"Apt to teach"

Hi everyone-

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about the elder position, and we started discussing I Timothy 3, where the qualification is 'able to teach'.  I have no doubt that the desire to teach is there for someone who should be an elder, but the effectiveness is what we kicked around.  If someone loves to teach, is great in small groups, but can't get out of his way in a pulpit (for whatever reason) when he's called on to preach...is he still qualified?

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Dan Miller's picture

διδακτικός - apt to teach

1 Timothy 3:2 says the elder must be "apt to teach." The Greek word is διδακτικός. The context of 1 Timothy 3 doesn't help us understand its meaning. And it is not used in the NT enough to help us see what it means. It is little used in other Greek literature. Philo uses it for "the virtue which renders one teachable." We think there is some nuance there, and we want you to see it, but we may not be able to drive it home as we wish we could. That nuance is that "able in teaching" is talking about "teaching" in the sense of "What is your teaching on the atonement?" rather than "He speaks so well - he can really teach well." The first uses "teaching" as a synonym for doctrine. The second uses "teaching" as a synonym for speaking ability. In other words, we want you to begin to understand that the qualification apt to teach is primarily about doctrinal ability. Mark Dever says, “While [public preaching] may be included, it is not the necessary or exclusive definition of ‘able to teach.’ Ability to teach the Word simply means that a man is able to explain the Scriptures accurately to other people in ways that profit them spiritually.”

Even looking at the -τικός ending doesn't give us a sure answer because even that ending is uncommon. Tufts University has a word searching took for Greek. I did find an interesting word with the same ending: πνευματωτικός. Literally, "apt to wind," this word (though never in the Bible) means "tends to cause flatulence." So just a beans cause you to have "wind," an elder should cause you to know true doctrine. There are several Greek words relating to teaching. We will look at two others that will help us see  the qualification and work of elders.

διδαχή - doctrine

Titus 1:9 helps us with the qualification of the elder: "[The elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught" - literally, "holding to the faithful word according to the teaching." Look at "teaching" in these passages:

2 John 1:9 "Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (But we cannot listen to Christ's actual sermons. Instead, we hear his doctrine, voiced by others.)

Revelation 2:14 "But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam…"  (Wait - wasn't Balaam teaching back in Numbers?)

Acts 13:12 (Paul is preaching) "Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord." (Wait - wasn't Paul speaking?)

These refer to the "teaching of someone" and that someone was not speaking. When you think of apt in teaching, think of apt in the Apostles' teaching or apt in the Christ's teaching. Good doctrine is what is at stake. That is the apt to teach qualification you're looking for in your elder.

Our pastor often says that we "fellowship around the Apostle's Doctrine." We don't actually hear the voices of Paul and Peter, though, do we? The teaching of the apostles is here at our church, but not in the sense that we hear the speeches actually delivered by the apostles themselves. Rather, their doctrine is here and therefore, we hear their teaching every week. When we choose elders, we are looking for men who understand the Apostles' Doctrine. They will speak it from the pulpit, defend it in small groups and Bible studies, and use it to develop and lead ministries that are Biblical.

διδασκαλία - teaching

Healthy instruction (διδασκαλία - teaching) is one result of ability in doctrine. Look again at Titus 1:9 "[The elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught (διδαχή, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine (literally, "hygienic instruction") and also to rebuke those who contradict it." The qualification for the elder is holding to good doctrine. The reason is that good doctrine will enable him to give healthy instruction, encouragement, and rebuke false teaching.

1 Timothy 5:17 "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching (Literally, "the word") and teaching (διδασκαλία)." Here Paul is not so much talking about the qualification for elders as he is the elder's ministry of teaching. Just like in Titus 1:9, we see the relationship between the qualification, able in doctrine, and the daily work, the giving of instruction.

The last teaching word to examine concerning eldership is διδάσκαλος. Like our word for instruction, it is based on the verb διδάσκω. So we know this is related to the act of teaching. James 3:1 says, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." The KJV translates this word "masters." That is a good word because the Greek word was used for the school headmaster (TDNT). This is not simply one who teaches, but one who oversaw the teaching of others and help ensure a healthy, full, well rounded education is given. This is the word for the "teachers" part of pastor-teachers in Ephesians 4:11.

We've painted a picture of three aspects of eldership. When we think of qualification, we mainly think of knowledge. Does he hold to Biblical doctrine? When we think of the life and ministry of the elder, we think of the aspect of teaching others, from the pulpit and in daily life. And we think of overseeing the teaching that others do.


1. With regard to the qualification apt to teach, elders must be able in doctrine.

2. With regard to the practical ministry of the elder, they will be using their doctrine in teaching, exhortation, ministry guidance, refutation, and silencing.

3. Elders also have the responsibility of overseeing the teaching of others.