1 Timothy 3:6-7 – The Nature of the False Teachers

In 1 Timothy 3:6-7 Paul begins to deal with the sorts of false teachers who are present in Ephesus.  These are the people Timothy was sent to deal with, so it is strange that Paul would say “have nothing to do with these people.”  Paul is not describing generic sinful people, rather these are people in the churches in Ephesus who are in a state of rebellion against the scripture and are behaving in ways that deny the power of godliness.  Compare this to Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30.

It appears that the false teachers in Ephesus target women. While Timothy is command to have nothing to do with these men, it appears that some woman are unnaturally attracted to them.  The women are described as weak-willed (sometimes, “weak and silly women”).  This is a moral weakness, not intellectual, they are predisposed to follow these leaders.   Maybe the false teachers are manipulating these women in order to gain power in the congregations.  What is more, they are”loaded down with sins.” The verb has the sense of “heaped up,” overloaded, etc.  “They are “swayed by evil desire” Paul describes these women as “always learning,” probably with the sense that they are always looking for new and unique ideas, but they never get around to the truth!

The impression here is of a group of (perhaps) wealthy patrons of local elders.  They are married (the false teachers sneak into the household), and are perhaps older, with more free time to play the patron for philosophers or teachers.  This did occur in the ancient world, perhaps these women are treating Christian teachers in the same way they might treat a Greco-Roman philosopher.

Paul uses an fairly obscure analogy for the false teachers in Ephesus, Jannes and Jambres (verses 8-9).  These names do not appear in the Hebrew Bible, but according to both Jewish and Christian tradition, these are the names of the two magicians who opposed Moses in Ex 7:11, 9:11.  Jannes is mentioned in the Damascus Document 5:18, both appear in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Ex 7:11.  Origen, Against Celsus 4.51 claims there is a (now lost) work describing the two men, although the spelling of the name varies.  Citing legendary bad examples in comparison to the opponents to the gospel is not unique to Paul.  Both 2 Peter and Jude list a series of bad examples in order to describe their own opponents. In this case the emphasis is likely on their  opposition to the truth rather than on their use of occult.

That the false teachers are opposing the truth is called folly, and like Jannes and Jambres, they will not be able to stand up to the truth in the end.  Is this name-calling?  Not really, it is an argument from analogy.  Since the false teachers in Ephesus are “foolish” in a biblical sense, they cannot overcome the truth.  Can this strategy be used to deal with the sorts of “false doctrine” we encounter today?

1 Timothy 6:20 – The Faith as a Deposit

Paul uses an economic metaphor in 1-2 Timothy to describe the content of the Gospel. This faith is a “deposit” (παραθήκη) which has been entrusted to Paul and Timothy to guard until the day when Christ returns as judge.

English: Young saint Timothy with his mother

A problem for us in reading 2 Timothy is the use of the word ‘tradition.”  This is not a tradition in the sense of a longstanding practice that we have “always done,” but rather a body of beliefs and behavioral expectations that define what it means to be a Christian (as opposed to a pagan or a Jew).  The tradition to be guarded is “an unchangeable deposit. Whether the church stands or falls depends upon leaders who are qualified to guard this deposit” (Towner, 294).

What is the Source of this “Deposit”? Paul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (2 Tim 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.

Paul mentions things passed down to him in his earlier letters: Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles, such as 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 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).  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 unrevealed in the Hebrew Bible. In other 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.

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. (Spirit-led exegesis and scholarship which applies Scripture to new situations is in fact a source of proper teaching!)

In any case, the body “tradition” which Paul handed on to Timothy is to be guarded and invested, and passed on to the next generation of Christian leaders.

Bibliography:  Philip H. Towner, “Pauline Theology Or Pauline Tradition In The Pastoral Epistles: The Question Of Method,” Tyndale Bulletin  46 (1995): 285-314.  See also  P. H. Towner, The Goal of Our Instruction: The Structure of Theology and Ethics in the Pastoral Epistles (JSNTSupp 34; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989).

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Church Leadership in The Pastoral Epistles

1 Timothy, Titus and 2 Timothy are normally called the “pastorals epistles.”  The standard view is that  Paul is writing to individuals who he has placed in a leadership position overseeing churches.   The three books were first called “pastoral epistles” by Paul Anton in 1726.  The description has become so common that nearly every commentator on the books has described the letters as “church manuals” or “advice to young pastors,” etc.  For example, John McArthur entitles Titus 1:5-9 as “the qualifications of a Pastor.”

