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 á¼Ï€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (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 [á¼Ï€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (epimeleomai)] of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care [á¼Ï€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (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 á¼Ï€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (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 Ï€ÏÎ¿á¿“ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (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 – Ï€ÏÎ¿á¿“ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (proistÄ“mi) and á¼Ï€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (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 á¼Ï€Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ»á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (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 Ï€ÏÎ¿á¿“ÏƒÏ„Î·Î¼Î¹ (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.