This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. This is a true saying - Πιστος ὁ λογος· This is a true doctrine. These words are joined to the last verse of the preceding chapter by several of the Greek fathers, and by them referred to the doctrine there stated.
The office of a bishop - Επισκοπης· The episcopacy, overseership or superintendency. The word ορεγεται, which we translate desire, signifies earnest, eager, passionate desire; and επιθυμει, which we translate desire, also signifies earnestly to desire or covet. It is strange that the episcopacy, in those times, should have been an object of intense desire to any man; when it was a place of danger, awl exposure to severe labor, want, persecution, and death, without any secular emolument whatsoever. On this ground I am led to think that the Spirit of God designed these words more for the ages that were to come, than for those which were then; and in reference to after ages the whole of what follows is chiefly to be understood.
A good work - A work it then was; heavy, incessant, and painful. There were no unpreaching prelates in those days, and should be none now. Episcopacy in the Church of God is of Divine appointment, and should be maintained and respected. Under God, there should be supreme governors in the Church as well as in the state. The state has its monarch, the Church has its bishop; one should govern according to the laws of the land, the other according to the word of God.
What a constitutional king should be, the principles of the constitution declare; what a bishop should be, the following verses particularly show.
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; A bishop then must be blameless - Our term bishop comes from the Anglo-Saxon, which is a mere corruption of the Greek επισκοπος, and the Latin episcopus; the former being compounded of επι, over, and σκεπτομαι, to look or inspect, signifies one who has the inspection or oversight of a place, persons, or business; what we commonly term a superintendent. The New Testament writers have borrowed the term from the Septuagint, it being the word by which they translate the פקיד pakid of the Hebrew text, which signifies a visiter, one that personally inspects the people or business over which he presides. It is given by St. Paul to the elders at Ephesus, who had the oversight of Christ's flock, Acts 20:28; and to such like persons in other places, Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2, the place in question; and Titus 1:7.
Let us consider the qualifications of a Christian bishop, and then we shall soon discover who is fit for the office.
First - is Christian bishop must be blameless; ανεπιληπτον, a person against whom no evil can be proved; one who is everywhere invulnerable; for the word is a metaphor, taken from the case of an expert and skillful pugilist, who so defends every part of his body that it is impossible for his antagonist to give one hit. So this Christian bishop is one that has so conducted himself, as to put it out of the reach of any person to prove that he is either unsound in a single article of the Christian faith, or deficient in the fulfillment of any duty incumbent on a Christian. He must be irreprehensible; for how can he reprove that in others which they can reprove in him?
Second - must be the husband of one wife. He should be a married man, but he should be no polygamist; and have only one wife, i.e. one at a time. It does not mean that, if he has been married, and his wife die, he should never marry another. Some have most foolishly spiritualized this, and say, that by one wife the Church is intended! This silly quibbling needs no refutation. The apostle's meaning appears to be this: that he should not be a man who has divorced his wife and married another; nor one that has two wives at a time. It does not appear to have been any part of the apostle's design to prohibit second marriages, of which some have made such a serious business. But it is natural for some men to tithe mint and cummin in religion, while they neglect the weightier matters of the law.
Third - must be vigilant; νηφαλεον, from νη, not and πιω, to drink. Watchful; for as one who drinks is apt to sleep, so he who abstains from it is more likely to keep awake, and attend to his work and charge. A bishop has to watch over the Church, and watch for it; and this will require all his care and circumspection. Instead of νηφαλεον, many MSS. read νηφαλιον· this may be the better orthography, but makes no alteration in the sense.
Fourth - must be sober; σωφρονα, prudent or, according to the etymology of the word, from σως, sound, and φρην, mind, a man of a sound mind; having a good understanding, and the complete government of all his passions. A bishop should be a man of learning, of an extensive and well cultivated mind, dispassionate, prudent, and sedate.
Fifth - must be of good behavior; κοσμιον, orderly, decent, grave, and correct in the whole of his appearance, carriage, and conduct. The preceding term, σωφρονα, refers to the mind; this latter, κοσμιον, to the external manners. A clownish, rude, or boorish man should never have the rule of the Church of God; the sour, the sullen, and the boisterous should never be invested with a dignity which they would most infallibly disgrace.
Sixth - must be given to hospitality; φιλοξενον, literally, a lover of strangers; one who is ready to receive into his house and relieve every necessitous stranger. Hospitality, in those primitive times, was a great and necessary virtue; then there were few inns, or places of public entertainment; to those who were noted for benevolence the necessitous stranger had recourse. A Christian bishop, professing love to God and all mankind, preaching a religion, one half of the morality of which was included in, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, would naturally be sought to by those who were in distress and destitute of friends. To enable them to entertain such, the Church over which they presided must have furnished them with the means. Such a bishop as St. Paul, who was often obliged to labor with his hands for his own support, could have little to give away. But there is a considerable difference between an apostolical bishop and an ecclesiastical bishop: the one was generally itinerant, the other comparatively local; the former had neither house nor home, the latter had both; the apostolical bishop had charge of the Church of Christ universally, the ecclesiastical bishop of the Churches in a particular district. Such should be addicted to hospitality, or works of charity; especially in these modern times, in which, besides the spiritualities, they possess the temporalities, of the Church.
Seventh - should be apt to teach; διδακτικον, one capable of teaching; not only wise himself, but ready to communicate his wisdom to others. One whose delight is, to instruct the ignorant and those who are out of the way. He must be a preacher; an able, zealous, fervent, and assiduous preacher.
He is no bishop who has health and strength, and yet seldom or never preaches; i.e. if he can preach - if he have the necessary gifts for the office.
In former times bishops wrote much and preached much; and their labors were greatly owned of God. No Church since the apostle's days has been more honored in this way than the British Church. And although bishops are here, as elsewhere, appointed by the state, yet we cannot help adoring the good providence of God, that, taken as a body, they have been an honor to their function; and that, since the reformation of religion in these lands, the bishops have in general been men of great learning and probity, and the ablest advocates of the Christian system, both as to its authenticity, and the purity and excellence of its doctrines and morality.
Chaucer's character of the Clerke of Oxenford is a good paraphrase on St. Paul's character of a primitive bishop: -
Of studie tookin he moste cure and hede,
Nought oo word spak he more than there was nede,
And that was selde in forme and and reverence,
And short, and quick, and full of high sentence;
Sowning in moral vertue was speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teache.
Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; An eighth article in his character is, he must not be given to wine; μη παροινον. This word not only signifies one who is inordinately attached to wine, a winebibber or tippler, but also one who is imperious, abusive, insolent, whether through wine or otherwise. Kypke contends for this latter acceptation here. See his proofs and examples.
Ninth - He must be no striker; μη πληκτην, not quarrelsome; not ready to strike a person who may displease him; no persecutor of those who may differ from him; not prone, as one wittily said,
"To prove his doctrine orthodox
By apostolic blows and knocks."
It is said of Bishop Bonner, of infamous memory, that, when examining the poor Protestants whom he termed heretics, when worsted by them in argument he was used to smite them with his fists, and sometimes scourge and whip them. But though he was a most ignorant and consummate savage, yet from such a scripture as this he might have seen the necessity of surrendering his mitre.
Tenth - He must not be greedy of filthy lucre; μη αισχροκερδη, not desirous of base gain; not using base and unjustifiable methods to raise and increase his revenues; not trading or trafficking; for what would be honorable in a secular character, would be base and dishonorable in a bishop. Though such a trait should never appear in the character of a Christian prelate, yet there is much reason to suspect that the words above are not authentic; they are omitted by ADFG, many others, the Syriac, all the Arabic, Coptic, (and Sahidic), Ethiopic, Armenian, later Syriac, (but it appears in the margin), the Vulgate and Itala, and by most of the Greek fathers. Griesbach has left it out of the text, in which it does not appear that it ever had a legitimate place. The word covetous, which we have below, expresses all the meaning of this; and it is not likely that the apostle would insert in the same sentence two words of the same meaning, because they were different in sound. It appears to have been borrowed from 1 Timothy 3:8.
Eleventh - He must be patient; επιεικη, meek, gentle; the opposite to πληκτην, a quarrelsome person, which it immediately follows when the spurious word αισχροκερδη is removed. Where meekness and patience do not reign, gravity cannot exist, and the love of God cannot dwell.
Twelfth - He must not be a brawler; αμαχον, not contentious or litigious, but quiet and peaceable.
