Before we look at two specific passages here is a summary of what others have said regarding this qualification of teaching.
When commenting on Titus 1:9 –
Origen: Against Celsus 3:48
When Paul describes the character of those who are called bishops and portrays what sort of a man a bishop ought to be, he instructs that he should be a teacher. He must be “able also to refute adversaries,” that by his wisdom he may restrain those who speak vainly and deceive souls. He prefers for the episcopate…one who should be a teacher and capable of “refuting adversaries.”
Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 4:8
“For the bishop,” he says, “must hold to the faithful work which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to convict even the gainsayers.” How, then, if he is inexperienced at speaking, as they say, will he be able to convict objectors and to stop their mouths? If it is permissible to welcome such inexperience in the episcopacy, then why should any church leader bothers to read books and study Scriptures? This is all just a pretense and excuse and a pretext for carelessness and indolence.
Chrysostom: Homilies on Titus 2
There is need not of pomp of words but of strong minds, of skill in the Scriptures and of powerful thoughts. Do you not see that Paul put to flight the whole world, that he was more powerful that Plato and all the rest?
Jerome Letters 53:3
To Titus he gives commandment that among a bishop’s other virtues [which he briefly describes] he should be careful to seek a knowledge of the Scriptures. A bishop, he says, must hold fast “the faithful word as he has been taught that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” In fact, want of education in a clergyman prevents him from doing good to any one but himself. Even if the virtue of his life may build up Christ’s church, he does it an injury as a great by failing to resist those who are trying to pull it down.
Augustine Christian Doctrine 4:16-33
If anyone says, however, that if teachers are made learned by the Holy Spirit then they do not need to be taught by educators what they should say or how they should say it, he should also say that we should not pray because the Lord says, “for your Father knows what is needful for you, before you ask him.” With such a false premise one might argue that the apostle Paul should not have told Timothy and Titus what or how they should teach others. One upon whom is imposed the personage of a teacher in the church should have these three apostolic epistles before his eyes. Do we not read in the first epistle to Timothy…and the second epistle is it not said…again, does he not say to Titus that a bishop should persevere in “that faithful word which is according to doctrine, that he may be able to exhort sound doctrine and to convince the gainsayers.
John Calvin Commentary on Timothy, Titus, Philemon
1 Timothy 3:2 => Able to teach. In the epistle to Titus, doctrine is expressly mentioned; here he only speaks briefly about skill in communicating instruction. It is not enough to have profound learning, if it be not accompanied by talent for teaching. There are many who, either because their utterance is defective, or because they have not good mental abilities, or because they do not employ that familiar language which is adapted to the common people, keep within their own minds the knowledge which they possess. Such persons, as the phrase is, ought to Sing to themselves and to the muses. 10 They who have the charge of governing the people, ought to be qualified for teaching. And here he does not demand volubility of tongue, for we see many persons whose fluent talk is not fitted for edification; but he rather commends wisdom in applying the word of God judiciously to the advantage of the people.
It is worth while to consider how the Papists hold that the injunctions which the apostle gives do not at all belong to them. I shall not enter into a minute explanation of all the details; but on this one point what sort of diligence do they observe? And, indeed, that gift would be superfluous; for they banish from themselves the ministry of teaching as low and groveling, although this belonged especially to a bishop. But everybody knows how far it is from observing Paul’s rule, to assume the title of bishop, and boast proudly of enacting a character without speaking, provided only that they make their appearance in a theatrical dress. As if a horned mitre, a ring richly set in jewels, or a silver cross, and other trifles, accompanied by idle display, constituted the spiritual government of a church, which can no more be separated from doctrine than any one of us can be separated from his own soul.
