Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

women church leaders, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Lydia, Chloe, 1 Timothy 3

Tradução em português aqui.

I was recently asked if 1 Timothy 3:4a (KJV) is a command for men to rule their households, the implication being that women must not rule households and must submit or acquiesce to male rule. I thought this question deserves its own blog post. And this is it.

In this article, I briefly look at the responsibilities of the Greco-Roman householder (the person in charge of a household) and how these responsibilities were applied in the church. And I argue that 1 Timothy 3:4a neither asserts nor implies that only men should be leaders of households. Rather, it states that church overseers should manage their households well, the emphasis being on “well” rather than on gender. I also look at the kind of “managing” that is spoken of in this verse.

Householders as Patrons and Managers

In the first-century Roman world, the householder was often the most senior male of the family. However, women, typically widows or divorcees, could also be the householder (e.g., Lydia). The householder, whether male or female, was responsible for providing for all the members of the household. These members might include adult and juvenile children plus other relatives, as well as servants and slaves.

The householder was also responsible for making sure the day to day management of the household and any home-based businesses and industries were running smoothly.[1] Male householders were usually married, and a capable wife would do much of the actual household management (cf. 1 Tim 5:14). Nevertheless, according to cultural expectations, her husband still had oversight.

Furthermore, stewards could be employed to act as managers of large households. (Interestingly, in Titus 1:7, the overseer is described as being God’s steward.) On the other hand, small households, or small family units, did not necessarily need one person within the home to act as either patron or manager.

Overseers as Managers

In 1 Timothy 3:2-7, there is a list of moral qualifications of an episkopos. (Episkopos is variously translated in English Bibles as overseer, supervisor or bishop.)[2] These qualifications do not necessarily apply to Christian men or to women more generally. Moreover, the qualification in 1 Timothy 3:4a, which literally says, “own house managing well” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:5), assumes a large household and not a small family unit.[3] (Note that there are no masculine personal pronouns in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1-7; there is no “his” in the Greek.)

This phrase is not necessarily saying that a person must rule their household, though some older English translations such as the KJV use the word “rule” in 1 Timothy 3:4-5.[4] What verses 4-5 mean is that an overseer needed to manage their own household well (kalōs).

It seems that the first episkopoi (“overseers”) of churches were householders, the person in charge of a household of some size. The reason for the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, including the qualification of managing well, was to ensure that the overseer would be a socially respectable person and not give the church a bad name to outsiders (cf. 1 Tim. 3:7 NET). A poorly managed home would bring dishonour to the householder and dishonour to the church, as his home was where the church gathered.

Overseers as Patrons

In the first century, Christian communities (i.e. churches) met in homes and functioned like families. And taking care of a church was much like caring for a large family. (Christian men and women were like brothers and sisters, and often close-knit.) If a person was unable to manage and take care of their own household well, they would not be able to manage and take care of a church well. But what did “managing” entail?

The Greek participle proistamenon in verse 4 and the infinitive prostēnai in verse 5 (both from the verb proistēmi) are translated as “manage” in most English versions. This Greek verb can have the sense of providing for. Proistēmi occurs in Titus 3:8 & 14, for example, in the context of “good works.” (The plural of kalon ergon is used here.) It may be that in all eight occurrences of proistēmi in the New Testament—in Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17; and Titus 3:8, 14—there is a sense of “caring” and “providing for” combined with a sense of “leading” or “managing.”[5]

Furthermore, all the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 are prefaced by the statement, “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1b NIV). The Greek words translated as “noble task” in the NIV literally mean “good work” (kalon ergon) and often refer to charitable acts and benefactions. “To aspire, then, to the office of bishop [or, overseer] is to be desirous of acting benevolently for the welfare of others.”[6]

Women as Patrons and Managers

Interestingly, a related noun of the verb proistēmi is used in Romans 16:2 to describe Phoebe’s ministry. Phoebe may well have been the householder of the home where the church at Cenchrea met.[7] What is certain is that she provided for many people, including the apostle Paul. Paul said of Phoebe that “she has been the benefactor of many people, including me” (Rom. 16:2 NIV).

Christian men and women of wealth and character took care of churches in the first century, acting as patrons and managers.[7] Moreover, these people were typically the hosts of churches that met in their relatively spacious homes. These men and women with money and with morals functioned as overseers of congregations.[8]

Conclusion

The qualification in 1 Timothy 3:4a reflects the culture of the day and reflects the way the church functioned in the first century. But today, both culture and church-life are very different. Today, households (with more than one adult member) are usually not overseen by just one person. And most congregations are not small house churches that function like families. Furthermore, modern churches usually pay their leaders, but in the first century, the overseers financially supported the church by hosting meetings and helping poorer members. 1 Timothy 3:4 cannot be taken as a mandate that homes are to be led or ruled by a man.

