Tuesday of week 24 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on 1 Tim 3:1-13

When this Letter was written the early Church was still developing the leadership and pastoral structures with which we are now familiar.
Paul today has advice for “bishops” (called “presiding elders” by the New Jerusalem Bible) and “deacons” and lays down the criteria on which they are to be chosen.
The structure of ‘bishop’, ‘priest’ and ‘deacon’ as we know it now has not yet taken form.
The Jerusalem Bible has a useful overview of the situation:
The word episkopos (‘overseer’, ‘supervisor’ or ‘president’) had not yet acquired the same meaning as ‘bishop’ and seems sometimes to overlap with the presbyteros (‘elder’). In the earliest days each Christian community was governed by a body of elders (‘presbyters’, from which comes the English word ‘priests’), who were prominent and respected people in the community. This was the case both in Jerusalem and in the Diaspora (the communities scattered through East Asia and to the west) and it merely continued both the ancient practice of the Old Testament and the more recent practice of the Jews.
These episkopoi who are not yet ‘bishops’ in our sense and who are mentioned in connection with the diakonoi (servants, attendants, assistants, deputies, ministers, ‘deacons’) seem in some passages to be identical with the elders. The Greek word episkopos (’), taken over from the pagan world probably as an equivalent for a semitic title, indicated the duty of an administrative officer, while presbuteros () indicated the status or dignity of the same officer. The episkopoi in the college of presbyters may have taken turns to carry out their official duties of administration and leadership.
It is quite certain that Christian presbuteroi or episkopoi were not merely concerned with the practical side of organising things: they had both to teach and govern. They were appointed by the apostles or their representatives by the imposition of hands; their powers derived from God and were charismatic. The word episkopos eventually replaced analogous titles like proistamenos (, official), poimen (, pastor, shepherd), hegoumenos (‘ guide, leader).
These heads of the local community who developed into our priests (presbuteroi) and bishops (episkopoi) were helped by diakonoi (, deacons). The transformation of a local assembly ruled by a body of bishops or presbyters, into an assembly ruled by a single bishop set over a number of priests (a stage reached by the time of Ignatius of Antioch, died c. 107 AD) must have involved the intermediate stage when a single episkopos in each community was given the same powers over that local community which had previously been exercised over several communities by the apostles or their representatives like Timothy or Titus.
The overseers/elders were carefully chosen by the communities and hands were laid on them to indicate their appointments were blessed by the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Paul himself was not a bishop; he was an apostle and evangeliser. And it is not certain that Timothy was a bishop; his work seems to have been more similar to that of Paul, an animator and visitor of communities scattered over the whole of the eastern Mediterranean.
In this Letter and in the whole New Testament there is as yet no mention of ‘priests’ as we know them now. As we saw, the word ‘priest’ is a corruption of the Greek word presbyteros () or ‘elder’. We see these elders mentioned as leaders of their communities and even presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist. It would not be quite accurate to call them ‘laymen’ as distinct from ‘clergy’, because in the Church at this time neither term would have been used. The distinction between ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ simply did not exist.
However, there was another type of priest represented by the Greek word hiereus (‘), from which comes our word ‘hier-archy’ (= rule by priests). This was a word applied to temple priests, whether of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem or the many thousands of temples scattered throughout the Greek and Roman world. In the beginning, the Church did not have this type of priest nor did it want to. The reason was clear.
For the early Christians, there was only one Priest in this sense and that was Jesus Christ himself. He was both the Priest (hiereus and not presbuteros) and the Victim of the sacrifice made on the cross, a sacrifice which in its infinite value replaced all other sacrifices before and after, a sacrifice that need never again be repeated. This is all beautifully laid out in the Letter to the Hebrews (e.g. Heb 5:1-10).
Our Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of that unique sacrifice on the cross, which was sacramentally anticipated at the Last Supper. The one who presides is now called a ‘priest’, of which the Latin translation is sacerdos, the equivalent of hiereus. But it is the bishop who is now regarded as having the fullness of priest-hood. These developments took place in the Church over the course of the centuries.
In today’s reading, Paul gives Timothy a detailed character-sketch of what the presiding elder and the deacon should be. Many, but not all, of the requirements are just as valid today.
Regarding the ‘bishop’ or presiding elder, Paul says that to desire to fill this role is a noble thing and that is why he (it was always a man) had to be of impeccable character. He lists the desired qualifications as follows:
– He was to be the husband of one wife.
This was to preclude any violation of God’s marriage law, whether through polygamy or marital unfaithfulness. As the elders were, by definition, chosen from the older men of the community, Paul assumed they already would be married and have children. An otherwise qualified unmarried man was not necessarily barred. It is also improbable that the standard forbade an elder to remarry if his wife died. The most likely meaning is simply that a faithful monogamous married life must be maintained.
– Temperate, discreet and courteous
– Hospitable
– A good teacher
– Not a heavy drinker
– Not hot-tempered
– Gentle and peaceable
– Not avaricious
– Someone who manages his own household well
– Brings up his children to obey him and be well-behaved
How can someone who can’t manage his own family expect to be able to take care of the church community? [An argument for married bishops and priests today?!]
– Not a new convert
In case such early promotion go to his head and “he incur the same condemnation as the devil”.
– Held in good repute by outsiders (non-Christians) so that he never earns a bad
reputation among them.
It is, even by today’s standards, quite a demanding list of qualities and one that many bishops and priests might find it hard to meet.
Next comes the ‘deacon’ (diakonos, ). The word ‘deacon’ refers to someone who serves the community and in general is seen on a lower level than the elder. Authority and ministry in the community is always seen in terms of service rather than control. Jesus himself had said he came to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:45). ‘Minister/ministry’, from the Latin minister/ministerium means one who serves and is the equivalent of the Greek diakonos/diakonia.
The men chosen in Acts 6:1-6 were probably not only the first deacons mentioned in the New Testament but also the first to be appointed in the church. Generally, their service was meant to free the leaders to give full attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2,4).
As a person with responsibility in the community, the deacon (diakonos), too, has to meet certain standards. Paul lists them as follows:
– Respectable
– Not double-tongued, straightforward
– Moderate in his drinking habits
– No squalid greed for money
– Holds fast to the divinely revealed faith
– Is to be subjected to a period of probation and only admitted as deacon, if there is nothing against him.
Women are mentioned at this point but it is not clear whether Paul is referring to women deacons, as some would hold, or only speaking about the deacon’s wife. Paul in his Letter to the Romans writes: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deaconess of the church of Cenchreae” (Rom 16:1). However, it is disputed also what exactly her status was.
In any case, these women, deaconesses or deacons’ wives, are to be
– Respectable
– Not slanderous gossips
– Sober and entirely dependable
Returning to the deacon, he is to be, like the ‘bishop’
– A husband of one wife
– Able to manage his children and household well.
Finally, says Paul, those who carry out their role as deacons well will earn a high standing in the community and be an authoritative voice in matters concerning faith in Christ Jesus.
In more recent times, and especially since the Second Vatican Council, the concept of ministry has been broadened in our Church. It had become largely confined to the bishop and the priest. Now the order of deacon has been enhanced and now also includes married deacons. And there does not seem to be any intrinsic objection why women could not also be deacons but some might see it as the thin end of the wedge leading to women priests.
In addition, other ministries have been introduced on a non-clerical level, such as Scripture readers and ministers of the Eucharist. Paul speaks of a wide range of ministries by which people could actively contribute to the life and work of the community and this vision is being restored.
It is for every Christian and every parishioner to ask themselves how they can actively and constructively contribute to the service of their community or parish. This is what gives life to a parish and draws people into it.
And we need to pray and work for enlightened and practical solutions to the critical shortage of pastoral leadership in so many parts of the Church today.
 

*cf. NIV Study Bible for chart listing different qualifications for elders/overseers and deacons
 

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