Biblical Eldership - Lesson 4

Qualifications for Elders

Qualifications for elders are listed in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The lecture ends with a discussion about the importance of hospitality, but we included the additional points in the outline for your information.

John Piper
Biblical Eldership
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Qualifications for Elders

Qualifications for Elders

8. Biblical Qualifications for Elders

Note: The issue of whether elders should be men or women or both is covered in the book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991). We will not take it up in detail here. The position of Bethlehem Baptist Church, expressed in our constitution, is that elders will be spiritual men who aim not to lord it over anyone, but to be servants of the people of God for their upbuilding in the joy of faith. The main text relating to this issue is 1 Timothy 2:11-13.

Qualifications of Elders According to 1 Timothy 3:1-7

3:1 "The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop [=elder], he desires a noble task."

Aspiration (oregetai/ epithumei)

At least one way for a man to attain the role of elder/bishop was to aspire to it. In fact, since it is the duty of elders to do their work with gladness and not under constraint or for love of money (1 Peter 5:1-3), this should be thought of as one of the elders' qualifications. This need not exclude the possibility that a man may be sought out and urged to become an elder. But no pressure should be used that would result in an unwilling, half-hearted service.

3:2 "Therefore it is necessary for the bishop [=elder] to be irreproachable."

Irreproachability (anepilempton)

The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in 5:7 (where widows are to be without reproach by putting their hope in God and not living luxuriously or sumptuously or self-indulgently) and 6:14 (where Timothy is to keep the commandment irreproachable until Jesus comes).

The word seems to be a general word for living in a way that gives no cause for others to think badly of the church or the faith or the Lord. This tells us nothing about the sort of thing that would bring reproach on the church or the Lord. But, coming at the head of the list it puts a tremendous emphasis on what a person's reputation is. The focus here is not a person's relationship to the Lord, but how others see him. It seems, therefore, that right from the outset, the public nature of the office is in view with its peculiar demands.

3:2 ". . . one woman's husband. . ."

One Woman's Husband (mias gunaikas andras)

The word order emphasizes the word "one". So it is not likely that Paul meant to say that the elders have to be married. There are other words for "married" he could have used. He probably would have put "husband" in the prominent place if that were his intention. Moreover, Paul was not married (1 Corinthians 9:5; 7:7) and he thought singleness was an excellent way to be freer for ministry (1 Corinthians 7:32).

In verse 4, Paul gets to the issue of how well a man manages his household. So the point here probably is not the man's competence as a husband. The point, coming right after irreproachable, is probably one of notoriety. What is this man's reputation with regard to whether he has had one wife or not. It appears that the public standard will be high.

Does this standard mean that an elder

1. May not be a polygamist?

2. May not remarry after the death of his wife?

3. May not be remarried after a divorce?

The main argument against #1 is the use of the parallel phrase in 1 Timothy 5:9 in reference to widows whom the church was enrolling in a welfare and service order. She must be "one man's wife" (henos andros gune). Since polyandry (a woman having several husbands at once) was simply not a practice, this very probably means that the woman had not divorced and remarried.

Moreover the phrase in 5:9 surely did not mean that the widow was excluded from the order if she had remarried when her first husband died. For in 5:14 the younger widows were encouraged to remarry, and it is unlikely that, having said this, Paul would then later exclude them from the widows' order because they had followed his advice.

So #2 is not likely either, in view of what we just saw about the similar phrase in 1 Timothy 5:9 concerning widows whom Paul encouraged to remarry. Moreover, it would be strange if he rejected widowers who had married after the death of their wives in view of Paul's complete endorsement of remarrying after the death of a spouse (Romans 7:3; 1 Corinthians 7:39).

Therefore, the most likely meaning for the standard of "one woman's husband" is that the eldership should be composed of men who have never been remarried after divorce.

3:2". . .temperate. . ."

Temperate (nephalion)

This word is used two other times in the New Testament – in 3:11 of the women (wives of?) deacons; and in Titus 2:2 about older men in general.

It is odd that it is used here, even though in verse 3 the elders must not be addicted to wine (me paroinon). Perhaps here the point is more general —namely, that his temperance extends over other things besides wine. Or perhaps the repetition comes because in verse 3 there begins a list of things which the elder is not supposed to be, and Paul felt obliged to include the problem of wine in the negative list as well as the positive. The standard here is one of self-control and mastery of his appetites. Wine would surely not be the only drink or food that a person can misuse.

3:2". . . sensible . . ."

Sensible, Prudent, Reasonable (sophrona)

The word is used only here and in Titus 1:8 of elders, and 2:2 of older men and 2:5 of younger women.

It is related to sophroneo which means to be of a sound mind – like the demoniac after he was healed (Mark 5:15). The basic idea seems to be having good judgment, which implies seeing things as they really are, knowing yourself well, and understanding people and how they respond. We might say "being in touch with your feelings" or being in touch with reality so that there are no great gaps between what you see in yourself and what others see in you.

3:2". . . dignified . . ."

Respectable, Honorable, (kosmios)

The idea seems to be one of not offending against propriety — a person who comports himself in situations so as not to step on toes unnecessarily.

