Acts 15

Chapter fifteen introduces the first major theological issue the early Church faced. About A.D. 50 (17 years after Acts 2), as the church at Antioch continued to grow with no sign of slowing down, some of the Jewish believers felt it necessary to “correct” an issue about which they had some concern. Specifically, the Gentiles were not being circumcised “ACCORDING TO THE CUSTOM OF MOSES” (Acts 15:1). In Exodus 12:48, circumcision was required of Gentiles for them to participate in Passover; spiritually, circumcision made them just like a natural-born Jew.

As Gentiles were being saved, many Jewish believers thought that they were essentially joining their Jewish Church, which required becoming a Jew (Acts 15:1-5). 1 To sort this out, Antioch sent “PAUL AND BARNABAS AND SOME OTHERS” to Jerusalem to meet with “BOTH THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS…TO DELIBERATE ABOUT THIS MATTER” (Acts 15:6). 2 During the discussion, Peter recounted what had happened to Cornelius (Acts 15:7-11), while Paul and Barnabas shared their ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). Finally, James spoke, the brother of Jesus and Chief Elder or Lead Pastor of the Jerusalem Church. After reminding the crowd that Gentiles were always part of God’s calling, he concluded that “WE SHOULD NOT CAUSE EXTRA DIFFICULTY FOR THOSE AMONG THE GENTILES WHO ARE TURNING TO GOD” (Acts 15:19). He suggested only that they refrain from a few things that were either blatant sin or that could cause Jews to stumble. So the church sent an official letter back to Antioch via Paul’s team, encouraging the believers and giving the results of their conference (Acts 15:22-35).

The chapter concludes with Paul making preparations for a second missionary tour (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas wanted to include his nephew John Mark again, but Paul was vehemently against him because the young man had quit on the previous tour. The argument ended with the two apostles splitting ways. Barnabas took John to Cyprus, while Paul invited Silas to join him.


  1. This group was probably the source of the Jewish opponents that Paul faced throughout his career, as they followed him around, adding the requirement of circumcision to his message of faith alone.
  2. The mention of elders here, distinct from the apostles, shows that the Seven from Acts 6 were not the only ones the apostles had placed into leadership in the Church. It is significant that they appointed “elders” to lead, not additional or new “apostles.” Thus, even this early, we see the two-fold distinction of elders and deacons that Paul taught further in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and mentioned in Philippians 1:1.

1 Timothy 6

Chapter six addresses three more specific groups within the church and Timothy himself again. First, Paul gave instructions for slaves (1 Timothy 6:1-2). Similar to the instructions in Ephesians 6:5-7 (just a couple of years earlier), Paul wrote that slaves should respect their masters and work well because this glorifies God and keeps a good reputation in the community. For those who have “believing masters,” this is true “all the more.” Apparently, it was common then as now for Christians to treat unbelievers better than their fellow believers in the business world.

Second, Paul addressed those who would spread “false teachings and…not agree with sound words…and with the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3-10). It seems that then, like now, “health and wealth” theology (the “Prosperity Gospel”) was prevalent. Paul warned Timothy not to get involved with and to warn the believers to stay away from it as well. It is nothing more than idolatry, loving money more than God, and it results in the destruction of one’s faith.

Third, Paul returned to his original encouragement to Timothy, that he should not give up (1 Timothy 6:11-16). It would be a struggle, one that Paul was familiar with, but he – and we – could do it when we place our full trust in Christ and rest in him.

Finally, Paul closed with a few words to those “who are rich in this world’s goods” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). His comments about the “Prosperity Gospel” was not intended to be a condemnation on wealth itself or those who have it. Money is a tool, and Paul made sure to tell wealthy believers to use it to build God’s Church and enjoy what God has allowed them to have. What we do in this life is the foundation for relationship and reward in the next.

1 Timothy 5

Chapter five returns to instructions about certain groups in the church, specifically widows and elders. The church is to be a family of families, meaning that we should relate to each other as fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-16). Like one would take care of an aging grandparent, Paul said that the congregation is responsible for widows in their church family, under certain conditions. First, if the widow has family, they are responsible for her, not the church. Second, only older widows are included in this care program. Paul specified “sixty years old” (1 Timothy 5:9), but this could be considered descriptive rather than prescriptive, due to cultural life expectancies. Third, she was to be “the wife of one husband” (1 Timothy 5:9). This phrase is the exact opposite of an elder’s “husband of one wife,” meaning that she was “characterized by being a one-man type of woman.” Fourth, she was to be an example of godliness.

