For the Love of God, Volume 1/November 2
From Gospel Translations
2 Kings 15; Titus 1; Hosea 8; Psalms 123—125
IN SOME DENOMINATIONS, it is held that the Bible prescribes three church officers: bishops, who preside over several congregations; elders/pastors, who serve at the level of the local church, especially with respect to the ministry of the word and prayer (some would add “sacrament”), and deacons, who help in the administration of funds, especially with respect to caring for the physical needs of the flock (see the October 25 meditation).
It is widely recognized, however, that in reality the New Testament recognizes only two officers: the bishop/elder/pastor and the deacon. One of the most convincing treatments of the matter was written in the last century by J. B. Lightfoot, himself an Anglican. The breakdown into three divisions, he rightly contends, takes place after the New Testament documents have been written.
This means, of course, that one of the two offices enjoys three labels, partly because the work has many facets. The word pastor comes from a Latin root for “shepherd” (1 Peter 5:2). Shepherds feed, defend, guide, and discipline the flock. Elder terminology derives both from the rule of ancient villages and from synagogues: the leaders are to be mature and respected. Because bishop nowadays has so many ecclesiastical overtones, the NIV adopts the not uncommon practice of rendering the word “overseer” (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:1) to capture the elements of oversight, godly management, and spiritual accountability bound up with the task.
One of the reasons why so many have come to the conclusion that bishop, elder, and pastor are all words applicable to one office is that the lists of qualifications for these tasks are so similar. Thus, compare Titus 1:6-9 regarding an elder with 1 Timothy 3:1-7 regarding an overseer (bishop).
One point of apparent divergence in the NIV calls forth pangs of conscience among some pastors. First Timothy 3:4 stipulates that the overseer “must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” By contrast, Titus 1:6 stipulates that the elder must be “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” This sounds like more stringent requirements for the elder. But in fact, the NIV rendering is both mistaken and unworkable. The Greek is justifiably rendered “whose children are faithful”—in the sense that they are not “wild and disobedient.” As long as the children are under their father’s roof, the bishop/elder must so order his household as to demonstrate he is capable of ordering the church. If Titus 1:6 were understood as in the NIV to stipulate that his children be believers, one might well ask, “From what age?” In short, the mistranslation is also unworkable. What the text actually says aligns it well with 1 Timothy 3.