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Apocalyptic thinking often divides history into various periods. Daniel’s outline of history as four coming kingdoms is one example, but there are others in apocalyptic literature. Perhaps the most common way for apocalyptic thinking to divide history is to describe this age as evil and the coming age of God’s kingdom. In the future this evil age come under judgment and be replaced with the way God intended it to be in the first place. Although it is possible an apocalyptic thinker may also took back to an ideal age in the past, the basic “this age and the age to come” is fundamental for apocalyptic thinking.
Paul uses this language in Galatians 1. At the beginning of the letter, Paul develops who Jesus Christ, or Jesus Messiah is. Jesus is the one who “gave himself for our sins” and in doing so, Jesus set us free from this “present evil age.” The wording is reminiscent of Isaiah 53:5, 12 in the Greek Old Testament. It is possible Paul describes Jesus in this way because it was already familiar to his readers. Jesus has already provided salvation through his work on the cross and those who are in Christ are already saved out of the present evil age.
This “evil age” is a common way of describing the present time in Paul’s letters as well as other Jewish first century writings. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, one important document calls the present age the “epoch of evil” (1QpHab 5:7) and the late-first century Jewish apocalypse 4 Ezra describes the present age as a time when Belial (Satan) is opposing God’s will (7:12). Like these other Jewish writers, Paul is looking forward to a future kingdom. But he also thinks believers in Christ are already participating in the blessings of that future age. Paul contends we have already been rescued from this evil age.
But it is equally obvious we do not live fully in the Kingdom of God yet. Although some streams of theology have summed up the Kingdom as the church, this does not seem to do justice to Paul’s overall theology. He really does look forward to the return of Jesus as a time when perishable will become imperishable and this old, evil age will finally be replaced by God’s rule.
For Paul, we live in a time “between the ages.” Christ’s death stands between the Old Covenant of the Law and the future establishment of the Kingdom of God. The book of Galatians is one of the earliest witnesses we have to what the first generation of Christians thought about the death of Jesus. It is clear from Acts the earliest followers of Jesus expected his return very soon (Acts 3:19-20). Paul believed some who are now alive may live until the return of the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).
This “between the ages” perspective drives much of Paul’s ethics as well. We are to live our lives motivated by the nearness of the return of the Lord. A passage like Romans 13:11-14 bases proper ethical conduct on a clear understanding of the “present time.” Since the night of this dark age is almost over, it is time to wake up and “clothe ourselves with Christ.”
Good apocalyptic thinking drives proper ethical conduct in Paul, not paranoid rambling about the Anti-Christ taking away our freedoms. Nor does Paul ever suggest we take our survival kits and guns into the hills and fight the government to the death. This evil age ought to drive us to more good, loving behavior toward those who hate.
In Thinking Through Paul, Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still examine J. C. Beker’s suggestion that Paul’s thinking is “the apocalyptic interpretation of the Christ event” (TTP 302). It has become fashionable to describe Paul’s theology as “apocalyptic” even if the term is misunderstood. Douglas Campbell, for example, subtitles his book on Paul theology “An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.”
Before taking up the possibility Paul is an apocalyptic thinker, two observations need to be made. First, “apocalyptic literature” is different than “apocalyptic thinker.” The two clearest examples of apocalyptic literature in the Bible are Daniel 7-12 and Revelation, and with the exception of 2 Thessalonians 2, I cannot think of two books more different than Paul’s letters. For the most part Paul is not writing in an apocalyptic genre, even if his idea “breathes the air of Jewish apocalypticism” (TTP, 303).
Second, not all apocalyptic thinking refers to the “end of the world as we know it” (and I feel fine). Apocalyptic as a modern genre usually describes the end of the present world. Books and films like The Road or The Book of Eli are “end of the world” stories which often leave little hope of salvation. The Left Behind series is a modern Christian apocalypse with a more positive message (God will bail us out in the end and establish his kingdom). Again, with the possible exception of 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul is not creating that sort of an apocalypse.
