The worst thing to do is simply talk about it, rejoice secretly in the “hidden knowledge” and go tell the next person, in confidence, of course – adding your own juicy tidbits to make it sound just a little better. THAT is what Paul is forbidding. Don’t hear it, don’t receive it at all – unless it is for the purpose of lawfully dealing with it, exposing it and bringing redemption or justice.
In preparing for a study on gossip and slander, I was looking at 1 Timothy 5:19. I noticed a discrepancy in the translations.
KJV 1 Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
NASB 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
ESV 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
NKJV 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.
The translation of the old King James is that accusations against elders must be done in a lawful way, in front of the courts of the church. Two or three witnesses hearkens back to Deuteronomy 17:6.
But the rest of the English translations listed show something else entirely. It teaches that you cannot even HEAR an accusation against an elder unless there are 2 or 3 witnesses to back it up.
What that effectively does is make it impossible to ever accuse an elder of much of anything.
The scandal of child sexual abuse among both Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy would be impossible to prosecute, for rarely does a predator prey in the presence of witnesses.
Abusers don’t abuse in front of eye-witnesses.
Is this really what this verse says? Which one is correct?
The preposition in question is Ἐπὶ with the genitive case. Prepositions are tricky things and take some care in translating. One has to know how language works. If it is to be interpreted “on the evidence of”, which three of the translations above have it, then it is the ONLY place in all of scripture where it has this meaning.
However, in Acts 25:10, Paul answers and says, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal…” using Ἐπὶ and the genitive case. It seems impossible in this legal context that he would mean “on the evidence of Caesar’s tribunal”.
“Before” – meaning, to be judged and found either guilty or innocent by Caesar seems to make perfect sense.
I would suggest that it has the same meaning in 1 Timothy 5:19.
Do not receive an accusation except in front of two or three witnesses that can do something about it.
My denomination has a book of church order, as do many others. (If your church does not, I would suggest finding another church). The form of complaint or charge against an elder or pastor is spelled out.
“Here is what he did. Here is what the scripture says. Here is how you go about it.”
Or, to put it in Paul’s terms in his day, “before two or three witnesses”. Get it before the proper council. And then (verse 20) if they are in sin rebuke them before all.
There are two deadly viruses that destroy a congregation of believers. First, when the leadership is made up of wolves preying upon the sheep. When the leadership devours and destroys, abuses their congregants, using the weaker ones to satisfy their own lusts. Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23 both warn of this, as well as many, many other places.