What qualifications does the Bible give for elders and deacons?
Both elders (also called pastors or bishops) and deacons are noted as official leaders of local churches in the New Testament. What are their qualifications?
First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 each offer a list of qualifications related to these important roles in the church. First Timothy 3:2-7 offers the qualifications specific to elders, stating, "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."
These traits, nearly identical to those found in Titus 1:5-9, offer many specific details. Among them are 1) being above reproach or of high integrity, 2) literally a "one woman man", indicating the elder as a male known for his commitment to one woman (though this would not exclude a single man such as Timothy was at the time), 3) temperate and self-controlled in his attitude with others, 4) hospitable or friendly toward people, 5) has the ability to teach God's Word, 6) not an alcoholic, 7) not known for fighting or arguing, 8) does not love money, 9) leads his own family well, 10) not a new convert, 11) and has a good reputation among unbelievers.
The only list offering specific qualifications for deacons is found in 1 Timothy 3:8-12: "Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well."
The character traits for deacons are essentially the same as those of elders. The one notable exception is that deacons are not required to have the ability to teach God's Word to the local congregation. They instead operate as servant leaders, offering help in other areas. Some use the seven servants in Acts 6 as an example of early deacons in the church, though the actual title of deacons is not mentioned there.
First Timothy 3:11 is often a controversial passage. The "women" has been translated as "wives" or "women" both of which are possible translations. This has traditionally been understood as the wives of the male deacons. Others believe this verse speaks specifically regarding female deacons, noting the role of Phoebe in Romans 16:1 as a possible example of a female deacon or official "servant." Grammatically, either view is possible.
These two offices are clearly important in church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1, 13). The emphasis on personal character, family relationships, and emphasis on teaching God's Word by elders shows the importance of these areas for all believers who seek to grow in relationship with God and others.
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