You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Pastoral Epistles’ tag.

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?

Second TimothyPaul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Tim 2:7. The “preacher” in the ESV is better a “herald,” or “proclaimer.” This is a person who is appointed to deliver a particular message, in Paul’s case, from God. The language is a little different in 1 Tim 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Tim 2:2. In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him. Like the old “town crier,” Timothy is to take this deposit of tradition and accurately proclaim it to his community.

Paul mentions things passed down to him in his other letters. Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles: 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 1 Cor 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thess 2:15 Paul encourages the congregation to “stand firm” in the traditions which Paul delivered to them. Even in his earliest letter, Paul considers his gospel a tradition which cannot be modified (Gal 1:14).  It is likely that Paul alludes to the words of Jesus in 1 Thess 5, words that are eventually collected in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse.

Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation. For some doctrines, this is a direct revelation that could not be deduced from the Hebrew Bible. For example, in 1 Thess 4:13-18 Paul says that the Lord himself gave him the revelation of the rapture. That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was not revealed in the Hebrew Bible. In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul claims that the Gospel he preaches is “not of human origin” but rather “received by revelation.”

For some of Paul’s teaching, he may have been led by the Holy Spirit to interpret biblical texts differently, or to combine texts from the Hebrew Bible in unique ways which supported the idea that Jesus is the Messiah or that salvation is apart from works. Romans 4 indicates that the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel – this is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. Much of the argument of Galatians is based on applications from stories in Genesis. Paul was trained as a scholar and interpreted Scripture in his sermons and letters in a way consistent with other Jewish teachers of his day.  This “interpretation of scripture” is part of the tradition Timothy is to guard and pass along.

In some cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus. In other cases Paul is the source. But in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully and to pass it to the next generation of believers.

For some American Christians, tradition is very important. I recently heard a sermon in the radio which cited the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession, and in the twenty minutes I listened, no Scripture. Is that what Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy?

On the other hand, how does the principle of “handing down good teaching” work in a modern culture where “tradition” is routinely rejected? In other churches, if something is even vaguely traditional, it is ignored as useless for the modern church. Scholars and pastors often push ideas well-past traditional boundaries simply for the joy of being different. How might Paul react to this sort of thing?

This section of 1 Timothy is the center of the letter, perhaps the center of the three Pastoral Epistles as a whole. The main metaphor Paul works in this letter is the Household of God. Timothy is a pillar in that household and responsible for the spiritual life of other members of the household. Some people in Ephesus have rejected key doctrines of the faith and have developed some behaviors which are not scriptural. In order to argue against these opponents, Paul first describes what he calls the “mystery of godliness” before turning to some examples of the un-truth which the opponents are teaching.

HandsPaul expresses his desire to join Timothy (3:14). This is fairly typical of Paul’s letters, he often expresses a desire to be there even if that is not possible in the immediate future. He is expressing his desire to work alongside Timothy, but even if he cannot be there Paul is confident that Timothy will be able to do the task to which he has been appointed.

Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy is that the churches in Ephesus see themselves as part of the “household of God.” If one is a member of a particular household, they must behave according to that household’s rule. Members of a Roman household had very clear roles and expectations. Fathers, children, and servants all had clearly defined roles in Roman society and it was honorable to do what was expected of you as a father, child, servant, etc.

In fact, it would bring shame upon a household if a father did not perform his role as leader of the family properly, or a child behaved in a way so as to dishonor on the family name. As an analogy, think of a powerful political family in America. Since the family name is well known, there are some things which a family member cannot do without bringing some kind of shame or scandal to the family, endangering their political aspirations. Paul has taught throughout this letter that people within the church are part of a new household, God is their father and they have a role to play within the order of the household of God.

Paul describes the Church as a “pillar” in that household, and a “buttress of the truth.” The metaphor shifts from a household to a Temple, with a foundation and pillars. Both of these metaphors refer to a building. Paul called Peter and James “pillars of the church” in Galatians 2, indicating that they were the chief leaders. Here Timothy is the “pillar” and main support for the churches at Ephesus. A buttress or bulwark (ἑδραίωμα) is like a foundation, the verb is used for founding something on a good foundation.

