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Didaktikos: A Qualification for Overseers & the Lord’s Servant

Teachable: A Qualification for Overseers and the Lord's Servants

In 1 Timothy 3:2 and in 2 Timothy 2:24 there is a rare Greek word, didaktikos, an adjective. This word occurs nowhere else in extant Greek literature with the exception of two of Philo’s works and in homilies by Chrysostom on 1 and 2 Timothy.[1] Lexicons of New Testament Greek typically give the definition of didaktikos as “able to teach” or “apt to teach”. I suggest, however, these definitions may be incorrect.

A Similar Word: Didaktos

A similar word, didaktos, also an adjective, may shed some light on the meaning of didaktikos. Didaktos is less rare than didaktikos, which allows us to see how it is used in several texts.

Didaktos occurs three times in the Septuagint: in Isaiah 54:13, 1 Maccabees 4:7, and Psalms of Solomon 17:32. The occurrence in 1 Maccabees 4:7 refers to men “taught in the art of warfare”: didaktoi polemou. In Psalms of Solomon 17:32, a messianic prophecy speaks of a righteous king who is “taught by God” (didaktos hupo theou).

Didaktos also occurs three times in the New Testament. John 6:45 includes a quotation from Isaiah 54:13 which includes the phrase “taught by God” (in Latin “docibiles Dei”). The other occurrences of didaktos are in 1 Corinthians 2:13 where the word occurs twice. This is where Paul explains that he and his colleagues are speaking words “not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit”. Furthermore, the compound word theodidaktoi, which means “taught by God” or “divinely instructed”, occurs in 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

In all these verses, people are described as being taught, rather than the ones doing the teaching. Accordingly, the TDNT notes that didaktos has three senses: “taught”, “learned”, and “teachable”.[2] The LSJ gives the first-century meaning of didaktos as “of persons, taught, instructed”.[3] BDAG gives two definitions: “1. Pertaining to being taught, taught, instructed . . . 2. Pertaining to being communicated as instruction, imparted, taught . . .”[4]

Didaktikos, the word that occurs in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24, is didaktos with a (t)ikos suffix. This adjectival suffix typically gives the sense of “concerned with” and “having characteristics of.”  It has the same sense as the English adjectival suffix “-(t)ic” (e.g. “poetic”, “hypnotic”, etc). In fact “-(t)ic” is derived from the Greek “-(t)ikos”.

The usual Greek word translated as “able to teach” is didaskalikos (not didaktikos). Didakskalikos is derived from the noun didaskalos (“teacher”).[5] So how are we to understand the very rare word didaktikos?

Didaktikos in 1 Timothy 3:2

1 Timothy 3:2-7 contains a list of requirements or qualifications for an overseer (or bishop). With the exception of the traditional translation of didaktikos, “able to teach”, all these requirements are moral qualities and character traits, they are not skills. It is odd that, in a list of moral qualifications, the skill “able to teach” is listed. It makes more sense that the character trait of being “teachable” is what was intended. “Teachable” fits perfectly with the character traits listed around it: “. . . temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, teachable, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable . . .”

All these qualities were typical of a respectable householder in the first century Greco-Roman world. Likewise an overseer (who was often a householder and house church leader) was to be respectable and thought well of by outsiders so as not to bring disgrace to the church  (1 Tim. 3:7). Quite unlike other lists in the Pauline letters, the list in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is not primarily concerned with ministerial gifts, talents, or skills, but respectability and character.

Didaktikos in 2 Timothy 2:24

The context of 2 Timothy 2:24 also fits with the meaning “teachable”. In the midst of controversies and contentions in the church, “the Lord’s servant” is advised not to be “quarrelsome, but be kind to all, teachable, patient when wronged” (2 Tim. 2:24). Admittedly the next verse has the idea of teaching: “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition”, but the focus is on character and demeanour rather than teaching ability.

Interestingly, the Vulgate translates didaktikos into Latin as docibilis, in 2 Timothy 2:24.[6] Docibilis comes from the Latin word docēre “to teach”, but the –ibilis ending renders docibilis as meaning “teachable.”

Some Church Fathers conflated 2 Timothy 2:24 with 1 Timothy 3:2 and believed that both verses, and the idea of being teachable, applied specifically to overseers (or bishops.) Cyprian and Augustine understood docibilis, when applied to bishops, to mean “apt to be taught” or “capable of being instructed” with a passive sense rather than an active sense.[7] Thomas Aquinas followed the interpretation of Cyprian and Augustine, and likewise believed that bishops being “teachable” was the correct interpretation in 2 Timothy 2:24.[8]

The Vulgate has translated didaktikos inconsistently, however. In 1 Timothy 3:2 the Latin word is doctor (not docibilis) which has an active sense. A doctor is one who teaches, rather than one who is taught.