At its very heart, apocalyptic is about God breaking into history and acting in a very real way to defend his people. He will judge those who are persecuting his people and reward those who are faithful to the end. Revelation 19-20 describes Jesus as returning in glory far beyond that of the Roman world, destroying the power of Rome and replacing Rome’s rule with a Kingdom that will never end. Revelation is not far from many other Jewish apocalypses produced in the Second Temple period since the hope God would break into history and vindicate his people was very strong in the first century.
Paul is therefore thinking about Jesus through the lens of a Second Temple Jewish person who has encountered Jesus as resurrected from the dead. Like any Pharisee, Paul would have expected a general resurrection before God established his kingdom. But what Paul did not anticipate was God raising one man from the dead as a “firstfruits” of that future resurrection.
In fact, the origin of Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles is a revelation from Jesus (Gal 1:12). The word “revelation” appears in Paul’s letters thirteen times, and as might be expected, the word has the connotation of God’s decisive actions in history to bring salvation into the world. Paul does not say he developed his Law-free gospel through careful reading of the Hebrew Bible nor does he claim to have discovered some new way of reading the Old Testament to prove Gentiles should not keep the Law. Paul’s audacious claim is Jesus revealed this teaching to him through some sort of apocalyptic vision.
There is more in Paul which can be fairly described as apocalyptic, but is it helpful to describe these apocalyptic elements in this way? Is Paul really viewing the death and resurrection in terms of the apocalyptic worldview of the Second Temple Period? How does reading Paul in this well help us understand his overall theology?
The false teachers described in the book are coming from within Titus’s churches on Crete. They are elders who are not spiritual leaders and have defected from sound teaching and are behaving in a way that brings dishonor to the church. The list of qualifications in Titus are concerned with reputation of the elder outside of the church. The main reason for this is the elder is a model of spiritual life for the congregation. If the elder has a bad reputation in the community, so too will the church become associated with that bad reputation and therefore be shamed.
Notice that twice Paul says the elder must be “above reproach” (1:6-7). The noun ἀνέγκλητος has the sense of “free from reproach, without stain, guiltless” (TDNT 1:356), even a sense of innocence. Like 1 Timothy, the ideal elder is one who lives the “quiet life” and has a good reputation with outsiders. Perhaps this helps explain the always-difficult requirement the elder be a “husband of one wife.” The emphasis may be less on gender than reputation in the community. If the elder is a womanizer he will likely have a bad reputation in the community or created enmity in the community.
Titus must therefore examine the family of the potential elder as well. His children must be believers and models of Christian faith and behavior. This is another difficult text to apply since most people know a “pastor’s kid” who did not follow in their parent’s faith. Should that pastor be removed from ministry? Paul’s concern is for the reputation of the community. The child of a church leader cannot be open to the charge of “debauchery or insubordination” (ἀσωτίας ἢ ἀνυπότακτα). The first word can have the sense of being wasteful (financially) but is also associated with “wild living.” The second refers to rebels or flagrant law-breakers (BDAG). In short, even the family of the elder ought to live a quiet life that gains the respect of everyone in their community.
Verse nine indicates the elder must guard the faith as well. Elder were the people who were especially educated and trained by Titus. Perhaps they are the members of the community who have been Christians the longer and therefore have devoted themselves to more study than the others. The elder was to be a shepherd for the congregation, guarding them from potential threats. They are responsible for teaching proper doctrine and practice to the congregation. This seems to be one of the source of the problems on Crete: elders are not teaching proper doctrine as it was handed down to them from Paul and Titus.
The solution is for Titus to “put things in order” by appointing qualified elders. The current leadership is “broken” and cannot be restored; it must be replaced. Titus is told to appoint qualified leaders, and in doing so, he is replacing the “unqualified leaders” who are destroying congregations.
It seems to me one of the greatest threats to the church are church leaders themselves. Christians are not spiritually damaged by outsiders very often, it is usually an elder, pastor or other church leader who hurts people and drives them from the church. What is more, these damaging leaders create a bad reputation for a local church or denomination. Why attend church if you are going to be judged and treated without respect? How can Paul’s guidance in Titus help a modern church create a church leadership that builds a good reputation in the community?
