The Biblical Requirements for Elders: Part 4

The Significance of the Predicate Accusative

The Significance of the Predicate Accusative Construction in the List of Requirements for Elder in 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9

As I began an in-depth study of the biblical requirements for the office of the elder (approximately spring of 2010), I was astonished when I finally understood, a few years later, the actual Greek construction of the canonical passages of 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9. I was equally astonished by how most churches don’t really concern themselves with the actual content and construction of these vital references, and thereby tacitly ignore and distort them.

The grammatical construction of both is so clear and unambiguous that it completely eliminates the “if applicable” reasoning typically applied the requirements of marital status and children (plural!). Multiple examples of this destructive and unbiblical reasoning are given below.

Let me summarize this common unbiblical thinking with a pair of very typical statements that you’ll find in posted (in one form or another, including within the Statement of Faith [SoF]) by any number of so-called conservative, evangelical churches of our day.

[A caveat here: in my observation and review so far, only about two-thirds of so-called conservative, evangelical churches actually post a SoF, and only about 10% of those actually have any mention of elders and the process of their selection. So, by its practical absence, too many so-called conservative churches demonstrate that having a position on the requirements of elders is viewed as having little practical value and therefore simply don’t bother with it.]

So, at the time when an elder candidate is being considered for the office of an elder:

The first typical “optional” or “if applicable” charade by many so-called conservative, evangelical churches reads like this:

If a man is married, he must be a faithful husband. If he has been divorced (as a Christian!), then he must be a “one-woman man” relative to his current wife (whatever that might mean!). If he is not married now, then the requirement for marriage is not applicable.

The second typical “optional” or “if applicable” distortion is similar in reasoning:

If a man has no children or his children are already of adult age, then the requirement regarding children is not applicable.

Both of these all-too-common statements and practices are serious, biblical error, distortion and disobedience.


A Presentation of the Greek Grammar Used in 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9

Let’s begin with a definition of terms. I’ll first review some (hopefully!) familiar English grammar, then transition into NT Greek grammar to demonstrate their significance for the discussion that follows. My concentration will be on the terms subject and predicate.

Pretty much everyone knows what the subject of a sentence is; however, the term predicate my not be as generally understood. Why these terms, particularly the predicate, are significant will be made clear shortly.

So, let’s first define the simple terms of subject and predicate.

The subject of a sentence is the person or thing doing the action or being described.
The subject in a simple English sentence … is the person or thing about whom the statement is made. Traditionally the subject is the word or phrase which controls the verb in the clause, that is to say with which the verb agrees.
The subject is generally the person or thing that the sentence is about.

The predicate is the part of a sentence (or clause) which tells us what the subject does or is. To put it another way, the predicate is everything that is not the subject.
The first concerns traditional grammar, which tends to view a predicate as one of two main parts of a sentence, the other part being the subject; the purpose of the predicate is to complete an idea about the subject, such as what it does or what it is like.
The part of a sentence or clause containing a verb and stating something about the subject.


There should be no surprises here. The summary definition from grammar-monster regarding the predicate will serve us well when considering the requirements for elders:

To put it another way, the predicate is everything that is not the subject.

While the grammar I’ll present here is a bit technical, it is not difficult to understand, even for those without a background in NT Greek! I was first made aware of this grammatical treasure from the excellent Greek grammar reference Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel Wallace (1996). It is significant that both 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9 use a construction termed the Predicate Accusative, as clearly documented by Wallace. Moreover, this is the original syntax that the Lord Himself chose to use when detailing this vital topic; we have no excuse to not understand it!

From Wallace, Predicate Accusative, pg. 190 (highlights mine):

a. Definition
The accusative substantive (or adjective) stands in predicate relation to another accusative substantive. The two will be joined by an equative verb, either an infinitive or participle.
Neither type is especially frequent outside of Paul or Luke.

b. Clarification (and Significance)
There are two types of predicate accusatives. First is the one that is similar to the predicate genitive and the predicate dative. That is, it is (normally) simple apposition made emphatic by a copula in participial form.

Second, there is the predicate accusative in which one accusative is the subject of the infinitive and the second makes an assertion about the first. Thus, it is similar to the nominative subject and predicate nominative construction, following the same principles for distinguishing them. Frequently the infinitive will be in indirect discourse.

It is vital to note that what Wallace defines as the second type:

the predicate accusative in which one accusative is the subject of the infinitive and the second makes an assertion about the first

is exactly the case used in both 1 Tim 3.2-6 and Tts 1.7-9. Again, note the summary definition from grammar-monster above:

To put it another way, the predicate is everything that is not the subject.

Relative to 1 Tim 3.2-6 and Tts 1.7-9, the predicate is the entire list of requirements for the overseer candidate.

Let’s distill Wallace’s second definition into something which the English reader might more readily understand:

  • The subject is in the accusative case.
  • The subject is the subject of an infinitive or participle (verb forms) rather than the common indicative form.
  • One or more accusative case predicate substantives (either adjectives or participles) follow the verb and stand in predicate relation to the subject (that is, they describe something about the subject).

Let’s see how this grammatical construction is implemented in both 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9.


1 Tim 3.1-7

While various English translations divide this portion into multiple sentences (the NASB, for example, uses four sentences), there are only three in the original Greek:

v1: the introduction
v2-6: the main list (15 requirements) in predicate accusative construction
v7: the last requirement in 1 Tim 3.

If we disregard the intro (since it does not contain any requirements), Paul wrote only two complete sentences detailing the requirements:

  • the first sentence contains the first 15 requirements;
  • the second sentence contains a single requirement.

Both statements are prefixed by the verb δεῖ (must).

The subject and verb of the predicate accusative construction of the first sentence is:

the overseerto be
τὸν ἐπίσκοπον … εἶναι

Here, “overseer” (ἐπίσκοπον, the candidate who desires the office and is being considered for it) is in the accusative case and functions as the subject of the present infinitive verb “[to] be” (εἶναι), whose function is the “equative” verb per the predicate accusative construction detailed by Wallace.

The remainder of the text (verses 2-6) is a comprehensive list of predicate accusative substantives (some in adjectival form, some in participial form – but all in the accusative case, per the predicate accusative construction).

Again, it is also vital to note that verses 2 through 6 comprise a single sentence in the Greek (long sentences are certainly not unusual in Paul’s writings!), the clear emphasis of that long sentence being the list of requirements!

Let’s break this section into a diagram that more clearly demonstrates the construction of the grammar:

the overseer [noun, accusative singular masculine] must [verb, present active indicative, 3rd person singular] to be [verb, present active infinitive]

blameless [adj, accusative singular]
a one woman man [noun, accusative singular masculine]
temperate [noun, accusative singular masculine]
self-controlled [adj, accusative singular]
of good behavior [adj, accusative singular]
[adj, accusative singular]
able to teach [adj, accusative singular]
not given to wine [adj, accusative singular]
not a quarrelsome person [noun, accusative singular masculine] but gentle [adj, accusative singular]
not a brawler [adj, accusative singular] 
not covetous [adj, accusative singular]

his own household ruling [present middle participle, accusative singular masculine] well

having [present active participle, accusative singular masculine] children in subjection with all gravity

but if a man does not know how to manage his own household ...

not a new convert [adj, accusative singular]

that he not become conceited … and should fall...

Please note that vv2-6 comprise 57 words in the original Greek NT. Of that count,

  • the subject is 2 words (τὸν ἐπίσκοπον, “the overseer”)
  • the equative verb requires 1 word (εἶναι, “[to] be”)
  • there is a single adverb introducing the list (οὖν, “therefore”)
  • there is a single verb emphasizing the list (δεῖ, “must”)
  • the remaining 52 words of this section are devoted to the details of those characteristics the overseer candidate “must” possess and demonstrate.

In the last sentence of the passage (v7), Paul repeats the use of δεῖ (must) to introduce the last requirement, but uses the common indicative form instead of the predicate accusative form:

[it] must [verb, present active subjunctive, 3rd person singular] good testimony to have [present active infinitive] that into no reproach should fall

If we translate the preceding literally, but into something more easily read and understood in English, we have something like the following:

It is necessary that [the overseer] have a good testimony …

That is, the subject of the sentence is the entire phrase from “to have a good testimony” through to the warning that the overseer “should not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil”. The clear inference, of course, is that the phrase is to be applied to the overseer candidate. Hence, the translation of the NASB:

And [he] must have a good reputation …

So, having these relatively simple grammatical details before us for 1 Tim 3.1-7,

  • and the unambiguous fact that verses 2 through 6 are a single sentence preceded by δεῖ (must),
  • and the that Paul (under the Spirit’s inspiration) repeats the use of δεῖ (must) for the last requirement in the section,

let’s therefore consider the biblical plausibility of the “optional” or “if applicable” argument implicitly/explicitly used by so many evangelical churches today.

The only biblically consistent and defensible way to view this list describing the concurrent and necessary (δεῖ) attributes of the overseer candidate is like this (borrowing from logic expressions):

(vv2-6) The overseer must (δεῖ) be blameless AND a one-woman man AND temperate AND self-controlled AND of good behavior AND hospitable AND able to teach AND not given to wine AND not a quarrelsome person AND gentle AND not a brawler AND not covetous AND his own household ruling AND having children in subjection AND not a new convert. (v7) And (δὲ) [he] must have a good reputation

Given that

  • all the requirements in vv2-6 are in the accusative case, and
  • function as predicate substantives to provide details about the subject (the overseer, also in the accusative case), and
  • that they occur in one sentence,

it follows that attempting to make any of them “optional” or “if applicable” is nothing less than biblical error and deliberate distortion of the text. It is an evil, irresponsible attempt to devolve what the Lord has clearly established!


However, let's consider this hypothetical scenario:

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that at least one of requirements is optional. Given the consistency and uniformity of the construction of the individual components of these requirements, to be consistent we would be forced to accept that each one of the requirements is optional!

Again, borrowing from the language of logic, by accepting the typical “optional” or “if applicable” error, all the “ANDs” essentially become “ORs” and suddenly the list devolves to something completely meaningless. The overseer, by means of this erroneous “optional” reasoning, could be

  • a single woman who is argumentative, a drunk and inhospitable, but who is not quarrelsome;
  • a divorced man who is unable to teach, has no children and is covetous, but who is not a drunk;
  • a 19-year old single man who is brash and a new convert, but who is hospitable

and so on. There literally would be no way to decline the office of overseer to anyone!

If any of the requirements are viewed as optional (ORs), then essentially anybody who could fulfill at least one requirement would have to be accepted as an elder!

It should also be obvious that limiting the change of only some of the ANDs to ORs is equally impossible (assuming that one could develop the criteria for doing so). There is no possible consistent and biblically responsible reasoning that would justify this in any form.

Either the Holy Spirit’s list stands as is, or it is useless and can be safely ignored. (And in that latter case, there would be no reason for it even to exist! And, we'd not be able to stop there: if 1 Tim 3 can be ignored, then why not the rest of the Bible? There would no way to stop the destruction: either the Bible is a monolithic whole or it is completely irrelevant.)


Something else mentioned above and used in both passages (1 Tim 3.2 and Tts 1.7) is the use of that little word δεῖ:

               the overseer “must be…”


  • not only do you have a subject (the overseer, τὸν ἐπίσκοπον) in the accusative case and which functions as the subject of an equative verb (the present infinitive, εἶναι),
  • not only it is followed by 15 accusative substantives in a single sentence but, finally,
  • the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to insert the present active indicative verb “must” at the head of each of the two sentences of that list!

Attempting to change any of the ANDs to ORs–to interpret any part of the list as “optional” or “if applicable”–is clearly impossible and nothing less than deliberate, biblical distortion. ALL of the requirements, clearly and incontrovertibly delineated by the predicate accusative construction, “must” be met by the overseer candidate or the list is essentially meaningless. Moreover, any man who does not meet ALL the requirements cannot and must not become an elder!

[The truly frightening realization is that most of the men (and women!) who stand in the pulpits of the modern "church" have no biblical right to be there. However, as I showed in the Introduction, those actually disqualified "elders" are in those positions because of they are the sorry and useless type of overseer that a careless and disobedient congregation deserves! The wisdom and justice of the Almighty is seen: neither the "overseer" nor the congregation have or will escape judgment and punishment.]


Tts 1.5-9

Let’s perform the equivalent analysis on the passage in Titus. Verse 5 is the introduction and sets the context:

“… I left you in Crete, that you … appoint elders (πρεσβυτέρους) …”

The section is comprised of two sentences in the original Greek:

  • v5-6: the introduction and the first list of predicate accusatives.
  • v7-9: the list of 13 requirements in the predicate accusative construction.

As I just mentioned, verses 5-6 don’t use the predicate accusative construction. The subject (τίς, a certain one), is in the nominative case, uses a typical indicative verb (ἐστιν, is) and a descriptive participle in the nominative case (τέκνα ἔχων, having children), though the included list of three requirement (above reproach, not self-willed, a one-woman man) are adjectives in the accusative case. [Paul may be “looking ahead” to the list he is about to pen using the predicate accusative construction.] The clear statement is that Titus is appoint elders who are (present tense) above reproach, not self-willed, a one-woman man and have children above reproach.

Viewing this first sentence in the same type of diagram as 1 Tim 3.2-7 above, we have

the man [noun, nominative singular masculine] is [present active indicative 3rd person singular]

above reproach [adj, accusative singular]
not self-willed
[adj, accusative singular]
a one-woman man [adj, accusative singular]
having [present active participle, nominative singular masculine] believing children

Verses 7-9 do use the predicate accusative construction and are formatted essentially identically to that which is used in 1 Tim 3.2-6. In his introduction, Paul uses one of the synonyms for overseer (πρεσβυτέρους instead of ἐπίσκοπον), as I detail here. By verse 7, he returns to the use of the same term as in 1 Tim 3 (ἐπίσκοπον).

Please note that vv7-9 comprise 47 words in the original Greek NT. Of that number,

  • the subject is 2 words (τὸν ἐπίσκοπον, “the overseer”)
  • the equative verb requires 1 word (εἶναι, “[to] be”)
  • there is a single conjunction introducing the list (γὰρ, “for”)
  • there is a single verb emphasizing the list (δεῖ, “must”)
  • the remaining 42 words of this section are devoted to the requirements of what the overseer candidate “must” be.

Clearly, the Holy Spirit’s emphasis (through Paul) of both the lists in 1 Tim 3.2-6 and Tts 1.7-9 are the requirements that the overseer must demonstrate!

the overseer [noun, accusative singular masculine] must [verb, present active indicative, 3rd person singular] to be [verb, present active infinitive]

above reproach [adj, accusative singular]
not self-willed [adj, accusative singular]
not quick-tempered [adj, accusative singular]
not given to wine [adj, accusative singular]
not a quarrelsome person [noun, accusative singular masculine]
not greedy [adj, accusative singular]
but hospitable [adj, accusative singular]
loving good [adj, accusative singular]
self-controlled [adj, accusative singular]
just [adj, accusative singular]
holy [adj, accusative singular]
temperate [adj, accusative singular]
holding fast [present middle participle, accusative singular masculine]

that he should be [verb, present active subjunctive, 3rd person singular]
able to exhort [present active infinitive] ...
and to refute [present active infinitive]

It should be obvious that the same reasoning used above of the list in 1 Tim 3.2-6 applies equally here as well: either the entire list stands together as a single, monolithic set of requirements or the passage is completely useless and may be safely ignored.

There are additional details and observation that can be made regarding grammatical specifics of these vital passage: