John Calvin Complete Commentary - 1 Timothy 3:2 - 3:2

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John Calvin Complete Commentary - 1 Timothy 3:2 - 3:2


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2A bishop, therefore, must be blameless The particle therefore confirms the exposition which I have given; for, on account of the dignity of the office, he concludes that it is requisite that he be a man endowed with rare gifts, and not any person taken out of the crowd. (48) If the expression used had been “ good work,” as the ordinary translation has it, or “ honorable work,” (honestam ,) as Erasmus has translated it, the inference would not have been suitable.

He wishes a bishop to be blameless, (49) instead of which, in the Epistle to Titus, He has used (Tit_1:7) the word ἀνέγκλητον meaning by both words, that he must not be marked by any infamy that would lessen his authority. There will be no one found among men that is free from every vice; but it is one thing to be blemished with ordinary vices, which do not hurt the reputation, because they are found in men of the highest excellence, and another thing to have a disgraceful name, or to be stained with any baseness. In order, therefore, that a bishop may not be without authority, he enjoins that there shall be made a selection of one who has a good and honorable reputation, and not chargeable with any remarkable vice. Besides, he does not merely lay down a rule for Timothy what sort of person he must select, but likewise reminds every one of those who aspire to that rank, to institute a careful examination of himself and of his life.

The husband of one wife. It is a childish fancy to interpret this as meaning “ pastor of a single church.” Another other exposition has been more generally received, that the person set apart to that office must be one who has not been more than once married, that one wife being since dead, so that now he is not a married man. But both in this passage and in Tit_1:6, the words of the apostle are, “ is,” and not “ hath been;” and in this very Epistle, where he treats of widows, (1Ti_3:10,) he expressly makes use of the participle of the past tense. Besides, in this way he would contradict himself; because elsewhere he declares that he has no wish to lay a snare on the consciences.

The only true exposition, therefore, is that of Chrysostom, that in a bishop he expressly condemns polygamy, (50) which at that time the Jews almost reckoned to be lawful. This corruption was borrowed by them partly from sinful imitation of the Fathers, (for they who read that Abraham, Jacob, David, and others of the same class, were married to more wives than one at the same time, thought that it was lawful for them also to do the same) and partly from neighboring nations; for the inhabitants of the East never observed that conscientiousness and fidelity in marriage which was proper. However that might be, polygamy was exceedingly prevalent among them; (51) and therefore with great propriety does Paul enjoin that a bishop should be free from this stain.

And yet I do not disapprove of the opinion of those who think that the Holy Spirit intended to guard against the diabolical superstition which afterwards arose; as if he had said, “ far is it from being right and proper that celibacy should be enforced on bishops, that marriage is a state highly becoming in all believers.” In this way, he would not demand it as a thing necessary for them, but would only praise it as not inconsistent with the dignity of the office. Yet the view which I have already given is more simple and more solid, that Paul forbids polygamy in all who hold the office of a bishop, because it is a mark of an unchaste man, and of one who does not observe conjugal fidelity.

But there it might be objected, that what is sinful in all ought not to have been condemned or forbidden in bishops alone. The answer is easy. When it is expressly prohibited to bishops, it does not therefore follow that it is freely allowed to others. Beyond all doubt, Paul condemned universally what was contrary to an unrepealed law of God; for it is a settled enactment,

“ shall be one flesh.” (Gen_2:24.)

But he might, to some extent, bear with that in others which, in a bishop, would have been excessively vile, and therefore not to be endured.

Nor is this a law laid down for the future, that no bishop, who already has one wife, shall marry a second or a third, while the first wife is still living; but Paul excludes from the office of a bishop any one who shall be guilty of such an enormity. Accordingly, what had been once done, and could not be corrected, he reluctantly endures, but only in the common people. For what was the remedy for those who, under Judaism, had fallen into the snare of polygamy? Should they have divorced their second and third wives? Such a divorce would not have been free from doing wrong. Since, therefore, the deed was done, and could not be undone, he left it untouched, but with this exception, that no bishop should be blemished by such a stain.

Sober, temperate, modest The word which we have translated sober, Erasmus has translated (vigilantem) watchful. As the Greek word νηφάλεος (52) admits of either signification, the readers may make their own choice. I have preferred to translate σώφρονα temperate, instead of sober, because σωφροσύνη has a more extensive meaning than sobriety. Modest means one who conducts himself with decency and propriety.

