They’re called by three different terms. These terms are descriptive of the nature and work of those men. (1) Elders/Presbyters (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2; 15:4; 15:6; 15:22; 15:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; 5:19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1; 5:5), these are men of experience. They are not youngsters in the faith. They have some years on them. (2) Bishops/Episkapois/Overseers/ (Acts 20:28 cf. Heb. 13:7, 17, 24; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1; 3:2; Titus 1:7), this speaks to their work and authority. They are to oversee the local church. (3) Shepherds/Pastors (Acts 20:28 NKJV/NASB; Eph. 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2 NKJV/NASB), this speaks of the care and concern they are to have for the flock, and the involvement they’re to have with the flock (church).
These terms are used to refer to one in the same position. A Bishop and an Elder are one in the same (Titus 1:5 cf 1:7; Acts 20:17 cf. 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1 cf. 5:2). A Shepherd and an Elder are one in the same (Acts 20:17 cf. 20:28 NKJV/NASB; 1 Peter 5:1 cf. 5:2 NKJV/NASB).
There is to a plurality of these men serving together in the eldership/presbytery (term used in 1 Tim. 4:14), if there is an eldership in a local congregation – and every congregation that is mature, having qualified men should have such. The plurality is seen in the following passages: Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 4:14; Titus 1:5; Heb. 13:7, 17, 24; 1 Peter 5:1.
Let us, in this study, divide the qualifications into four groupings: (1) implied qualifications; (2) positive qualifications; (3) negative qualifications; (4) family qualifications.
An elder is to be a man and not a woman. He is to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6).
He is to be well-known by the congregation. A congregation must know the man well to be able to say that he meets the required qualifications.
He should desire the work (1 Tim. 3:1; 1 Peter 5:2a). Caution: He shouldn’t desire the work for the wrong reasons, but noble reasons.
There are some age implications. His children are to be “faithful children” (Titus 1:6). This seems to imply some age. According to my research the term “elder” was never used in the ancient world to refer to one under forty years of age (see Edward C. Wharton, The Church of Christ, page 76). Though, the term may have nothing to do with longevity of physical age. It may have to do with the fact that he is of experience in the faith and not a “novice” (1 Tim. 3:6). Clearly, the one being described is not a 19-year-old (like Mormon elders).
- He’s to be “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9; cf. Eph. 4:11 – The terms “pastors” and “teachers” grammatically are referring to the same position). The NKJV/NASB uses the wording “able to teach”. This original word means “skilled in teaching” (Vine’s), “skillful in teaching” (Thayer). He is to “be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). This word “apt to teach” is the same word used of preachers (2 Tim. 2:24). In my estimation this is one of, if not the most overlooked qualifications. Rex Turner Sr., “He must be qualified to teach – not lacking in natural ability and/or Bible understanding” (Robert R. Taylor, Jr., The Elder and His Work, page 120). Elders were never intended to be mere board of directors. They are to be teachers. We have followed denominations in turning over far too much of the work to the preacher.
- He’s to be “of good behavior” KJV, “orderly” ASV, “respectable” NASB (1 Tim. 3:2). This word is defined to mean “well arranged, a well-ordered life” (Thayer). L.R. Wilson has said, “A man who is sloven, careless and haphazard in his work has no business trying to direct the work of the Lord we dare say this qualification has been overlooked more than any other. Some churches have very little system or order in their work. There is very little planning, coordination or sense of direction in their efforts” (The Elder and His Work, p. 113). Men should be considered who are wise, well-ordered and disciplined in their lives, prioritizing things properly and planning for the future.
- He’s to be “a lover of good men” KJV, “…good things” ASV (Titus 1:8). The literal reading is “a lover of good”. The negative form of this word appears in 2 Timothy 3:3. L.R. Wilson, “An elder should be a lover of good deeds, good things, good people, good in general” (ibid, p. 131). Rex Turner Sr., “He must be a lover of good men – not an admirer of, nor a participant with, evil men” (ibid). He should delight in that which is morally good (cf. Phil. 4:8).
- He is to be “given to hospitality” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8). This is a qualification it seems difficult to fulfill without having his wife possessing the same quality. Guy Woods has said, “One given to hospitality enjoys having people in his home and rejoices in the fellowship of kindred souls. He is pleased to share his good things with others” (ibid, p. 129). An elder should know the flock. He should be in their homes and they should be in his. He should socialize and entertain. He should show kindness to others and even unto strangers. Robert Taylor Jr., “Hospitality is love for strangers set to benevolent action” (ibid, p. 127). Garland Elkins, “This means that an elder must be ready and willing to entertain strangers, care for the homeless and poor, and to enjoy the privilege of assisting others. This means that he enjoys having people in his home, and he enjoys the fellowship of others” (Gospel Journal, Feb. 2008, p. 6).
