love of money, “reaching after” (ASV), “craving” (CSB, ESV), “longing for” (NASB), “eager for” (NIV), “coveted after” (KJV), “greediness” (NKJV).
     3 With respect to the heavenly home, “desire” (ESV, N/ASB, N/KJV), “longing for” (ISV, NIV), “aspire to” (NET).
     4 C. J. Ellicott, Critical and Grammatical Commentary 56.
     5 Matt. 5:28; Acts 20:33; Rom. 7:7; 13:9; 1 Cor. 10:6; Jas. 4:2; Rev. 9:6; and against good, Gal. 5:17.
     6 Matt. 13:17; 17:22; 22:15; Heb. 6:11; 1 Pet. 1:12; against bad, Gal. 5:17; extreme hunger, Matt. 15:16; 16:21.
     7 This is a combination of the intensifier epí (“on,” “upon”) + skopós (“observer,” “watcher”), appearing five times in the NT: Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:25. Cp. Neh. 11:9, 14, 22.
     8 A comparable descriptor would be “guardians” (Jovan Payes, “Guardians of the Church,” Biblical Faith [16 Dec. 2015], <Link>).
     9 Note also the collective “eldership” [presbutérion] (1 Tim. 4:14).
     10 Around 95-96 Clement of Rome wrote a letter to the Corinthians, clearly showing the church was governed by a plurality of overseers with no distinction between bishops and elders (cf. I Clement 42:4; 44:1-2). Polycarp (ca. 115), in a letter to the Philippi church that begins, “Polycarp and the elders with him,” offers the admonition “to be subject to the presbyters and deacons.” Papias (ca. 60-130) refers to congregational leaders as presbyters. The Didache (ca. 130-150) confirms that during this time the church was administered by elders and deacons, with no distinction between bishops and elders (cf. Sec. 15). The Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 140-150) shows no difference between bishops and elders. See F. W. Mattox, Eternal Kingdom 56-59, 109-110; B. Howell, Fall from Servant to Master 106-110.
     11 See Lynn Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep 1:49-54. “Disaster may await the church whose leaders see themselves primarily as managers” (Walter L. Liefeld, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus 120).
     12 There is no human supervisor or head, board of directors, synod, headquarters, or government of Christ’s church on earth. Christ is the head of his church (Eph. 1:21-23; Col. 1:18); heaven is therefore the headquarters (Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:24). The church is governed by Christ’s authority through God’s word (Matt. 28:18; John 12:48; Heb. 1:1-2; 2 John 8-11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17). Other positions of service in the local church include deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13), evangelists and teachers (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5), and active members (Rom. 12:1-21; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). Effective leaders “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).
     13 This arrangement helps prevent the spread of apostasy; if one leadership or congregation goes astray, autonomy minimizes the adverse effects on other congregations. Moreover, “In requiring a plurality of elders, God knew that not every elder would fully possess equal measures of each qualification, yet through prayer, study and faithfulness, each should grow together in service, much like the pieces of a puzzle forming a complete, collective scene” (Scott Latham, “The Demeanor of God’s Leaders,” in Entrusted with the Faith 95).
     14 1 Tim. 1:8, 18; 2:3; 3:1, 7, 13; 4:4, 6[x2]; 5:10, 25; 6:12[x2], 13, 18, 19. Elsewhere Matt. (21x); Mark (11x); Luke-Acts (10x); John (7x); Rom. (5x); 1 Cor. (6x); 2 Cor. (2x); Gal. (3x); 1 Thess. (1x); 2 Tim. (3x); Titus (5x); Heb. (5x); James (3x); 1 Pet. (3x).
     15 Lit. “work with,” from the compound sunergéō = sún (“with”) + the verbal form of érgon (“work”); cf. also 2 Cor. 6:1; James 2:22.
     16 The verbal kopiáō conveys the sense of exhausting activity (cf. Luke 5:5; Acts 20:35; John 4:6; Rom. 16:6, 12; 1 Cor. 4:12; 15:10; Gal. 4:11; Eph. 4:28; Phil. 2:16; Col. 1:29; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Tim. 2:6).
     17 Compare Matt. 20:25-28; 1 Pet. 5:2-4; cf. Phil. 2:1-8.
     18 Note the inner compulsion that urges one to action: Jer. 4:19; 20:9; Acts 17:16; 18:5; 1 Cor. 9:16-18; 2 Cor. 5:14. This is more than an ambitious drive or a domineering personality (cp. 3 John 9).
     19 Cf. Matt. 28:16; Acts 22:10; Rom. 13:1.
     20 Note, e.g., Matt. 25:35-40; Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10.
     21 Are these “qualifications” or “qualities”? When seen as “qualifications,” they can be interpreted so strictly as to discount otherwise capable leaders. When viewed as “qualities,” they can be interpreted so loosely as to be seen as mere suggestions or flexible guidelines. A balance between these extremes helps to appreciate the purpose of the directives in identifying and selecting the most effective leaders. While attributes differ in degree and expression, it is unreasonable to demand absolute perfection (note Phil. 3:12-17) or compromise on essentials (note Jas. 4:17). Every Christian should self-reflect and make personal application as he or she seeks to develop and exhibit the same (or comparable) character traits.

Related Posts:Qualifications of Elders Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

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Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Beyond the Jordan: an Ethnogeographical Study

The Jordan River, explicitly referenced nearly 200 times in scripture, flows north to south from Mt. Hermon through the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea. Only about 30 meters (100 feet) wide at its broadest point, and just over 5 meters (17 feet) at its deepest, it is a primary water source for an otherwise arid land. Its biblical significance comes from major events occurring in, around, and through it.1

When the Abrahamic land promise was fulfilled,2 most of the Israelite tribes settled on the western side of the river, later known as Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. The tribes of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben settled lands on the eastern side, later known as Perea, the Decapolis, and the upper region. When the biblical record alludes to a location “beyond” or “across” the Jordan,3 what does this mean? Is the eastern side or the western side in view, and does it even matter? 


Sometimes the particular direction or locality is clearly stated or implied.4 At other times, however, it depends on the vantage point of the one making the observation, including allusions to “this side” and “the other side.”5 From the standpoint of the speaker or the writer, the directional view is mostly eastward,6 though at other times the west side of the river is intended.7

In the New Testament, only the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John make references to “beyond the Jordan.” Luke’s record does not use this terminology. The most apparent reason is the different authorial perspectives. Luke is not an ethnic Jew and, as far as we know, not from an area historically regarded as Jewish territory. The other three Gospel writers are. From a 1st-century Palestinian Jewish perspective, the phrase “beyond the Jordan” typically looks eastward.

Prophetic Significance

The phrase occurs in Matthew 4:15 in a quote from Isaiah 9:1. This could be alluding to the former land of the Amorites east of the Jordan, inhabited by Gentiles in Isaiah’s day, thus “Galilee of the nations.” However, from the vantage point of Israel’s northern enemies, particularly the Assyrians (cf. Isa. 8:4, 7), it would apply to the west side of the river, later known as Upper Galilee (formerly “land of Naphtali”) and Lower Galilee (formerly “land of Zebulun”), thus the home base and initial focus of the Lord’s public ministry.8

Evangelistic Significance

Jesus grew up west of the Jordan River in the Galilean village of Nazareth (Matt. 2:23) and later made his home base in Capernaum, a fishing village much closer to the water boundary (Matt. 4:13). Although his ministry initially and primarily targeted the people of Galilee, Judea, and to some extent Samaria, his far-reaching influence also impacted lives east of the river in the Decapolis and other places “beyond the Jordan” (Matt. 4:25; Mark 3:8). While principally pursuing “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6; 15:24), his earthly ministry was much broader than is often recognized. 

Jesus earned the reputation for associating with tax collectors and “sinners” (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34), the latter expression descriptive of Gentiles (Gal. 2:15; cf. Acts 10:28) and of Jews who were not diligent students and practitioners of the law and traditions (cf. John 7:49). It is noteworthy that the accusations were made in Capernaum (Matt. 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:30-32), on the border of the Jordan River, and in Perea (Luke 15:1-2), across the Jordan. Since Jesus “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), these are the kinds of people who needed to hear his message (Matt. 4:17; 9:12-13).

East of the Jordan: the Upper Region

In the upper region east of the Jordan, Bethsaida was the hometown of at least three of the Lord’s earliest disciples: Philip, Andrew, and Simon Peter (John 1:44).9 Jesus was not in Galilee when he first encountered these men, and Andrew had learned of Christ through John the baptist’s ministry (John 1:35-43), which was mostly “beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28; 3:26; 10:40). Being from this culturally-diverse region would explain why Philip and Andrew are the Lord’s only apostles with Greek names. On one occasion, when certain Greeks desired to meet Jesus, it was Philip and Andrew who served as intermediaries (John 12:20-22).

In this area across the Jordan Jesus taught, healed, and then fed over 5,000 hungry people with five barley loaves and two small fish, his only miracle (besides the resurrection) recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). As locals, both Philip and Andrew had important roles in the narrative. Jesus singled out Philip, inquiring of him where bread might be purchased in the vicinity, and Andrew is the one who introduced the Lord to a local boy with food, perhaps knowing the youngster personally (John 6:5-9). Unfortunately, the general populace of Bethsaida were not receptive to the Lords teaching and miracles (Matt. 11:20-22; Luke 10:13-14; John 6:15-66). 