In contrast to the false teachers, Paul lists his own suffering as an example of what will happen to anyone that wants to live a godly life (vv. 10-12). This is somewhat surprising for contemporary Christians who are fed a steady diet of “health and wealth” gospel – if you are really spiritual and doing everything God requires, you will be blessed, you will be happy, healthy and wealthy. That is the exact opposite of Paul’s point in this passage. Paul knows that his Gospel is the truth because he has suffered physically as a result of his preaching of Jesus.
It might seem odd, but Paul recalls his first missionary journey as an example of his suffering. He specifically has in mind the persecution he faced in Asia Minor (Acts 14). In Antioch, Paul is opposed by Jews from the Synagogue, who follow him to Iconium to harass him. Paul was attacked in Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). Perhaps these persecutions were chosen because he was “left for dead,” or perhaps this period continued to haunt him in his ministry for some time.
While that physical attack was important, Paul has in mind the constant treat from the Jewish community throughout that first journey as well as the threats to his churches reflected in the book of Galatians. The attack on Paul’s character reflected in Paul’s early letters may have been more painful than the physical pain he faced in Lystra. It appears that some of Paul’s opponents described him as unqualified to preach the gospel (Gal 1) or worse, as a charlatan (1 Thess 2, for example).
A potential problem with this review of Paul’s ministry is that it all occurred on the first missionary journey, before Timothy began to travel with Paul (Acts 15). This is sometimes used to argue that the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery. The writer introduced a historical error by saying that Timothy witnessed these events himself. On the other hand, Timothy was from Lystra himself and joined Paul mission with the full knowledge that Paul is often persecuted physically and opposed by very powerful people where ever he preaches the Gospel!
Paul states very clearly that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . This is a common theme throughout the New Testament: Jesus was persecuted and so too will his followers face similar trials. Galatians 5:11 indicates that Paul was persecuted because he was preaching that the Gentiles were not under the Law. The immediate background is his troubles in Asia Minor to which he alludes here in 2 Timothy (cf. Rom 8:35, 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, 12:10, Gal 4:29, 5:11, 2 Thess 1:4).
If Timothy’s desire is to live a godly life, he will in fact face some sort of trial or persecution. Paul knows that Timothy is at the moment facing a difficult time because of the false teachers in Ephesus, even if that has not developed into a physical persecution at this point. This text is clear that the one who is “in Christ” will suffer like Christ. Perhaps this is an indication that the opponents in Ephesus are not really “in Christ,” they simply do not suffer!
Imagine what would happen in Evangelical Christianity if people really believed that they should suffer for Jesus rather than expecting to be wealthy because of their faith. When was the last time you took a rock to the head because of your faith in Jesus?
The opponents in Ephesus stand in contrast to Paul’s record of suffering (v. 13) It is Paul and Timothy’s opponents who are the imposters. The noun (γόης) Paul uses here is a common way to describe an opponent in a philosophical debate. The noun originally referred to a sorcerer (T.Sol 19:3 uses it for a witch, Hdt, Hist. 7.791.2 for magicians, sometimes it refers to a “juggler,” [Aeschines, Ctes. 137], presumably because they do some sort of distracting act while they pick the pockets of the crowd).
By the first century it was used to describe a swindler, a con-man who uses some kind of deception to gain a profit from his audience. I think of the character from old Western movies, the “snake oil salesman.” The Greek writer Demosthenes uses the word with this sense: “for fear I should mislead and deceive you, calling me an artful speaker, a mountebank, an impostor, and so forth” (Dem., 18 276).
Ironically, these deceivers succeed in deceiving themselves! This is also a common way of describing sophists and charlatans in Greco-Roman world (Dio Chrysostom, Orations, 4.33). The way to avoid these sorts of people is proper “divine” education (4.29).
Dio Chrysostom, Orations 4.33 If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself.
Similarly, the way to avoid the self-deceptive teaching of the opponents in Ephesus is to devote oneself to divine teaching through the Scripture which has been given by God.
Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” from the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Timothy was trained in the scripture from a young age. Jewish family, reading the Old Testament in Greek (most likely). While the opponents are progressing into more esoteric “deep” knowledge, Timothy is told to remain where he is. He has already learned the truth and has been convinced that it is the truth. There is no need for him to dabble in the “myths and genealogies” of the opponents.
The Jews regularly referred to their scriptures as “sacred writings,” Paul can only have in mind here the Old Testament. At this point in history it is unlikely that the Gospels were circulating as Scripture, perhaps Paul’s churches cherished his letters as authoritative. But the New Testament as we know it simply does not exist yet!
Paul says that Timothy was “raised on the Old Testament.” We know that his mother was Jewish and it is likely that he was taught the Old Testament, perhaps having some training in the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible in a synagogue. I doubt that Paul selected Timothy as a missionary companion if he was totally ignorant of the Bible prior to coming to faith in Jesus!
The remedy for self-deception, for Paul, is an absolute reliance on the Scripture for faith and practice. While the opponents in Ephesus pursue fruitless “myths and genealogies” Timothy is to remember what the Scriptures plainly teach and pursue righteousness. I suspect if people actually read the Bible, they would not tolerate the sorts of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!
In 2 Timothy 1 Paul has told Timothy to model his life and ministry after Paul, recalling the examples of both his family (Lois and Eunice) and Paul’s co-worker Onesiphorus. He ought to avoid the example of the false teachers in Ephesus, namely Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15) and Hymenaeus and Philetus (2:17).
In order to avoid these faithless men, Timothy is to train the elders to be “approved workmen” (2:14-19). In fact, Timothy is to be an approved workman before he trains others. Like Paul’s warning to Titus, Paul warns Timothy to avoid quarreling about words or other theological babble. On the one hand, this is a difficult command since one has to have defined the “core” of the Christian faith very well in order to decide what qualifies as “babble.”
On the other hand, sometimes the theological “babble” seems fairly obvious, mostly since it is the sort of thing people are passionate about! (Like the famous definition of pornography, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it!)
“Do your best” (ESV) in v. 15 has the sense of being diligent in fulfilling an obligation (σπουδάζω), “make every effort” (BDAG). The KJV translated this word “study,” a word which has shifted considerably in modern English. The verb is used in Gal 2:10, for example, for the reminder to care for the poor. In Eph 4:3 Paul says that the believer ought to “be eager” to maintain the bond of unity. It is used twice in 2 Peter with the sense of diligence in spiritual development (1:10, 3:14). This word stands in contrast to being “diligent” in senseless theological babble. While the opponent in Ephesus is busy with their “endless myths,” Timothy is to be busy presenting himself as God’s approved workmen.
Timothy is to be an approved workmen, properly handling the word of God. 2 Tim 2:15 is classic verse for modern “noble Bereans” since it implies that the maturing person of God will become increasingly able to read the scriptures with intelligence and confidence. We sometimes talk about “learning a trade.” The more one works at being a carpenter, for example, the better one gets.
The analogy is excellent since studying the Bible is a skill and an art. There are technical elements which can be taught and learned (parsing Greek verbs, reading background studies, finding parallel texts, etc.), but there is an art to knowing what to do with that information! An unskilled carpenter can build a bookshelf with boards and a few nails, but a master carpenter builds an excellent piece of furniture that is of great value.
The modern church has created a class of professional Bible interpreters. This gives the impression that the Bible is too difficult to fully understand without professional training. People in churches want to leave Bible reading to the professionals, the approved workmen. But this is not at all Paul’s point here. Timothy (and by analogy all believers) ought to be busy training themselves as best they can to handle the Bible correctly so that they will avoid the errors that are plaguing the churches in Ephesus.
This is the point of the phrase “rightly dividing” in the KJV. That translation is also not helpful, since the word refers to guiding the word of truth along a straight path (BDAG). Perhaps Pual has in mind a Roman Road that moves from one point to its goal, without any unnecessary deviation. So too the believer ought to read and study the Bible without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk.”
Paul’s point is that we ought to use the Scripture in a way that it was intended: do not twist scripture to make it say what you want it to say, or would prefer it to say. This raises several problems with contemporary church life. A growing majority of Christians are biblically illiterate and unable to read the Bible properly. They take verses out of context and claim the Bible teaches things which it does not. An additional problem is people do not think very deeply about issues, preferring to repeat what they have heard on talk radio (or worse, facebook!)
