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?

13 thoughts on “1 Timothy 3:6-7 – The Nature of the False Teachers

  1. Dear BiblioBlog: Is a false teacher someone who tries to spread God’s word the best they can even though they are not an expert at it. For instance, myself, trying to get the word out by displaying scripture on my blog? Ricklee

  2. Philip, very nice mate! I think you meant 2 Tim. 3: 6-7. Indeed these two, Jannes & Jambres.. are certainly what we would call “reprobate” concerning the faith and Christian morals! Sadly, we are seeing even these kind in the church today, 2 Tim. 3:5, etc.

  3. By reading 2 Timothy 3 and Acts 20: 29-30, it is very easy to see Paul’s passion come through in his writing. Paul tells Timothy, “have nothing to do with them”, and P. Long makes a great point in that Timothy is not supposed to ignore and stay away from all the sinners. However, it’s the false teachers that are the ones who “worm their way” in and cause trouble. The question P. Long asks at the end is definitely an interesting one. How are we to deal with false teachings today?
    It is always an option to go back in history to point out where people have gone wrong and made similar mistakes such as what Paul did with Jannes and Jambres. I think it’s a little harder to do that with some of the people that many conservatives may think of as false teachers. How could we bring up people from years past to demonstrate a point on the issue of the virgin birth or resurrection? What about proving Hell? This is where things get interesting. There is no possible way to physically prove any of these teachings/doctrines/ideas. The only time you will find out is when we meet God face to face. Many people in the past have questioned these doctrines. Usually they gained a few followers and seemed to fizzle out. Most Christians seem to accept these things as true. In all honesty I don’t know if Paul’s strategy could be used and be effective today.
    In this post-modern world questioning everything is what we are supposed to do. It’s the norm to believe what you want to believe. In my opinion people don’t care at all of the past doctrines and beliefs. This is the main reason why I don’t think following Paul’s example in 2 Timothy 3 would be effective in today’s world. Although I don’t think Paul’s way would be helpful today, I am not sure of what would be. Polhill said, “Paul urged Timothy throughout the letter to be bold, unashamed, and faithful in preaching the gospel” (435). Maybe we need to follows Paul’s lead in this way instead. If others see that we are as faithful as Paul was, maybe then they will see how real Jesus is to us. As Acts 20:29 says, “savage wolves will come in among you”. As the body of Christ we must be aware of these wolves and come up with a response so we may be effective in this ever changing world.

  4. The nature of the false teachers is similar to what happens today. Polhill says, “These teachers may have had a certain external appearance of godliness, but at heart they shared neither the depth nor the power of genuine piety” (434). Then in verse 5 Paul says: “Have nothing to do with them.” To me this sounds like a fairly passive way to deal with false teachers. But I don’t think that this means to just preach against them and still let them spread false teaching. I think Paul is telling him to watch out for these kind of people who look good externally, but inside they are lovers of themselves. Paul is saying that they will be found out, and when they are make sure they are not leading people astray.

    Today, I think there are a lot of people who externally proclaim God as their savior, but internally are all about themselves. I think the way to combat that is to teach and train believers carefully and correctly. It is important to have people who do know the difference of being a Christian inside and out. Then like Paul said it will be obvious who is not in the truth. To train up believers like this, churches have to get people to not just be ‘church-goers’. Churches need accountability, mentoring, encouragement, and transparency. However, there will be people who are there for the wrong reasons. I do not think it would be right to tell them to leave because you could reach out to them. So what can the local churches do for people like these? 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction”. Always be ready to preach, be a good example, and remember God is the one who works in people.

  5. Paul clearly has a strong passion against false teachers. Go anywhere in his letters that discusses the issue of false teaching and you are bound to see how passionate and even zealous he is about how wrong and foolish they are. I cannot attest to how people reacted to certain situations back then, but I do not think that Paul’s method of dealing with false teachers he used back then would work efficiently today. If we were to have nothing to do with those that falsely taught in today’s society, nothing significant would happen. In fact, they would probably go right on preaching what they wanted and somewhere, somehow, people would follow them. It’s like the women of 1 and 2 Timothy. They were weak-willed. When I think of an example today, the first thing that comes to my mind is cults. Most of the time we have nothing to do with these silly gatherings of people, but somehow they seek out the most weak willed humans and capture them. What to do then, becomes the question. And to this, I do not know if I have the answer. I also do not believe that there is one definite answer. Each individual is different and they react to things in different ways. For some, if we stood our ground and as a whole rebuked them, they would give up and quiet down. For others, if we used that same method of dealing with their false teaching, they would grow irate and challenge us in more ways. For me personally, I tend to like to seek out and follow the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48. Jesus tells us to love our enemy. No matter what they are doing or what they have done, we need to restore them gently (Gal. 6:1). For me, I agree with Josh when he says that having nothing to do with them seems very passive and probably not too effective. Paul told Timothy that the central task of ministry was “to preach, to correct, to reprove, to encourage, to teach” (Polhill 435). I think that the best thing to do in the times we face the false teachings of someone is to boldly stand up for our faith, but do it in a loving and non-judgmental way. In that way we are not becoming passive followers of Jesus and we are also in line with what Jesus commanded us to do. Love.

  6. I like the discussion going on so far. I think false teaching is an issue even in today’s church. Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:6 “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” I think Paul is telling us to not preach against them but to just be aware of them becuase they are out there. Right along the same lines as Josh, The preachers who are preaching falsely have a sense of inner pride in that it is not about God, it is all about themselves. Outwardly they may be preaching about Christ and portray a true love for him but inwardly they are most likely not glorifying God but trying to bring glory to themselves. I think that is one reason why Paul tells us to be watchful of those kind of people. Timothy tells us to preach the word and be prepared in season and out of seaso. Always be prepared to give an answer. However when we preach the word of God, it is not suppose to be about ourselves, but about our Lord and Savior.

