1 Timothy 5 Commentary

vv. 1-2 “The same word is used here for older man as is used later on of the church officials called ‘elders’.  But Paul’s advice here concerns older members of the congregation.  The verb rebuke harshly (epiplesso) is a strong one meaning ‘censure severely’ and those advanced in years should be spared such treatment.  If correction is necessary Timothy is to exhort, a less rigorous approach than harsh rebuke.  The same applies to the older women, who are to be regarded in their role as mothers.  Towards the younger members there must be true fraternity, but a special phrase, with absolute purity, is added to safeguard Timothy’s relations with the younger women.”[1]

v. 8 “Paul specifies in verse 8 that family members must care for their own or else they will be considered worst than unbelievers, and verse 4 makes it clear that those family members most responsible are the widow’s children.  The religious dimension is also underscored by the conclusion of verse 4, that ‘this is pleasing to God.’”[2]

vv. 9-16 “Apparently some older widows had been ‘put on the list of widows,’ meaning that they had taken a vow committing themselves to work for the church in exchange for financial support.  Paul lists a few qualifications for these church workers – these widows should be at least 60 years old, should have been faithful to their husbands, and should be well known for their kind deeds. Younger widows should not be included in this group because they might desire to marry again and thus have to break their pledge (1 Tim. 5:11-12).”[3]

v. 9Why not help widows under sixty? Paul was dealing with two issues: widows in need and widows being intellectually seduced by false teaching.  […] He felt that they would be overwhelmed by their feelings and want to marry (v. 11) and that their idleness would make them more vulnerable spiritually (v. 13).  In addition, younger widows could, for the most part, take care of themselves better than older widows.  Sixty was probably an arbitrary number – an organizational necessity.”[4]

vv. 9-10 “Such widows were not ordained as the elders and the bishops were; they were set apart by prayer for the work which they had to do.  They were not to be set apart until they were over sixty years of age.  That was an age which the ancient world also considered to be spiritually suited for concentration on the spiritual life.”[5]

vv. 11-16 “It is not that younger widows are condemned for marrying again.  What is condemned is this.  A young husband dies; and the widow, in the first bitterness of sorrow and on the impulse of the moment, decides to remain a widow all her life and to dedicate her life to the Church; but later she changes her mind and remarries.  That woman is regarded as having taken Christ as her bridegroom.  So that by marrying again she is regarded as breaking her marriage vow to Christ [sic].  She would have been better never to have taken the vow.”[6]

v. 17 “All elders were to exercise leadership (3:4-5) and to teach and preach (3:2), and all were to receive honor.  But those who excelled in leadership were to be counted worthy of double honor.  This was especially true of those who labored at teaching and preaching. (The Greek word translated ‘work’ refers to toil.)  That such honor should include financial support is indicated by the two illustrations in v. 18.”[7]

vv. 19-22 Why make a special case for elders accused of sin? Paul recognized that those who assume ministry responsibilities open themselves up to unwarranted attacks.  The false teachers themselves may have led the way in accusing the faithful elders of the church.  So Paul reminded Timothy that rumor and innuendo about those in charge were to be dismissed if the stories could not be substantiated by another witness or two [sic].”[8] Indeed, two or three witnesses are to be required not only before an accusation is sustained, but before it is entertained at all.”[9]

v. 21-22 “In the early Church it was the custom to lay hands on a penitent sinner who had given proof of his repentance and had returned to the fold of the Church.  It is laid down: ‘As each sinner repents, and shows the fruits of repentance, lay hands on him, while all pray for him.’  […]  If that be the meaning here, it will be a warning to Timothy not to be too quick to receive back the man who has brought disgrace on the Church; to wait until he has shown that his penitence is genuine, and that he is truly determined to mould his life to fit his penitent professions.  That is not for a moment to say that such a man is to be held at arms’ length and treated with suspicion; he has to be treated with all sympathy and with all help and guidance in his period of probation.  But it is to say that membership of the Church is never to be treated lightly, and that a man must show his penitence for the past and his determination for the future, before he is received, not into the fellowship of the Church, but into its membership.  The fellowship of the Church exists to help such people redeem themselves, but its membership is for those who have truly pledged their lives to Christ.”[10]

v. 23 “[…] Perhaps contaminated water had led to Timothy’s indigestion and so he should stop drinking only water. Whatever the reason, this statement is not an invitation to overindulgence or alcoholism.”[11]

“Apparently for medicinal purposes, Timothy is told not to restrict himself to drinking water but to ‘use a little wine because of your stomach [Greek stomachon] and your frequent illnesses.’ The word for wine (oinos) is sometimes used in LXX for ‘must,’ or unfermented grape juice (Thayer, p. 442). Furthermore, it is generally agreed that the wine of Jesus’ day was usually rather weak and, especially among the Jews, often diluted with water. Moreover, safe drinking water was not always readily available in those eastern countries.”[12]

vv. 24-25 How are sins and good deeds revealed? Sometimes they are obvious; sometimes it takes time to see them.  The elders at Ephesus who were false teachers had hidden sins that would later become evident.  So Paul recommended caution – careful ‘background checks’ on those being considered for leadership positions.  The most damaging spiritual sins (such as pride and greed) are often the most difficult to detect.  In many cases such sins are literally masked as hard work and diligence.”[13]


[1] Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 1990) 112.

[2] Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999) 178.

[3] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (co-published by Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991) 2193.

[4] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1984) 1645.

[5] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975) 109.

[6] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975) 114.

[7] The NIV Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985) 1841.

[8] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1984) 1645.

[9]John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1996) 138.

[10] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975) 118.

[11] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (co-published by Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991) 2194.

[12] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for 1 Timothy

[13] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1984) 1646.

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