NIV 1 Timothy 3:

1Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of fulla respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6He must not be a recent convert (νεόφυτος), or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

The word in question literally means "newly planted" and it is ONLY in Bible translations that it is rendered "a new convert":

νεόφυτος, ον (νέος, φύω) Aristoph., Fgm. 828 I p. 581 Kock; PRyl 138, 9 [34 a.d.]; BGU 563 I, 9 al. [Dssm., NB 47f—BS 220f]; Ps 127:3; 143:12; Is 5:7; Job 14:9; JosAs 25:2) lit. ‘newly planted’, fig. (only in Christian lit.) newly planted in the Christian community, newly converted (cp. ‘neophyte’) 1 Ti 3:6.—DELG s.v. νέος C1. M-M.

There is an English word which is basically a transliteration of the Greek word and it means a "newbe", however it was surely coined from the KJV usage:

1 : a new convert : proselyte 2 : novice 1 3 : tyro, beginner a neophyte when it comes to computers neophytes fresh from graduate schools of business


I notice that the next sentence speaks of the necessity of having earned the respect of non-believers, which takes some time.

So is Paul saying, "Not a new convert" or "Not a newcomer"?


So is Paul saying, "Not a new convert" or "Not a newcomer"?

The quick answer is neither one

This term comes within the context of the qualifications of the office of Bishop. The first thing one must determine is whether there are multiple offices within the Church with multiple titles. I come from an independent Baptist perspective that has one office, with multiple titles for the one office. Roman Catholics or the Episcopal Church allows for multiple offices and a hierarchy among those offices.

I bring this up because it is in looking at some other passages that I think we find the help to clarify what was intended here in 1 Tim. 3:6. To begin with I would contend that versions that translate this term as "new convert" are falling significantly short of what is intended here by this term. KJV has "novice" which is a little better because it their abilities which I think is at the heart of the issue. Yet it too is a little weak on just what is meant. For example, I think Paul hints at this in 2 Tim. 2:1-2

2 Tim. 2:1-2:

1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

The standard here was that they had to have learned and understood the things that had been taught by Paul. For us this would mean a proper understanding of the New Testament. In addition to having learned the information that was needed they also had to have the ability to teach others. I think it is unfortunate that there are many who fill pulpits that truly lack the ability to teach. In English we have a word that explains some of what is meant here as well as what I think is meant in 1 Tim. 3:6--neophyte. A neophyte was a person who was new to the teachings of their master or rabbi. Eventually they would master the teachings of their rabbi (teacher) and then they would be able to teach others (they would become the rabbi). What Paul is suggesting in 1 Tim. 3:6 and in 2 Tim. 1: 1-2 is that they had been properly trained and now they were no longer a neophyte.

This is why I think "new convert" falls short and why "novice" is a little better. It is not just their age or the fact that they had been a Christian for a long time. They had to have mastered the apostles doctrine to such a degree that they were no longer a neophyte.

An example of age not being the criteria and their abilities in the word is found in Hebrews 5:11-14. The writer in Hebrews 5 had desired to write about Melchizadek.

Then he declares in Hebrews 5:11-14:

11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

There the metaphor is of those who are babes and who are unskillful in the word (they are neophytes) even though they should have been teachers at that point. They lacked the ability to teach because they did not have a proper understanding by regular use of the word. I also think it is this last part that leads to the warning in 1 Tim 3:6. A neophyte or a babe lacks the discernment, that leads that person to think more of himself and therefore he is filled with pride if he is placed into such an important role of being a pastor of the church. Certainly thinking less of ourselves comes with age but it especially comes as we are daily exposed to the word of God and we become skillful in the word of righteousness.

I think a similar idea of not just being a new convert but no longer a neophyte in the things of God is also found in John 3:10. In the exchange with Nicodemus Jesus states in 3:10 Σὺ εἶ ὁ διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, καὶ ταῦτα οὐ γινώσκεις (Are you not a teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things?). Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the leaders of Israel, and yet he does not understand that one must be born again, literally born from above. The KJV translates διδάσκαλος as master because this was used in the relationship between a rabbi(teacher) and his student who was a neophyte. In effect, at that moment Jesus was effectively calling Nicodemus a neophyte even though he ought to have been a teacher who knew what Jesus was talking about.

I think this better explains the term than the idea of a plant, but that is just my opinion.

  • Can you provide a source for the info about the new student of a Rabbi being called a "new plant"? Thanks. – Ruminator Sep 6 '18 at 22:15
  • Here is one source that points back to the idea of a rabbi and his neophyte -- with a reference to the Babylonian Talmud. Not to the idea of a new plant as I think you are putting to much on that idea here. ajrsem.org/teachings/articles/davidarticle – Ken Banks Sep 7 '18 at 4:57
  • The article uses the English word neophyte which doesn't really create the linguistic link I'm looking for. – Ruminator Sep 7 '18 at 12:05

The Greek word in question is "neophytos" which has come directly into English meaning almost exactly the same, "neophyte" meaning a recently converted person, or more precisely, recently planted. The word comes from new (neos) + plant (phytos). The Analytical Lexicon of NT Words by Friberg at al says, "literally, newly planted; figuratively, of one newly become a part of the Christian Church, newly converted, only beginning as a Christian; possibly substantively, recent convert, new believer".

  • I pointed out as much in my question. To define the Greek by the English usage of a transliteration from Greek is entirely circular so it isn't authoritative about the Greek. Less so even than the translations. It isn't compelling to me that "newly planted" means "newly converted". – Ruminator Sep 5 '18 at 22:24
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    The English was used as an illustration of the meaning not the definition. Note the derivation above including the word decomposition in the Greek. In any case, this is a rather simple question unless I have misunderstood your intent which is not stated. – user25930 Sep 6 '18 at 6:13
  • The way the word was used in Paul's day was to say "newly planted". It is used as "newly converted" in English translations. Is it appropriate that the translators opted for a completely new usage? – Ruminator Sep 6 '18 at 20:09
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    This is scarcely a new usage. The NT is filled with such colourful idiomatic expressions. The next significant word is the same verse is "typhotheis" which is literally "wrapped in smoke" but is correctly translated (idiomatically) as "conceited", "puffed up", "proud", "clouded judgement", etc. Indeed, a lteral translation of the phrase might be, "not newly planted lest [it] become wrapped in smoke" makes no sense unless we want to believe that someone is on fire!! This is one of the matters (idiom) that makes NT translations tricky especially when writers have a Hebrew background. – user25930 Sep 6 '18 at 21:59
  • @Ruminator - you are make your comments appear comical but such false claims. ANLEX is NOT bogus - I have stated several times that the Analytical Lexicon of the New Testament Words by Friberg et al is a common resource for those in this business. AND it is not the only one as you yourself have stated. Mounce and others have also published such volumes which all give very similar results. – user25930 Sep 29 '18 at 22:21

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