The Discipline of a Sinning Elder -- By: David A. Mappes

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:615 (Jul 1997)
Article: The Discipline of a Sinning Elder
Author: David A. Mappes

The Discipline of a Sinning Elder

David A. Mappes

[David A. Mappes is Staff Pastor, Bethany Bible Church, Phoenix, Arizona, and Professor of Bible at Southwestern College, Phoenix, Arizona.]

[This is article three in the four-part series “Studies on the Role of the New Testament Elder.”]

In 1 Timothy 5:19–20 Paul described the process of disciplining an elder: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning.” Several questions must be addressed in studying this passage. First, should the witnesses personally confirm the fact of the elder’s transgression, or should they simply serve as a group to ensure an equitable trial for the sinning elder? Second, does the participle τοὺς ἁμαρτάνοντας (“those who continue to sin”) refer to ongoing persistent sin or to the act and associated guilt of the sin? Third, is the rebuke of the sinning elder to be public or private?

In the previous two verses Paul discussed the matters of esteem of elders and remuneration for them. Then in verses 19–20 he suggested ways to protect them from slanderous attacks or unsubstantiated accusations. Timothy was to receive an accusation against an elder only if two or three witnesses were involved. Were they to provide personal accusation against the one accused, or was Timothy to receive an accusation against an elder only in the presence of two or three witnesses?

Huther argued that Paul was regulating only the reception of the accusation.1 Support for this view that the witnesses were

simply to ensure proper trial procedures, thus protecting Timothy against charges of partiality or vindictiveness, is seen in the preposition ἐπί. Huther suggested this means “in the presence of” or “before,” rather than “on the basis of” or “on the evidence of.”

The notion that Timothy must protect himself against unjust accusations certainly has merit, since the false teachers who intensely opposed Timothy were liars and fabricators of strange doctrines. However, protection for Timothy is guaranteed by the other view as well. Furthermore verses 17–20 as a whole describe elders and not personal protection of apostolic delegates, such as Timothy. The supposition that Timothy was not to function as ...

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