re: The DEI in I Timothy 3:2

From: James H. Vellenga (
Date: Thu Feb 20 1997 - 08:54:52 EST

> Honestly, I suspect that all those adjectives that follow upon ANEPILHMPTON
> are meant to be clarifications of what the author means by ANEPILHMPTOS.
> But it has occurred to me that, with all due respect, I have known
> wonderful persons in high ordained positions, but I don't know that I have
> ever known one that I was absolutely sure was "above reproach." Does that
> mean "sinless?" I raise this question simply because there is an overture
> now being voted on by the presbyteries in the PC(USA) that would seem to be
> based on this verse and that is effectively asserting that nobody can be
> ordained who is not sinless. I don't want to discuss that overture or the
> politics underlying it, but I am wondering whether, on the basis of what
> this text in 1 Tim 3 states, the word ANEPILHMPTOS has an absolute or only
> a relative applicability, i.e., that "above reproach" DOES or does NOT mean
> "sinless," or perhaps may be understood as meaning "respectable" in terms
> of currently prevailing standards of respectability? Of course it is
> usually said that the standard applied to a candidate for ordination must
> be higher than the standard applied to a candidate for membership in the
> community of faith, but it seems to me that this gets close to the heart of
> the problem that evoked a doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers"
> (some of my Calvinist background won't readily rub off!): what does it mean
> to be "above reproach" in absolute terms? And if we don't apply absolute
> terms, what criteria have we for ordination that are not relative?


Someday I would really like to have the chance to get to know
you better.

I am myself a Presbyterian elder -- not actively serving, and not
currently a member of a Presbyterian church -- but given PC(USA)
polity, that means I'm still an elder unless I ask and receive
-- what is it -- a demission of office?

I appreciate your gift for cutting through to real issues underlying
the grammatical and semantic without too much theological biasing
-- although perhaps a lot of your biases are too close to mine to
tell the difference. As an elder I have seemed to many to be
as close to "above reproach" as anyone they know -- but I and
my wife (especially) know differently. We are now in a phase
of life where we are letting more of the warts show than most
people do, and I am amazed at the number of people with problems
and especially problem marriages that are coming out of the
woodwork and taking courage in working on their situations,
apparently as a result.

So, to the extent that we take the Bible as authoritative (and
I do, even if I'm not quite an "inerrantist"), perhaps the question
has to turn on the meaning of DEI. I tend to translate DEI
with an object of X as "X needs to" -- hence, here, "the overseer
needs to" -- but with a New England rather than a psychological
definition of "needs to" -- as when my wife says to one of
the kids, "You need to come here right now!" In other words,
these are things that an overseer/elder constantly "needs to"
be aiming for in his life -- and to the extent that they are
a criterion for office, it should be his or her heart attitude
to be moving in these directions.

Thanks for your continuing input.

Jim V.

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