1 Timothy, Lesson 5: Pastors and Deacons

Bishop and Deacon (610x352)At the end of 1 Timothy chapter 2, Paul covered the role of men and women during worship, pointing to fall into sin as the reason men and women have different roles. Paul’s point was that our differing roles point backward to our fall into sin and, thus, our need for redemption. 

And although both Adam and Eve were the cause of our ruin, even they are saved through Jesus. Paul said as much when he said, “She [or he] will be saved through the bearing of a [or the] child.” 

Now Paul goes on to list the qualifications for those who serve in the Church as “overseers” (bishops) and deacons.

Leaders who serve in the Church: Pastors

Excursus: Biblical Descriptions for Those in the Church

The laity: The New Testament calls everyone in the Church “saints,” that is “holy ones” (Romans 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 1Timothy 5:10), the “faithful” (Ephesians 1:1), “brothers” (Colossians 1:2), and part of the priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-10). “Laity” comes from the Greek word, laos, which means “people.” Biblically, every Christian is part of the “laity,” the laos, including the clergy.

Pastors (shepherd), elders (presbyters), and overseers (bishops): The New Testament uses these three words as synonyms for one another (for example: Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7). Jewish congregations originally preferred the term elder, while Greek congregations preferred overseer. The New Testament primarily uses “pastor” as a verb, meaning to shepherd.

Paul used the world “elder” when referring to those who to “rule,” those who also “labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). Ignatius, a student of the Apostle John, began to institutionalize the three-tier church structure, which became the norm for many centuries. To the church at Philadelphia, he wrote, “Pay attention to the bishop, the council of presbyters, and the deacons” (Letter to the Philadelphians 7:1-2). However, Polycarp, also a student of the Apostle John, only referred to “being obedient to the elders and deacons as to God and Christ” (Philippians 5:3).

Deacons: meaning “assistant” and “servant.” Like pastors, they also must meet high qualifications (1Timothy 3:8-13). The Church originally created the office of deacon to assist the Apostles because other tasks were interfering with their ability to lead “the Prayer” (an expression referring to the worship service) and the “ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:3). So those deacons first served by distributing food to the Greek-speaking widows (Acts 6:2-3). Later, deacons began to occupy an assisting role in the liturgical life of the Church.

Deaconesses: The word “deacon” with a feminine-gendered suffix. Although sharing the same root word, deacons and deaconesses are not interchangeable. (For example, the Greek word for sister is “brother” with a feminine-gendered suffix; yet, brothers and sisters are not interchangeable.) The New Testament only mentions one deaconess, Phoebe, in Romans 16:1: “I [Paul] commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess in the church at Cenchrea.”



Read 1 Timothy 3:1

  • In what way does Paul describe the work of an overseer?

Read 1 Timothy 3:2-3

Description (ESV translation) Meaning
“above reproach” Adjective: someone’s character (and, thus, how he lives his life) must give no basis for accusation or reproach
“the husband of one wife” covered in a separate graphic, below
“sober-minded” Adjective: clear-headedness, well-balanced
“self-controlled” Adjective: Sound and balanced in judgment. This is more of one’s inward character shaping his outward actions.   Thus, a pastor who is “sober minded” is “self-controlled,” with sober-mindedness bringing about one’s self-control
“respectable” Adjective: The quality of character that is orderly in mind and habits. When sober-mindedness and self-control come together, being respectable is the result.
“hospitable” Adjective: Literally a “friend of strangers.” This is having a disposition toward helping others in need, particularly other Christians
“able to teach” Adjective: possesses what would make someone a good teacher
“not a drunkard” Adjective: Literally, “not alongside of wine.” This does not mean that an overseer may not drink, for Paul tells Timothy to do just that in 1 Timothy 5:23.   Instead, this refers to someone who is not given to drunkenness.
“not violent” Noun: Literally, “not a giver of blows,” someone who is not apt to strike others
“gentle” Adjective: No single word in English conveys the Greek meaning. It can mean patient, tolerant, yielding, and gentle.   Instead of behaving badly to ensure his full rights, he would rather suffer injury than perpetuate it
“not quarrelsome” Adjective: Not a lover of battle. This does not mean that a pastor may not “contend for the truth” but, instead, he is not inclined toward quarrelsome ways to achieve a goal
“not a lover of money” Adjective: does not have a greedy character
  • How does Paul list the “qualifications” for an overseer? Are those qualifications based on what one does (verbs) or the characteristics of the person (adjectives, nouns)?
  • Discuss the 11 characteristics.