Caesarea Philippi was also on the eastern side of the Jordan River, where Christ made the promise to build his universal church as he ministered with his disciples in surrounding villages (Matt. 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30). The city was named after Caesar Augustus and Herod Philip II, formerly known as Paneas, after the Greek god Pan. The Lord and his disciples were far removed from their monotheistic Jewish environment, deep in pagan territory. The description in John 12:21 is apparently ethnogeographical rather than political, as both Bethsaida [Julias] and Caesarea Philippi were just beyond Galilee’s political boundaries and within the jurisdiction of Herod Philip II, today in the region known as the Galilee Panhandle.

East of the Jordan: the Decapolis

The Decapolis (League of Ten Cities) was comprised of Scythopolis, Gadara, Hippos, Dion, Pella, Raphana, Canatha, Damascus, Philadelphia, and Galasa (Pliny, Natural History 5.16). Other than Damascus of Syria, the rest of these communities, following the 4th-century BC conquests of Alexander the Great, were established as Greek municipalities and at various times controlled and influenced by the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, the Nabateans, and eventually the Romans. 

After the people of Judea broke free from Seleucid control and regained their independence in 142 BC, the Hasmonean dynasty increased in power, wealth, and territory, conquering Idumea to the south and cities of the Decapolis to the east. By 63 BC the Romans had gained control and liberated these Hellenized cities, allowing them political independence under Roman protection. Each was considered a polis or city-state, with jurisdiction over its surrounding countryside. In the early 1st century AD the culturally-diverse region east of the Jordan River was far more Greco-Roman than Jewish.

Among Christ’s many followers were those of the Decapolis district (Matt. 4:25), as he ventured beyond the Jordan into a place his fellow-Jews considered unclean, with unclean animals and unclean people tormented by unclean spirits (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). Despite initial rejection, he graciously returned to do good works, “and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37). His compassion compelled him to heal the afflicted and perform another great feeding miracle, with only seven loaves and a few small fish to fill over 4,000 famished souls (Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-10). These feeding miracles served as object lessons for the sometimes oblivious apostles (Mark 6:52; 8:17-21).

East of the Jordan: Perea

Perea (meaning “the country beyond”) was on the eastern side of the Jordan, south of the Decapolis, the territory formerly occupied by the pre-exilic Israelite tribes of Gad and Reuben. When Herod the Great was appointed by the Roman Senate as Judea’s king in 37 BC, Perea was included in his jurisdiction, later transferred to his son Antipas (cf. Luke 23:6-7), then to his grandson Agrippa I (cf. Acts 12:19-20), and eventually absorbed into the provinces of Judea and Syria Palestina under the control of a military prefect.

Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (4 BC to AD 39) when John the baptizer was preparing the way for Christ’s ministry (Luke 3:1-6). John was from the hill country of Judah (Luke 1:39), the northern part of which was roughly 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the Jordan River. The Jordan Valley runs along both sides of the river, and much of the lower region is wilderness.10 John conducted his ministry in the more isolated wilderness of Judea (Matt. 3:1; Luke 3:4), albeit mainly “beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28; 3:26; 10:40). Jesus and his disciples also baptized masses of people in this general area (John 3:26; 4:1-3).

As John went “into all the surrounding region of the Jordan” (Luke 3:3), multitudes went out to hear his preaching from “all the region around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6; 11:7-10). Since he was “at first” immersing in a particular place across the Jordan (John 10:40), no single location can be identified as his only baptismal site, although farther north in the Galilee region seems to be excluded (Matt. 3:13; 4:12; Mark 1:9, 14; Luke 4:14 John 1:43). On at least one occasion he was baptizing converts from the west side of the river (John 3:23, cp. v. 26). 

A distinction is made in the Fourth Gospel between the Bethany “near Jerusalem” (John 11:18) and the Bethany in a more remote area “beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28).11 The Bethany west of the river was a small town on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives, less than 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) from Jerusalem (Matt. 21:17; 26:6-13; 12:1-8; Mark 11:1, 11-12; 14:3-9; Luke 19:29; 24:50; John 11:1-46). The Jordan River is about 33 kilometers (21 miles) east of Jerusalem (note John 1:19), and John’s original baptismal site was within a couple of days’ walk from the Bethany near Jerusalem (John 1:28; 10:40; 11:1, 6, 17).

