Teachable: A Qualification for Overseers and the Lord's Servants

In 1 Timothy 3:2 and in 2 Timothy 2:24 there is a rare Greek word, didaktikos, an adjective. This word occurs nowhere else in extant Greek literature with the exception of two of Philo’s works and in homilies by Chrysostom on 1 and 2 Timothy.[1] Lexicons of New Testament Greek typically give the definition of didaktikos as “able to teach” or “apt to teach”. I suggest, however, these definitions may be incorrect.

A Similar Word: Didaktos

A similar word, didaktos, also an adjective, may shed some light on the meaning of didaktikos. Didaktos is less rare than didaktikos, which allows us to see how it is used in several texts.

Didaktos occurs three times in the Septuagint: in Isaiah 54:13, 1 Maccabees 4:7, and Psalms of Solomon 17:32. The occurrence in 1 Maccabees 4:7 refers to men “taught in the art of warfare”: didaktoi polemou. In Psalms of Solomon 17:32, a messianic prophecy speaks of a righteous king who is “taught by God” (didaktos hupo theou).

Didaktos also occurs three times in the New Testament. John 6:45 includes a quotation from Isaiah 54:13 which includes the phrase “taught by God” (in Latin “docibiles Dei”). The other occurrences of didaktos are in 1 Corinthians 2:13 where the word occurs twice. This is where Paul explains that he and his colleagues are speaking words “not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit”. Furthermore, the compound word theodidaktoi, which means “taught by God” or “divinely instructed”, occurs in 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

In all these verses, people are described as being taught, rather than the ones doing the teaching. Accordingly, the TDNT notes that didaktos has three senses: “taught”, “learned”, and “teachable”.[2] The LSJ gives the first-century meaning of didaktos as “of persons, taught, instructed”.[3] BDAG gives two definitions: “1. Pertaining to being taught, taught, instructed . . . 2. Pertaining to being communicated as instruction, imparted, taught . . .”[4]

Didaktikos, the word that occurs in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24, is didaktos with a (t)ikos suffix. This adjectival suffix typically gives the sense of “concerned with” and “having characteristics of.”  It has the same sense as the English adjectival suffix “-(t)ic” (e.g. “poetic”, “hypnotic”, etc). In fact “-(t)ic” is derived from the Greek “-(t)ikos”.

The usual Greek word translated as “able to teach” is didaskalikos (not didaktikos). Didakskalikos is derived from the noun didaskalos (“teacher”).[5] So how are we to understand the very rare word didaktikos?

Didaktikos in 1 Timothy 3:2

1 Timothy 3:2-7 contains a list of requirements or qualifications for an overseer (or bishop). With the exception of the traditional translation of didaktikos, “able to teach”, all these requirements are moral qualities and character traits, they are not skills. It is odd that, in a list of moral qualifications, the skill “able to teach” is listed. It makes more sense that the character trait of being “teachable” is what was intended. “Teachable” fits perfectly with the character traits listed around it: “. . . temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, teachable, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable . . .”

All these qualities were typical of a respectable householder in the first century Greco-Roman world. Likewise an overseer (who was often a householder and house church leader) was to be respectable and thought well of by outsiders so as not to bring disgrace to the church  (1 Tim. 3:7). Quite unlike other lists in the Pauline letters, the list in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is not primarily concerned with ministerial gifts, talents, or skills, but respectability and character.

Didaktikos in 2 Timothy 2:24

The context of 2 Timothy 2:24 also fits with the meaning “teachable”. In the midst of controversies and contentions in the church, “the Lord’s servant” is advised not to be “quarrelsome, but be kind to all, teachable, patient when wronged” (2 Tim. 2:24). Admittedly the next verse has the idea of teaching: “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition”, but the focus is on character and demeanour rather than teaching ability.

Interestingly, the Vulgate translates didaktikos into Latin as docibilis, in 2 Timothy 2:24.[6] Docibilis comes from the Latin word docēre “to teach”, but the –ibilis ending renders docibilis as meaning “teachable.”

Some Church Fathers conflated 2 Timothy 2:24 with 1 Timothy 3:2 and believed that both verses, and the idea of being teachable, applied specifically to overseers (or bishops.) Cyprian and Augustine understood docibilis, when applied to bishops, to mean “apt to be taught” or “capable of being instructed” with a passive sense rather than an active sense.[7] Thomas Aquinas followed the interpretation of Cyprian and Augustine, and likewise believed that bishops being “teachable” was the correct interpretation in 2 Timothy 2:24.[8]

The Vulgate has translated didaktikos inconsistently, however. In 1 Timothy 3:2 the Latin word is doctor (not docibilis) which has an active sense. A doctor is one who teaches, rather than one who is taught.

John Chrysostom understood didaktikos as meaning “able to teach”. Commenting on 2 Timothy 2:1-2 he wrote: “Therefore it is necessary a teacher have two qualities, both to be faithful and able to teach (didaktikos); for this reason [Paul] says, ‘who will be able to teach also others.'”[9] Commenting on 2 Timothy 2:24, Chrysostom writes: “Able to teach (didaktikos): that is, towards all those willing to be taught.”[10] Was Chrysostom familiar with the word didaktikos? His interpretation of “able to teach” does not agree with Philo’s use of the word.

