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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Timothy 3:14-16 – What is the Mystery of Godliness?

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 has used throughout 1 Timothy is the church is like 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.

Bible StudyPaul 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 Timothy as a pillar in God’s household and the church is 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 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.”

Disrupting the Quiet Life – 1 Timothy 2:8-10

Having described the “quiet life” as a Christian virtue, Paul now discusses two potential disruptions of that quiet life.

First, men are command to pray without anger or quarreling (v. 8). It seems odd that people would pray in the church “in anger,” perhaps continuing arguments they were having in the act of prayer. The noun Paul chooses here (διαλογισμός) does in fact focus on differences of opinion which can develop into an argument. In Luke 9:46 it is used for the disciples arguing among themselves over who was the greatest, in Phil 2:14 Paul uses it in conjunction with grumbling.

It is possible some people were using public prayers to condemn their opponents, continuing their dispute in prayer, when the opponent cannot respond immediately. Something like “Lord, open the eyes of my rather dull brother in Christ so that the Holy Spirit will teach him that clearly I am right and that he is wrong, may he repent soon of the sin of his stupidity in disagreeing with me over this minor point of theology.” It is possible some men in the church thought a public prayer was an opportunity to be a Roman Orator. Imagine someone imitating Cicero or a sophist in their public prayers!

Second, women are warned to dress modestly (v. 9-10). While this might seem to be a different topic, Paul is still talking about things which potentially cause disorder and chaos in during prayer. Paul makes a contrast between external adornments (jewelry, clothing hair styles) and godly, good works.

Amish Girls on Roller Skates

Amish Girls on Roller Skates

Paul does not forbid people from looking good in public, nor is Paul commanding woman not fix their hair, use makeup or wear jewelry. What he is concerned about is an over-emphasis on external beauty. The hair style Paul mentions is preferred by the fashionable, wealthy women, even though it is the exact opposite of the hairstyles found in public statues of Imperial women. He describes the jewelry as “costly,” one of the stronger terms he could have used in this case. Paul is not saying that women should not wear any jewelry, but that it should not be overly expensive.

Bruce Winter points out that “jewelry epitomized sumptuousness” and was often associated with a shameful woman. He quotes Juvenal: “There is nothing that a woman will not permit herself to do, nothing that she deems shameful, when she encircles her neck with green emeralds and fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears” (Satires, 6.458-59, cited by Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 208). These clothes are adorned with gold and pearl, two very valuable items in the ancient world. The great whore of Babylon is adorned with “gold and pearls” (Rev 17:4). Jesus used a “pearl of great price” as an analogy for the value of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 13:45).

If someone is wearing expensive clothing, real gold and pearls, they would be dressed like royalty! In Paul’s churches there are supposed to be no difference between rich and poor. A woman dressed like this is flaunting her wealth or her family’s wealth.

Remarkably, this advice does not vary much from that found in Plutarch, in his “Advice to a Bride and Groom.” Like Paul, Plutarch points out that external adornments are nothing compared to a virtuous woman:

For, as Crates used to say, ‘adornment is that which adorns,’ and that adorns or decorates a woman which makes her more decorous. It is not gold or precious stones or scarlet that makes her such, but whatever invests her with that something which betokens dignity (σεμνότης, 1 Tim 2:2), good behaviour (εὐταξία), and modesty (αἰδώς, 12 Tim 2:9). Plutarch, Praecepta Coniugialia 26 (Moralia II, 141e).

The real problem with this verse is defining “modest dress.” It is possible one person’s modesty will offend someone. The same thing is true for wearing expensive clothing: is this a question of Walmart vs. Kohls vs. Target vs. the trendy shops at the mall? I imagine Amish women get accused of immodesty for wearing the wrong color snood. Think about the difference between what a teenage girl wants to wear and what her father wants her to wear! What I personally think is too fancy and expensive is going to differ dramatically from another person’s view.

It is also important to read this text as applying to both men and women. If a man spends an inordinate amount of attention on his clothing, hair, and makeup, or if he is focusing on his external appearance and not putting on godly, good works, then he is just as much of a distraction as a woman. Men dressing immodestly is not the problem in Ephesus (men have other problems), but the application seems to be clear. Both men and women can dress in a way that distracts others and is not worthy of respect from outsiders.

Paul does not give all people permission to point out what they think is an immodest display, or a person wearing expensive clothing. He is urging people to think about the effect that their clothing might have on other people when they wear it in a worship service. There is no permission given here for you to be a jerk about what other people wear.

The controlling idea is living a quiet, dignified life, whether women or men are in view. In both cases Paul wants his congregations to worship in peace, without distracting from the proper focus of worship, the One God who wants to draw all people to himself.

Like other elements of this chapter, it seems easy to draw application to contemporary practice (“dress modestly”), but that simple application is taken as a judgmental attack by snooty old people on whatever new and trendy fashion younger Christians are wearing to church. Is this simply talking about wearing skinny jeans or yoga pants to church? An additional problem is that what counts as modest is quite different in other cultures. How is this command to dress modestly part of living the quiet life? How can it earn the respect of outsiders?