John the baptizer was eventually arrested and executed by Herod Antipas, in whose territory he had been preaching and baptizing (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:19-20; 9:9). The death sentence was the result of John denouncing the tetrarch’s unlawful marriage to his half-niece Herodias. Jesus was informed of the incident (Matt. 14:12)and his attitude toward the malicious ruler was not favorable (Mark 8:15; Luke 13:31-32).12

A couple of years later Jesus was “beyond the Jordan” when some Pharisees publicly asked him about the legality of a husband divorcing his spouse for just any cause (Matt. 19:1-2; Mark 10:1-2). At the time they were in the political jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, a divorced man married to a divorced woman,13 wielding the power of life and death. The trap they were attempting to set makes the straightforward and courageous response of Jesus even more impactful. Like John, he implicitly regarded such a relationship unlawful (Matt. 19:4-9; Mark 10:3-12). 

East of the Jordan: Nabatea

Beyond the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, farther east and southeast was the Arabian Desert and the land of the Nabateans, which the Romans called Arabia (cf. Gal. 4:25)The kingdom was ruled for approximately forty-eight years (9 BC – AD 40) by King Aretas IV (cf. 2 Cor. 11:32-33), whose daughter, Phasaelis, was married to and divorced by Herod Antipas before his remarriage to Herodias.

During the Middle Nabatean period (30 BC – AD 70) the boundaries fluctuated but would have included what is today known as the Sinai, the Negev, the east side of the Jordan Valley, much of Jordan, and part of Saudi Arabia. At times it incorporated Damascus and other cities of the Decapolis. Jews from Arabia (the Nabatean Kingdom) were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11) and potentially returned home with the gospel (Acts 8:4). Later Saul of Tarsus was converted in Damascus and then spent the first three years of his Christian life in the general vicinity of Damascus in Arabia (Acts 9:3-19; Gal. 1:15-18).14

The biblical record does not indicate for how much of the three years Saul was in Arabia or what he did there, but in view of his preaching Christ almost immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20-22) and subsequently arousing the disfavor of the Nabatean king (2 Cor. 11:32), missionary activity seems likely. While in Arabia, it is plausible that he worked with Arabian Christian Jews converted in Jerusalem, who had been forced to flee from Jerusalem due to the persecution he had earlier instigated (Acts 2:11, 41; 8:1-4).


Explicit allusions in the New Testament to the Lord’s care and outreach among non-Jewish people are rare until the end of his public ministry (Matt. 8:5-13; 15:21-28; 28:18-20). However, implicit in the ethnogeographical details of the biblical record is a much broader and more accurate description. His mission field included but was in no way limited to conservative Judaism in Jewish territories.15 From as far south as Idumea, as far north as Syria, as far west as the Mediterranean coastline, and as far east as “beyond the Jordan” (Matt. 4:24-25; Mark 3:7-8), in only three to three-and-a-half years Christ’s teaching and influence impacted lives in an area of over 46,000 square kilometers (18,000 sq. miles). 

Afterwards the universal gospel message spread and continues to spread even farther as his great commission was and continues to be carried out to all nations in all the world (Acts 1:8; Col. 1:5-6). Metaphorically, we still venture beyond the Jordan" when we trust God enough to leave our comfort zones, stepping out in faith to do his will, especially in demonstrating Christ-like love toward those who are different than us culturally, ethnically, socially, religiously, and morally. It involves not seeking my own advantage but of the many, that they may be saved (1 Cor. 10:33b).

--Kevin L. Moore


     1 After twenty years in Mesopotamia, Jacob and his family crossed the Jordan River westward into the land of Canaan (Gen. 32:10). Centuries later, following their exodus from Egypt and four decades of nomadic wandering, Jacob’s descendants returned to Canaan from the eastern side by crossing the river on dry ground (Josh. 3:17; 4:22-24). Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan eastward on dry ground, then Elisha did it again in the opposite direction (2 Kings 2:7-14). Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy by dipping seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:10-14), and Jesus was baptized in the same river (Matt. 3:13-17).

     2 Gen. 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:7-18; Deut. 4:1; 16:20; Josh. 3:14-17; 21:43-45; 1 Kings 4:21; Neh. 9:7-8; Acts 7:2-5, 17, 45.

     3 Some translators and commentators avoid the question with a more generic expression like “near” or “in the vicinity of,” but in so doing rob the text of its more specific geographical focus. Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.

