1 Timothy 1:8-11 – Sound Doctrine Will Promote Good Morals

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

In order to illustrate what he means by “the disobedient, ungodly, and sinners,” Paul offers a sin-list. For the most part, this list is the standard sort of things that one expects.  Paul has two words for sexual sins.  The first covers a wide range of deviancy from norm, the second refers specifically to homosexuality (ἀρσενοκοίτης).  From BDAG:  “Paul’s strictures against same-sex activity cannot be satisfactorily explained on the basis of alleged temple prostitution. . .or limited to contract with boys for homoerotic service” Remarkably, “enslavers” is on the list (ἀνδραποδιστής). The word only appears here and might be translated as “kidnapper,” although in a first century context a person might be kidnapped in order to make them a slave.

1 Timothy

Remarkably, the final item in Paul’s list is “anything else that is contrary to sound doctrine.” Paul’s description of “sound doctrine” is “healthy” teaching (τῃ ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ).  This description of sound doctrine appears here and in 2 Tim 4:3 and Titus 1:9, 2:1; “sound words” in 1 Tim 6:3, 2 Tim 1:13, “sound in faith” in Titus 1:13, 2:2.

The definition of “sound doctrine” in verse 11 is “the gospel which was entrusted to Paul.” This is not unlike the sorts of things we read in other Pauline letters.  Paul frequently refers to being given the gospel as a sacred trust from God, his commission to preach the Gospel among the Gentiles is a calling from God.

To be “entrusted” with the Gospel is a critically important concept in 1 Timothy. Paul was entrusted with the gospel, he has passed that Gospel on to Timothy, and Timothy is now responsible for guarding that deposit of faith in the next generation. “Healthy Doctrine” is the only cure for the “unhealthy doctrine” of Paul’s opponents in Ephesus.  By teaching the truth, Timothy will expose the false in the “other gospel” which is being promoted in Paul’s churches.

Frequently in both letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus Paul emphasizes holding to the traditions which were already delivered to the church. This body of truth is called “sound doctrine” or “sincere faith” or simply “the truth.”  Timothy’s task included appointing good elders and deacons who will hold to the Gospel which was initially preached in the city and will be excellent examples of living out the Christian life so that outsiders will be attracted to the Gospel.

What is sometimes overlooked is Paul’s solution to the problems in Ephesus.  He does not recommend that more ecclesiastical structure be imposed on the local churches.  He tells Timothy to appoint qualified elders and deacons, but the qualifications are fidelity to Paul’s teaching and high moral commitments.

Unfortunately most Christians define “healthy doctrine” as “what I  believe” and bad doctrine as “what that church across the street believes.”  This is not at all what Paul has in mind here!  He has not created a 39 point doctrinal statement that has to be signed by all members of the church for them to be declared “orthodox.”  For Paul, the core of the Gospel is non-negotiable, but also a set of ethical parameters which work out the gospel in very practical ways.  Rather than declaring the Calvinist or Arminianism “right” or “wrong”, Paul ask if the Gospel is clearly preached, are the members of the  the congregation behaving in a way that brings honor to the Gospel.

I understand the importance of doctrinal statements (I sign several every year myself).  They help define communities of believers around a common set of beliefs.  But it is remarkable that conformity to the Gospel and proper ethical conduct are the two tests Paul set for Timothy when dealing with the opponents in Ephesus.

3 thoughts on “1 Timothy 1:8-11 – Sound Doctrine Will Promote Good Morals

  1. On a 2nd (and 3rd) look, after being taught and long accepting the standard Evangelical view on it, it now appears much more likely that the main “other gospel” Paul opposes, not only in Gal., but elsewhere, and perhaps his disciples as well (to me, disciples of Paul, or even 2nd generation followers wrote the Pastorals almost certainly), is that of James, Peter and “the pillars” in Jerusalem. Why is this view (I can definitely imagine good reasons) cast aside so lightly when so much in the texts points toward it? Esp. in Paul, but not really reversed adequately in Acts.


    • This is an interesting comment, Howard. I think that you may be right for Galatians, certainly the main problem there is legalism, forcing Gentiles to keep the Law, etc. I think that the Pillars are more open to that, but it will be hard to prove that James (for example) agrees with the Judaizers in the background of Galatians. My guess is that he did, but I cannot imagine many evangelicals liking that kind of an answer!

      With respect to the pastorals, I think that there is some Judaism in the opponent’s teaching, but there is a more rigorous asceticism than I find in James or Peter. Maybe more like the Essenes, but again, no one can really make the connection between the opponents in Ephesus and the Essenes as we know them. Still, there is evidence for an ascetic form of Judaism in the first century, and the Ephesian opponents seem to be a part of that mix.

      As the first century develops, though, there are other forms of Pauline theology that run amok with freedom in Christ, going the opposite direction toward antinomianism. I think that appears early as well (Romans 6, for example implies that someone is using freedom as a license to sin!)


  2. To me, other than historical/intellectual curiosity, the details of what “Judiazers” taught and just who they were, doesn’t really matter. Similarly with the precise views of James et al in Jerusalem. But I do think it takes careful, close observation to correctly get the big picture issues. Perhaps the most core of these is that there WAS no single and widely-agreed upon “deposit of faith”, no close, cooperative relationship between the Pillars and Paul…. a strained and distant “cooperation” of sorts, probably yes, but not with real knowledge in Jeru. of much of Paul’s teaching which was via his personal “revelation”. He, of course makes a point of this repeatedly… distinguishing himself from and I think pretty clearly opposing (on some key points) the Jeru. Apostles, to whom he HAD to (for practical purposes) defer. HE was the “latecomer”, not them, or I have little doubt he’d have tried to keep control (and I DO see many positives in Paul… but he was typical of highly zealous, “type A”, “evangelist” type personalities).

    The point is, as numerous scholars I respect have pointed out, Paul added many aspects of theology never occurring to the orig. 12 or other direct followers of Jesus, even “post Resurrection,” and sometimes at odds with the core teachings of Jesus. Had their admin. organization and “control” (such as it was) not been disrupted entirely by the big war and destr. of Jerusalem and the Temple, I think a more Epistle-of-James-like Christianity would have continued much longer, stronger and perhaps led to a much different faith (more Jewish-but-universal, ethics-oriented, mystical, etc.) than we got via the Pauline-influenced Gospels/Acts, literalist Church fathers, etc.

    To me, there are still some important and unanswered mysteries in just why Luke treated many things as he did in Acts, esp. the demise of the Jeru. “church”… basically ignoring it entirely (on the assumption–pretty safe I think–that he wrote Acts well after 70, probably at least in the mid-80s to 90s). Last further key issue: Evangelical and conserv. scholars in general either just can’t see this, and related vital points or they sort of do but (understandably but not excusably) choose to look at other less threatening things.


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