John Calvin Complete Commentary - 1 Timothy 3:1 - 3:1

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John Calvin Complete Commentary - 1 Timothy 3:1 - 3:1


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1It is a true saying Chrysostom thinks, that this is the conclusion of the preceding doctrine. But I do not approve of the opinion; for Paul commonly makes use of this form of expression as a prelude to what he is about to introduce, Besides, in the former discourse there was no need of so strong an affirmation; but what he is now about to say, is somewhat more weighty. Let these words, therefore, be received as a preface intended to point out the importance of the subject; for Paul now begins a new discourse about ordaining pastors, and appointing the government of the Church.

If any one desireth the office of a bishop (46) Having forbidden women to teach, he now takes occasion to speak of the office of a bishop. First, that it may be more clearly seen that it was not without reason that he refused to allow women to undertake so arduous a work; secondly, that it might not be thought that, by excluding women only, he admitted all men indiscriminately; and, thirdly, because it was highly proper that Timothy and others should be reminded what conscientious watchfulness ought to be used in the election of bishops. Thus the context, in my opinion, is as if Paul had said, that so far are women from being fit for undertaking so excellent an office, that not even men ought to be admitted into it without distinction.

He desireth an excellent work The Apostle affirms that this is no inconsiderable work, such as any man might venture to undertake. When he says that it is καλός I have no doubt that he alludes to the ancient Greek proverb, often quoted by Plato , δύσκολα τὰ καλά which means that “ things which are excellent, are also arduous and difficult;” and thus he unites difficulty with excellence, or rather he argues thus, that it does not belong to every person to discharge the office of a bishop, because it is a thing of great value.

I think that Paul’ meaning is now sufficiently clear; though none of the commentators, so far as I perceive, have understood it. The general meaning is, that a selection ought to be made in admitting bishops, because it is a laborious and difficult charge; and that they who aim at it should carefully consider with themselves, whether or not they were able to bear so heavy a burden. Ignorance is always rash; and a mature knowledge of things makes a man modest. How comes it that they who have neither ability nor wisdom often aspire so confidently to hold the reins of government, but because they rush forward with their eyes shut? On this subject Quintilian remarked, that the ignorant speak boldly, while the greatest orators tremble.

For the purpose of restraining such rashness in desiring the office of a bishop, Paul states, first, that this is not an indolent rank, but a work; and next, that it is not any kind of work, but excellent, and therefore toilsome and full of difficulty, as it actually is. It is no light matter to be a representative of the Son of God, in discharging an office of such magnitude, the object of which is to erect and extend the kingdom of God, to procure the salvation of souls which the Lord himself hath purchased with his own blood, and to govern the Church, which is God’ inheritance. But it is not my intention at present to make a sermon, and Paul will again glance at this subject in the next chapter.

Here a question arises: “ it lawful, in any way, to desire the office of a bishop?” On the one hand, it appears to be highly improper for any one to anticipate, by his wish, the calling of God, and yet Paul, while he censures a rash desire, seems to permit it to be desired with prudence and modesty. I reply, if ambition is condemned in other matters, much more severely ought it to be condemned in “ office of a bishop.” But Paul speaks of a godly desire, by which holy men wish to employ that knowledge of doctrine which they possess for the edification of the Church. For, if it were altogether unlawful to desire the office of a teacher, why should they who spend all their youth in reading the Holy Scriptures prepare themselves by learning? What are the theological schools but nurseries of pastors?

Accordingly, they who have been thus instructed not only may lawfully devote themselves and their labors to God by a voluntary offering, but even ought to do so, and that too, before they have been admitted unto the office; provided that, nevertheless, they do not thrust themselves forward, and do not, even by their own wish, make themselves bishops, but are only ready to discharge the office, if their labors shall be required. And if it turn out that, according to the lawful order; they are not called, let them know that such was the will of God, and let them not take it in that others have been preferred to them. But they who, without any selfish motive, shall have no other wish than to serve God and the Church, will be affected in this manner; and, at the same time, will have such modesty that they will not be at all envious, if others be preferred to them as being more worthy.

If any one object, that the government of the Church is a matter of so great difficulty, that it ought rather to strike terror into the minds of persons of sound judgment than to excite them to desire it. I reply, that the desire of great men does not rest on confidence of their own industry or virtue, but on the assistance of

“ from whom is our sufficiency,”

as Paul says elsewhere. (2Co_3:5.) At the same time, it is necessary to observe what it is that Paul calls “ office of a bishop;” and so much the more, because the ancients were led away, by the custom of their times, from the true meaning; for, while Paul includes generally all pastors, they understand a bishop to be one who was elected out of each college to preside over his brethren. Let us remember, therefore, that this word is of the same import as if he had called them ministers, or pastors, or presbyters. (47)



(46) “Ou, Si aucun a affection d’ evesque.” — “ If any one hath a desire to be a bishop.”

(47) “ us know that the Holy Spirit, speaking of those who are ordained ministers of the word of God, and who are elected to govern the Church, calls them Pastors. And why? Because God wishes us to be a flock of sheep, to be guided by him, hearing his voice, following his guidance, and living peaceably. Since, therefore the Church is compared to a flock, they who have the charge of guiding the Church by the word of God are called Pastors. And next, the word Pastor means Elder not by age, but by of office: as, at all times, they who govern have been called Elders, even among heathen nations. Now the Holy Spirit has retained this metaphor, giving the name Elder to those who are chosen to proclaim the word of God. He likewise calls them Bishops, that is persons who watch over the flock to show that it is not a rank unaccompanied by active exertion, when a man is called to that office, and that he must not make an idol of it, but must know that he is sent to obtain the salvation of souls, and must be employed, and watch, and labor, for that purpose. We see then the reason of these words; and since the Holy Spirit hath given them to us, we must retain them, provided that they be applied to a good and holy use.” — Fr. Ser.