Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
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(Volume 4: 6:13-21)
Next, Paul reiterates the theme he had raised in verses 11-12: Timothy should remember that Jesus had also exhibited “the good confession” and that he himself should continue to do so and persevere in his good moral life: “I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, (14) that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time . . .” (-15a).
The heavenly Father knows full well what Paul is
demanding: “I urge you in the sight of
God who gives life to all things” (). The “urge you”
injunction is used by no one beyond the NKJV itself, with over two-thirds
preferring either “I charge you” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV,
The “in the sight of God” is continued in the GW and NIV, but popularly altered to “in the presence of God” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB; “as in the presence of God,” GW). Since if you are in the “sight” of God one is surely in His “presence” as well, the two expressions both contain the same meaning: God is aware of what is going on; He is personally aware of it, so this has to be something important to pay attention to. The other alternative is “before God” (NET, WEB) and conveys the same intent but, at least in my own personal judgement, the other two do so more forcefully.
Sometimes behavior can produce a good reputation both in God’s eyes and in that of our fellow mortal. The proverbist speaks of how if “mercy and truth” are our ongoing companions then you will “find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:3-4). This continues to be true of such things as being kind and honest.
But when it comes to accepting God’s moral values and the religious standards He demands, there is often a profound gap. Jesus warned that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke ), speaking specifically of well intended but humanly invented religious traditions. The gap is even wider when one is advocating for solid Biblical principles of conduct when contrasted with a secularist moral nihilism--in which “right” is defined as whatever gives you personal pleasure. The authoritative moral code found in the scriptures is repugnant to such people. Then we must decide which standards we will live by and advocate to others. The rhetorical question raised by the apostles Peter and John remains highly relevant today, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge” (Acts 4:19).
place of God giving “life to all things”
(ESV, NASB, NET, WEB), the synonymous “everything” has been preferred by
some translators (GW, ISV, NIV).
Technically “all things” could include inanimate objects—which
Paul obviously isn’t intending; perhaps to avoid this admittedly silly
God gave physical life to every creature on earth. He gives spiritual life to the redeemed. He gives eternal life to those entering Heaven. Hence, to the extent that there is life at all, God’s hand and power lies behind it.
Jesus is well aware of these instructions by Paul as
well: “before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before
Pontius Pilate” (). “Before Christ Jesus” has few advocates (only
WEB), with the majority going for “and of Christ Jesus” (ESV, Holman,
adhering to the admonition to be faithful to the truth, the Christian would be
doing the same as Jesus “who witnessed the good
confession before Pontius Pilate.”
Speaking of what was said as the “good confession” remains dominant
(ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB). Two
prefer to call it “a good testimony” (GW, ISV) and one “a noble
profession of faith” (
If Timothy had made “the good confession” and if Jesus had as well, does not that require that the two refer to the same thing? In the broadest sense, this would be that both confessed the truth. It might not be the identical truth but the truth on different subjects. But just as the threat of death and execution did not stop Jesus from speaking the truth before Pilate, neither should any threat to Timothy keep him from continuing to share the truth with friend and foe rather than “bending” it to self-advantage or to avoid difficulty.
Less likely—but not impossible—is that Timothy has the track record of insisting on the same truths that Jesus did before Pilate. That doesn’t mean that there were no additional truths Timothy preached, but that those earlier ones were included as part of his own ministry as well. This would fit precedent: The writer of these words was the same person who was responsible for additional insights and concepts of his own that had been embraced by Timothy. (Remember the “chain of revelation:” God - Jesus Christ - Holy Spirit in John 16:13-15. The “Pauline doctrines” ultimately derived from both Jesus and His Heavenly Father.)
And just what was it that Jesus said or confessed before Pilate? Actually only a few things, though each was certainly quite important:
The Five Truths Jesus Confessed Before Pilate
The First Truth:
Only one exchange between Pilate and Jesus is cited in the Synoptic gospels and that is the same one in all three cases—that Jesus is the king of the Jews.
Matthew 27:11: “Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’ ”
Mark 15:2: “Then Pilate asked Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ He answered and said to him, ‘It is as you say.’ ”
Luke 23:3: “Then Pilate asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ He answered him and said, ‘It is as you say.’ ”
This charge is discussed in more detail in the gospel of John. John 18:33-38: 33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered him, ‘Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?’ 35 Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ ”
The Second Truth:
is not a temporal one nor would His followers be fighting to establish or
expand it. John
18:36: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not
of this world. If My kingdom were of
this world, My servants would fight, so that I should
not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’ ” [“As a matter of fact, my kingdom has not this origin” (
The Third Truth:
Jesus was a Divinely commissioned truth teller, sent into the world to do exactly that. John 18:37: “Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ ”
The Fourth Truth:
Herod’s governing power on behalf of the Romans was an example of God giving authority to earthly governments to rule and regulate. John 19:10-11: “10 Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ 11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’ ”
The Fifth Truth:
responsible for Jesus’ death were guilty of even greater evil than the governing
official who made it “legal.” John
19:11: “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no
power at all against Me unless it had been given you
from above. Therefore the one who
delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’ ” [“is more guilty than you are” (
Of these five truths, emphasis is normally—and rightly—placed upon the first for it envolves both Jesus’ role as the supreme authority figure and, by His death, His redemptive role as well: No less than the King Himself has died for us! What greater lesson in humility could there possibly be than that the Monarch thinks so much of His people as to lose His life on their behalf?
Jewish first century readers would immediately have recognized that this inherently carried with it the claim of being the long promised Messiah and Redeemer of Israel. As Ethan R. Longhenry concisely sums up the point:
What is the “good confession” of which Paul speaks? In the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus does not say much to Pilate, save “Thou sayest” as a response to the question of whether He was the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11 / Mark 15:2 / Luke 23:3). Jesus’ statement is not meant as disrespect; in Greek a statement and a question feature most of the same words with vocal inflection marking the difference between the two. Jesus declares the substance of Pilate’s words to be true.
John reveals a more substantive conversation between Pilate and Jesus. In John’s account Jesus declares that He has a kingdom, and it is not of this world (John ); He is a King, and He has come to bear witness to the truth (John ). In any event, Pilate’s inscription placed above Jesus, declaring Him the King of the Jews, makes it clear that there was little ambiguity involved (John ). Before Pilate Jesus declared that He was a King, the King of the Jews; to any observant Jew, this meant that before the Roman authorities Jesus claimed to be the descendant of David, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.
“Letter perfect” obedience to the Pauline commands is demanded and it is to continue long-term: “that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing” (). “Keep” is nearly universally retained with a few substituting “obey” (GW, NET). Either way the injunction is to adhere to . . . to faithfully follow . . . to make this the pattern of behavior.
They were to strive to carry out the instruction without it being tainted by human lapses—“without spot, blameless.” GW provides a fascinating—and wordy—expansion way beyond these words: “I insist that . . . you obey this command completely. Then you cannot be blamed for doing anything wrong.” Excellent commentary, but it seems well beyond just “translation” as well.
spot” is utilized by both the NIV and WEB.
