Request an Exam Copy

What is Necessary for Church Leadership? 1 Tim. 3:2 (Monday with Mounce, 62)

Categories Mondays with Mounce


I was reminded the other day how meaning is conveyed not only by individual words but also by the larger context of those words. It is easy to hang on to a particular word and forget to check the overall context, but it is equally easy to miss the meaning of a particular word by not looking at its context.

1 Tim 3:2 says that “an overseer  must be (δει) above reproach.” δει is a strong word; it leaves no wiggle room. This is supported by its use throughout the Pastorals, throughout Paul, and throughout the NT (see my commentary, pp 169f). If a person is to be in a position of church leadership, then they must meet the overall standard of being “above reproach.”

I remember a discussion with a former elder when we were working on a elder position paper (available at my personal website,, near the bottom of the page). The goal was to define what we understood to be the biblical instructions for recognizing official church leadership. When we were done he commented that he thought the whole process was unnecessary, and all we needed to do was elect good men who could make decisions. Wow. Such a blatant willingness to ignore the clear and unequivocal teaching of Scripture, and to replace the Word of God with the word of a man. (And he claimed to be an inerrantist. Ah, the intersection of belief and practice.)

If we care what Paul teaches, then he has left no doubt as to the type of person who is to be in church leadership. δει means “it is necessary.” The approach I took in my commentary was that “above reproach” is the head term, and what follows are the specifics of what it means to be above reproach.

So this means that every elder must be married and have more than one child. Right? So Paul and Timothy could not be elders. That sounds odd.

When you look at the larger larger, you start to see other factors at work.

1. As is true throughout the Pastorals, much of Paul’s instructions are given against the backdrop of the false teachers. The qualities Paul enumerates, while universally true, were chosen in contrast to the characteristics of the false teachers.

2. When you compare the three lists in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1, you are struck not only with their similarity but their differences. It is not that they contradict each other but that they are different. If the lists were to be followed rigidly, then why the differences? Which list do we follow?

3. Paul has a preference for celibacy (1 Cor 7:7, 26-38), so why require the leadership to be married?

4. If it is true that Paul’s basic concern is that elders be above reproach, a pattern also visible at Titus 1:6, then the stipulations of marriage and having a family are not so much independent requirements as they are examples of what it means to be above reproach: he must be faithful in his marriage; he must manage his family well.

My conclusion is that the lists show us the type of person who can be in leadership. Some of the requirements would by definition apply to all people: above reproach, hospitable, skilled teacher, etc. But others would depend on the person’s life situation: if married, he would have (δει) to be a “one-woman” man; if he has a family, he would have (δει) to manage his family well (see pp. 158f).

Meaning is conveyed by words and by phrases and by sentences and by paragraphs and by even larger units. Our goal as exegetes is not only to give the words their full weight (δει) but  also to understand them properly. We dare not ignore either.

This whole issue of elder qualifications, how to identify those whom the Spirit has chosen, and how to train them for leadership is a question that has been haunting me for years. It was why I started my online school, If you have found a way to raise up godly and effective leadership, or even know just part of the process, and especially if you have implemented a procedure for leadership development in your church, I would love to hear from you. This is our next primary goal at BiblicalTraining; you can contact me through the website.

Mouncew William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek (third edition recently released!), and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at

Koukl and Estes books Win in Outreach Magazine
Koukl and Estes books Win in Outreach Magazine Outreach Magazine Announces 7th Annual Outreach Resources of the Year Outreach magazine is announcing the resources cho...
Your form could not be submitted. Please check errors and resubmit.

Thank you!
Sign up complete.

Subscribe to the Blog Get expert commentary on biblical languages, fresh explorations in theology, hand-picked book excerpts, author videos, and info on limited-time sales.
By submitting your email address, you understand that you will receive email communications from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (501 Nelson Place, Nashville, TN 37214 USA) providing information about products and services of HCCP and its affiliates. You may unsubscribe from these email communications at any time. If you have any questions, please review our Privacy Policy or email us at This form is protected by reCAPTCHA.