While the church is like a pillar in the household of God, the church itself is built on the truth (v. 15). This is not unlike Eph 2:19-22, the church grows into a holy temple for God, built on the prophets and apostles (pillars?) and built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

In both cases the point of the metaphor is that the Church stands on the foundation of truth, that it is to guard and defend the truth of the Gospel against defections from the truth. This looks back to how Paul started the letter; in 1:3-7 he warned Timothy about people who were swerving from the truth, both in doctrine and practice.

True godliness begins with Jesus and his work on the Cross (3:16) Paul describes the godliness expected by a member of the household of God as a “great mystery.” He uses the word “confess” (ὁμολογουμένως) perhaps indicating that this short description of the work of Jesus was used as a public confession or doctrinal statement in the early church. The word has the sense of agreement, “this is something that we all agree on.”

This mystery of godliness is called “great.” While it is hard to know if Paul had this in mind, the riot in Ephesus in Acts 19 culminated in the Ephesian crowds chanting “great is Artemis” for hours. Rather than a great god like Artemis, Paul proclaims a living God, rather than a great temple like the temple of Artemis, Paul declares that the church itself is the household of God.

How is this a mystery? The word (μυστήριον)often refers to God’s revelation of something which could not be known unless it was revealed by God. It is the secret which the church guards, how to be “godly.”

One of the problems for reading the Pastoral Epistles is the identity of the “opponents” in Paul’s churches. Paul seems to have a group of elders in mind who are in rebellion against his Gospel, What is more, 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.”

End of the WorldThe 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 Thess 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 Thess 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deut 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 that 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.

1 Timothy

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.  I am more interested in placing these letters into Paul’s career at this point that describing the “opponents” who are implied by the letter. After teaching through the material over a few months, I will return to the difficult problem of the opponents.

  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 that 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.

First and Second Timothy and Titus are usually described as “pastoral epistles.”  The standard view of these three letters is that Paul is writing to individuals who he has placed in a leadership position overseeing churches.  The three books were first called “pastoral epistles” by Paul Anton in 1726.  The description has become so common that nearly every commentator on the books has described the letters as “church manuals” or “advice to young pastors,” etc.

LovejoyTimothy has taken on additional responsibilities as a superintendent over several churches planted by Paul.  First Timothy is therefore letter is personal advice to Timothy on how to organize the church, as well as other ministry related issues. The second letter written to Timothy is to ask him to come to him in Rome, and to bring Mark with him, but the pastoral emphasis is still the main theme.  In Titus, the content is very similar to First Timothy, elders are described, and various potential problems are addressed.

Gordon Fee, however, has called this description into question.  As Fee notes, if these are “church manuals” they are not particularly effective ones.  We end up with far more questions about the church after reading them!  It seems hard to believe that such a wide variety of church structures and styles would all call upon these letters to validate their ecclesiology, if in fact Paul intended them to be read as “manuals for doing church.”  Furthermore, he states “It is a mistaken notion to view Timothy or Titus as model pastors for a local church. The letters simply have no such intent” (147)

The key, for Fee, is to read seriously what Paul about his reason for writing the letters in 1 Tim   1:5 and 3:15.  In the light of Paul’s speech to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:17-35, it would appear that the purpose of the letters might very well to be false teachers in the Ephesian community.

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer

1 Timothy 3:15 …if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Acts 20:30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

These verses do not concern organizing the churches from scratch, as if Paul has done just a bit of church planting and Timothy is sent in to finish the job, like a modern evangelist with a followup team.  There seems to be a serious false teaching that has caused the church at Ephesus serious problems.  The problem is internal (Acts 20:30), people from the inside have begun to teach things opposed to Paul’s message.  As Fee puts it, “What we learn about church order in 1 Timothy is not so much organizational as reformational” (146).

This observation may help with the most difficult problem of 1 Timothy.  If Fee is correct and the problem is straying elders, does this effect the way we look at the prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority in 2:11-12?

Bibliography: Gordon D. Fee, “Reflections On Church Order In The Pastoral  Epistles, With Further Reflection On The  Hermeneutics Of Ad Hoc Documents”  JETS 28 (1985): 141-151.

The false teachers described in the book are coming from within Titus’s churches on Crete. They are elders who are not spiritual leaders and have defected from sound teaching and are behaving in a way that brings dishonor to the church. The list of qualifications in Titus are concerned with reputation of the elder outside of the church. The main reason for this is the elder is a model of spiritual life for the congregation. If the elder has a bad reputation in the community, so too will the church become associated with that bad reputation and therefore be shamed.

