The Biblical Requirements for Elders
One useful way of reviewing the full complement of requirements for elders is by the following table. The four main columns devote one pair each to the positive (this the elder must have/be) and the negative (this the elder must not have/be) requirements.
While some of the terms may be viewed as synonyms, the table below applies a very simple, interpretive rule: if the Holy Spirit chose the same word for the requirement in both 1 Tim 3 and Tts 1, then that requirement is viewed as a repetition of that requirement and is therefore the same, but nonetheless different (in some way) from any other similar term the Spirit chose. The table below is the total of all unique words and phrases chosen by the Holy Spirit.
μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα
μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ
ἐν ὑποταγῇ μετὰ
τέκνα ἔχων πιστά
with no accusation of excess or disobedience
μὴ ἐν κατηγορίᾳ ἀσωτίας ἢ ἀνυπότακτα
ἵνα δυνατὸς ᾖ
There are 26 unique requirements for the elder.
There are a total of 17 positive unique requirements #'s: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26.
There are a total of 9 negative unique requirements #'s: 1, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18.
There are 4 positive repeated requirements #'s: 1 2, 4, 6, 14.
There are 3 negative repeated requirements #'s: 1, 8, 9.
Of the total of 26 requirements specified by the Holy Spirit, 20 of those are stated without any attendant reason; that is, they are specified simply either as must have/be (positive) or must not have/be (negative).
… manages his own household … [1 Tim 3.4-5]
… but if (εἰ δέ τις) a man does not know how … how (πῶς) will he take care of the church of God?
… not a new convert [1 Tim 3.6]
so that (ἵνα) he will not … fall into the condemnation …
… must have a good reputation with those outside [1 Tim 3.7]
so that (ἵνα) he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil
… holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching [Tts 1.9]
so that (ἵνα) he will be able both to exhort … and to refute...
As I show in this chapter, the first one in the list above (manages his own household) is of special importance and is the one most typically ignored by modern, so-called conservative evangelical churches.
One of the common errors of the modern, so-called conservative, evangelical churches is to over-simplify and characterize the list above as merely “spiritual” requirements. Their reasoning then becomes “If a candidate appears ‘spiritual’, then it must be OK for that man to be placed into the position of elder over the assembly.”
There is, however, serious biblical error in this wrong-headed reasoning.
Of the 26 unique requirements, only the following 9 would legitimately fall within what may be termed the “spiritual” (or “uniquely Christian”) categories of the total requirements that are unique to the office of an elder of the assembly:
- above reproach (both lists)
- not a new convert
- a good testimony
- loving good
- holding fast the faithful word
- able to exhort
- able to refute
However, consider the remaining 17 requirements:
- one-woman man (both lists)
- self-controlled (both lists)
- of good behavior
- able to teach
- hospitable (both lists)
- not given to wine
- not quarrelsome (both lists)
- not a brawler
- not covetous
- managing his family/household well
- having children (both lists)
- not self-willed
- not quick-tempered
- not greedy
All of the requirements in the latter list are personal and character traits that would be found in any well-balanced and mature male manager, employee, neighbor, friend, brother, father, etc. There is nothing specifically “spiritual” about them; they are the personality facets that identify the man as stable, solid, well-rounded, affable, personable, hospitable, able to lead—in short, a “mature man”. It is not unusual to encounter at least some unsaved men in whom most (or even all) these "non-strictly-spiritual" characteristics are largely seen.
The point is, these 17 characteristics are not uniquely “Christian”; rather, they are characteristics of a mature, well-balanced, friendly, personable and generous man who also has innate and demonstrable leadership skills.
A lost man is capable of essentially the same love for his wife and family, capable of the strong desire to protect and provide for them as would a true Christian husband and father. The lost man is capable of being regarded as honest, friendly and straightforward in his business dealings, along with his neighbors and friends. Those churches that attempt to make one of its men an elder, someone who is “spiritual” but mostly lacking in the any of the majority (17 of 26!) requirements from the list above, are actively and deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit’s emphasis on those characteristics—characteristics which speak to his leadership, maturity, stability, balance and management skills as demonstrated preeminently and uniquely with his wife and family. He must be able to "manage his household well".