Lesson 5, Husband of One Wife

Paul now moves from required, inward characteristics to what one does. Paul sees an overseer as a congregation’s spiritual father, just as Paul saw himself as Timothy’s father in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2).

Read 1 Timothy 3:4-5

  • In verse 4, what two verbs describe how an overseer is to act when it comes to his household?
  • What is Paul’s rationale for using how a man acts to judge if a he is qualified to be an overseer?

Read 1 Timothy 3:6

Paul now uses an adjective, not to describe an inward characteristic of a potential overseer, but to how long he has been in the faith.

  • What must a man not be if he is to be an overseer? Why?

Read 1 Timothy 3:7

Paul now uses a verb to describe how those outside the Church should see a potential overseer.

  • What kind of reputation is a potential overseer to have with those outside the Church? Why?

Lesson 5, Requirements for a Man to be an Overseer

  • What does it mean that Paul gives this information about pastoral qualifications to Timothy (and later Titus), but not in any of his congregational epistles?
  • Keep in mind the lack of doctrinal requirements for an overseer, and what this may mean.


In the LC-MS, we use the term “elder” for what the Bible calls a deacon. This is a result of our German heritage, where we used the term, vorsteher. When we transitioned into using English, vorsteher was translated as “elder.” To help prevent confusion, it would make sense for us to adopt the word “deacon.”

Read 1 Timothy 3:8

By using “likewise,” Paul notes the similarities in requirements between a deacon and an overseer. However, the character requirements for a deacon are fewer and less stringent, and some are restatements of the qualifications for an overseer. 

“dignified”: worthy or respect, of good character.

“not double-tongued”: Not saying one thing knowing that something else is really true.

Read 1 Timothy 3:9-10

Like the qualifications for overseers, Paul moves from inward character (adjectives) to outward action (verbs), only then moving to outward relationships. Unlike overseers, whose outward relationships extend outside the Church, the outward relationships for deacons only extend within the Church. This shows a lesser role for deacons and also matches the meaning of deacon to mean “assistant.”

hold”: to “hold” the faith means that one: (1 knows the content of the faith and (2 lives out that content in his life.

mystery”: Mystery comes from the Greek word, myo, meaning “to keep the lips sealed.” In Greek pagan religions, “mystery” referred to certain rituals that only the initiated were privy to, which they were obligated, by oath, to keep secret. For Paul, the mystery was hidden in God from all eternity but has now been publicly made known. It was written for God’s people in the Scriptures—but its meaning is now revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 16:25-27). Thus, the “mystery” of the faith is the work of Jesus for our salvation—but also how He comes to deliver His salvation to His people. (Note: The translation for “mystery” in the Latin Vulgate is sacramentum.) When the Western Church adopted the word “sacrament” for baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it shows that, from early on, the Church held that Jesus was present and at work in His Sacraments.

of the faith”: This expression has the definite article (the) preceding “faith.” This then is not one’s subjective faith but “the faith,” that is, the objective content of the Christian faith.

clean conscience”: To “hold the mystery of the faith” with a “clean conscience” refers specifically to the act of holding to the mystery of the faith. To be a deacon, a man must hold to the faith in a way where the content of the faith is retained, without adding, changing, or distorting it.

  • Deacons assist pastors. Yet, Paul doesn’t say that overseers must also “hold to the mystery of the faith.” What does that say about those who will become overseers?

Read 1 Timothy 3:10

  • What are those in the Church to do before a man may serve as a deacon?

be tested”: an imperative, passive verb. This must be done by those in the Church before someone may become a deacon. It involves learning about someone through careful evaluation and judgment.

Lesson 5, Requirements for a Man to be an Deacon, Pt 1

  • By requiring such an evaluation for deacons, but not overseers, means what?
  • That Paul gives this information to Pastor Timothy and not to any congregations means what about who is involved in examining and testing deacons?
  • Reconcile this with what the Apostles said to the Jerusalem congregation in Acts 6:3.

That a potential deacon must be examined doctrinally—but not overseer—shows an assumption already operating in Paul’s day. An overseer will first serve as a deacon, for that’s when he is doctrinally examined and found to be purely holding the mystery of the faith.  

An overseer requires more inward characteristics fit for the pastoral office, better teaching skills, more maturity, and is expected to interact outwardly in a way that a deacon doesn’t.

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