Paul specifically commanded that younger widows not be accepted “on the list” (1 Timothy 5:11-15). Rather they should remarry and fulfill their roles as described in 1 Timothy 2:9-15. In a statement that could have been written today, Paul noted that younger women with no responsibilities and full provision “learn to be lazy, and…also gossips and busybodies.” Although this may seem harsh or unfair, every civilization can verify its accuracy.

Another reason Paul wanted them to remarry had to do with a “former pledge.” In context, it seems that this complete provision for widows was a kind of remuneration for devoted service to the congregation. Because these widows had no families and were characteristically godly servants, it is possible that they pledged themselves to their congregation. Early church history shows that this is where the Catholic practice of nuns derived. However, it also may refer to the “women” or “wives” in 1 Timothy 3:11. If this is so, this group of widows probably served with the elders and deacons, possibly in ministry toward women. 1

In 1 Timothy 5:17-25 Paul came back to the elders, this time concerning congregational support for them. Some have argued that elders should not be financially supported, but this passage clearly disputes that notion. First, Paul quoted from both Deuteronomy 25:4 (Moses) and Luke 10:7 (Jesus) to prove that the one who works should receive payment for his work. Even animals get that much. Second, Paul used the same Greek word (τιμή, timē) to describe how the congregation treated both widows (1 Timothy 5:3) and elders (1 Timothy 5:17). Because this word means both “honor” and “compensation,” some argue that elders should only be honored. However, since the word obviously means compensation for widows, and the immediate context is payment for work, it must mean compensation for elders as well. Elders should be taken care of by those they serve, especially those “who work hard in speaking and teaching,” because it does not allow as much time for another form of work to provide for his family.

However, lest anyone think that this elevates elders to a level of “untouchable” clergy, Paul told Timothy that elders were still subject to discipline for sin, just like any other congregation member, and that their discipline should be public within the congregation, “as a warning to the rest” of the seriousness of sin. Thus, elders will be held up as examples, for both good or bad. For this reason, elders should be appointed carefully and slowly. Paul’s mention of Timothy’s stomach ailments may indicate that choosing elders is a stressful and difficult process.


  1. Church history shows that once the role of deaconess was established, they helped prepare women for baptism, childbirth, etc.

1 Timothy 4

Chapter four is different from the other chapters around it because Paul broke from his instructions to groups in order to focus on Timothy himself again. In this chapter, he gave Timothy three sets of warnings or encouragements. First, Timothy was to pay close attention to false teaching that would arise within the congregation (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Even though elders and deacons should have godly character traits, Paul had already warned the original Ephesian elders that “wolves” would enter the congregation from within their own body (Acts 20:28-30), and as Paul’s representative there, it was Timothy’s job to help purge these false teachers from the congregation. The description Paul gave reveals men who had forsaken the truth of Scripture for sensational teachings that, ultimately, come from demons. As innocuous as they sound, they include teachings even about marriage and food, often focusing on what is forbidden in an ascetic way. In Colossians 2:16-23 Paul wrote that we are not obligated to such unscriptural restrictions.

Second, Timothy was to guard himself and his teaching carefully, so that he did not get caught up in such heresies, even unintentionally (1 Timothy 4:6-10). Paul noted that even then there were those who focused on their physical health to the neglect of their spiritual health. While physical health does some good in this life, spiritual health is eternal and must be the priority. Paul’s comment that God “is the Savior of all people, especially of believers,” points to the fact that no one is outside of God’s ability to save. The concept that only a special group can or will be saved is contrary to Paul’s teaching.

Third, Timothy was to both “command and teach these things” (1 Timothy 4:11-16). Apparently, there were some who had dismissed him as their local apostle because of his youth. Paul told him not to let that stop his work there. Instead, he was to be an example of all these things already mentioned, even to the elders of the local congregations. He was to make this his life’s focus, and it would be beneficial not only for him but everyone in his care.

1 Timothy 3

Chapter three continues Paul’s instructions for specific groups in the local church, continuing with the elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7). In the New Testament, the terms “overseer” and “shepherd” describe the main functions of the elders, i.e., they rule over the congregation and protect it (like fathers of a family, 1 Timothy 3:5). Contrary to what many Bible colleges and seminaries may teach, the eldership is not something that a man should wait to see if he is called to. The apostle said that eldership is something worth desiring. It is acceptable for a man to “aspire to the office of overseer.”