Titus 1:9 => Holding fast the faithful word. This is the chief gift in a bishop, who is elected principally for the sake of teaching; for the Church cannot be governed in any other way than by the word. “The faithful word” is the appellation which he gives to that doctrine which is pure, and which has proceeded from the mouth of God. He wishes that a bishop should hold it fast, so as not only to be well instructed in it, but to be constant in maintaining it. There are some fickle persons who easily suffer themselves to be carried away to various kinds of doctrine; while others are cast down by fear, or moved by any occurrence to forsake the defense of the truth. Paul therefore enjoins that those persons shall be chosen who, having cordially embraced the truth of God, and holding it firmly, never allow it to be wrested from them, or can be torn from it. And, indeed, nothing is more dangerous than that fickleness of which I have spoken, when a pastor does not stedfastly adhere to that doctrine of which he ought to be the unshaken defender. In short, in a pastor there is demanded not only learning, but such zeal for pure doctrine as never to depart from it.
But what is meant by according to instruction or doctrine?3 The meaning is, that it is useful for the edification of the Church; for Paul is not wont to give the name of “doctrine” to anything that is learned and known without promoting any advancement of godliness; but, on the contrary, he condemns as vain and unprofitable all the speculations which yield no advantage, however ingenious they may be in other respects. Thus, “He that teacheth, let him do it in doctrine;” that is, let him labor to do good to the hearers. (Romans 12:7.) In short, the first thing required in a pastor is, that he be well instructed in the knowledge of sound doctrine; the second is, that, with unwavering firmness of courage, he hold by the confession of it to the last; and the third is, that he make his manner of teaching tend to edification, and do not, through motives of ambition, fly about through the subtleties of frivolous curiosity, but seek only the solid advantage of the Church.
That he may be able. The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both; for he who is deeply skilled in it will be able both to govern those who are teachable, and to refute the enemies of the truth. This twofold use of Scripture Paul describes when he says, That he may be able to exhort and to convince adversaries. And hence let us learn, first, what is the true knowledge of a bishop, and, next, to what purpose it ought to be applied. That bishop is truly wise, who holds the right faith; and he makes a proper use of his knowledge, when he applies it to the edification of the people.
This is remarkable applause bestowed on the word of God, when it is pronounced to be sufficient, not only for governing the teachable, but for subduing the obstinacy of enemies. And, indeed, the power of truth revealed by the Lord is such that it easily vanquishes all falsehoods. Let the Popish bishops now go and boast of being the successors of the apostles, seeing that the greater part of them are so ignorant of all doctrine, as to reckon ignorance to be no small part of their dignity.
Philip H. Towner 1-2 Timothy & Titus – The IVP New Testament Commentary Series
1 Timothy 3:2 => “Able to teach” relates more directly to the ministry connected with the overseer. In the present context of heresy, this qualification would necessarily include teaching and preaching (5:17, 2 Tim 2:1) and refuting the heresy (2 Tim 2:24; Tit 1:9). Pg. 86.
Titus 1:9 => “Verse 9 takes the qualifications for leadership into the area of ministry (compare 1Tim 3:2). With the false teaching in mind, Paul instructs Titus to ensure that the leaders he chooses are committed to the approved doctrine of the church (1 Tim 3:9)….
There are two purposes (so that) for this commitment. First, only the adherence to the “sound docrine” will enable the leader to fullfil the ministry of encouraging and exhorting (that is producing “healthy”) believers. Second, it is only by means of correct doctrine that the leader can successfully refute opponents.
Thomas D. Lea & Hayne P Griffin, Jr. 1, 2 Timothy Titus – The New American Commentary
1 Timothy 3:2 => The appeal to be “able to teach” demands competence and skill in communicating Christian truth. The trait requires intellectual and didactic ability. One who can teach others needs also a willingness to accept teaching. The presence of this requirement shows that an overseer needed the ability both to explain Christian doctrine and to refute or oppose error. He would use this skill in giving instruction to converts, building up the church, and in correcting error.
