“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5, ESV).
An overseer must (v. 2) “manage his own household well …” The Greek oîkos (“house”) is used here as a metonymy for “household” or “family,”1 which in ancient Mediterranean societies consisted of a male head (paterfamilias) and those in his home subject to his authority, including his wife, children, sometimes slaves,2 along with extended family members as well (cf. 5:8, 16; 6:1-2). Specific instructions are given in the NT for Christian households,3 a number of which would have formed the nucleus of local congregations.4
The particular focus here is “keeping his children submissive,” or “having his children in subjection” (ASV), “see that his children obey him” (NIV), “keeping his children under control” (NASB). The parallel text in Titus 1:6, “and his children are believers [faithful] and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination,” concerns the reputation in the community of his older children.9 Notwithstanding the unfortunate circumstance of a rebellious son or daughter going astray despite the parents’ best efforts,10 the requirement here is that of a man who fulfills his fatherly duties as God intends.11 One does not qualify as a congregational leader whose children in general are undisciplined, insubordinate, and out of control.12
The noun semnótēs signifies worthiness of respect, descriptive of how Christ-followers ought to be perceived (2:2; Tit. 2:7), not necessarily “with all gravity” (ASV, KJV) in the sense of sternness but “with all dignity” in the sense of “natural respect.”13 Whether this pertains in the current text to the children (N/RSV), the father (NET), or the way he manages his children (ESV, NIV), the ambiguity allows application to all these, “keeping his children under control with all dignity” (NASB). The dignified development of dignified children comes through dignified parenting rather than forceful intimidation or neglect.
Demonstrated family leadership is a necessary quality for a church leader, because “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” The presumption is that a man will lead and care for the church in the same manner he leads and cares for his family. “The man who is a failure at one (family) is thereby disqualified for the other (church).”14 As noted above, a qualified leader is to “manage” [proïstēmi] those for whom he is responsible, whether his immediate family or his church family (5:17), but not as an uninvolved observer or an authoritarian ruler.15 He is instead to “care for” [epimeléomai] them as the divinely-appointed head of his own household,16 and as caregiver of “God’s church,” i.e., “the household of God” (3:15). His authority is subject to divine authority. He is “God’s steward” (Tit. 1:7a), along with his fellow-elders, divinely commissioned “to care for17 the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Note also v. 12; 5:4; Luke 11:17; Acts 7:10; 10:2; 11:14; 16:31; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:16; 4:19; Tit. 1:11; Heb. 11:7.
2 J. D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle 591 n. 128; W. A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians 75-76. A household inclusive of slaves would only be relevant to society’s upper echelons, not many of whom were connected to the church (1 Cor. 1:26), but enough to justify specific instructions concerning this established economic arrangement of the 1st-century Roman world (1 Cor. 7:20-24; 12:13; Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22–4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; Philem. 10-16). See K. L. Moore, “The Sociocultural Context of the NT (Part 5): Households and Slavery,” Moore Perspective (24 July 2019), <Link>.
3 Eph. 5:22–6:9; Col. 3:18–4:1; 1 Tim. 3:4; 5:4, 8; 6:1-2; Tit. 2:1-10; 1 Pet. 2:18-20; 3:1-7. In the absence of a male head, the household would naturally be managed by a woman (e.g. Acts 12:12; 16:14-15; cf. Rom. 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 1:11).
4 Christians assembled in the homes of Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19) and later in Rome (Rom. 16:5), Gaius in Corinth (Rom. 16:23), Philemon in Colosse (Philem. 2), Nympha/s in Laodicea (Col. 4:15), Mary in Jerusalem (Acts 12:5, 12), and Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:40). While the nucleus of house churches was often the household itself, this does not mean every person in the home was converted (e.g. Philem. 2, 10-17). New converts would have been added to the household communities. See K. L. Moore, “The Sociocultural Context of the NT (Part 6): House Churches,” Moore Perspective (24 July 2019), <Link>.
5 This verb occurs eight times in the NT with nuances including “preside over,” “superintend,” “rule,” “lead,” “give attention to” (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17; Tit. 3:8, 14).
6 The verbal epimeléomai is a combination of the intensifier epí (“upon”) + mélei (to “care about” or “have regard for”).
7 Nuances of this adverb include “rightly,” “nobly,” “honorably.” The CSB renders it here, “completely.”
8 G. D. Fee, 1-2 Timothy, Titus 82.
9 Seeing that one of the descriptive terms for this leadership position is “elder” [presbúteros] (5:1, 17, 19; Tit. 1:5), implying an advanced level of maturity and experience that typically comes with age, an older man with older children could be assumed – still somewhat subjective but informative nonetheless.
10 Gen. 4:1-16; Deut. 21:18-21; Prov. 19:26; 28:7; Luke 15:11-32; cf. Isa. 1:2.
11 Gen. 18:19; Josh. 24:15; Prov. 22:16; 29:17; Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21. See K. L. Moore, “Train Up a Child,” Moore Perspective (7 Oct. 2015), <Link>. The plural “children” can simply mean one or more and apply to a single child (cf. Gen. 21:7). If an audience were asked, “Raise your hand if you have children,” surely the single-child parents would be expected to raise their hands. Some would argue that a man with multiple children is more qualified to deal with differing personalities and inter-personal conflicts than a man with only one child. But this is a subjective perception rather than a biblical mandate. One could reason that a man with ten children is more qualified than a man with two children, but obviously the two-child man is not biblically disqualified. While perhaps less than ideal, a man with only one child could still be biblically qualified to serve as a congregational overseer.
12 Cf. 1 Tim. 1:9; 1 Sam. 3:13; Prov. 29:15; Rom. 1:29-32; cp. Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20. Some maintain that the only children in view here are those currently in the home, excluding adult children no longer living under the same roof (G. W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles161). However, this does not take into account antiquity’s societal concept of “household,” and surely it is a glaring indictment on a man’s leadership ability if all his children are insubordinate as adults.
13 D. Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles 81-82.
14 G. D. Fee, 1-2 Timothy, Titus 82.
15 “There is a fine line between demanding obedience and gaining it. The church leader, who must indeed exhort people to obedience, does not thereby ‘rule’ God’s family. He takes care of it in such a way that its ‘children’ will be known for their obedience and good behavior” (G. D. Fee, 1-2 Timothy, Titus 82-83).
16 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22–6:4; Col. 3:18-21; cf. also Acts 10:34-48; 11:14; 16:25-33; 18:8.
17 The present active infinitive poimaínein lit. means “to shepherd” (NASB, NKJV), in view of the metaphoric description of the church as “the flock” (vv. 28a, 29b). This would include decision-making and problem resolution (Acts 15:6, 23), overseeing and mentoring (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:1-4), watching over souls (Heb. 13:17), and equipping the saints (Eph. 4:11-12).
Related Posts: Must All of an Elder's Children be Christians?, Qualifications of Elders Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5
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