     4 Deut. 4:49; Josh. 1:15; 5:1; 12:7; 13:27, 32; 20:8; 22:7; Num. 32:19; 1 Chron. 26:30.

     5 Deut. 1:1, 5; 4:41, 46, 47; Josh. 1:14; cf. 2 Sam. 19:31-41.

     6 From the speaker’s point of reference: Deut. 3:8; Josh. 1:15; 2:10; 7:7; 9:10; 18:7; 22:4; 24:8; Judg. 5:17; 33:32; 35:14; from the writer’s point of reference: Gen. 50:10-11; Num. 22:1; 34:15; Josh. 12:1; 13:8; 14:3; 17:5; Judg. 7:25; 10:8; 1 Sam. 31:7; 1 Chron. 12:37.

     7 Deut. 3:20, 25; 11:30; Josh. 9:1; 2 Sam. 19:15; Isa. 9:1.

     8 The region had been controlled by Phoenician king Hiram I of Tyre-Sidon in the 10th century BC (cf. 1 Kings 9:11-14) and later populated by the Assyrians with exiled foreigners in the 8th century BC (cf. 2 Kings 17:5-24). Within its 1st-century AD borders were Hellenistic communities like Tiberias (on the Sea of Galilee’s western coast) and the capital Sepphoris (near Nazareth), primary cultural centers of Greco-Roman influence. The Lord’s directive in Matt. 10:5 implies the presence of Gentiles in the region. Upper Galilee is mountainous and barren, at times providing a much-needed getaway for Jesus (Matt. 14:23; Mark 6:46; John 6:15). Lower Galilee was a lot more populated, so the bulk of the Lord’s ministry was spent traveling around its many villages (Matt. 9:35; Mark 6:6). Christ’s immediate disciples, with the possible exception of Judas Iscariot, were all regarded as Galileans (Acts 1:11; 2:7).

     9 Although Bethsaida was the hometown of Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, at some point they were living in a house on the other side of the Jordan River in Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29). Being fishermen by trade, they would have been subject to taxation whenever they crossed the river into the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas (cf. Luke 5:27). The house in Capernaum may have belonged to the family of Peter’s wife.

     10 The Eastern Plateau, east of the Jordan River and west of the Arabian Desert, was the location of the Transjordanian Mountains (incl. Mt. Hermon), the Decapolis, and Perea. Much of the lower region, which includes Jericho (Matt. 20:29) and Qumran, is wilderness. This is probably the wilderness area where Jesus was tested by the devil for nearly six weeks (Matt. 4:1-11). The desolate valley would have provided the Lord and his disciples secluded places of solitude (Luke 5:16; 9:10; cf. Mark 1:35).

     11 The variant reading Βηθαβαρᾶ (“Bethabara”) appears in the Textus Receptus version of John 1:28 (see LSV, N/KJV, RAV, YLT), although the weight of evidence favors Βηθανίᾳ (“Bethany”) as in NA28/UBS5 and the Byzantine Majority Text. The confusion generated by two locations of the same name probably led Origen to favor “Bethabara,” influencing Eusebius, Jerome, and the Textus Receptus. There is no clear reason to alter the text otherwise, even though there were other places sharing the same names (e.g., Gibeah, Antioch, Caesarea, Philadelphia, Nicopolis). The apostle John himself deemed it necessary to make the geographical distinctions, “near Jerusalem” vs. “beyond the Jordan.” For a more extensive discussion, see J. Carl Laney, Selective Geographical Problems in the Life of Christ (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977): 50-70 <Link>. 

     12 The reading in Mark 8:15 in most Greek manuscripts is “Herod,” but the alternate reading “Herodians” occurs in some, alluding to the political supporters of Herod Antipas.

     13 Antipas had divorced his wife Phasaelis, the daughter of the Nabatean king Aretas IV, in order to marry Herodias, who had previously been married to his half-brother Philip I. Josephus reports: “Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas; and had lived with her a great while …. However he fell in love with Herodias, this last Herod’s [Philip’s] wife …. One article of this marriage also was this, that he should divorce Aretas’s daughter…. But Herodias, their [Aristobulus and Agrippa’s] sister, was married to Herod [Philip], the son of Herod the Great …. Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced her self from her husband, while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband’s brother by the father’s side. He was tetrarch of Galilee” (Ant. 18.5.1, 4).

     14 Paul was in Damascus at least twice: (a) when he was converted to Christ (Acts 9:8-19), and (b) when he returned from Arabia (Gal. 1:15-17). His initial departure was prompted by a Jewish plot to kill him, and his second departure was instigated by the ethnarch of Damascus desiring to arrest him. On both occasions Paul’s escape was executed by being let down in a basket through the city wall.

     15 Christ’s initial focus was necessarily among his ethnic kinsmen (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24) but his ultimate purpose and practical ministry were not so restricted (Matt. 9:36-37; 25:32; 28:19; John 10:16; cf. Rom. 1:16).


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