So, the following two conclusions are biblically defensible and therefore true:
1. It should be obvious that being a spiritual man does not guarantee that that man will be a good manager.
2. It should be obvious that being a good manager does not guarantee that that man will be a spiritual man.
The office of the elder is primarily one of a leader, a manager, a shepherd (based on the enumeration above). Of course, he must be of sterling and holy character; but the full list of requirements eliminates any man who may be a “good, spiritual” Christian in contrast to the one who is a “good, spiritual” Christian who also excels in management and leadership and has demonstrated those skills with his wife and children first and foremost, as this text teaches us:
… but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?
Preliminary conclusions that can be drawn from the combined requirements in Timothy and Titus:
- As I showed in this chapter, there are three terms in the NT which are used synonymously for the elder, as demonstrated in 1 Pet 5.1-3 and Act 20.17,28: ἐπίσκοπος (presbuteros, elder), ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos, overseer), and ποιμήν (poimēn, shepherd) .
- Nowhere in the NT is the congregation ever said to appoint or confirm the elder, or as even having the authority to do so.
- There are only 2 references in the NT to the appointment of elders: Act 14.23 and Tts 1.5. In the former, Paul (and by inference from the plural pronoun, Barnabas) appointed elders among the converts in the cities they visited. In the latter, Titus is instructed to appoint elders.
- There is no mention of any methodology of “voting for/on”, “installing”, "assigning" or “appointing” elders in 1 Tim 3 and Tts 1. Rather, it is biblically defensible that any man, demonstrating within the assembly that he meets all the requirements and who has a desire to become an elder, is free to pursue that goal by mutual recognition and agreement of the assembly. [The latter point is implicit in the fact that the elder-candidate is observed by the assembly to meet all requirements.]
- It should be abundantly obvious that if the Holy Spirit specified 26 unique requirements that two conclusions logically follow point #3 above:
a) There is a man within the assembly in whom the requirements are to be evaluated and in whom those requirements must be found.
b) There is an assembly who must concur that such a man actually meets those requirements. (This is inferred by the fact that every one of the 26 requirements must be observed and validated.)
- Elders both rule and shepherd the visible body of Christ: 1 Tim 5.17-19; 1 Pet 5.1-5; Act 20.28; 1 The 5.12. Moreover, in 1 Pet 5 the elder is commanded to not "lord himself over" the flock; moreover, young men (and, by inference, others) are to be subject to the elder.
- A frequent—and flawed—tenant by those who are careless with the requirements list of the elder is that Paul was an elder, yet was single (that is, unmarried). Their conclusion is therefore "elders don't need wives or children"; this reasoning is foolish.
Whether Paul was single or not is irrelevant because Paul is nowhere in the NT referred to as an elder and nowhere refers to himself as an elder. Paul does refer to God's appointment of him as an apostle, preacher and teacher. 1 Tim 2.7; 2 Tim 1.11. Paul also refers to his position as an apostle. Rom 1.1; 11.13; 1 Cor.1.1; 4.9; 9.1-2,5-6; 15.9; 2 Cor 1.1; 11.5; 12.11; Gal 1.1; Eph 1.1; Col 1.1; 1 The 2.6; 1 Tim 1.1; 2 Tim 1.11; Tts 1.1. As the "Apostle to the Gentiles", Paul certainly had the authority to appoint faithful elders without the requirement that he himself hold that position.
- Concerning the requirements for the elder as enumerated in 1 Tim 3 and Tts 1, among the extensive list the elder is required both to be married (specifically, to be a “one-woman man") and to have obedient children (plural!) who are under his management and authority at the time he is being evaluated for the office, as well as for the duration of his position. [An entire chapter is devoted to this requirement.]
- Grammatically speaking, the predicate accusative construction (fairly common in Paul's epistles as shown in Daniel Wallace's grammar) used in both passages does not allow for any type of “if applicable” or “optional” interpretation of any single one of the 26 unique requirements. The list must be understood as an organic whole or it breaks down completely and becomes useless. (See Wallace's grammar, pg. 191-192 for the complete list of predicate accusative examples.)
As I show in this chapter, this is particularly critical because 1 Tim 3.2-6 is a single sentence in the Greek.
There can be no question that the Holy Spirit intended these requirements to be viewed as an organic unit impossible of being divided by any type of conditional, “if applicable” reasoning (which is exactly the error that nearly all modern, so-called conservative, evangelical churches use to justify their carelessness and disobedience in this matter).