A Demonstration of God’s Mercy – 1 Timothy 1:12-20

Paul thanks God because God has enabled him to be faithful to the service to which he was appointed (v. 12). To “strengthen” someone is to give them the power of ability to do a particular task. This is the same verb (ἐνδυναμόω) Paul uses in Phil 4:13, and will use in 2 Tim 4:17. In both cases, Paul describes his weakness and inability to do the task God has given him, yet God gave him the strength to not only fulfill his commission, but to do so successfully.

Paul refers here to his commission to be a servant of God. The Greek noun διακονία can refer to any sort of job, assignment, or obligation. While we tend to think of “service” as those voluntary jobs we do for our church or school, the word can mean much more than that. In English we refer to someone who has been appointed to the role of an ambassador as being in the “foreign service.”

approved-stampPaul’s “appointment to service” is his commission to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). He was appointed to this particular role by God himself after he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. From the very beginning of his new life, Paul was told that he was a “chosen instrument” to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This commission was repeated in a vision given to Paul while he was worshiping in the Temple (a calling not unlike Isaiah). Paul’s point here is that despite being an unlikely candidate for this particular commission, God chose him and enabled him to fulfill this his calling to be the light tot he Gentiles.

Paul also recalls his former life before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (v. 13, 16). He says that he was a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” In English, the word blasphemy has taken on the connotation of speaking against a particular religious view. In the context of the book of Acts, Paul did not “blaspheme” by speaking slanderously about God, rather, he unintentionally blasphemed by speaking slanderously about Jesus, denying he was the messiah and denying that God raised him from the dead.

But in Greek, the words translated as blasphemy (βλάσφημος, βλασφημία, and the verb βλασφημέω) are usually associate with slander, demeaning speech, or even disrespectful talk. This might be mocking a particular view, a sarcastic parody, etc., usually with the intention of shaming people who believe that sort of thing. In a public debate, it is easier to mock the opponent rather than engage their ideas. This might be personal attacks, or using a straw-man argument. It is far easier to create a simplistic characterization of a person’s ideas and attack that rather than seriously examining what they actually say!

This fits well with the third word in this line, Paul was insolent. The noun (ὑβριστής) is rare in the New Testament, only appearing here and Rom 1:30 (a vice list). The word is also rare in the LXX (10 times), but it does appear in Prov 6:17 as one of the seven things the Lord hates (“haughty eyes”). The word appears in secular descriptions of vice in secular Greek as well. Aristotle describes the wealthy as “insolent and arrogant” (Rhet. 1390b, 33); “insolence means to do and say things that bring shame to the victim” (Rhet. 2, 2, via BDAG).

Taken with the slander implied with the Greek idea of blasphemy, perhaps we can think of this sort of speech as the lowest form political discourse, the old-fashioned “mudslinging” and yellow-press tactics which most politicians say they will not use (unlike their communist, atheist, baby killing, rap music loving opponent).

Even though Paul had been opposed to the truth of the Gospel, God chose him in order to demonstrate his mercy (v. 13-14, 16). God is described as merciful and patient. These words describe the character of God in dealing with his people throughout the Hebrew Bible. God is “longsuffering” or patient with his people, waiting a long time before rendering a justly wrathful judgment. Paul says that since he “acted in ignorance” God extended mercy to him. In the Jewish Law there is a distinction between sins committed in ignorance and sins committed intentionally (with a “high hand.”)

Since Paul was the “worst of sinners,” God’s demonstration of patience and mercy to him was a demonstration of how great God’s mercy can be. If God was merciful to Paul, of all people, then how much more will he be merciful to you? This is perhaps an intentional contrast with the false teachers he will mention in verse 20. They are not ignorant, they are willfully departing from the truth of the Gospel, knowing full-well what they are doing. For this reason there is no mercy for them, rather they will be “handed over to Satan.”

Paul describes his experience of God’s grace as an overabundance of grace. This word (ὑπερπλεονάζω) only appears in the New Testament here and is rare outside the New Testament. Paul described himself as the most desperate of sinners, yet God has filled him up with his grace to overflowing!