Danger ChurchNotice that twice Paul says the elder must be “above reproach” (1:6-7). The noun ἀνέγκλητος has the sense of “free from reproach, without stain, guiltless” (TDNT 1:356), even a sense of innocence. Like 1 Timothy, the ideal elder is one who lives the “quiet life” and has a good reputation with outsiders. Perhaps this helps explain the always-difficult requirement the elder be a “husband of one wife.” The emphasis may be less on gender than reputation in the community. If the elder is a womanizer he will likely have a bad reputation in the community or created enmity in the community.

Titus must therefore examine the family of the potential elder as well. His children must be believers and models of Christian faith and behavior. This is another difficult text to apply since most people know a “pastor’s kid” who did not follow in their parent’s faith. Should that pastor be removed from ministry? Paul’s concern is for the reputation of the community. The child of a church leader cannot be open to the charge of “debauchery or insubordination” (ἀσωτίας ἢ ἀνυπότακτα). The first word can have the sense of being wasteful (financially) but is also associated with “wild living.” The second refers to rebels or flagrant law-breakers (BDAG). In short, even the family of the elder ought to live a quiet life that gains the respect of everyone in their community.

Verse nine indicates the elder must guard the faith as well. Elder were the people who were especially educated and trained by Titus. Perhaps they are the members of the community who have been Christians the longer and therefore have devoted themselves to more study than the others. The elder was to be a shepherd for the congregation, guarding them from potential threats. They are responsible for teaching proper doctrine and practice to the congregation. This seems to be one of the source of the problems on Crete: elders are not teaching proper doctrine as it was handed down to them from Paul and Titus.

The solution is for Titus to “put things in order” by appointing qualified elders. The current leadership is “broken” and cannot be restored; it must be replaced. Titus is told to appoint qualified leaders, and in doing so, he is replacing the “unqualified leaders” who are destroying congregations.

It seems to me one of the greatest threats to the church are church leaders themselves. Christians are not spiritually damaged by outsiders very often, it is usually an elder, pastor or other church leader who hurts people and drives them from the church. What is more, these damaging leaders create a bad reputation for a local church or denomination. Why attend church if you are going to be judged and treated without respect? How can Paul’s guidance in Titus help a modern church create a church leadership that builds a good reputation in the community?

MontebankThe opponents in Ephesus stand in contrast to Paul’s record of suffering (v. 13) It is Paul and Timothy’s opponents who are the imposters. The noun (γόης) Paul uses here is a common way to describe an opponent in a philosophical debate. The noun originally referred to a sorcerer (T.Sol 19:3 uses it for a witch, Hdt, Hist. 7.791.2 for magicians, sometimes it refers to a “juggler,” [Aeschines, Ctes. 137], presumably because they do some sort of distracting act while they pick the pockets of the crowd).

By the first century it was used to describe a swindler, a con-man who uses some kind of deception to gain a profit from his audience. I think of the character from old Western movies, the “snake oil salesman.” The Greek writer Demosthenes uses the word with this sense: “for fear I should mislead and deceive you, calling me an artful speaker, a mountebank, an impostor, and so forth” (Dem., 18 276).

Ironically, these deceivers succeed in deceiving themselves! This is also a common way of describing sophists and charlatans in Greco-Roman world (Dio Chrysostom, Orations, 4.33). The way to avoid these sorts of people is proper “divine” education (4.29).

Dio Chrysostom, Orations 4.33 If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself.

Similarly, the way to avoid the self-deceptive teaching of the opponents in Ephesus is to devote oneself to divine teaching through the Scripture which has been given by God.

Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” from the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Timothy was trained in the scripture from a young age. Jewish family, reading the Old Testament in Greek (most likely). While the opponents are progressing into more esoteric “deep” knowledge, Timothy is told to remain where he is. He has already learned the truth and has been convinced that it is the truth. There is no need for him to dabble in the “myths and genealogies” of the opponents.

The Jews regularly referred to their scriptures as “sacred writings,” Paul can only have in mind here the Old Testament. At this point in history it is unlikely that the Gospels were circulating as Scripture, perhaps Paul’s churches cherished his letters as authoritative. But the New Testament as we know it simply does not exist yet!

