elders and slaves

Well, Thanksgiving sucked the life out of me. Sorry, I didn’t get my group translation up earlier. I am swamped between now and December 7th with finals, so don’t expect too much blog activity. I’m still planning some big changes in format, but that probably won’t happen until Christmas break.

Here is my groups translation of 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2. There are some weird juxtapositions in there but I think the key point is this: Make sure that behavior and actions (sins) of the congregation do not interfere with the church’s public witness.

The passage mostly refers to elders and slaves. I love the juxtaposition of those two groups. It serves to remind us that regardless of our social status, as Christians we have the same purpose to glorify and proclaim the Lord.

There is a lot about false teaching in Timothy, but Paul is never explicit what that false teaching is- it doesn’t matter. The effect of false teaching is the diminishment of God- what God has created, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do. That’s why it so important to have solid leadership in the church.

I’m including my exegesis (critical interpretation) of the passage, because I’d like to hear what you guys think of my logic.

(5:17) The elders who lead well, are worthy of double compensation, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (18) For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox that is threshing” and “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (19) Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (20) Discipline those who sin in the presence of everyone so that they may be fearful. (21) I testify before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels; keep these instructions without prejudice and doing nothing out of partiality.

(22a) Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.
(22b) Do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (23) Stop drinking just water but use a little wine for your upset stomach and frequent illnesses! (24) The sins of some people are obvious, leading them to judgment, but the sins of others trail behind them. (25) In the same way good deeds are obvious and even if they are not they cannot remain hidden.

(6:1) Those who carry the yoke of slavery must respect their own masters as worthy of every honor, so that the name of God and the Teaching may not be slandered. (2) Those who have believers as masters must not be disrespectful because they are brothers; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit from the good work are dearly loved believers. Teach and Preach these things.

Synthesis: Make sure that behavior and actions (sins) of the congregation do not interfere with the church’s public witness.

Exegetical Commentary

The main thrust of 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2 is making sure that the behavior and actions of people in the congregation do not interfere with the church’s public witness. Paul goes into detail into two groups of people seeming at opposing ends of any social structure: the elders, who preach and teach, and slaves. Though these two groups are social polar opposites, they are both called to live their lives in a manner that would allow the gospel to be proclaimed in the public realm unblemished by social scandal.

Verses 5:17 and 18 echo other writings by Paul (1 Cor. 9) based upon Deuteronomic law (Deu. 24: 14-15, 25:4) about compensation for work. Elders should be given compensation for their work. He then moves into dealing with accusations; if an accusation is more than hearsay with an appropriate number of witnesses (5:19), then deal with it publically (5:20). The sin is to be of that of an ongoing, continual issue. Presumably, this is something that has already been discussed but continues to be a problem. Due to the role of an elder, her/his sin is one that has system wide effects in the church. The elder is a public official of the church; dealing with the matter publically keeps everyone mindful of sin. It is like an antibody for the rest of the church. Then the congregation will know how people can be seduced by sin and the consequences of falling prey to sin.

Paul then warns Timothy to keep his instructions with prejudice and partiality (5: 21).  It is curious that Paul makes his warning “before God, Christ Jesus, and the elect angels.” It could be that he is emphasizing the importance of this teaching, or he could be to draw emphasis on his good teaching as a contrast to bad teaching. Read in conjunction with verse 22, while he is warning Timothy about ordaining people hastily, Paul could also reassuring Timothy in his confidence in Timothy’s gifting and character.

The warnings about the ordination of elders in verses 22-25, remind Timothy that he should careful in choosing his leadership team. Their good and bad deeds will eventually bear fruit and determine if they are worthy of being leaders in the church. He shouldn’t be too hasty in choosing people. Paul’s advise for drinking wine seems out of place here. However, taken in the context of the whole letter, there are reoccurring themes about church leaders that teach about abstaining from things, this could be Paul’s concrete example of how Timothy might be “participate[-ing] in the sins of others” (5:22b).

The first two verses of chapter 6 speak in regarding slaves, but the focus is still on how their behavior influences the good work of the church. In the first verse they are to respect their masters as “worthy of every honor.” The word “worthy” that is used is timē the same word used to describe elders in 5:17. The reason given for slaves to respect their masters is so that God and teaching will not be slandered. This comes back to the reoccurring theme of correct public teaching or didaskalia. If slaves were impudent or rude, claiming their freedoms as Christians, then the Gospel would be discredited in the eyes of the community.  This is doubly emphasized in verse 2, if the master is a fellow Christian. Then presumably the slave’s work would be helping the master’s in serving other Christians.

In both scenarios, those of the slave and those of the elder, the emphasis is on making sure that their behavior served to promote the churches public witness. Linking two such separate social classes probably served to remind Timothy that an Elder is a servant or slave to the church. Whatever a person’s status they should live their lives “so as the name of God and the teaching may not be slandered” (1 Tim 6:2).


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