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Kinship and Leadership in 1 Timothy: A Study of Filial Framework and Model for Christian Communities in Asia Minor

New Testament Faculty, Gordon College, Wenham, MA 01984, USA
Religions 2023, 14(2), 169;
Submission received: 4 December 2022 / Revised: 6 January 2023 / Accepted: 22 January 2023 / Published: 29 January 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biblical Texts and Traditions: Paul’s Letters)


This essay examines the kinship framework and lexemes in the directives for leadership in 1 Timothy, aiming to curb the influence of false teachers and to bolster internal cohesion in the communities. It explores the author’s appeal to household conduct, natural and fictive kinship, and group dynamics couched in filial parlance vis-à-vis the undisputed Pauline letters. The study sheds light on the authorial framework, and suggests that the notion of a departure from ‘love-patriarchalism’ or egalitarian Paul developing later into hierarchical kinship framework in 1 Timothy may be misleading. It becomes apparent that the letter’s kinship lexemes are consistent with what we find in the undisputed letters. Thus, the pseudonymous author, an associate of Paul, does not appeal to or use kinship lexemes any differently from the undisputed letters or elsewhere in Greco-Roman discourse. This does not establish Pauline authorship, but suggest that the notion that the kinship lexemes reflect an elevated hierarchical institutional development in a post-Pauline era, that is uncharacteristic of Paul in the authorship debate, may need to be reconsidered if not revised.

1. Introduction

Letters in the Pauline Corpus are mainly addressed to churches to meet specific needs. 1 Timothy is one of four addressed to an individual, and one of three written by one leader to another in vocational ministry; it is a letter purportedly written by Paul to his protégé tasked with leadership responsibilities in Asia Minor. Many scholars hold that 1 Timothy’s use of kinship language, Haustafel in particular, departs from Paul’s usage to promote hierarchal and patriarchal structures in the instruction.1 Apparently, its patriarchal ethos and kinship lexemes are pivotal and noticeably different than the ‘love-patriarchalism’ or egalitarian ethos we find in the undisputed letters’ use of kinship language. I do not aim to argue for Pauline authorship in this essay, but to reexamine the evidence for the claim that 1 Timothy’s kinship language differs from traditional Pauline usage. The main task is to shed light on how we understand the importance of kinship in the leadership correspondence relative to the tenets of the debate on authorship. We will explore how conclusions may differ if we read the letter as a person-to-person correspondence in a collectivist cultural setting, rather than as a letter to a church directly.2
This study aims to explore the kinship framework and referents against the backdrop of the letter’s agenda, as instruction for a young leader to curb false teachings and strengthen corporate solidarity in the house churches. The validity of claims to kinship terminologies and structures differing from that of the undisputed letters would come under scrutiny in the process. Notably, to what extent does a study on kinship relations and leadership in 1 Timothy shed new light on prevailing assumptions rooted in gender politics and power dynamics (in the Haustafel or church leadership)? It will also show how the author portrays the church in fictive kinship terms with appreciation for the pivotal role of natural kinship to its existence as a community.

2. Paul and Timothy as ‘Father-Son’ Partners in Leadership

Paul (of 1 Timothy) addresses Timothy as his ‘child’ two times in a leader–protégé relationship. The prescript sets the tone and identifies the recipient as a genuine (γνήσιος), legitimate or true child (1:2). The epithet (τέκνον cf. 1 Cor. 4:14) recalls paternal affinity and evokes filial obligations. In the ancient culture, it was not patronizing for Paul to refer to Timothy as a ‘child.’ The term τέκνον is used elsewhere in the NT to denote “affection from an older person to the younger” (Marshall 2006, p. 356) (cf. Lk. 16:25; Mk. 2:5; 10:24; 1 Jn 2:1). Paul assumes paternal posture (1:18) to oblige his son (metaphorically) with certain duties as an older man. Customarily, fathers handed over household management to their sons when they turned sixty, which is also around the marriageable age of thirty for some young men. Paul claims Timothy here as his ‘child’ and charges him to exercise prudent leadership in the churches (1:18).3
There is no obvious indicator as to whether τέκνον in 1:2 and 1:18 refers to spiritual fatherhood, adopted son or carries fictive connotation. The import does not change whether it has a fictive, natural or adoption referent. Timothy was already a disciple when Paul first met him in Lystra (Acts 16:1), but Paul became his spiritual mentor and one who would deepen his understanding in matters of faith. The Lukan narrative portrays him as a paternal figure who circumcised Timothy as a young man in Lystra (Acts 16:1–3), and took him along in his mission trips. Timothy had a Greek father, but his faith was developed via his maternal Jewish heritage (2 Tim 1:5). The prepositional phrase ἐν πίστει (1:2) implies that it is by means of faith or in the context of faith that Paul claims to be his father.4 Collins has provided ample evidence from rabbinic literature and Qumran scrolls to the effect that it was customary for a person, other than a biological father, who provides religious instruction to a boy to describe their relationship with the student in terms of the father-son relationship (Collins 2011, pp. 328–29) Paul uses τέκνον similarly elsewhere in the undisputed letters to refer to persons he evangelized or instructed in the faith, including Timothy, Titus (1.4) or Onesimus (Phlm 10) (Collins 2011, p. 329).
1 Timothy is not the only place Paul refers to Timothy as his τέκνον. He describes Timothy as his τέκνον in 1 Corinthians (4:17) and Philippians (2:22–23). Collins suggests that this is rather unusual for Paul.
The identification of Timothy as Paul’s ‘son’ (τέκνον) in 1 Cor. 4:17 and Phil 2:22 represents a departure from the vocabulary that Paul typically uses to provide a descriptive epithet for one of his emissaries. Typically, as has been noted, the apostle’s choice of qualifying language is drawn from the semantic domain of sibling relationships.
For Collins, its positive connotation in 1 Corinthians and Philippians explains why one would find it useful in a pseudepigraphy like 1 Timothy.
Since the epithet τέκνον uniquely identifies Timothy as one who has been well instructed by Paul and epitomizes Timothy’s qualifications to serve as Paul’s emissary, and since the term had acquired these connotations in the writings of Paul himself, the author(s) of the Pastoral Epistles use(s) τέκνον, ‘child,’ as an intitulatio for Timothy, the presumed recipient of the First and Second Epistles to Timothy, in the opening salutations of the missives (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2). The designation accords Timothy the status of being uniquely qualified to convey Paul’s instructions to the Christian communities of Ephesus.
This explanation implies that (1) the evidence supports the use of τέκνον to validate the status of Timothy in relation to Paul, and (2) that 1 Timothy is the work of a pseudonymous author intending to legitimize the alleged recipient.
In both Greek and Jewish conventions, children had kinship obligation to honor their parents, and those who neglect this duty may be summoned to the elders. In classical times, Plato recommended physical discipline or imprisonment for men under thirty and women under forty who neglect their obligations towards their parents; the duty to honor parents comes only after honor to the gods (Plato, 932A) This convention prevailed unabated by the first century. This obligation of children to parents, also among siblings and other members of the household, were transferred to fictive usage in fraternities and other social groups that used kinship language in their group identity construction (Arzt-Grabner 2002) The address of Timothy as a ‘child’ may thus evoke a sense of validation and obligation to honor ‘Paul’ by adhering to his instruction.

3. The ‘House Church’ as the ‘Households of God’

The portrait of the early church as households has led some to conceive it in terms of a private space of Greco-Roman households (MacDonald 1996, pp. 156–71; Young 1994, p. 121) in which traditional patriarchal mores and attendant norms were held strictly. Zamfir (2014, p. 513) has, however, supplied ample evidence to ascertain that the use of oikos as a metaphor for larger social groups and/or religious communities beyond the scope of private households was commonplace. These findings enlarge our vista in the way we conceive of fictive kinship and terms like οἴκῳ Θεοῦ in 1 Timothy. Moreover, ekklēsia was a term for social gathering in ‘a public and a sacred space.’(Zamfir 2014, p. 516; Sanders 2007). The composition of ekklēsia designated as oikos usually transcends filial relations in a micro household under pater familias. MacDonald aptly shows that the domestic space served a flexible and alternate pedagogical purpose as the home and place of worship, where various levels of instruction occur (MacDonald 2016). In other words, the private oikos was the locus for instructing children in the ways of life and apprenticeship in various trades, whereas the ones used for house churches functioned also as a place for Christian instruction. The leadership patterns in the undisputed letter for the private oikos or ecclesial gathering in the oikos do not seem to differ from those in letters like 1 Timothy.
The Paul of 1 Timothy refers to God inclusively as a shared ‘father’ (1:2),5 underscoring the impetus for leadership not only in function, but also in filial relations seeking to honor their father. Later, the author would describe the community6 in kinship parlance as ‘the household of God’ (οἴκῳ Θεοῦ—3:15), ‘the pillar and bulwark of truth’ (NRSV).7 This presumes God as the pater familias of the macro household that is being guarded and permeated by truth vis-à-vis the pursuit of false teachers. Timothy may thus be credited as a ‘good servant of Jesus Christ’ if he ably discharges his duty and passes on the apostolic teachings to the fictive siblings, ‘the brothers’ (τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς—4:6). Similarly, slaves (in the natural household) that have believing masters are admonished to honor them; they are cautioned to desist from exploitation ‘on the grounds that they are (fictive) brothers’ (ἀδελφοί). Usually, the large size of the Greco-Roman household is informed by honor, and shame sensibilities obliged members to prioritize shared interest and mutuality (Johnson 2020, pp. 169–70), a notion that is transferred into fictive kinship. The implication is that members of the church perceived each other as ‘fraternal brothers and sisters,’ even slaves and masters shared that common identity.8 The fraternal use of ἀδελφός usually aims to foster concord or a strong sense of belonging. Nothing in the use of ἀδελφός in 1 Timothy suggests a departure from how the epithet is employed in the undisputed letters.9
While the false teachers seek to promote speculations and distortion, members of the community should be steered to more desirable pursuits—namely ‘stewardship of God in the faith’ (ἤ οἰκοδομίαν Θεοῦ τὴν ἐν πίστει—1:4). Oἰκονομός10 was originally the descriptor for the head of a household responsible for managing the entire estate. Later, it morphed as a referent to the person an absentee landlord delegates to manage his/her estate while pursuing other duties or opportunities elsewhere (i.e., political, military service etc.). Good stewardship required diligence. It is the reason Ischomachus once suggested to Socrates that sluggards and drunkards be disqualified from the work of οἰκονόμος (Goodrich 2013). ‘Stewardship in/by the faith’ is fitting and productive in the service to God (1:4). However, violence towards natural parents is ‘contrary to sound doctrine’ (1:9–10). The imagery of the church as the household of God evokes the necessity for loyalty, mutuality and propriety.
Timothy is further admonished to exercise courtesy in his approach to members in the household of God (1 Tim 5:1–2). Corrective measures in the face of false teaching must be meted within acceptable cultural sensibilities, comparable to ideal household relations.11 As a leader, he should not ‘strike at’ or ‘harshly rebuke’ (ἐπιπλήσσω) an older man but approach him as to his father. “To encourage an older man as a father would mean to treat him with respect, dignity and honor12. It would entail gentle persuasion rather than browbeating.” (Mounce 2000, p. 270) Likewise, older women should be exhorted with appropriate tone and demeanor. The feminine form of πρεσβύτερος (older man) is used here to refer to ‘mothers’ as πρεσβυτέρας (5:1–2) implying that Timothy’s attitude towards the older men be the same towards the older women.
The young leader is further admonished to treat young men as ‘brothers’ and younger women as ‘sisters’. Ideally, brother-sister relations were strong and cordial in Greco-Roman households. Aasgaard explains that, “sister-brother ties seem to have remained strong also after the sister married and left her original household.” (Aasgaard 2004, p. 64) Paul, however, requires that moral boundaries be kept in the interaction between the young leader and young women. The precautionary phrase, ἐν πάσῃ ἁγνείᾳ (5:2), denotes sexual purity. Timothy may thus lead and interact with young female members in a fitting manner analogous to commendable sibling relations (5:1–2).
Timothy is subsequently entreated to instruct slaves to conduct themselves appropriately in the household (6:1–2). Slavery in the NT is not akin to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, yet it would be misleading to suggest that slaves in antiquity were always treated humanely. “To be sure, not all slaves were so abused, but the countless, often casual, references to beatings, floggings, canings, and execution of slaves constitute a vocal witness to dark and hopeless existence of a slave in antiquity.” (Hubbard 2010, p. 193) The average city, like Ephesus, is estimated to have up to thirty-five percent of its population made up of slaves. The slave master deserves honor (6:1), according to our text. The conduct of slaves should meet respectable standards so that the ‘name (reputation) of God’ may not be subject to ridicule or disrepute. Moreover, a commendable attitude towards slave masters would inadvertently impact conditions in the homes where the house churches met.

4. Oikos –Polis Symbiosis in Greco-Roman Leadership

The symbiotic relationship between leadership in the oikos and that of the polis was commonplace by the time of the New Testament (NT). Administration of the polis was symbiotically linked with management of the household. Aristotle’s discourse on politics begins with the note, “some people think that the qualifications of a statesman, king, householder, and master are the same, and that they differ, not in kind, but only in the number of their subjects.”13 He clarifies the subtle differences and asserts, “seeing then that the state is made up of households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the management of the household.”14 Similarly, in Greek philosophical tradition, Xenophon ascribes to Socrates the idea that young men ought demonstrate the ability to lead their own households as a prerequisite for political leadership.15 Put succinctly by Zamfir, “Aeschines draws attention to the connection between the mismanagement of an official’s own household and that of public affairs. Isocrates argues that a king has to rule the polis just as his own oikos. Polybius highlights this connection with the example of Philopoemen.” (Zamfir 2014, p. 523) This centuries old truism was echoed by Philo, an influential Jewish philosopher based in Alexandria;
For it was necessary that one who was destined to be a statesman should be previously practiced and trained in the management of a single household; for a household is a city on a small and contracted scale, and the management of a household is a contracted kind of polity; so that a city may be called a large house, and the government of a city a widely spread economy.16
Greek synoecism portrayed the polis as the gathering of a number of families with an agreed set of laws and mode of governance. Responsible management of the oikos was a good measure of one’s fitness for military or civic leadership. In other words, the oikos was the microcosm and prism with which the function of politeia was understood.17 A typical household comprised of about twenty people including the husband, wife, children, children from previous marriage, grandparents (in some cases) and slaves. (Joubert 1995, pp. 213–15) “There is no word in Hebrew, Greek or Latin for ‘the (nuclear) family’ as we understand.” (Barton 1998) Plutarch, a contemporary of Paul, made a strong connection with the household (oikos) and the city-state (polis) in this regard.18 The Romans similarly insisted that a leader possesses a clean track record in his ability to manage his household and thereby ascertain that he is “family oriented and involved with children, spouses and slaves.” (Clark 2006, p. 25119)
Group dynamics in the oikos and the constant quest for concord became apparent in the way fictive kinship was employed to harness solidarity in religious and other fraternal groups. Even deities were designated kinship status as ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ depending on their perceived gender. Second Temple Jewish literature has similar ascriptions to Yahweh as a ‘father,’ father figure20 or the father of the covenant community21 as a whole. Across cultures, group members referred to each other as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ to harness a deep social connection. The NT employs fictive sibling language (brother) in this sense over three hundred times consistently to enhance solidarity (Arzt-Grabner 2002). As Osiek puts it,
The church began very early to see itself as surrogate family with its male leadership modeled on ideals of civic leadership, in keeping with a long tradition that saw the household as a microcosm of the state and that tied effective public leadership to proven effective family management.
The fictive sibling language, specifically ‘brother,’ did not originate from the early Christians. Evidence from Asia Minor, Greece, Bosporus and Egypt, and among cultic and professional associations, show that it was widespread.22 As it will become clear, 1 Timothy utilizes kinship lexemes (natural or fictive) to bolster solidarity while addressing issues of false teaching.

5. Household Leadership as Requisite for Church Leadership

Greco-Roman mores placed high value on exemplary leadership of the household, as noted earlier. That Paul requires good household management as a prerequisite for church leadership mirrors this convention. In fact, the list of qualifications for a church leader parallels codes for specific occupations in antiquity, including military generals (Mappes 2003, p. 209)23 dancers or midwives.24 Paul demands integrity not only to curb false teachings but also to promote exemplary leadership to the extent that it commands the respect of outsiders.
According to Paul (of 1 Timothy), it is paramount that anyone who desires to be a bishop or overseer be ‘a husband of one wife’ (3:2, 12), among other requirements. The phrase μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρες25 literally translates as ‘one woman man/husband.’ Its import is a debated matter with four potential readings: (a) That the leader must be a married man; (b) that it disqualifies those in polygamous marriage; (c) it places injunction on second marriage after divorce or widowhood; and finally, (d) that Paul is concerned about fidelity in marriage. It is difficult to conceive of unmarried Paul asking Timothy to require that, despite his own status as a single man, those who want to be leaders be required to marry. It has been suggested that Paul wanted to limit marriage to one person for a lifetime in a culture where divorce and remarriage was rampant. However, such position contradicts the exhortation for young widows to get married (5:14).
The legal system forbade polygamy but society gave men the latitude to engage sexual partners outside marriage. However, the Near East cultures and Jews in particular practiced polygamy (see Campbell 2003).26 Second Temple writings attest to the prevalence of polygamy by the time of Jesus and Paul in the Jewish homeland (Chapman 2003) The NT does not overtly condemn or endorse polygamy in the fledging Jesus movement. As Joyce George (1933) (pp. 560–74) argues, it is however unwarranted to argue that Jews did not practice polygamy since the evidence is indisputable27. For example, Josephus indicates that Jews of his time practiced polygamy on the grounds that it is an ‘immemorial custom’ and ‘ever properly and distinctly permitted’ by the Torah.28 The Jewish historian further indicates that, “it is the ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time.”29 Justin Martyr flags the idea that a man could marry four to five women—following the legacy of Jacob—as a contemptuous issue to desist.30 As one scholar observes, “the lex Antoniana de civitate gave the rights of Roman citizenship to great number of Jews (212 CE), it was found necessary to tolerate polygamy among them, even though it was against Roman law for a citizen to have more than one wife.” (George 1933, p. 560) We do not have material evidence to suggest that polygamy was prevalent among Jews in Asia Minor to warrant such injunction. While modern ideals continue to influence the reading of ‘husband of one wife’ phrase, such prohibition would have been unnecessary for citizens of Ephesus where polygamy was legally prohibited.
Greek and Roman laws allowed for one wife, though it was not a legal breach to have concubines, mistresses and sexual intercourse with slaves.31The ideal is that a man be committed to a conjugal relationship with his wife and not indulge in sexual activity with others.32 1 Timothy’s μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα requirement seems to emphasize a commitment to the wife, perhaps to the exclusion of other sexual partners.33 Fidelity in marriage is honorable and exemplary for church leaders to exhibit. Paul (of 1 Timothy) is most likely entreating his protégé to disqualify those who acquire mistresses, concubines or use slaves for sexual gratification to become church leaders.34 The impetus for propriety, integrity and public notoriety reflected in the list, even in the letter as a whole, suggest that fidelity may be what is being required.
The necessity for marital fidelity is followed by precondition for an overseer or bishop to be a person who is capable to manage his own oikos—τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον (3:4). In a nutshell, “a person’s ability to manage the church, which is God’s household, will be evident in the managing of his own household.” (Mounce 2000, p. 177). The main verb defining his domestic role is προΐστημι—which denotes leadership or management that is further qualified by the adverb of quality—καλῶς.35 He must be able to lead or manage well. Apparently, the conduct of his children would be a concrete measure of his ability to lead (Marshall 2006, p. 480).
In a conditional clause tying oikos leadership to that of ekklesia, the author utilizes different verbs to describe the function of leaders in the church (1 Tim 3:5)— “if one cannot lead (προΐστημι) his household, how can he care (ἐπιμελέομαι) for the ‘church of God’ (ἐκκλησίας Θεοῦ)”? Προϊστημι features elsewhere in the undisputed letters to describe leadership roles (Rom 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12). The word ἐπιμελέομαι denotes ‘care’ or ‘care giving;’ it is “to give proper consideration to some issue or matter—to think about, to be concerned about, to give attention so as to respond.” (Louw and Nida 1989, p. 19). The only other time this word appears in the NT is when it is employed twice to describe the care of a Samaritan for a victim to robbery in Jesus’ parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Lk. 10:34) (Green 1997, pp. 431–32) The parable was meant to challenge a lawyer to reconsider the prism with which he determines who qualifies as a ‘neighbor’ in Jewish society. It is telling that the figures Jesus used are prominent figures in the Jewish establishment that purportedly failed to grasp the sense of otherness and service. Green explains that the language of Lk 10:33 explains the compassionate care of the Samaritan in exaggerated terms to undermine and counter Jewish notions of a neighbor in the community of God’s people. Here the word expresses what is expected of leadership in actuality and conveys tenderness of the one who cares for others. Fee (1988) posits that, “the church leader, who must exhort indeed God’s people to obedience, does not thereby ‘rule’ God’s family. He takes care of it in such a way that its ‘children’ will be known for their obedience and good behavior.”36 The cultural code of honor underlies the notion that those who cannot manage their households with dignity ought not be trusted to exercise leadership marked by care, integrity and geared to honoring God (cf. 3:7). This criterion must apply to deacons as well—no male leader is exempt (3:12–13).37
Deacons ought to be members who manage (προΐστημι)38 their children and household well (3:12). Προΐστημι is repeated here to explain household duties but διακονέω (I serve) is the descriptor for the deacon’s role in the church (3:12.) It is noteworthy that διακονέω is a preferred term for NT writers to describe the function of Christian leadership. Jesus makes a sharp contrast between how Kings and Gentiles perceived leadership, and contrasts it with what is expected of his disciples (Luke 22:25–26)—they (Gentiles) ‘lord it over them’ or ‘dominate’ (κυριεύω) but believing leaders (ἡγέομαι) must exercise leadership through service (διακονέω). Διακονέω characterizes the services of female disciples (Mk. 15:41; Lk. 8:3) and other leaders elsewhere in this vein (Acts 19:22). Peter and the undisputed Paul use διακονέω to describe the task of leaders in the community of faith (2 Cor. 8:19; 1 Pet. 1:12; 4:10). Consistent with the undisputed Paul, Peter and Jesus, 1 Timothy depicts a leader’s role as service; it frames Christian leadership as one that is marked by integrity, skill, care and exemplary leadership in the ἐκκλησίας Θεοῦ. “For Paul (of 1 Timothy), Christianity begins at the home; and one’s conduct in the microcosm of the home shows one’s abilities, or lack of abilities, in the macrocosm of the church.” (Mounce 2000, p. 280)

6. Leadership and Kinship in the Service to Widows in the Church

The discourse on widows in 1 Timothy 5 should be understood better in the framework of instruction for a young leader to put proper measures in place so that the needs of deserving widows may be met.39 Here, fictive and natural kinship work in tandem to ensure that the limited resources of house churches are not misdirected to widows whose relatives have obligation and means to care for them. The Greek χήρα is not limited to the sense of a ‘widow’ in English. The word denotes a woman left without or living without a husband. This may apply to “virgins, women living apart from their husbands, divorced women, and women whose husbands were dead are called widows.” (Kartzow 2021) Widows were a large part of urban population in cities like Ephesus. One estimate puts it at forty percent (40%) of all women between forty and fifty years old. “As a group they (widows) comprised thirty percent of women in the ancient world.” (Winter 2003, p. 124) It would be a significant issue if we imagine that the proportion of these vulnerable women (widows) in cities corresponded with their numbers in the house churches. Timothy is being charged to check exploitation, negligence and to set parameters for χήρας (widows) that may be considered for church assistance. 1 Timothy frames the issue around kinship obligations40 and argues that those worthy of assistance, ‘real widows,’ be established by using a specific set of criteria. Among others, Timothy must inquire if natural kinsmen/women or relatives are meeting their customary obligations before the church assumes any responsibility. Children and grandchildren who are believers must learn (μανθάνω) their religious duty (εὐσεβέω) to take care of widows in their household (5:4). In a Greco-Roman household, εὐσέβεια or pietas (Latin) was a desirable virtue as it pleases the gods,41 honors parents, and engenders concord. The honor for parents goes as far as providing a decent funeral for them and veneration after death. (Balla 2005, p. 17) “The gods reward children who honor their parents…they punish the children who fail to honor their parents.” (Balla 2005, p. 77)42. Custom dictates that children provide for their needs as long as they lived. Some Greek cities “laid it on children as a legal obligation, not merely a moral duty, to ensure that their parents were looked after when they were old.” (Lacey 1968, p. 116) Thus, Timothy is being admonished to counteract negligence and urge children or relatives to meet these filial obligations.
Widows in the collectivist culture did not live alone. The care of a widow is usually transferred to the new kyrios (head) of the household, who also receives her dowry. As Winter explains, “a widow is cared for by the person in charge of that dowry. Two options were open to her. If she had children, she could remain in her deceased husband’s home… she could also return to parents taking her dowry back to her family.” (Winter 1988, p. 84; Lacey 1968, p. 117)43 1 Timothy requires that children and grandchildren who keep the dowries of widows desist from exploiting the church and other resources.44 Moreover, they have benefited from the care of parents since infancy, and consequently need to return service in recompense (5:4).45 As in 1 Timothy, Pythagoras taught that young people owe their parents; “that children should very much esteem their parents, to whom he asserted they owed as many thanks as a dead man would owe to him who should be able to bring him back again into light.”46
To honor living parents is to be obedient, teachable and respectful towards them. Recompense does not necessarily imply the modern idea of quid pro quo; this Greek and Roman custom was rooted in respect for the elderly and honor for parents. Centuries before Paul, Plato had argued that the imperative to honor one’s parents comes only after honor to the gods and spirits. He indicated that,
It is meet and right that a debtor should discharge his first and greatest obligation and pay the debt which comes before all others; he must consider that what he has and holds belong to those who bore and bred him, and he is meant to use it in their service to the limit of his powers. He must serve them first with his property, then with hand and brain, and so give to the old people what they desperately need in view of their age; repayment of all that anxious care and attention they lavished on him, the longstanding ‘loan’ they made to him as a child. Throughout his life the son must be very careful to watch his tongue in addressing his parents, because there is a very heavy penalty for careless and ill-considered language.47
In light of this long-held convention in Greek societies, a believer who fails to care for a parent or relation who is a widow is worse than an unbeliever (5:8), argues 1 Timothy. This must not be read as indictment on wider social mores. “Paul (here) is not condemning unbelievers; on the contrary, he is saying that they do in fact take care of their own widows. To do less is therefore to be less than an unbeliever.”48
The criteria for choosing worthy widows include a legacy of marital fidelity and good reputation in meeting their household obligations. To be ‘the wife of one man (ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή—literally ‘one man/husband woman’), as ‘the husband of one wife,’ does not imply that she had to be married once to one man, but seems to point to fidelity in marriage. The age criterion (sixty) is a ‘cut off point’ in the assessment protocol for those fit for support. The other qualities expected of older widows could all be placed in the context of their household responsibilities.
Conversely, the letter is emphatic about the fate of young widows—νεωτέρας δὲ χήρας παραιτοῦ (5:11).49 The church must desist from sponsoring their lifestyle. Young widows should be encouraged to marry,50 have children and manage or run (οἰκοδεσποτέω) the affairs of the household (Pietersen 2007). It is noteworthy that a different verb from the ones used to describe the function of a male head of the household is employed here to describe the potential role of young widows—when they marry. Oἰκοδεσποτέω means ‘to rule, master or manage the affairs of the household.’50 The verb describes the traditional role of wives in the oikos. Wives were usually busy, with no insignificant affairs of the household in ancient cultures under the general oversight of the paterfamilias.
The value placed on marriage and domestic duties here echo traditional expectations of women in antiquity. For example, child bearing/rearing was an important quality associated with women, and 1 Timothy makes repeated reference to that effect (2:15; 5:10, 14) (Marshall 2006, p. 604). Caesar Augustus had made it a law that widows got married, partly to curb sexual indiscretion among some younger ones“51.The lex Julia penalized unmarried women as well as those who were divorced or widowed between the ages of twenty and fifty years who failed to marry or remarry.” (Winter 1988, p. 125) However, those who married too soon after the death of a husband made themselves susceptible to public scorn (Riggsby 2010, p. 175).52 Winter explains that the portrait of young widows and reference to ‘house to house’ visits in 1 Timothy have sexual connotation. “It is right to draw the conclusion that there was connection between the promiscuous activities of indolent widows and what they did in going from house to house.” (Winter 1988, p. 133) Paul’s prescription thus seeks to direct these young widows to a virtuous path. The pericope in 1 Timothy 5 concludes with the insistence that believing relatives and a ‘believing woman’ be engaged in care for widows. I Timothy does not appeal to kinship to construct or enforce power structures per se, but assumes kinship framework and utilizes it prudently to mitigate the influence and infiltration of false teaching/teachers.

7. Conclusions

The approach to 1 Timothy as a leadership correspondence, and the study of its framework of kinship, have yielded insights that merit careful attention—to the extent that some previously held positions may need to be revised. First, it establishes that the ascription to Timothy as a child (τέκνον) is not meant to be patronizing, but to validate his status as a protégé in affinity to Paul. This use of τέκνον in 1 Timothy is consistent with its usage in the undisputed letters (Rom. 8:8, 16, 21; 9:7–8; 1 Cor. 4: 14, 17; 2 Cor. 6:13; 12:14; Gal. 4:19, 25, 27–28; Phil. 2:15, 22; 1 Thess. 2:7, 11; Phlm 10). The use of τέκνον in 1 Cor. 4:17 and Phil. 2:22 are quite similar to 1 Timothy in the way Paul names and refers to Timothy in possessive terms as his τέκνον—Διὰ τοῦτο ἔπεμψα ὑμῖν Τιμόθεον, ὅς ἐστίν μου τέκνον ἀγαπητὸν (1 Cor. 4:17) and ὡς πατρὶ τέκνον σὺν ἐμοὶ ἐδούλευσεν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον (Phil. 2:22). Moreover, the context of its feature in the undisputed letters does not depart from the patriarchal mores of the time. Nothing in the reference to Timothy as τέκνον53 in 1 Timothy suggests a posture to will power over him or to subjugate Timothy.
Second, 1 Timothy constructs an image of the church as a household in which God is the father and members are siblings. Specifically, partners in leadership have shared affinity to God who is the πατήρ (1:2) and the community is defined as οἴκῳ Θεοῦ (3:15). The members are referred to as τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς (4:6), and even slaves are cautioned against the abuse of such affinity with their believing masters (6:2). It is noteworthy that the letter commends members to pursue commendable stewardship in the household of God (1:4). Group dynamics, ethics and service are framed in terms of filial obligations. Consequently, Timothy is entreated to deal with members, not as a power drunk tyrant or a monarchical bishop, but with a demeanor commensurate to ideal household relations—young men and women like siblings, and older men and women like parents (5:1–2). There is no noticeable difference or shift from an egalitarian Paul to patriarchal disputed Paul, evidenced in the use of fictive sibling language (brother[s]) in 1 Timothy.
Third, fictive kinship does not override natural kinship in 1 Timothy. Conversely, it follows Greco-Roman conventions to show a symbiotic relationship between private (household) and public leadership. The criteria for leaders in the church require potential candidates to have shown proven leadership in their household. Specifically, they must be known for marital fidelity and good parenting. The conduct of their children is accentuated as a tangible way to measure their level of leadership competences. Noteworthy in the analogy of household leadership and that of the church, is the language for the function of Christian leaders. Unlike household leaders, the roles of overseers and deacons are couched in terms of ἐπιμελέομαι (care, care giving—3:5) and διακονέω (service 3:10, 13). Jesus, Peter and the undisputed Paul similarly use διακονέω to characterize the services of believing leaders, as shown above. 1 Timothy is rather unique in employing ἐπιμελέομαι (soft and compassionate skill), used in the NT only in one other pericope, to describe the ‘care’ of the ‘Good Samaritan’ to denote a tender care of leaders. In other words, household leadership serves as a model for Christ followers, but leadership must further be marked by genuine pastoral care and service.
Fourth, Timothy is charged to engage natural kinsmen in the efforts to meet the needs of widows. Relatives may not be allowed to offload their kinship obligations on the church. Widows that are admissible for church support must be those who were faithful in marriage and good mothers (feminine stereotypical roles), among other things. Younger widows are not, however, eligible for church assistance. Consistent with laws and custom, Timothy is to exhort them to get married, have children and manage their new homes. The focus on the domestic roles of women is a recurrent feature in this letter and is consistent with cultural norms.
Fifth, Luke-Acts draws our attention to Paul as one who appointed ‘elders’ (πρεσβυτέρους) to manage local churches (Acts 14:23). The mere mention of ‘bishops’ or ‘deacons’ (without stating functions) does not suggest a departure from a ‘love-patriarchal’ framework or an ‘egalitarian’ Paul to a patriarchal or hierarchal post-Pauline text (1 Timothy). Moreover, the representative list of spiritual gifts by the undisputed Paul (Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12 and 14) indicate functions that are similar to what would have been expected of a bishop, an overseer or a deacon (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12–13; Rom 12:7–8; 16:15–16). In fact, Paul explicitly refers to leaders as bishops and deacons (ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις) in the undisputed letter of Philippians (1:1).54
Finally, this study has shed light on the fact that 1 Timothy is consistent with the undisputed Pauline letters in its use of kinship lexemes, fictive or natural kinship. The household code and kinship lexemes make no departure from the framework of the undisputed Paul. Contrary to prevailing views, its portrait of leadership is marked by care giving, service and integrity within ancient patriarchal framework. Timothy is called upon to be an example or embody good conduct as a necessity to effect positive outcomes (4:12–16). The nature of the two main institutional structures featuring in this leadership correspondence—the household or church—does not depart from what we find in the undisputed letters or other parts of the NT. I propose that the appeal to household code or kinship lexemes as a departure from Paul in the authorship debate be reconsidered. The judicious use of kinship lexemes, norms and structures to curb the influence of false teachers may not be overshadowed by questions posed by modern scholars to the ancient text—whether or not it speaks to the legitimate concerns for ‘love patriarchalism’ or egalitarian structures for the modern church. Without negating the important task to promote gender equality in our time, is it possible that individualistic cultural prisms and attendant gender politics tend to influence how we read skillful use of kinship lexemes to promote corporate identity and solidarity in the collectivist framework of the Pauline corpus?
I do not suggest that these findings resolve the debate on the authorship of 1 Timothy, since there are valid cases to be made on the questions of style and theology. However, the argument that the institutional structures, relative to kinship, are distinct from the undisputed Paul cannot be sustained nor substantiated. The undisputed Paul operated in a collectivist cultural framework with patriarchal ethos; one that valued concord, kinship and leadership that is modeled after the household leadership. Mutuality and patriarchal structures were not mutually exclusive in antiquity. It is thus anachronistic to surmise that Paul (of 1 Timothy) shared modern social concerns for equality and the egalitarian quest.55 Paul promoted solidarity and used fictive kinship to mitigate the influence of false teachers—consistent with other NT authors and Greco-Roman social associations. Perhaps, similarities in the use of kinship language between the undisputed Paul and 1 Timothy should inspire probe into more possibilities in regard to the author—if not Paul, then what do these parallels tell us about the author’s relationship to Paul? Cicero’s Letter of Atticus56 may be a helpful place to start with the possibilities of authorship in the letter’s milieu.


This research received no external funding.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


See MacDonald (1988), Horrell (2001) and Bartchy (1999). These are just representative scholars in what has become a popular view suggesting that there is progressive development of institutional structures, gender relations or household codes from the ‘egalitarian’ tradition of Paul to the post-Pauline churches that promoted hierarchical/patriarchal ethos - all within five to thirty years span, in order to integrate the church into the wider society. This position does not need to be rehearsed in this article.
I do not suggest that the churches in Ephesus would not read or see the letter, but that they are not the primary recipients. Reading the letter like other Pauline letters to communities misconstrues aspects of its tone, framework and certain nuances in the personal mandates.
Ταύτην τὴν παραγγελίαν παρατίθεμαιί σοι, τέκνον Τιμόθεε—1:18.
The preposition ἐν plus dative πίστει could be locative or instrumental. I lean towards instrumentality, though some commentators suggest otherwise. Cf. Knight (1992, pp. 63–64). Knight reads it as locative, referring to the sphere in which the relationship occurs.
Some manuscripts have εἰρήνη ἀπὸ Θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν indicating shared spiritual parentage with the person just referred to as γνησίῳ τέκνῳ ἐν πίστει in the same verse. The NA28 removes ἡμῶν though the manuscripts that have it are quite important as well.
Johnson (2020) reads οἴκῳ Θεοῦ to denote a community of believers.
Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 494. Marshall explains that it is rather unlikely that γυναῖκας in 5:11 refers to wives. However, the argument for ‘wives’ is as equally strong as those made for ‘female deacons.’ If we take it to mean female deacons, then the conjecture would include the possibility that Paul imagines females as leaders in such a position, but not in the role of an overseer.
Fraternal kinship does not eliminate household function or slave obligations, but fosters a deep sense of belonging in the case of the church shared affinity to one supreme God.
The use of ἀδελφός is similar to the undisputed letters to harness solidarity or concord vis-à-vis the popular notion that Paul’s use of the word conveys egalitarian ethos (Aasgaard 2004, p. 91). It is anachronistic to argue that Paul knew of what we call the egalitarian position today. Paul knew of social systems we call patriarchal or hierarchical structures and perhaps no other. Aasgaard is right in noting that, “it seems ahistorical to speak of siblingship as an egalitarian relationship. It is more appropriate to view it from the perspective of unity and harmony, and within the framework of a strongly hierarchical system” (p. 91).
See BDAG and TLNT.
See Darko (2014b) No Longer Living as the Gentiles: Differentiation and Shared Ethical Values in Ephesians, pp. 71–81. Here, Greco-Roman conventions on the group dynamics and values of the ideal household are carefully reviewed. The discussion follows in subsequent pages (pp. 81–108) to show how notions of the ideal household may shed some light in our understanding of the household in Ephesians. This is also covered in D. K. Darko (2014a) “Adopted Siblings in the Household of God: Kinship Lexemes in the Social Identity Construction of Ephesians”pp. 333–46.
Aristotle, Pol. 1.1 (trans. B. Jowett)
Aristotle, Pol. 1.3.
Xenophon, Mem. 3.6 (LCL).
Philo, Jos. 8.38 (trans. C. D. Yonge).
See Aristotle, Pol. 1. 1253a.
Plutarch, Mor., 70c. See Darko, No Longer Living as the Gentile, 71–81. A review of the primary sources here shows the link between the household and the polis not only in the works of Plutarch and Aristotle, but also in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Philo, Josephus and Peudo-Phocylides. In other words, both Greek and Jewish writers in the Greco-Roman world made such a link.
Clark (2006) indicates that instead of ‘management’ or ‘headship’ of the household, we should read it as ‘involvement’ in the household.
See Wis. 2:16; 14:3; Sir. 23:1, 4; 51:10; 3 Macc. 6:3, 8; Jub. 19:29; 4Q382 55 II; 4Q379 69:1–7; Jos. Asen. 12:8–15.
Tob. 13:4; Wis. 11:10; 1QH IX, 35; 3 Macc. 2:21; 5:7; 7:6; Jub. 1:25, 28; Apocr. zek. Frag. 2.
Harland (2005). Also Aasgaard (2004): My Beloved Brother and Sisters!. This book provides a comprehensive analysis of kinship language (brother) in Greco-Roman antiquity as the backdrop to understand Paul’s use of ‘brother(s)’ in his letters.
Mappes (2003) provides more extensive virtue requisites of military Generals of antiquity.
Goodrich (2013) closely examines the view that the author seeks to enlist the equivalent of Roman Senators to be church officers. He observes that they are rather shared virtues for good stewardship.
In 3:2 it appears in the singular referring to a single person, whereas the plural in 3:12 (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρες) corresponds with the subject (pl.)– deacons.
The authors of this book do well to lay out marriage customs in the major cultures of the Bible. The reader will find it useful to observe similarities with the customs of Abraham’s homeland in the Near East and practices in Israel that partly continued in the Second Temple period.
George (1933) provides an instructive historical account of how the practice of polygamy among Jews and the spread of Christianity elsewhere in the empire led to discussions and theological constructs that eventually aligned monogamy with Christianity.
Josephus, Wars 1.24.2.
Josephus, Antiquities 1:2 (14).
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 134.
See Campbell, Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. The contributors of this book do well to show the practices of various cultures represented in the Bible. The commonalities and differences are helpful to those who want to acquaint themselves with marriage and family practices of the ancient world.
The modern reader may not confuse ideal or honorable cultural norms and common practices in ancient society. There were so many common practices in ancient societies that were condemned by philosophers and rhetoricians (e.g., same sex conduct).
Demosthenes, Oration 59.122. The kind that Demosthenes describes in the popular quote as, “For this is what living with a woman as one's wife means—to have children by her and to introduce the sons to the members of the clan and of the deme, and to betroth the daughters to husbands as one’s own. Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.”
Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 478. Marshall argues that this requirement is not couched to place injunction on certain forms of marriage but to emphasize fidelity. Also Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 158–59.
The shift of the main verbs of 3:4 and 3:5 are noteworthy4 τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον, τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ, μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος 5 (εἰ δέ τις τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου προστῆναι οὐκ οἶδεν, πῶς ἐκκλησίας θεοῦ ἐπιμελήσεται).
These words set a different tone in the way leaders see their function. In 1 Timothy, leadership is akin to pastoral care and service.
The sentence in 3:11 continues to be a debated matter as various views are held on what γυναῖκας refers to in the sentence—γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς, μὴ διαβόλους, νηφαλίους, πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν. The three main views are that it refers to (a) women as deacons, (b) wives of deacons or (c) unmarried women in the church in some serving capacity. This uncertainty explains why it is not a part of the discussion on leadership. If it refers to wives then that would have been treated here in the wider framework of kinship and household duties.
The use of the word here does not affect who the feminine subject is. It is still the role of a female figure being described in managerial terms in 1 Timothy.
Barclary (2020) argues in favor of ancient economics, which is the view I hold here. Neither Barclary or I find sufficient merit for the view of ‘fraternal order of widows’ of the sort under vow dedicated to service in the church.
Kartzow, “The ‘Believing woman’ and Her Ekklēsia,” 305–16. Kartzow has made an important observation in her study to textual variants to highlight a potential support system for widows that had previously evaded us. According to the findings, ‘believing woman’ in 1 Tim 5:16 seems to refer to a female leader with no biological ties to the widows in need, but resourceful to entertain other women in need (widows) as part of the broader support system for the early Christians. According to Kartzow, “she (the believing woman) is an alternative leader figure of the early church. She is not someone related by blood or reproductive ties to the widows who only take care of their own family. She is a believing woman with affiliations” (p. 316).
Plato indicates that the gods hear the prayers of parents, for good or ill, on behalf of their children and it is the reason they need to be honored. Plato (Laws 931) tells of an incident, “Oedipus, when he was dishonored (so our story runs), invoked upon his children curses which, as all men allege, were granted by Heaven and fulfilled; and we tell how Amyntor in his wrath cursed his son Phoenix, and Theseus cursed Hippolytus, and countless other parents cursed countless other sons, which curses of parents upon sons it is clearly proved that the gods grant; for a parent’s curse laid upon his children is more potent than any other man’s curse against any other, and most justly so. Let no man suppose, then, that when a father or a mother is dishonored by the children, in that case it is natural for God to hearken especially to their prayers, whereas when the parent is honored and is highly pleased and earnestly prays the gods, in consequence, to bless his children—are we not to suppose that they hearken equally to prayers of this kind, and grant them to us? For if not, they could never be just dispensers of blessings; and that, as we assert, would be most unbecoming in gods.”
The first half of Balla’s monograph is an excellent study on Greek, Roman and Second Temple texts dealing with child–parent relationships.
Winter (1988), “Providentia For the Widows of 1 Timothy 5:3–16,” 88. If fact, the issues being addressed have nothing to do with the egalitarian–patriarchal debate often imposed on the text here. Paul calls for members to meet their civic responsibilities as well as religious obligation to provide for widows in their households.
See Homer, Illiad Op. 182–83.
Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras VIII (trans. Thomas Taylor).
Plato, Laws 4.717 (trans. Diskin Clay).
Fee, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, 118.
The word νεωτέρας (young) stands in emphatic position of the sentence, and Timothy is addressed in the singular to refuse (παραιτοῦ) to make care for these young widows the responsibility of the church.
Cf. Pomeroy (1997, p. 27). Pomeroy further explains, “The age difference between spouses at first marriage, the average age of death for men (45), and the aversion of leaving a fertile woman without a husband made it likely that children would be orphaned (i.e., ‘fatherless’) early in life, and the young widow would remarry, perhaps leaving her children in their father’s house and becoming a mother again and/or a stepmother elsewhere.”
Pietersen (2007) postulates that the instruction is meant to curb a younger widow’s propensity to participate in ascetic practices that were being promoted by the false teachers. Apparently, young widows were being influenced by a group of ‘ascetic widows’ that withdrew from the hierarchical social system of the church to take the vow of celibacy in order to enjoy some freedom outside the patriarchal domination. The lack of evidence to support the infiltration or influence of ascetic widows and their practices leaves the reader with the impression of unsatisfactory conjecture.
BDAG in Accordance Bible Software.
Cicero, pro Caelio, 38 and Polybius, xxxvi. 17.7.
With reference to Andrew M. Riggsby’s (2010) Roman Law and the Legal World of the Romans, despite the fact that there was no statutory timeframe, approximately a year was deemed an appropriate gap between widowhood and remarriage.
Lexical studies show that υἱός and τέκνον could be used interchangeably. Tέκνον as a lexeme has no particular denotative or connotative meaning in regard to power. The cultural norms associated with the parent–child relationship and kinship obligations are that which establish superior—subordinate differentials. Age differences alone accorded some prerogatives in ancient cultures.
Unlike the prescriptive discourse in 1 Timothy—for those who want to be bishops or deacons—they are existential in Philippians where Paul refers to those who are indeed bishops and deacons.
The notions of ‘equality’ or ‘egalitarian’ are concepts of power: they define the quests for power or the distribution of power. It is problematic to use this prism in the analysis of social institutions in patriarchal societies where relational terms like mutuality, solidarity, concord, pietas or community are the operative words. Ancient cultures may not be stripped off of their values for community in our modern quest for gender equality or value for individualism in Western countries.
Letter of Atticus 2.23.1; 3.1.5; 4.16.1; 6.6; 11.5 (Cicero 1999). Cf. Foster (2016, pp. 61–80); Talbert (2007, pp. 7–11). Foster and Talbert model a nuanced approach to the authorship possibilities for Colossians in a manner that may serve as a template for robust and nuanced assessment for the evidence in relation to 1 Timothy.


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Darko, D.K. Kinship and Leadership in 1 Timothy: A Study of Filial Framework and Model for Christian Communities in Asia Minor. Religions 2023, 14, 169.

AMA Style

Darko DK. Kinship and Leadership in 1 Timothy: A Study of Filial Framework and Model for Christian Communities in Asia Minor. Religions. 2023; 14(2):169.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Darko, Daniel K. 2023. "Kinship and Leadership in 1 Timothy: A Study of Filial Framework and Model for Christian Communities in Asia Minor" Religions 14, no. 2: 169.

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