Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
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(Volume 4: 6:1-5)
Obligation of Respect to Temporal Overseers
TCNT: 1 All who are in the position of slaves should regard their masters as deserving of the greatest respect, so that the Name of God, and our Teaching, may not be maligned. 2 Those who have Christian masters should not think less of them because they are their Brothers, but on the contrary they should serve them all the better, because those who are to benefit by their good work are dear to them as their fellow-Christians. Those are the things to insist upon in your teaching.
The bonds of respect owed by one Christian to another do not cease to exist when one is a master and the other his slave: “Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed” (6:1).
The description of the slave himself: “Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke” (6:1). Either “bondservants” or “under the yoke” should make their status clear; together it makes it even more empahtic: they were slaves. Translations typically try to make the point overt rather than the result of our pre-existing knowledge. Indeed only two of our alternative translations (ESV and WEB) retain the word “bondservants” at all.
versions condense the description into “yoke of slavery” (ISV, NIV,
Some find a potential interpretive problem here: Most translations and interpreters believe that “bondservants” and “under the yoke” are synonyms for the same group of people, making it even more emphatic that the teaching applies to “one and all” who are slaves. No exceptions exist.
Only under the most unusual circumstances did slaves wear actual (animal style) yokes. But since, like animals, they were under the control and ownership of others, the term came to be applied to them to describe the fact that they were not free and independent.
Some interpreters insist however that “under the yoke” specifies a certain subset of slaves—those owned by unbelievers. Those would be subject to an anti-Christian bias not to mention severer treatment than those masters who functioned under the ethical obligation to treat their “inferiors” with restraint and justice. In defense of this scenario it should be noted that the next verse specifies “those who have believing masters.” Since both verses discuss the same subject of how he is to treat his master, it would be credible that verse 1 has in mind a different type of master, the unbelieving.
Since “yokes” were not normally actually worn—it, obviously, is a work impediment!—the term may be introduced to make a contrast between those who are merely slaves and those who receive harsh treatment as slaves . . . forced to wear, so to speak, an uncomfortable, confining, and embarrassing display of their subservience. Of course the harsh ones should (one hopes) be strictly unbelievers. Hence the kind of unbeliever (verse 1) / believer (verse 2) distinction that is proposed.
On the other hand it is equally credible that the theme is mentioned twice simply to drive it home that much more emphatically. Masters of both types are to be treated in such a manner that your own actions can’t be cited as a cause for rejecting your religion . . . nor you undermine your own moral integrity through bitterness and rage. After all, it is easy to give in to resentment no matter which is the case: one has minimal control and maximum vulnerability. Think of the status and power gap between management and employees in most companies today and you have a more modest exposure to the same chasm.
The conceptual overlay that the term “yoke” carries with it. The sense of “yoke” as carrying the connotation of severe treatment can be found in the Old Testament. The people’s verbal petition to Rehoboam at his coming to power illustrates: “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you” (2 Chronicles 10:4). Likewise, the allusion in Isaiah 9:4, “For You have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.” Similarily the parallelism in Isaiah 14:25, “That I will break the Assyrian in My land, and on My mountains tread him underfoot. Then his yoke shall be removed from them, and his burden removed from their shoulders.”
But “yoke” can also take on the connotation of duty and obligation rather than oppression and injustice. This kind of yoke could come in either of two forms. The first is the heavy and difficult and burdensome. The detailed and often arduous law of Moses was being involuntarily imposed upon Gentile converts and it is described in such terms in Acts 15:10: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
But yet something far different could be a “yoke” as well. One of the appeals that Jesus presented was that though service to Him involved a “yoke” it was the exact opposite of the kind that enemies and oppressors imposed:
28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11)
It would be a yoke of duty and obligation but one “easy” and light on the one who wears it. The Old Testament also alludes to this sense: Take the case of Rehoboam which we just cited. He was reminded that his father had imposed a “heavy” yoke, but the people wished to have a light one instead (“lighten the burdensome service”). They didn’t expect to have none, but simply wanted a reasonable one.
The obligation enjoined is especially important in regard
to one particular type of slaveowner: “count their own
masters” (6:1). Since what we most often associate
with the word “count” is something mathematical, it is not that surprising that
only one alternative (WEB) continues with it.
Still we understand the imagery—just as we do with “hold
their own masters” (
Conveying the intended point most directly would be the popular “regard their own masters (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET) and the alternative of “should consider their masters” (NIV). Since the desired attitude is one that is obviously voluntary, the addition of “should consider/regard” (ISV, NIV) makes sense as well. The fact that it is an apostolic command and therefore is expected to be embraced, explains the addition of “must regard/give” to the description (GW, Holman, NET).
The injunction is not in regard to masters in general but to “their own masters” in particular. They are the ones they are in a relationship with and no one else.
Assuming that Paul lays down the obedience requirement in regard to unbelieving masters in our current verse and in regard to Christian ones in the next, Paul was clearly working to make sure that there was “left no room to be misunderstood.” This would be because each group had been discussed separately.
On the other hand, would not the same point be true if he has made the same assertion twice? The repetition would reinforce the point as an obligation that can not be dispensed with. First comes the broad assertion “let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor:” all/everyone who is in that situation. Then comes the reminder that this is true even if the master is a Christian. They are not required to like being a slave, but they are required to fulfill their duties even though they are such.
Such individuals are to be respected: “worthy of all honor”
(6:1). What they are to be
given is “honor,” as here and in the ESV, NASB, WEB,
The text has been taken as meaning—rather than explicitly saying—“total obedience.” Honor/respect and obedience are, of course, interlocked. If you have full respect for the master you are obviously going to try to faithfully carry out all his orders. Likewise you are extremely unlikely to even attempt such faithfulness to his instructions if you lack a deep respect well.
The slave was in an especially precarious position psychologically and instruction on how to handle the situation extremely germane to everyday life:
The Christian slave was in a peculiarly difficult position. If he was the slave of a heathen master, he might very easily make it clear that he regarded his master as bound for perdition and himself as the heir of salvation. His Christianity might well give him a feeling of intolerant superiority which would create an impossible situation. On the other hand, if his master was a Christian, the slave might be tempted to take advantage of the relationship and to trade upon it, using it as an excuse for producing inefficient work in the expectation of escaping all punishment. He might think that the fact that both he and his master were Christians entitled him to all kinds of special consideration. There was an obvious [potential] problem here
The believing slave/master relationship is usually discussed as if one were educated and the other ignorant: we transplant our American pattern of slave master and unlearned slaves. Yes there were multitudes in that category, but Greco-Roman slavery could throw up many exceptions to that pattern.
For there were also well educated slaves in a goodly number of households and also those capable of carrying out skillful trade and business on their master’s behalf. If in one of this type of categories, they might easily be a teacher or preacher or otherwise active in keeping the church a functional entity. Just as already even holding a responsible position in their master’s service did not remove the appropriateness of respect, neither did the fact that they now shared Christian faith as well.
The reason that respect should exist: “so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed”
(6:1). The use of “the
name of God” is widely continued (ESV, ISV, NASB, NET, WEB,
The reference to “doctrine” is retained in only two cases (NASB and WEB). Although apostolic “teaching” and apostolic “doctrine” refer to the same thing, many have gotten used to “doctrine” being something obligatory—typically in bold letters and italics and, perhaps, an exclamation point or two. In contrast “teaching” may be regarded as useful, desirable, and even important, but “doctrine” is something of a higher and more authoritative and essential nature. Actually it isn’t and, fortunately, many realize that fully well.
Though the popular substitution of “teaching” for “doctrine” is impossible to criticize on the grounds of accuracy, it’s how a good number emotionally gloss the two terms that becomes the problem. The substitution is done in a number of ways, with the GW preferring the simple “what we teach.” Others prefer “our teaching” (ISV, NIV) . . .