Learn in Quiet and Submission? 1 Timothy 2:11-15

1 Timothy 2:11-15 is perhaps the most troubling in the New Testament in terms of what Paul commands for his churches and his reasons for those commands. The command is for women “to learn in quiet and submission” (v. 11). As with Paul’s commands about modest dress, the most common way to explain these verses is to say that Paul is dealing with a particular problem with overbearing women teachers in Ephesus, and that the situation is unique. He is not intending to declare that women should be absolutely silent in church!

It is best to read this passage in the context of the quiet life Paul described in the first part of 1 Timothy 2. The “silencing of women” is an extension of the other disruptions to the quiet life in the preceding paragraph.

Paul says women should learn, but they ought to do so with the same sort of dignified grace he encouraged in the first seven verses of the passage. What are these women doing that is not “quiet”? This is left unstated, but it is possible the instructions on dress and teaching which follow are the hint that some women are “taking charge” in a way which would offend Greek and Roman outsiders.

This verse does not indicate to whom they ought to submit. It is often read as if Paul says that they ought to submit to their husbands (like Eph 5:22) or to the (male) pastor of the church. But that is not actually stated, so it is at least possible that this submission is to the word of God itself.

More difficult, Paul states that he does not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (v. 12). This is consistent with 1 Cor 14:34, and is also consistent with Jewish synagogue practice as far as we know in the first century. In addition, there is no evidence of women assuming the role of a teacher in a philosophical school or public venue.

Women did teach, but in private instruction (of children, for example). Priscilla is an example of a woman who taught Apollos in Acts 18:26. Towner suspects Paul’s freedom in Christ gave woman and slaves far more freedom in the church meeting than they would have had in a public meeting (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 218.).

The problem in Ephesus is wealthy women in the church who were under the influence of the opponents, who used their prominence (wealth) to promote a teaching Paul has already rejected because it is incompatible with the Gospel.

The key word in the verse is “have authority over” (αὐθεντέω). The verb has the sense of “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” (BDAG), and the Jerusalem Bible has “tell a man what to do.” Much ink has been spilled trying to sort out what this word means in this context. (For example, G. W. Knight, “αὐθεντέω in Reference to Women in 1 Tim. 2,12,” NTS 30 (1984): 143-57). The noun (αὐθέντης) is usually translated master, and BDAG speculates the word is the source of the Turkish effendi.

The verb has the connotation of domineering, going a bit beyond the teaching of a lesson from the Scriptures. In the context of “wealthy women behaving badly” many scholars understand this term as prohibiting these women from assuming control of the church in order to promote their particular brand of false teaching. If the problem had been “wealthy men behaving badly,” Paul would have likely said the same sort of thing to them. Imagine, for example, what Paul might say to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist “church.”

The background in Ephesus is therefore important since it appears that some wealthy women are taking the Pauline idea of equality in Christ to insist they should be considered authoritative teachers and elders in the church and pushing their particular (defective) version of the Christian faith.

How does reading the command in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in the context of the quiet life impact contemporary church practice? If gaining the respect of outsiders is a factor, would the role of women in a church be different in a culture where women do not have prominent roles in society? Or is this an example of the church challenging culture with the truth of the Gospel?

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. Paul’s words have 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 controversial section, I want to set the context of the chapter.

Cabin in the Woods, 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 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 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.

Paul says the Christian community should be seen by outsides 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 like Paul is telling the reader to go live in a cabin in the woods. This might sound a little too Amish for most Christians! But these two words are often found in lists of Greco-Roman virtues. Socrates was a model of calm in the face of peril for the Greeks (Theon, Progymnasmata, 8; Rhet. Graec., II, 111, 27 f.). For the Greeks, rulers were to be calm and have a quiet demeanor (Xenoph. Ag., 11, 2. 6. 20; Isoc. Or., 2, 23; see 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 his daughter would “lead a peaceful and quiet life” (εἰρηνικὸν καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάξαι, MM, 281). While this letter is dated well after the writing of 1 Timothy, a similar use of 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) is often translated with the Latin gravitas (a Latinism used in contemporary English for someone who has power). It is often associated with “denotes a man’s visible deportment.”  When Josephus retells the story of Saul and the witch of Endor, she recognizes the king because he carries himself like a king; in retelling the story of Pharaoh’s first encounter with Joseph, Philo comments that the king was impressed with Joseph’s dignity (Philo, Jos. 257, cf. 165).

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.” As in 1 Thessalonians, Paul is concerned with the public reputation of Christians. Their lifestyle needs to be worthy of respect and attractive to outsiders. Christians were a strange superstition to the Greco-Roman world; as the church grew Christians came under increasing scrutiny for their practices and beliefs.

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.  This problem appears to center on some women in the Ephesian churches who are not living a “quiet dignified life.”

The quiet life has unfortunately become a hipster clothing line that a way to live out one’s Christian life. In fact, it is hard to look at the typical evangelical as presented by the media as loving a quiet life that earns the respect of outsiders. Is the ideal of a quiet life for individuals only, or does Paul see this as a model for the whole church to follow? How can the contemporary church live out this ideal of a quiet life so that it can earn the respect of outsiders and (perhaps) attract them to the Gospel?

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!