Hospitable (53) The“” here spoken of, is toward strangers, and this was very common among the ancients; for it would have been reckoned disgraceful for respectable persons, and especially for those who were well known, to lodge in taverns. In the present day, the state of matters is different; but this virtue is and always will be highly necessary in a bishop, for many reasons. Besides, during the cruel persecution of the godly, many persons must have been constrained frequently to change their habitation; and therefore it was necessary that the houses of bishops should be a retreat for the exiles. In those times hard necessity compelled the churches to afford mutual aid, so that they gave lodgings to one another. Now, if the bishops had not pointed out the path to others in this department of duty, the greater part, following their example, would have neglected the exercise of humanity, and thus the poor fugitives would have been greatly discouraged. (54)

Able to teach In the epistle to Titus, doctrine is expressly mentioned; here he only speaks briefly about skill in communicating instruction. It is not enough to have profound learning, if it be not accompanied by talent for teaching. There are many who, either because their utterance is defective, or because they have not good mental abilities, or because they do not employ that familiar language which is adapted to the common people, keep within their own minds the knowledge which they possess. Such persons, as the phrase is, ought to Sing to themselves and to the muses. (55) They who have the charge of governing the people, ought to be qualified for teaching. And here he does not demand volubility of tongue, for we see many persons whose fluent talk is not fitted for edification; but he rather commends wisdom in applying the word of God judiciously to the advantage of the people.

It is worth while to consider how the Papists hold that the injunctions which the apostle gives do not at all belong to them. I shall not enter into a minute explanation of all the details; but on this one point what sort of diligence do they observe? And, indeed, that gift would be superfluous; for they banish from themselves the ministry of teaching as low and groveling, although this belonged especially to a bishop. But everybody knows how far it is from observing Paul’ rule, to assume the title of bishop, and boast proudly of enacting a character without speaking, provided only that they make their appearance in a theatrical dress. As if a horned mitre, a ring richly set in jewels, or a silver cross, and other trifles, accompanied by idle display, constituted the spiritual government of a church, which can no more be separated from doctrine than any one of us can be separated from his own soul.



(48) “Et non pas le premier qui se pourroit presenter.” — “ not the first that might offer himself.”

(49) ᾿Ανεπίληπτον — “ is properly an antagonistic term, signifying, ‘ who gives his adversary no hold upon him;’ but it is often (as here) applied metaphorically to one who gives others no cause justly to accuse him. So Thucydides, v. 17, τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ἀνεπίληπτον εἶναι. “ (says a celebrated writer) is the perfect purity of our religion, such the innocence and virtue which it exacts, that he must be a very good man indeed who lives up to it.” And when we consider the still greater requirements in a teacher of religion, (who is to be an example to others,) and reflect on the injury done to religion through the side of false professors, how much reason will there appear that such a one should be, as the apostle says, blameless.” — Broomfield.

(50) “Qu’ condamne en l’ d’ deux femmes ensemble vivantes.” — “ he condemns in a bishop the having two wives living at the same time.”

(51) “La polygamie estoit une chose toute commune entre les Juifs.” — “ was a thing quite common among the Jews.”

(52) Νηφάλιον, ‘ or circumspect.’ In which sense the word occurs in the later writers; as, for instance, Phavorinus. The force of the word is well expressed by the Pesch. Syr., ‘mente sit vigilanti ’ Instead of νηφάλιον, (the reading of many of the best MSS. and all the early editions,) νηφάλεον was introduced by Beza, but without any sufficient reason; and the former has been rightly restored by Wetstein, Griesbach, Matthaei, Tittnhann, and Vater. Here, then, we have a quality suggested by the very term ἐπίσχοπος, which imports vigilant superintendence.” — Bloomfield.

(53) “Recueillant volontiers les estrangers;” — “ entertaining strangers.”

(54) “ every one know that the virtues which are here required in all ministers of the word of God, are in order to give an example to the flock. It is highly proper for every one to know that, when it is said that ministers should be wise, temperate, and of good moral behavior, it is in order that others may be conformed to their example; for it is not for three or four only, but for all in general, that these things are said. This is the way in which the example of men must be profitable to us, so far as they shall conduct themselves properly, according to the will of God. And if they depart from that will ever so little, we must not yield to them such authority as to follow them on that account; but we must attend to what Paul says, that we ought to follow men so far as they are entirely conformed to the pure word of God, and are imitators of Jesus Christ, to lead us in the right way.” — Fr. Ser.

(55) “Il faut que tels s’ a autre chose.” — “ persons ought to be employed in something else.”