Titus 1:9 => That “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught” constitutes the basis of the elder’s doctrinal function as a teacher and apologist of the gospel. The gospel is referred to as “the trustworthy message” (tou … pistou logou, “the faithful word”).30 The NIV rendering, “as it has been taught,” inadequately expresses the phrase kata tēn didachēn (lit. “according to the teaching”). The message is “trustworthy” precisely because it is according to, in harmony with, and in conformity to “the teaching” (author’s translation). This use of the noun “teaching” with the definite article suggests that Christian doctrine was beginning to be formed into some type of recognized, orthodox propositions, perhaps even written.31 The elder “must hold firmly” to orthodox biblical teaching. However, maintaining correct beliefs or doctrines is not enough. Two basic functions of the elder’s role in the church emanate from his own personal devotion to the truth of God’s Word. Paul expressed this clearly with “so that” (hina) followed by two infinitives: “so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (author’s emphasis). The first function, to encourage, is expressed by the Greek infinitive parakalein. This Greek term is widely used throughout the New Testament and displays a wealth of meanings within a variety of contexts.32 Used here, within the context of the elder’s function toward believers, “to encourage others by sound doctrine” indicates comfort and edification in “the trustworthy message.” This is especially true in light of the false teachers and the false teaching Paul would address in vv. 10–16.
The most prominent false teaching Paul encountered and vigorously opposed throughout his ministry was false teaching that promoted a works righteousness in addition to “the righteousness which comes by faith.” This false teaching, promoted by Jewish converts to Christianity (known as “Judaizers,” or the “circumcision,” cf. Eph 2:11) is referred to in Acts and the New Testament epistles. The severity of this false teaching resulted in the repudiation of the Jewish rite of circumcision as a necessary condition for Christian conversion at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. The resulting instructions contained in Acts 15:28–29, however, appear to have left some opportunity for interpreting dietary regulations (clean and unclean) as either conditional for salvation or representative of acceptable Christian behavior. Paul absolutely and vehemently opposed any attempt to connect Christian conversion with human effort. From his knowledge of the apostolic “teaching” (i.e., the “trustworthy message”), the elder is to “encourage” the believers with “sound doctrine,” i.e., in teaching that is not tainted with error.33 This function of the elder necessarily requires that he be a “student of the Word,” willing to learn and willing to communicate his learning.
The second doctrinal function of the elder is that he “refute those who oppose it” (i.e., “the trustworthy message”). The Greek verb employed here, elegchein, suggests an educative dimension in confronting false teachers who contradict the gospel message. The goal of the refutation of false teaching is not to destroy the opponent but rather to restore him to “sound doctrine.” This necessarily implies that the false teaching to which Paul referred was coming from within the church, i.e., from those who professed Christian faith. Such a situation would also require that the elder be courageous in his willingness to confront a so-called Christian brother.
William Barclay The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon
1 Timothy 3:2 => The Christian leader must be possessed of an aptitude for teaching (didaktikos). It has been said that his duty is “to preach to the unconverted and to teach the converted.” There are two things to be said about this. It is one of the disasters of modern times that the teaching ministry of the Church is not being exercised as it should. There is any amount of topical preaching and any amount of exhortation; but there is little use in exhorting a man to be a Christian when he does not know what being a Christian means. Instruction is a primary duty of the Christian preacher and leader. The second thing is this. The finest and the most effective teaching is done not by speaking but by being. Even the man with no gift of words can teach, by living in such a way that in him men see the reflection of the Master. A saint has been defined as someone “in whom Christ lives again.”
Titus 1:9 => Finally, there comes a description of the qualities of the Christian office-bearer within the Church.
He must be able to encourage the members of the Church. The navy has a rule which says that no officer shall speak discouragingly to any other officer in the performance of his duties. There is always something wrong with preaching or teaching whose effect is to discourage others. The function of the true Christian preacher and teacher is not to drive a man to despair, but to lift him up to hope.