More on the qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 here.[9]


Footnotes

[1] It is often stated that in the ancient world the male sphere was public and female sphere was domestic. But, in reality, the two spheres overlapped. In the Roman world, men could conduct business and receive clients at home; women could work, or engage in business or in public works, outside of the home.

[2] Louw and Nida place the word episkopos (“overseer”) under the semantic heading of “35. Help, Care for” (35.43) and also “53. Religious Activities; I. Roles and Functions” (53.71). They point out that even though the role of an episkopos “has been regarded traditionally as a position of authority, in reality the focus is upon the responsibility for caring for others” (The Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, s.v.  ἐπίσκοπος §35.43).
Commenting on episkopos in Philippians 1:1, Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek observe, “Episkopos carried none of the connotations that the word “bishop” does today, or even after Ignatius of Antioch. It is a term borrowed from management functions, meaning supervisor or overseer.”
Madigan and Osiek (eds. and transl.) in Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2005), 11.

[3] Kevin Giles observes, “The qualifications demanded of a bishop [or overseer] are ones that would describe a respected head of a large home.” Giles, Patterns of Ministry among the First Christians (Eugene OR: Cascade Books, 2017), 62. (Online source)

[4] In the highly stratified society of the ancient world, leadership was hierarchical and often patriarchal, and the customs of patronage gave the patron or patroness both prestige and power. But these social dynamics have no place in the church. Having power over or ruling over another capable adult brother or sister is unacceptable behaviour for a Christian. It goes against what Jesus taught.

[5] Proistēmi in the New Testament “seems to have the sense a. ‘to lead’ but the context shows in each case that one must also take into account sense b. ‘to take care of’. This is explained by the fact that caring was an obligation of leading members of the infant Church.”
Bo Reike, “Proistēmi ”, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol. 6, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, transl. and ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 701-703, 701.

[6] Giles, Patterns of Ministry, 62.
Money may have been one of the main ministry resources of the first church overseers. In the context of Greco-Roman associations, the overseer (episkopos) was the financial officer. See James Tunstead Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 99. (Online source)

[7] 1 Timothy 3 does not explicitly state what the overseers did, or were to do, in the Ephesian church. Raymond Brown notes that “no cultic or liturgical role is assigned to presbyter-bishops [elders and overseers ] in the Pastorals.” “Episkopê and Episkopos: the New Testament Evidence”, Theological Studies 41 (1980), 322-338. (Online source) There is no evidence in the New Testament linking either overseers (episkopoi) or elders (presbuteroi) to worship. See James Tunstead Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church, 84f. (Online source) It is likely that overseers were involved in some spoken ministries in gatherings for worship and the Eucharist, etc. But other people would have also participated and contributed, sometimes spontaneously (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16).

[8] Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Nympha, Apphia, the chosen lady, and possibly Chloe may well have been the overseers and/or the patrons who cared pastorally for the congregations that used their homes as their base.

[9] Most householders were men, and the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1ff assume the householder/episkopos will be a man. It also assumes the episkopos will be married and have children. But nowhere in the Greek New Testament does it say an episkopos (or any other kind of minister) must be a man and/or must be married and/or must have children and/or must have their own house. What it does say is that an episkopos must be above reproach, faithful in marriage, sober, respectable, hospitable, etc.

Image

Fractio Panis (Breaking of Bread) is a third-century fresco in the Greek Chapel in the Priscilla Catacomb in Rome. It was thought this fresco depicted a Eucharist, but it may depict a funerary banquet.


Related Articles

The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Timothy 3)
Were there women elders in New Testament churches?
Paul’s Female Coworkers
Phoebe: Deacon of the Church at Cenchrea
Lydia of Thyatira: The founding member of the Philippian Church
What is meant by didaktikos in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24?
Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today? 

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

9 thoughts on ““Must manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4-5)

  1. Do you think there’s a chance the household in that passage might be referring to the house church itself?

    1. Not really, for two reasons.

      (1) In 1 Timothy 3:4 it says an overseer must be able to manage his own household, whereas churches were considered to be God’s household or God’s congregation (ekklēsia).

      (2) 1 Timothy 3:5 gives a reason for the qualification in verse 4; “because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church?” (CEB). This reason seems to rule out that the household in 1 Tim 3:4 is the congregation that meets in the overseer’s house, though his household would have been a part of the congregation.

  2. I always think about how the “end of chapter 2” is about women, and that “chapter 3” too often begins with “any man.” Since the chapter divisions were not part of the Greek, it seems odd to me that without using the word “man,” Paul would have talked only about men in Chap 3. The word is “tis,” and is a masculine word, but it is also an inclusive form. I cannot see that Paul would have jumped from talking about women to talking about men without making it clearer.

    I was at a small church long ago, where only men could be leaders and teachers, and much was made about the “husband of one wife.” Yet little attention was paid to idea of a man not being a “striker,” or a man having his house in order. When I was excluded from being in charge of the music (because I was holding too much authority over men by choosing the songs,) they were all excited about having one particular young man in charge of something. I questioned that. First, because of the word implying “elders,” and then the fact that he had a young son who was totally out of control. I really liked the guy and thought a lot of him. I just felt very strongly that he needed to spend more with his child. Of course, I was laughed at. I was thoroughly disgusted at the duplicity.

    1. Hi Cassandra,

      I personally think 1 Timothy 2:15 refers to a couple and not to women as such. I suggest “she will be saved” refers to a woman and “they continue” refers to the woman and her husband. I also believe the beginning of 1 Timothy 3:1 refers to the statement of salvation made in 1 Timothy 2:15, and that chapter 3 starts in the wrong place. (More on this here.)

      But I take your point about Christians picking and choosing which verses to heed. For example, I’ve never heard people insist that men must raise holy hands when they pray (1 Tim 2:8). And I’ve never heard people forbid women from braiding their hair or from wearing pearls or gold jewellery (1 Tim 2:9-10). But they insist on a certain interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 despite genuine hermeneutical difficulties in the verse. Some get around this by saying Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is “grounded in creation” and timeless–I think this is a misreading of the text–but the other bits of 1 Timothy chapter 2 aren’t “grounded” and timeless. Still, they usually don’t insist on following the instructions supposedly about head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 which also seem to be “grounded in creation” (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:7-9).

      I frequently hear (or read) people bringing up the “husband of one wife” qualification, but I rarely hear the other qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 being mentioned with the same emphasis.

      1. AMEN!!! There was a time when some of the seeming prohibitions about women were very much parts of church culture, but in the past 50 yrs, most churches have dropped them, even some of the “holiness” churches. But this stuff limiting women reigns on. As for the creation order, I can’t see that in Genesis, can you? Bet not! It just isn’t there unless you want to twist Scripture. I have often laughed about the raising of holy hands, as the fundamentalist churches that insist on women’s silence seldom ever allow the raising of hands. (We visited a church like that once. I had someone explain to me that they didn’t “do that here.” I just smiled and say that is was ok, they didn’t have to. Still tickles me!) I often will ask if the instructions given to men and women are really all that diferent. The women are to learn in “silence and submission?” Is that different than the men were supposed to supposed to learn? And they get so bogged down by the detail of the silence and submission that they lose sight of the imperative to have the women learn.

        OK, sorry to jump over board, but I am in one of those “how can people be so stupid” frames of mind about a lot of things today. I know that I can be just as obtuse.

  3. Insee where God made man then woman from man in Genesis. He set him as authority and over the household. The elders are to be the husband of one wife. Omly singing praises not playing instruments in worship. Just because we dont stick to the braided hair and jewelry verses doesnt mean we are right in wearing them. So maybe instead of leaving off the mans role and equalizing the womens role to leadership we should be mlre modest in our apparel. It would be much simpler. Thats what im going to do. I see the words in the bible that many dont want to follow this is no different. Its all the same. One either follows Christ or follows himself.

    1. Hi Heather,

      Just briefly:

      The creation accounts in the Bible do not say that the first man had authority of the household. Did Adam and Eve even have a household before the fall? The relationship between Adam and Eve changed after the fall, but they were equal before that. [More on the equality of Adam and Eve here.]

      Instruments are mentioned in the context of worship in many Bible passages, especially in the Old Testament. So why would you think there’s something wrong with instruments? Read Psalm 150.

      Do you need to be more modest in your apparel? I would say I’m very modest in what I wear. And I never braid my hair. So I’m not sure why you are making this point. [More on modesty here.]

      If you’d like to know more about the Greek idiom that can be translated as a “one-woman man”, I have info on this here.

      As a follower of Jesus, I’m not interested in taking on a “man’s role”. I am interested in doing what God wants me to do. And God calls certain men and certain women to be leaders in the community of his people (i.e. the church).

  4. In answer to a question I just saw: Not all Christian householders were church overseers (episkopoi), but the first overseers were most likely householders, at least in the church at Ephesus in the first century. Over time, and over geographical distances and denominational boundaries, the ministry terms of episkopos, diakonos and presbyteros had differing meanings and differing job descriptions.

  5. Thank you for this study. It gives balance to the many commentators who interpret these verses strictly for the modern church.

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