Paul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Tim 2:7. The “preacher” in the ESV is better a “herald,” or “proclaimer.” This is a person who is appointed to deliver a particular message, in Paul’s case, from God. The language is a little different in 1 Tim 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Tim 2:2. In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him. Like the old “town crier,” Timothy is to take this deposit of tradition and accurately proclaim it to his community.
Paul mentions things passed down to him in his other letters. Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles: 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 1 Cor 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thess 2:15 Paul encourages the congregation to “stand firm” in the traditions which Paul delivered to them. Even in his earliest letter, Paul considers his gospel a tradition which cannot be modified (Gal 1:14). It is likely that Paul alludes to the words of Jesus in 1 Thess 5, words that are eventually collected in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse.
Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation. For some doctrines, this is a direct revelation that could not be deduced from the Hebrew Bible. For example, in 1 Thess 4:13-18 Paul says that the Lord himself gave him the revelation of the rapture. That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was not revealed in the Hebrew Bible. In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul claims that the Gospel he preaches is “not of human origin” but rather “received by revelation.”
For some of Paul’s teaching, he may have been led by the Holy Spirit to interpret biblical texts differently, or to combine texts from the Hebrew Bible in unique ways which supported the idea that Jesus is the Messiah or that salvation is apart from works. Romans 4 indicates that the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel – this is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. Much of the argument of Galatians is based on applications from stories in Genesis. Paul was trained as a scholar and interpreted Scripture in his sermons and letters in a way consistent with other Jewish teachers of his day. This “interpretation of scripture” is part of the tradition Timothy is to guard and pass along.
In some cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus. In other cases Paul is the source. But in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully and to pass it to the next generation of believers.
For some American Christians, tradition is very important. I recently heard a sermon in the radio which cited the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession, and in the twenty minutes I listened, no Scripture. Is that what Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy?
On the other hand, how does the principle of “handing down good teaching” work in a modern culture where “tradition” is routinely rejected? In other churches, if something is even vaguely traditional, it is ignored as useless for the modern church. Scholars and pastors often push ideas well-past traditional boundaries simply for the joy of being different. How might Paul react to this sort of thing?
Paul devotes a great deal of space to the care of widows in 1 Timothy, likely because this was a problem for Timothy in Ephesus. The Hebrew Bible has a remarkable interest in the protection of widows (Exod 22:22; Deut 10:18; Ps 146:9; Deut 24:17-21). Based on the commands in the Law, Jews in the Second Temple Period took care of widows who had no protector. But what was the status of widows in the Greco-Roman World? When a woman married in the Greek world, she brought a dowry to the marriage. That dowry was managed by her husband; if he died then the dowry would be managed by her son. Winter cites W. K. Lacey, “the law was explicit; the person who had charge of her dowry had the obligation to maintain her” (117).
The situation in Roman culture was similar. In A.D. 9, Augustus created legislation which required a widow would re-marry if she were under 50. “‘There can be little doubt, that young widows, even if they had children, were expected to remarry,’ for remarriage provided a secure option for the younger widow” (Winter, 85).
For older widows, both Greek and Roman laws provided for widows. Winter comments that from a legal perspective, “a woman was never as thoroughly protected as she was in her old age” (86). As in most cultures, the law would not have protected every woman and many women may have found themselves widowed at a young age and without a protector. This would be especially true of the poor who perhaps did not have much of a dowry in the first place. Unlike contemporary culture, women in the Roman world had status and “social identity” through their family; first through their father, then later through their husband (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 334. ). To be single, widowed or divorced was not a normal status for a Roman woman.
Paul’s concern in this section is care for widows who are genuinely in need. Be begins in verse three with a general principle, honor widows. While the noun τιμάω does have the general meaning of honor, “set a price on,” etc., given the context Paul uses the word to refer to financial support of widows by the community of believers. Verses 5-8 are directed at families with widows. Paul is very clear that children and grandchildren have an obligation to care for their own elderly parents. This is essentially the point of the fifth commandment, to honor ones own father and mother. The verb is the same is used in both the commandment and this text, the allusion seems clear.
The context in 1 Tim 5 clearly refers to financial support for widows who have no other means of support (family, etc.) “Honor” here has the connotation of financial support, both here and in verse 17, where it refers to honoring the elder who teaches.
Why are there so many widows in the church that Paul needed to devote such a long section to their care? One factor is that most women in the first century married much older men. Evidence for this comes from Roman census records from Egypt, where 87% of marriages were to older men, from one to thirty years older. The early church reached out to the poor and slaves. It is entirely likely that this meant that a sizable minority in each church were un-supported widows. There may have been an attraction to Christianity because the church offered to help support a poor widow in ways that Roman society was not able or willing.
Paul uses the phrase “let a widow be enrolled,” implying that the church ought to keep track of women who were in need. The verb καταλέγω is used for enrolling someone a member of a group, like a soldier joining the army or a “membership list” for a religious organization (POxy 416, 4, for example).
Since the opponents in Ephesus rejected marriage, it is at least possible that they rejected other family obligations. Perhaps they used Paul’s own teaching about a “new creation” in Christ Jesus to argue that they had no obligation to other family members. If a person became a Christian, they might say, their old life is buried with Christ and they are under no obligation to care for widows in their own family, especially if they were unbelieving (Padgett, 21).
Paul wants the churches in Ephesus to care for widows who are in genuine need primarily because the church is a family. His Jewish worldview would see it as shameful for a family to not “honor their mother” by refusing to help a widow in need. This sort of care for those who cannot care for themselves was something the church must do if they are going to be the people of God.
This is a very specific issue that will be increasingly important as the American church ages – how should the church respond an aging population? What is the responsibility of the family of God to care for the elderly?
Bibliography: W.K. Lacey, The Family in Classical Greece (London, Thames and Hudson 1968). Bruce. W. Winter, “Providentia For The Widows Of 1 Timothy 5:3-16,” Tyndale Bulletin 39 (1988), 82-99; J.M. Bassler, “The Widows’ Tale: A Fresh Look at 1 Tim. 5:3–16,” JBL 103 (1984): 23-41; A. Padgett, “Wealthy Women at Ephesus: 1 Timothy 2:815 in Social Context,” Interpretation 41 (1987): 21.
In my previous post on 1 Timothy, I stated that you cannot really guess who these opponents are based on Paul’s four statements in 1 Tim 4:1-2. He does give us more to go on in verses 3-4. At the very least, we can say that the opponents in Ephesus are teaching some kind of ascetic practice that rejects (at least) two things that are good things created by God to be enjoyed. Since both are embedded in the creation story, it is possible that the opponents rejected the creation story or thought that the created world was somehow corrupt. This is the sort of thing that will eventually develop into Gnosticism, but I do not think that the opponents were Gnostic.
They abstain from some foods. Paul gives little detail here, but we know that what food one ate (or did not eat) was an important topic in the first century. There are many examples of both Jewish and Christian groups which abstained from foods either because of the Law or because that food was sacrificed to idols. The opponents are not simply abstaining from certain foods themselves, but they are teaching others that they also must abstain, perhaps in order to achieve a higher level of spiritual enlightenment.
They forbid marriage. While Paul does see value in celibacy for some in God’s service, he is quite clear in 1 Cor 7 that marriage is good, designed by God and something that ought to be celebrated. It is not clear what the opponents are forbidding, in the following section of the letter Paul advises that younger widows remarry, so it is at least possible that the prohibition is on remarriage after the death of a spouse.
Both food and sexual relationships are difficult topics in the first (and twenty-first) century. It is possible that these opponents are part of what will develop eventually into Gnosticism.
Paul’s argument is that God created both food and marriage and they are therefore good and cannot be rejected. Paul grounds his teaching in the Jewish view that God created food in the Garden to be enjoyed. In the case of food, Gen 9:3 declares that all food is permitted. The Gentile is not under the law (which forbids some foods), so to reject some foods in order to be “more spiritual” is not biblical. It is possible that there are some foods that ought to be rejected on health reasons, but modern ideas of vegetarian or vegan diet are far from what Paul has in mind here. The opponents seem to equate abstaining from some foods as a sign of spirituality.
