Art Toombs Ministries 

Online Bible Commentary

                                          Qualifications of a Pastor 

1Timothy 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap. (NIV)


Paul continues in this passage to confront the false teachers that have infiltrated the early churches, especially the house churches in Ephesus. He continues with instructions for prayer and worship, just as he had done previously when addressing the roles for both men and women in worship. These instructions, in many ways, follow the instructions for Christian living addressed throughout the Bible. Proper interpretation of any verse depends on its context in the passage, in the book of the Bible, and in the teachings of the Bible on the whole. 

This passage begins with the second of five “trustworthy sayings” found in the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). A trustworthy saying is emphasized by Paul to call attention to its special significance. It states that being an “overseer” is a noble task. It is a work of honor for he “who sets his heart” on it through the calling of the Lord (v.1). 

Paul writes that they must be “above reproach” (v.2a) regarding their integrity. This is a summarization of the specific qualifications that follow. The word translated “overseer” is the Greek word “episkope” which means “a place of leadership”. In this case, Paul is referring to those “elders” who lead the house churches, some of whom have resorted to false teaching. But these are qualifications for pastors and others who would lead, or shepherd a flock. 

The first qualification is that the overseer must be “the husband of but one wife” (v.2b). Paul was not married, and likely also young Timothy. So this statement does not mean that the overseer must be married. Also, since divorce is allowed in the Bible in the event of infidelity, it does not mean that the overseer must not be divorced, if the divorce was the result of his wife’s infidelity. It means that the overseer must be a man, a reference to the previous passage, and that he should only have one wife if he is married. 

The next group of qualifications is that the overseer must be “temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable” (v. 2c). This has to do with the overall disposition of the overseer. He must not be one prone to temper tantrums, or any other lack of self control. He should be well respected and friendly. The word “temperate” does not have to do with alcohol intake, as that is addressed later in the sentence. He should also be able to “teach” some (v. 2d), although likely his dominant spiritual gift is that of a pastor, or shepherd. 

Paul continues on the required demeanor of the overseer. If he drinks, he must not drink to excess (v. 3a), a general teaching of the Bible. He must be gentle, not “violent” or “quarrelsome” (v. 3b). He must not be a “lover of money” (v.3c. His goal should be to follow Christ, not the ways of the world.

Since the overseer must be able to manage his flock, he must first be able to manage those under his care at home (vv. 4-5). The phrase translated “must manage his own family well” (v. 4a) in the literal Greek is “the own house well ruling”. Also, the phrase translated “if anyone does not know how to manage his own family” (vv.5a) in the literal Greek is “if but anyone the own house to rule not knows”. The meaning of verses four and five is that he must “rule” over or manage only those family members under his own roof, under his own control. Therefore, his children, who are living in his house, must be respectable and obedient (v. 4b). This managing of his home would qualify the overseer for managing those in the house church. Most often the site of the house church was the home of the overseer.

The overseer must not be a recent convert, who more often falls into pride and false teaching (v.6). Finally, he must have a good reputation outside the church, so as not to bring disgrace upon the church through his public sins (v. 7).

In this commentary I have endeavored to stay to the truth of the Bible, without adding or embellishing. I am not a pastor. I am a retired pastor, and chaplain, and a current Bible teacher. I have no ax to grind. Those who disagree with this interpretation may interpret this passage differently. They also may incorporate other Biblical verses as part of their interpretation, which may or may not be pertinent. Even those verses must be examined and interpreted within their own context, and the Bible as a whole. I agree that pastors should be held to a higher standard than other Christians. But I wonder if we sometimes attempt to hold them to a higher standard than does Christ. This is my opinion, which is why these entries are called  commentaries.