John Chrysostom understood didaktikos as meaning “able to teach”. Commenting on 2 Timothy 2:1-2 he wrote: “Therefore it is necessary a teacher have two qualities, both to be faithful and able to teach (didaktikos); for this reason [Paul] says, ‘who will be able to teach also others.'”[9] Commenting on 2 Timothy 2:24, Chrysostom writes: “Able to teach (didaktikos): that is, towards all those willing to be taught.”[10] Was Chrysostom familiar with the word didaktikos? His interpretation of “able to teach” does not agree with Philo’s use of the word.

The “Taught Virtue” (didaktikē aretē) in Philo

In his works De congressu quaerendae eruditionis gratia (35)[11] and De praemiis et poenis (27)[12], Philo used the feminine form of the adjective didaktikos about Abraham to describe a virtue that is “learned and received in teaching” rather than one that is acquired “by exercise or asceticism”.[13] This virtue is “given by God without a human master or teacher. The didaktikē aretē[14] thus has a decidedly passive meaning.”[15]

Interestingly, just as the occurrences of didaktos in the Septuagint (except for 1 Macc. 4:7) and the New Testament are in the context of receiving divine instruction (Isa. 54:13; PsSol. 17:32; John 6:45; 1 Cor. 2:13; cf. 1 Thess. 4:9), Philo writes that “the taught virtue” comes from God (Congr. 35-36). Is this association with God an idiomatic use of these rare, closely related words?[16] Should we understand that the teachability in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24 is an openness to divine instruction and persuasion? Whatever the case may be, a passive quietness and acquiescence was the demeanour of a good student, and may be the sense behind the adjective didaktikos.

Conclusion

Considering the meanings of the closely related word didaktos, considering the contexts of didaktikos in the letters to Timothy, and considering the contexts in the works of Philo, I believe the adjective didaktikos may have a passive sense and refers to the quality of being “teachable”. Chrétien, in his discussion of this word in 2 Timothy 2:24 writes, “whether the epistle to Timothy intended didaktikos in an active or passive sense, it remains that, philosophically as well as theologically, one is implied by the other.”[17] A person who teaches must be teachable (didaktikos) with “the meaning of an attention, of a receptivity, and of an active listening.”[18]


Endnotes

[1] Philo of Alexandria (25 BC–50 AD) was an influential Hellenised Jewish philosopher who taught and wrote in the first half of the first century AD. The letters of 1 and 2 Timothy were probably written late in the first century. Was Paul influenced by Philo’s use of the word? John Chrysostom (347–407), the archbishop of Constantinople and an influential Church Father, wrote a few hundred years later that Philo and Paul, in the late fourth and first few years of the fifth century.

[2] K.H. Rengstorf, “Didaktos”, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (TDNT) eds Gerard Kittel and Gerard Friedrich, abridged by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985)  166.

[3] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “διδακτός, ή, όν”, A Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ), Ninth Edition, revised by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1996) 421.

[4] Walter Bauer, “διδακτός, ή, όν”, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition (BDAG), revised and edited by F.W Danker, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) 240.

[5] Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920, 1984) 237, §858.6. (Didaskalikos does not occur in the New Testament or Septuagint.)

[6] “Aside from Seneca, this word [docibilis] is used almost exclusively by Christian authors and first by the most ancient Latin version of the Bible, thus contributing to its spread.”
Jean-Louis Chrétien, Under the Gaze of the Bible: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy, Transl. John Marson Dunaway (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015) 46.

[7] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 46.

[8] Ibid. 47.

[9] The Greek text of John Chrysostom’s commentary on 2 Timothy 2:1-2, in Homily 4 on 2 Timothy chapter 2, is included in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca here (column 619, line 36).

[10] Chrysostom’s commentary on 2 Timothy 2:24, in Homily 6 on 2 Timothy chapter 2, is here (page 632, column 672, line 13).

[11] This work is also known as On Mating with the Preliminary Studies. Yonge, however, called it A Treatise on the Meeting for the Sake of Seeking Instruction.

[12] Also known as On Rewards and Punishments.

[13] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 46.

[14] Didaktikē is the singular feminine nominative form; didaktikos is the singular masculine nominative form of the same adjective. The singular masculine accusative form, didaktikon, occurs in 1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24, and several times in Chrysostom’s homilies on 1 and 2 Timothy.

