*This post is the first in a series on the qualifications for the overseer/elder in 1 Timothy and in Titus.

The qualifications Paul lists in 1 Timothy 3 focus on blameless living, teaching ability, and godly administration of the household. Paul’s apparent concern is not only that the overseer be a good man, but also that he be a conspicuously good man—a man whose godly character is apparent to the church and to a watching world.

“Blameless”—1 Timothy 3:2

The first and most important qualification heads the list of qualifications for the overseer in 1 Timothy 1, providing in one word the spirit of much that follows. The qualifications that follow in the list are designed to develop this “overarching” qualification, laying out how it is that one can come to be ἀνεπίλημπτος, “blameless.”

Ἀνεπίλημπτος is used only two other times in the New Testament—and both of these occurrences are located in 1 Timothy as well. In 1 Timothy 5:7, this characteristic results from distinctive Christian living and comes as a believer responds to right teaching with righteous living, particularly in relationships with others. First Timothy 6:14 and its context further corroborate that being known as ἀνεπίλημπτος results from obedience. You can be charged to be ἀνεπίλημπτος—this implies a choice you can make.

Occurrences in secular literature shed further light on the meaning. The army that Xenophon is helping to lead has just joined forces with a powerful ally and it appears that the soldiers’ fortunes are taking a turn for the better after a time of difficulty. Although Xenophon has been their champion and friend through hardship, the soldiers are now considering stoning him. As he nears the end of a passionate speech in his own defense, he appeals to them: is this really an appropriate time for them to kill him?

In fact, you are now free to journey in security [ἀνεπιλήπτως] wherever you may choose, whether by land or by sea. And you, at the moment when such abundant freedom is evident for you, when you are sailing to the very place where you have long been eager to go and the mightiest are suing for your aid, when pay is within sight and the Lacedaemonians, who are deemed the most powerful leaders, have come to lead you—do you, I say, think that now is the proper time to put me to death with all speed?[1]

The recent change of circumstances enables the soldiers to travel now “in security.” No one can hinder them from going where they wish, and they are allied with a powerful force. The adverbial modifier ἀνεπιλήπτως communicates that they will not be open to attack as they travel.[2] No one will be able to harm them.

Xenophon was not the only leader who had to worry about perceptions of his leadership. Thucydides tells of Pleistoanax, the ruler of Lacedaemon, who desired to make peace with Athens “because he was constantly maligned by his enemies about his return from exile, and because, whenever any reverses occurred, he was always spitefully recalled to their thoughts by these persons as though these misfortunes were due to his illegal restoration.”[3] The Greek historian reports that

Vexed, therefore, by this calumny [τῇ διαβολῇ ταύτῃ], and thinking that in time of peace, when no calamity would occur and, moreover, the Lacedaemonians would be recovering their men, he himself would not be exposed to the attack of his enemies [ἐχθροῖς ἀνεπίληπτος, “beyond the grasp of his enemies”], whereas so long as there was war it must always be that the leading men would be maligned in the event of any misfortunes, he became very ardent for the agreement.[4]

The unfortunate leader decided that in a time of peace he would be beyond the reach of the (verbal) attacks of his political enemies. In context, it is the slander of his fellow countrymen that Pleistoanax really fears, and he believed that a change in the political climate would eliminate his vulnerability.

If political leaders feel the pressure of public censure for a job poorly done, perhaps religious leaders have even more reason to be circumspect. Philo, speaking of the high priest, says that

It is not permitted for him to touch any pollution at all—neither from forethought, nor from an involuntary variation of the soul—in order that he, being a hierophant, should be adorned in each regard, having an irreproachable mind [διανοίᾳ τε χρώμενος ἀνεπιλήπτῳ] and a successful life, one to whom is added no disgrace [ὄνειδος].[5]

This example is particularly interesting in that this man with an irreproachable mind (or plan, or way of thinking, or disposition) is also described as one to whom is added no disgrace or reproach (ὄνειδος is defined by BDAG as “loss of standing connected with disparaging speech”). It may be difficult to be certain exactly how parallel the two ideas are intended to be, but the passage does seem to provide some support to the idea that ἀνεπίλημπτος can imply more than technical innocence. The word (at least in many cases) seems to have in view how the man stands in the estimation of reasonable observers.[6]

In 1 Timothy 3:2, blamelessness extends beyond a mere objective innocence (as important as this is) to imply a recognition of that innocence by reasonable onlookers. A qualified overseer is free from credible accusation of true wrongdoing. Of course, the world will often “blame” the Christian for being righteous, calling evil good and good evil. This has always been the case, and always will be. But a Christian should be blameless with respect to what is truly wrong; blameless in the eyes of God’s people, and blameless before a watching world. In the Pastorals, the overseer’s godly character renders him beyond the reach of credible accusation. The qualified Christian overseer has secured this position, not through shrewd politics, but through a life lived in obedience to Christ.

[1] Anabasis 7.6.37.

[2] LSJ, s.v. ἀνεπιλήπτως.

[3] Thucydides 5.16.

[4] Thucydides 5.17.

[5] Special Laws 3.135.

[6] See also LN 33.415, where the word is defined as “pertaining to what cannot be criticized” and placed in semantic grouping (33.412–33.416) with διακρίνομαι, ἀνακρίνω, ἀνταποκρίνομαι, μωμάομα, ἀκατάγνωστος, and ἀπελεγμός.