Thirteenth - He must not be covetous; αφιλαργυρον, not a lover of money; not desiring the office for the sake of its emoluments. He who loves money will stick at nothing in order to get it. Fair and foul methods are to him alike, provided they may be equally productive. For the sake of reputation he may wish to get all honourably; but if that cannot be, he will not scruple to adopt other methods. A brother heathen gives him this counsel: "Get money if thou canst by fair means; if not, get it by hook and by crook."
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; The fourteenth qualification of a Christian bishop is, that he ruleth well his own house; του ιδιου οικου καλως προΐσταμενον, one who properly presides over and governs his own family. One who has the command, of his own house, not by sternness, severity, and tyranny, but with all gravity; governing his household by rule, every one knowing his own place, and each doing his own work, and each work having the proper time assigned for its beginning and end. This is a maxim of common sense; no family can be prosperous that is not under subjection, and no person can govern a family but the head of it, the husband, who is, both by nature and the appointment of God, the head or governor of his own house. See the note on Ephesians 5:22.
(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) For if a man know not - Method is a matter of great importance in all the affairs of life. It is a true saying, He that does little with his head must do much with his hands; and even then the business is not half done for want of method. Now, he who has a proper method of doing business will show it in every affair of life, even the least. He who has a disorderly family has no government of that family; he probably has none because he has no method, no plan, of presiding. It was natural for the apostle to say, If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God? Look at a man's domestic arrangements; if they be not good, he should not be trusted with any branch of government, whether ecclesiastical or civil.
Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Fifteenth - It is required that he be not a novice - Νεοφυτον· Not a young plant, not recently ingrafted, that is, one not newly converted to the faith; (old MS. Bible); one who has been of considerable standing in the Christian Church, if he have the preceding qualifications, may be safely trusted with the government of that Church. It is impossible that one who is not long and deeply experienced in the ways of God can guide others in the way of life. Hence presbyters or elders were generally appointed to have the oversight of the rest, and hence presbyter and bishop seem to have been two names for the same office; yet all presbyters or elders certainly were not bishops, because all presbyters had not the qualifications marked above. But the apostle gives another reason: Lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. It is natural for man to think himself of more importance than his fellows when they are intrusted to his government. The apostle's term τυφωθεις, puffed up, inflated, is a metaphor taken from a bladder when filled with air or wind. It is a substance, has a certain size, is light, can be the sport of the wind, but has nothing in it but air. Such is the classical coxcomb; a mere puffball, a disgrace to his function, and despised by every intelligent man. Should we not say to those whom it may concern,
"From such apostles, O ye mitred heads,
Preserve the Church; and lay not careless hands
On skulls that cannot teach, and will not learn."
From these words of the apostle we are led to infer that pride or self-conceit was the cause of the devil's downfall. In Ecclus. 10 there are some excellent sayings concerning pride: "Pride is hurtful before God and man." "Why is earth and ashes proud?" "The beginning of pride is when one departeth from God." "For pride is the beginning of sin; and he that hath it shall pour out abomination." "Pride was not made for Men." See verses 7, 9, 12, 13, and 18, of the above chapter.
Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. The sixteenth requisite is, that he should have a good report of them which are without - That he should be one who had not been previously a profligate, or scandalous in his life. Such a person, when converted, may be a worthy private member of religious society; but I believe God rarely calls such to the work of the ministry, and never to the episcopate. Them that are without are the Jews, Gentiles, and the unconverted of all kinds. For the meaning of this term see the note on Colossians 4:5.
Lest he fall into reproach - For his former scandalous life.
And the snare of the devil - Snares and temptations, such as he fell in and fell by before. This is called the snare of the devil; for, as he well knows the constitution of such persons, and what is most likely to prevail, he infers that what was effectual before to their transgressing may be so still; therefore on all suitable occasions he tempts them to their old sins. Backsliders in general fall by those sins to which they were addicted previously to their conversion. Former inveterate habits will revive in him who does not continue to deny himself, and watch unto prayer.
