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.

What are the Qualifications for Elders? (1 Timothy 3:2-7)

The qualifications for the overseer are moral virtues which would be worthy of respect in the Greco-Roman world. He must be “above reproach.” Along with verse 7, this is the controlling theme of the whole passage.  Paul will repeat this for all members of the church in 5:7 and 6:14.

The husband of one wife.  This is the most controversial in terms of modern application.  This has been taken to mean that an elder must be married (rather than single or a widower) as well as an elder cannot have ever been divorced.

ExcellentSober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable.  These four virtues are all common in Greco-Roman ethical texts.  Sober-minded (νηφάλιος) and self-controlled (σώφρων) in fact, are often associated with the cardinal virtues in the Greek world. To be sober-minded is to be level headed and in control of one’s passions at all times. Paul has already used respectable (κόσμιος) in 2:9 for appropriate dress.  To be hospitable is a virtue among both Greeks and Jews (φιλόξενος means “a friend of strangers.”) 1 Clement 12:3 (about A.D. 95) used this noun to describe Rahab, Epicticus combines hospitable with respectable to describe the fall of Alexander.

Able to teach.  From this one exceedingly rare word (διδακτικός), elders are usually tasked with teaching scripture in church.   Philo (On Rewards, 27) used the word in a virtue list to describe Abraham, Yonge translates the word as “self-taught,” Rengstorf comments that Philo has in mind the virtue of Abraham “consisting or expressing itself in learning.”

Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  These vices are all commonly rejected by virtually every society – no one wants a leader who is a violent, greedy drunk! A drunkard is a good translation since the emphasis is “one given to too much wine.”  Moulton and Milligan (496) offer several examples of drunkenness and violence, “I sinned and was drunken in the night, in that I maltreated the brethren” (P.Lond 1914.27), although this dates to A.D. 335.

The next phrase is related to drunkenness. “Not violent” (πλήκτης) is sometimes translated as pugnacious, a bully. The verbal cognate appears in Aristotle, Ethics Eud. 2, 3.  “Gentle” stands in contrast to drunken violence, although the noun could be translated as courteous or tolerant.  “Not quarrelsome” is a single word (ἄμαχος) which means peaceful (anti-war, put it is used in non-military contexts, including a grave inscription by a husband describing his beloved wife (Cos 3259). A “lover of money” is greedy (ἀφιλάργυρος), a virtue found in instructions to people from midwives to generals (BDAG).

The family of the overseer is important: “He must manage his own household well.” This is far more than a single word, and Paul gives a reason for the elder to have a well-managed household: an elder is in charge of the household of God, if he is not faithful in his own family, he will not be faithful in the church either.  The verb (προΐστημι) means to exercise authority, or “be the head of” something, and the very is modified with the adverb “well.”  On the one had, this could be taken to mean he is a good leader in the home.  Josephus (Ant 8.300) used the word to describe the wickedness of King Jeroboam, who did not appoint kind rulers who would “govern righteously.”

But the verb can have the meaning of “have care for.”  In 1 Thess 5:12-13 this is the word used to describe the activity of the church leaders (they are to care for the needs of the church).  If a person does not take care of his family properly, why should he be trusted to care for the family of God in the church!

This description of a proper leader in the church opens up some problems for application, possibly because pastor’s children are held to a high standard and are often judged as little hellions. At what point does a pastor / elder use the behavior of their children as a measure of how well a pastor / elder has led in their home? This is something like the application of the Proverbs, all things being equal, raise up a child in the way they should go and they will not depart from it. But sometimes that does not happen and a child, through their own choices, seriously defect from the faith of their parents.  A bad child is not always the sign of a bad parent.

He must not be a recent convert.  Perhaps this is the problem with the overseers who have defected from Paul’s gospel, they were to quickly accepted as leaders in the church and were arrogant.  At least in the mid-first century, this might have been a real problem since it was probable that churches were established from only new converts. But by the early 60s it was possible that there were now second generation believers and people who had been Christians for many years.  Paul is advising that these mature believers be considered for leadership, not a recent convert.

The reason given is that they could become arrogant and fall into “condemnation of the devil.”  What does this mean?  Probably that the new elder would be judged like the devil, who also fell because of pride. How they “fall” might be a hint of the false teachers.  Their arrogance leads them to accept teaching that is outside of the faith passed from Paul to Timothy, they more easily accept new and innovative doctrines, perhaps of their own making, because they do not have the spiritual maturity to resist being on the “cutting edge.”

The Noble Task of Eldering (1 Timothy 3:1)

First Timothy 3 and 1 Titus 1 are well-known passages because the describe the qualifications for church leadership. We usually fret the most over the line about “one wife” and perhaps that the leader must have well-behaved children, but there is far more here than those two more controversial points.

TimothyLike the previous section, Paul’s main concern is that the church be organized and led in a way which gives it a good reputation with outsiders. This is also true in business: good reputations are hard to build, they take time. On the other hand, it does not take much at all to destroy a good reputation and develop a bad one.

If you have ever read a restaurant review online, you know that one bad experience can lead to a terrible review and potential lost business. One cranky customer who has bad food or poor service can leave a review (anonymously) online, and scare dozens of people away. The same is true for church.  A family could visit on a Sunday when things were not quite right in the nursery, the musicians were out of tune and didn’t really know the songs, and the pastor finished his sermon on the way to church. This family leaves “unimpressed” and never comes back, but they tell their friends that they tried “that church” and it wasn’t very good.

But Paul is not talking about “church shoppers” in this text, since that sort of thing did not exist in the first century. There are people in the congregation who are leaders in a local house church who have a bad reputation with the community. Maybe they have some shady business practices, or they are quick to bring lawsuits, or maybe they are known to attend the banquets at pagan temples and fully participate in debauchery. If the leader has a bad reputation outside the church, then they bring that dishonor with them when the “desire to be an overseer.” To remedy this situation, Paul tells Timothy (and by extension, the churches) to appoint people to the office of Elder and Deacon who are qualified spiritually and morally for the task.

First Timothy 3:1 is another “trustworthy saying.” In this case it is not a theological statement, but that the person who aspires to be a leader in the church “desires a noble task.” Desiring to be a leader of a local house church is not a bad thing at all, it is a noble task, or a “good work” (v. 1).

It is possible that this line betrays a problem in Paul’s churches in Ephesus. It appears that people were not wanting to serve as leaders in the church. There are several possible reasons for this. First, perhaps the false teachers had created a situation where good people were not inclined to challenge them, the did not desire to become involved in leadership because it meant challenging these false teachers. A second possibility is that the role of overseer or elder was not considered to be a job people wanted to do – it was not considered a “noble task.” It is also possible that people who were capable and qualified did not see themselves as up to the task of leading the church, perhaps for a combination of the previous two points.

One serious problem reading this passage is that we hear words like elder and deacon and immediately think of our modern “office” of elder and deacon. This is not necessarily going to help understand Paul’s view of church leadership. If at all possible, it is best for us to bracket out modern church practice for a few minutes and try to read Paul in the context of first century Ephesus.

Living the Quiet Life (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

1 Timothy 2 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, primarily because of the potential abusive applications of the second half of the chapter.  It has been used to silence the voice of women in the church, despite the very clear Pauline teaching that in Christ there is neither male to female.  Perhaps the situation is clouded by American political debate over feminism and the role of women in the church. Before getting to the really controversial section, I want to set the context of the chapter.

Quiet LifePaul’s main point in 1 Timothy is that the church ought to conduct itself in a way that is honoring to God and attractive to outsiders.  In order to honor God, Paul insists that Timothy guard the truth of the Gospel and train others to keep that deposit of truth faithfully.  In this section of the letter, Paul tells Timothy that the local church must conduct meetings in such a ways as to gain the respect of outsiders.  On the one hand, this means praying for authorities, but more problematic is Paul’s concern that the behavior of some members of the congregation run the risk of repelling the outsider, the Greek or Roman who needs the Gospel.

The reason Paul gives is that the Christian community would be seen as dignified and worthy of respect (v. 3-4). Paul wants his churches to be models of a dignified “quiet life.”  What is a peaceful (ἤρεμος) and quiet (ἡσύχιος) life?  This sounds a bit Amish from our modern perspective, but these two words are Greco-Roman virtues.  Socrates was a model for the Greeks of calm in the face of peril, (Theon, Progymnasmata, 8; Rhet. Graec., II, 111, 27 f.) and rulers ought to be calm (Xenoph. Ag., 11, 2. 6. 20; Isoc. Or., 2, 23; TDNT 6:646).

In a Greek papyri dated to the sixth century A.D. (P Oxy I. 1298) a father repudiates a betrothal because he wishes that his daughter “should lead a peaceful and quiet life” (εἰρηνικὸν καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάξαι, MM, 281). While this is dated well after the writing of 1 Timothy, a similar use of the The word appears in PsSol 12:5:  “May the Lord protect the quiet person who hates injustice; may the Lord guide the person who lives peacefully at home.”  This is a Jewish text, probably reflecting the Pharisees, predating Paul by about 100 years.  The writer parallels one who is quiet (ἡσύχιος) and lives peacefully (although the more common εἰρήνη is used).

Paul also describes this idea life as “godly and dignified in every way.”  Both words would be idea virtues in the Greco-Roman world as well as the Christian or Jewish. The word “godly” is the common word εὐσέβεια, and was used by Diogenes Laertius (third century A.D.) for “the pious follow sacrificial custom and take care of temples” and was common used in the Aeneid to describe “pious” people (BDAG). The word translated ‘dignified” (σεμνότης) The word is often translated with the Latin gravitas.  It is often associated with “denotes a man’s visible deportment.”

This command is not unusual in the Pauline letters. “live a quiet life” is similar to Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonica 4:1-12.  In that context, there were individuals who were not working to provide for their own needs.  The ultimate motivation for living in a quiet, dignified manner is that the outsiders will see this and “come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Since the quiet, dignified life was a virtue in the Greco-Roman world, any chaos or discord in the church would drive people away from the Gospel. With this “quiet dignified life” in mind, Paul then turns to a problem in the Ephesian churches which is disrupting that kind of life and potentially bringing shame on the church.

But this is not a problem limited to the ancient world. Do Christians today make it their ambition to live a life worthy of the Gospel by “living in a quiet, dignified manner”? There are far too many examples of Christians living un-quiet, undignified lives which dishonor God. What are some practical ways Christians can live the “quiet life” in contemporary culture?

Commissioned by God (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).

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.

Paul therefore claims to have been called to serve God, but sees that calling as an example of God’s grace. Anyone who is called to any form of ministry ought to see their calling as just that, God lavishing his grace on someone who is unworthy.  This humble way of thinking seems to me to be missing in too many western (American) ministries.