Since “spots” are stains, it is not surprising that term is utilized as
a replacement: “without stain” (NASB),
“unstained” (ESV), and “stainlessly” (ISV,
“Blameless” is preserved only in WEB, but is modified into “blamelessly” by one (ISV) and “without . . . “blame” by another (NIV). Since “blameless” carries the connotation of not being subject to legitimate criticism, “without reproach” becomes a tempting substitute and is found in both the NASB and WEB and “free from reproach” in a third case (ESV). The moral success of such behavior is stressed by those who translate this as “without . . . failure (Holman, NET).
What Is the Exact “Commandment”
Paul Is Instructing Timothy to Keep?
Interpreting in light of the immediate context (verses 11-13)—rather than trying to shoehorn it into a broader one that is not even mentioned in these verses—the “commandment” would surely be to live the kind of pure and faith upholding life that Paul had just been insisting upon.
David J. Downs however enthusiastically endorses the proposal of Nathan Eubank that the commandment is actually in regard to almsgiving. He sees this as a means of uniting what comes both before about wealth (verses 6-10) and afterwards on the same subject (verses 17-19). This intervening material, which seems odd otherwise, would be an unexpected deviation from the two streams of thought. Assume that Timothy’s need to engage in almsgiving is in mind and there is a continuity from verse 6 through verse 19: don’t be zealous to get rich (verses 6-10), be generous in giving with whatever you have (verses 11-16), and if you are rich be abundant in your almsgiving.
This is an ingenious suggestion but there is actually zilch in verses 11-16 that would make you think that this is the theme in Paul’s mind. What is specifically mentioned is purity in faith, behavior, and upholding the gospel. This does not mean that he could safely omit almsgiving, but that need would be established by the other commandments given to brothers and sisters in general rather than anything specifically aimed at Timothy in the current passage. This duty would exist because no preacher was ever exempted from a Divine requirement because he was a preacher. What applied to all other believers simultaneously applied to the minister as well.
To provide a fig leaf, this kind of non-Biblical and non-relevant data is appealed to:
In order to support this claim, Eubank draws attention to Samuel Lieberman’s observation that in numerous rabbinic texts the term [in Hebrew which means] (“commandment”) refers to the activity of providing material assistance to the needy (i.e., “almsgiving”). . . . Similarly, Gary Anderson has suggested that the understanding of almsgiving as “the commandment” [his emphasis, rw] goes back to the Second Temple period, a contention Anderson maintains with reference to almsgiving in the narrative of Tobit (e.g., 4:5-11; 12).
That in certain contexts “the commandment” would refer to almsgiving is quite logical—when it is the subject and theme of that context. To assume it is the subject of any reference to obeying “the commandment” requires textual substantiation which seems clearly lacking.
Indeed if a Jew were to make the blanket reference to “the commandment” without which one being specified, would he not be a thousand times more likely to have in mind the Shema: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4)? Furthermore Jesus Himself stressed the preeminence of this commandment (Mark -31).
is it anything but speculation that the instructions about almsgiving are
relevant to Timothy because of “Timothy’s oversight of material distributions
to the needy.” So even though the
local congregation is to have both elders and deacons—the latter or their
equivalent directly overseeing the help of the needy in
And the elders of chapter three are doing exactly what while any potential misuse is occurring? They are the ones who are instructed--not the minister--to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:1-2).
Hence what we are encountering can not seem to be truly classified as “interpretation;” it is little more than bald theorizing, erecting a theoretical world which exists solely in the “interpreter’s” mind and for which “hard” textual connections do not exist. At least give me a little that is clearly in the text to work with!
This lifestyle of upholding the gospel is to be continued “until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing” (). Perhaps to improve the naturalness of the “sound” of the text in modern English, the “appearance” reference is transferred to the beginning of the sentence by everyone except the GW. This typically results in, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB).
In other words Timothy was do this as part of his lifestyle. It was to be permanent, ongoing. Until either his own death or the return of the Lord. Whichever should happen first. Either way he will have obeyed the commandment.
That “appearing” would be based upon the Divine time
frame when His Father was ready: “Which
He will manifest in His own time” (). (Oddly, all the versions, including the
traditional KJV transfer this to the beginning of verse 15; only the
NKJV makes this part of verse 14.) The
language of “in His own time” is retained however, the wording also being found
in Holman and the NIV. This is typically
altered to “at the right time” (GW, ISV, NET) or “at the proper time” (ESV,
Hence it is not surprising that Jesus warned the apostles it was not for them to know the details of Divine planning for the future, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Specifically in regard to the second coming, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36). This Peter warned about in 2 Peter , “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night”--without warning and when we do not expect it. A sentiment Paul explicitly embraces in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2.
At this point there is an important but perhaps temporary shift in the frame of reference: In verse 14, until now, Jesus has been referred to. But beginning in verse 14b/15 we have the broad reference to an unidentified party: “which He will manifest in His own time.” That vague language of “he” is retained by only two of our samples (ESV, NASB) and in light of what has just been said, this would be the Son (i.e., Jesus).
The WEB preserves that conclusion but only by inserting a strategic comma in the text: “he (i.e. Jesus) will show”--point out/make clear--who “is the blest and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of Lords.” It does insert a comma between the two parts of the sentence, thereby making it a self-reference to Jesus. When I first read it through my eyes “slipped over” that comma (the Greek does not have punctuation) and anyone else who does that would find a more natural reference to someone else, i.e., the Father.
Even so the problem remains that the language that comes next is usually used of the Father and not the Son. Everyone else besides these three translations make clear that the actions of the Father are, indeed, now under consideration. The most popular way is by inserting an explicit reference to “God” (i.e., the Father) in place of the first “he” in the verse (GW, Holman, NIV).
result is also accomplished by the ISV:
though it retains that “he,” it replaces the next “he” with God,
seemingly showing that this first usage must be to the Father as
well. Another way of accomplishing much
the same result is used by
NET produces the same result when omitting all reference to “he” by providing this translation: “whose appearing the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, will reveal at the right time.” In other words it seems the Father is under discussion and He will do this on behalf of the Son--whose “appearing” will only occur when Jehovah has decided it is the right time to “reveal him.”
On the other hand the identification of this “He” is an assumption, complicated by the fact that not all of what follows is clearly pointing in only one direction. As we’ll note below, the identification of “the King of kings and Lord of lords” is explicitly applied to Jesus as the Lamb in the book of Revelation. On the other hand the reference to “He” as the only one who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light and has never been or ever will be seen, surely can’t refer to the Son for Jesus was seen and walked the paths of this earth for thirty odd years!
Furthermore the specific person who will be made “manifest” (verse 15) is “our Lord Jesus Christ” at His “appearing,” i.e., return (verse 14). The over all point would then seem to be that Jesus is so pivotal in the Father’s plans that the Father’s own grand triumph will be manifested in and by His own Son’s return to earth.
It will all be made “manifest” in that penultimate moment of earth history: “We may perhaps put it thus: A devout mind recognizes the providential ordering of past events as having taken place at the time best fitted for them, and shrinks from the presumption of guessing the appropriate time for future events. Thus there is no presumption in saying ‘When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son’; and when the time is ripe, He will send Him again (Acts ).”
