The Qualifications of a Presbyter in the Early Church
Contrary to “folk” theology, every Christian is not qualified or equipped to be a presbyter. Jesus didn't give the "keys of the kingdom" to just anybody, but to twelve specific men He had trained, who in turn entrusted those keys to other men they had trained, in what we know as the "Apostolic Succession". These men had to be trained up, and thus meet certain qualifications to be given such tremendous authority. Clement of Rome, in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes, "Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." (Written 95 A.D.)
"After the death of the tyrant, the [Apostle John] came back again to Ephesus from the Island of Patmos; and, upon being invited, he went even to the neighboring cities of the pagans, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, and there to ordain to the clerical estate such as were designated by the Spirit"- Clement of Alexandria
"It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times: men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught to the elite secretly and apart from the rest, they would have handed them down especially to those very ones to whom they were committing the self-same Churches. For surely they wished all those and their successors to be perfect and without reproach, to whom they handed on their authority."
- Irenaeus, Against the Heresies
As we can see from just these few out of many. many more statements on church leadership, the issue was taken up by the earliest Christians and was one met with clarity. The qualifications which a presbyter must meet are quite extensive The qualifications given in the New Testament are as follows.
Personal Character & Behavior
- Exemplary – “being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3). This is the chief qualification. An exorcist is to be exemplary in his character and life.
“Be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (I Tim. 4:12)
- Without reproach / blameless- Without reproach (ἀνεπίλημπτον anepilempton; I Tim. 3:2) - not able to be rightfully criticized or blamed for wrong doing.
- Blameless (ἀνέγκλητος anengkletos; Tit. 1:6, 7) – not able to be rightfully accused of anything wrong - 'without accusation.'
- Temperate (νηφάλιον nephalion; I Tim. 3:2) -behaving in a sober, restrained manner; being restrained in conduct, self-controlled, level-headed.
- Prudent / Sensible (σώφρονα sophrona; I Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8) - sensible and moderate in one's behavior; being in control of oneself, thoughtful, self-controlled.
- Respectable (κόσμιον kosmion; I Tim. 3:2) -modest in the sense of moderate and well ordered; having characteristics or qualities that evoke admiration or delight, an expression of high regard for a person, i.e., respectable, honorable.
- Hospitable (φιλόξενον philoxenon; I Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8) -given to generous and cordial reception of guests
- Gentle (ἐπιεικῆ epieike; I Tim. 3:3) -being gracious and forbearing; yielding, kind, courteous, tolerant.
- Uncontentious (ἄμαχον amachon; I Tim. 3:3) –not quarrelsome (esv, niv); peaceable.
- Free from the love of money (ἀφιλάργυρον aphilarguron; I Tim. 3:3) -not being desirous or greedy for money -'not loving wealth, one who does not love money; not loving money, not greedy.
- Must have a good reputation with those outside (δεῖ δὲ καὶ μαρτυρίαν καλὴν ἔχειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξωθεν; I Tim. 3:7) – “those outside” refers to unbelievers. This means that an exorcist/presbyter must have a reputation for goodness within the unbelieving community of which he is a member.
- Just (δίκαιον dikaion; Tit. 1:8) –being in accord with what God requires; being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair.
- Devout (ὅσιον hosion; Tit. 1:8) – being holy in the sense of superior moral qualities and possessing certain essentially divine qualities in contrast with what is human; being without fault relative to deity, devout, pious, pleasing to God, holy.
- Self-controlled (ἐγκρατῆ engkrate; Tit. 1:8) -exercising self-control - 'self-controlled.'; having one’s emotions, impulses, or desires under control, self-controlled, disciplined.
What a Presbyter is Not to Be:
- Not addicted to wine (μὴ πάροινον me paroinon; I Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7) -a person who habitually drinks too much and thus becomes a drunkard; one who is given to drinking too much wine, drunken.
- Not pugnacious (μὴ πλήκτην me plekten; I Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7)-a person who is pugnacious and demanding-'bully, violent person.'; bully. Versions: brawler (kjv), violent (kjv, esv)
- Not a new convert (μὴ νεόφυτον me neophuton; I Tim. 3:6) –an individual who has recently become a member of a religious group; newly planted in the Christian community, newly converted.
- Not self-willed (μὴ αὐθάδη me authade; Tit. 1:7) -being arrogant as the result of self-will and stubbornness - 'arrogant, self-willed.'; self-willed, stubborn, arrogant. Willing to consider and accept others’ perspectives and methods.
- Not quick-tempered (μὴ ὀργίλον me orgilon; Tit. 1:7) –a tendency to become angry - 'angry, quick-tempered, given to anger.'; inclined to anger, quick-tempered.