The usual “situation” of the letters runs a bit like this.  Timothy has taken on additional responsibilities as a superintendent over several churches planted by Paul.  First Timothy is therefore letter is personal advice to Timothy on how to organize the church, as well as other ministry related issues. The second letter written to Timothy is to ask him to come to him in Rome, and to bring Mark with him, but the pastoral emphasis is still the main theme. In Titus, the content is very similar to First Timothy, elders are described, and various potential problems are addressed.

Gordon Fee, however, has called this description into question. As Fee notes, if these are “church manuals” they are not particularly effective ones.  We end up with far more questions about the church after reading them!  It seems hard to believe that such a wide variety of church structures and styles would all call upon these letters to validate their ecclesiology, if in fact Paul intended them to be read as “manuals for doing church.”

The key, for Fee, is to read seriously what Paul about his reason for writing the letters in  1:5 and 3:15, especially in the light of his final speech to the Elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:17-35.

1 Timothy 1:3  As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer

1 Timothy 3:15 …if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Acts 20:30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

These verses do not concern organizing the churches from scratch, as if Paul has done just a bit of church planting and Timothy is sent in to finish the job (like a modern evangelist with a followup team).  There seems to be a serious false teaching that has caused the church at Ephesus serious problems.  The problem is internal (Acts 20:30), people from the inside have begun to teach things opposed to Paul’s message.

This means that 1 Timothy and Titus are concerned with appointed good elders and deacons who will defend the faith and behave in an appropriate way.  In Titus, for example, Paul tells Titus to appoint qualified leaders, and in doing so, he is replacing the “unqualified leaders” who are destroying congregations.   That these elders are unqualified is more clear once we look at how they have been teaching and behaving, but it is clear from the qualification list in 1:5-9 that there is a serious ethical and moral problem with some of the elders in these churches.

How then do we make use of these “qualifications” lists?  How are elders and deacons”different” than members of the congregation?  Or, are they different at all?


Gordon D. Fee, “Reflections On Church Order In The Pastoral  Epistles, With Further Reflection On The  Hermeneutics Of Ad Hoc Documents,” JETS 28 (1985):141-151.

John 6:16-24 – What was the Point of “Walking on the Water”?

Taken with the feeding of the 5000, Jesus’ “walking on the water” miracle is an allusion to the Exodus.  There are a number of elements found in John 6 which may be understood as using Exodus language.  The fact that this miracle takes place around the time of Passover brings the events of the Exodus to the foreground.   In the immediate context, the provision of food in the wilderness clearly evokes the wilderness traditions.  Jesus organizes the people into groups and gives them food, just as Moses did in the wilderness.  This is the main point of the lengthy discussion between Jesus and the people in John 6.

The churning waters of the storm are an allusion to the chaos of the sea in the Exodus.  Jesus walks on the water as if it is dry land and leads his disciples through the waters to the other side of the sea.   In Mark 6:48, Jesus is passing by them, similar to God passing before Moses and revealing his glory (Exod 33:18-34:6).  The same verb is use din Mark 6:48 and LXX Exod 33:19.  When God causes his glory to pass by Moses, the Lord declares his sacred name and character (Exod 34:6).  God reveals his name at Sinai, he is “I am,” here in John 6:20 Jesus says “I am” –  the same words as LXX Exodus 3:14-15.

It is possible the phrase “do not be afraid” alludes to the Exodus as well, although the words are common in a theophany or when an angel appears. The aorist passive form of the verb φοβέω appears in LXX Exod 14:10, when Israel saw the army of Pharaoh the were greatly afraid, Moses tells the people to not be afraid, although the word in LXX Exod 14:20 is θαρρέω, not φοβέω.  The Hebrew verb is the same (ary).

What is the point of Jesus enacting the Exodus and Wilderness events as a part of his ministry?   Jesus is creating a new Israel, leading them on a New Exodus through the wilderness at the end of the Exile.  If Jesus is announcing the end of the Exile in his ministry, then his disciples ought to have anticipating the coming of the new covenant as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit as a sign of the dawning of the new age.

The miracle also confirms that Jesus is in fact God. God trampling the chaotic waters of the sea is a classic element of the divine warrior metaphor in the Hebrew Bible.  In Psalm 77:16-19 God is described as walking through the seas as the rage around him (cf., Job 9:8, Hab 3:15). In Psalm 77 the writer has a moment of despair, thinking that God has abandoned him.  In 77:8-9, for example, the writer wonders if God has forgotten to be gracious.  Perhaps he has become so angry that it has canceled out his compassion for Israel.

It is only when the writer begins to meditate on the might acts of God which he has already done that he realizes that God will act one again on behalf of his people.  In 77:11-12 the writer says that he will “ponder on the works of God” and “meditate on his mighty deeds.”

In 77:16-19 the Lord himself treads on the waters, and it is the waters who are afraid and flee before the Lord.  The Lord led his people through a path in the sea into the wilderness like a flock (verse 20).  In fact, the Psalm ends enigmatically with a reference to Israel being led like flocks by Moses and Aaron.  They were led into the wilderness where God provided them food and water and enacted his Covenant with them at Sinai.

By walking on the water and leading his twelve disciples through the storm to the other side, Jesus is consciously evoking the Exodus and Wilderness traditions being celebrated at Passover, but he places himself in the center of the story.  Just as God led Israel in the past, now Jesus leads Israel at the end of the exile.

Ephesians 3:1-13 – Paul’s Gospel

Paul describes himself in 3:1 as “Paul the Prisoner of Christ Jesus.”  Traditionally wrote Ephesians while he was under house arrest in Rome.  While house arrest was not exactly the same as being cast in the deepest dungeon in Rome, he was restricted from doing the kind of ministry he would have liked.  In addition, Paul’s appeal to Caesar may in fact go very badly and he could be executed.

The reader of Ephesians may have had some questions about Paul’s argument to this point.  If Jesus has in fact destroyed the authority of the principalities and powers, why is Paul in prison?  How could a “triumphant gospel” be reconciled with Paul’s current shame of house arrest?  If the power of Satan has indeed been broken, how could Paul, as God’s apostle to the Gentiles, find himself treated in this shameful way?

Paul’s answer is to simply point out that despite the fact that he is Rome’s prisoner, the gospel itself is not in prison.  He is in exactly the place where God wants him to be.  In fact, as Timothy Gombis points out in his Drama of Ephesians, God often uses the weak to accomplish his plan so as to highlight the fact that it is God’s victory, not ours (111-2).  Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians that God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.  If the gospel spreads throughout the Roman Empire, it will be by the power of God, not the power of Paul the Prisoner.

There are a number of words in this section which describe Paul’s Gospel in apocalyptic terms.  The fact that his gospel is a “mystery” which must be revealed may very well be allusions to apocalyptic literature like Daniel. There are several examples in that book of visions which need to be “unveiled” for the reader.  It is as if God is fulling a curtain back to in order to reveal what is going on behind the scenes.  In apocalyptic literature, the one who is reading the book cannot make sense of the vision until an interpreter makes the meaning of the vision clear.

Paul is describing himself as the one who is revealing the plan of God for the present age.  Specifically, God is creating a new person, a “body of Christ” which is made up of both Jew and Gentile without distinction.  There is no racial, class, or gender distinctions in this new body, nor does anyone have an advantage if they are Jewish, male, or free.  Even if a person is a Roman citizen with wealth and prestige, there is no advantage in the body of Christ.

Like the great apocalyptic texts of the Hebrew Bible, Ephesians 3:1-13 declares that God has a plan to redeem the world.  That plan was made in eternity past and God will most certainly bring that plan to completion.  Something as minor as the Roman Empire cannot possibly hope to hinder the Gospel!  I think that this is the sort of message which American Christians need to hear, since no modern “empire” can hope to hinder the gospel.

Ephesians 2:19-22 – Growing into a Temple

Ephesians 2:19-22 is the conclusion of an argument which began in 2:11.  Paul began this section by pointing out in that the gentiles were once enemies of God and totally separated from the Jews (2:11-13).  This left Gentiles without hope of salvation, especially since the hatred went both ways.  There was a wall, a dividing wall of hostility, between the Jews and the Gentiles.  Paul may very well be thinking of the literal wall in the Temple marking off the limited access for the Gentiles to worship in the Temple.

But in 2:14-18 Paul states that through Jesus we have peace with God, the enmity between Jew and Gentile is destroyed.  What Jesus did in his body on the cross created a peace between Jew and Gentile which was unimaginable in previous ages.

Perhaps his allusion to the Temple led Paul to use a Temple metaphor in verses 19-22.  On the other hand, architectural metaphors are common in the first century.  In Galatians Gal 2:9 Paul called the apostles “pillars,” a metaphor which is repeated in Revelation.  Another example is 4Q Florilegium (4Q174) describes the “holy ones” as a temple, but one that is built in the last days.  For the writer of this document, the an image of exclusion, only the holy ones are a part of the temple, and of course the holy ones include only the writer and his community.  Paul’s church, on the other hand, is inclusive.  If the true Temple of God is built from both Jews and Gentiles, then all who are in Christ are a part of this temple.

Several implications flow from this metaphor of the church as a Temple of God.  If Paul has in mind the Temple in Jerusalem, then he may be thinking of the stones prepared by Herod’s stone workers.  These stones were cut and dressed so that the fit perfectly in the spot intended.  If the individual believer is “like a stone” in the Temple, then we ought to find some comfort in the fact that God has prepared us for the role we play.

Second, the Temple is built on the proper foundation, the “apostles and prophets.”  It seems to me that Paul has in mind the first generation of the Church, the apostolic traditions and teachings.  But notice the “chief cornerstone” is Jesus himself.  In the traditional view, Paul is writing this letter in the early 60’s.  If is very likely that the first generation was beginning to die off.  Certainly the second generation of the church struggled with deviations in both doctrine and practice.  Using this metaphor, Paul is saying that anything not built on the foundation of the existing tradition is bound to be dangerous.

Third, the building is growing.  This is a natural extension of the metaphor, since Greek and Roman buildings “grew up” as they were being built.  Like a tree, buildings start from the ground (the foundation)  and grow upward. There is a step-by-step process which must be followed over a long period of time.  The Church universal is continuing to grow, Paul says, until it is a Temple fit for God.

This third point ought to be a warning: We are continuing the process of “growing the church.”  What are we contributing to the Temple?  Is the contribution of the western Church material which strengthens and builds up the church?

Ephesians 1:20-23 – God’s Great Victory

After spending some time reading in the so-called anti-Imperial texts in Paul, I would suggest that Paul does in fact envision the eventual destruction of the Roman empire.  But Paul does not encourage the sorts of anti-government protests and social actions people in the West would recognize.  The reason Paul is anti-Empire is because in reality Rome has already fallen and God’s kingdom has come in the person of Jesus.

I do not think that Paul is coded his letters with subtle anti-imperial language.  He is in fact drawing upon the well-known (and not particularly subtle) language drawn from the Hebrew Bible, especially as it was translated in the Septuagint. Jesus is Lord, but not because Paul is encoding an anti-imperial message by using words with subversive meanings The Greek word κύριος was already used in the LXX to refer to the Lord, God of Israel.  By calling Jesus “our Lord” in Ephesians 1:2 Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Lord of the Hebrew Bible.

As such, he evokes the image of Jesus as the God of the Bible, but especially in apocalyptic literature.  Why is it that the Roman government can be safely ignored?  It has already been defeated!  God decreed long ago that the coming Son of Man would destroy the power of the kingdoms of men and establish the rule of the Ancient of Days.  I am thinking here of Daniel 7:14, but I would include the image of the statue from Daniel 2 as well.  The greatest of the kingdoms of men will be destroyed and turned to dust when God rises to defend his people.  The grand conclusion to the narrative of the Hebrew Bible is that God will restore his people to Zion by dealing justly with the kingdoms of this world.  Paul says that this apocalyptic event in many ways happened when Jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God.

Timothy Gombis has taken this observation as the main thesis of his book The Drama of Ephesians. This little book argues that Paul is using imagery of spiritual warfare drawn form the Hebrew Bible to describe what Jesus has done on the cross.  Using Ephesians 1:20-23, for example, Gombis points out that Paul says that Jesus was vindicated by being raised to the right hand of the father in heaven.

This is a place of authority which is far above every ruler, authority,  power and dominion.  These are spiritual forces at work in the world, the actors in the apocalyptic drama, as Gombis describes Ephesians.  Jesus has an authority which is so high above every spiritual thing in creation that it does not even make sense that human rulers should be considered as competitors to Jesus’ rule and authority!

Rome, in Paul’s view of spiritual reality, does not really count for all that much.  If the “rulers of this age” are the spiritual forces behind Rome, and if those spiritual forces have already been defeated, then the Empire itself is doomed to defeat.  This situation reminds me somewhat of the end of the Soviet Union.  The “union” dissolved so quickly that I imagine there were many people living in areas formerly controlled by the USSR that had no idea they were under a “new government.”  I always wondered if Gorbachev went to work one morning and found his offices “under new management.”

This is what happened when Jesus the Messiah, the Lord of the Universe, died and rose again.  The power of the spiritual forces of this dark age was broken – but it happened in such a way that the world did not really notice.  But for Paul, the victory has already been won and Rome has no real power anymore.