Yet the over-all language is certainly odd; the individual thoughts make perfect sense separately, yet don’t seem to quite meld well into a whole. We will work on the assumption that God is now the topic, though making appropriate remarks where the language is especially relevant to the Son instead. And in yet other cases the wording is clearly applicable to both! Paul may even have intended the ambiguity because Jesus’ supernaturalness envolved having the same essential “nature” as the Father and that made at least much/most of the same language fully applicable to both.
of careful consideration in such a context are the words of the able writer
Wayne Jackson. He makes the case that
even the name “Jehovah” itself can properly be applied to the Son as well
because so many of the same core characteristics are equally true of both. I admit I am extremely hesitant to do this,
but it would certainly explain why there are passages such as this one in which
it is hard to make the drastic distinctions between the two that we are
accustomed with making.
As was pointed out in a previous article, the designation “Jehovah” simply denotes the self-existence of deity. If it is the case, therefore, that Christ is self-existent—thus an eternal being—then it follows that it would be entirely appropriate to refer to Jesus as “Jehovah.” Reflect upon the following line of evidence.
That the Second Person of the
Godhead is eternal is clearly affirmed in the Scriptures. The prophet Micah declared that the person
who was to be born in
Additionally, the apostle John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word . . .” (John 1:1). The imperfect tense form of the verb “was” (Greek en) denotes a “continuous timeless existence” and asserts the eternality of Christ (Bernard, 2). Jesus is self-existent. . . .
Further, according to Isaiah, John the Baptizer was to prepare the way for the coming of “Jehovah” (40:3). The New Testament applies this to John’s preparations for Christ (Mathew 3:3).
And, as was indicated earlier, Isaiah spoke of “Jehovah, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts” (44:6). John, in the book of Revelation, quotes a portion of this passage and applies it to Jesus — “I am the first and the last” (Revelation ). . . .
Finally, there is that marvelous
prophecy of Jeremiah in which he foretells the coming of David’s “righteous
Branch.” “In his days,” the prophet
To give only one other passage among a variety of others that could be considered, remember the words of Jesus to His Jerusalem foes in John 8:53-59. In it the close correlation of Father and Son are repeatedly stressed to the profound annoyance of His priestly enemies:
53 Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?”
54 Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. 55 Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” 59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
The uniqueness of the Father: “. . . He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, (16) who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen” (6:15b-16).
His’ regal nature: “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (6:15b). In “He who is the blessed,” the last two words are unchanged in all translations. To make the “He” more specific, three substitute “God” (GW, ISV, NIV).
describe a person as the “only Potentate,”
i.e., king is an uncommon expression in English so it is not surprising that
alternatives are used by everyone: “only
Ruler” (GW, ISV, NIV, WEB) and “only Sovereign” (ESV,
Holman, NASB, NET,
We are most
acquainted with the Old Testament insistence that Jehovah is King over
However we may more easily miss the assertion that He is also King over all other nations as well: Jehoshaphat cried out in the house of the Lord, “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?” (2 Chronicles 20:6). The Psalmist words it this way, “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (47:8). In is a similar sentiment, “For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations.”
There may be and are earthly potentates (Romans 13), but their powers are limited both by how long they live, how great a region they rule over, and the resources they can bring to bear to maintain their rule. Although obviously true of the Father, the language is not exactly inappropriate when used of the Son either. In Christ’s case there are no limits imposed by death (in the resurrection, He conquered it), no limits on how wide His kingdom is (His disciples can be and are scattered all over), and no limit to His resources since He has angelic legions at His command (“more than twelve legions of angels,” Matthew 26:53).
“The King of kings and Lord of Lords” language
is continued by one and all (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB,
The Roman Caesar (i.e., king) ruled over a number of kings. In an even more pervasive manner, Jesus the King rules over any and all earthly rulers—or whatever functionally equivalent term they may be known by. Jesus as well as the Father would fit this category of ultimate ruler. In Jesus’ case due to ruling on behalf of--as delegate of--the Father Himself. This is language most readers would probably be acquainted with through its use in Revelation 17:14 and as a description of the Lord.
James B. Coffman dissents from the idea that the reference is specifically to the Heavenly Father rather than the Son and invokes as evidence:
All of the commentaries consulted by this writer unanimously refer these words to God; but despite the reluctance to disagree with those of great learning, it must in conscience be done here. The expression “King of kings and Lord of lords” occurs nowhere else in the Bible, but one so nearly like it as to be held identical is found in Revelation 19:16; and the belief here is that the word of God is always the best comment on the word of God.
The passage in Revelation leaves no doubt whatever that Jesus Christ, wearing “the garment dipped in blood,” is the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS in that passage; and thus there is no impediment to holding the same as true here. After all, in the Greek New Testament, Christ is called “God” no less than ten times, not including this passage.
Perhaps the best response is to suggest that since both the Father and Son share the same eternal nature, that the language can appropriately be used about both. Which is specifically under consideration would normally best be judged by the context in which the language is used, would it not? Sadly in this case the context does not give us as much clear cut guidance as we would like!
“Lord of lords.” A different way of saying the just mentioned “King of kings.” In both cases those who assert their acceptance of these descriptions have consequences as to behavior that inevitably occur:
The Greek word (kurios) is a noun which means “master”, “lord” or “supreme controller”. If we use the term honestly, then we are stating our subservience unto God when we call Him “Lord.” We are also stating our acceptance of His right to command us and our responsibility and willingness to obey His voice. We recall that Jesus once asked, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord, and not do the things I say?’ ” (Luke 6:46). Such verbal acknowledgment without obedience is not what the Lord either requires nor desires.
The language is used twice in the Old Testament of Jehovah. In Deuteronomy 10:17 we read, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.” Note the four assertions: (1) He is supremely powerful (“mighty”); (2) His splendor and glory overwhelms one when seeing or thinking about it (i.e., “awesome”); (3) He is one beyond any and all prejudices (“shows no partiality”); (4) there is no way to arbitrarily gain influence with Him (“nor takes a bribe”).
The other occurrence is in Psalms 136:3: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever.” “Love” is often substituted for “mercy.” Love however is expressed in mercy and mercy is naturally given by those who love you. Humans are erratic, but the Divine love and mercy is unending . . . profoundly unlike that of earthly rulers who may cast you aside at the least provocation or annoyance.
God’s supernatural character: “who alone has immortality, dwelling in
unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (). He has
true uniqueness: “who alone has immortality.” Six of our texts maintain the “immortality”
reference (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, WEB,
“The word translated ‘mmortality’ in our text (athanasia) has to do with being in a state untouchable by death. Only God possesses immortality inherent within Himself. But one day He promises to give it to the faithful as well. The word, used only three times in the New Testament, refers once to that which only God possesses, and twice to that new, spiritual body which the righteous receive at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:53,54).”
In other words, our immortality is granted by God rather than being inherent in our physical and psychological nature and essence. There is nothing in either that has to take us any further than physical death. In contrast with our souls (which have immortality from birth), our bodies are made immortal--never to die again--when the Lord returns. As Daniel Whedon writes:
So Justin Martyr says: ‘God is said alone to have immortality, because He has it, not from another’s will, as all other immortals have, but from His own essence.’ All other substances disintegrate; all other beings decay and die; it is only as God holds them together, and pours vitality into them, that they are kept in being and life. And we must acknowledge the same dependence upon God for continued existence in a thinking substance. . . .”