Likewise, marriage is embedded in the created order and is to be celebrated as something good created by God. There are other elements of this “creation mandate” which may have been rejected, such as the value of work, but these are the two which Paul must prove “good” to Timothy (and the congregations) from scripture.
Both food and marriage are celebrated in the Hebrew Bible. Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 is an example of this: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” This means that you ought to eat, drink, and be merry! There is nothing in the Wisdom literature which says that God’s people of any age ought to reject good things created by God.
This may be a hint at the theology of the opponents. It is possible that they think that material, created things are corrupted by sin. In the Greco-Roman world food and sexual excess were commonly associated. If one is going to be spiritual, one cannot go to the banquets and indulge in gluttony and fornication. In order to guard against these things, the opponents reject enjoyment of food and sex altogether!
For Paul, both food and marriage ought to be enjoyed when they are received with “thanksgiving and prayer.” He stands on the rich tradition of the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible and states that Christians ought to enjoy the good gifts that God has given.
This section of 1 Timothy is the center of the letter, perhaps the center of the three Pastoral Epistles as a whole. The main metaphor Paul works in this letter is the Household of God. Timothy is a pillar in that household and responsible for the spiritual life of other members of the household. Some people in Ephesus have rejected key doctrines of the faith and have developed some behaviors which are not scriptural. In order to argue against these opponents, Paul first describes what he calls the “mystery of godliness” before turning to some examples of the un-truth which the opponents are teaching.
Paul expresses his desire to join Timothy (3:14). This is fairly typical of Paul’s letters, he often expresses a desire to be there even if that is not possible in the immediate future. He is expressing his desire to work alongside Timothy, but even if he cannot be there Paul is confident that Timothy will be able to do the task to which he has been appointed.
Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy is that the churches in Ephesus see themselves as part of the “household of God.” If one is a member of a particular household, they must behave according to that household’s rule. Members of a Roman household had very clear roles and expectations. Fathers, children, and servants all had clearly defined roles in Roman society and it was honorable to do what was expected of you as a father, child, servant, etc.
In fact, it would bring shame upon a household if a father did not perform his role as leader of the family properly, or a child behaved in a way so as to dishonor on the family name. As an analogy, think of a powerful political family in America. Since the family name is well known, there are some things which a family member cannot do without bringing some kind of shame or scandal to the family, endangering their political aspirations. Paul has taught throughout this letter that people within the church are part of a new household, God is their father and they have a role to play within the order of the household of God.
Paul describes the Church as a “pillar” in that household, and a “buttress of the truth.” The metaphor shifts from a household to a Temple, with a foundation and pillars. Both of these metaphors refer to a building. Paul called Peter and James “pillars of the church” in Galatians 2, indicating that they were the chief leaders. Here Timothy is the “pillar” and main support for the churches at Ephesus. A buttress or bulwark (ἑδραίωμα) is like a foundation, the verb is used for founding something on a good foundation.
While the church is like a pillar in the household of God, the church itself is built on the truth (v. 15). This is not unlike Eph 2:19-22, the church grows into a holy temple for God, built on the prophets and apostles (pillars?) and built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
In both cases the point of the metaphor is that the Church stands on the foundation of truth, that it is to guard and defend the truth of the Gospel against defections from the truth. This looks back to how Paul started the letter; in 1:3-7 he warned Timothy about people who were swerving from the truth, both in doctrine and practice.
True godliness begins with Jesus and his work on the Cross (3:16) Paul describes the godliness expected by a member of the household of God as a “great mystery.” He uses the word “confess” (ὁμολογουμένως) perhaps indicating that this short description of the work of Jesus was used as a public confession or doctrinal statement in the early church. The word has the sense of agreement, “this is something that we all agree on.”
This mystery of godliness is called “great.” While it is hard to know if Paul had this in mind, the riot in Ephesus in Acts 19 culminated in the Ephesian crowds chanting “great is Artemis” for hours. Rather than a great god like Artemis, Paul proclaims a living God, rather than a great temple like the temple of Artemis, Paul declares that the church itself is the household of God.
How is this a mystery? The word (μυστήριον)often refers to God’s revelation of something which could not be known unless it was revealed by God. It is the secret which the church guards, how to be “godly.”