The American Standard Version translates the first part of
1 Timothy 5:1 in this way, "Rebuke not an elder." This reflects
the policy of the ASV translators to be as literal as possible, and
to use one English word for one Hebrew word in the O.T., and
one English word for one Greek word in the N.T. when possible.
This policy has inherent problems of its own, though one scholar
wrote the following about the ASV, "So far as English versions
are concerned, the reader who wants an accurate word for word
translation has in the Revised Version or American Standard
Version the best of its kind that is ever likely to be provided."
(Bruce, F.F., The Books and the Parchments, page 235) I
wholeheartedly concur with Bruce's assessment of the ASV. The
ASV has no equal as far as the modified literal approach to
translation is concerned.
What does the word "elder" mean in 1 Tim. 5:1? It translates
the Greek presbutero, dative masculine singular of presbuteros.
Presbuteros is used in a number of ways in the New Testament.
It may refer to members of the Sanhedrin (presbuterous ton
Ioudaion, elders of the Jews) Luke 7:3; the 24 members of the
heavenly court (hoi eikosi tessares presbuteroi) Revelation 5:8;
men who were appointed to preside over and shepherd local
assemblies of Christians (tous presbuterous tes ekklesias, the
elders of the congregation) Acts 20:17 ;1 Timothy 5:17-19; and
those who are advanced in life (hoi presbuteroi, old men)
The meaning of "elder" in verse 1 is "old man." We can be
certain that this is correct because of the "contextual indicators."
There is an antithesis which exists between "an elder" who is to be
exhorted "as a father," and "younger men" who are to be exhorted
"as brothers" (neoteras hos adelphous). So, "elder" (presbuteros)
is used in contrast to "younger" (neos). Whatever "elder" means,
"younger" is the opposite, and whatever "younger" means, "elder"
is the opposite. Furthermore, Paul continues by contrasting "elder
women as mothers" (presbuteras hos meteras), and exhorting
"younger women as sisters" (neoteras hos adelphas). The "elder"
of verse 1 denotes the same thing as "elder women" of verse 2,
except for the distinction in gender. "Younger men" likewise
denotes the same thing as "younger women" excepting the gender
distinction. Also, there is a parallelism which exists between "elder"
of 1 Timothy 5:1, and the language of the same apostle elsewhere.
In Titus 2:2, Paul exhorts Titus that he, in speaking sound teaching,
inform "aged men" (presbutas) of their duties, and "aged women"
(presbutidas) of their duty to teach the "young women"
(tas neas, vv. 3,4).
We find the same use of "elder" by the apostle Peter. "Likewise,
you who are younger (neoteroi), be subject to older ones
(presbuterois)" (1 Pet. 5:5). Note again the antithesis between
"younger" and "elder."
What is the significance of the injunction "do not rebuke an
elder" expressed by the negative imperative (me epiplexes)?
May we not "rebuke" all who are in error, and who persist in sin
or rebellion against God, whether young or old? According to
other texts we may (Matt. 18:15-18; Lk. 17:3-4; 1 Tim. 5:20;
2 Tim. 4:2). So, why does the Holy Spirit through Paul, so
emphatically say to Timothy "do not to rebuke an elder"?
The key is in the word "rebuke." It is not the same word used in
2 Timothy 4:2.
The word used in 2 Timothy is epitimao. Contextually, epitimao
means "to censure and render a sharp rebuke" by the teaching of
the word. "Rebuke" in 1 Timothy 5 is from the Greek epiplesso
which means to reprimand, to strike (verbally), to assault with
abusive speech, to chastise with words, to reproach or denounce.
In the context, Paul informed Timothy about proper conduct
among believers, which he as an evangelist must practice. One
of the orders given to Timothy was, "Don't let anyone look down
on you because you are young..." (1 Tim. 4:12; NIV2011). This
entailed treating old men and old women with respect. An Old
Testament text contains the concept, "You shall stand up in the
presence of the elderly, and show respect for the elderly and
revere your God; I am Yahweh." (Lev. 19:32) Timothy was to
show respect for the elderly, and not lash out with harsh words,
but have a tongue tempered by love and gentleness.
Instead of the phrase "Rebuke not an elder," as in the ASV,
the recent versions say, "Don't criticize an older man" (Simple
English Bible), "Never be harsh with an elder" (New English Bible),
"Never censure an older man harshly" (James Moffatt Translation),
"Do not sharply rebuke an older man" (NASV), "Do not speak
harshly to an older man" (NRSV), "Do not reprimand an older
man" (McCord's New Testament Translation), "Do not rebuke
an older man harshly" NIV. This shows why it is important to
study from more than one translation. Comparative translation
study opens up vast opportunities for spiritual growth!
The expression "Do not rebuke an elder" does not restrict or
forbid the younger from correcting the older brothers in the Lord
who err, but it does teach that there is a proper way to do it. And,
the way is not by ridicule and harshness, but "as fathers and
mothers," that is, with genuine concern and kindness, attempting to
win them by snatching them out of the devil's grasp!