His “dwelling” place as “in unapproachable
light” is embraced by some two-thirds (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV,
“Dwelling” is both
maintained (Holman, WEB,
The image of undiluted purity as being the essence of God is portrayed by His “dwelling” in light in our passage, but it can also be conveyed as being the garments He “wears.” Hence the image in Psalms 104:2, “Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment.” Even then the image is light centered. Furthermore He is pictured as one who “send(s) out your light and Your truth” (Psalms 43:2). As being light, as clothed with light, it is not surprising that he (so to speak) “radiates out” light as well.
Presumably because it is “unapproachable light,” no mere human can see Him: hence the reference to “whom no man has seen or can see.” This stays essentially the same in our comparison translations with a few making it “has ever seen,” which is the clear import the words are intended to carry (ESV, ISV, NET). The “can see” is altered by NET to “is able to see.” If it is impossible to “see” Him then, inherently, we are “unable to see him.” It also is conveyed by the over all wording.
Other New Testament texts also hit hard on this theme. The “light” is synonymous with unalloyed purity and holiness: 1 John 1:5 speaks of how “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” This is ongoing rather than sporadic; it never changes. In James the point is made by stressing that God’s light is such that it never varies or alters, “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (Aside: In Revelation 21:23 the same basic fact is expressed of both the Father and the Son, “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.”)
(For comparison study: we examined cases where God is referred to as being “seen” in our discussion of God’s “invisibility” in 1 Timothy 1:17.)
Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges comments on the “unapproachable”
nature of this light: “The word ἀπρόσιτος does
not occur elsewhere in the Greek Bible, but it is found in Philo (de vita Mosis iii. 2) who uses it
of the Mount to which Moses could not approach for the glory of Jehovah (Exodus 33:17-23).
It is this latter passage from Exodus which is behind
“Whom no man has seen or can see.” The past continues into the present—no one before our age nor today can actually see God. In the days of overt earthly miracles one might on the rarest occasions see the merest faction of God’s “appearance” (think of Moses in Exodus 33:18-23): it was simply too emotionally, psychologically, and physically shattering to the mere mortal to be able to handle what was being seen.
Hence the insistence on the inability of mortals to actually behold the Lord God in His fullness. As Exodus 33:20 expresses it: “You cannot see My face; for no man can see Me and live.” In part to protect the creation, He is “the invisible God” (Colossians ).
Peter Pett explains why this not only is but also must be the case:
This is firstly because He is invisible and beyond the eye of man (1 Timothy ), but also because man could not bear the sight. If men had to demand the veiling of Moses because the glory of God shone on his face (Exodus 34:29-35), how much less could they behold the unveiled glory of the Supreme?
Through the graciousness of God men have been allowed glimpses. Consider Abraham from the depths of a divine sleep (Genesis 15:12; Genesis 15:17); Jacob when He came to him in the form of a man (Genesis 32:24-30); Moses who was the most favored of all but could only look on the tail end of His glory, for had he seen the whole he would have been blasted out of existence (Exodus 33:18-23); Isaiah who saw him dimly through the smoke in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-7); Ezekiel who saw something of His glory revealed on His traveling throne (Ezekiel 1:26-28). But none had seen Him face to face, or had beheld the fullness of His glory. And even His light is but a garment beneath which is the unknowable and unseeable (Psalms 104:2)
Because of these attributes, we should recognize that He both deserves respect and the recognition of His supremacy: “to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen” (). Because God is of the nature that has just been described, special respect—unique respect—is due Him for there is none like Him. Neither in the past, the current world, nor future.
The language of “to Him be honor” is widely continued (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV). This is grammatically modified in one case: “to whom be honor” (WEB). Weymouth replaces “everlasting” with “eternal” and transfers it to in front of “honor,” making it modify both “honor and power” rather than “power” alone.
allusion to “everlasting power” is not kept at all, though conceptual
equivalents are: “eternal power” is the
most common (ISV, NET, WEB,
If the point of “to Him be honor” is that His people are to always honor and respect Him (and it is hard to see how it could possibly be otherwise), then the reference to “to whom be . . . everlasting power” must carry the message that we are always to recognize and accept that He has such power. That means we shape our lives according to what He has taught and instructed . . . or be hypocrites.
At least the conscious hypocrite knows and recognizes that his or her behavior is in the wrong. And with that knowledge there is at least the possibility that reform will yet occur. On the other hand if a person is self-blinded to their sin and they rationalize away its importance, there is nothing left within them to urge reform.
Responsibilities of Wealthy Believers
TCNT: 17 Urge upon those who are wealthy in this life not to pride themselves, or fix their hopes, on so uncertain a thing as wealth, but on God, who gives us a wealth of enjoyment on every side. 18 Urge upon them to show kindness, to exhibit a wealth of good actions, to be open-handed and generous, 19 storing up for themselves what in the future will prove to be a good foundation, that they may gain the only true Life.
The rich should not put their faith in their wealth but in the God who provides us the ability to obtain them and wishes us to enjoy our possessions: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (6:17).
Paul stresses this admonition: “Command those who
are rich in this present age” (). The “command” language is kept only by NET and
NIV, with the preferred alternatives being widely divided: “instruct” (Holman, NASB), “charge” (ESV,
WEB), and “impress on” (
Claire S. Smith argues that the stronger sense of “command”--rather than some less imperative wording--must be the intention because of “the serious nature of the dangers posed in 1:3 and 6:17, the strength of the apostolic charge to Timothy in 6:13, and the repeated imperative [language] (1 Timothy 4:11; 5:7).” To this might well be added the reminder that the rich could do a vastly disproportionate amount of harm both to themselves and others through their misuse of wealth. This is the diametrical opposite of what Paul is advocating: used constructively, they could do a vastly disproportionate amount of good. Hence it would be startling if Timothy were to avoid putting a heavy emphasis on such matters, an emphasis fully in keeping with the idea of “command” or some conceptual near equivalent.
Although the above comes from her footnote on the subject, in the main body of her text, she makes much the same point by arguing that the broadness of the injunctions that were to be taught carried the inherent requirement that the teaching be stressed and emphatic:
Several factors indicate that Timothy’s commanding activity was to be didactic, corrective, strongly authoritative, and motivated by a concern for the wellbeing of the addressees. First, it was to teach those who were wealthy how to avoid the dangers of wealth, which had caused some to lose their faith (6:9-10). Second, it was to teach them to put their hope in God, recognize Him as the source of all good things, and be generous practically. Third, it was to encourage behavior in the wealthy that mirrored the generous character of God. Fourth, it was to correct them if they were arrogant and/or placing their trust in material wealth and not God. Finally, it was to secure their wellbeing in “the coming age” () rather than “the present age” ().
Although there are obvious limitations to the degree to which you can “command” anyone to do a thing in any voluntary association such as a congregation, teaching can be presented in such a manner that the listeners recognize that this is the kind of life style God demands of them. Whether they are willing to risk His wrath is up to them, of course. But it is still imperative that they recognize just how important their decision is.
Those being discussed are called “rich” in all the comparative translations except for the GW which prefers, “those who have the riches”—which seems like adding needless words to make the point that the single word “rich” conveys all by itself.
These rich are living “in this present age:” In the current world in which Timothy and the Ephesians lived. Paul is not giving a historical postmortem on behavior from the past nor laying down standards for some future time. He is laying down the guidelines for ethical . . . Christian . . . behavior in the current contemporary world. The guidelines are cast in broad terms however. Economic conditions, political changes, cultural customs do not affect these norms. Hence they are applicable in any and all circumstances and in future ages as well.
Other translations also refer to the
“present age” (ESV, Holman,
The admonition tells us something about the earthly status of a number of the Ephesian church members. “This paragraph indicates that the church had affected society more widely in Ephesus than it had at Corinth, of which Paul wrote ‘not many mighty, not many noble, are called’ (1 Corinthians 1:26). There were evidently a number of rich Christians in Ephesus, a fact also suggested by the fact of some of the Asiarchs being solicitous for Paul's welfare at the time of the riot in that city (Acts 19:31).” Hence there were not only rich members but powerful outsiders were concerned for their well being as well.
They should not allow their economic well being to
make them conceited: “not to be haughty” (). This wording is found in
two cases (ESV, NET), with minor deviances in WEB and
We use the idiom of “being full of oneself.” This person is full of their own importance and superiority . . . as conclusively demonstrated by their wealth. “Can’t you see how important and right I obviously must be?” In this same epistle (3:6) Paul warns about “being puffed up with pride” because it can so easily cause one to stumble—as it did Satan. In 1 Corinthians 5:2 he rebukes those who were “puffed up” who should have been mourning (though, in that case, over the unrepentant sins of others rather than ofc oneself).
Confidence should never be in our wealth but in the God who provides earthly blessings: “nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God” (). “Trust in” is retained only by CEV. “Place their confidence in” is advocated by GW and ISV. All the remainder use the word “hope,” varying the rest of the phrase slightly: “hope in” (NIV), “hope/hopes on” (ESV, NASB), “hope set on” (WEB), “set their hope/hopes on” (Holman, NET, Weymouth).
This is where they get their hope from: not from God or His promises, but something else entirely. Hence this is where their priority is, their emphasis. Other things may be useful but this far passes everything else . . . this is what is really important—the fundamental and critical thing.
“Riches” is occasionally altered to “wealth” (Holman, NIV), but all the others recycle it. The reference to the riches being “uncertain” is sometimes altered to “uncertainty of” (in ESV, Holman, NASB, WEB), with everyone else keeping the traditional wording except for Weymouth who reaches out for the intriguing alternative of “that unstable foundation.” An interesting alternate way to present the image of uncertainty.
Paul doesn’t for a second deny that the wealth is there. He doesn’t deny for a second that it may stay there. What he does insist on is the recognition that the reverse is also quite possible as well. Crops fail. Investments in shipped goods are lost as the vessel plunges to the depths of the ocean. Those in charge of what makes our wealth, turn out to have been dishonest and even having them jailed or executed isn’t going to bring back one denarius of what we’ve lost. Nothing is guaranteed; not even physical life itself.
They are, indeed, “uncertain riches!” Undependable, unreliable--because they could easily diminish in amount, vanish entirely, or we could die and none of it will be of any further value to us. Think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
For that matter, we might never obtain them in the first place. The person who is into “body building” knows that, if he keeps at it, he will inevitably obtain a physically impressive body. In contrast the person who is obsessed with wealth can never have that kind of absolute assurance.
The recognition of this led to the plea for an emotionally well balanced life in Proverbs 23:4-5: “Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? [Will you only catch a fleeting glimpse of wealth before it is gone?” GW] For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” The writer of Ecclesiastes mourned the folly of being obsessed with wealth for this very reason as well: The money could easily be “lost in a bad venture” and there be nothing left to pass on to the next generation (, ESV; “bad business deals,” GW).
Of all the translations, only WEB continues to refer to the “living God” (along with our baseline NKJV). Critical texts uniformly reject the adjective as inadequately attested in the Greek texts—though it is acknowledged that it is found in “a substantial number.” Not that the statement “living God” is somehow untrue, but that they are convinced that this is simply not one of those passages that actually refers to it.
Oddly enough, the fact that it is unquestionably found in 1 Timothy 3:15 and 4:10 is introduced as evidence of its lack of genuineness here: it is present “because of the natural tendency of scribes to conform this passage” to the usage in other Pauline texts. Perhaps so, but to admit that it sounds Pauline . . . and is unquestionably Pauline (Romans , to give but one example) . . . and is even used twice in this same epistle—and to then conclude that means it isn’t likely his but a copyist’s expansion of the wording—doesn’t that sound just a little strange?
Rather than interrupt the flow of our text I’ve waited until here to include a long--but highly relevant comment--that drives home the reality of “uncertain riches.” Not the uncertainty of getting them (which is unlikely for 99% of the population) but the alarming uncertainty of keeping them if we ever do obtain them. Stanley Derickson writes:
1923 a very important meeting was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in
1. The president of the largest independent steel company;
2. The president of the largest utility company;
3. The president of the largest gas company;
4. The greatest wheat speculator of the era;
5. The president of the New York Stock Exchange;
6. A member of the President’s cabinet;
7. The greatest “bear” on Wall Street;
8. Head of the world’s greatest monopoly;
9. President of the Bank of International Settlements.
Admittedly the group gathered was impressive and represented well some of the world’s most successful men or at least those who had found the secret of making money. Surly they must have been very happy in their success.
25 years later:
1. The president of the largest independent steel company, Charles Schwab, died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money for five years before his death.
2. The president of the largest utility company, Samuel Insull, died a fugitive from justice in a foreign land, and penniless.
3. The president of the largest gas company, Howard Hopson went insane.
4. The greatest wheat speculator of the era, Arthur Cutton, died abroad insolvent.
5. The president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, had just been recently released from Sing Sing Penitentiary.
6. The member of the President’s cabinet, Albert Fall, was pardoned from prison so he could die at home.
7. The greatest “bear” on Wall Street who was Jesse Livermore, died of suicide.
8. The head of the world’s greatest monopoly, Ivan Krueger, died of suicide.
9. President of the Bank of International Settlements, Leon Fraser, died of suicide.
The men listed above learned the art of making money and achieving great power and status but not one of them learned how to “live.” Happiness is contentment. Even some of the poorest people on earth have learned this.
These examples vividly illustrate the Old Testament warning that riches can all too easily “fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Even to intellectually concede this as a theoretical possibility can be far different from accepting it on the emotional level. Instead they may delude themselves and their immediate success may blind them to this reality and make them feel quite safe in any injustices they inflict upon others (Psalms 73:4-9). “It could have. It hasn’t. Therefore it won’t!”
There are always many who will only learn reality when they are crushed by it. Remember the story of the rich man where death unexpectedly overtook him (Luke -20). Jesus used that story to illustrate that all temporal wealth comes to an end and may do so quite abruptly and unexpectedly: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (). Jesus did not demand that a person give away their wealth, but He did demand that they use it responsibly and with the recognition that all must answer to God for how they did so.
This teaching did not mean that they should be
ashamed of their economic wellbeing, but rather fulfill God’s desire that they
utilize their temporal blessings in a manner that makes them feel honorably pleased: “who gives us
richly all things to enjoy” (6:17). The
language of God as one who “gives us
richly” is replaced by either “richly provides us” (ESV, GW,
Holman, NET, NIV, WEB);
that He provides us with these things “to enjoy”
(ESV, GW, Holman, NASB, WEB) is often changed to “for our
enjoyment” (ISV, NET, NIV,
We aren’t to go around glum. We aren’t to look upon the good things of this world with contempt. Much as foolish mortals twist the things of this world for a self-destructive purpose, they were still created for our benefit, our well being, even our enjoyment.
Nor should the attitude of the abusers we know of strip joy from the pleasures of our own successes. The (often legitimate) cynicism that the rich and well connected often cheat everyone else of what would be at least a passable existence is nothing unique to the 21st century. In the 1830s the Methodist commentator Adam Clarke thought it was all too obvious in his own age as well:
[God] not only has all good, but dispenses it liberally for the supply of the wants of all his creatures; and he does not give merely what is necessary, but he gives what tends to render life comfortable. The comforts of life come from God, as well as the necessaries. He not only gives us a bare subsistence, but he gives us enjoyments. Were it not for the oppression and rapine of wicked men, every situation and state in life would be comparatively comfortable. God gives liberally; man divides it badly.
But whatever degree of abundance we do have, we should gain as much enjoyment as possible from it. Depressed in sorrow over what we don’t have, it is far too easy to occur than enjoying using what we do have. Does the wise person shed tears that he doesn’t own the latest Kentucky Derby winner when he has a first class horse to enjoy any time he wishes?
They should use the opportunities they encounter to
be of benefit to others since this will also, paradoxically, benefit themselves
as well: “Let them do good, that they be rich
in good works, ready to give, willing to share, (19) storing up for themselves a good
foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life”
The description of their proper outward behavior toward
others: “Let them do good,
that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (). All our comparison
translations use the word “good” for
what is to be done except for
Something of the same is conveyed by those who speak of the need to “instruct them” (Holman, NASB), with the NIV becoming even more emphatic with its “command them to do good.” If there is anything in the wording “tell them to do good” (GW, NET) that emphasizes the importance of the point, it is minimum indeed. The remaining three (ESV, ISV, WEB) provide no additional hint of this element at all.
That they have an obligation to “do good” with their blessings grows out of the very fact that they have the abundance in the first place. Or as Jesus said in explaining a parable, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).
language that they are to be “rich in good
works” stays popular (ESV, Holman, NASB, WEB). The “works” are altered to “deeds” (NET, NIV,
These folk are described as already monetarily wealthy. They are to match that abundance through their helpfulness and assistance to others as well. They have been amply blessed; they are, if you will, to bless others in the ways that would be most useful and beneficial to them as well.
An example from someone who was not of a wealthy social-economic status but who had a respectable piece of money available: It was a gospel preacher who was in the unexpected situation of having available a significant amount of unpaid preaching income that he could not use himself because of tax reasons. So, among other things, he found a way to legally use that money to help two church members whose old cars were faltering and desperately needed repair. In other words he diverted the money owed him to others in order to provide important assistance.
A person who is genuinely wealthy by our contemporary standards would have abundant opportunity to do far more than even that to assist others in our society: Not the anonymous individuals helped by well known charities but those he or she trusts and comes in daily contact with and have no reason to anticipate the assistance.
In order to
accomplish so much one must be “ready to give,
willing to share.” “Ready to
give” becomes “generous” in the bulk of cases (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET,
“generous givers,” NIV). “Ready to
distribute” is substituted by WEB and “open-handed” by
As to the
willingness to “share,” that word is found in seven cases (ESV, GW, Holman,
ISV, NASB, NET, modified to “sharing,” NIV).
“Ready to give” and “willing to share” are actually synonyms for the same attitude and disposition. They both cover being “prepared and inclined to” do exactly that. They don’t have to be “beaten” into this mind frame; they are already receptive to it.
Some will be predisposed to helpfulness by their upbringing. But others are not so blessed. Hence there will always be those who will need this kind of explicit encouragement to set their attitudes right: Wealth does make many people far too self-centered and blind to the life situation of others. In the worst cases far beyond such obliviousness—they do know full well it exists but are simply unconcerned. It is “someone else’s problem.”
But once the right mind frame is adopted and becomes a habit, all that is left is the rising of specific opportunities to act. You won’t need goading, rebuking, or pressure—merely the recognition that there is a problem and you will be ready to do what you can to deal with it.
Their attitude is to be the same as
that behind the Corinthians’ generosity in sending disaster relief to the
The grim reality is that poverty is never totally removed from a society. It may be suppressed and coerced into the crannies and hollows of a society so it won’t be embarrassing, but it will still be there. Hence the attitude Paul advocates will always match a “real world” need. Not in some far distant country but in one’s own community.
Mixed with this recognition, the Jewish reader would doubtless call to mind the Old Testament’s plea for generosity:
7 “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand wide to him [be generous to these poor people, GW] and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. 9 Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you. 10 You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. 11 For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ ” [Deuteronomy 15]
Torah loving proselytes also
recognized the need for generosity towards others of their own generation as
well. The Babylonian Talmud tells the
story of Monobazus who came to the throne of Adiabene around 55 A.D.
Although he provided expensive gifts to the
“Your fathers laid up treasure, and added to the treasure that they had inherited from their fathers, and are you going to waste it all?” He answered: “My fathers laid up treasure below: I have laid it up above. My fathers laid up treasure of Mammon: I have laid up treasure of souls. My fathers laid up treasure for this world: I have laid up treasure for the world to come.”
had the same mind frame. As one
dissertation sums up her behavior in
recalls that Josephus mentions how Helena, king Izates’
mother of Abiadene, provided significant benefactions
to relieve the plight of those who were being oppressed by a severe famine
(Ant. 20.51-53), which was caused by drought, in Jerusalem only few years prior
(around 46/47 CE) to the request made to Paul as reported in Galatians
She understood perhaps not merely the Jewish obligation to assist but the inherent human duty that God expects all mankind to share. She could help; therefore she did help. The same kind of mind frame Paul is urging.
The benefit that will come to them from such
up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay
hold on eternal life” (). There are positive personal
consequences for the individual embracing this lifestyle: one is “storing
up for themselves.” Most
retain “storing up” language in some form—either “storing up” (ESV, Holman,
When people strive to “store up” anything, they are trying to increase its volume and amount—trying to accumulate a “treasure” if you will (since wealth language had just been used in the previous verse). For the money and time that they have generously given to others, what they receive back is “a good foundation for the time to come.”
Jesus Himself spoke of storing up for the future through what we do:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6).
21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19).
32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12).
of “foundation” most often remains a “good” one (ESV, GW, ISV, NASB, WEB) while
“a firm foundation” garners support among two (NET, NIV) and
the time period—“the time to come” in
the NKJV--as “the future” is the choice of two-thirds of the alternatives (ESV,
GW, ISV, NASB, NET,
The image of “lay[ing] hold on eternal life” conveys the fact that this behavior prepares the wealthy individual for the future. It gives him—or her—a solid grasp on what lies ahead.
alternatives are diverse for the description of the nature of the “life” that is promised: life that “is truly life” (ESV, NET, NIV), “life
that is real” (Holman, ISV) and life “which is life indeed” (NASB,
That doesn’t rule out a shorter term reference for “life” as well, of course. The New Testament certainly presents the imagery of a person who is “living” so far as the flesh goes but is still counted by God as “dead” at the same time due to sin and evil behavior (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13; Romans 8:6)—dead spiritually, morally . . . not to mention bereft of true value to others among us. Hence the person who has done the opposite . . . has cultivated the values of the soul . . . can also be properly described as having a “life”—a true “quality of life,” if you will--that the surrounding world does not share in and often cannot grasp.
Is Salvation Earned by Almsgiving in 1 Timothy 6:17-19?
In blunt language, are the rich earning their salvation through their charity? The common rebuttal is that their almsgiving demonstrates their salvation rather than gains it. At this point, of course, we enter the classic battlefield of “salvation by faith” versus “salvation by works.” Hence this text is introduced as proof positive that the Pastorals are by someone other than Paul since Paul insisted on salvation by faith alone.
In traditional “Christian” theology the two are viewed as diametric opposites; in Biblical theology they are intertwined into one or, if you wish, two sides of the same coin. In the classic text of salvation by “works” it is James himself who points out that the works that save are works that are motivated by faith: “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” ().
Faith is the inescapable and essential motivation of the works. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4)—faith expressed by the work of offering a sacrifice. By faith Noah built an ark (11:7)—the work of building an ark that took many, many years to finish. By faith Abraham left his homeland and traveled to where God wanted him to be (11:9). Once again that was not faith alone, but faith expressed in action, in the work of moving toward his new home.
Yes, mankind is “justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans ; cf. Galatians )—the Mosaical law of the Torah and prophets. But is the same true of Christ’s law as well? “If you love Me keep my commandments” (John ; cf. ; ). How then can faith possibly save us without the accompanying love being acted out / expressed in ongoing obedience?
Closing Plea for Steadfastness
TCNT: 20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane prattle and contradictions of what some miscall ‘theology,’ 21 for there are those who, while asserting their proficiency in it, have yet, as regards the Faith, gone altogether astray. God bless you all.
Overview: The world around us provides plenty of excuses to drift away from the faith: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge (21) by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.”
Today we call it being “proactive:” Timothy needs to be spiritually alert: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust” (). The “guard” language is retained by all versions except NET, which prefers the synonym “protect.” The Greek term means “to preserve unchanged and unharmed.” Hence it envolves both.
What was “committed to your trust” already existed; Timothy’s job is to assure it continues to exist and prosper. I rather like the way Andy de Ganahl develops what this entails:
There’s no need to reinvent or repackage or improve what has been entrusted to us. We are to guard it, protect it, and proclaim it. Very plainly stated, this is a call to remain faithful. . . . The concept of faithfulness implies conscientious, consistent, and continuous action.
The command to guard (φύλαξον) means more than to simply keep an eye on. It captures the duty of a sentinel, an armed guard, and the soldier in the LP/OP (Listening post/Observation post). The point is not only to keep an eye on things but to sound the alarm and give warning when there is danger. The point is protection. The apostle calls Timothy to protect what has been given him.
The “committed” reference is retained by none except WEB, all the others substituting “entrusted.” “To your trust” is altered to “to your care” by the NIV, while everyone else prefers “entrusted to you.” He’s been given both opportunity and responsibility. It is up to him to exercise it.
“The phrase what has been entrusted translates a simple term in the Greek (τήν παραθήκη) the deposit. These two terms, guard and deposit are commonly used together. The term is often found as a banking term indicating something of value that belongs to someone else and is entrusted for safekeeping.” What has been entrusted to him came from the Lord. Hence it is his solemn obligation to protect that which has been given into his care.
But what has been entrusted to Timothy? Our text doesn’t tell us directly. But the epistle has stressed his need to teach faithfully the revealed will of God. It has also stressed the need to discourage false teaching and to assure that only qualified men are considered for church office. In addition he has been taught to encourage members to meet their family obligations (in particular to older kin) and to discourage older individuals from seeking church assistance when their needs can be taken care of by other means (remarriage or relatives). Hence it would seem best to interpret the words “entrusted/committed to you” as referring to all these and everything envolved in the gospel tradition that Timothy has been taught to hold to.
His role was not to be an innovator; it was to be a preserver. That was true of him and of every faithful teacher of the gospel. The obligation was well described in the 85th sermon of Leo the Great (first half of the 400s A.D.):
What is meant by the deposit? That which is committed to you, not that which is invented by you; that which you have received, not that which you have devised; a thing not of wit but of learning; not of private assumption but of public tradition; a thing brought to you, not brought forth from you; thus you must not be an author, but an authorized keeper; not a leader but a follower. Keep the deposit.
There are various varieties of pseudo-facts lurking in
the woods to deceive you if you give them opportunity: “avoiding the
profane and idle babblings and
contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (). Maintaining
“profane and idle babblings” as two
clearly distinct items finds little support.
Those who do so arrive at “worldly and empty chatter”
(NASB) and “irreligious and frivolous talk” (
Running the language together results in only one version keeping a reference to babbling: “irreverent babble” (ESV). One can reasonably see “chatter” as a parallel concept to babble and that can result in “profane chatter” (NET, the only translation that keeps the “profane” reference at all), “godless chatter” (NIV), and “empty chatter” (WEB).
“Empty” reminds us that none of this rhetoric adds up to anything of true value; the “profane” and “godless” language shifts the emphasis to the fact that nothing truly spiritual is envolved in all that is being said—however voluminous it may be. Both elements are emphasized when one speaks of “irreverent, empty speech” (Holman). The emphasis is put strictly on the latter when one attempts to substitute a two word phrase to convey the underlying point in it all: “pointless discussions” (GW, ISV).
To quote Shakespeare, these idle
disputants are engaged in “much ado about nothing.” No wonder that Paul insists on “avoiding” such a waste of good time and
effort (Holman, NASB; in the form of “avoid:” ESV, ISV, NET). We should “turn away from” such things (GW,
NIV; “turning:” WEB). Perhaps
“This (ἐκτρεπόμενος) is a very strong term that means to turn away from something or someone. But this ‘turn’ is not a passive idea. This same root can be used to describe a violent dislocation of joints. The idea is not to avoid a pothole by swerving out of the way. The word picture is more aggressive. It means to fully separate and have nothing to do with what follows.”
The various theories Timothy will encounter are ones that have inevitable “contradictions” with both the truth and each other: “contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” All the translations preserve the reference to the “knowledge” that its advocates claim they have embraced. Seven label it “falsely” so-called, with one simply changing the word form to “false” (GW) and one mocking the claim by labeling it the “absurdities of so-called ‘knowledge’ ” (NET). Two-thirds embrace that “distancing” (and mocking) reference by putting knowledge in quotation marks (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET,
These folk regarded themselves as the intellectual pace setters of their age--they were so full of insights and wisdom that others had missed! But their theology / ideology carried self-contradictions; their theories were inconsistent with each other and were self-indicted as falsehoods by those very inconsistencies. If it isn’t consistent, how can it possibly be truth?
Although this reasoning is quite valid, it might not be the immediate point the passage aims at: even more importantly the teachings contradict revealed truth and are manifold more self-condemned. Adopting this approach is Robert G. Bratcher when he writes that, “The idea of the Greek word (literally ‘antitheses’) is not that they are self-contradictory, but that they contradict the claims of the Christian faith.” Thayer’s classic Greek Lexicon takes it as covering both: “the inventions of false knowledge, either mutually oppugnant [= opposing, antagonistic] or opposed to true Christian doctrine.”
It has been tempting to a large number of interpreters—especially to those who believe that the epistle is a post-Pauline forgery—that some Gnostic movement is under consideration. After all, they were unquestionably preoccupied with the notion that they had some body of covert knowledge and insight available to themselves and to no one else. So, yes, the rebuke would apply to them.
But whether there is a formal movement at this time or not is a far different question and far harder to determine. The way of thinking did not spring magically out of the ground after Paul’s death. The mind frame that produced it was already around. Depending upon where you were in the Roman Empire, sooner or later you were likely to run into such folk—hopefully few in number—who were convinced that they had some magical insight into spiritual reality that the rest of us are denied. Formal second/third century Gnosticism was certainly not required for this!
In our own age, consider the numerological interpretation of Scripture for your next visit to theological wonderland. Or one of the many conspiracy theories afloat at any one time. The mind frame envolved in such things was not unique to the Gnostic mind nor to any one period of human history. In some form it surely existed prior to Christianity and it will continue to exist in a secular or religious form until Jesus brings our current cosmos to the end.
Due to its influence some had already drifted away from
the wholesomeness of the undistorted truth:
“by professing it some have strayed concerning
the faith” (). The result
of embracing the supposed new insights had actually been catastrophic for the
embracers: “by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” The key difference between versions lies in
how bad is that result. The minimalist
approach is to speak of how they “have erred” (WEB,
The parable of the lost sheep might be useful to tie in with this text (Matthew -14). After that sheep “goes astray” the shepherd sought it out. In a parallel way Timothy would, through his teaching and example, be attempting to bring them back into the fullness of faith they once enjoyed.
To end his message with a few upbeat and encouraging words, Paul wishes Divine favor upon the young man Timothy: “Grace be with you. Amen” (). All the versions refer to Divine “grace” being wished with the exception of GW, which prefers to explain it as, “God’s good will be with all of you.” The “Amen” is kept only by WEB.
Hence the epistle ends with the prayer that Divine favor be with them throughout the future. One commentator has suggested, “This benediction may be brief, but it is rich in meaning, for grace (all the help that God can give a man) is the greatest blessing of all. With that help, Timothy can carry out all the charges given in this epistle.”
They had been blessed by God’s grace. It is Paul’s wish and prayer that they continue to be blessed by His grace in the ways and manner that they may need it. The phrase also implies that in spite of the varied weaknesses that Paul has referred to, they have not been rejected by God. Nor will God do that in the future. Unless, of course, they turn their backs on Him, spit in His face so to speak, and “shipwreck” their souls (1 Timothy ). Yet this very prayer and blessing is a bright beam of optimism that they will not fall into such a self-destructive trap.
The Greek manuscript tradition has strong support in for the “you” being the individual, single person “you”—i.e., Timothy personally. It also has strong support for the “you” being in the plural, indicating all the local brothers and sisters as well as Timothy in particular.
To Philip W. Comfort, since the textual evidence is so divided, judgment must be made upon the basis of customary Pauline usage: “It was Paul’s habit to address the final salutations to more people than the one noted as the addressee at the beginning of the epistle—probably because Paul considered his epistle to be received by a more inclusive audience (see 2 Timothy 4:22; Titus 3:15; Philemon 25). Thus the plural ‘you’ indicates that Paul directed this epistle to Timothy and the members of the Ephesian church.”
It was originally intended to have a fifth volume on “Church Leadership Controversies.” As has been increasingly displayed in my final editing of these studies, beginning in Volume 2, my age is catching up with me. “Getting my brain around” very lengthy subjects reviewing multiple objections in depth was no longer its normal challenge but had escalated into a major difficulty: the effort was repeatedly three, four, or more times more challenging and grueling than normal in accomplishing my goal of assuring consistency of argument.
Yes, I intend to do more writing--the Lord willing. However it will only envolve subjects I can handle with “moderate depth” rather than following my current credo of “if it is credibly relevant to the argument then analyze it!” It’s been wonderful to have the time and opportunity to do so, but now it’s time to move on to a writing depth more congenial for my age.
I confess I feel considerable sympathy with Ebenezer Scrooge: “Bah humbug!” But one learns to be happy with what one can do rather than drown in a sea of regrets. Anything else eats away at your soul.
 Ethan R. Longhenry, “Good Confession,” internet.
 David J. Downs, “The God
Who Gives Life That Is Truly Life:
Meritorious Almsgiving and the Divine Economy in 1 Timothy 6,” in The
Unrelenting God: God’s Action in
Scripture, edited by David J. Downs and Matthew L. Skinner (
 Newport J. D. White on , “First and Second,” internet.
 Wayne Jackson, “Is Jesus Jehovah?,” at the Christian Courier website, at https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/527-is-jesus-jehovah. (Accessed April 2020.)
 For a lengthy analysis of other texts that might be cited, examine Phil Johnson, “Who Is Jehovah? Who Is Jesus?,” at: http://www.romans45.org/articles/deity.htm. (Written 1996; accessed April 2020.)
 Robert G. Bratcher, 62.
 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, internet.
 James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.
 Jon W. Quinn, “The King of Kings: 1 Timothy 6:15-16,” from Expository Files 21., at: https://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-1-timothy-6-15-16.htm. (Dated May 2014; accessed April 2020.)
 Daniel Whedon, Commentary, internet.
 Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges, internet.
 Peter Pett, Commentary on 1 Timothy. At: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-timothy-6.html. (Dated 2013; accessed April 2020.)
 Claire S. Smith, Pauline Communities, n. 203, page 298.
 Ibid., 298.
 James B. Coffman, 1 Timothy, internet.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 63.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 310.
 Stanley Derickson, 1 Timothy, internet.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 63.
 AdamClarke, Commentary, internet.
 Arichea and Hatton, 161.
 Referring to “ready to give” in particular, Ricky Kurth, “Charge the Rich! 1 Timothy 6:17-21,” at: https://www.bereanbiblesociety.org/charge-the-rich/. (Accessed April 2020.)
 William Barclay, 1 Timothy, internet.
 Ronald Charles, Paul and Diaspora Politics (Doctoral
 Ben Witherington Letters and Homilies, 298.
 Andy de Ganahl, “How Can A Ministry Stay Faithful? 1 Timothy 6:20-21,” at: https://www.thepastorsbrief.com/post/how-can-a-ministry-remain-faithful-1-timothy-6-20-21. (Accessed April 2020.)
 Ben Witherington III, 299.
 Andy de Ganahl, “How Can A Ministry Stay Faithful?,” internet.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 64.
 Reese as quoted by Mark Dunagan, Commentary, internet.
 Philip W. Comfort, Text, 668.