“Rule Well” and “Double Honor” in 1 Timothy 5:17

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; [1 Cor. 12:28]

Deut. 21:17

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 5:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

When one encounters 1 Timothy 5:17, one runs into a great heap of tradition seeping through a great number of the translations. “See,” the hierarchical traditionalist will exclaim, “right here it plainly says elders/pastors are to RULE their congregations, and that those who do it well should be paid. I am a ruling elder.”

To answer, the word translated “rule” in the text is defined lexically as:

προίστημι: in intr. tenses, I take up a position (stand) in front: I take the lead [example], I rule; hence, c. gen. I lead, supervise, manage; also I practise, exercise a calling or profession.

Souter, A. (1917). A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (p. 216). Oxford: Clarendon Press. [bold and brackets mine]

προΐσταμαι (proistamai), προΐστημι (proistēmi): vb.; ≡ Str 4291; TDNT 6.700—1. LN 36.1 guide, lead, direct (Ro 12:8; 1Th 5:12; 1Ti 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17); 2. LN 35.12 be active in helping, engage in aiding (Tit 3:8, 14+), for another interp, see next; 3. LN 68.67 strive to (Tit 3:8, 14+)

Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Thus, a proper translation of 1 Timothy 5:17 —in keeping with other passages that declare a servant leadership, leading by example, not lording over the flock, condemning Diotrephes— would appear somewhat like the following:

Let the elders, who [exercise their calling to help & guide] well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Clearly, this translation reveals that God defines a successful elder as one who strives to exercise his calling as a spiritual guide^ and helper for others (toward a direct, interactive relationship with God). This is the same relational guidance elders and deacons are to exercise in their own families (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). In the Body, as at home, administration may or may not have anything to do with guiding and helping members reach maturity in direct relation with God and others; but lording over God’s heritage by domineering for preeminence, …or by inserting one’s self as a mediator between God and believers, who dictates and doles ministry opportunities to build one’s own vision of Church… that certainly has nothing to do with “ruling well.”

Now, that brings the reader to the matter of deciphering the meaning of “double honor.” If most denominations and clergy were surveyed, I surmise the majority would point to this passage in order to vehemently defend their “right” to be paid or “make a living” by the Gospel ministry, (which demand is also an *abuse of 1 Corinthians 9). Their assertion stands alone upon the assumption that “double honor” is euphemism for “paycheck.” The context proves otherwise. The Apostle Paul is not arguing for “ruling elders,” who are superior at lording styles of administration to get paid like some corporate banking CEO with a golden parachute in his back pocket. Banish the thought! Rather, “honor” in the verse means just that—HONOR… in fact, a double honor (implied: above the other elders).

What should an elder, who exercises their calling to help & guide well, be given? Give them genuine, authentic honor. That is, treat their teachings as something which should be given a great amount of weightiness in our minds and hearts before it is minimized or dismissed. That is what a good elder, who labors in the word and teaching should receive, because that elder EARNED the right for their teachings to be honored, just like the analogous Ox EARNS the right to eat, because of its labor of treading grain. Not to allow it to eat of that grain (only a step away) would be unusually cruel. Or, just as a laborer DESERVES the wages he worked for under contract, even so an elder that labors in the word and teaching DESERVES to be heard and taken seriously for what they have discovered in that labor. The analogies are meant to prove that higher honor belongs to elders who faithfully labor in the word and teachings, not that they can and should “teach for a price” (a thing condemned by Micah 3:11).

Notice the Scripture does not say, “let the good elder be considered infallible with regards to their teachings.” That would be and is a trap. So many Christians are either not allowed by overbearing ministers, or are not disciplined enough, to search the Scriptures to “see if these things are so.” No intelligence is allowed. No dissent is permitted. The brow beaten Christian in the pew is excused, due to being spiritually abused and trained to cower in consent. The lazy Christian in the pew is without excuse. Happy is the Christian, who is able to separate the teachings of the elder from the man himself and weigh those teachings against what the biblical data shows. Woe to the pastor, who expects the congregation to view his teachings as a final authority! [This applies to even this article. Look up the verse and meanings and biblical context on what God expects from leaders for yourself!]

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^ “leader” is also used in Hebrews 13:17, wherein members of the Body are charged to “obey” (only as convinced) and submit (as in yielding the right of way, not as following commands) church leaders. In no way is Hebrews 13:17 indicating a clergy vs. laity difference in authority. The authority is the Word. If the leader is faithfully and accurately imparting the written Word, then the Body will be convinced and yield right of way to the leader. The same pattern can be noted in John 10, wherein the Lord Jesus says those who hear His voice follow Him, which stands in contrast to their rejection of hireling shepherds, who care nothing for the flock.

*We need more ministers like the apostle Paul, who can say, “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions” (Acts 20:34). Jesus and His Apostles wanted everyone to know the Gospel is free (1 Corinthians 9:12, 15-18). Thus, they ALL waived their right to make a living by the Gospel. They accepted gifts only and supported their needs by their own hands; and Paul states it was in this context of abundance or need that he learned “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12-13). When Paul speaks of the rights of ministers, he does so in the context of defending himself against those who disclaim his ministry. It is possible for a minister to insist on his rights to earn a paycheck by ministerial work, but he also opens himself up to yet one more opportunity for defamation of character and dismissal of legitimacy, let alone a constant temptation to feed the flock of God as a hireling for filthy lucre’s sake… a thing strictly forbidden by Peter (1 Peter 5:1-5). Lastly the Apostle John (3rd Letter, v. 7) commends those who “have gone out for the sake of the name, taking nothing from the Gentiles.”

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