Paul says that Timothy was “raised on the Old Testament.” We know that his mother was Jewish and it is likely that he was taught the Old Testament, perhaps having some training in the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible in a synagogue. I doubt that Paul selected Timothy as a missionary companion if he was totally ignorant of the Bible prior to coming to faith in Jesus!

The remedy for self-deception, for Paul, is an absolute reliance on the Scripture for faith and practice. While the opponents in Ephesus pursue fruitless “myths and genealogies” Timothy is to remember what the Scriptures plainly teach and pursue righteousness.  I suspect if people actually read the Bible, they would not tolerate the sorts of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!

In 2 Timothy 1 Paul has told Timothy to model his life and ministry after Paul, recalling the examples of both his family (Lois and Eunice) and Paul’s co-worker Onesiphorus. He ought to avoid the example of the false teachers in Ephesus, namely Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15) and Hymenaeus and Philetus (2:17).

In order to avoid these faithless men, Timothy is to train the elders to be “approved workmen” (2:14-19). In fact, Timothy is to be an approved workman before he trains others. Like Paul’s warning to Titus, Paul warns Timothy to avoid quarreling about words or other theological babble. On the one hand, this is a difficult command since one has to have defined the “core” of the Christian faith very well in order to decide what qualifies as “babble.”

ApprovedOn the other hand, sometimes the theological “babble” seems fairly obvious, mostly since it is the sort of thing people are passionate about! (Like the famous definition of pornography, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it!)

“Do your best” (ESV) in v. 15 has the sense of being diligent in fulfilling an obligation (σπουδάζω), “make every effort” (BDAG). The KJV translated this word “study,” a word which has shifted considerably in modern English. The verb is used in Gal 2:10, for example, for the reminder to care for the poor. In Eph 4:3 Paul says that the believer ought to “be eager” to maintain the bond of unity. It is used twice in 2 Peter with the sense of diligence in spiritual development (1:10, 3:14). This word stands in contrast to being “diligent” in senseless theological babble. While the opponent in Ephesus is busy with their “endless myths,” Timothy is to be busy presenting himself as God’s approved workmen.

Timothy is to be an approved workmen, properly handling the word of God. 2 Tim 2:15 is classic verse for modern “noble Bereans” since it implies that the maturing person of God will become increasingly able to read the scriptures with intelligence and confidence. We sometimes talk about “learning a trade.” The more one works at being a carpenter, for example, the better one gets.

Osteen GrinningThe analogy is excellent since studying the Bible is a skill and an art. There are technical elements which can be taught and learned (parsing Greek verbs, reading background studies, finding parallel texts, etc.), but there is an art to knowing what to do with that information! An unskilled carpenter can build a bookshelf with boards and a few nails, but a master carpenter builds an excellent piece of furniture that is of great value.

The modern church has created a class of professional Bible interpreters. This gives the impression that the Bible is too difficult to fully understand without professional training. People in churches want to leave Bible reading to the professionals, the approved workmen. But this is not at all Paul’s point here. Timothy (and by analogy all believers) ought to be busy training themselves as best they can to handle the Bible correctly so that they will avoid the errors that are plaguing the churches in Ephesus.

This is the point of the phrase “rightly dividing” in the KJV. That translation is also not helpful, since the word refers to guiding the word of truth along a straight path (BDAG). Perhaps Pual has in mind a Roman Road that moves from one point to its goal, without any unnecessary deviation. So too the believer ought to read and study the Bible without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk.”

Paul’s point is that we ought to use the Scripture in a way that it was intended: do not twist scripture to make it say what you want it to say, or would prefer it to say. This raises several problems with contemporary church life. A growing majority of Christians are biblically illiterate and unable to read the Bible properly. They take verses out of context and claim the Bible teaches things which it does not. An additional problem is people do not think very deeply about issues, preferring to repeat what they have heard on talk radio (or worse, facebook!)

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 that Paul needed 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.

This is a very specific issue that will be increasingly important as the American church ages – how should the church respond an aging population? What is the responsibility of the family of God to care for the elderly?

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.

Follow Reading Acts on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,732 other followers

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

Christian Theology

%d bloggers like this: