The Biblical Requirements for Elders: Part 5

The Significance of the Present Tense in the List of Requirements for Elder in 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9

In a previous article, I documented the use and significance of the predicate accusative construction used in this pair of canonical passages detailing the requirements of that man who desires the office of the elder. In this article, I document the use of present tense verbs and their occurrence in the requirements lists. In yet another article, I’ll show the significance of verb tense specifically as it relates to the requirement of children.

As a summary statement: all the verbs or verb forms that bear directly on the predicate accusative construction and individual elements of the requirements are in the present tense! Stated another way: at the time when the overseer candidate is being evaluated, the full list of 26 requirements must be true! This is by the direction and command of the Holy Spirit and is not subject to interpretation or any other attempts to mitigate the importance of that list. This fact is crucial when considering the requirement of children.

So, let’s look at all the occurrences of verbs and verb forms; all are present tense:

1 Tim 3

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

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

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

 [it] must [verb, present active subjunctive, 3rd person singular] good testimony to have [present active infinitive]

Tts 1

the man is [present active indicative 3rd person singular]

having [present active participle, nominative singular masculine] believing children

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

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]

In addition to the consideration of the time during which the overseer candidate was evaluated, it should also be obvious that the Holy Spirit’s use of the present tense unambiguously teaches that the requirements to be evaluated and found in the overseer candidate must be maintained by the overseer in his active function as overseer. The use of the present tense teaches us that if a man ceases to demonstrate the required characteristics, he must step down from his office. If, for example, an elder becomes abusive, a drunk, inhospitable, a brawler, etc., then he must resign (or be forced from the office).

I believe that it is also noteworthy that the Holy Spirit, through Paul, does not specify a length of time for the office of elder. The inference is that a faithful overseer should serve as long as he is able and remains faithful. His faithfulness and leadership as a husband and father is the critical requirement of the office of elder; if he is the husband of his wife and father of their children for the duration of his life–and he is–then it should follow that he may hold his position as elder for the duration of his life.

[I’m not ignoring the sometime debilitation of disease or old age that may force a man to “retire” from his position as elder. However, continuing in the illustration of the family, a man doesn’t “trade up” families every few years to find a “better, bigger, richer” family as many so-called elders are accustomed to do in modern churches.]

There is yet another consideration, introduced in the passage in 1 Tim 3:

… if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do …

This implies that any overseer who consistently no longer views his position with the same “aspiration” and “desire” as he had initially should step down.

[I am not advocating here that the overseer should resign over his first bad experience as an elder. Rather, if the elder/overseer typically/naturally finds himself “wishing” that he was no longer an elder, then it is time that he step down from the office for another vocation. In these cases, his evaluation as a candidate was probably lacking and did not expose one or more failures to meet all the requirements.]

In another article in which I detail the aggregate requirement of wife, children, and a well-managed home, I’ll also deal with the fact that the overseer candidate must currently be raising children; that is, if at the time the overseer candidate is being evaluated his children have already grown and moved away, then his opportunity to be considered for the office of elder has passed; he can’t seriously be considered for the office. The "present tense rule" must apply.