1 Timothy 6:11 – Pursue Righteousness

There are many examples of people who seem to have started the Christian faith well, but seem to have deviated from the course at some point. In the context of 1 Timothy, these would be the opponents who are troubling Paul’s churches. They stared well, but they have not competed well and are in danger of not finishing the race. When Jesus appears, they face ruin (6:10).

But this collapse of faith is not what Paul expects from Timothy. In the conclusion to 1 Timothy, Paul uses a few sports metaphors to encourage Timothy to continue with endurance to the end of the race and receive the prize to which he was called. Timothy started well by making a public confession of faith, and he has been faithful to that confession as he carried out the ministry to which God had called him. But Paul wants him to also look forward to the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he will finally “finish the race.”



Timothy is told to flee from the sorts of evil Paul described in the previous few verses and to pursue virtues that are reminiscent of the Fruit of the Spirit. “Fleeing evil” and “pursuing righteousness” is common in the Hebrew Bible. Both are very active metaphors, implying that there are things which can hinder reaching a goal. Flee and pursue are common in both Plato and Aristotle, but Paul reflects several Jewish texts (Flee, Sirach 21:2; Tobit 4:21, and 2 Tim 2:22, flee youthful passions; Pursue Prov 15:19, T.Reub 5:5).

Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) is one of the most important terms in Paul, in the context of a series of descriptions of ethical expectations Paul probably has “moral uprightness” in mind. To “pursue righteousness” appears in Deut 16:20 and Prov 15:9 (cf., Sir 27:8, but also Herodotus 1.96.2). The righteous person on Judaism was the person who was faithful to the covenant in tangible ways, they doing acts of righteousness.

Godliness (εὐσέβεια) is a very general term which has been used often in the Pastoral letters. Like righteousness, godliness refers to observable responses to God.

Faith (πίστις) and love (ἀγάπη) often appear as a pair in Paul’s letters (1 Tim 1:5, for example). Faith/faithfulness refers to being consistent, keeping one’s promises and commitments. Perhaps the combination of the two terms is more or less the Hebrew idea of hesed, covenant faithfulness. This would be important in the context of Paul calling Timothy to recall the commitments he made when he first began his ministry.

Steadfastness or endurance (ὑπομονή) is occasionally added to faith and love (1 Cor 13:3), the word highlights the sort of attitude one must have in order to complete a task. It is one thing to begin strong, but the one who endures also finishes strong. Again, this is particularly appropriate if Paul is reminding Timothy of his initial commitments.

Gentleness (πραϋπαθία) is rare word in the New Testament although it is related to other words which have the same sense of meaning (πραΰτης is used in Gal 5:23). The word refers to courtesy and humility. In 2 Tim 2:25 Timothy is told to gently correct opponents, and in Gal 6:1 the believer is to gently help another with their burdens. “a willingness to waive an undoubted right” (Martin, Colossians and Philemon, 111).

Like the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, Paul sets a very high goal for Timothy. But if he is going to fulfill the commission given to him by God, he has to be a model leader in the Ephesian churches.  Timothy must make sure his character is virtuous and that he is living his life in order to bring honor to the household of God.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 – Money and the Root of All Evil

Paul stands in the tradition of Judaism in warning about the folly of relying on riches. Godliness itself can be of great gain (the same word is repeated), but only if it is combined with contentment (αὐτάρκεια). The book of Ecclesiastes warns against relying on one’s wealth in this world.

Having sufficient blessings from God is found also in Psalms of Solomon 5:18-20. Having too much wealth can cause a person to sin

Psalms of Solomon 5:18–20 (LES)  Blessed is he whom God remembers in due proportion to sufficiency; 19 if the person abounds too much, he sins. 20 Moderation in righteousness is sufficient, and in this is the blessing of the Lord for satisfaction in righteousness.