 

What is Sound Doctrine? 1 Timothy 1:8-11

In order to illustrate what he means by “the disobedient, ungodly, and sinners,” Paul offers a sin-list. For the most part, this sin-list is the standard sort of things one expects in a sin-list. This kind of list is common in the New Testament and is found in Greco-Roman ethical writing as well.

Paul has two words for sexual sins. The first covers a wide range of deviancy from norm, the second refers specifically to homosexuality (ἀρσενοκοίτης).  From BDAG:  “Paul’s strictures against same-sex activity cannot be satisfactorily explained on the basis of alleged temple prostitution. . .or limited to contract with boys for homoerotic service” Remarkably, “enslavers” is on the list (ἀνδραποδιστής). The word only appears here and might be translated as “kidnapper,” although in a first century context a person might be kidnapped in order to make them a slave.

Sound DoctrineRemarkably, the final item in Paul’s list is “anything else that is contrary to sound doctrine.” Paul’s description of “sound doctrine” is “healthy” teaching (τῃ ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ). This description of sound doctrine appears here and in 2 Tim 4:3 and Titus 1:9, 2:1; “sound words” in 1 Tim 6:3, 2 Tim 1:13, “sound in faith” in Titus 1:13, 2:2.

The definition of “sound doctrine” in verse 11 is “the gospel which was entrusted to Paul.” This is not unlike the sorts of things we read in other Pauline letters. Paul frequently refers to being given the gospel as a sacred trust from God, his commission to preach the Gospel among the Gentiles is a calling from God.

To be “entrusted” with the Gospel is a critically important concept in 1 Timothy. Paul was entrusted with the gospel, he has passed that Gospel on to Timothy, and Timothy is now responsible for guarding that deposit of faith in the next generation. “Healthy Doctrine” is the only cure for the “unhealthy doctrine” of Paul’s opponents in Ephesus. By teaching the truth, Timothy will expose the false in the “other gospel” which is being promoted in Paul’s churches.

Frequently in both letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus Paul emphasizes holding to the traditions which were already delivered to the church. This body of truth is called “sound doctrine” or “sincere faith” or simply “the truth.”  Timothy’s task included appointing good elders and deacons who will hold to the Gospel which was initially preached in the city and will be excellent examples of living out the Christian life so that outsiders will be attracted to the Gospel.

What is sometimes overlooked is Paul’s solution to the problems in Ephesus. He does not recommend that more ecclesiastical structure be imposed on the local churches.  He tells Timothy to appoint qualified elders and deacons, but the qualifications are fidelity to Paul’s teaching and high moral commitments.

Unfortunately most Christians define “healthy doctrine” as “what I  believe” and bad doctrine as “what that church across the street believes.” This is not at all what Paul has in mind here!  He has not created a 39 point doctrinal statement that has to be signed by all members of the church for them to be declared “orthodox.”  For Paul, the core of the Gospel is non-negotiable, but also a set of ethical parameters which work out the gospel in very practical ways.  Rather than declaring the Calvinist or Arminianism “right” or “wrong,” Paul asks “Is the Gospel is preached?” “Are the members of the the congregation behaving in a way that brings honor to the Gospel?”

I understand the importance of doctrinal statements (I sign several every year myself). They help define communities of believers around a common set of beliefs. But it is remarkable that conformity to the Gospel and proper ethical conduct are the two tests Paul set for Timothy when dealing with the opponents in Ephesus.

How does a contemporary church find a balance between promoting sound doctrine and providing a place for people to discuss ideas and ask questions? Is this more than agreeing to a doctrinal statement? How can a church or Christian organization promote the Gospel, demonstrate grace, and be faithful to the core doctrines of the faith?

A Different Doctrine – 1 Timothy 1:3-7

Dead End Deep Water

The letter begins with a description of the sort of teaching which Paul cannot tolerate in his churches. It is remarkable Paul launches into a section on the opponents so soon in the letter, the only thing quite like this in Paul is Galatians.This indicates that the problems in Ephesus are intense.

They teach a “different doctrine.” This is not a difference of emphasis, but rather a teaching that is contrary to what Paul taught in the Ephesian churches. This Greek ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω is only used in Christian literature for a strange or divisive teaching.

Ignatius, To Polycarp 3:1 Do not let those who appear to be trustworthy yet who teach strange doctrines baffle you. Stand firm, like an anvil being struck with a hammer. It is the mark of a great athlete to be bruised, yet still conquer. But especially we must, for God’s sake, patiently put up with all things, that he may also put up with us.

The noun Paul uses is only found in the Pastoral letters, In classical Greek, ἕτερος meant “another of a different kind” and ἄλλος meant “another of the same kind.”1 Paul chooses to call a different kind of teaching, as he did in Gal 1:6–9. There the church was turning to a “different gospel” which is really no gospel at all.

This helps us understand the urgency of the situation. This is not a legitimate variation on a theological matter (Calvinism vs. Arminianism), but rather a form of teaching that is outside the definition of what it means to be Christian. By following the opponents, members of the local Ephesian churches are in danger of not being Christians at all, since they do not hold tenaciously to the core of the gospel Paul has already taught them.

They devote themselves to “myths and endless genealogies.” A “myth” almost always has a bad connotation in Greek. The false teaching is described as myth in 1 Tim 4:7, 2 Tim 4:4, Titus 1:14, and 2 Peter 1:16. The noun appears in Sirach 20:19 for the stories which are “on the lips of the ignorant.” Sib.Or. 3:226 includes myths along with the words of the seers, sorcerers, soothsayers, and “the deceits of foolish words of ventriloquists.”

“Genealogies” may refer to some rabbinical speculation. This is the view of the earliest interpreters of this passage (Ambrosiaster and Jerome), as well as many modern commentaries. The same word appears in Titus 3:9. But it is possible that this is another way of describing a myth, since some Greek mythologies were “myths cast in genealogical form” (BDAG).

The phrase appears twice in the pastoral letters,(1 Tim 1:4; Titus 3:9) and may refer to the sorts of books which were popular in the Second Temple Period, haggadic midrash (allegorical reinterpretations of the Old Testament) such as Philo of Alexandria or books like books like Jubilees and Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities which sought to “update” the biblical stories to the Greco-Roman world.

The genealogies are “endless.” The noun ἀπέραντος can refer to something that appears to be unlimited (the sea, 1 Clem 20:8, 3 Macc 2:9), but also to arguments that go on and on. Polybius used the word for “tiresome detailed enumeration” (1, 57). Maybe this is a word which could describe reading the tax code – it seems to go on forever in endless, meaningless detail.

The “promote speculations.” The verb ἐκζήτησις only appears in Christian writings. The word means something like over-investigating things which do not really merit investigation. The verb appears a few times in Greek literature, meaning to investigate something in (perhaps) a legal context, to demand an accounting for the blood of an innocent murder victim (LXX 2 Kings 4:11)

They have “swerve” and “wandered” into vain discussions. The ESV translates the verb ἀστοχέω as “swerve,” which means “to miss something that was aimed at” (στοχάζομαι means “to aim). This can be a mistake, but combined with “wander” it would be better to see this as an intentional departure from the truth.

Wandering SheepTo “wander” (ἐκτρέπω) is maybe a bit of a soft translation here. The verb means to turn, perhaps with a bit of violent connotation. Luke the English word “turn,” this word is used in medical texts for turning an ankle, to “be wrenched” or to “be dislocated.”

“Vain discussions” (ματαιολογία) are empty, fruitless talk (the noun will appear in Titus 1:10). In Poimandres 144 the word appears in parallel to πολυλογίας, “many words” (MM). There are some people who can talk endlessly without ever saying anything. This is like a politician’s answer, so many words without ever really answering the question!

They desire to be teachers without understanding what they are saying. This is the best clue that the opponents are Jewish, the noun “teacher of the law” (νομοδιδάσκαλος) is found in Acts 4:34 for Gamaliel and Luke 5:17 for the a category of teacher in parallel with the Pharisees. Both are clearly Jewish teachers of the law. But these opponents only desire to be “teachers of the Law,” without really knowing what a teacher of the Law is! Perhaps these are Hellenistic Jews who have a bit of training in the interpretation of Scripture, but are not really doing it correctly.

A major theme of the Pastoral letters is correctly handling Scripture. It is not that the individual Christian cannot read the Scripture with clarity, but the person who tries to be a teacher is “more responsible” than the rest for what they teach. This responsibility means the person who considers themselves as a teacher or authority needs to fully understand the implications of what they are saying. They could lead a congregation astray. If the teacher is already wandering off, then it is likely his congregation will follow.

They make “confident assertions” without understanding. Likewise, they are confident what they are saying is true (διαβεβαιόομαι), but they do not really understand what they are saying. In Titus 3:8 Paul will use this verb when he quotes a “trustworthy saying.”

The speculations of the opponents prevent them from fulfilling their “stewardship of God in faith.” The noun translated “stewardship” (οἰκονομία) is associated with household management. The elders or deacons who are engaged endless, pointless teachings are not fulfilling their calling to be the stewards of the local churches, they are “bad stewards” who are in danger of being replaced.

Although it is impossible to state who these false teachers were with any certainty, they appear to be Christians teachers who claim to be teachers and authorities who promote ideas which are dangerous to the theology and practice of Timothy’s churches. the opponents in 1 Timothy come from inside the church, just as Paul predicted in Acts 20:29-31.

Background to the Pastoral Epistles

The background to the Pastoral epistles is a matter of some speculation. The letters to Timothy and Titus are collectively called the “pastoral epistles” and are usually described as “letters to young pastors” on topics of church organization. This common way of describing these letters misses the obvious fact that by this point neither Timothy nor Titus could be called “young,” nor are they ever really described as pastors in the letters.

Both men are described as personal representatives of Paul and both men are given the task of dealing with some sort of theological deviation from Paul’s gospel which likely includes some practical, moral failure on the part of elders and deacons in Ephesus (and potentially Crete). First Timothy is less of a manual that could be subtitled “how to be a pastor” than directions to Timothy on how to deal with a serious problem plaguing Paul’s churches in Ephesus.

This is how I would reconstruct the situation behind First Timothy. In this post, I am more interested in placing these letters into Paul’s career at this point than describing the “opponents” who are implied by the letter.

  1. Paul spent about three years in Ephesus (Acts 19). During this time he would have established churches in the city and trained others who planted still more churches. Colossians is evidence that at least one other city near Ephesus was evangelized by a Pauline disciple. Revelation 2-3 mentions 6 churches in addition to Ephesus which may have been established as a result of Paul’s three years of ministry in Ephesus.
  2. While it is impossible to know how large the church was in Ephesus when Paul left, we do know from Acts that enough people had joined the Christians that they were an economic threat to the silversmiths who made small models of Artemis (Acts 19).
  3. In Acts 20, Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders predicts that there will be some among the Christians who fall away from sound doctrine and practice. The connection between Acts 20 and the pastorals has led scholars such as C. F. D. Moule to suggest that Luke himself is the author of the letters. Luke intended them as an epistolary conclusion to his Luke/Acts. For a review of this argument, see Hagner, The New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2012), 623.
  4. Paul traveled to Jerusalem where he is arrested at held under house arrest in Caesarea for two years. He is then transferred to Rome after appealing to Caesar. He is in Rome under house arrest for two years. This is where the book of Acts ends. In all, Paul is away from Ephesus for at least five years before he wrote First Timothy, perhaps two or three years more than that.
  5. Paul is released from prison after Acts 28 and continues his ministry, likely into Spain but perhaps visiting churches he established in the earlier parts of his ministry. Somehow he learns his fears for the Ephesian churches have come true and some elders / leaders have moved away from Paul’s teaching and practice. The nature of the problems in the Ephesian churches may be a division between “Pauline congregations” and Jewish-Christian congregations.