[15] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 46.

[16] Philo also uses a compound word autodidaktos meaning “self-taught” in both De congressu quaerendae eruditionis gratia (e.g. 36) and De praemiis et poenis (27; 36; etc).

[17] Chrétien, Under the Gaze, 48.

[18] Ibid. 48–49.

Many thanks to Don Lowe and Lee Irons for pointing out to me the occurrences of didaktikos in Chrysostom’s homilies.
Chrysostom’s understanding of didaktikos is also evident in his commentary on 1 Timothy 3:2. He writes, “For this [ability to teach] is not required of him that is ruled, but is most essential to him who has this rule committed to him.” (Homily 10 on 1 Timothy) And, commenting on 1 Timothy 5 he writes,

It is an important point, and contributes much to the edification of the Church, that the rulers of it should be apt to teach (διδακτικούς). If this be wanting, many things in the Church go to ruin. Therefore in addition to the qualifications of hospitality, moderation, and a blameless life, he enumerates this also, saying, ‘Apt to teach’ (διδακτικόν). For why else indeed is he called a teacher (διδάσκαλος)? (MPG: Column 582, line 13)


 -(t)ikos Words in the New Testament

-(t)ikos is an adjectival ending. With a few exceptions, -ikos is usually suffixed to a nominal stem, and -tikos to a verbal stem. It is the word’s stem, and especially the context where the word occurs, that helps to determine whether the adjective is describing a state that involves some kind of action, ability, demeanor, or some other characteristic.

Here are most of the (t)ikos words found in the New Testament:

airetikos – factious, causing division
anōterikos – upper, inland
archieratikos – high-priestly
basilikos – royal
biōtikos – pertaining to life
ethnikos – Gentile, heathen, . . .
eirēnikos – peaceable, peaceful
hippikos – pertaining to a horse rider, cavalry . . .
kritikos – able to discern, judge
logikos – rational, spiritual
mulikos – belonging to a mill
nomikos – pertaining to the law
onikos – pertaining to a donkey
paralutikos – lame, lame person, paralytic
patrikos – paternal, handed down from one’s father
pistikos – genuine, faithful, believing
pneumatikos – pertaining to the spirit, spiritual
sarkikos – fleshly, earthly, material, . . .
prophetikos – prophetic
phusikos – belonging to nature, natural

These definitions are mostly taken from Warren Trenchard’s, Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998)


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Posted December 12th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Bible Translation and Interpretation, , , ,

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17 comments on “Didaktikos: A Qualification for Overseers & the Lord’s Servant

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    I agree with this, Marg. It’s a far better translation of a difficult word. I have learned over many years of mentoring leaders that leaders can be trained to teach, therefore, being able to teach can’t be a criterion for leading the people of God.

  2. […] All the qualifications stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 are essentially moral qualifications. Paul wanted church leaders to be people of honour and dignity. […]

  3. judy says:

    “Character”…such an egalitarian word…this is a word that seems to lend itself to neither, or to both, male and female equally. I predict, that this ‘understanding’ will therefore soon become despised by Complementarians, for those of that sort that I know are already overwhelmed with anything that smacks of ‘gender neutrality’…and this character definition will ‘neutralize’ them ☺. “Ability”they can deal with as they really believe that women lack some abilities, but character is logically out of their reach….(or am I naive?)

    • Marg says:

      I never thought of “character” as being an egalitarian word, but I think you are right: character is not tied to gender, and most people can see that. I argue that ministry ability is also not tied to gender, but that is harder for some to see, and harder still to acknowledge.

  4. John says:

    You know, when i read 1Timothy3:1-2, i see this as paul quoting a quote when he said “”This is a true saying”. I see thim quoting a quote that said how man DESIRES a GOOD THNG “”IF”” he DESIRES to be bishop. Now clearly all men cannot be bishops by desiring, even 1Corinthians12:29 said (“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?”)

    Thats why paul was only regarding the quote to address the man God chooses and paul simply said he has to have 1 spouse….one wife. Telling a man to have 1 spouse when he becomes bishop is not saying the role of a bishop must be a husband. Paul never started out verse 1 by saying a bishop must be a husband.

    • Marg says:

      Hi John,

      “This is a faithful/reliable word” (pistos logos) is an expression used a few times, and only, in the pastoral epistles (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Tit. 3:8). I think it is just the writer’s way of emphasising what he is saying. The expression does not seem to be introducing quotations except in 2 Timothy 2:11.

