Handing Down Good Teaching – 2 Timothy 1:13-14

Second TimothyPaul 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?

8 thoughts on “Handing Down Good Teaching – 2 Timothy 1:13-14

  1. The source of the tradition is the key. Churches today have too many traditions that have nothing to do with scripture. One is meeting in a special building on Sunday morning.

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  2. In a modern culture where tradition is routinely rejected, the principle of handing down good teaching should never be lost. Good teaching of Scripture is key to living as a Christian, and to reject it would be detrimental (as it already is in some congregations). I think some traditions being rejected by the church would not bother Paul at all, such as singing only hymns and using only hymn books, the use of pews and traditional sanctuaries, dressing up for church being required, or the King James Version Bible being the only true translation. These are all legalistic types of traditions, that really have nothing to do with the life and teaching of Jesus. However, I think the rejections good teaching, or scholars and pastors pushing ideas past traditional boundaries simply to be different would have made Paul incredibly angry, especially since he claimed his gospel as the only one, and could not be changed (Gal. 1:14). Any teaching that contradicted his own would have been seen as false teaching that should be rejected by Jesus’ followers. These issues, especially seen in light of 2 Timothy’s teaching, where “”False teacher/teaching” are…a primary concern” (TTP 283), show Paul’s disdain for such things. In such cases, it may appear to Paul that the time when people are unwilling to endure sound teachings, but only go to teachers that “suit their own passions, and…turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4) has arrived.

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    • This also reminds me of Christians who pick through scripture to find verses and teachings that suit what they want to hear at the time. I think this would have also made Paul “incredibly angry”. When taking scripture out of context and only choosing verses that suit the person’s needs, they are also turning away from the truth and “wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). This is something Paul warned Timothy about; false teaching (2:14-4:5). Today’s culture has also labeled Christians and twisted the teachings from the Bible to display the culture’s agenda. It is almost like they think “hmm what does the Bible say about this topic in a negative light..” and choose to display only that one part of the verse instead of the context behind it. A perfect example of this, in my opinion, is when the topic of same sex marriage came up a couple of years ago and whether or not congress could prevent same sex couples from getting married. I distinctly remember hearing about people holding signs on the corners of streets; claiming to be Christians and quoting scripture that supported their agenda. There were reports of brawls and death threats from those who claimed to be Christians and those who opposed their beliefs. In popular movies and television shows from Hollywood, Christians are either displayed as extremists who believe in selective verses and take it upon themselves to discipline or as people who are easily swayed by the culture’s temptations. However, I do understand that such topics are complex and are more evolved than my summaries. Paul warned Timothy of the false teachers, “idle talkers and deceivers [who were] said to have been ‘disrupting whole households’ by teaching wrong doctrine (Jewish myths 1:14)’ for the wrong reason (dishonest gain 1:11)” (Longenecker, 269).

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  3. Rachel Smith

    “How does the principle of “handing down good teaching” work in a modern culture where “tradition” is routinely rejected?” (P. Long, blog-Handing Down Good Teaching – 2 Timothy 1:13-14). The principle of ‘handing down good teaching’ works in the context of church, but it can encounter friction outside of the church. In church we are used to hearing God’s word preached and taught. We as Christians know that the Truth of the Bible is unchanging yet we will always be able to learn from it. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:16-17. However, in the culture that is not used to going to church, some people struggle with the concept that a book written thousands of years ago is still true and applicable for us today. I cannot speak for the generations older than me, but I can speak for the generation younger than me; having worked with them for several years. Many of the younger generation think that the Bible is not relevant to us today because of how old it is. This is a misunderstanding on their part; but also an example I have seen in my experience, of how our modern culture struggles to accept the tradition of ‘good teachings’ that have been handed down to us through the people God used to write the Bible.

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  4. I like to think Paul would be aghast about a number of things, but tradition held a lot of value way back when. There are some traditions we hold in church, but I’ve even heard certain arguments that “divine revelation” isn’t an accurate method of receiving God’s word — so where would we get it from at the root?

    A lot of important things to note in Paul’s letters is the culture — the WHO — that they’re addressed to, and also the when. Here, in the Pastoral Epistles, Paul is passing down ‘good teachings’ that we still adhere to because it’s written down in the Bible. He was very fierce about spreading his ministry, writing from prison, asking for aid, the whole nine yards. These people received his words and teachings, albeit some needed more than one letter. Point being, a lot of Christianity was built around traditions and passing down the teachings. We should take into perspective what was a norm for Paul back then. We don’t stone people anymore; time has evolved. We should never lose those teachings — and we never will, because of what we have. I think it’d be a real toss-up.

    Paul in modern times would make a good sitcom, though. I should get on that.

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  5. Handing down good tradition hardly works in our day and age because of the lack of understanding behind most traditions. Though many individuals have the idea that ‘people do because they believe,’ I often find that some people ‘do’ simply because they don’t know better. I firmly believe that this mentality would frustrate Paul immensely–the idea that there are various people turning from the truth simply because they are blindly following what sounds decent. Paul, claiming the gospel to be the only true Word, hoped to raise up a people group who would “suffer for the gospel” (2 Tim 1:8). In order to suffer for the gospel, we need to practice going back to the root traditions of the gospel itself–studying the traditions to understand them and in the end, keep them.

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  6. God works in and through many people. He is going to use any and all people who will allow His to do so. Philippians 2:13 states, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. As God used Paul to spread His word. He also used others to help Paul spread the Gospel. “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). Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation” (P. Long, Blog). These are two examples in which God uses people to help Paul and in ways that Paul let God use him. All of us can easily be used today for the work of God as long as we let God. Paul is perfect example as to how God can literally use everyone. Even those who may not believe him at the time. Paul totally transformed who he was and then moved into the calling God had for Him. Back then they so relied on the word of mouth. Whether it be a story or the word of God. It was something so needed in life that they trusted most everything that they were told. That is something that we have lost in life today. Especially as our culture is so surrounded by gossip. Thankfully that was not the issue back then and what was said by most could be trusted.

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