Timothy Wasn’t a “Pastor”

The term “pastor” doesn’t appear in any of the letters to Timothy and the one to Titus—though the three are believed by some scholars to be a single composition rather than three separate letters. They have been referred to as the Pastoral Epistles only since the eighteenth century, but if Timothy wasn’t a pastor, what was he? In 1 Tim 3:8–13 Paul instructed Timothy on the appointment of deacons. After those instructions, he admonished that if Timothy instructs the brethren in such things, viz. the material contained in 3:14–4:5, he would be a good “deacon” of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 4:6).

Our English translations render the church office from chapter three as “deacon,” but the same term is used in 4:6 of Timothy. It can be translated as “deacon,” “minister,” or even “servant.” Essentially, preachers are not pastors. Paul never used that term of Timothy and the work he was doing in Ephesus. Timothy and all preachers are akin to deacons when so viewed biblically. In variant readings of 1 Thess 3:2, Paul uses the term of Timothy as well in the NKJV though a different term appears in the NRSV. Based on this usage by Paul, we can confidently echo the sentiments of Luke Timothy Johnson when he wrote, “It appears that Paul is making a point about the continuity between Timothy’s defense of right teaching and that expected of local [deacons].”

Since the same term is used of Timothy as we understand of deacons, this ought to help shape how we view both deacons and preachers. Many churches do in fact elevate the preacher to the position of the pastor by how they esteem him. Elders too invest many preachers with great authority and responsibility while they hold the hands or micromanage the deacons of the church. Some are only made deacons cause they’re “good ole boys” when they may be ill-equipped to defend sound doctrine but can mow the lawn like no one’s business.

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Furthermore, when we note the responsibility given to Timothy by Paul, an apostle, we see just how crucial the work of a deacon should be to not only ordering the local church but also to ministry. Few deacons these days scarcely fit the biblical model except by having the title. It’s as if we’ve lessened the vital role of deacons in ministry so that we can have an innumerable host of men so called by this honorable title who have minor roles in the life of the church while in the Bible those who were deacons appear to have had significant roles (cf. Acts 6–8). I would argue that some of the high churches (e.g., Catholic, Orthodox) have a better grip on the diaconate than we do, at least in some respects.