The following verses describing a local church elder can be taken too strongly or too lightly. On the one hand, these are often called “requirements” or “qualifications” to be an elder. If this were the case, no one is qualified, because no one meets these perfectly. On the other hand, if these are considered only “ideals” but nothing more, then they might as well have never been written, because, again, there is no ideal elder. Rather, it is best to see these as “character traits” that the elders live out as an example to the congregation. 1

Understanding that elders are not perfect, yet expecting them to be spiritually mature leaders finds that balance. As such, this list could be read as “characterized by being above reproach…characterized by being not contentious,” etc. This also helps gain a proper interpretation of the often-misunderstood “husband of one wife” item. When the Greek phrase is read literally and understood as a character quality, we discover that an elder should be “characterized by being a one-woman type of man,” whether he is married or not.

“Deacons” are the second group of church leaders and the only other official role mentioned in regard to local congregations (1 Timothy 3:8-13). In a list similar to the elders, Paul gave character traits for these godly servants. The specific mention of “not two-faced…holding to the mystery of the faith” seems to indicate some type of teaching/counseling ministry with people in the congregation. Deacons are also supposed to “be tested first” before being appointed to this role. Like elders, they should have godly marriages and families (if they are married and have children). 2

The mention of “women” or “wives” in verse 11 is widely debated. The two obvious options are either female deacons or the wives of deacons. That the Church has historically had women serving alongside deacons is not debated, but what their exact role was, has not always been clear. Some see Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Romans 16:1 to mean that she was a deaconess in Cenchrea, but this is a grammatical reach. Additionally, Constable observes that it would be odd for Paul to qualify deacons’ wives but not elders’ wives. (To say that he meant this to apply to wives of both elders and deacons does not explain why they are mentioned in the middle of his instructions about deacons.) Given their instructions, it is sufficient to say that these women did exert some influence in the congregation, so they were to do so faithfully and with dignity, keeping their tongues in check.

In the final three verses, closing the first half of the letter, Paul made clear the confession that Timothy should hold fast to (1 Timothy 1:18), letting it drive his ministry (1 Timothy 3:14-16). First, the church is “the household of God”; thus, believers are called to live to a higher standard. Second, the church is “the support and bulwark of the truth”; thus, our teaching and doctrine must be pure. Third, our message to the world is centered on the Eternal Son who became flesh and who will ultimately finish his work after the Church has completed ours.


  1. It has been noted by several writers that, with the exception of “able to teach,” each of these character traits is found elsewhere in the New Testament for all believers. They are not exclusive to elders, but elders should lead the way as examples of what godliness looks like.
  2. The best writings I have ever seen on this topic are Alexander Strauch’s books Biblical Eldership and The New Testament Deacon. We use these in our church and highly recommend them.

1 Timothy 2

Chapter two begins the actual instructions or clarifications that Timothy needed to finish his task. “First of all,” he needed to make sure that the local assemblies prayed for “all people, even for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-8). These prayers had two goals. First, praying for the authorities would affect how the believers lived, leading to a more “peaceful and quiet life.” Secondly, praying for all people would result in people coming to believe in Jesus and “a knowledge of the truth,” namely, that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Because of this Paul wanted the men of the various assemblies to pray for their nation and their community regularly.

It is important to note at this point that Paul spent much of this letter giving instructions to various distinct groups of people within the local churches, starting with the “men.” The fact that he specified that men were to pray did not mean that women were not allowed to, as 1 Corinthians 11:5 shows (written about a decade earlier). However, it is a duty of men, in their God-given roles as leaders in their families, congregations, communities, and even politics, that they should intentionally pray for these areas when they are gathered together. The comment that this should be done “without anger or dispute” could show that Paul was addressing a specific issue with a timeless principle.

The second group that Paul addressed was the “women” (1 Timothy 2:9-15). This paragraph is often maligned by those who mistakenly think that Paul was misogynistic and chauvinistic. In reality, he offered great latitude toward believing women and had several of them serve alongside him in his ministry. Even so, he strongly believed in the God-designed order for men and women, and his Holy Spirit-inspired letters kept that balance.

Godly women, he wrote, should “dress…with modesty and self-control.” Again, “self-control” may indicate that some of the women in Ephesus were disrupting the meetings, like the men. In response, Paul gave principles for all believing women. They are to be identified and defined by their good deeds rather than outward adornment. Paul’s command that he did “not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” has been widely debated and often dismissed. While some see this to be a cultural issue in Ephesus that has no bearing on our modern culture, this does not fit the entire context, especially since he referred back to creation for his support. Women are not to take teaching or leadership positions over men in the congregation. Constable notes, “The verbs ‘teach’ and ‘exercise authority’ are in the present tense in the Greek text, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.” 1 Because of the inherent roles in creation and because of Eve’s being deceived, Paul supernaturally concluded that this was the natural order in the assembly.