Moderation and self-sufficiency was also a virtue among philosophers, the Cynics, Stoics and Epicureans. Describing the views of Epicurus, for example, Diogenes Laertius says:

 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.130-131 Again, we regard independence of outward things (αὐτάρκεια) as a great good, not so as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded that they have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury who stand least in need of it, and that whatever is natural is easily procured and only the vain and worthless hard to win. Plain fare gives as much pleasure as a costly diet, when once the pain of want has been removed, [131] while bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips. To habituate one’s self, therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies all that is needful for health, and enables a man to meet the necessary requirements of life without shrinking, and it places us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.

Paul says that having food and shelter (σκέπασμα can refer to clothing or a house) we will be content.  This is not far from Phil 4:10-13, where Paul says that he has know what it is to have much, or very little.  The secret to contentment (αὐτάρκης, same root as the word in 1 Tim 6:6) is the realization that he can do all things through Christ.

But Paul is not teaching self-sufficiency like a Stoic or a Cynic, rather he is consistent with Philippians 4:10-13, he emphasizing “Christ-sufficiency.”  If your motivation is money, then you are in danger.  If your motivation is being “in Christ,” then personal gain is not relevant.

Grubbing for MoneyThe real problem with wealth is that the desire for wealth is a snare. Notice that it is the person who desires to be rich that will fall into temptation. As with the proverb which follows, wealth itself is not condemned, but the desire is a snare.  The second word Paul uses here (παγίς) is a trap used to catch animals, the same word which he used in 3:7 to describe the “snares of the devil.” This is perhaps another hint that Paul is dealing with leaders appointed too soon (Cf. 2 Tim 2:26).

Wealth tempts people into senseless and harmful desires.  Senseless (ἀνόητος) is a softer translation, the word means dull-witted or unintelligent.  It is sometimes translated as “fool” (Gal 3:1; Prov 17:28; 1 Clement 21:5; 4 Macc 8:17).  But these desired are not merely foolish, they are harmful (βλαβερός). Someone might do something foolish that does no harm, to rely on wealth will lead to some sort of disaster.

The ultimate end of the person that desires great wealth is to sink into ruin and destruction.  Paul uses the rather picturesque metaphor of sinking (βυθίζω). The word was used to describe the utter ruin of Sparta (Philostrat., Vi. Apoll. 4, 32). Destruction (ὄλεθρος) is used by Paul in 2 Thess 1:9 “eternal death” (Cf. T.Reuben 6:3, the destruction of Beliar;” “Destruction brought about by Satan” IEph 13:1).

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. While this saying sounds like a proverb and is common in contemporary culture, there is no real source for the line.  There is no exact form of this saying in the Hebrew Bible or in Greco-Roman philosophy.   The Hebrew Bible warns that desire for wealth corrupts (Exod 23:8, Deut 16:19). This is another hint that the opponents are elders or deacons in Paul’s churches, since in 3:3 he said that the elder is not to be a “lover of money.” (Luke 16:14, Pharisees are called “lovers of money.”)

Paul’s concern is not that Christians have wealth, but that Christians are motivated to serve in order to enrich themselves.  It is the use of godliness, religion, “the Faith” to become rich that is the problem.  He does not appear to be condemning wealth, but the love of wealth.

Paul concludes by saying that some of those who have “wandered away from the faith” did so because they craved wealth.  Rather than gaining wealth, the opponents in Ephesus have destroyed themselves. The opponents have “pierced themselves” (περιπείρω), a rather violent metaphor, the word is usually used in military contexts, they impale themselves!

It is easy to read this passage and think about “someone else.” You may not really consider yourself “wealthy.” In America, from the perspective of history, we are the most wealthy, prosperous people who have ever lived!  The American church over all is wealthy and most Americans are the 99%, from a global perspective.

To what extent does the American church “use religion as a means to gain wealth?”

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.

1 Timothy 6:2b-10 – Love of Money

There is nothing new about people trying to get rich from religion. There are many examples in the Hebrew Bible of priests who abused their role for personal gain, the sons of Eli for example. The prophets regularly condemn priests who take bribes or other prophets who give their messages for a price (Micah 3:11, for example). The practices of indulgences in the medieval church is one of the worst examples of money extorted to generate extreme wealth for religious leaders.

In modern America, this is a real problem. There are many evangelists and media preachers who have made obscene amounts of money from their religious practices. Most educated people laugh off the conspiracy-laden evangelist who sells buckets of survival seeds so his viewers can make it through the great tribulation, but the fact is these scam artists continue to extort money from the elderly and the gullible. I would also include sub-Christian groups here as well; cults form around a central, charismatic teacher who has the real truth” (everything else is “fake news,” let the reader understand). The true follower donates all their money to the leader in order to learn the real mysteries of the universe!

Elmer GantryPaul faces a similar problem with the opponents in Ephesus. Some of the elders and deacons in the churches are teaching things that deviate from Paul’s gospel in both doctrine and practice. It appears from this passage that at least one motivation for this deviation is personal gain. Perhaps the wealthy women who were the subject of serious correction in chapter 2 are patrons for these opponents. Patronage was a standard way for a philosopher to support himself in the Roman world, so it is not too far-fetched to think that some of the elders and deacons who have rejected Paul’s gospel have found some patronage among the wealthy in the church.

Paul is not against supporting those who teach in the church. Only a few lines prior to this passage Paul stated the elders who teach ought to be paid because they are worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim 5:17-18). The problem is the elders who are teaching unhealthy doctrine are doing so for personal gain. Just as in the modern world, it is likely that the unhealthy doctrine taught by these teachers was more popular that the Pauline gospel.

This is such a serious problem that Paul calls this a “different doctrine” which causes those who teach it to be “depraved in their minds” and “deprived of the truth” (v. 5). Paul is not dealing with a difference of opinion on serious theological or practical issues, he is dealing with a defection from the gospel which prevents people from hearing the truth.

1 Timothy 5:11–15 – Problem Widows

There appears to have been some kid of problem in the Ephesian churches with younger women (5:11-15). This is one of many difficult passages in 1 Timothy because our modern world view balks at the idea of the church requiring a young widow to re-marry. But we need to read this text against the background of marriage in the Greco-Roman world as well as the context of the opponents who have been the subject of the whole letter.

The Merry Widow (1934)A younger widow ought to be encouraged to remarry and start a family. Presumably Paul has in mind here widows who do not have any children and would be considered young enough to start a family. If the age statistics mentioned above are accurate for Ephesus, there may have been a number of women widowed young. Rather than remaining unmarried for the rest of their lives, Paul says they ought to marry.

The motivation for this command is similar to 1 Corinthians 7. While it is ideal for a person to remain unmarried and wholly devoted to ministry, to remain unmarried is (for most people) a very difficult life. Better, Paul says, to marry than to struggle to maintain a pure celibate life.

In verse 11 Paul says these younger widows are drawn away (καταστρηνιάω) from Christ because of their desire to remarry. This is a very difficult line to translate because the verb only appears here in the New Testament. It is related to the verb στρηνιάω, to “live luxuriously,” only found in Rev 18:7 describing the city of Babylon.

This desire to remarry brings judgment because they “break their vow.” This is usually taken as a hint the younger widows have made some sort of commitment to not remarry, but later want to set their vow aside and remarry. This is anachronistic: Paul is not describing women who have run off to a nunnery and taken vows in a medieval, monastic sense!

Towner suggests the young widows desire to remarry and are choosing to marry outside the faith (The Pastoral Epistles, 352). The commitment they are setting aside is their commitment to Jesus Christ. Typically women in the Roman world would set aside their family gods and adopt the gods of their new husband. If this is the case, then the judgment they face is because they have recanted their faith in Jesus to marry a non-believing man.

It is possible the younger widows were encouraged not to marry by the opponents in Ephesus. Since they are not raising a family, these younger widows become “idlers and gossips.” An “idler” (ἀργός) refers to someone who is lazy, or unwilling to work. Whether male or female, Paul has little good to say for someone who refuses to work. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 deals with this problem. In Thessalonica there were people who were people who attempted to “devote themselves to ministry” and lived off gifts from the church. Paul states quite clearly people ought to work in order to provide for their own needs rather than rely on the church.

To describe these young widows as “gossips” is adequate, but it may create the impression of a modern “gossipy housewife.” The noun (φλύαρος, only used here) and associated verb (φλυαρέω, only in 3 John 10) can have the connotation of worthless talk, or even disparaging talk (BDAG uses “prattle”). In one sense, this is similar to the “myths and genealogies” which Paul condemned in 1:4, but the word may indicate the younger widows have fallen under the influence of the opponents and are disparaging Paul and his gospel. There is ample evidence some false teachers often targeted women as potential patrons.

An important observation here is that the young widows who are choosing to not remarry have the financial means to live an idle life. They have some sort of financial support (their dowry or some sort of inheritance) which enables them to be idlers and gossips. People who are working hard to meet the needs of their family do not have time for these things!

While these verses are sometimes disparaged as reflecting a patriarchal, even misogynist view of the church,but Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy overall is the reputation of the church in the community. The Roman world did not respect idlers, or people who were “gossipy” whether they were men or women. it is not as though women have a monopoly on gossip, men are just as likely to engage in worthless chatter.  To be honest, the biggest gossips I have ever know have been older men!

Like his comments on modest dress, Paul’s strand condemnation of idlers and busybodies applies equally to men and women.

1 Timothy 5:9-14 – Caring for a Widow in Need

Old LadyIn order to clarify who is a “widow in need,” Paul provides a description of a widow who is worthy of support (5:9-14). To a very large extent Paul’s description of a “proper widow” is consistent with wisdom literature (Proverbs 31, Ruth, perhaps also Judith).

She is not less than sixty years of age. Unlike the modern world, the age of sixty is quite old in the first century. No one really knows why Paul chose this number, Roman law used fifty as the definition of a widow who should be supported by public funds. It is possible Paul has in mind Lev. 27:7 which makes a distinction for vows after age 60.

She was a faithful wife, “the wife of one husband.” The phrase here cannot mean, “only married once” since Paul is telling younger widows to remarry. Potentially they could be widowed a second time and find protection in the church.

She has a “reputation for good works.” The woman is “well known” in the Christian community for living the sort of life that reflects her faith. Perhaps an example of this might be Tabitha / Dorcas in Acts 9:36, she was “always doing good and helping the poor.” Paul expands “good works” with four brief statements on what these good works might include.

She has brought up children. On a practical level, this distinguishes the “proper widow” from the young widow in the next paragraph. This women was faithfully married and has already raised a family.

She has shown hospitality. Proper hospitality is considered a virtue in the ancient world and was one of the criteria for an elder in 1 Tim 3:2. In fact, the letter of 3 John concerns proper hospitality towards traveling teachers in Ephesus.

She has washed the feet of the saints. Of the four phrases, this is the most difficult, although it may be related to showing proper hospitality. Rather that participating in the ritual of foot washing in the church, Paul is thinking of one element of showing proper hospitality in her home.

She has cared for the afflicted. To care for the poor is part of being a virtuous person in Judaism, and there is ample evidence that Greco-Roman women often participated in charity work. It is possible that Paul has in mind people who are facing persecution, but helping the poor is likely the main point.

She has devoted herself to every good work. This last line of the description returns to the idea of good works. To be “devoted” (ἐπακολουθέω) means something like “model oneself after.” 1 Peter 1:21 uses the word for following in Jesus; footsteps; here the widow has followed after good works, modeling her life after the sorts of things demonstrate her faith in a tangible way.

Does this list mean that Paul would not support an older widow who did not have this kind of a reputation? I doubt that Paul intended for the church to let lazy widows die of starvation! Jesus did not demand that people become perfect before he would talk with them or heal them. This description is the ideal, like the Proverbs 31 woman. In describing the ideal, Paul may be encouraging women in the congregation to aspire to this sort of a reputation. Paul sets up a definition of a “widow who is in need.” She does not have a family to care for her or other means of support (a managed dowry), she has already raised a family and is unlikely to remarry.

In Paul’s view, the church ought to care for people who cannot care for themselves or have no other means of support. The problem with a section of scripture like this is that it is very difficult to apply since the cultural situation has changed radically over church history.

In general:

The church must care for genuine needs of the poor and needy. Caring for the widow, orphan, refugee, etc. has always been an important ministry of the church. This care for the needy is found throughout the Hebrew Bible, the teaching of Jesus and the ministry of Paul and the other apostles. The early church excelled in caring for people that society would not. There are many sad examples of abuse of the system in history, both from the church and from the poor, but these tragedies ought not deter the church from their responsibility to care for those in need.

The church must be wary of people who want to avoid responsibility. The reason Paul works at defining a “proper widow” is that the church resources are limited. If there is no standard, then the limited resources will be stretched thin and genuine needs will be overlooked.

To neglect this responsibility is a shame on the church in the community. One of the greatest condemnations of the church by the world is that we spend too much money on our beautiful buildings and nothing on “real ministry.”

1 Timothy 5:3-16 – Caring for Widows

Paul devotes a great deal of space to the care of widows in 1 Timothy, likely because this was a problem for Timothy in Ephesus. The Hebrew Bible has a remarkable interest in the protection of widows (Exod 22:22; Deut 10:18; Ps 146:9; Deut 24:17-21). Based on the commands in the Law, Jews in the Second Temple Period took care of widows who had no protector. But what was the status of widows in the Greco-Roman World? When a woman married in the Greek world, she brought a dowry to the marriage. That dowry was managed by her husband; if he died then the dowry would be managed by her son. Winter cites W. K. Lacey, “the law was explicit; the person who had charge of her dowry had the obligation to maintain her” (117).

WidowThe situation in Roman culture was similar. In A.D. 9, Augustus created legislation which required a widow would re-marry if she were under 50. “‘There can be little doubt, that young widows, even if they had children, were expected to remarry,’ for remarriage provided a secure option for the younger widow” (Winter, 85).

For older widows, both Greek and Roman laws provided for widows. Winter comments that from a legal perspective, “a woman was never as thoroughly protected as she was in her old age” (86). As in most cultures, the law would not have protected every woman and many women may have found themselves widowed at a young age and without a protector. This would be especially true of the poor who perhaps did not have much of a dowry in the first place. Unlike contemporary culture, women in the Roman world had status and “social identity” through their family; first through their father, then later through their husband (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 334). To be single, widowed or divorced was not a normal status for a Roman woman.

Paul’s concern in this section is care for widows who are genuinely in need. Be begins in verse three with a general principle, honor widows. While the noun τιμάω does have the general meaning of honor, “set a price on,” etc., given the context Paul uses the word to refer to financial support of widows by the community of believers. Verses 5-8 are directed at families with widows. Paul is very clear that children and grandchildren have an obligation to care for their own elderly parents. This is essentially the point of the fifth commandment, to honor ones own father and mother. The verb is the same is used in both the commandment and this text, the allusion seems clear.

The context in 1 Tim 5 clearly refers to financial support for widows who have no other means of support (family, etc.) “Honor” here has the connotation of financial support, both here and in verse 17, where it refers to honoring the elder who teaches.

Why are there so many widows in the church?  Why would Paul need to devote such a long section to their care? One factor is that most women in the first century married much older men. Evidence for this comes from Roman census records from Egypt, where 87% of marriages were to older men, from one to thirty years older. The early church reached out to the poor and slaves. It is entirely likely that this meant that a sizable minority in each church were un-supported widows. There may have been an attraction to Christianity because the church offered to help support a poor widow in ways that Roman society was not able or willing.

Paul uses the phrase “let a widow be enrolled,” implying that the church ought to keep track of women who were in need. The verb καταλέγω is used for enrolling someone a member of a group, like a soldier joining the army or a “membership list” for a religious organization (POxy 416, 4, for example).

Since the opponents in Ephesus rejected marriage, it is at least possible that they rejected other family obligations. Perhaps they used Paul’s own teaching about a “new creation” in Christ Jesus to argue that they had no obligation to other family members. If a person became a Christian, they might say, their old life is buried with Christ and they are under no obligation to care for widows in their own family, especially if they were unbelieving (Padgett, 21).

Paul wants the churches in Ephesus to care for widows who are in genuine need primarily because the church is a family. His Jewish worldview would see it as shameful for a family to not “honor their mother” by refusing to help a widow in need. This sort of care for those who cannot care for themselves was something the church must do if they are going to be the people of God.

What are some practical ways this care for widows can be expressed in a modern context?


Bibliography: W.K. Lacey, The Family in Classical Greece (London, Thames and Hudson 1968). Bruce. W. Winter, “Providentia For The Widows Of 1 Timothy 5:3-16,” Tyndale Bulletin 39 (1988), 82-99; J.M. Bassler, “The Widows’ Tale: A Fresh Look at 1 Tim. 5:3–16,” JBL 103 (1984): 23-41; A. Padgett, “Wealthy Women at Ephesus: 1 Timothy 2:815 in Social Context,” Interpretation 41 (1987): 21.

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

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 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.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 – The Opponents in Ephesus

The opponents in Ephesus are like the people predicted to come in the “later days.” Jesus also described false messiahs and prophets who would come claiming to be messengers from God. First and Second John both describe teachers with wrong views about Jesus as “antichrist.”

William TapleyThe idea that the “last days” have arrived in common in the New Testament, the earliest church believed that Jesus could return at any moment. In this they were correct. In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul teaches that in the last days there will be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth. In the last days, this falling away will be so intense that people will choose to believe the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel.  Did Paul actually believe that he was living in the last days?  I think that he did, but every generation of the church have had at least some people who thought they were in the last days!

But this text cannot be directly applied to any particular modern false  teaching in order to declare that we are “in the end times.” Certainly Jesus can come back at any moment, and there are plenty of people teaching all sorts of things in the name of Jesus that are simply not in line with the truth. But that is the condition of all of church history!

Paul describes the opponents in Ephesus as sub-Christian. They have Christian like ideas, but when examined in the light of the truth they are in fact not Christian at all.  Paul is not dealing with a group of people who have a honest difference  of opinion on a theological issue. His opponents in Ephesus have rejected key elements of the gospel which separate them from the truth.

They have abandoned their faith. The verb Paul uses here (ἀφίστημι) is the same as 2 Thessalonians 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deuteronomy 7:4 it is used for turning away from God to worship other gods. These opponents have rejected the core truth of the Gospel (1 Tim 3:16) and can no longer be described as within the faith.

They follow “deceitful spirits” and hold to the “teachings of demons.” This seems like a strong polemic, the sort of thing that we would not say about an opponent today. But there are a number of Pauline texts that describe real spiritual warfare. In 1 Tim 3:6-7, for example, Paul warns that a leader in the church ought not be a recent convert, since it is possible for him to become prideful and fall into the devil’s snare.

They are hypocritical liars. Combining hypocritical and liar indicates their teaching appears to be well-intended, but it is in fact false. This indicates that the opponents are not simply fooled into teaching something that is false, they are choosing to maintain a lie for some reason (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 291).

Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. There are two ways to read this line. First the phrase may refer to someone who has told a lie so many times that they believe it, that there conscience no longer functions as it ought. They are numb to the truth, etc. Second, it is possible that this refers to being branded. The verb (καυστηριάζω) can mean sear, but it can also refer to branding someone with a hot iron. “The imagery suggests crime published with a branding mark on the perpetrator” (BDAG). In either case, their conscience has been destroyed by the “doctrine of demons” that they no longer know if they are teaching the truth or not.

I am not sure it is possible to identify the opponents from these four items alone. What is certain is that there are people in Paul’s churches in Ephesus who have defected from the Gospel in such a way that the are not Christians at all. Timothy is warned about these people and told to appoint elders who cling tenaciously to the gospel and are truly godly.

How are these opponents related to 2 Thessalonians? Does this apostasy exhaust the prediction of 2 Thessalonians 2? Or is it better to see these warnings as more or less always applicable in every generation of the church? Is there a real danger of “abandoning the faith” by following conspiracy-theory inspired teachers who treat the Gospel as secondary to their pursuit of a prophetic agenda?

1 Timothy 3:14-16 – Confessing the Mystery of Godliness

In the first part of this paragraph in 1 Timothy Paul stated the “mystery of godliness is great.”  He then defines what the mystery of godliness is in a series of confessional statements about Jesus. It is possible that each of these lines could be expanded more fully, unpacked from the brief three word statement into a short sermon. It is impossible to know for sure, but this short description of Jesus could have functioned like a creed. Many commentators observe these verses are likely an early church hymn or liturgy. We cannot know how any given early church gathering functioned, but it is not hard to imagine these lines repeated as a corporate confession of faith in who Jesus is.

Nicaea CreedPaul introduces these statements about Jesus with the word ὁμολογουμένως (homologouménōs). Although there is a significant textual variant which reads this as a verb, this is an adverb meaning “confessedly” or “undeniably” (BDAG), or “by common agreement, according to general consensus” (BrillDAG). Like the noun ὁμολογία, the word refers to an agreement or confession of allegiance. The word will eventually be used in the modern sense of a confession of faith such as the Nicene Creed.

Each statement is an aorist passive verb with a dative phrase (all with a preposition, except the third). Some take these as three pairs (NIV, NA26), with each pair contrasting heaven and earth. Others take the six items as two triads (ESV, NRSV),the first three lines focus on the life (and death) of Jesus and the vindication of the resurrection, the second triad focuses on his ongoing exaltation in the ascension and preaching of the gospel. Another option is that the six lines are chronological, from incarnation to Second Coming. The problem is that the final line is better associated with Pentecost than the second coming. (For a survey of the options, see Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 500-2).

Manifest in the flesh. This short line refers to Jesus as God made flesh, the incarnation from birth to death. It is possible that this line only has post-resurrection appearances in mind, but it is not far from Phil 2:6-7, Jesus humbled himself to become human, “making himself nothing.”

Vindicated by the Spirit. While this could be a reference to the miracles Jesus did in the incarnation, it is more likely this is a reference to the resurrection. “Vindication” here has the sense of being proven right or innocent. While Jesus was executed as a sinner might be, God raised him from the dead, proving that he was in fact innocent.

Seen by angels. Consistent with the view that these phrases are post-resurrection, this may refer to the witness of the angels to the resurrection, or perhaps the exaltation of Jesus in heaven.

Proclaimed by the nations. This line refers to the ongoing mission of the church, presenting the gospel of Jesus to the world. Paul has in mind here his own mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. LXX Ps 17:50 (18:49 ET) has a similar phrase, “I will give confess you among the nations, O Lord.” There are many texts in the Hebrew Bible which describe the nations coming to Zion in the future eschatological age (Isaiah 2, for example).

Believed on in the world. Paul refers to the success of the mission to the nations, the gospel is being believed by the “known world.” In the traditional view of the Pastoral epistles, he wrote this after his work in Rome; if the letters were written later it still refers to the success of the Pauline mission to the Gentiles; as the church continued to use this as a confession of faith it was even more true that the nations were responding in belief to the Gospel.

Taken up in glory. This final line seems to refer to the ascension, although chronologically this is out of order. The verb ἀναλαμβάνω (analambanō) appears in Acts 1:11, two angelic beings state that Jesus was “taken up into heaven.” The ascension obviously occurs well before the gospel was preached to the nations and believed by the world, but it is the climax of the events of Jesus’s life.

The mystery of godliness is therefore a statement about who Jesus is, what he did, and what the church continues to do after the ascension of Jesus. What Jesus has already done provides the basis for the ongoing mission of the church. By the time 1 Timothy was written, this would include preaching the Gospel throughout the Roman world.

This climactic statement about proper belief and proper conduct naturally draws Paul back to the main subject of the letter, the specific problem of the opponents in Ephesus. There are elders in Ephesus who are not conducting themselves in a way that is honorable within the household of God and they may very well have some defective view about who Jesus was or what he did.