- He “must have a good report (good reputation NASB/ good testimony NKJV) of them which are without” (1 Tim. 3:7). Much damage is done when men with poor reputations in the town, men known to be dishonest or unethical are appointed to this position and work. It is true that the world will not always speak well of the true Christian standing for truth (cf. Luke 6:26; John 15:19; 1 Peter 4:4). However, if most think the man immoral and/or dishonest how can the church have a positive influence when it chooses such a one to lead?
- He’s to be “patient” KJV “gentle” ASV (1 Tim. 3:3). This word is defined to mean “equitable, fair, mild, gentle” (Thayer). “It expresses that considerateness that looks humanely and reasonably at the facts of a case” (Vine’s). It is used in contrast with being quarrelsome NKJV, or a brawler KJV (1 Tim. 3:3). He should be one who can be talked to and reasoned with, one who will listen patiently and fairly. Rex Turner Sr. said, “He must be patient, not fretful complaining or murmuring even in the face of provocation” (The Elder and His Work, p. 114). David Lipscomb said, “Not bitter and impatient but kind in manners even to the froward and unpleasant” (ibid).
- He’s to be “just” (Titus 1:8). This word is defined to mean “upright, righteous, virtuous… in a narrower sense, rendering to each his due; and that in a judicial sense passing just judgment on others” (Thayer). Elders need to be impartial and unprejudiced in handling issues and problems in the church. L.R. Wilson said, “an elder must deal fairly… with all people. He cannot be selfish, clannish or bias in his thinking, or in his dealings” (ibid, p. 116). He shouldn’t have one standard for his family and friends and another for all else. He shouldn’t mold God’s word to justify those he wants, and to condemn others.
- He is to be “holy” KJV, “devout” NASB (Titus 1:8). There are different original words translated into English by the word “holy.” This words means, “undefiled by sin, free from wickedness… pure, pious” (Thayer). We’re not looking for one who has never sinned, nor are we looking for one who will never sin again. However, he should be one whose pattern of life is to shun sinful things and strive to live righteously. This is one who walks in the light maintaining fellowship with God.
- He’s to be “temperate” KJV, “self-controlled” ASV/NASB/NKJV (Titus 1:8). Noel Merideth said that an elder is to “control his tongue, his eyes, and his hands. In self-control he holds his desires and appetites in restraints” (ibid, p. 115). An elder must first have a good rule over himself before he tries to rule others (cf. Acts 20:28).
- He’s to be “vigilant” KJV, “temperate” NASB/NKJV (1 Tim. 3:2). The source or root word means to be sober, to abstain from intoxicants; metaphorically it is used of being alert and clear thinking, possessing self-control. He is to be “sober” KJV, “sober-minded” ASV/NKJV, “sensible NASB (Titus 1:8). The original word means to be “of sound mind” (Vine’s). Another word also appears in 1 Timothy 3:2 rendered “sober” KJV, “sober-minded” NKJV, “prudent” NASB. This expresses much the same idea as the aforementioned word. Senility, irrationality, insanity are clear violations of this qualification. It is so important to be alert and clear thinking religiously and morally speaking (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).
- He is to be “blameless” KJV, “above reproach” NASB (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). This does not mean that the man has never sinned. It does mean that he is not of questionable character. Rex Turner Sr. has said an elder “must be blameless – not one against whom evil reports continue to circulate” (ibid, p. 110).
He’s to be “not self-willed” (Titus 1:7). The original word literally means “self-pleasing”. Thayer defines this word to mean “self-pleasing, self-willed, arrogant.” Vines says, “denotes one who dominated by self-interest, and inconsiderate of others, arrogantly assert his own will… one so far over-valuing any determination at which he has himself arrived that he will not be removed from it.” L.R. Wilson has commented, “Here is another qualification that is often ignored. Some of the most self-willed men in the world are trying to serve as elders” (Robert Taylor, Jr., The Elder and His Work, p. 98). Diotrophes comes to mind as an example of what an elder is not to be. Noel Meredith has written, “The elder is not to be self-willed, that is, he must not always have his way, he is willing to listen to the views of others” (ibid, p.99). He should be considerate of others (Phil. 2:4). He should determine not to do his own will but ultimately the Father’s (Matt. 26:39).
He’s to be “not soon angry” KJV, not quick-tempered NKJV/NASB (Titus 1:7). This word is defined to mean “prone to anger, irascible” (Thayer). There is a time and place for anger. It is justified at times. However, an elder must be reasonable, and long-suffering. Robert Taylor, Jr. has written, “The eldership is a place for cool and calm minds – not for hot heads who possess a fiery and uncontrollable temper” (ibid, p. 101). He should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19-20).
He’s not to be “a brawler” KJV, “contentious” ASV, “quarrelsome” NKJV (1 Tim. 3:3). The original wording means literally “not fighting” (Vine’s). David Lipscomb well said, “This does not mean that one is not to stand and contend for the truth, (Commentary on 1st & 2nd Timothy, Titus, p. 166).
He’s to be “no striker” KJV, “not violent” NKJV, “not pugnacious” NASB (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7). Thayer says of this word, “bruiser, ready with a blow, a pugnacious, contentious, quarrelsome person.” There are those who want to settle differences with their fists, or worse. I recall a number of years ago a news report out of Ft. Worth. In a deacons meeting in a certain Baptist church things got heated. One deacon went to his car and got a gun and shot some of the other deacons. This isn’t the type of man you want.5. He’s “not a novice” KJV/NKJV, “not a new convert” NASB (1 Tim. 3:6). The literal rendering is “not newly planted.” One may be highly educated in worldly matters, or a business success, but unless he is a knowledgeable, seasoned Christian he is not prepared to serve as an elder. Another thing to keep in mind is that what is done in the business world, or political world – is not necessarily what the church is to do. Many elders and members fail to grasp this point.6. He’s to be “not given to wine” KJV/NKV, “not addicted to wine” NASB (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7). “The Greek mee-para-oinon… lit. not at, by, near or with wine. This looks considerably like total abstinence (William Patton, Bible Wines, p. 92). W.D. Jeffcoat suggested that the words, “probably carry their literal signification, ’not near wine’ and even forbid the presence of an elder at drinking parties” (W.D. Jeffcoat, The Bible and ’Social’ Drinking, pp. 72-73). The ASV took the language figurative instead of literal rendering it “no brawler” with the marginal rendering “not quarrelsome over wine”. Vine’s indicates a possible secondary meaning “of the effects of wine-bibbling viz., abusive brawling.” Good hermeneutics is to go with the literal meaning unless there is an over-riding reason not to do so. I see no reason in this context to translate this as the ASV did.7. He’s to be “not covetous” KJV,/NKJV, “free from the love of money” NASB,”not a lover of money” ESV (1 Timothy 3:3).The original word,philarguros, means “loving money.” He is to be “”not given to filthy lucre” KJV, “not greedy of filthy lucre” ASV, “not greedy for money” NKJV, “not found of sordid gain” NASB, not “greedy for gain” ESV (Titus 1:7). There is divided opinons as to whether “filthy” refers to baseness or dishonest. Some people have a weakness for money. Judas betrayed Jesus for silver. Wayne Jackson commented “An elder cannot have a ‘money’ weakness that might cause him to be easily bribed in church conflicts. He must not be someone who could be tempted to dip his hand into the church treasury” (Jackson, Before I Die, p. 89). Denny Petrillo commented “Since elders oversee the spending of the church treasury, they must not love money to the extent that it cannot be spent..” (Petrillo, Commentary on 1,2 Timothy and Titus, p.38).
1. He’s to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). This obviously eliminates bachelors. It also eliminates unmarried widowers (cf. 1 Tim. 5:9). It eliminates polygamists. It eliminates those in unbiblical marriages.
2. He’s to have children (1 Tim. 3:4; Titus 1:6). I do not believe that this necessitates a plurality of children (see: Gen. 21:7; Lev. 25:40-41; 1 Tim. 5:4; Luke 14:26). Each should be convinced in his own mind.
3. He is to be one who “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” KJV, “rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence” NKJV, “Manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1 Tim. 3:4). One can tell much about a man and his management abilities, and spiritual guidance by looking at his family. If he can’t manage his home, how is he going to manage the church (1 Tim. 3:5)?