The “Taught Virtue” (didaktikē aretē) in Philo

In his works De congressu quaerendae eruditionis gratia (35)[11] and De praemiis et poenis (27)[12], Philo used the feminine form of the adjective didaktikos about Abraham to describe a virtue that is “learned and received in teaching” rather than one that is acquired “by exercise or asceticism”.[13] This virtue is “given by God without a human master or teacher. The didaktikē aretē[14] thus has a decidedly passive meaning.”[15]

Interestingly, just as the occurrences of didaktos in the Septuagint (except for 1 Macc. 4:7) and the New Testament are in the context of receiving divine instruction (Isa. 54:13; PsSol. 17:32; John 6:45; 1 Cor. 2:13; cf. 1 Thess. 4:9), Philo writes that “the taught virtue” comes from God (Congr. 35-36). Is this association with God an idiomatic use of these rare, closely related words?[16] Should we understand that the teachability in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24 is an openness to divine instruction and persuasion? Whatever the case may be, a passive quietness and acquiescence was the demeanour of a good student, and may be the sense behind the adjective didaktikos.


Considering the meanings of the closely related word didaktos, considering the contexts of didaktikos in the letters to Timothy, and considering the contexts in the works of Philo, I believe the adjective didaktikos may have a passive sense and refers to the quality of being “teachable”. Chrétien, in his discussion of this word in 2 Timothy 2:24 writes, “whether the epistle to Timothy intended didaktikos in an active or passive sense, it remains that, philosophically as well as theologically, one is implied by the other.”[17] A person who teaches must be teachable (didaktikos) with “the meaning of an attention, of a receptivity, and of an active listening.”[18]


[1] Philo of Alexandria (25 BC–50 AD) was an influential Hellenised Jewish philosopher who taught and wrote in the first half of the first century AD. The letters of 1 and 2 Timothy were probably written late in the first century. Was Paul influenced by Philo’s use of the word? John Chrysostom (347–407), the archbishop of Constantinople and an influential Church Father, wrote a few hundred years later that Philo and Paul, in the late fourth and first few years of the fifth century.

[2] K.H. Rengstorf, “Didaktos”, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (TDNT) eds Gerard Kittel and Gerard Friedrich, abridged by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985)  166.

[3] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “διδακτός, ή, όν”, A Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ), Ninth Edition, revised by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1996) 421.

[4] Walter Bauer, “διδακτός, ή, όν”, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition (BDAG), revised and edited by F.W Danker, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) 240.

[5] Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920, 1984) 237, §858.6. (Didaskalikos does not occur in the New Testament or Septuagint.)

[6] “Aside from Seneca, this word [docibilis] is used almost exclusively by Christian authors and first by the most ancient Latin version of the Bible, thus contributing to its spread.”
Jean-Louis Chrétien, Under the Gaze of the Bible: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy, Transl. John Marson Dunaway (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015) 46.

[7] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 46.

[8] Ibid. 47.

[9] The Greek text of John Chrysostom’s commentary on 2 Timothy 2:1-2, in Homily 4 on 2 Timothy chapter 2, is included in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca here (column 619, line 36).

[10] Chrysostom’s commentary on 2 Timothy 2:24, in Homily 6 on 2 Timothy chapter 2, is here (page 632, column 672, line 13).

[11] This work is also known as On Mating with the Preliminary Studies. Yonge, however, called it A Treatise on the Meeting for the Sake of Seeking Instruction.

[12] Also known as On Rewards and Punishments.

[13] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 46.

[14] Didaktikē is the singular feminine nominative form; didaktikos is the singular masculine nominative form of the same adjective. The singular masculine accusative form, didaktikon, occurs in 1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24, and several times in Chrysostom’s homilies on 1 and 2 Timothy.

[15] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 46.

[16] Philo also uses a compound word autodidaktos meaning “self-taught” in both De congressu quaerendae eruditionis gratia (e.g. 36) and De praemiis et poenis (27; 36; etc).

[17] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 48.

[18] Ibid. 48–49.

Many thanks to Don Lowe and Lee Irons for pointing out to me the occurrences of didaktikos in Chrysostom’s homilies.
Chrysostom’s understanding of didaktikos is also evident in his commentary on 1 Timothy 3:2. He writes, “For this [ability to teach] is not required of him that is ruled, but is most essential to him who has this rule committed to him.” (Homily 10 on 1 Timothy) And, commenting on 1 Timothy 5 he writes,

It is an important point, and contributes much to the edification of the Church, that the rulers of it should be apt to teach (διδακτικούς). If this be wanting, many things in the Church go to ruin. Therefore in addition to the qualifications of hospitality, moderation, and a blameless life, he enumerates this also, saying, ‘Apt to teach’ (διδακτικόν). For why else indeed is he called a teacher (διδάσκαλος)? (MPG: Column 582, line 13)

 -(t)ikos Words in the New Testament

-(t)ikos is an adjectival ending. With a few exceptions, -ikos is usually suffixed to a nominal stem, and -tikos to a verbal stem. It is the word’s stem, and especially the context where the word occurs, that helps to determine whether the adjective is describing a state that involves some kind of action, ability, demeanour, or some other characteristic.

Here are most of the (t)ikos words found in the New Testament:

airetikos – factious, causing division
anōterikos – upper, inland
archieratikos – high-priestly
basilikos – royal
biōtikos – pertaining to life
ethnikos – Gentile, heathen, . . .
eirēnikos – peaceable, peaceful
hippikos – pertaining to a horse rider, cavalry . . .
kritikos – able to discern, judge
logikos – rational, spiritual
mulikos – belonging to a mill
nomikos – pertaining to the law
onikos – pertaining to a donkey
paralutikos – lame, lame person, paralytic
patrikos – paternal, handed down from one’s father
pistikos – genuine, faithful, believing
pneumatikos – pertaining to the spirit, spiritual
sarkikos – fleshly, earthly, material, . . .
prophetikos – prophetic
phusikos – belonging to nature, natural

These definitions are mostly taken from Warren Trenchard’s, Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998)

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