- Not fond of sordid gain (μὴ αἰσχροκερδῆ me aiscrokerde; Tit. 17) -being shamefully greedy for material gain or profit-'shamefully greedy, greedily.'; shamelessly greedy for money, avaricious, fond of dishonest gain. cf. Titus 1:11; 1 Peter 5:2.
The Personal Abilities of a Presbyter
- Able to teach (διδακτικόν didaktikon; I Tim. 3:2) – being able to teach; skillful in teaching. The ability to teach involves at a minimum the following: capable of oral communication that helps the audience understand and apply the Scriptures to their lives
- Able to exhort in sound doctrine (δυνατὸς ᾖ … παρακαλεῖν ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ τῇ ὑγιαινούσῃ; Tit. 1:9)–“sound doctrine”= teaching that is in harmony with Scripture and edifies those who hear it; “exhort”= to encourage and motivate listeners to appropriate action. This implies both theological correctness and the ability to motivate others through speaking.
- Able to refute the gainsayer (δυνατὸς ᾖ … καὶ τοὺς ἀντιλέγοντας ἐλέγχειν; Tit. 1:9) – “gainsayer” = someone who speaks against an idea; “refute” = to demonstrate that someone is wrong, by providing adequate evidence of the incorrectness of their idea. This means that an elder must be an able apologist, able to defend the truth and expose the error in false teaching.
The Theological Character Necessary
- Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching (ἀντεχόμενον τοῦ κατὰ τὴν διδαχὴν πιστοῦ λόγου; Titus 1:9) – knowing and being committed to theological orthodoxy
- General: He must manage his own household well (τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον) – The word translated ‘manage’ means to exercise a position of leadership, rule, direct, be at the head (of), manage, conduct.
- Marital: husband of one wife–(μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα; literally, “a one woman man.” Faithful to his spouse. The key to understanding this phrase is I Tim. 5:9 where one of the requirements for a widow to be placed on the church’s role for financial support is that she must have been “the wife of one husband,” lit., “a one man woman.” Since polyandry, having multiple husbands, was not an issue in the first century, it seems most likely that this phrase is an idiom for faithfulness to one’s wife. Naturally, persons known for infidelity or polygamy would be excluded, since that is not faithfulness to one’s spouse.
- Keeping his children under control with all dignity (τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ, μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος) – implies the children are obedient, submissive, and well-in-hand, as opposed to barely under control.
- Having children who believe / are faithful (τέκνα ἔχων πιστά) – At the least the passage requires that the children be obedient and submissive to their faith. There has never been any consensus regarding whether this text requires a presbyter’s children to be saved. If it does mean that an presbyter’s children must be believers, this highlights the importance of the presbyter being a convincing discipler and leader in his home.
- Not accused of dissipation or rebellion (μὴ ἐν κατηγορίᾳ ἀσωτίας ἢ ἀνυπότακτα) – “dissipation” = behavior which shows lack of concern or thought for the consequences of an action - 'senseless deeds, reckless deeds, recklessness.'; generally denotes ‘wastefulness,’ then reckless abandon, debauchery, profligacy. “rebellion” = pertaining to being unable to be controlled by something or someone - 'not controlled by, not subject to, uncontrolled.'; refusing submission to authority, undisciplined, disobedient, rebellious.
The leadership qualifications for a presbyter are an extension of the family requirements. A man who is able to oversee his household will have the skills to oversee the house of God. A man who is able to manage and care for his family will have the skill necessary to care for the family of God. (I Tim. 3:4-5). A presbyter must exercise his oversight of the church in the following manner:
- Voluntarily (ἑκουσίως hekousios; I Pet. 5:2) -- being willing to do something without being forced or pressured - 'willing, willingly, of one's own free will.' A presbyter should not be compelled to oversee the flock, nor act out of compulsion. He must do so willingly.
- Readily (προθύμως prothumos; I Pet. 5:2) – being eager to be of service, willingly, eagerly, freely opp. Αἰσχροκερδῶς, the contrast indicating that officials are to be eager to meet the needs of others rather than seek gain for themselves.
- Not lording it over your charge, but being examples to the flock (ὡς κατακυριεύοντες τῶν κλήρων ἀλλὰ τύποι γινόμενοι τοῦ ποιμνίου) – “lording it over” means to expect as one’s right service and honor from others, and to demand it if it is not given. Jesus illustrates this in Matt. 20:25-26, contrasting the Gentiles’ idea of greatness with the servant leadership that signals greatness in the Kingdom of God. This implies that a presbyter leads through service and by example.