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1 Timothy 5:20

ESV As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
NIV But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.
NASB Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.
CSB Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will be afraid.
NLT Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others.
KJV Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

What does 1 Timothy 5:20 mean?

This verse builds upon Paul's comments in verse 19, as part of a larger passage related to elders. According to the prior verse, only accusations which are accompanied by two or more witnesses should be taken seriously. This is how frivolous or predatory accusations are meant to be weeded out.

However, Paul also realizes that it is possible for an elder to stray and be in need of correction. The reference to "persistence" in sin means someone with ongoing sin, or consistent accusations, rather than a one-time concern. This is still in the context of an accusation made by two or three people. If an elder is clearly in sin and persisting in it, Paul instructs Timothy to "rebuke them in the presence of all." This appears to indicate public notification within a church gathering. At this point, the process for dealing with sin with elders is similar to that of individuals as seen in Matthew 18:17.

Paul's reason for teaching this was "that the rest may stand in fear." The "rest" refers here to elders specifically, but certainly would have the same general effect on the entire congregation. To "stand" means to remain or continue, in this case meaning to remain in "fear."

As with other mentions of "fear" in the Bible, this has to be carefully understood. The Bible speaks of fearing God (Ecclesiastes 5:7), but also that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). In the first context, "fear" speaks of reverence or respect. This is what Paul has in mind in verse 20 as well. The role involves both respect and responsibility, and should not be taken lightly by either the elder or the congregation.
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