Eat, Drink, and Be Married! (1 Timothy 4:3-5)

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.

11 thoughts on “Eat, Drink, and Be Married! (1 Timothy 4:3-5)

  1. I think a lot to the covenant relationship discussed by Paul in Romans; “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6) He continues to talk about the relationship Israel had with this covenant and how the gentiles are like engrafted branches, attempting to be a part of their community. This covenant of Grace was difficult to understand because so many Gentiles wanted to earn their way into the kingdom of heaven. In this way, eating the right foods and doing the right things were ways that the gentiles became self-righteous. Certainly a far cry from suggesting vegan lifestyle/diet choice is the only correct or Biblical option! Context it would seem, is key. While students of Grace should honor their covenant like Israel was told to do, so the outsiders cannot earn salvation from God by adapting that covenant to their own lives. So, after understanding this we should come back to the original question and ask of the others who were potentially rejecting food and sexual intimacy; “Could these things be used for good?” Where is the Biblical support that these things are always objectively bad? It is easy to see through covenant relationship the walls and barriers associated with food, but they seemed to have forgotten that their own salvation is not rooted in what they do and don’t drink. These covenants are for those who are suppose to honor them. To make a blanket statement for everyone wouldn’t work. While excess might have been an issue in the Roman world, the two ideas are apples and oranges. Moderation is a different subject all together.

  2. Not having read all your posts on I Tim., I don’t know if you directly discussed authorship issues earlier, Phillip. I’ve raised them and you responded, but if you did include the matter in a prior post(s), please point me to it (them).

    I guess my main suggestion here would be to do so, if you have not. And also, I think it would be more suitable to call the author “the author” rather than “Paul”. You’ve been referring to Paul regularly as the author, and building a lot around that, so perhaps you can’t, to be consistent, do that. And you may not want to acknowledge even the uncertainty re. the author. (For readers not aware of widespread scholarly views of a later author and not Paul, for all 3 “Pastoral Epistles”, the proponents are well aware of the book(s)’ claim, in the text, to be by Paul.) I do feel writing in Paul’s name a kind of fraud (or “forgery”, as we discussed briefly earlier) in the manner in which it was apparently done, and in which it came into the NT canon, so offer the above for what it’s worth….

    Separate subject: you refer to “eventual” development into Gnosticism a couple times. I’ve studied a fair amount about Gnosticism and its context as shown in the canonical and non-canonical religious texts of the time. It seems to me that there is at least a strong chance that early forms of what could properly be labeled Gnosticism were growing up simultaneously with both Second Temple Judaism (replaced by “rabbinic” Judaism after 70 A.D.) and earliest Christianity. Judaism seems to have supplied roots for it perhaps as much as early Christian theology.

    And IF we see even an “almost-Gnosticism” in the Pastoral Epistles, doesn’t that argue for their writing as later than about 64-65, which is the latest conceivable date for Pauline authorship? That is, particularly if using the typical orthodox-supporting view that Gnosticism was basically a Christian heresy, developing primarily AFTER the completion of works later to be canonized? (For those not aware of dates, that would be prior to 70, in that traditional orthodoxy / Evangelical views generally place completion of the Gospels, Acts and 13 [not 7 or 9] books supposedly by Paul all prior to 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem, and none of the NT later than about 90… that on supposition that the Apostle John might have authored books that late.)

  3. Something that has always puzzled me about these condemnations from Paul against people who are wrong or actively against what he says is how extreme his statements are about them. What is Paul (or the author, whatever floats your boat) talking about in 1 Timothy 4:1 about how “the Spirit clearly says…”? And then moving on, does he sincerely believe that deceiving spirits and actual demons will lead some people astray? In the next verse he calls them hypocritical liars. Why is this condemnation so sharp? And if it really is because actual demons will actually make people lead others astray, then why is this not addressed in the church today? How would this opposition set itself up in the light of the church? More questions than statements on this post, I know.

  4. For years I only at free range foods because of how the animals are raised in our society; not because I do not think we are to eat them but because I believe animals are also God’s creation and God did not intend for us to treat the animals this way. That being said, I do not think we should press our own opinions on food onto others, as the possible Gnostics did. Paul states that God created food in the garden to be enjoyed, and that everything God has made is good and holy (Timothy 4: 4-5). I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I also believe that the things created by men (factories, GMO processed feed) do not apply to this.

  5. “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”. My post will entail of thoughts that relate to the above sentence. I do agree that we ought to seek food that benefit our health. God loves us and wants us to be in good health. We have all heard the saying that we become what we eat, drink, and breathe. It’s really important to maintain a good eating habit to keep our bodies running. Jesus maintained a good eating habit and was cautious of what he consumed. The passage of Luke tells us that it is likely that Jesus ate fish. However judging from the food known to be around during Jesus time, it is likely that he enjoyed healthy food such as vegetables fruits. In Hosea, God says that we are destroyed by the lack of knowledge. I think God was speak of both spiritual needs and physical. It’s important that we know what we choose to put into our bodies. There are a lot of great benefit of having a good health and God was us to be spiritually and physically healthy.

  6. It is clear to me that our physical health is important to me and to God. First, it will prolong my life in this earth without having health issues (obviously I will live until God says so).

    God created the “good stuff” to be enjoyed, and as Paul states “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

    I believe those Gnostics were deceiving that idea, and bring it to a different direction. Paul warned Timothy that some people were going to depart from faith through the insincerity of liars (vs2).

  7. I do think that material possess,or created this can be corrupted by sin. Rather, I think that it is the intention s or uses of certain material things that lead to sinful behavior? God didn’t give objects life ,He did give us the Bible which gives guidance. I think that sin is something that humans tend to try and push their way through. According to 1 Timothy 1, we Christians have been appointed to serve, to live a life that is overflowing with love and faith.

  8. Although food and marriage is to be enjoyed, I can see where people would stop enjoying the food altogether so they wouldn’t sin at a party by being gluttonous. I do not understand how any of them thought skimping on meals would make them more spiritual because that is just manipulating the truth (2 Tim 2:15b-18), but I understand doing it to not sin.

    I know I have those moments where I am eating something really good, and even though I am full, it is so good, that I want to have more. And when I am going beyond full, that is called gluttony. I can’t help but wonder if that has become a problem of today in America. It is really our diet that makes America obese, our lack of exercise, or just gluttony?

    I also want to make a point to say that although we are to enjoy the “gifts from God,” such as food (Ecc 3:13), we have to remember that out bodies are God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19) so we shouldn’t just eat unhealthy food all the time. Going further than just not being gluttonous, we should try to feed our body what it needs, not just what it wants.

    • I agree, enjoying good gifts from God includes food, but not gluttony. This is true for any gift of God, there is a time and place for enjoying it fully, but too much or inappropriate uses are going to lead to sin (food, drink, sex, etc.)

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