“the teaching” (ESV, which surely takes on a connotation more along the line of what “doctrine” often means in our minds) . . .
“Christian teaching” (NET,
and “His teaching” (Holman, the capitalization carrying the connotation of it being God’s revelation: “so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed”). Both “Christian teaching” and “His teaching” surely provide us the equivalent of “His doctrine” though the actual term is not invoked.
If the Christian slave behaves outrageously it will be regarded as a reason to denounce his God and the “doctrine” coming from that deity--for surely he would not be behaving this way unless it was something his God taught and demanded! It was so far out of line with contemporary standards that nothing else could be conceived of.
Paul was quite concerned when “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans ). The examples he provides in that passage are cases of doing the things one explicitly cites as immoral and improper when other people do them--but one goes ahead and does them anyway (2:21-24). Although these envolve blatant wrongs, yet it still seems reasonable to apply the reasoning to the “less blatant” evil discussed in our current passage: if we recognize that needlessly showing disrespect toward anyone we have obligations toward is inherently wrong, then if we ourselves do such, then we are just as guilty of transgression as when other people do the same thing.
Paul is clearly concerned that Christian behavior will be used as an excuse to discredit the gospel message: “so that . . . His doctrine may not be blasphemed.” Although that is quite literally the underlying Greek term, it simply doesn’t communicate well the intended point in contemporary language. “Blaspheme” is simply not an everyday word; one is hard pressed to think of anywhere, in a non-religious context, we would be likely to use it. Since the point of the word is “speaking in such a way as to harm or destroy someone’s reputation,” it might seem far better to seek a substitute that better conveys the true intent.
Perhaps for that reason it is not
uncommon for translations to drop it—the language only being kept in our sample
by Holman, and WEB. Some translations
like to reduce the word to its bare-bones content: “be spoken against” (NASB,
It has been suggested that the
language of Isaiah 52:5 is being transferred from the nation of
We have spoken so far as if this is the kind of reaction that is stirred up among outsiders by the disrespect. And that is surely the main thrust. But it should not be overlooked that the attitude of the Christian slave is itself an insult (“blasphemy”) toward God. From the human standpoint it is a quite “understandable” one, but it is still so brazenly out of line with what it should be it is hard not to apply the same epithet.
This particular type of slavemaster and servant have a special bond that makes them worthy of respect: “And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things” (6:2).
Their masters are Christians: “those who have
believing masters” (6:2). Seven of our nine comparison texts follow the NKJV by
continuing with that wording (ESV, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV, WEB,
Interestingly we actually have the name of one such master, as the book of Philemon was written to him. In it Paul wishes to intervene on behalf of the runaway slave Onesimus to secure a safe and non-retribution return to Philemon’s service.
In Broader Perspective:
The Extent of Slavery in the Ancient World
Since empire wide statistics were neither kept nor preserved, we are reduced to scholarly estimates based upon the limited data that has survived. Any estimates, by their very nature, are just that--estimates rather than certainty. In the 19th century and into the 20th it was common to provide rather high approximations. Philip Schaff, the famous church historian, summed up prominent historians of the past when he wrote,
The proportion was of course very
different in the cities and in the rural districts. The majority of the plebs
you still read Gibbon’s figure of sixty million enslaved and half the
population having that status, most now go with figures far below this. For example, Mark Cartwright estimates that
roughly one third of Italian peninsula residents had that status and 20% empire
wide. In contrast in
website that attempts to provide a wide range of data on Roman customs and
attitudes zeroes in on the city of
slave population was at least equal to that of freedmen (non citizens), and has
been estimated at anywhere from 25 to 40% of the population of the city as a
whole. One such estimate suggests that
the slave population in
At the height of the Empire in the mid second century AD, some have estimated that the total slave population may have approached 10 million people, or approximately 1/6 of the population as a whole.
Regardless of the exact percentage, anyone of any race and either gender--from least educated to intellectual--were found within that percentage. Hence any religious movement of any significant size would be certain to have at least a limited number of slave owners—even if the number might be low.
Although slavery today is regarded with distaste, what in the world could you have replaced it with in the first century without wrecking the entire economy and tearing society apart? They had no idea of how to function in a totally slaveless world.
Even in later centuries we had serfdom: In the British and western European form you were bound to the soil. Your master owned the land, thereby—effectively—owning you as well since that was the only place you could legally work. This semi-slave society was also undesirable but can it be truly dismissed as immoral when there was nothing viable to replace it with?
Unquestionably it had severe limitations. As a website specializing on Roman history notes: “While in theory this evolution from ancient slavery to middle age European serfdom may have been more attractive, the conditions of the time and the drastically limited personal opportunities may have been far worse, or at least no better than the ancient Roman form of slavery”
Just as the medieval was arguably at least a marginal improvement over the Roman and ancient systems, likewise in the “modern” world things have further improved. However it should never be forgotten that today many work in countries that are police states with abusive governments that recognize few if any rights they feel obligated to respect. If you are a teacher, government official, administrator, even an employee within such a country are you doing something immoral (in contrast with undesirable)? Or are you simply working within the viable governing and economic system you have available? And living in the most honorable fashion you can. Exactly what Paul was trying to help first century Christians do within the context of a slavery system.
It wasn’t a matter of “approving” or “endorsing” or “condoning” it as desirable or the ideal situation, but simply as what was:
It was a truly universal phenomenon and it is not an exaggeration to say that the world economy of that day was fundamentally dependent upon it--so much so that if one were to go back in time and, in an instant, remove every trace of slavery’s existence and influence from a particular culture, the effect would have been absolute chaos and anarchy. Again, that is not a statement of defense or approbation, simply a statement of fact and of how dependent the world culture had become upon this institution.
Just as repressive systems exist today without Christians being thought of as required to vehemently denounce the very system they live within--or violently overthrow the regime either--ancient slavery should be treated in this manner as well. The modern regimes often reduce citizens to the effective status of slaves by denying them the freedom to move, work, and vote as they please yet all without calling them “slaves.” Perhaps--in a strange way--the ancients were more honest about it.
In Broader Perspective:
The Argument That the New Testament Endorses Slavery
Rather Than Tolerates the Existing System
Is Undermined By Specific Teachings the Scriptural Texts Include
In other words you work--by practical necessity--within the existing order of things whether it matches the ideal or not. You seek out the greatest degree of integrity possible within that system. In considering this approach, consider this line of reasoning:
* “Telling someone to submit to an
authority does not imply that the authority is morally approved [in everything
God told the Israelites
to seek the good of the city while they lived under the authority of
I added “in everything it does” because that more accurately reflects the true situation. After all is there any system even today that is without major faults? We think highly of the American system and with full justice. Yet it also unfortunately embraces the legal extermination of the unborn at any time and for any reason . . . and calling sexual relationships condemned by scripture as “marriages.” Do these major blots remove the fact that it also serves valuable and praiseworthy functions as well? Will we refuse to apply the same standard of judgment to the ancient world as well? Within the context of what was existing, honorable men and women did the best they could.
Note: The reference
to seeking the good of
4 Thus says
the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away
captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from
They came involuntarily as prisoners. Being stuck in a place they did not want to be and under circumstances they did not like, they were still to work for its welfare.
Above and beyond this the scriptures provide a number of teachings that indicate that though it “tolerated” slavery, it was not pleased with the system--which reinforces the line of reasoning we have suggested. These are some of those teachings. . . .
* “The Bible often condemns the means by which men and women were taken into slavery. In the first century, slavery wasn’t race-based like it was in the American South. People were taken as slaves through a number of means: warfare, piracy, highway robbery, infant exposure, and punishment of criminals. In all of this, there was always prevalent the issue of kidnapping people in order to enslave them.”
Although a good piece of reality is found in this, it unquestionably has its major exaggerations as well. In regard to “infant exposure,” the alternative was the child was left to die. Was it kidnapping to save a life when it was then to live as a slave? As for “punishment of criminals,” was slavery a worse punishment than modern life imprisonment behind bars? As to slavery after “warfare,” after a person’s country has been wrecked and major parts of it devastated or burnt to the ground, was the immediate effect much worse than the tragedies they had already seen? (It would depend upon the person and place of course.)
Buried in the midst of this list are two forms of common slave gaining that embody what he has in mind: “piracy” and “highway robbery.” In both cases unquestionable criminal agents were behind it. Our current epistle certainly stresses the moral depravity of these “kidnapping for profit schemes” and lumps the treachery in with a variety of other extreme sins:
8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. (Chapter 1)
Would the person who buys the kidnapped person be sinless in the matter either? I think not.
* The desire to be free of slavery
was honorable and was to be embraced if
that opportunity came his way. Although
the New Testament is certainly not “anti-slavery” in the sense of desiring to overthrow
it, it fully recognized that it was desirable and preferable to be free. In writing to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can
be made free, rather use it” (): “Take
advantage of the opportunity” (ISV,
Masters might free a slave because of conspicuous service above and beyond their duties or presumed capacity. They might also arrange to have them freed upon their death--a privilege that might or might not be extended to other slaves owned by the same man.
Furthermore slaves were usually permitted to earn money so long as it did not interfere with their work for their master. Especially those who occupied important positions in the management of his finances and enterprises might well gain enough to buy their freedom themselves. The older commentator Albert Barnes suggested that “in many cases a Christian master might set his slaves free; in others, perhaps, . . . the freedom of the slave might be purchased by a Christian friend. In all these instances it would be proper to embrace the opportunity of becoming free. The apostle does not speak of insurrection, and the whole scope of the passage is against any attempt on their part to obtain freedom by force and violence.”
It should be noted that a goodly number are convinced that the Greek grammar requires that “use it” refers not to using the opportunity to become free but to “use” the opportunities of a slave to ably carry out their duties. The Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges takes this view, but concedes that it is not an absolute prohibition of accepting freedom. It argues that “the strongest objection to this interpretation, namely, that Christianity has always allowed men to occupy a position of more extended usefulness if offered to them, is obviated by the fact that St. Paul does not absolutely forbid his converts to accept liberty; he merely instructs them to prefer to remain in the condition in which they were called, unless some very strong indication of God’s will bade them leave it, such as was manifested in the case of Onesimus.”
* Become a slave of others was rejected. “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians ). Although talking about becoming slaves to false teaching, does anyone seriously believe he would not have applied this to literal slavery wherever possible? Especially in light of what he had said just two verses earlier about obtaining freedom!
We speak of “wherever possible,” however, because desperate folks could be driven to desperate actions. Strange as it may sound to our ears, there were people who sold themselves into slavery or sold their own children because they were so poor they did not have the resources to raise them--or feed them. Paul wouldn’t have been thrilled by it, but there is a profound difference between an action of desperation and those of normal life.
* Where the system existed,
Christian slave owners were prohibited from intimidating their slaves. Ephesians 6:9 words it this way, “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving
up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no
partiality with Him” (Ephesians 6:9)—“refrain from threats” (
Denny Burke argues that the implication of this critically undermines the fundamental ancient conception of slavery and the rights it guaranteed to the owner:
Obviously, if they weren’t allowed to threaten with violence, they weren’t allowed to actually do violence against their slaves. It may have been allowable under Roman law for a master to abuse or even kill his slave. But it was not allowable under God’s law to do such things. You might call that slavery in some sense, but what kind of slavery is it that doesn’t allow the master to coerce his slave through violence? It’s certainly not Roman slavery. It’s certainly not like slavery in the American South. This is something so different one wonders if you can call it slavery at all.
On the same general theme of extreme owner restraint, it is hard to resist tying together the last verse of Colossians 3 with the first verse of the following chapter since chapter divisions were not present in the original Bible and since the closing verse makes even more personal and relevant what comes next: “25 But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality. 1 Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” In other words your mistreatment of your slave will be remembered by God—and justice inflicted by Him.
The Old Testament foreworns in Job 31 that the master will be judged by God, in part, according to how he has treated those who are under his control:
13 “If I have despised the cause of my male or female servant when they complained against me, 14 What then shall I do when God rises up? When He punishes, how shall I answer Him? 15 Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?
Only a few translations describe them explicitly as “slaves” (NASB, NCV, NRSV), yet in the social context of that day one would have to assume that many would have to be.
Although not spoken on the topic, it is virtually impossible not to apply the following underlying principles of general behavior to how masters were to treat slaves as well (how could the principles have a full “this world” application if they weren’t intended to?):
“For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew ).
“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke ).
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. . . . For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:8, 13).
* One other thing should have influenced masters toward just and equitable treatment. Today we sum it up as: “There but for the grace of God go I.” That was a principle unquestionably applicable to the ancients as well. Barring you being a fool, you knew full well that if your country lost a major war or rebellion you had a good chance of being enslaved. Examples of those losing to the Romans:
The Roman legal tradition
makes it clear that capture in war caused loss of freedom. . . . The annalistic sources report the enslavement
of between 58,000 and 77,000 individuals in a mere five years of campaigning
during the Third Samnite War (297-293 BC). The First Punic War (264-241 BC) netted well
over 100,000 new slaves, its sequel (218-202 BC) even more. For a mere 35 years from 201 to 167 BC, and
despite the neglect of massive operations in Northern
the following centuries, mass enslavement came to be limited to less frequent
campaigns and the suppression of rare uprisings. The Jewish Wars of AD 66-73 and 132-135
occupy a prominent position in the historiographical
tradition: Josephus gives a total of
97,000 enslavements for the former, and the latter permitted Jewish captives to
be sold for the price of horses. The
sack of the Parthian capital
These are, of course, approximates based on ancient data but however inexact they may have been, they clear conveyed the warning that any human being could potentially become a slave. Hence the wisdom of the principle, “there but for the grace of God go I” as a standard for behavior toward others. On the other hand, surely many blinded themselves to this reality due to the still present delusion of, “It couldn’t ever happen to me!”
Now we return to our examination of the 1 Timothy text itself. . .
Disrespect is to be avoided because of their spiritual relationship: “let them not despise them because they are brethren” (6:2). The “despise” part of the plea is continued only by the WEB. Although “despise” describes an intense internal dislike, such a mind frame inevitably gets expressed in the spoken word and one’s actions. It is common to alter the wording to clearly refer to the latter as the primary subject of Paul: Hence the admonition becomes “not be disrespectful” (ESV, Holman, NASB) or “show them disrespect” (NIV).
an admonition against exhibiting a lack of respect is, on the reverse side of
the “coin,” an admonition to show respect, it is perhaps not surprising
that a few translations opt to bring that out:
One should “respect” (GW), “be respectful to them” (ISV). Moving toward reinserting the negative
formulation of the NKJV are “not show them less respect” (NET) and “not
be wanting in respect” (
particular type of slave owners in mind are
fellow Christians. Hence they are
described as either “brethren” (NASB,
Paul’s clear message to slaves is clearly not to hold against their “owners” the fact that they are Christians. The equality that is in Christ is a spiritual one, not a temporal one. An unpleasant reality, perhaps, but the reality done the less.
This could be a polite admonition to begin to do again what they had been neglecting: because they are Christians you’ve taken the opportunity to treat them with less deference than you would automatically show to a non-Christian one. Why? You despise them because they are fellow believers: That freedom that you shared in the church (assembly) you aren’t granted inside the family household. One advocate of this approach words it this way:
The slaves use the egalitarian attitudes to erode the bonds of obligation that is theirs as slaves, presuming on the goodwill of the masters “because they are brothers.” The first of these would be to think contemptuously; the second, to act contemptuously.
The other approach to the text is that this is not yet a problem. Old traditions of behavioral discretion are continuing. The purpose is then to assure they continue by giving a powerful reason to show them respect even though you are their bondservant—they are your brother in the Lord. You have a link that others do not have. A special bond lacking in others.
Even in modern societies that conspicuously lack slavery, Christians still run the danger of thinking they can take advantage of the fact that they are dealing with fellow believers. Even preachers can fall victim to this mind frame that clearly violates the principles Paul is teaching in these verses. As one minister who gets especially annoyed by such foolishness has said:
I am always amazed at the attitudes some Christians have when they do business with other Christians. They seem to feel that the fact that they are buying something from a Christian businessman means that he ought to give them a discount or favor, or treat them in a different way than he would any other customer. Some men have told me that they hate to see a Christian come into their stores because they know they are going to be asked for some special favor. I do not know what it is about some Christians that makes them think that way, but it reveals that they are using Christianity to their own advantage.
Paul turns this idea around. He says, rather than thinking you deserve special favors because of your Christianity, you ought to remember that these men are your brothers. You ought to be trying to find a way to bless them and go beyond what others would do in your courtesy and respect toward them. You do not have to pay them more than you would anyone else, but you ought to treat them with additional courtesy because they are brothers, “believers and beloved.”
I have . . . been in stores with pastors who somehow feel that pastors have a right to some special treatment from Christian merchants. It was so embarrassing I almost turned around and walked out when some of them said, “I’m a pastor. Don't you have a 10% discount for pastors?” The merchant would have been justified in saying, “No. I add on 10% when a pastor comes in here,” because pastors often get a lot of advantages that others do not enjoy.
Your fellow believer is being directly helped by your work: “but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved” (6:2). Instead of despising them, they should “serve them.” After all they “are believers and beloved.” This makes perfectly good sense in its own right. However it could easily carry the implicit “freight” of “give them even better service” because of your spiritual relationship.
of our nine comparative versions are convinced it does and should be added to
the text. Only the WEB leaves it an
unadorned “serve them.” At its simplest,
the description is modified to “serve them better” (Holman). Its more elaborate expansions are: “serve them/their masters even better”
(GW, ISV, NIV), “all the better” (ESV), “all
the more” (NASB, NET).
The individuals being served are described as “believing” only in the WEB while all the others stick with “believers,” though the NIV adds “fellow believers.”
are described as “beloved” and this
term is continued by several (ESV, NASB, WEB), though others prefer to shift to
“dearly loved” (Holman, NET) or “whom they love” (GW). “Love” language is implied by the
substitution of “dear to them” (ISV, NIV), and perhaps even by the
description of the owners as “friends” (
Since the text does not explicitly say who is doing the loving, it could reflect the attitude of slave to master or vice versa. Indeed the ambiguity could be taken as intentional, to encourage both sides to love each other as Christians should be doing in the first place.
Both the Jerusalem Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible read it as a reference to what Jehovah does: “dear to God.” It is hard to imagine what in the context would encourage that interpretive approach.
Just as we have the question of “who are the beloved,” we also have that of who are “those who are benefited”—the master or the servant(s)? The Greek here can be read as a reference to either the one “receiving” the benefit or the one “giving” the benefit. If Paul is using it of the servant giving it, he is turning the conceptual world of the day upside down. It is the superior’s right to receive a benefit; it is the social inferior’s obligation to provide it. Luke T. Johnson, for example, interprets it this way and argues that “Paul is using conventional honor-shame language in a manner subversive of the system itself.” [I.e., of the slave-master system.] The slave is actually providing a “benefit” to the owner by doing his work and labor however much contemporary thought refused to rank this as anything more than mere obligation.
It has also been argued that Paul has in mind anyone who is benefited, whether slave or master. James B. Coffman begins by conceding that the slave “by better service may receive more considerate treatment [i.e., be benefited]. As a matter of fact, both interpretations are true. The principle is also applicable to all human relations and all human institutions, regardless of their desirability. Christianity pours in the oil that lubricates and improves even the most unsavory situations.”
Such things are to be included in Timothy’s teaching
agenda: “Teach and exhort these things”
The injunction to “teach” is preserved in all the alternatives
we are examining. The “exhort” remains a
strong contender but is only found in four translations (ISV, NET, WEB,
As to “exhort these things,” four of our nine
comparative versions retain that word (ISV, NET, WEB,
Read as a continuation of the thought of verses 1-2, the comment would seem to refer to slave-master relationships in particular. In other words, as making the conclusion to his argument concerning believing slaves who have believing masters. This is a minority viewpoint, however; it is more common to make it the introduction to what comes next.
Arichea and Hatton are of the opinion that if one has to choose between the reference being to prior or to subsequent teaching, one is really forced to embrace the former: “The expression ‘these things’ is used thirteen times in the Pastoral Letters (eight times in 1 Timothy, three times in 2 Timothy, and twice in Titus) and in all these cases it seems to refer to what precedes rather than to what follows.” They use this as evidence that the allusion has to include a reference to the earlier verse regardless of whether one believes it applies to what follows as well.
Although it is the introduction to verse 4, what begins in this previous verse is clearly intended as a vigorous demand that everything Paul has taught in this epistle and elsewhere be faithfully followed . . . that no amount of double-talk and demogugery and argument lead one away from what Jesus had spoken and revealed both personally and through the apostles: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness” (verse 3).
If it was taught by these sources, Paul presents it as obligatory to embrace and accept. He has everything in his teaching in mind including that about slave-master relationships. He emphatically stresses that everything involved in his body of teaching must be adhered to--including about believing slaves and masters.
There Is Never Any Valid Reason
to Reject Gospel Doctrine
TCNT: 3 Any one who teaches otherwise, and refuses his assent to sound instruction—the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ—and to the teaching of religion, 4 is puffed up with conceit, not really knowing anything, but having a morbid craving for discussions and arguments. Such things only give rise to envy, quarrelling, recriminations, base suspicions, 5 and incessant wrangling on the part of these corrupt-minded people who have lost all hold on the Truth, and who think of religion only as a source of gain.
Anyone who rejects Pauline teaching--including that in regard to one’s earthly masters--has rejected the truth: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness” (6:3).
“If anyone teaches otherwise,” i.e., other
than what Paul had been teaching of Christ’s doctrine—teaching something
different, at variance, and even in blatant contradiction. Hence, though only one version (the NIV)
retains the “teaches otherwise” reading, it is common to find the necessary
implication spelled out in others--such as “a different doctrine” (ESV, NASB,
WEB), “other doctrine” (Holman) and “any other kind of doctrine” (
Since this differed with the apostolic standard, this transformed it into “false doctrine” (GW, ISV) and “false teachings” (NET).
does not imply that
Although he surely has teaching on slave-master relationships in mind since that is what he had just been discussing in the immediately preceding verses, there is no way the admonition could have been intended as germane only to that one narrow topic. “The doctrine which accords with godliness” is far broader than just that one subject. The wording has a logical application to anything taught by inspiration and it is impossible to believe that Paul could have regarded the rejection of any of it as acceptable.
These men’s transgression was two-fold. Part of it was that they were “teach[ing] otherwise” than what the gospel said--contrary and in opposition to it. The intertwined and inevitable traveling companion of that is that he “does not consent to” the teaching of the gospel. He refuses to embrace it. The two, inherently, go hand-in-hand; there is no way possible to do one without doing the other: It is impossible to both reject the inspired doctrine and simultaneously agree with it (“consent to”). Except, of course, in one’s own deceived mind.
translation continues to describe this rejection as a refusal to “consent”
There are a variety of ways that even those reasonably well versed in scripture refuse to yield their intellects and souls to its message. Rather than go into great detail we will be content with this concise summary:
1. There are different ways that people do not consent to the truth of God’s Word.
· Some deny God’s Word.
· Some ignore God’s Word.
· Some explain away God’s Word.
· Some twist God’s Word using it as a toy to be played with in debate and disputes.
2. One can be surrounded by God’s truth; one can even memorize the Bible, and not have it affect the life for eternity. Curiosity or interest in God’s Word without submission to it is a grave danger.
3. In our day – a time when we are overwhelmed with useless information – it is easy to regard the Bible as useless information or as a source of answers to trivia questions, but not as a book with truth that confronts and transforms my life. Bible study is not trivial pursuit; to treat the Bible as a book of useless information is to misuse it.
None of our translations keep
the reading “wholesome words.” However they do retain
emphasis on the individual things being taught when we read of “sound words”
(ESV, ISV, NASB, NET, WEB) and “accurate words” (GW). Looking at it from the standpoint of the
cumulative, total result there is “sound instruction” (NIV), “wholesome
Paul’s first definition of what constitutes decent and upright behavior is that which exhibits the teaching of Jesus Christ: “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:3). This wording is retained by everyone except for the ISV which substitutes, “Jesus, the Messiah.” Since “Christ” (Greek: christos; Hebrew: mashiach) means anointed and was traditionally used of being made ruler, it conveys the message of Jesus being appointed and recognized as king over His people by God Himself. “Messiah” stresses that He is the predicted king/redeemer promised in scripture.
That they would want to know about “the words of our Lord” makes inherent sense: He was being preached as their Redeemer and Savior. How in the world could His actual words not have relevance?
Some of these teachings would easily be remembered by His first century followers. Due to the limitations of human memory, others might only be recalled vaguely by the apostles and they would need to be supernaturally guided into a fully adequate and accurate recall--which would also stand to correct any possible “mis-memories” of themselves or rank and file disciples. After all, Jesus had promised, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
In other words, His teaching would be accurately preserved. Nothing that was of lasting importance and relevance would be allowed to disappear. They would have the full body of His teaching. They weren’t going to have to rely upon scattered memories. They would be reminded of everything that was relevant.
But this has to be carried one step further. For them to have to adhere to “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ” they must have had them available to them in some major and significant form. How could they possibly hope to live by this standard unless they were confident that they had the substance of that teaching available? No mention of “as you have spoken to them.” No mention of “as I preached to you and/or others.” What is being taught is far more profound than that.
It is extraordinarily hard to see how this can avoid implying that they had some ongoing, written source to inform them of its contents. Call it a collection of His sayings—a large one would surely be required to meet the description—or one or more of our four gospels. But a source that the readers among them could use to verify any claim that “Jesus said” some particular thing. They could examine that source and see for themselves. And not have to rely upon Timothy’s word alone.
Others would disagree with our line of reasoning as to the existence of such written sources. Phillip J. Long concedes that a reference to what is in our gospel accounts could be under consideration. However since there is no clear-cut citation or allusion that he argues that it is far more likely that Paul is implicitly asserting that his own teaching in the current epistle is that which came from and was authorized by Jesus.
This would be fully compatible, of course, with the Pauline claims of being granted Divine inspiration. In 2 Corinthians 13:3 he speaks of “Christ speaking in me.” This sounds like far more than merely saying that what he was preaching had been authorized by Christ. It sounds like Christ (through the Spirit, John -15) was telling him what to say! So yes Paul counted his words in the current epistle as containing the words of Jesus.
The problem in the present context, however, is that Paul is instructing others to abide by that standard rather than making any direct claim to having that source for his own teaching. Wouldn’t this wording be an unexpectedly (and incredibly?) indirect means of asserting such a claim?
This is not to undercut in any fashion the fact that in hearing those Jesus sent out to preach, one would be hearing Jesus Himself—either the literal words . . . or the contents and intents of His message . . . or both. Of the Seventy Jesus sent out He said, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke ).
Then we have the pregnant words that begin Acts, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen” (Acts 1:2). They certain leave the impression that Jesus continued to speak through the apostles after His death and resurrection, through the medium of the Holy Spirit, a fascinating duplication of a concept we more commonly associate with the gospel of John (cf. John 16:12-15). Paul took this principle as applicable to himself as well for in 2 Corinthians 13:3 he refers to “Christ speaking in me,” the text we’ve already examined.
It has been noted that the Greek underlying the NKJV’s “words of our Lord Jesus Christ” could be translated “uttered by” (as we have taken it) or “concerning.” In the first case the words originate in/from the Lord and in the second case they are about the Lord.
Only a minority of commentators—whether they accept 1 Timothy as genuinely Pauline or not—embrace the second approach. Although “Christology” is present in the epistle they do not see it as so heavily stressed as to justify the latter approach. Discussion of the subject will normally be found in connection with the authorship and only a modest amount beyond that. In contrast to the multiple dozens of translations--of widely varying theological preferences and degrees of “literalness”--I can only find one translation that takes the second approach: “If anyone teaches anything different and doesn’t agree with sound teaching about our Lord Jesus Christ and teaching that is consistent with godliness” (Common English Bible, 2011).
This is not to deny that a considerable amount is presented in the epistle about the Lord. Which is not the same thing as saying that it is so obviously the dominant theme of the letter. You may even have to look intensely with that Christological framework in mind before you “see” it. It is part of the conceptual world in which Paul works.
But is it made central to the purposes of the letter? I think not. Furthermore can we imagine that Paul could conceivably exclude what Jesus explicitly said from being authoritative when the facts that established it are so heavily stressed implicitly? It is authoritative because He is “Christ,” is “Lord,” etc. At the most both would be included.
With both of the options in mind an easy way to examine what is said about Christ and His nature is to simply list the references compiled by Michael C. J. Bradford:
1:1 -- Christ (Messiah, the one uniquely anointed by God)
1:1 -- Lord (Sovereign, the one who is in ultimate authority and thus to be obeyed)
1:1 -- Our hope
1:2 -- The source of grace, mercy and peace
-- The one who enables for ministry
-- The author of faith and love
-- Savior (and by comparison with 1:1, God)
-- The source of everlasting life
-- The only God
-- Uniquely wise
-- Worth of honor and glory
2:5 -- Man
2:5 -- The one Mediator between God and man
2:6 -- A willing ransom
-- Raised from the dead
-- The focus of God’s good news
-- The proper object of faith
-- Ascended into heaven
4:6 -- Master (by inference, for He has servants)
-- Having given witness to Pilate
-- Coming again!
-- The only Potentate
-- King of Kings
-- Lord of Lords
-- The sole source of immortality
-- Dwelling in unapproachable light
-- Not seen in the fullness of his splendor. . . .
-- Having everlasting power
assertions are woven in here and there in the midst of a significant variety of
topics being directly addressed. There
are clear problems and controversies in
Beyond this very conjectural possibility, what do we clearly have that would indicate controversies about Christ? Hence loyalty to what Jesus had taught—personally and through His prophets and apostles—seems a far more likely frame of reference.
The second part of Paul’s definition of what constitutes
decent and upright behavior is that which adheres “to the doctrine which
accords with godliness” (6:3). The closest to the NKJV
text in the remaining part of this segment is “doctrine which is according
to godliness” (WEB) while the NASB prefers “doctrines conforming to
godliness.” It is common to substitute
“teaching” as part of the formulation:
“teaching that accords with godliness” (ESV, NET), “teaching that
harmonizes with true godliness” (
Overview: An obsession with winning at any cost over any and all matters fuels the worst possible instincts within us: “(4) he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, (5) useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
The cumulative “flavor” can be seen in the translation/paraphrase of J. B. Phillips: “He is a conceited idiot! His mind is a morbid jumble of disputation and argument, things which lead to nothing but jealousy, quarrelling, insults and malicious innuendoes—continual wrangling, in fact, among men of warped minds who have lost their real hold on the truth but hope to make some profit out of the Christian religion.”
The Message, also clearly trying to convey the power of the text rather than its literal wording, provides this rendition, “Tag them for what they are: ignorant windbags who infect the air with germs of envy, controversy, bad-mouthing, suspicious rumors. Eventually there’s an epidemic of backstabbing, and truth is but a distant memory. They think religion is a way to make a fast buck.”
The person who is so obsessed with promoting deviations from Christ’s/the apostolic doctrine that he stirs up needless problems is a conceited person and prefers squabbling to truth: “he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words” (6:4).
Phillip J. Long discusses the meaning of pride/puffed up in these words:
The verb (τυφόω) is a perfect passive, they
“have been puffed up,” although BDAG comments that the verb almost always
appears in the passive. Perhaps one does
not make themselves conceited, other factors affect
a person to make them arrogant. The
word has the sense of “becloud, delude,” although in this case it is a self
Although that is far too much a colloquialism to merit inclusion in any translation that desires to be useful in the long term, one can hardly argue with the appropriateness of the rendering! Witherington also drifts into colloquialism: The Greek term “may be translated ‘swollen-headed’ . . . and literally means ‘to be filled with smoke’ and so refers to a puffed-up or conceited person—‘full of hot air,’ as we might say.”
Long proceeds to note that the same warning is given in 1 Timothy 3:6 for excluding new converts from becoming elders and wonders whether those referred to here might have somehow become church office holders themselves. Too quick a rise to a position of influence unquestionably has led people to think too highly of themselves: Just look about in the business world! This leads to the delusion that because they have embraced a policy it must be the best one possible--and refusing to consider even well grounded objections.
If this is the case, then one of the reasons for Paul providing the list of elder and deacon qualifications is to guard the Ephesian church from such a situation arising again. It is unquestionably a lot easier to stop something from becoming a problem than having to go through the discomfort and difficulties of fixing one after it has become full grown.
The scenario is speculative and nothing more however. One could just as easily argue that since Paul knows such a problem already exists locally he wants to assure that no such individuals get promoted to church leadership where they could cause even worse difficulties for the congregation. Either way the teaching still needed to be given.
these folk who rejected both apostolic and Jesus’ teaching thought they were
spiritually astute, the truth was they were actually ignorant--guilty of “knowing nothing” (kept by WEB) or, as
There is a fine line between “knowledge” and “understanding.” Although one can “know” the external shell—like a favorite proof text—one could very well lack the “understanding” of what it truly intends to say. In such cases, we have substituted the outward veneer and ignored the substance within.
But that is the external viewpoint, that of the person who (sometimes painfully) realizes that a passage is being abused. From the standpoint of the advocate him/herself, the two terms become little short of synonyms. What you “know” is what you “understand”—or at least think you are doing.
And these folks were so self-blinded that they were no longer able to distinguish the true doctrine of Christ and the apostles from the “truth” that they have convinced themselves it really intended. They are convinced they “know” the truth when they really know nothing. They are convinced that they “understand” the truth well, when really they have no perceptivity of it at all.
Luke T. Johnson comments that the “knowing nothing” is used in some Greek language contexts of being “puffed up,” inflated, overblown. But “sometimes—as here—with the sense of deluded / stupid. . . .”
thus far they are being of no danger to anyone but themselves. Unfortunately they have the fire of a zealot
and are out to convince the entire congregation that their own misperceptions
represent spiritual insight. Hence the
problem was not only that they were wrong, but that they also—with little or no
apparent concern—ignited needless “disputes and arguments” over them . . . they
had become “obsessed with disputes and
arguments over words” (6:4). Obsessed
is retained only by WEB. In the
everyday vernacular they have gone “crazy over” them (
Although the Greek word behind “obsessed” primarily means someone who is physically sick, Luke T. Johnson notes that it is also applied in the various ancient writings to someone who is ill balanced mentally or psychologically as well. He prefers a rendering that covers both, “sick from debates and controversies.” But he concedes that it could equally properly be rendered as “having a morbid fascination for debates and controversies.”
Ben Witherington III also refers to the dual usage as well. If used of the mind it carries the connotation of being “mentally unstable or disturbed” and that it can be reasonably translated as “having a morbid fascination for debates”--the same adjective used by the NASB.
The Common English Bible (2011) speaks of how they “have a sick obsession with debates and arguments.” The Amplified Bible (2015) thinks along similar lines: “He has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words.”
Although “disputes” is
retained by Holman and WEB, the most popular replacement is “controversies /
controversy” (ESV, NET, NIV) or its equivalent of “controversial questions”
(NASB). The intensity element involved
in the discussions is retained by both “argue” (GW) and “arguments” (ISV), but seemingly
The wording of “arguments” is
kept only by Holman. The disagreements
are called “disputes” (NASB), “verbal disputes” (NET), and “debates”
(ISV). The intensity factor is upgraded
by the selection of “controversies” (
Paul verges on saying: They are more interested in the battle than in the truth. Or perhaps it is even more emphatic than just implication: Arichea and Hatton note that “controversy” (a not uncommon substitute for the “disputes” in the NKJV--as noted above) “translates a Greek word that refers to forcefully expressing differences of opinions but without interest in seeking for a solution. . . .” The battle is what he is there for rather than establishing what is the truth. The claim to be seeking the truth is merely the excuse for the battle rather than the purpose.
That certainly “fits to a t” someone who is “obsessed,” unbalanced. That sure does sound like arguing for arguing sake . . . because it makes you feel better to be venting your spleen than trying to convince the other person that you are right. In other words it fits well with the idea of someone who is spiritually and psychologically unstable. And running the danger of spiritually ruining others while ruining oneself. He (or she) is a walking disaster area.
There are annual debate tournaments in which the two sides may or may not actually believe in what they are arguing. What they are being tested on—and what they are trying to do—is to present the best possible and most convincing case they can. The side that does it most powerfully is adjudged the winner. Truth is an irrelevancy. Skill in presentation, organization, and effectiveness of the rebuttals determines everything.
All that is fine and good for the honing of intellectual skills. But when one is trying to determine religious truth it is repugnant. There you should be “arguing” not to impress everyone as being the smarter of the two, but out of a sincere desire to determine and establish what the truth actually is. Just because you can “out talk” and “out argue” the other person doesn’t mean a thing if that is all you are really after. In that kind of situation you are merely after a personal victory rather than a victory for truth. There is a profound difference, isn’t there?
These admonitions were never intended to rule out all controversy. Paul is, instead, targeting unneeded controversies, especially ones that will resolve nothing of particular importance. There is said to have once been a controversy among very conservative Amish over whether it was sinful to wear two suspenders rather than one! A preacher recently told me of a long running controversy decades ago in the congregation: The elders were insisting that a certain lady give weekly. Since she was paid only once a month, she only gave once a month. The same amount of money went into the treasury either way, so what was the real value of the argument?
Mark Dunagan makes a fine point when he writes,
Paul is not condemning the discussion of Biblical truths that are “controversial” with unbelievers, for every Biblical topic is probably a controversial question to someone. Neither is God condemning controversy, for Jesus and the apostles were often in the thick of controversy (Acts 15:2; Acts 17:1-2; Matthew 22:1-46). In fact, Jesus got involved in answering questions that were controversial (John ff; Matthew 19:3 ff). Rather, God here is condemning questions and disputes about words that have nothing to do with sound doctrine or the truth. These men are not trying to discover the truth, rather they are deprived of the truth (6:5). Unfortunately, some commentators try to toss some legitimate Biblical questions or topics into the above category [as well].
The first evil that flows out of such needless contentiousness is identified as “envy” (6:4). All our surveyed translations keep this reading except for two which substitute “jealousy” (GW, ISV).
Envy causes our inhibitions to be released. We are convinced that we are just as entitled to—fill in the blank: their success, their popularity, their influence . . . and like drops of acid it corrodes us. It encourages ethical short-cuts for “the greater (i.e., our own) good.” The principle of responsible behavior may still be embraced in theory; but it no longer has the old power to actually rein in our actions.
We so much want the same thing they have—or, in extreme cases—to take from them what they have—that we envy them and resent their success. Now remember that this is spoken in the context not of having temporal goods (though the phenomena also exists there with a vengeance as well!), but in regard to disputations over religious and spiritual matters . . . as are the other condemnations about to be given.
What could be envied in such a case? The most obvious thing is their success in arguing their case. We have a weak one and they have a strong one. Yet many folk won’t even admit that to themselves and simply conclude that it is something about the opponent himself that is making him successful. And that “just isn’t fair,” is it? Actually, it is when the search for truth is the moral criteria and not egotistical emotional self-satisfaction.
If that person who is frustrating our success is a church, leader then it is easy to attribute our justified failure to gain “converts” to the position he occupies and not to any fault in our argument. That, given the type of temperament being described, can easily result in attacks on that person’s continuance in office . . . because of “totally unrelated matters” of course.
The second evil that flows out of such needless contentiousness
is identified as “strife” (6:4). This wording is still popular (NASB,
NIV, WEB) while those who would change it fall into three niches: “dissension” (ESV, NET), “quarreling”
When you can’t get your way, you either accept the reality of failure or wage war. These kind of people preferred the latter. If you can’t get people to agree, you try to shut them up. If they insist upon citing the apostolic roots of their teaching, you try to undermine them and keep the situation up in the air and unsettled. If you keep the matter from ever being resolved, they can’t “win.” Of course neither can you. But that is a lesser evil than conceding they are in the right or even dealing with them as a responsible foe.
The third evil that flows out of such needless
contentiousness is identified as “reviling” (6:4). Only
The human mind, when bent upon evil, can be extraordinarily creative in the way it demeans others. Paul’s language leaves the particular “technique” wide open. After all that will be determined by the issue being raised and by the specific opponents that exist. There is no man or woman so pure that they can’t be insulted and misrepresented. If irresponsible religious leaders could do it to Jesus, is it any surprise that us “lesser folk” might encounter it as well?
Paradox: It should be remembered that the manifestation of this mind frame in a specific controversy can grow out of something far different than trying to promote some blatant moral evil. Sometimes it sprouts out of the claim of demanding a more perfect obedience to truth. But even if you do have the truth, that does not justify “harsh and abusive language toward those who will not concede a point.” In fact such a reaction may be all out of proportion to the importance of the issue being raised in the first place: “Such railings often attend disputes that arise out of nice and subtle distinctions.”
The fourth evil that flows out of needless
contentiousness is identified as “evil suspicions” (6:4). The
“suspicion” part is retained in all nine of our parallel reference works,
though GW does alter it to the singular rather than plural and omits the
reference to “evil.” (Of course, judging
from the kind of over-all character that Paul is describing, what other
kind would be harbored?)
This kind of person works from the assumption of evil existing. You are the foe; therefore the only question is what evil you are guilty of. Are you “really” trying to advance your own prestige in the congregation by standing in his way? Are you acting this way as part of the “chess game” to determine who “runs” the church? The idea of an honest disagreement is the last thing he/she dare admit as a possibility. If you assume the worse, you never have to feel guilty.
You also don’t need to feel guilty about your own excesses since they are always in the interest of the “real truth.” It is the salve that can be applied to a soul that should feel guilty for what has been said and done.
The fifth evil that flows out of such needless contentiousness is identified as “useless wranglings” (6:5). The reference to “useless” has been abandoned by the various translations and replaced with language emphasizing how these disputes are not sporadic, but ongoing (since the Greek word is in the plural): “constant friction (ESV, NASB, NIV, WEB) is the most common replacement though others include “constant disagreement” (Holman) and “constant bickering” (NET).
same idea is expressed by “incessant conflict” (ISV) and “persistent wranglings” (
The core idea is that this mind frame produces repeated, ongoing, ceaseless disagreements and arguments that allow you to vent your most negative emotions and attitudes—but accomplishes nothing in improvement of other people . . . or yourself.
The spiritually self-corrupting disease that these folk have unleashed upon themselves: “of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (6:5).
them as of “corrupt mind” (in the
singular: NIV; in the plural: GW, NET, WEB). Others prefer the substitution of “depraved,”
as in “depraved in mind” (ESV, ISV; without the “in,” NASB) and “whose minds
are depraved” (Holman). Less harsh
These folk had twisted their brains into pretzels: Yes now means no; no means yes; yesterday means tomorrow. Whatever reasoning is needed to prove their point, well that “has to be” the truth. They are spiritually brain dead: they have murdered their moral compass. This mentality is nothing new. 2 Timothy 3:8 cites an Old Testament duo and adds, “so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith.”
Because their own behavior is twisted, they assume that everyone else’s must be as well. As Paul words it in Titus 1:15, “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.” Alternatively “nothing is clean” (GW, ISV).
“Destitute of the truth” is kept in WEB and
conveys the idea that the truth is simply not in them—they have spiritually
drifted that far “down river” that they are separated from it. Rendering it “robbed of the truth” (GW, NIV)
fits most naturally with the idea that they have been pulled into error by
others who, so to speak, “stole” it from them. Describing them as
“deprived of truth” (ISV) or “of the truth” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET)
also fits well with the idea that they are, at least in major part, victims of
deception as well as peddlers of it. “Blinded
to all knowledge of the truth” (
these distinctions were intended by the translators or not, they all have one
important fact in common: Whatever truth
they might once have had, it is no longer in them. If one wishes
to continue that image of irrationality found in the previous criticism (“whose
intellects are disordered,”
Paul specifies a specific and presumably major root of their evil behavior: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (6:5). There is a thin line indeed between this mind frame and the not unreasonable deduction: “anything I do to obtain that gain must have God’s blessing on it.”
of gain” is continued in ESV, NASB, WEB, reduced
slightly to “means gain” (
Others find an alternative in “making/a way to make a profit” (GW, ISV, NET).
I rather like the wording of the Good News Translation, “They think that religion is a way to become rich.”
To give some idea of the “flavor” of unscrupulousness conveyed by “means of gain,” Phillip L. Long provides these examples of the Greek usage:
“The noun πορισμός is the word which might describe how one makes a living. The verb is used in an Aesop’s Fable for a “swindling magician” (BDAG). The word appears in inscriptions dating to A.D. 44 [in] Ephesus complaining about the misuse of funds coming from Rome by the Artemesion, which were used for the personal gain of the management of the Temple (NewDocs 4, 169).
Rather than expecting they receive both earthly spiritual rewards and ultimately eternal rewards in the joy of heaven, they expect that being godly is a guaranteed tool to increase what is in their pocket books--here and now. Hence whatever can be done to obtain that increased income or wealth has to be moral.
In its own way the modern “prosperity gospel” carries the same delusion though without the dishonesty. In this contemporary fantasy the more you give the church, the more God will put monetary goods (either cash, possessions, or the equivalent) into you. It is extraordinarily hard to see how someone can claim that and still insist that they really serve God out of love and the desire to have their sins forgiven. You serve God out of what you anticipate to get back, don’t you? If you somehow are able to claim you fully believe both, how can you possibly be anything less than a brazen sinner if you are not getting financially “rich” off your service to God? By your failure to do so you are self-condemned!
The example of Paul is surely definitive proof that the two are not guaranteed to go together (1 Corinthians -13). Jesus Himself warned His disciples, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke ). You may be faithful and have incredible temporal blessings. Yet you can also be faithful and have only a modest survival. Temporal abundance is guaranteed only in delusions. I wish it were otherwise; it would have made my life a lot easier.
Those who act this way are to be rejected rather than embraced
or encouraged: “From such withdraw yourself” (6:5). WEB
alters this to put the “withdraw” first:
“Withdraw yourself from such.”
All the others totally omit these words (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB,
The speculation is that this admonition could have been added by either a Greek copyist or one working in the Old Latin tradition, basing it on other things Paul wrote. For example, in 2 Timothy 3:5 there is a parallel admonition: “Having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” In 2 Thessalonians there is the warning that “if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.”
So the concept is very Pauline indeed. Furthermore does anyone doubt that this was the intended necessary inference of his reasoning--even if not explicitly stated? Was he anticipating that they continue accepting such people as faithful to the Lord? That is impossible to imagine.
In spite of its presence in many New Testament manuscripts, it is argued that “the earliest and best manuscripts” omit it. The reference to the “earliest” ones is an obviously powerful argument, but the argument from the “best” manuscripts leaves a certain leeway to tilt the result on the basis of how we define which manuscripts are in that category. For that matter do not the pure number of manuscripts play some role in defining what is the “best” reading? Or is that a pure irrelevancy? In this case numbers support it; age does not.
There is another question that needs to be raised: What in the world is Timothy to do about these troublemakers if “from such withdraw yourself” is not accepted as part of the text? Wouldn’t the question of consequences for the unjust behavior be the logical and inevitable question in Timothy’s mind? Paul’s admonition here—if part of the original text—bluntly answers it: have nothing to do with them! Leave it out, we are left in a kind of vacuum as to what comes next. They are clearly condemned as sinners but nothing clear cut is said as to the repercussions for it.
True, we can argue that this rejection would (or should!) be the natural response without it even having to be given. But isn’t it far more likely to occur—especially promptly--if individuals have been given specific instructions to do so? In other words would Paul have been likely to omit it?
We have been speaking of how each individual Christian should automatically respond to such troublemakers. But is there to be a congregational response as well? In one sense the public reading of the admonition would encourage all members to act in such a manner. But is some kind of formal judgment to be issued against such a person--an action parallel to Matthew 18:15-18 in which the member is formally rejected by the group?
Since the letter is written specifically to the one man Timothy (1:2) the natural inclination is to think that Paul specifically has in mind individual rejection . . . to be followed by others turning their back when they also recognize what is going on. But the text certainly can be read as putting the danger before the entire group--the epistle would be read to the assembly--thereby urging them to be willing to act collectively and formally as well.
That certainly seems the point in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 where the apostle insists “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” In other words, if you step out of line too far you are to be rejected not just by individuals but by the entire group.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 283.
 James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 55.
 William Barclay, 1 Timothy, internet.
 Johnny L. Sanders, Charge To Keep, internet, refers to such individuals but without noting that the skill and educational background would have eliminated the sense of incongruity that would have existed in the American slave system.
 Arichea and Hatton, 138.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 283.
 Walter Scheidel dives at length into the assumptions that go into such calculations in his article on “The Slave Population of Roman Italy: Speculation and Constraints,” Topoi: Orient-Occident (1999), 129-144, reproduced in pdf form at https://www.persee.fr/doc/topoi_1161-9473_1999_num_9_1_1808. (Accessed January 2020.)
 Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church (Volume 1); extract of the chapter found at https://biblehub.com/library/schaff/history_of_the_christian_church_volume_i/section_48_christianity_and_slavery.htm. (Accessed January 2020.)
 David Guzik, “Riches,” internet.
 Mark Cartwright, “Slavery in the Roman World, in the Ancient History Encyclopedia, at: https://www.ancient.eu/article/629/slavery-in-the-roman-world/. (Dated November 2013; accessed January 2020.)
 [Unidentified Author], “Roman Slavery,” part of the UNRV Roman History website, at: https://www.unrv.com/slavery.php. (Accessed January 2020.)
 Scott Lindsay, “1 Timothy 6:1-2,” at: https://thirdmill.org/magazine/article.asp/link/https:%5E%5Ethirdmill.org%5Earticles%5Esco_lindsay%5Esco_lindsay.Timothy.23.html/at/1%20Timothy%C2%A06:1-2. (Dated October 2009; accessed January 2020.)
 Daniel Burke. “Seven Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Read 1 Timothy 6:1-2 As An Endorsement Of Slavery,” at: https://www.dennyburk.com/seven-reasons-why-you-shouldnt-read-1-timothy-61-2-as-an-endorsement-of-slavery/. (Dated January 2016; accessed March 2020.)
 Albert Barnes, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians” in Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible (1870), at: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-corinthians-7.html. (Accessed March 2020.)
 For a detailed rejection of such arguments see Daniel Whedon, Commentary, internet.
 “Commentary on 1 Corinthians,” Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (1896), at: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/1-corinthians-7.html. (Accessed March 2020.)
 Denny Burke, “Seven Reasons,” internet.
 Walter Scheidel, “Roman Slave,” 7-8 (internet).
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 284.
 Arichea and Hatton, 138-139, discuss this from the aspect of how these two views affect how the verse is translated.
 Ray Stedman, “Sound Words,” internet.
 Arichea and Hatton, 139.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 284-285.
 James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.
 Of how translations rather than commentaries take the wording: Robert G. Bratcher, 56.
 Arichea and Hatton, 141.
 Commenting on verse 4 in particular James B. Coffman, “ 1 Timothy,” internet, and Charles Simeon, “Discourse 2234: The Gospel Productive of Good Works” in “Commentary on 1 Timothy” in his Horae Homileticae (1832), at: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/1-timothy-6.html. (Accessed March 2020.)
 David Guzik, “Riches,” internet.
 Phillip J. Long, “1 Timothy 6:2b-5—Healthy Teaching
and Godliness,” part of Reading Acts:
Some Thoughts on the Book of Acts and Pauline Theology website. (Dated
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 292.
 Lee Magness, “The Christological Motivation of Christian Ministry in 1 Timothy,” Leaven 13:4 (January 2005), 8, at: http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1299&context=leaven. (Accessed November 2016.)
 Michael C. J. Bradford, “1 Timothy: Christology,” at: https://michaelcjbradford.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/1-timothy-christology/. (Accessed November 2016.)
 Phillip J. Long, “Healthy Teaching,” internet.
 Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 283-284.
 Phillip J. Long, “Healthy Teaching,” internet.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 292.
 Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 284.
 Arichea and Hatton, 143.
 Mark Dunagan, Commentary, internet.
 Arichea and Hatton, 144.
 Albert Barnes, “Commentary on 1 Timothy” in Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible. (1870), at https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-timothy-6.html. (Accessed March 2020.)
 Arichea and Hatton, 144.
Robert G. Bratcher, 57.
 Phillip J. Long, “Healthy Teaching,” internet.
 Philip W. Comfort, Text, 666.