Timothy was sent to Ephesus to encourage the congregations to “guard the deposit” which had been given to the churches. As Bill Mounce points out, Timothy was not a pastor, or elder, or bishop in these Ephesian churches. He was “an itinerant apostolic ‘delegate’” (The Pastoral Epistles, lviii; citing Jeremias).Timothy has already been sent to difficult situations as Paul’s personal representative, he was sent to both Thessalonica (Acts 17) and Corinth to continue Paul’s work.

Ethics in Titus

The problem Paul addresses in the letter of Titus is the potential for teachers to arise from within the church who teach bad doctrine and are not living an exemplary life.  In order stave off the sorts of which Timothy has in Ephesus, Titus is told to appoint men to the office of elder who are qualified for the position doctrinally, but also men who are of good reputation and will not bring shame to the churches on Crete.

Is this the right way to think about ethical and moral living?  We should behave properly because the world watches us and is either drawn towards Christ because of our consistency, or they are driven away because of hypocrisy.  One of the biggest factors in the anti-church “Spiritual” movement among younger Christians is dissatisfaction with the structure of church since it seems to harbor hypocrisy.  It is not hard to find examples of hypocrisy in every church and denomination, nor is it hard to find people who have rejected Christianity as a whole because of the actions of public Christians.

There is a great deal which is applicable to the church today since modern churches have the same sort of reputation problems as the churches in Crete.  The members of the church are urged to live exemplary lives in terms of both the Greco- Roman world and the Jewish / Christian world.  The elder qualification list in 1:5-9 begins with “above reproach” – someone who is blameless.  Various social groups are addressed in chapter 2 with the same interest in what outsiders think of the members of the church.  What runs through all five of these sets of commands is the idea of being “sensible.”  There is a derivative of the Greek –sophron– for each of the first four categories of believers. This word has the idea of common sense, which is a cornerstone of Greek virtue.  “The Hellenic model is avoidance of extremes and careful consideration for responsible action” (BDAG, citing Aristotle, EN 3.15).  Common sense was “a characteristic of persons distinguished for public service,” and is used in 1 Tim 3:2 as one of the qualifications of an elder. For a woman, the word could take on the idea of chastity or modesty, also characteristics which were important to the Greek world. In fact, these words occasionally on women’s graves, praising them for their high moral character (BDAG).

In every case, this section highlights the sorts of things which would appeal to the Greco-Roman world.  The moral life of the Christian in Titus 2 ought to be attractive to the outsider, drawing them to Christ not repelling them with hypocrisy.  I think this might cause raise some questions, since most people think that the Greco-Roman world was rather sinful and immoral, but that is just the point.  Greek and Roman writers often decried the decline of moral values, Christianity called people to reject the “passions of the world” and embrace a new kind of life.

In Titus 3:3-11, we find the reason for our living for the sake of the Gospel.  Paul develops a contrast between what the believer was (before Christ) and what the believer is now (in Christ).  The person who is “in Christ” has become new, they have been made alive though the washing of the Holy Spirit, and they are in fact now a child of God.   Paul’s call to devote ourselves to doing good (verse eight) is simply the natural response to this change from foolish suppression of the truth to our adoption as heirs of God.

Titus 3:9-11 – Dealing with Those Who Disagree

Because of these descriptions, scholars have tried to explain these false teachers in several ways: Some have connected the false teachers with either the followers of Marcion (explaining why Marcion would not have accepted the books as authentically Pauline) or a proto-form of Montanism (since the pastorals do not mention the Holy Spirit very much, Montanism was a charismatic revival of the middle/late second century).

Other scholars have suggested that the description of the false teachers is “generic” that there is no specific threat to the churches overseen by Timothy and Titus, but this is the sort of generic anti-heretic language that could be applied to any number of churches.

Could the be a proto-form of Gnosticism or Montanism? This is always possible, depending on the definition of “proto.” The mixture of Greek philosophy and Jewish asceticism that becomes Gnosticism later in the second century may have its roots in the very churches planted by Paul. But the false teachings that the writer is dealing with is not at all close to the Gnostic teachings of the second century. To argue against “foolish myths and genealogies” as Paul does here is applicable in the first century as much as the second (or third or twenty-first!)