3:2". . . hospitable . . ."

Hospitable (philoxenon)

An elder should be who loves strangers – that is, who is given to being kind to newcomers and makes them feel at home - a person whose home is open for ministry and who does not shrink back from having guests, not a secretive person.

3:2". . . an apt teacher. . ."

Skilled in Teaching (didaktikon)

This need not mean that the person is very good in front of a group, since not all elders devote all their time to formal teaching or preaching (1 Timothy 5:17). Rather, as Titus 1:9 says, "He must hold firm to the sure Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."

In other words, he must know Biblical doctrine well and be able to explain it to people. He must be astute enough theologically that he can spot serious error and show a person why it is wrong and harmful.

3:3". . . no drunkard. . ."

Not Addicted to Wine (me paroinon)

The general qualification here would be like the one above under temperance, namely, self-control – not addicted to anything harmful or debilitating or worldly. Freedom from enslavements should be so highly prized that no bondage is yielded to.

3:3". . . not violent. . ."

Not Pugnacious or Belligerent (me plekten)

The point here is that the temper should be under control. He must not be given to quarreling or fighting. There should be a conciliatory bent. His feelings should not be worn on the sleeve. He should not carry resentments or be hypercritical.

3:3". . . but gentle. . ."

Gentle (epieke)

This is the opposite of pugnacious or belligerent. He should not be harsh or mean-spirited. He should be inclined to tenderness and resort to toughness only when the circumstances commend this form of love. His words should not be acid or divisive but helpful and encouraging.

3:3". . . not quarrelsome. . ."

Peaceable (amachon)

This seems almost identical with "not pugnacious or belligerent". In fact, the last three seem to go together as a unit that stresses peacemaking rather than factiousness or troublemaking. This would have great implications about the way he uses his tongue.

3:3". . . not loving money. . ."

Not a Lover of Money (aphilarguron)

He should be putting the kingdom first in all he does. His lifestyle should not reflect a love of luxury. He should be a generous giver. He should not be anxious about his financial future. He should not be so money-oriented that ministry decisions revolve around this issue.

3:4-5"He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?"

Leader of a Well-ordered Household (kalos proistamenon)

The home is a proving ground for ministry. He should have submissive children. This does not mean perfect, but it does mean well-disciplined, so that they do not blatantly and regularly disregard the instructions of their parents. The children should revere the father (meta pases semnotetos). He should be a loving and responsible spiritual leader in the home. His wife should be respected and tenderly loved. Their relationship should be openly admirable.

3:6"He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."

A Mature Believer, Not a New Convert (me neophuton)

The "condemnation of the devil" seems to be the condemnation that the devil is under because of his being puffed up. So the new believer, given too much responsibility too soon, may easily swell with pride. The implication is that part of Christian seasoning is a humbling process and a growing protection against pride. We should see evidences in his life that humility is a fixed virtue and not easily overturned.

3:7"moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."

Good Reputation with Outsiders (Marturian kalen)

This is similar to "irreproachability" in verse 2. But here it is made explicit that the outside unbelieving world is in view. This doesn't mean the world sets the standards, since Jesus himself was rejected by some. What it seems to mean is that a Christian leader should at least meet the standards of the world for decency and respectability, for the standards of the church should be higher.

The snare of the devil is referred to in 2 Timothy 2:26. It seems to involve deception and sin, since to be rescued from it is to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth. How does not being well thought of by outsiders cause you to fall into reproach and the snare of the devil? Could it be that the reproaches of the world would cause a person to try to hide his faults in the church and thus fall into lying or duplicity?

Qualifications Of Elders (Continued) According to Titus 1:5-9

1:6"If any man is blameless. . ."

Blamelessness (anegkletos)

This is virtually the same as "irreproachable". The idea is that no ongoing blame attaches to a man. If he does wrong he makes it right.

1:6". . .the husband of one wife. . ."

See above, One Woman's Husband.

1:6". . .and his children believers, not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate."

Honest and Orderly Children (pista, me in kategoria asotias e anupotakta)

The meaning is probably the same as 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and the well-ordered house. There, the children are to be "in subjection with all reverence" (en hupotage meta pases semnotatetos).

Here, the focus is not just on the relationship of the children to the father, but on their behavior in general. They are not to be guilty of the accusation of "wild living" or uncontrolled behavior. And they are not to be "insubordinate."

Does pista mean "believing" (with RSV) or "faithful" in the sense of honest and trustworthy? In favor of the latter would be the use of the word in 1 Timothy 3:11, where women (deaconesses or wives of deacons) are to be pistas en pasin, faithful in all things. Other places in the pastoral epistles where the word seems to have this meaning are 1 Timothy 1:12, 15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; 2:13; Titus 1:9; 3:8.

So the idea seems to be of children who are well bred, orderly, generally obedient, responsible, and reliable.


1:7". . .blameless. . ."

See above on Titus 1:6, Blamelessness.

1:7". . . not arrogant. . ."

Humility (me authade)

This is the assumption behind his not being a new believer, lest he be puffed up. He should be lowly in his demeanor, not speaking much of himself or his achievements. He should count others better than himself and be quick to serve. He should sincerely give God the credit and honor for any accomplishments.

1:7". . .not quick-tempered. . ."

See above on 1 Timothy 3:3, Gentle and Peaceable.

1:7". . .not a drunkard. . ."

See above on 1 Timothy 3:3, Not Addicted to Wine.

1:7". . .not violent. . ."

See above on 1 Timothy 3:3, Not Pugnacious Or Belligerent.

1:7". . .not greedy for gain. . ."

See above on 1 Timothy 3:3, Not a Lover of Money.

1:8". . .hospitable. . ."

See above on 1 Timothy 3:2, Hospitable.

1:8". . . a lover of goodness. . ."

Lover of Goodness (philagothon)

He should love to see good done and love to be involved in doing good. This is more than doing good. This is a bent and love to see it done. A kind of expansive person.

1:8". . . master of himself. . ."

See above on 1 Timothy 3:2, Sensible, Prudent, Reasonable.

1:8". . . upright. . ."

Just (dikaion)

He should care about whether people are treated fairly and should want to see justice in the world at all levels.

1:8". . . holy. . ."

Devout, Holy (hosion)

He should be a person of devotion to Christ with a life of prayer and meditation. He should love worship and have a deep personal relationship with the Lord.

1:8". . . self-controlled. . ."

Self-Control (egkrate)

The focus here is especially on sexual self-control. He should not be in the grip of lust. He should not toy with pornography. He should be utterly faithful to his wife.

1:9 "He must hold firm to the sure Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."

See above on 1 Timothy 3:2, Skilled in Teaching.

Here the stress is laid on the doctrinal proficiency of the elders.

1. First is stressed his firm hold on the truth. This refers to the subjective relation he bears to the truth. Is it loved (2 Thessalonians 2:10)? Is the person solid and unshakable in his grasp of the truth? Has the truth taken hold of him? The opposite would be a person who is never quite sure of where he stands or a person who thinks that doctrinal definition is generally unimportant or a person who has his learning mainly second-hand from books and teachers and not from the Bible itself, so that his hold is weak.

2. Second is stressed the nature of the word he holds – it is sure and accords with the (apostolic) teaching. This would mean a good grasp of Biblical truth, especially the doctrine of the apostles. The Bible, not other books, must be the foundation of doctrinal knowledge, though other books are very helpful and inspirational.

3. Third is stressed the positive role of teaching this healthy doctrine to others. A person who says, "I know what it means but I can't explain it so others can understand it" would probably not make a suitable elder. The church is in great need of being led by men who not only know, but can explain, Biblical doctrine. They are responsible for the spread of the truth in the church and from the church.

4. Finally is stressed the negative role of confuting doctrinal error. So the elders must be fairly incisive observers of the thought-world of the day. They need to be able to spot the encroachments of secular principles and assumptions. And they need to be able to correct opponents and straying saints (2 Timothy 2:24-26; James 5:19-20).

These Lists of Qualifications Are Not Exhaustive

These lists in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are not intended to be exhaustive. We can tell that from the fact that they are not the same. Titus mentions piety (hosion) and justice (dikaion) and sexual self-control (egkrate), but 1 Timothy does not mention these in particular. On the other hand, 1 Timothy mentions that the elder must not be a new convert (neophuton), and that he must be respectable (kosmion) which Titus does not mention specifically.

Neither mentions specifically prayer. Neither forbids the elders explicitly from being robbers or liars or gossips, etc. The point is that the lists are not exhaustive. Paul takes numerous virtues for granted and gives these as examples. There may be other expectations implied in the ones listed. We should follow the ones listed and let them be the guide for what others we assume.

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Class Resources
  • The purpose of the local church is to function as the body of Christ to advance God's kingdom in the world by displaying God's glory, God's wisdom and the authority and power of Christ. All New Testament churches had elders. We can apply scriptural principles and practical considerations to train, choose and establish a framework for the ministry of elders so they can encourage and lead individuals and the church as whole to live out their faith in the community.

  • God has ordained the existence of officers in the church, some of whom are charged under Christ with the leadership of the church. The leaders of the church should be people who are spiritually mature and exemplary, gifted for the ministry given to them, have a sense of divine urging, and are in harmony with the duly established leadership of the church.

  • Spiritual qualifications are more important than business qualifications. Terms of service should balance the need to have the most qualified leaders and the concern of burnout and stagnation. In the New Testament, other terms translated into English that also refer to the office of elder are bishop, overseer and pastor.

  • Qualifcations for elders are listed in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

This class is an engagement with the relevant New Testament texts concerning biblical eldership and church governance, and a God-glorifying pursuit of their contextual, Biblical meaning. The outcome is not merely doctrinaire abstraction, not merely culture-confronting complementarianism, not merely a re-thinking of the inherited, historical norms and traditions, but a practical, non-cumbersome outworking of church governance which aligns with Scripture and aims at meeting the myriad needs of the local expression of the body of Christ.

We are thankful for John Piper's willingness to share these lectures with us. Copyright 2014 by Desiring God Ministries. Used with Permission. For more information, please visit www.DesiringGod.org.