1 Timothy 6:20 – The Faith as a Deposit

Paul uses an economic metaphor in 1-2 Timothy to describe the content of the Gospel. This faith is a “deposit” (παραθήκη) which has been entrusted to Paul and Timothy to guard until the day when Christ returns as judge.

Timothy with his mother

A problem for us in reading 2 Timothy is the use of the word ‘tradition.”  This is not a tradition in the sense of a longstanding practice that we have “always done,” but rather a body of beliefs and behavioral expectations that define what it means to be a Christian (as opposed to a pagan or a Jew).  The tradition to be guarded is “an unchangeable deposit. Whether the church stands or falls depends upon leaders who are qualified to guard this deposit” (Towner, 294).

What is the Source of this “Deposit”? Paul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (2 Tim 1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Timothy 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 Timothy 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:2. In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him.

Paul mentions things passed down to him in his earlier letters: Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles, such as 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thessalonians 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).  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 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul says the Lord himself gave him his teaching on the future resurrection. That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was unrevealed in the Hebrew Bible. In other cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus. Sometimes Paul is the source, but in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully.

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 implies the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel. This is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. (Spirit-led exegesis and scholarship which applies Scripture to new situations is in fact a source of proper teaching!)

In any case, the body “tradition” which Paul handed on to Timothy is to be guarded and invested, and passed on to the next generation of Christian leaders.


Bibliography:  Philip H. Towner, “Pauline Theology Or Pauline Tradition In The Pastoral Epistles: The Question Of Method,” Tyndale Bulletin  46 (1995): 285-314.  See also  P. H. Towner, The Goal of Our Instruction: The Structure of Theology and Ethics in the Pastoral Epistles (JSNTSupp 34; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989).

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7 thoughts on “1 Timothy 6:20 – The Faith as a Deposit

  1. Nice! Indeed this “depositum” is the Catholic Faith Itself! A sacred faith and trust of sound doctrine, which has been handed over to the faithful Spouse of Christ for her safeguarding and in/by the Holy Spirit the infallible exposition. (1 Tim. 3:14-15, etc.)

  2. There are so many beautiful traditions that surround us, even the event of Christmas is something that has been handed down to us! There are so many different things that we that we have been given by somebody before our time and faith may not be an exclusion for some of us. I know that, for me, this is true. I grew up in a faith saturated community with strong, believing parents who imparted faith on all of us children. I am so grateful for this gift and I wouldn’t be the same without it, but I eventually had to make this faithful tradition my own. My parents, like Paul, made a deposit of faith into my young life, but I had to build upon that foundation. 1 Timothy 6:18-19 says, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (ESV) We who have been given this deposit need to cultivate it and, in turn, reinvest into the life of somebody else, be it our children or family or anybody who God entrusts to us.

  3. There are so many different traditions that occur in today’s society. Traditions have always been apart of our lives, And in reading 1 and 2 Timothy, I can clearly notice that they were just as of importance back then as they are today. Everyone everywhere has traditions. As a whole nation we have the tradition of celebrating Halloween, 4th of July, presidents day, etc. As Christians we have traditions, and even as families and friends we have traditions passed on from generation to generation. The only way all of these traditions get passed on from generation to generation is because people have taken the deposits that were entrusted to them and taken the time to invest in others younger than them in order to keep it alive. I really liked Elizabeth’s statement: “there are so many different things that we have been given by somebody before our time and faith may not be an exclusion for some of us”. When I was 16 I was told the story of Jesus as a tradition passed down for many years by this family. They all say down and read the story of Jesus out loud to their children every night in the month of December. This same family invested their time into me in order that I could learn, grow, and some day make that faith my own. And I did that. But now, as I am getting older and as I am growing deeper in my faith with God, I need to begin investing what was deposited in me into others younger than I. I can do this with my children if I have them in the future, but I can also do this by mentoring someone or teaching a Sunday school (which I, in fact, already do). There are so many examples of things being passed on down. Jesus did it with his disciples, Paul did it with Timothy…we should look to these people as great examples and take this deposit of faith we have been given and reinvest it into others younger than us in order that they may grow to do the same.

  4. It is interesting to think through the way traditions are used in the Christian life and in the Bible. It is interesting to observe which traditions changed in the Bible. The Jews had all these traditions that they kept to follow the commands of God but, God’s commands concerning certain laws changed with Christ. Traditions are important in the Bible which is one thing that we can’t get around. It just seems hard to see which traditions have their base in the word of God and not the traditions of man when we look around today. Sometimes our man made traditions affect the way that we read the Bible when really the context of the verse should be looked into. Sometimes there is a principle behind the tradition and sometimes the tradition itself is the principle. Like I was saying in the other post, people like to be non-conformists and therefore they reject anything that is seemingly out of date when they could be important traditions that house more a than just principle.

  5. I really enjoyed just stepping back and reading the Pastoral Epistles as personal letters rather than application to my own life. Paul’s passion for the gospel isn’t left out at all, and it’s awesome to see him passing on this same truth, encouraging Timothy and Titus, building them up, and reminding them of the gospel that they stand for. It is very much a letter of passing on the baton, and is an excellent example of a mentor passing on the mantle to his disciples. Paul, who was given the “baton” of gentile ministry by Christ himself, passes on the exact same ministry to these two men. I think it’s interesting with the language that is used here. His progression in the letters is really interesting as well. He mentions the issues in the church, talks about discipling/choosing other leaders, reminds them of the gospel message, then encourages them to never be ashamed of the gospel and to press on just as he has. It’s a beautiful letter that we can take application from in our own ministries.

  6. Paul’s encouragement to Timothy that we find in this passage reminds me of a motivational speech that you might here at a graduation ceremony or in the event of someone’s retirement. It seems that Paul is empowering Timothy by entrusting to Timothy the same mission that Christ entrusted to Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul is encouraging Timothy to fight the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12) and to persevere as he did. Paul is using his last opportunity to tell Timothy that, although it will not be easy, his rewards will be eternally enduring. He also gives him practical advice in appointing good leadership and not abandoning biblical truth. Paul wanted Timothy to know that he would be gone soon and it was now up to the new generation of leaders (Timothy and Titus) to continue in the work so that all of Paul’s sufferings would not be in vain. The ‘baton’ that Paul was passing on seems to be the responsibly to oversee and develop the church.

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