  7. Reading the bit about some of the women easily being led astray by these false teachers gets me thinking about various online Christian forums and the people who read them. It seems like a lot of the people on there are women, getting swayed by this teaching and that teaching. The forums I’ve seen are end times forums, so you would see some person saying they calculated the day of the Lord’s return from the number of birds they saw in the sky or from a conversation they had that day, and everybody on the forum would freak out like, “Oh my word!! You are a genius! Praise the LORDDD!!! Everybody get ready, here comes the Rapture!!” But it never happened.

    I could totally see this same thing happening in Paul’s day with different issues. “Oh, I have to observe the Jewish festivals?! Wow! I can’t believe I was so deluded! Thank you for your wisdom!” Now, I’m sure men could be swayed, too, but I’m just going off of what you said on the blog post.

    This reminds me of Ephesians 4:14, that we are not to be “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” People are out to trick us and deceive us, tickling our ears with what we want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). That’s why we need to have a firm foundation in God and His word, and if needed even “have nothing to do with” these false teachers.

  8. I unfortunatly speek from experiance when I say that some people that gain power in a church or a ministry that you have learned to trust and respect can be deceiving. They can talk the talk and seem like they are strong in their faith and then turn out to be wolves in sheeps clothing. The analogy that Paul gives is a good strategy but only to keep others from falling for what false teachers are preaching. It is very important to be careful of whom you choose to be leaders. Make sure that they actually fit the cradentials lade out in 1 Timothy because those placed in high up positions naturly draw attention can lead people to great things for God or they can end up hurting a lot of people. Like the weak women I have seen those who are weak willed fall for what these fase teachers preach. Be very careful who you give any power in the church or a ministry.

  9. I wonder if Paul warns Timothy to have nothing to do with the false teachers/leaders because Timothy is so young and Paul is worried that these leaders would be a bad influence on him. Paul didn’t want Timothy learning from the wrong kind of people.
    And to answer P. Long’s question as to whether the strategy of using an example of false teachers in the past works today I would say “Yes”. The reason I say this is because people in the American culture are fairly educated compared to the rest of the world. And because of this education many understand the basics of history, like the World Wars, Cold War, and even the war in Iraq and Afghanistan today. We have seen and understand “bad leadership” in America, not to mention the politics that control this country.

  10. We hold leaders in our Christian faith to a higher standard and rightly so, but I feel like we take this much to seriously at times. We are all human, as are our leaders. So why is it that when our leaders make mistakes we always seem to want to destroy them? I know not of a single human being ever to walk this earth (besides Christ of course) that has ever gone perfectly without sin. Look at one of God’s first leaders. Moses made plenty of mistakes yet God still gave Moses chance after chance. Rarely do we see God striking a leader down on their first mistake. David is another great example of this. Yet we as Christians are gun-ho about kicking any leader who makes a major mistake out of their position.
    Just because these people make mistakes does not mean that they are false teachers teaching false doctrine. In all actuality anyone who has ever spoke in front of any type of congregation has spread false doctrine as NOONE has everything correct. So lets cool our jets and show some of the grace we are shown on a daily basis. Please?

  11. I really like all that is being said about the character of these false prophets, and how Paul was obviously and passionately teaching to avoid these people, but I have a question about context. It seems as though you are presenting 2 Timothy 3 as currently happening in the context of the letter, and these are the issues that Timothy was dealing with. I get caught up on the beginning of chapter 3. “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” This verse would seem to put the vice list that follows and the description of false teachers and how to handle them in a context that is yet to come. Almost as if Paul is warning Timothy against something that will come in the future or the “last days”. Is Paul talking about an issue that Timothy would have been presently dealing with or something that he would face in the near future, or is it something more eschatological?

  12. Wow! I really like Ryan Vegh’s thoughts on women and Christian forums and how it correlates with the false teaching in 1 Timothy. So very true, I have never thought about that before.

    The question is, how do we deal with false teachers today? Paul tells Timothy in regards to the false teachers, “they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone” (2 Tim 3:9). P. Long asked, “Can this strategy be used to deal with the sorts of “false doctrine” we encounter today?” (P. Long) – I think a resounding yes is in order. What better example do we need than that of Harold Camping? As false teachers of God’s Word in this modern age, he is at the top of my list. I have heard people rant and rave in anger about his teachings, they slander him, they mock him…honestly I have always figured his “folly” would be payment enough in the end. He continues to calculate the days and the hours, he prophesies that the end is coming…and yet he is wrong, over and over again. I think Paul’s method works well even for our modern false teachers – for his “folly will be clear to everyone” (2 Tim 3:9). His stories can’t stand up to the truth, for “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt 24:36).

  13. Yeah, It seems like the variety of false teaching that Paul’s ideas predominantly guard against are the incidental false teachers rather than those who maliciously spread false teaching in order to tear down the Church and, knowingly or unknowingly, further the Enemy’s agenda. Against a poor poser, these strategies may be of use as well, but against someone who intelligently and purposefully designs to destroy a church body by spreading false teaching and dissension will likely be able to escape even the most observant or intuitive scrutiny short of divine aid given to discern the truth of the person’s heart.

    This does NOT mean that we should not always be using these wise strategies to identify both those who have been called to lead us and those who may be ignorantly or intentionally trying to harm the body. It merely means that any use of these strategies necessitates a full reliance on God to perfect them and make them and us do what can only be done through his power.

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