He must be able to convict the opponents of the faith. The Greek is elegchein and is a most meaningful word. It means to rebuke a man in such a way that he is compelled to admit the error of his ways. Trench says that it means “to rebuke another, with such an effectual wielding of the victorious arms of the truth, as to bring him, if not always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction, of his sin.” Demosthenes said that it describes the situation in which a man unanswerably demonstrates the truth of the things that he has said. Aristotle said that it means to prove that things cannot be otherwise than as we have stated them. Christian rebuke means far more than flinging angry and condemning words at a man. It means speaking in such a way that he sees the error of his ways and accepts the truth.
John MacArthur The MacArthur Study Bible
1 Timothy 3:2 => “able to teach”. Used only here and in 2 Tim 2:24. The only qualification relating to an elder’s giftedness and spiritual ability, and the only one that distinguishes elders from deacons. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word is the overseer/pastor/elder’s primary duty.
Titus 1:9 => Sound biblical doctrine not only should be taught but also adhered to with deep conviction. The faithful teaching and defending of Scripture which encourages godliness and confronts sin and error.
R. C. Sproul The Reformation Study Bible
Titus 1:9 => AS in his letters to Timothy, Paul is concerned with the transmission of and commitment to sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel. Two tasks of the elder that are especially relevant in view of false teachers on Crete are teaching sound doctrine and refuting that which is false.
Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, vol. 34, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, electronic ed., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1992), 111.
30 Although this phrase is similar to the formula expression “πιστὸς ὁ λόγος, ” which is unique to the Pastoral Epistles, it should not be interpreted as such in this passage. Here “πιστοῦ λόγου” refers to the whole gospel message, whereas the phrase “πιστὸς ὁ λόγος” refers to a specific statement or statements. Cf. 1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8. For an extended study on πιστὸς ὁ λόγος, see G. W. Knight III, The Faithful Sayings in the Pastoral Letters (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979).
31 Kelly, Pastoral Epistles, 233, states: “It is also noticeable that the primitive kerygma is already beginning to take shape as a fixed body of orthodox doctrine. (See notes on 1 Tim vi. 20; 2 Tim i. 13f.; ii.2).” Guthrie (186), referring to “teaching,” states, “It may possibly refer to some written records.” C. H. Dodd (According to the Scriptures [London: Fontana, 1965], 126) demonstrates that use of certain OT passages throughout the NT documents may indicate the formation of a body of teaching. Dodd concludes: “The evidence suggests that at a very early date a certain method of biblical study was established and became part of the equipment of Christian evangelists and teachers. This method was largely employed orally, and found literary expression only sporadically and incompletely, but it is presupposed in our earliest sources.”
32 O. Schmitz, TDNT 5:793–99. In Acts and the Pauline Epistles, παρακαλέω is especially linked with the message of the gospel. It can have an evangelistic nuance of “invitation” when used in reference to an invitation to salvation for unbelievers (e.g., Acts 2:40; 13:15), or it can be used in the context of believers (e.g., Heb 13:22) with the nuance of encouraging, comforting, and edifying believers by biblical teaching.
The Pastorals express preference for the term διδασκαλία (“teaching”). Of twenty-one NT occurrences, it is employed fifteen times in the Pastorals and four times in Titus (1:9; 2:1, 7, 10). The term may refer to a written body of doctrine or oral teaching, but its usage appears to imply definite, known propositions or tenets of Christian faith. K. H. Rengstorf, TDNT 2:162, points out that the term can denote the essential difference between Christian proclamation and the various movements that threaten the community.
On “sound doctrine,” U. Luck, TDNT 8:312, observes: “To be avoided is the mistake of thinking that the reference is to the teaching which makes whole, whose goal is the health of the soul. Sound doctrine is true and correct teaching in contrast to perverted doctrine.” See further A. J. Malherbe, “Medical Imagery in the Pastoral Epistles,” Texts and Testaments, Critical Essays on the Bible and Early Church Fathers, ed. W. E. March (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1980), 19–35.
Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, vol. 34, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, electronic ed., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1992), 285.
The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), 82.
The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), 239.