Rebuking the Elderly Harshly (1 Timothy 5:1)


Salvete, omnes!

In 1 Timothy 5:1, Paul seems to tell Timothy not to rebuke (some translations add “harshly”) an older man (πρεσβυτερος, presbyteros) but to exhort him as he would his father.

However, aren’t there at least some instances where such a “harsh” (i.e., firm, loving the sinner, hating the sin/all it does to the person/anyone else effected) rebuke is necessary even to bring a particular point home, no matter what the age of the rebuker or the rebukee is? Aren’t there some instances where harsh/firm rebuke is the only thing that will work? Why, then, is it sinful (inherently or otherwise) to rebuke an older man? I see no sin (at least inherently) in expressing strong emotion against a sin that an older person has committed, as long as it is done without hating the person being rebuked. Also, shouldn’t the person rebuked understand that such love is meant, if the rebuke is expressed in the proper way? Should he not jump to conclusions about the motives of the person rebuking? Is that not his responsibility?

I am wondering, though, whether this verse represents a unique Pauline instruction to Timothy on account of the latter’s youth. After all, it would seem that his letters to Timothy indicate that there was some controversy over Timothy’s appointment to his position of authority because of it. So, maybe Paul was taking special precautions in his case that he should not “stir up” the older members of his church against him even further by rebuking harshly. Still, even if this is the case, the question becomes: In what cases are we permitted firmly to rebuke an older person and in what cases are we not today in other everyday lives and in circumstances other than the one described in our passage in question?

I pointed out the Greek term for “older man” above because I am also wondering whether the passage is even MORE specific than what I just suggested. Perhaps it refers to Timothy not rebuking harshly an “elder” (that is, of the Church), since the word used here (presbyteros) is, in fact, as I understand it, one that refers to Church elders. Also, the use of the phrase “as a father” here is interesting and, if it indicates some early use of the title for priests (and others in authority?), that may lend more credence to our interpretation of “” here as “elder [of the Church]”. If this is, indeed, the case, it may represent Paul advising caution when rebuking Church elders possibly because of their own responsibilities to guard their flocks against sin and/or because of, again, the tensions that existed in that particular church because of Timothy’s youth. Yet again, though, we have the issue of at least some instances where harsh rebuke may be necessary regardless of the age of either party. And, again, the question of when we should or when we shouldn’t rebuke someone in a higher position of authority than us either in age, title, or anything else in our own lives and in other circumstances.

So, in any case, is the principle espoused in our passage in question always and without exception to be applied?

Lots of questions here, but I am certainly interested in what everyone thinks on these mattters. Also, are there any good commentaries, ancient or modern, on this passage and its significance to the questions I’ve raised here?

Gratias vobis maximas.


If you read the whole of verses 1 and 2 you’ll see that Paul is not singling out old men for special leniency. He is calling for everyone, old and young, men and women alike, to be treated with due consideration.


I think it’s more a matter of authority. Your parents have a natural authority over you, hence the command to honour them. An elderly person has an inherent authority (at least in older cultures) and as such is due respect. A child (younger person) has no authority to rebuke an elder, but can speak respectfully on a serious matter.


There certainly are instances when a strong rebuke is necessary. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul ‘excommunicated’ a man committing incest with his mother as a matter of discipline. In Matthew 18, Jesus lays out a process for administering correction, which starts with privately speaking to the man and ends with what Catholics would consider an excommunication

I think it’s safe to assume that Paul was providing *general *instructions to Timothy about how to deal with believers who may be in error: charitably and as if they are family. I don’t think it should be taken as the full extent of the measures Timothy (or other bishops) is allowed to make.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit