the weblog of Alan Knox

Manage his own household?

Posted by on Jan 26, 2010 in elders, office, scripture | 13 comments

I’ve read several books and blog posts that mention 1 Timothy 3:5 as an indicator that elders/overseers are to “manage” the church – with “manage” meaning “be in charge of” or “direct the affairs of”. First, let’s look at that verse in context:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:7 ESV)

According to the ESV, if someone cannot “manage his own household”, then that person will not be able to “care for God’s church”. Let’s begin with the last part of that phrase: “care for God’s church”.

“Care for” is a translation of the Greek verb ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai). In the New Testament, the word always means something like “care for a person or thing”. It is used twice in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan:

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care [ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai)] of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care [ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai)] of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ (Luke 10:34-35 ESV)

It is pretty clear what ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai) means in the context of 1 Timothy 3:5. If X happens (the first phrase that we’ll examine next), then the same person will not take care of the needs of God’s people.

But, what about that first phrase? What does it mean for someone to “manage his or her own household”? The verb translated “manage” is προΐστημι (proistÄ“mi). This verb has three different meanings: 1) to be at the head of, rule, 2) be concerned about, care for, give aid, and 3) busy oneself with, be engaged in.

The question is, which definition should be used in 1 Timothy 3:5? The ESV, and most English translations, opt for definition #1. Thus, Paul would be saying that a person who cannot rule his household will not know how to take care of people.

However, in context, it seems that definition #2 fits better. A person who does not know how to care for his or her own family will not know how to care for the people of God. Both verbs then – προΐστημι (proistÄ“mi) and ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai) – would be translated as “take care of”, meaning that Paul is using them synonymously.

Of course, we don’t have the option of changing the meaning of ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai). It does not carry that meaning. Thus, there is no option for Paul talking about “ruling the church of God”. However, this is how this passage is often understood because of the translation of the first verb προΐστημι (proistÄ“mi).

However, if we take these two verbs together, it seems that Paul is not talking about ruling/managing a household or ruling/managing the church. Instead, he’s talking about taking care of people.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-26-2010

    Most people even believe the “rule” means to rule the organization not the people. People are totally taken out of the context even if it is intepreted “rule”. So there is even a problem in the modern rendering. It should be they care for people just like they care for their own families, because the church is much like a localized family. If that person is not doing a good job of taking care of his natural family he will not do a good job of taking care of his spritual family. This helped me understand the “one wife” qualification.

    I guess this is why I don’t understand why people are aloud to lead the church with jacked up home lives. A man can be in the process of a divorce and still shepherd God’s church. I am not saying he is a bad person but his aim should be first to care for that family before he takes care of another family.

  2. 1-26-2010


    I have always wondered why Paul used two different words there. However, there is enough scripture elsewhere to give a good interpretation of 1 Tim 3:5. The only other times that I have found, that we see apostles addressing elders specifically, is in Acts 20:28 and 1 Pt. 5:2. Both Paul and Peter said feed or tend the flock. Peter carried it one step further in vs 3 saying to not exercise lordship over, not to domineer, but be an example.

    I think that should settle the case. If that doesn’t then what Jesus says in Mt. 20:25-28 should leave no doubt.

  3. 1-26-2010

    To borrow from Lionel’s blog post a few days back.

    “Elders (Pastors) are to go before the church in developing the family atmosphere, cultivating love, stimulating mutual edification and finally producing an atmosphere of openness, in order that people begin to love one another from the heart and be conformed to Christ’s image!”

    Being able to do that for real in your own family is the proving ground for being able to do it in a corporate family.

  4. 1-26-2010

    wow aloud=allowed 8)

  5. 2-8-2010

    i have struggled with this verse. i would be honored on your input. suppose a leader is doing everything he can possibly do to lead his household. no question about his integrity, his being a godly father. as well as a faithful husband and leader of his home.

    but this man, this man has a wife who at times demonstrates behavior that shows she just might not be saved, or be living a regenerated life. Lets say that this is do to a mental illness such as “bi-polar” or “depression” .

    the husband is caring, loving, at times authoritative in his leadership of the home. getting counseling as needed to better understand his role in the care of the wife and her relationship with the family?

    i am not as educated as you men of God, my brothers in Christ, so at times i struggle with these issues. I am a street minister, as well as a teacher and leader in the community. My wife tho is not well. I do everything humanly possible to not enable her behaviors but they are caused by an illness. Does this situation prevent me from leading? teaching?

    It has been my passion and most say I am gifted. I would not however want to be in the wrong.

    You are loved
    Brother Frankie
    A Biker for Christ

  6. 2-8-2010


    Keep serving your wife and others. That’s how Jesus measures leadership. Whether or not the church recognizes it is another question.


  7. 5-25-2010

    Alan, the one part of that phrase that tends to push proistÄ“mi back over to rule or manage is “with all dignity keeping his children submissive,”

    any thoughts there?

  8. 5-25-2010


    I think its possible to submit to those who care… what do you think?


  9. 5-25-2010

    Absolutely, but keep submitted is not the same as someone choosing to submit themselves to you.

    Remember your post about requiring what can only be given?

    Since I do not know greek, I am just wondering if the word submitted or subjected could be a form of follow?

  10. 5-25-2010


    Yes. Absolutely. Fathers should “have their children in obedience.” I think that shows the fathers care… 🙂

    Whether we translate that word “care” or “lead” or “manage”, the word related to the church definitely means “care.”


  11. 5-25-2010

    That makes sense. Thank you.

  12. 3-30-2011

    Question: why does God (Paul) use 2 different words in the same paragraph if they are meant to convey the exact same thing? There may be similarities but obviously there is some difference, I’d like to hear what you believe the difference is. If your definitions are accurate could it include both #1 and #2? Must they be mutually exclusive or can I rule and care for simultaneously, or care for them BY leading them well. Doesn’t God rule us this way?! Don’t men show God’s goodness and love, and become more like Christ when we lead well? Sadly many today think they are mutually exclusive, that if I actually lead (am the decision maker or ‘ruler’) therefore I cannot care for them or be concerned for their best interests and I will only promote self. This is too often true in practice yet a logical and doctrinal fallacy.

  13. 3-30-2011

    John S.,

    I still think they’re synonyms. The authors of Scriptures (like other authors) often use synonymous terms. Notice that even if the Paul intended the two verbs to have different meanings (which would be strange in a comparison like this), he still uses the verb “care for” (not “manage” or “rule”) to associate elders with the church.