4. His children are to be of a certain character (A) They are to be “not accused of riot or unruly” KJV, “not accused of dissipation or insubordination” NKJV, “not accused of dissipation or rebellion” NASB (Titus 1:6). The word “riot” is related to the word “riotous living” mentioned in connection with the prodigal son (Luke 15:13). The word refers to “prodigality, a wastefulness” (Vine’s). The word “unruly” means “disobedient, unruly” (Thayer). In other words, an elder’s children should not be “wild”. They should not bring reproach on the church. (B) They are to be “faithful children” KJV/NKJV, “children who believe” NASB (Titus 1:6). There is much dispute over the meaning of the term “faithful”. Perhaps, most believe that the term means that they are believers, Christians, faithful Christians (See usage: John 20:27; 20:31 cf. Romans 6:1-4 notice when newness of life begins; Acts 2:41-44; 10:45; 16:1; 16:15; 16:30-34; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2; 1 Tim. 4:10; 4:12; 5:16 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2; Rev. 2:13; 17:14). Others believe that the term refers to being dependable or trustworthy (Matt. 25:21; Luke 16:10-11; Titus 3:8; Heb. 2:17; 3:2; 3:5; 1 John 1:9; Rev. 21:5). Those who hold this position usually consider the statement parallel with the words “not accused of riot or unruly” (Tit. 1:6) and the words “having his children in subjection” (1 Tim. 3:4). It seems to me the far safer course is to understand this to be saying that the man is to have children who are not just dependable children, but faithful Christians. Denny Petrillo remarked, “How could a man, who is not even able to convert his own children, be one who leads the church to godliness?”
The question is sometimes asked, “Does this include grown children?” or “Does this include after the children leave home?” My personal view is that it does. Consider the following points: (1) Eli was responsible for his children even after they were grown (1 Sam. 2-4). (2) It is true that a child is not forever under the household of their parents (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7). However, does all responsibility of a parent totally cease? (3) It is sometimes argued, “You can’t make them be faithful after they leave the home.” True, but you can’t make them be faithful before they leave the home either, unless you reduce faithfulness to mere attendance. (4) An emotional argument is sometimes raised “God had children that went astray (Amos 1:2)” Such is true, but I don’t know what this proves. Jesus didn’t have an earthly wife; Could He be an Elder on earth? Remember also He was of the wrong tribe to meet the qualifications to be an earthly priest. (5) The present tense “must be”(1 tim 3:2) seems to suggest a continuous state just as “blameless” and “apt to teach” are also so jointed with the words “must be”.
A thing to keep in mind is that even though a man may not be qualified due to his wife or children`s choices, does not necessarily mean that he is not a faithful Christian. His wife may die and thereby make him unqualified to serve, and yet he may still be a faithful member.
It is beyond dispute that the domestic qualifications are the most heatedly argued over, and the most controversial. Let each be persuaded in his mind.
5. His wife is to be of a certain character (1 Tim. 3:11). Note: These characteristics will be covered in the “Qualifications of Deacons.” Marion Fox has set forth a principle worth considering. He has written, “The Lord set forth certain qualifications for the wives of deacons (1 Tim. 3:11). Since the work of Elders is greater than the work of deacons, the qualifications of the wives of Elders must be at least equal to the qualifications of the wives of deacons. In addition, if the wife of a preacher must be a believer (1 Cor. 9:5) and the work of an Elder is greater than the work of the preacher, it is evident that an elder’s wife must be a believer. If the lesser is required to have these qualifications, then the greater is also required to have these qualifications” (The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol. 1 – 2003 edition, p. 596). It is true that this lesser to greater argument is made time and again in the Scriptures. The technical term for this is “A fortiori principle.”
Relative v. Absolute
Robert Taylor Jr. has written, “Students of sacred scriptures have divided them into various categories. There are ‘relative qualifications’ i.e., areas in which there is current possession but even greater growth CAN and SHOULD occur and ‘absolute requirements,’ i.e., a man who is married, is a father and is not a novice. A man is either married or he is not married at the time of tentative appointment; he is either a father or not a father at the time he is considered for the eldership; he is either a novice or not a novice at the time he may be considered for the Eldership” (The Elder and His Work, p. 87). There needs to be great care and much wisdom in accessing ‘relative qualifications’. These are not as black and white as the ‘absolute qualifications’.
Most of the qualifications are simply characteristics all Christians should possess; while others are unique (eg. A man does not have to be married to go to heaven, nor does he have to have children. A man’s family may not meet the desired qualification, and it is possible that such is no fault of his own). Those qualifications which are not unique, but characteristics that all Christians should possess, we each should be working to develop and even improve in these things.