1 Timothy 6:2b-5 – What is Healthy Doctrine?

In 1 Tim 6:2b-5, Paul contrasts his teaching in chapter 5 (and the whole letter) with that of the opponent in 1 Timothy. Paul started the letter to Timothy by charging him to confront those people in Ephesus who are teaching a “different doctrine” (ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω). The word only appears in 1 Timothy, and it may have been coined by Paul. The word appears in contrast to “healthy” or sound doctrine. This description of correct teaching appears often in the Pastoral letters (cf., 1:10; 2 Tim 4:3;Titus 1:13, 2:2).

Sound TheologyThe “sound words” come from “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s teaching (doctrine and practice) are correct because they come from Jesus himself. Paul does not claim here that these words come from his own theological imagination, rather, he claims that the teaching comes from Jesus. On the one hand, this might refer to the traditions of the actual teaching of Jesus found in the gospels, but there is no real allusion to Gospels in this letter. It is more likely that Paul is claiming to be inspired by Jesus to write the content of this letter. Timothy is to treat the principles found in the letter as if they are the words of Jesus, since they are the words of Jesus!

Several times in the letter, Timothy is told to ensure that there is healthy teaching in the Ephesian churches. Paul’s opponents, on the other hand, are unhealthy both in doctrine and practice. They are “puffed up” with conceit, yet understand nothing. The verb (τυφόω) is a perfect passive, they “have been puffed up,” although BDAG comments that the verb almost always appears in the passive. Perhaps one does not make themselves conceited, other factors effect a person to make them arrogant. The word has the sense of “becloud, delude,” although in this case it is a self delusion. Marshall points out that the REB translates this phrase as “a pompous ignoramus” (The Pastoral Epistles, 640).

In 1 Tim 3:6 Paul said that a potential deacon ought not be a recent convert because they might become conceited, using the same word as this passage. It is possible, therefore, that these opponents are people who had risen to leadership in local churches too quickly and have consequently become conceited.

While the opponents think that they understand things better than Paul, they actually do not understand anything. The word that Paul uses (ἐπίσταμαι) has the sense of grasping things in your mind. This is like someone who uses big words in order to sound educated, but they are really not sure what the words mean.

They have an unhealthy craving for “controversy and quarrels.” In contrast to “healthy teaching,” Paul describes the opponent as sick. They desire to argue over “myths,” but this desire is making them more unhealthy (νοσέω, to be diseased, BDAG suggests “morbid craving”). “Controversies” (cf., 2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9; 2 Tim 2:13 uses the verb) can refer to a simple discussion or debate, but along with “quarrels” (λογομαχία; literally, word-battles) it is clear that the opponents are picking fights over minutia. The words are rare in secular Greek, although one writer describes debate between the Stoics and Epicureans as a λογομαχία (TDNT 4:143). These quarrels produce envy, dissension, slander and evil suspicions. This is something of a generic sin-list, but in the context of 1 Timothy, these are public debates that create chaos in the congregation. Marshall suggests that “evil suspicions” (ὑπόνοια) might be translated as “innuendo,” in the context of slander (641).

They are a “constant friction.” This noun (διαπαρατριβή) is a compound form of a word which means “irritation” (παρατριβή). They are like a pebble in your shoe! The opponents cause discord among those who have already had their minds corrupted and have already been “turned from the truth. This means that the opponents have already made followers, both verbs are perfect and passive. The second verb (ἀποστερέω) has the connotation of taking something through illicit means – the followers of the opponents were defrauded, robbed for the truth through false teachings.

They imagine that godliness is a “means of gain.” The noun πορισμός is the word which might describe how one makes a living. The verb is used in an Aesop’s Fable for a “swindling magician” (BDAG). The word appears in inscriptions dating to A.D. 44 Ephesus complaining about the misuse of funds coming from Rome by the Artemesion, which were used for the personal gain of the management of the Temple (NewDocs 4, 169).

In each case, Paul’s opponents are the opposite of a qualified leader for the church (1 Tim 3). It is easy enough to draw applications from this description of the opponents, and point fingers at any number of irritating people who claim to be leaders of the Church but are in fact unhealthy in doctrine and in practice.  There are websites dedicated to pointing out the most inane attempts by pastors and evangelists to get rich from the Gospel.  It does not take long to find Christians who love “constant friction” on the Internet!  All we need is for Rob Bell to write a book denying some important doctrine and everybody goes a bit crazy. Controversy sells books and makes everyone a little more money.

But I really do not think that Paul intended this list as an opportunity to mock “those other people.” In every sin-list there is a chance for introspection – to what extent am I a person that loves controversy and friction? Do I have an “unhealthy desire” for quarreling? Does my church have that sort of a reputation?

Paul is dealing with a real danger in the Ephesian churches, but it is a danger which every person who serves in any kind of a ministry encounters in their own life.

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