Regardless of the source of false teachers in Ephesus and Crete, Paul provides a three-step method for dealing with these troublemakers. The steps seem reasonably clear, but it is hard to know how to use them in a contemporary context. Paul is not describing a medieval excommunication or some sort of strange shunning-ritual. He wants his churches to be unified around a core yet also to preserve some diversity within the members of the church. How does this work?

The first step is to avoid the things which create quarrels and dissensions. This cannot include the core elements of the faith, but what things might be considered “divisive” our context? Paul is talking about drawing lines which include / exclude – how does this “work” in a modern church context?

Second, if there is a person that cannot set their divisiveness aside, then they are to be warned. The text says that the false teacher “stirs up dissension,” indicating that he is looking for an opportunity to argue over his special doctrine. This too becomes a difficult

Last, if the person continues to stir up dissension, then the church is to shun the person as a false teacher. This is very controversial since ostracizing someone from a group is a very “un-American.” Paul seems very prejudiced and arrogant to force someone who believes differently out of the church!

Most likely these steps will look different in different cultures (African churches vs. American churches, for example). How do we use this material to preserve the unity and promote diversity within a local church?

Suffering as Godliness – 2 Timothy 3:10-12

In contrast to the false teachers, Paul lists his own suffering as an example of what will happen to anyone that wants to live a godly life (vv. 10-12).  This is somewhat surprising for contemporary Christians who are fed a steady diet of “health and wealth” gospel – if you are really spiritual and doing everything God requires, you will be blessed, you will be happy, healthy and wealthy.  That is the exact opposite of Paul’s point in this passage.  Paul knows that his Gospel is the truth because he has suffered physically as a result of his preaching of Jesus.

It might seem odd, but Paul recalls his first missionary journey as an example of his suffering. He specifically has in mind the persecution he faced in Asia Minor (Acts 14). In Antioch, Paul is opposed by Jews from the Synagogue, who follow him to Iconium to harass him. Paul was attacked in Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). Perhaps these persecutions were chosen because he was “left for dead,” or perhaps this period continued to haunt him in his ministry for some time.

Honk for Jesus

While that physical attack was important, Paul has in mind the constant treat from the Jewish community throughout that first journey as well as the threats to his churches reflected in the book of Galatians.  The attack on Paul’s character reflected in Paul’s early letters may have been more painful than the physical pain he faced in Lystra.  It appears that some of Paul’s opponents described him as unqualified to preach the gospel (Gal 1) or worse, as a charlatan (1 Thess 2, for example).

A potential problem with this review of Paul’s ministry is that it all occurred on the first missionary journey, before Timothy began to travel with Paul (Acts 15). This is sometimes used to argue that the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery.  The writer introduced a historical error by saying that Timothy witnessed these events himself.  On the other hand, Timothy was from Lystra himself and joined Paul mission with the full knowledge that Paul is often persecuted physically and opposed by very powerful people where ever he preaches the Gospel!

Paul states very clearly that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . This is a common theme throughout the New Testament: Jesus was persecuted and so too will his followers face similar trials.  Galatians 5:11 indicates that Paul was persecuted because he was preaching that the Gentiles were not under the Law.  The immediate background is his troubles in Asia Minor to which he alludes here in 2 Timothy (cf. Rom 8:35, 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, 12:10, Gal 4:29, 5:11, 2 Thess 1:4).

If Timothy’s desire is to live a godly life, he will in fact face some sort of trial or  persecution.  Paul knows that Timothy is at the moment facing a difficult time because of the false teachers in Ephesus, even if that has not developed into a physical persecution at this point. This text is clear that the one who is “in Christ” will suffer like Christ.  Perhaps this is an indication that the opponents in Ephesus are not really “in Christ,” they simply do not suffer!

Imagine what would happen in Evangelical Christianity if people really believed that they should suffer for Jesus rather than expecting to be wealthy because of their faith. When was the last time you took a rock to the head because of your faith in Jesus?