      Some believe that all instances of pistos logos refer to the assurance of salvation, and that the instance in 1 Tim. 3:1 is referring to the previous verse 1 Tim. 2:15 which is about salvation. I think they may be right. Whatever the case, Paul is saying what he is writing is true.

      I notice that you use the word “men”: “Now clearly all men cannot be bishops . . .” And “man: ” . . . the man God chooses . . .”; “Telling a man . . .”
      There is no word for “men” or “man” in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1ff. A literal translation of the Greek is: “The saying is trustworthy: whoever [or, if anyone] aspires to an ‘overseer-ship’ [s/he] desires a noble task.”

      I have written about this here:http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/
      In this article I also write about the idiomatic expression “a one-woman-man”. Numerous ancient grave inscriptions indicate what the idiom means.

  5. judy says:

    Of course this makes sense John, at least to me. Paul was never excusing himself or even Jesus from such a position…I believe he was eliminating those persons who had more than one spouse…from paganism.

    In verse 11 however, what does Paul mean “the women likewise”? (the correct translation being women not “their wives”…

    • Marg says:

      Hi Judy,

      Polygamy was illegal in the Roman Empire and uncommon. Even the pagans recognised the virtue of self-restraint and monogamy, though many husbands also engaged in sex with (unmarried) people other than their spouse.

      The “one-woman-man” qualification in 1 Timothy 3 is about marital fidelity in the person already married. I discuss this phrase in some depth here.

  6. Lyn Kidson says:

    Thank you Marg for this very well researched and thoughtful article. It actually supports my thesis quite nicely, so you might acquire a footnote! It seems to me that the whole letter revolves around the ‘certain men’ teaching another type? another way? of Christian living. As far as I can see the commands are about responding to this problem. He’s telling the ‘certain men and women’ who are aspiring to the roles of leadership that they must be prepared to be taught/ commanded by Timothy and Paul. As simple as that really. Thanks again.

  7. Donald Johnson says:

    Robertson’s Word Pictures for the NT for the word in question for 2 Tim 2:24 has this note: Teachable (didaktikon). See note on 1Ti_3:2. For 1 Tim 3:2 has Apt to teach (didaktikon). Late form for old didaskalikos, one qualified to teach. In Philo and N.T. only (1Ti_3:2; 2Ti_2:24).

    My take is that just as the main criterion for being a good leader is being a good follower, so for being a good teacher is being a good learner. More specifically, one is taught so that at some point one can teach others (at least in theory). So I think Paul may be referring to some kind of thing like that, being teachable AND able to teach, but being teachable comes first.

    Another aspect is what is the diff. between an elder/overseer and a deacon? I recall being taught that the character lists for the 2 are similar except for this word. But I also think that every believer should strive to learn. So perhaps a deacon is an apprentice elder/overseer. Recall Paul refers to himself as a deacon, so it is often translated as minister. Just thinking out loud but perhaps the church leadership hierarchy of member, deacon, elder needs to be rethought.

    • Marg says:

      I wonder why Robertson said it was a later form of didaskalikos? Have you got more info on this? I wonder if it’s an assumption and, if so, what he bases the assumption on?

      Paul seems to use several ministry terms (e.g. “apostle” and “deacon”) more fluidly in his early (or authentic) letters. Church hierarchies became more solidified by the turn of the century, but even in the early second century not all churches had the bishop-elders-deacons hierarchical model that Ignatius assumes is the norm.

      • Donald Johnson says:

        I think according to Scripture, a “bishop” is an elder and there were a plurality of elders for a congregation. The consolidation of power into a single bishop I see as a falling away from the truth as taught in the NT.

        I do not have more on Robertson, just a note in e-Sword. I think there may be more in his actual book, not sure since I do not have it.

  8. Donald Johnson says:

    P.S. On pistis ho logos, Bruce Fleming points out that there are 2 ways to translate this: 1) Trustworthy [is] the saying, and 2) Faithful [is] the Word, this latter form referring to Jesus. (The “is” is elided in both cases and assumed.) He claims that Paul is making a wordplay in the first use of this phrase in 1 Tim (as it can mean both) but means just the 2nd meaning in the latter uses. This importance of reading it this way is that one does not need to try to find a trustworthy saying either before of after the phrase and that it indicates an inbreaking of Jesus to solve the challenge/question presented. This also helps to tie the whole letter together. Paul screwed up and was taught, some women at Ephesus screwed up and are to be taught, and Timothy avoided these kind of things by being taught and having Jesus happening earlier in his life.

  9. […] Marg Mowczko wrote on didaktikos in 1 and 2 Timothy and Theonoe and Myrte from the apocryphal Corinthian correspondence. […]

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