Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 4, 2019

For whom is the church responsible? (καί and 1 Tim 5:5)

Paul tells Timothy that the church and care for widows you are truly windows. A few verses later he says that the widow who the church should care for is the woman who is truly in need “and” (καί) is left all alone. The question is whether the καί is repeating the first requirement or adding a second.

Who is the widow that the church is required to care for? 1 Tim 5:3-16 deals with this issue. Since the church has limited resources, it is important to know who should be cared for, and who the church does not have a responsibility to care for.

The text says that the church is to care for the widow who is truly a widow (χήρας τίμα τὰς ὄντως χήρας). While this is word-for-word, it is meaningless. Is Paul saying that the church should care for the widow whose husband is truly dead? I think not. See the meaningless NASB: “Honor widows who are widows indeed.”

As you read the entire section, you see that the widow the church should care for is the widow who is godly (as seen by a life of good deeds (vv 5, 9-10) and has no one else to care for her. If she has extended family, it is their responsibility (vv 4, 8, 16).

This brings us to an interesting translation issue. The NIV says, “The widow who is really in need and (καί) left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help” (also NASB, CSB). They are interpreting “truly a widow” (ὄντως χήρας) as being truly in need, which is good. But notice the “and.” It sounds like there are two requirements, but what would the difference be between being “in need” and being “all alone”? The context shows that they are in need because they are alone. They are the same requirement. Hence, the word for word translation of “and” misleads.

Look at the ESV. “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God.” Where is the καί? It is interpreted (properly) as a comma (also the NRSV) since it is epexegetical. Certain conjunctions can often be translated as punctuation, and here the “dynamic” ESV correctly sees the contextual problem and interprets the καί. The NLT is also good; “Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God.”

So much for the myth of being able to see the Greek behind the English. The only time this happens is when you already know the Greek.


If you look at the LSJ and Brill entries for χηρα, χηρος, and other related variants of the root word, which seems to me somewhat related to χωρα (space/separateness), it appears that χηρα is not just a label, but descriptive of a state of being. Accordingly, χηρας τιμα τας οντως χηρας, "widows be valuing, the being widows" is not necessarily "meaningless" at face value. Suppose I said, "If that man is really a man, he will act like one." One would understand that statement in English. Accordingly, 1 Tim 5:3 speaks to me as addressing widows who are truly in a state of widowhood, technically and in actual practice. Then, η δε οντως χηρα και μεμονωμενη, "the yet being widow and having-been-only-ed" follows from that same principle and theme. The scripture is again citing a widow who is a widow both by label (technically) and in actual practice.