“Able to teach” – what is necessary for this qualification?

16 May

1 Timothy 3:2

NKJ A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;

BNT δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι, μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, νηφάλιον σώφρονα κόσμιον φιλόξενον διδακτικόν,

I am finding this qualification difficult to clearly define. What does it mean that this man must be “able to teach?”

The first thing we do is look at the word used by Paul here: διδακτικόν. Unfortunately this isn’t going to completely answer our questions…

According to BDAG διδακτικός means “skillful in teaching.”[1] This word is only used one other time in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 2:24.

NKJ And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,

BNT δοῦλον δὲ κυρίου οὐ δεῖ μάχεσθαι ἀλλὰ ἤπιον εἶναι πρὸς πάντας, διδακτικόν, ἀνεξίκακον,

TDNT simply states, “Outside the NT, this term occurs only in Philo with reference to the learning of Abraham. In 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24 it is one of the requirements in a bishop. At a time when false teachers are arising, they must be ‘able to teach.’”[2]

The Philo references are in Cng 1:35; Mut 1:83, 88, 255; Pep 1:27.[3]

So after all of that, all we know is the word means “able” or “skillful in teaching.” But what does that mean?

In his excellent article Defining Elders, D.A. Carson states:

The entry “able to teach” we’ll come back to for more probing consideration, but here we may at least say that the criterion presupposes knowledge of the truth and of God, and the ability to communicate such truth. Occasionally you’ll find people who are wonderful communicators, but they don’t have much to communicate. Alternately, you find some people who have massive knowledge, but just cannot get it across to anybody. In both cases, they’re ruled out of this office. Ability to teach presupposes knowledge of the Scriptures and of the God of the Scriptures, and the ability to communicate such knowledge.

There are some, based on 1 Timothy 5:17, who claim that not all elders must teach.

1 Timothy 5:17

NKJ Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

BNT Οἱ καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι διπλῆς τιμῆς ἀξιούσθωσαν, μάλιστα οἱ κοπιῶντες ἐν λόγῳ καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ.

Those who hold this position have developed two levels of elders within the church: those who rule and those who teach. Again Carson addresses this much better than I could:

First, there are some people who argue that there are two orders of elders in the New Testament, those whose task is primarily administration, and those whose task is primarily teaching. That distinction is based entirely on one verse, 1 Timothy 5:17, which says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” So some have argued that there are two tiers of elders, namely those who direct the affairs of the church, and then another group, the “especially” group, who add to this the gift of teaching. My hesitations in this regard are twofold.

Number one, this is the only text in the New Testament which might be taken to support that view, and I am reluctant to impose on the conscience of the church something which on the face of it is said only once – not because something has to be said many times for it to be true, but because something has to be said more than once for me to be sure I understand it properly. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15, there’s a reference to those who were baptized for the dead. Now the Mormons think they know what that means, but I’m not sure I do. In fact, in the history of the church, there have been about forty different interpretations of what that phrase means. The multiplicity of interpretations stems from several things: the phrase only shows up once (so there are no parallels to help us out), there is more than one syntactical possibility, and in any case the expression itself is slightly obscure. I think I can narrow the options down to three, but even if I ventured a guess as to which one is correct, there is no way I have the right to impose my conclusion on the conscience of the church. So also with respect to 1 Timothy 5:17: the fact that the relevant expression shows up only once makes me reluctant to infer an entire ecclesiastical structure from this one text. Number two, the word rendered “especially” in this verse does not refer to a separate category of elders so much as it accentuates what all the elders must do: “those who direct the work of the church, indeed these who teach or preach the Word of God” – something like that. You see, in the New Testament, the authority that rules the church is not primarily an authority of independent office; it’s an authority that is ministered through the Word. I cannot stress that enough. We do not obey pastors/elders/overseers because they are pastors/elders/overseers, because they’ve got the job and therefore they’re “up,” we’re “down” – they’re the administrators so we obey them; and then also there are people that teach. That is not the idea.

The idea is that the authority they wield in ministry is precisely the authority of ministering the Word of God. That is why if they claim to be teaching the Word of God, yet are transparently lending their support to false teaching, you have every right to challenge them, because they are not to put themselves over the Word of God: they are under the Word of God. But if they are genuinely teaching the Word, then of course devout Christians will see that the real authority lies in the Word, in the Lord of the Word, even if in due course such elders accrue to themselves an enormous amount of credibility and a functional authority, because they are seen to be faithful teachers of the Word of God. Thus, the administration of authority in the church is not so much bound up with office, or merely manipulation of administrative leaders, although in any large organization there are various needs for and kinds of administration. Rather, the fount of authority is the Word. And out of this framework come teachers who explain that Word well and apply it well, so that believers say, “Yes, this is the mind of God.”

Not only do I agree with Carson I would add that the passage (1 Timothy 3:2) seems to be clear in, at least this much – not every elder must be currently involved in an ongoing teaching role, but every elder must “be able to teach.”

Our question still is, “what does ‘be able to teach’ mean?”

The verb for “teach” (διδάσκω) is used five times in the Pastoral Epistles:

1 Tim. 2:12 => Women are not allowed to teach in positions of authority within the church over men.

1 Tim. 4:11; 6:2 => Paul commands Timothy to teach.

2 Tim. 2:2 => Paul instructs Timothy that one of his primary responsibilities is to take what Paul taught him, teach it to others who will be able to teach others.

Tit. 1:11 => Paul instructs Titus on the danger of false teachers.

The noun διδασκαλία is used 15 times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:1, 3; 2 Tim. 3:10, 16; 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1, 7, 10). In most of the occurrences Paul is making an important point emphasizing sound doctrine/teaching and pointing out the danger of false doctrine/teaching.

Needless to say sound doctrine and teaching is extremely critical in the Pastoral Epistles. It was critical for Timothy and Titus themselves and for their responsibility in recognizing and appointing Elders.

Of these 15 passages there are two I want to look at more closely. Two, which I think will help us understand more what it means to “be able to teach.”

1 Timothy 4:13 – 16 & Titus 1:9 – 2:1

[1] Fredrick William Danker. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature 3rd ed. Electronic edition from BibleWorks 7.0.

[2] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey W. Bromley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged). Electronic edition from BibleWorks 7.0.

[3] Peder Borgen, Kåre Fuglseth and Roald Skarsten, att. Kåre Fuglseth, Institute of Education and Culture, School of Professional Studies. The Philo Concordance Database. BibleWorks 7.0.

1 Comment

Posted by on 16/05/2006 in exegesis, Ministry


One response to ““Able to teach” – what is necessary for this qualification?

  1. Don Bixby

    16/05/2006 at 2:14 pm

    Joe,Since this passage is intricately ordered, including the imbedded chiasm, perhaps the corresponding term (and the nature of its correspondence) would lend some exegetical light to your question. I am at work and don’t have my notes available, but I think the qualification “manages his own family well” is the one that corresponds to “able to teach.” If you have time, take a look at it. Might bear some fruit.


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