Verse 15 is also often misunderstood, as many believe it limits women to be nothing more than “baby-making machines.” This is considered a difficult verse, unfortunately, because of our English translations. The key is found in the two verbs, “be delivered” and “continue.” Some translations make the both singular – “she will be delivered…if she continues” (NET, HCSB) – while others make both verbs plural – “they will be delivered…if they continue” (NASB, NLT, NIV). Of the major translation, only the KJV and ESV reflect the Greek text – “she will be delivered [singular]…if they continue [plural].”

In the context, “she” goes back to Eve from verse 14, while “they” refers to the Christian women Paul was writing about in verse 9. Even though Eve was deceived, bringing God’s curse of a natural struggle against male leadership upon her and all women, she (and her gender) can be delivered from this curse. Rather than spending her life being deceived, like Eve, and usurping roles that she was never designed to fulfill, the godly woman “will be delivered” from this spiritual struggle by focusing on how God did design her – a nurturer and giver of life. Even for those women who cannot or are past the age of childbearing, the nurture and life they give to others around them – whether men, women, or children – can be done out of “faith and love and holiness with self-control.” This is far from saying that women have no role in the church. On the contrary, this gives them great responsibility and freedom to serve within their God-given design.


  1. Thomas Constable, Notes on 1 Timothy, 2016 edition, 33.

1 Timothy 1

In Lystra, during his second missionary tour, Paul found Timothy, already a well-known disciple in the area (Acts 16). He quickly became one of Paul’s closest friends and trusted companions. Timothy appears more than twice the times of anyone else in Paul’s letters, and he is mentioned in all of Paul’s letters except four, plus once in Hebrews and six times in Acts.

We know only a few things about Timothy’s personal life. He was born to a Greek father and Jewish mother (Acts 16:1). He was young, but how young is unknown (1 Timothy 4:12). He seemed to have been sick frequently (1 Timothy 5:23). He suffered a major period of spiritual depression at one point that left him nearly ready to quit the ministry (2 Timothy 1:6-8).

Contrary to popular opinion, Timothy was not a pastor or elder of a local church; rather, he was Paul’s personal representative and an apostle in every sense of the word. Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus when he went on to Macedonia to continue the work there (1 Timothy 1:3), yet planned to rejoin Timothy back in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:14; 4:13). Since this event does not line up with the timeline in Acts, it is probable that this took place after Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30-31), meaning that both of his letters to Timothy were written after the book of Acts, probably in A.D. 64-66, before Paul’s final imprisonment and death in Rome. The purpose of this letter was to clarify the instructions and task that he had left for Timothy to accomplish in his absence. It seems as if Timothy may have written Paul with some questions that Paul needed to answer as well.

Chapter one begins with a slight modification of Paul’s traditional greeting. With only the letters to Timothy as the exception, Paul always offered “grace and peace” to his readers, combining the normal Greek and Hebrew salutations, respectively. To Timothy, though, he offered “grace, mercy, and peace” (1 Timothy 1:2). It is possible that he included “mercy” because of the difficulty of the work in Ephesus and Timothy’s weaker tendencies. In fact, Timothy faced a situation that would become confrontational, as he had to stop false teachers in the church, about whom Paul warned the Ephesian elders a few years earlier (1 Timothy 1:3-7; Acts 20:28-30). Apparently, they wanted to place the Gentile church under the Mosaic Law, something Paul had fought from the beginning of his ministry (1 Timothy 1:8-11). 1

Paul connected back to the theme of mercy by reminding Timothy of Paul’s own past (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Even though he “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man,” God treated him with mercy for one primary reason: so that he could be an example demonstrating “for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life” that God can save anyone.

Paul concluded this opening chapter by charging Timothy with his task: “fight the good fight,” a soldier theme that will permeate both letters (1 Timothy 1:18-20). This would require him to “hold firmly to faith and a good conscience.” There were those in the Ephesian church who had already shipwrecked their faith, and Paul did not want Timothy to suffer the same fate.


  1. The entire letter of Galatians was written to combat this false teaching, and Paul had to fight it everywhere he went, as shown in several of his other letters as well.