The snare of the devil. - Some would translate παγιδα του διαβολου, the snare of the accuser; and they give the same meaning to the word in 1 Timothy 3:6, because it is evident that διαβολους has that meaning, 1 Timothy 3:11, and our translators render it slanderers. Now, though διαβολος signifies an accuser, yet I do not see that it can, with any propriety, be restrained to this meaning in the texts in question, and especially as the word is emphatically applied to Satan himself; for he who, in Revelation 12:10, is called the accuser of the brethren, is, in Revelation 12:9, called the great dragon, the old serpent, the Devil, διαβολος, and Satan.
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Likewise must the deacons - The term deacon, διακονος, simply signifies a regular or stated servant: from δια, through or emphatic, and κονεω, to minister or serve. See it explained in the note on Matthew 20:26. As nearly the same qualifications were required in the deacons as in the bishops, the reader may consult what is said on the preceding verses.
Grave - Of a sedate and dignified carriage and conduct.
Not double-tongued - Speaking one thing to one person, and another thing to another, on the same subject. This is hypocrisy and deceit. This word might also be translated liars.
Not given to much wine - Neither a drunkard, tippler, nor what is called a jovial companion. All this would be inconsistent with gravity.
Not greedy of filthy lucre - See on 1 Timothy 3:3 (note).
Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Holding the mystery of the faith - Instead of της πιστεως, the faith, one MS. (the readings of which are found in the margin of a copy of Mill's Greek text in the Bodleian library, and which is marked 61 in Griesbach) reads αναστασεως, of the resurrection. This reading, like many others in this MS., is found nowhere else; and is worthy of little regard, but as expressing what appeared to the writer to be the apostle's meaning. One of the greatest mysteries of the faith was undoubtedly the resurrection of the dead; and this was held in a pure conscience when the person so exercised himself as to have a conscience void of offense towards God and towards men. See Acts 24:16. What has been since called Antinomianism, that is, making void the moral law, by a pretended faith in the righteousness of Christ, is that which the apostle has here particularly in view.
And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Let these - be proved - Let them not be young converts, or persons lately brought to the knowledge of the truth. This is the same in spirit with what is required of the bishops, 1 Timothy 3:6.
Let no man be put into an office in the Church till he has given full proof of his sincerity and steadiness, by having been for a considerable time a consistent private member of the Church.
Being found blameless - Ανεγκλητοι οντες· Being irreproachable; persons against whom no evil can be proved. The same as in 1 Timothy 3:2, though a different word is used. See the note on 1 Timothy 3:2.
Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Even so must their wives be grave - I believe the apostle does not mean here the wives either of the bishops or deacons in particular, but the Christian women in general. The original is simply: Γυναικας ὡσαυτως σεμνας· Let the women likewise be grave. Whatever is spoken here becomes women in general; but if the apostle had those termed deaconesses in his eye, which is quite possible, the words are peculiarly suitable to them. That there was such an order in the apostolic and primitive Church, and that they were appointed to their office by the imposition of hands, has already been noticed on Romans 16:1 (note). Possibly, therefore, the apostle may have had this order of deaconesses in view, to whom it was as necessary to give counsels and cautions as to the deacons themselves; and to prescribe their qualifications, lest improper persons should insinuate themselves into that office.
Not slanderers - Μη διαβολους· Literally, not devils. See on 1 Timothy 3:7 (note) This may be properly enough translated slanderers, backbiters, tale-bearers, etc., for all these are of their father, the devil, and his lusts they will do. Let all such, with the vast tribe of calumniators and dealers in scandal, remember that the apostle ranks them all with malicious, fallen spirits; a consideration which one would suppose might be sufficient to deter them from their injurious and abominable conduct.
Sober - See on 1 Timothy 3:2 (note)
Faithful in all things - The deaconesses had much to do among the poor, and especially among poor women, in dispensing the bounty of the Church. They were not only faithfully to expend all they had got, and for the purpose for which they got it; but they must do this with impartiality, showing no respect of persons, the degree of distress being the only rule by which the distribution was to be regulated.
