First Timothy 5.3-6.2: Honoring Means What?

This whole passage has been in the back of my mind for some time. In it are the following three premises:

  • Honor widows who are truly widows ($esv(1Ti 5.3-16))
  • Double honor for elders who “lead well” ($esv(1Ti 5.17-25)); those in error are to be corrected
  • Slaves are to honor their masters ($esv(1Ti 6.1-2))

Sure, that’s all fine and dandy — until you ask the question, “What does it mean to honor?” In the case of widows and elders, the text makes it fairly clear this means taking care of them materially. Widows are to be provided for, and elders who rule well are to be doubly provided for (5.18, with its OT quotes, makes this fairly plain).

And slaves are to “honor” their masters. But surely this doesn’t mean that slaves are to provide materially for their masters, does it? What really does 6.1-2 say?

1 All who are under a yoke as slaves, let them consider their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and our teaching might not be maligned. 2 But those having believers as masters must not be disrespectful because they are brothers, rather they must serve more, because the ones who benefit from their good work are believers and beloved. (my own translation)

This all comes down to “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” which, as some of my co-workers will tell you, pervades my very being. I suppose my basic problem is that the same terminology is used for “honor” throughout the passage whether it is discussing widows, elders or slaves/masters. But in context it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing in each instance, even though all three exist in close succession and in an overall similar context. But can it mean such different things in such close succession? Why wouldn’t the third instance of “honor” carry similar meaning to the first two?

Is the difference because the “honor” explained in detail in the first two (widows/elders), and left unmodified/specified in the last? That is, the method of honor itself is not fully explicated, though the effects of having the honor are?

(gotta go, but that sums up my basic thoughts as I’ve mulled over this text for the past months) 

Update (2007-03-08): Of course, if slaves submit to their masters and do what they are told, then the master will benefit materially (assuming the master is acting in his own interest and has some sensibility … perhaps too much to assume?). The end of 6.2 alludes to this, ” …  the ones who benefit [masters] from [the slaves’] good work are believers and beloved”. And by “serving more” if their master is Christian, then the master benefits more. So maybe there is some sort of connection with material gain here?