For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. That have used the office of a deacon well - They who, having been tried or proved, 1 Timothy 3:10, have shown by their steadiness, activity, and zeal, that they might be raised to a higher office, are here said to have purchased to themselves a good degree, βαθμον καλον· for, instead of having to administer to the bodies and bodily wants of the poor, the faithful deacons were raised to minister in holy things; and, instead of ministering the bread that perisheth, they were raised to the presbyterate or episcopate, to minister the bread of life to immortal souls. And hence the apostle adds; And great boldness in the faith; πολλην παρῥησιαν, great liberty of speech; i.e. in teaching the doctrines of Christianity, and in expounding the Scriptures, and preaching. It seems to have been a practice dictated by common sense, that the most grave and steady of the believers should be employed as deacons; the most experienced and zealous of the deacons should be raised to the rank of elders; and the most able and pious of the elders be consecrated bishops. As to a bishop of bishops, that age did not know such. The pope of Rome was the first who took this title. The same office, but not with the same powers nor abuse, is found in the patriarch of the Greek Church, and the archbishop of the Protestant Church. As the deacon had many private members under his care, so the presbyter or elder had several deacons under his care; the bishop, several presbyters; and the archbishop, several bishops. But I speak now more of the modern than of the ancient Church. The distinction in some of these offices is not so apparent in ancient times; and some of the offices themselves are modern, or comparatively so. But deacon, presbyter, and bishop, existed in the apostolic Church, and may therefore be considered of Divine origin.
These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: These things write I-- That is: I write only these things; because I hope to come unto thee shortly.
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. But if I tarry long - That is: Not withstanding I hope to come to thee shortly, and therefore do not feel the necessity of writing at large; yet, lest I should be delayed, I write what I judge necessary to direct thy conduct in the Church of God.
The house of God - This is spoken in allusion to the ancient tabernacle; which was God's house, and in which the symbol of the Divine Majesty dwelt. So the Christian Church is God's house, and every believer is a habitation of God through the Spirit.
The Church of the living God - The assembly in which God lives and works; each member of which is a living stone, all of whom, properly united among themselves, grow up unto a holy temple in the Lord.
The pillar and ground of the truth - Never was there a greater variety of opinions on any portion of the sacred Scripture than has been on this and the following verse. Commentators and critics have given senses and meanings till there is no meaning to be seen. It would be almost impossible, after reading all that has been said on this passage, for any man to make up his own mind. To what, or to whom, does the pillar and ground of the truth refer?
1. Some say to Timothy, who is called the pillar, etc., because left there to support and defend the truth of God against false doctrines and false teachers; and is so called for the same reason that Peter, James, and John, are said to be pillars, i.e. supporters of the truth of God. Galatians 2:9.
2. Others suppose that the pillar and ground of the truth is spoken of God; and that ὁς εστι, who is, should be supplied as referring immediately to Θεος, God, just before. By this mode of interpretation the passage will read thus: That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, Who Is (ὁς εστι) the pillar and ground of the truth. How God may be fitly termed the pillar and ground of truth, requires no explanation.
3. Others think that the words should be understood of the Church of the living God; and in this case the feminine relative ἡτις εστι, which is, must be repeated immediately after εκκλησια, the Church. The house of God is the Church of the living God; Which (Church) Is the pillar and ground of the truth. That is: The full revelation of God's truth is in the Christian Church. The great doctrines of that Church are the truth without error, metaphor, or figure. Formerly the truth was but partially revealed, much of it being shadowed with types, ceremonies, and comparatively dark prophecies; but now all is plain, and the full revelation given; and the foundation on which this truth rests are the grand facts detailed in the Gospel, especially those which concern the incarnation, miracles, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the mission of the Holy Spirit.
4. Lastly, others refer the whole to το της ευσεβειας μυστηριον, the mystery of godliness; and translate the clause thus: The mystery of godliness is the pillar and ground of the truth; and, without controversy, a great thing. This gives a very good sense, but it is not much favored by the arrangement of the words in the original.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. And, without controversy - Και ὁμολογουμενες· And confessedly, by general consent, it is a thing which no man can or ought to dispute; any phrase of this kind expresses the meaning of the original.
God was manifest in the flesh - If we take in the whole of the 14th, 15th, and 16th verses, we may make a consistent translation in the following manner, and the whole paragraph will stand thus: Hoping to see thee shortly; but should I tarry long, these things I now write unto thee, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God. The mystery of godliness, which is the pillar and ground of the truth, is, without controversy, a great thing. And then he proceeds to show what this mystery of godliness is, which he sums up in the six following particulars:
1. God was manifest in the flesh;
2. Justified in the Spirit;
3. Seen of angels;
4. Preached unto the Gentiles;
5. Believed on in the world;
6. Received up into glory.
Though all this makes a very plain and consistent sense, yet we are perplexed by various readings on the first clause, Θεος εφανερωθη εν σαρκι, God was manifest in the flesh; for instead of Θεος, God, several MSS., versions, and fathers, have ὁς or ὁ, who or which. And this is generally referred to the word mystery; Great is the mystery of godliness, Which was manifest in the flesh.
The insertion of, Θεος for ὁς, or ὁς for Θεος, may be easily accounted for. In ancient times the Greek was all written in capitals, for the common Greek character is comparatively of modern date. In these early times words of frequent recurrence were written contractedly, thus: for πατηρ, πρ; Θεος, θς; Κυριος, κς· Ιησους, ιης, etc. This is very frequent in the oldest MSS., and is continually recurring in the Codex Bexae, and Codex Alexandrinus. If, therefore, the middle stroke of the Θ, in ΘΣ, happened to be faint, or obliterated, and the dash above not very apparent, both of which I have observed in ancient MSS., then ΘΣ, the contraction for Θεος, God, might be mistaken for ΟΣ, which or who; and vice versa. This appears to have been the case in the Codex Alexandrinus, in this passage. To me there is ample reason to believe that the Codex Alexandrinus originally read ΘΣ, God, in this place; but the stroke becoming faint by length of time and injudicious handling, of which the MS. in this place has had a large proportion, some person has supplied the place, most reprehensibly, with a thick black line. This has destroyed the evidence of this MS., as now it can neither be quoted pro or con, though it is very likely that the person who supplied the ink line, did it from a conscientious conviction that ΘΣ was the original reading of this MS. I examined this MS. about thirty years ago, and this was the conviction that rested then on my mind. I have seen the MS. several times since, and have not changed my opinion. The enemies of the Deity of Christ have been at as much pains to destroy the evidence afforded by the common reading in support of this doctrine as if this text were the only one by which it can be supported; they must be aware that John 1:1, and John 1:14, proclaim the same truth; and that in those verses there is no authority to doubt the genuineness of the reading. We read, therefore, God was manifested in the flesh, and I cannot see what good sense can be taken out of, the Gospel was manifested in the flesh; or, the mystery of godliness was manifested in the flesh. After seriously considering this subject in every point of light, I hold with the reading in the commonly received text.
Justified in the Spirit - By the miracles which were wrought by the apostle in and through the name of Jesus; as well as by his resurrection from the dead, through the energy of the Holy Ghost, by which he was proved to be the Son of God with power. Christ was, justified from all the calumnies of the Jews, who crucified him as an impostor. All these miracles, being wrought by the power of God, were a full proof of his innocence; for, had he not been what he professed to be, God would not have borne such a decisive testimony to his Messiahship.
Seen of angels - By αγγελοι here, some understand not those celestial or infernal beings commonly called angels, but apostles and other persons who became messengers, to carry far and wide and attest the truth of his resurrection from the dead. If, however, we take the word seen, in its Jewish acceptation, for made known, we may here retain the term angels in its common acceptation; for it is certain that previously to our Lord's ascension to heaven, these holy beings could have little knowledge of the necessity, reasons, and economy of human salvation; nor of the nature of Christ as God and man. St. Peter informs us that the angels desire to look into these things, 1 Peter 1:12. And St. Paul says the same thing, Ephesians 3:9, Ephesians 3:10, when speaking of the revelation of the Gospel plan of salvation, which he calls the mystery, which From the Beginning of the World had been Hid in God; and which was now published, that unto the Principalities and Powers in heavenly places might be Made Known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God. Even those angelic beings have got an accession to their blessedness, by an increase of knowledge in the things which concern Jesus Christ, and the whole scheme of human salvation, through his incarnation, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.
Preached unto the Gentiles - This was one grand part of the mystery which had been hidden in God, that the Gentiles should be made fellow heirs with the Jews, and be admitted into the kingdom of God. To the Gentiles, therefore, he was proclaimed as having pulled down the middle wall of partition between them and the Jews; that, through him, God had granted unto them repentance unto life; and that they also might have redemption in his blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Believed on in the world - Was received by mankind as the promised Messiah, the Anointed of God, and the only Savior of fallen man. This is a most striking part of the mystery of godliness, that one who was crucified as a malefactor, and whose kingdom is not of this world, and whose doctrines are opposed to all the sinful propensities of the human heart, should, wherever his Gospel is preached, be acknowledged as the only Savior of sinners, and the Judge of quick and dead! But some would restrict the meaning to the Jews, whose economy is often denominated עולם הזה olam hazzeh, this world, and which words both our Lord and the apostles often use in the same sense. Notwithstanding their prejudices, many even of the Jews believed on him; and a great company of the priests themselves, who were his crucifiers, became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7. This was an additional proof of Christ's innocence.
Received up into glory - Even that human nature which he took of the Virgin Mary was raised, not only from the grave, but taken up into glory, and this in the most visible and palpable manner. This is a part of the mystery of godliness which, while we have every reasonable evidence to believe, we have not powers to comprehend. His reception into glory is of the utmost consequence to the Christian faith; as, in consequence, Jesus Christ in his human nature ever appears before the throne as our sacrifice and as our Mediator.
1. The directions given in this chapter concerning bishops and deacons should be carefully weighed by every branch of the Christian Church. Not only the offices which are of Divine appointment, such as bishop, presbyter, and deacon, should be most religiously preserved in the Church; but, that they may have their full effect, the persons exercising them should be such as the apostle prescribes. Religion will surely suffer, when religious order is either contemned or neglected; and even the words of God will be treated with contempt, if ministered by unholy persons. Let order, therefore, be duly observed; and let those who fill these orders be not only wholly irreprehensible in their conduct, but also able ministers of the new covenant. A wicked man can neither have, nor communicate, authority to dispense heavenly mysteries; and a fool, or a blockhead, can never teach others the way of salvation. The highest abilities are not too great for a preacher of the Gospel; nor is it possible that he can have too much human learning. But all is nothing unless he can bring the grace and Spirit of God into all his ministrations; and these will never accompany him unless he live in the spirit of prayer and humility, fearing and loving God, and hating covetousness.
2. It is well known that almost every Church supposes itself to be The true Church; and some consider themselves the only Church, and deny salvation to all who are not of their communion. To such a Church the two last verses in this chapter have been confidently self-applied, as being the pillar and ground of the truth - the possessor and dispenser of all the mysteries of God. But, supposing that the words in 1 Timothy 3:15 are spoken of the Church, it is the Christian Church, as defined under article the third above, that must be meant; and we may see from this the vanity of applying the words to any particular Church, as if it had all the truth without error, and none else could pretend either to truth or ecclesiastical authority. The Christian Church is a widely different thing; it is the whole system of Christianity as laid down in the New Testament; it is built on the great foundation of prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. It is composed of all who hold the doctrines of Christianity; who acknowledge Jesus as their Teacher, Redeemer, and only Advocate; of all who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves; or who are labouring after this conformity to the mind and command of their Creator. It is not known by any particular name; it is not distinguished by any particular form in its mode of worship; it is not exclusively here or there. It is the house of God - it is where God's Spirit dwells, where his precepts are obeyed, and where pure, unadulterated love to God and man prevails. It is not in the creed or religious confessions of any denomination of Christians; for, as all who hold the truth and live a holy life, acknowledging Jesus alone as the head of the Church and Savior of the world, are members of his mystical body; (and such may be found in all sects and parties); so the Church of Christ may be said to be everywhere, and to be confined nowhere; i.e. in whatever place Christianity is credited and acknowledged. The wicked of all sorts, no matter what their profession may be, and all persecutors of religious people, who differ from them, are without the pale of this Church. Essentially must their spirit and conduct be changed, before the living Head of this spiritual building can acknowledge them as members of the heavenly family.
This text, therefore, will never apply to the Romish Church, till that Church be, both in doctrine and discipline, what the Christian Church should be. When it is the established religion of any country it gives no toleration to those who differ from it; and in Protestant countries its cry for toleration and secular authority is loud and long. I wish its partisans the full and free exercise of their religion, even to its superstitions and nonsense; but how can they expect toleration who give none? The Protestant Church tolerates it fully; it persecutes the Protestants to bonds and death when it has power; which then is the true Church of Christ?
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke .