Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
All reproduction of text in paper, electronic, or computer
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credit is given and the text is not altered.
(1 Timothy 1:9-20)
Those Who Insist on Living a Sin Obsessed
and Indulging Life
Do So in A Variety of Ways
Context: “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.” In this verse we deal first with a broad verbal picture of who the Divine law is created for and then we begin a detailed description of specific sins--which is continued in the following verse.
“Knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person.” A majority of our alternative translations prefer language other than some form of the word “know.” One subset invokes the idea of “realizing that” (NET) or “realizing the fact’ (NASB). Another subset goes with “understanding this” (ESV) or “if he understands this” (ISV).
Standing alone are GW’s “a person
must realize that” and
In other words, Paul is not providing new information at all. Rather he is repeating what they already know and (theoretically at least) claim to accept. Therefore they should have no problem with endorsing the list of sins he invokes. They already agree with the initial premise that anything different from what is “righteous” is completely out of line for Christians. The condemnation of these evils inevitably follows from that premise.
“Knowing this: that
the law is not made for a righteous person.” If everyone were perfect
there would be no need for law in the first place. The law is not made for such a man or woman. The description traditionally used is “righteous”
(Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB,
outside our basic comparative texts, here are some other translations that
suggest different substitutions for “righteous:”
· “people who please God” (Contemporary English Version)
· “is not really meant for the good man” (Phillips)
· “not intended for people who do what is right” (New Living Translation)
· “the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly” (Message)
· “the law was not made for the man who lives right” (Voice)
The idea of “righteous” might also be conveyed by such terms as “the moral.” Since the passage works on the assumption that such a person will have both an outstanding moral character and do so because of faithfully following God, a longer insertion might be appropriate, such as “the morally upstanding believer.” Of course the dilemma is striking the proper balance between conciseness and conveying the underlying subtext that only the well read Bible student is certain to already know.
Divine law doesn’t make us abstain from sin simply because it prohibits certain things from being done. There has to be an inward willingness to submit as well. In the best of situations, the positive things we do, we would do regardless of whether there was Divine law available to us on the subject. In the ideal situation, the behavior we avoid would also. If we lack knowledge of God’s will, our instinctive “dos” and “don’ts” will be a major factor in the ultimate Divine judgement made on us:
12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2)
But if we yield to our worst instincts our nature becomes self-corrupted. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:3, “ among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”
But our nature is changeable. We were self-centered and then we became Christians, but spiritually callousness can result in our changing yet again into self-centered Christians, with a (thin?) veil of “faithfulness” and “morality” hiding what we truly are. So Paul takes the opportunity to stress that whatever our excuses may be, that doesn’t transform our sin into anything acceptable to God.
Is there a direct correlation between those with a bent doctrine (verses 3-7) and the moral excesses he now condemns (verses 8-10)? One can easily imagine there being such through the manufacture of excuses rationalizing sin due to their new “insights.” Alternatively as the result of becoming so obsessed with their “new theological viewpoint” that the “old” truths about moral restraint have become humdrum, mundane, and of little interest compared to these new and “exciting” ideas they are propounding.
Yet Paul does not make any linkage
specific. The failures he bemoans would
be just as much moral lapses whether due to these specific theological
malcontents or whether spurned by the independent moral lapses of the others in
the congregation. Sin remains sin
regardless of the “who” and the “why.”
(1) “Lawless” (1:9). This is the person who doesn’t care what Divine law has to say. Its inhibitions and prohibitions are nothing more than pious recommendations--if he is willing to concede it that much. They can be prudently and rightfully overlooked and ignored as occasion may seem to demand. The result of this mind frame is the translation selected by a minority of versions--“lawbreakers” (GW, ISV, NIV). After all, if Divine law is not recognized as law, how in the world could one be expected to avoid violating any of its precepts that one regards as inconvenient or unnecessary?
At the extreme both the “lawless” and the “insubordinate”--which follows next in the list--would include “rebels” and “revolutionaries” violently opposed to the established order and, perhaps, any order except that which they themselves either control or dominate. For a much broader segment of any society, “law” represents only a theoretical construct that can be freely ignored so long as one can safely go unnoticed or unpunished for violating it. For them, “law” (on any subject) is a theoretical construct with no authoritative force abiding in itself—if it were different, they would feel the obligation to obey it whether punitive consequences are likely to occur.
and other unbelievers treat God’s laws in such a manner as well. Because He does not scream from heaven
“sinner!” and strike them dead, Divine law is viewed as recommendations at the
best. (Hence the old joke about us
having “The Ten Suggestions” rather than “The Ten Commandments.”) Because ultimate answerability does not come
until after we die, we can cherish the delusion that there is no
answerability. Unfortunately the Lord
has the last say in the matter: It’s
called the “Judgment Day.”
(2) “Insubordinate” (1:9). The literal meaning of the underlying Greek word is “not subject to rule;” “not in submission/not in order” and in a clearly negative context such as this, “undisciplined/rebellious.” They have chosen a path different from and even directly contradictory to the Divinely revealed rules and they are the ones to make the decision in moral matters, aren’t they?
Although “insubordinate” certainly describes such people and is an accurate rendering, it is a word seldom used nowadays outside of a military context or bureaucratic one. “Disobedient” (ESV) surely expresses the concept better in early 21st century American culture since alternatives such as “rebels” (GW, ISV, NIV) or “rebellious” (Holman, NASB, NET, Weymouth)—though accurate—do tend to be used far more in terms of “civil war” of some types. (Of course if these type of individuals merge into a clear-cut intra-church faction, then things can easily degenerate to the point where such language fits all too well!)
Some translations not on our standard list speak of them as “criminals” (Contemporary English Version, Good News Translation, Voice). These renderings also easily transform such a person into violators of earthly, temporal law rather than the Divine one that is in Paul’s mind.
What all of these renderings share is the idea of being out of line. Out of place. In blatant defiance of one’s duties and obligations.
(3) “Ungodly” (1:9). The Bible speaks of imitating God’s example and how it is to be reflected in our lifestyle. Ephesians 4:32-5:1 really need to be linked together because the latter verse draws a conclusion from what has just been said: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.”
The person who refuses to embrace the positive attitudes of God’s nature is, in a most fundamental sense, “ungodly.” It is a practical rather than a theoretical atheism: Is there a God? Of course—I’d be rather silly to deny it. But to yield to an external criteria of good and evil rather than allowing my inner nature to develop its own independent standards would surely be crippling to my full self-development, would it not?”
Believe in God . . . so long as He doesn’t get in the way. We usually apply this reasoning to not honoring the “major negatives” God has provided as authoritative rules: Adultery, violence, etc. But the mind frame also provides rationalization for giving in to our worst instincts in regard to how we treat others when they have merely annoyed us . . . allowing us to forget things like kindness and forgiveness when they’ve admitted they screwed things up.
When we reject God’s rules we are simultaneously rejecting Him as well. We are acting without the respect and honor due Him. We are “spitting in His face” on a psychological and practical level: we know His rules and we willingly refuse to try to observe them. God may, indeed, have a certain sympathy and understanding for those who have tried and failed, but what can He possibly have but disdain toward those who never think it important to even try in the first place?
(4) “Sinners” (1:9) carries the connotation that it is Divine
law that is being violated. The
violation of human law produces “criminals” while violating God’s law produces
“sinners.” The substitution of “sinful”
The preceding mention of “ungodly” indicates we have no real room for God in our lives to shape it, mold it, or change it. “Sinners” refers to the logical result of this omission—the outright violation of the Divine law.
(5) “Unholy” (1:9). These are “those who think nothing is holy” (GW). This approach is not without Old Testament precedent. In Ezekiel is the rebuke, “Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.” The faithful priest was to do the exact opposite, “And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23)
At first glance this Old Testament approach may not seem to fit the current text so well. It seems to shift the subject of verses 9-10 from what these people are (lawless, insubordinate, ungodly, sinner, unholy, profane) and how they act (murders of fathers, mothers, manslayers) to how they think: “think nothing is holy.” On the other hand at least in the more extreme cases an interlocking of these is quite natural. Laying aside all the rules we disdain, does not one create the kind of mind frame that none of this is important? Is there not a circular process here? Those who “think nothing is holy” are going to act in any way they please. Those who “act as if nothing is holy” are going to remove the label of sin from anything they do. There is a circular cause-effect relationship.
“Unholy” is certainly a concise description of what some of them either have become or will become if they persist in the course of evil: Through a lifestyle of chronic self-pleasing and ignoring of the Divine rules, the restraints of decency and moral excellence deteriorate. They risk becoming the embodiment of that which is impure and evil. The only difference between such individuals being their degree of excess and their respective “tastes” in specific evils. (Not to mention their degree of wealth to engage in them!)
(6) “Profane” (1:9). Various translations think this describes being “irreligious” (NIV), “irreverent” (Holman, ISV), “those who think nothing is . . . sacred” (GW). “Unholy” and “profane” go together. Both indicate excluding and rejecting what is acceptable to God. Both are produced by adopting a lifestyle of ongoing moral rebellion. That actually adds to the true horror of the situation: S/he is “unholy” and “profane” not because they are such genetically or by inherited sin, but because they live in such a manner as to make themselves unworthy of acceptance. It represents a failure not on God’s part but on man’s.
argues that this is the person devoid of a religious sensitivity. That individual “ha[s] no sense of the
sacred—a common sin of secular society.” It is alien to his world view. He may in some sense vaguely understand it
the way one “understands” a deeply foreign culture or society. But he is incapable of accepting it as
something of deep personal concern. “An
academic curiosity,” perhaps; but little more.
Being “unholy” (# 5 above) is the result of a rejection of Divinely demanded restrictions. “Profane” indicates, it has been argued, not only, a rejection of such but also an expressed condescension and derision as well. These are individuals, Arichea and Hatton argue, who look upon religion not only “as irrelevant but who also treat it with contempt and ridicule.”
This contempt for true spirituality bears bitter fruit. The same Greek term is used in 1 Timothy 4:7 of how one should not waste time by embracing “profane and old wives’ fables” but should strictly “reject” them instead. These substitutes for a soundly grounded faith are the proverbial rocks than could shipwreck one’s own faith as well.
Some could become so totally wrapped up in such warped thinking that they could become spiritually destructive even to the well grounded. Hence it was urgent that Timothy “guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith” (6:20-21). If you treat basic truths as nothing more than traditional prejudices and silliness like these were doing—in whatever particular verbal formulation they chose to mask the essence of what was really going on--could any other result possibly occur than a warped faith?
Eight Specific Sins
(1 & 2) Murderers of Parents: “murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers” (1:9). The change to “those who kill their fathers or/and mothers” (Holman, NASB, NET, NIV) faithfully produces the same impact and point. The rendering “those who strike their fathers and mothers” (ESV) would broaden it to include assault short of such a result. Although such would be both disrespectful and deserving of punishment, the specification of “murder” puts front and forward an extreme so drastic that only the most callous would hesitate to label it evil. In virtually any culture, to murder is considered “bad;” to murder one’s parents a vastly worse act.
The inclusion of these two extremes may easily strike one as a bit odd: there’s no evidence that there was any particular problem about this in the first century. But in any age it’s hard to imagine an evil that fewer folk would dismiss as an irrelevancy. It’s as close to universally condemned as you will find for any imaginable act.
I would suggest that in this reality lies both the reason for their inclusion and the placing of them as the first two items on Paul’s list of specific excesses: If you can “write your own moral code” then you can remove these two just as easily as any other prohibition. Not that you are likely to—but you could. And if your ignoring of the violation of other Divine norms can safely be dismissed as moral irrelevancies, why not this one as well?
(3) Murderers of anyone else: “Manslayers” (1:9) rightly conveys the point, but “murderers” (ESV, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV) is even more emphatic. You have no legal or moral right to do what you’ve done—you’ve stepped beyond the law’s boundaries and destroyed another person’s life. Every society has in its ranks those who are kept from doing such things only by fear of being punished. Likewise it has many unsettled souls who are only a “temper tantrum” away from flying out of control and doing whatever violence would drain away their rage.
The ancient spoiler of Israel Antiochus was viewed with a certain pleasure for he reaped in the agonies of death the agonies he had inflicted upon his victims: “So the murderer [the same Greek word as here] and blasphemer, having endured the most intense suffering, such as he had inflicted on others, came to the end of his life by a most pitiable fate, among the mountains in a strange land” (2 Maccabees 9:28, RSVCE). Even in our age with its strange revulsion against punishing others with a rather quick death--profoundly unlike the slow and merciless one they may have inflicted on their victims--there is still the dominant sentiment that they fully deserve rotting away in jail for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately there are irreligious who now think even life imprisonment is “cruel and unnatural punishment.” In vivid contrast, God has made known that His post-death punishment will be forceful, unpleasant, and extended. So much so that earth side “life imprisonment” is, comparatively, a mere weekend at a pleasant beach.
(4) “Fornicators” (). As recently as the 1960s and 1970s this word would have been understood immediately by virtually any adult or teenager. Nowadays, not so much. “Sexually immoral” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NIV), “sexual immorality” (ISV), or “sexual sins” (GW) says it more understandably now.
Or if you aren’t one of those feminists who has a hizzy fit at traditional “male” language doing double duty--according to context and intent, either male specific or any human--“immoral men” (NASB) also provides us the meaning. . . at least with the implicit addition of “sexually immoral men.” Somehow I expect the majority of the same group would have no greater enthusiasm for the gender neutralizing rendering “immoral men or women.” Those who are the loudest in that cause generally are the same who would be indignant that one could impose any blanket rule of sexual behavior on women at all. (Males they might concede the need for.) So their problem is, far too often, not that there is “gender language,” but that there are prohibitions they themselves may desire to engage in.
The expression is broad enough to cover any and all sexual relationships that are sinful in God’s sight: pre-marital, marital, heterosexual, homosexual. If it is a sexual relationship scripture condemns, the broadness of the term covers it.
An interesting case is made by some that the “fornicators” are actually male prostitutes. In that case the “sodomites” who are mentioned next would be those who are using the “services” of the first. Both sides of the relationship would be, perhaps, even more emphatically condemned than if the second term is intended to cover both. (But that would raise the major perplexing problem of why blatant heterosexual sinners are totally omitted. Is it likely that Paul would make this kind of broad list without including them as well?)
The only modern translation I have seen that appears favorably inclined toward such an approach is not in the list of our standard comparative texts. The Contemporary English Version describes the two sins as “people who are sexual perverts or who live as homosexuals.” In contrast, the Complete Jewish Bible has a fascinating reading that joins both sins together in the traditional fashion by referring to: “the sexually immoral--both heterosexual and homosexual.”
(5) “Sodomites” (). Again a term people as late as the 1960s or even 70s would have understood quite well. A more linguistic update would change it to something like “those practicing/practice homosexuality” (ESV, NIV) or “practicing homosexuals” (NET). The rendering “homosexuals” (GW, Holman, ISV, NASB) is open to the potential objection that just as a person may be a heterosexual without automatically being guilty of the “fornication” Paul lists, likewise a person can have a homosexual preference without automatically engaging in a sexual act that would make him a sinner.
Inserting “practicing” into the translations emphasizes that whether there is a genuine homosexual orientation or not—whether it is self-imposed and group-encouraged delusion, whether it is “changeable,” and varied other arguments one can get into—the Biblically vital fact is that it unquestionably becomes a sin when it results in a sexual act with someone of the same gender. What the “orientation” is, is a secondary question at best.
This is asking nothing more of the homosexual than it does of the heterosexual. In heterosexuals, no matter how passionate his or her human sexuality may be—no matter how intense the “drive,” “need,” or “compulsion” may be—it translates and transforms into sin when one uses someone of the opposite gender to gain relief, pleasure, and enjoyment outside of the relationship of marriage. Why should it be considered any different for the homosexual? Unfortunately for the homosexual, the option of marriage is not scripturally available to make the relationship valid.
Matthew 19:4-5 is the key passage from the mouth of Jesus:
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
When dealing with this text people easily get swept into various byways. For example, “Jesus is only discussing the way his society perceived it to be; not the way it had to be.” Oddly enough, Jesus left people ignorant of these other options. He repeatedly riled His contemporaries by taking stances contrary to their preferences. In light of that, how can we possibly believe that Jesus would not have left who could marry each other vague rather than specifying what the gender was to be? Even if discretion required He be discrete, He could surely have been expected to do at least that much—if the concept of same-sex marriage approval had ever entered His head!
Then there are those who take great satisfaction in pointing out that the Old Testament endorsed polygamy and that Jesus did not rule that out by specifically rejecting it. One could point out that in Matthew 19:4-5 that Jesus speaks in terms of a man and a woman. Hence, to the extent that He authorized marriage at all, it was between one man and one woman at a time. In other words, He limited both gender and number. Whatever earlier society may have chosen to permit—whatever even Divine law had once tolerated—Jesus views the fundamental intent from creation to be inter-gender and monogamous.
(One will find the same male-female inter-gender basis for marriage clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 7 by the apostle Paul: note the “he” and “she” in that text.)
Efforts to remove homosexual practice from the list of New Testament sins has sometimes allowed passion for “change” to overrule common sense. For example, the effort to argue that the sin being denounced is not homosexual practice but the sin of being a male prostitute. Would not heterosexual prostitution have been a twenty, fifty, even hundred-fold more common occurrence in the first century? Why in the world would Paul possibly leave out the heterosexual prostitute and so narrowly limit himself to a far more limited problem? The condemnation makes sense in context--specifying that Divine law is both “for fornicators [and] for sodomites,” to stress that the violator of God’s sexual norms of either “orientation” is still a sinner in the need of God’s grace and personal reform.
In Romans 1:26-27 Paul stresses that the Divine anger at sexual misconduct is defined as intra-sex relations between either male or female:
26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
Although not in 1 Timothy itself, this clearly is on the same subject and—if anything—makes the prohibition even more emphatic than in our present text. John Stott provides some useful words on the subject. We include them here because they are a relatively concise refutation of how some folk in the name of “modernity” and “sexual liberty” attempt to work their way around the restrictions while providing at least verbal loyalty to the concept that God can rightly provide whatever spiritual and moral laws that He wishes:
Three arguments are advanced [against the traditional understanding of the text.] First, it is claimed that the passage is irrelevant, on the ground that its purpose is neither to teach sexual ethics, nor to expose vice, but rather to portray the outworking of God’s wrath. This is true. But if a certain sexual conduct is to be seen as a consequence of God’s wrath, it must be displeasing to him.
Secondly, “the likelihood is that Paul is thinking about pederasty” since “there was no other form of male homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world,” and that he is opposing it because of the humiliation and exploitation experienced by the youths involved. All one can say in response to this suggestion is that the text itself contains no hint of it.
Thirdly, there is the question of what Paul meant by “nature.” Some homosexual people are urging that their relationships cannot be described as “unnatural,” because they are perfectly natural to them. John Boswell has written, for example, that “the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual people.” Hence Paul’s statement that they “abandoned” natural relations and “exchanged” them for unnatural.
Richard Hays has written a thorough exegetical rebuttal of this interpretation of Romans 1, however. He provides contemporary evidence that the opposition of “natural” (kata physin) and “unatural’ (para physin) was “very frequently used . . . as a way of distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual behavior.”
Besides, differentiating between sexual orientation and sexual practice is a modern concept; “to suggest that Paul intends to condemn homosexual acts only when they are committed by persons who are constitutionally heterosexual is to introduce a distinction entirely foreign to Paul’s thought-world,” in fact a complete anachronism.
So then we have no liberty to interpret the noun “nature” as meaning “my” nature, or the adjective “natural” as meaning “what seems natural to me.” On the contrary, physis (“natural”) means God’s created order. To act “against nature” means to violate the order which God has established, whereas to act “according to nature” means to behave ‘in accordance with the intention of the Creator. Moreover the intention of the Creator means His original intent. What this was Genesis tells us and Jesus confirms [in Matthew 19:4-6] . . . .
In other words, God created humankind male and female; God instituted marriage as a heterosexual union; and what God has thus united, we have no liberty to separate. This threefold action of God established that the only context for the “one flesh” experience is heterosexual monogamy, and that a homosexual partnership (however loving and committed it may claim to be) is “against nature” and can never be regarded as a legitimate alternative to marriage.
(6) “Kidnappers” (). Several translations make this broad wording
refer to one specific type of kidnapping: “slave traders” (NIV), “slave-dealers” (
A. T. Robertson notes that the term means, “to enslave. So enslavers, whether kidnappers (men-stealers) of free men or stealers of the slaves of other men. So slave-dealers. By the use of this word Paul deals a blow at the slave-trade (cf. Philemon).” Although the New Testament does not condemn slave ownership, it is hard to see how this term can possibly do anything short of prohibiting it as a profession. And, if the business itself is verboten to Christians, how can there be any significant use of it by believers?
In a society where slavery is a massive, pre-existing condition, you are “stuck” with it. You have to live in the most ethical manner you can within that world. Just as you do today when you live in a one-party state or a dictatorship that chronically abuses much of its citizenry--or resident “foreign” populations. (How many people who “go ballistic” at the idea of “condoning” slavery, often condone such modern countries due to their ideological preferences!) But that does not mean that you have to believe and act as if this were the ideal—ancient or modern. Whether its de jure slavery or de facto slavery of the “kissing cousin” kind (think serfdom), the end result is virtually the same.
Literal kidnapping or being seized as the side effect of piracy was not unknown among the ancient Romans. If one were important enough to buy one’s freedom or had important and well-to-do kin, there was a potential way out. For example, a young Julius Caesar was captured by pirates and, after arranging for the delivery of a large ransom (he successfully urged them to more than double the amount!), he was freed. They hadn’t taken his vows of revenge as seriously as they should for he ultimately captured them and had them crucified!
Lesser known individuals captured on land or at sea might either be killed or sold. What are you going to do with them in that cash poor society except sell them into some form of slavery? (You rarely had much use for them yourself.) Roman positive action to stop such things was minimal. It appears that they had a relatively simple rule of thumb: attack any important place or person’s estates and you are doomed; attack places we have no great interest in and we will probably have no problem purchasing your “goods.” After all, their slave population needed to be maintained if not increased and few questions would normally be asked of the seller.
Assuming that the typical slave spent 20 years of his or her life as such—which some investigators have embraced as a reasonable working premise—and that the Empire had a range of 5-8 million enslaved at any one point, then the yearly addition of between 250,000-400,000 new slaves would have been required to maintain those numbers. The two easiest methods of obtaining them were from children born to those already enslaved and the enslavement of various groups whose city, region, or nation were defeated in war.
Although large scale enslavement of
captured populations are repeatedly documented, by the first century these had
become a far less reliable source.
Josephus indicates that the Great Jewish Revolt (66-73 A.D.) resulted in
97,000 slaves; that from the Second Revolt (132-135) resulted in so many that a
slave could be purchased for no more than a horse however. Going a bit later, when
Revelation 18 depicts economic
disaster for the
11 “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: 12 merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13 and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men. 14 The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all.
So we have no doubt, both historically and scripturally, that the slave marketing system--which would include all sources including kidnapping--was still popular . . . but that would still not do more than make “reasonable’ the kidnapping of others for the purpose of gaining new slaves. Of course, if it were a Roman slave you were reselling the wrath of Roman law was on your head if you were caught. Kidnapping the slaves of outsiders, however, was a different matter.
We should also add that under the Old Testament, the penalty for such kidnapping was also extremely severe:
Exodus 21:16: “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.”
24:7: “If a
man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of
Another approach to our subject is that the Greek term for “kidnappers” describes the sexual abuse of minors and the related evil of obtaining of them by whatever means available. If they were of the lower classes, one can easily imagine an “attractive” child being abducted for such immoral purposes. What recourse did the parents have when unknown individuals snatch the child and he/she disappears?
Robert G. Bratcher apparently views this as highly probable in the current passage because it immediately follows the mention of two other forms of misused sexuality, fornication and homosexuality: “The word may mean pederasts, men who had intercourse with boys. Most English translations use the word ‘kidnappers;’ but today kidnapping is done for the sake of ransom and does not fit the case described here.”
We have seen that kidnapping could occur for a number of purposes but they all involve the abuse of the most valuable of all of God’s creation—one’s fellow human being. As the Jewish philosopher Philo put it: “The kidnaper too is a kind of thief who steals the best of all the things that exist on the earth” (Spec. leg. ).
(7) “Liars” (). Lying has always been a common human failing, but in some societies it is even more pervasive than in others. As Paul wrote in Titus 1: “12 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”
Lies are not just the misleading of others; it is also acid eating out our own soul. Paul describes the results later in the current epistle: “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (4:2). Our conscience warns us when we are deviating from the truth. Do it often enough and its function as a “moral burglar alarm” is destroyed.
(8) “Perjurers” () refers to one specific type of lie, the
in-court lie: “false witnesses” (ISV,
Even in less contentious settings, the bare minimum to even hope to get justice is to have honest testimony given. Undermine this confidence and “law” becomes regarded as a tool to reward injustice rather than to promote equity and fair judgment for all who come before it.
The Old Testament warned that one was not to “deal falsely nor lie to one another.” If one invoked God’s name in the lie to testify to your non-existent honesty, then “you profane the name of your God” (Leviticus -12). So it is certainly neither odd nor unexpected that the apostle John warned that lying would exclude one from the joys of the heavenly new Jerusalem (Revelation ). If to lie is to be counted as “evil,” surely to commit perjury is at least a hundred times worse!
Anything Else That Is a Sin That Is Not Listed
Context: “. . . and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, (verse 11:) according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.”
“If there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” (). In other words he presents this as a representative list rather than as a complete one. At the end of a similar list in Galatians 5:19-21, he makes the same point by tacking on “and the like” (“and such like,” ESV). In the latter case we might realistically gloss it with the adage “if it looks like it or smells like it.” We all know what that kind of imagery means: the behavior (whatever it might be) doesn’t meet the letter of what is being condemned, but it almost has to meet the intent. The same point is being made here in 1 Timothy.
Knowing what is sin through the revelation of the gospel, God expects us to apply these as illustrations of the kind of things God is opposed to. As customs and circumstances may change, the veneer of sin may alter but the substance of the behavior remains the same. He expects us to be honest enough to recognize when this occurs and to shun this kind of conduct as well.
as sin what Paul labels such is to embrace “sound
doctrine” or “sound teaching” (Holman, NASB, NET), “wholesome
It will still be “doctrine” of course, but it won’t be “sound” doctrine. J. H. Bernard notes that the contrast is clearly with “unsound” doctrine and that “sound” invokes a Greek word often used medically:
metaphor, according to which the true doctrine is wholesome, and the
false, diseased, is repeated again and again in the Pastoral Epistles. .
. It has been suggested that this
medical phraseology may be due to the influence of St. Luke the physician. Again, it might be urged that such language
only continues the metaphor by which in earlier letters of
The fact that Paul lumps such moral matters as part of “the glorious gospel” shows the folly of separating New Testament doctrine from morality. They are both part of the same gospel and if one spurns part, one has proven that one is quite willing to dispense with other parts according to what our personal interests and preferences happen to be. Instead of it being “the glorious gospel” of God and of Christ, we effectively rewrite the contents into our own gospel. Part of the life-cord that binds us with Them has been removed. A form of religion we may well continue—mankind is inherently religious—but it will no longer be one defined by accepting the Divine revelation.
The gospel is “glorious” because He who gave it is glorious. It is glorious because it reveals the Divine will rather than relying on mortal guess work. The fact that it is glorious requires that no Christian demean it by acting as if their speculations--such as the “fables and endless genealogies” of verse 4--are worth anything of great value when contrasted with it. It means that the moral teaching of the gospel is so qualitatively superior to anything of human invention that, literally, nothing is comparable.
“gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” We normally link the two words “gospel” and “Christ,” as in Romans 1:16; Romans 15:29; 1 Corinthians 9:12, 18; 2 Corinthians , ; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:2. 2 Corinthians 4:4 expands the description to “the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
Alternatively we link “gospel” with the words “Jesus Christ,” thereby providing His personal name as well as his title or status, as in Mark 1:1. This is expanded in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 to “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ .” Romans 1:9 fits best here though the wording is a tad different: the “gospel of His Son”--who, of course, is Jesus Christ.
Although it is quite common, you may well be like me and not really pay much attention to how often the good news of redemption is called “the gospel of God:” Romans 1:1, 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 8; 1 Peter 4:17. This is expanded in Acts 20:24 to “the gospel of the grace of God.”
There is an obvious linkage between the two descriptions. Jesus is Deity in human form (John 1:1). Or as Paul himself links the two concepts in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Because of this close linkage of the two, it is quite natural that the apostle feels free to link the “gospel” to either the Father or the Son. It is the gospel of both of them. It was revealed through both of them (John -15). It presents the teaching both of them fully back and endorse—and demand obedience to. In other words, if you wish to please them, then conform yourself to what they have said.
The very fact that it is called “gospel” deserves mention as well. The term literally means good news and is good news in two different but overlapping ways: “It is at once good news from God and good news about or concerning God that Paul announces.”
In the immediate context, it is the
good news that God is willing to reveal what is sin. We don’t have to guess and use faltering
human judgment. But that is
simultaneously good news about God as well: He is not, like the Deists believed, Someone
who created the world and left it to make its own way. He is so concerned about it, that He wants to
be sure that we have the moral standards we require to be acceptable to
Him. That implies intense love and
concern for His human creation.
That, in turn, led to the redemptive death of Christ on
This gospel was one that Paul had a special responsibility concerning; it was the “gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” Although Paul is certainly not feeling guilty about what he has—or will—say in the epistle, in a certain sense he is disavowing personal responsibility: “If you don’t like what I say don’t blame me. It’s the responsibility God has put on me. This system of teaching that I convey to you reflects the Divine priorities, not my own personal preferences. It’s nothing personal. It’s a matter of wise and unwise, good and bad, right and wrong.”
Prior Lifestyle Does Not Rule Out Serving God
If One Has Reformed
TCNT: 12 I am thankful to Christ Jesus, our Lord, who has been my strength, for showing that he thought me worthy of trust by appointing me to his ministry, 13 though I once used to blaspheme, and to persecute, and to insult. Yet mercy was shown me, because I acted in ignorance, while still an unbeliever; 14 and the loving-kindness of our Lord was boundless, and filled me with that faith and love which come from union with Christ Jesus.
15 How true the saying is, and worthy of the fullest acceptance, that 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners'! And there is no greater sinner than I! 16 Yet mercy was shown me for the express purpose that Christ Jesus might exhibit in my case, beyond all others, his exhaustless patience, as an example for those who were afterwards to believe on him and attain Immortal Life. 17 To the Immortal King, everliving, invisible, the one God, be ascribed honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Overview: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (). Is a life of sin inevitable? Having done wrong, must one continue doing so? Is the prologue the inevitable future as well? Paul argues that it doesn’t have to be and gives himself as an example of someone who now had a life acceptable to Christ (verse 12) but who in the past had been His sworn enemy (verse 13). Yet God had shown mercy on him and that carries the implicit “freight” that He is quite willing to show mercy on others as well if they, too, are willing to set their lives right, in whatever ways it may need to be done.
thank Christ Jesus our Lord” because He was the one who made the
transition possible by appearing to him on the road to
“Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me.” This new (apostolic) assignment was going to be a dangerous one for Paul; he was reversing course 180 degrees. To even consider it took courage. Facing the variety of foes and circumstances that he would face required more than the resources he, alone, could muster. Hence this verse speaks of his gratitude that Christ the Lord “has enabled me” to have the inner resources to take up the severe challenge.
Almost no one stays with “enabled”
any longer, however (the exception being WEB).
The overwhelming substitution is “gives/has given me strength” (ESV,
ISV, NIV) or its synonymous “has strengthened me” (Holman, NASB, NET) and “who
made me strong’ (
Although the Lord’s actions certainly carried with it the inevitable implication of trust, that doesn’t change the fact that the apostle needed ongoing strength to deal with what he was going to go through as well. Luke T. Johnson points out that the bulk of Greek manuscripts has “strength” in the aorist tense: “The difference would be to put an emphasis on the resurrected Christ’s continuing empowerment of Paul rather than a past strengthening.” What Christ had begun to do, he continued to do throughout the ministry.
What does “strength” envolve though? Robert G. Bratcher seems clearly right when he argues that here “strength has to do with moral and spiritual resources, capacity, determination, persistence.” He would never have to stand alone without God and Christ at his side. True he still had his burdens to bear, but he would always be aided in doing it.
“He counted me faithful.” In spite of his grievous errors, Jesus had counted Paul’s underlying intention of being “faithful” to God as sufficient evidence to give him new opportunities through “the ministry” (1:12). Both those quoted terms are of interest.
is occasionally replaced with “trustworthy” (NIV) or “trusted me” (GW). In normal English usage “faithful” or “trustworthy”
would carry with it the connotation that he was faithfully carrying out
the Divine will—which obviously was not the case or the road to
Lord knew that Saul/Paul wanted to be faithful and, paradoxically, even
his persecution was carried out in an effort to be faithful to God and crush
out this twisted distortion of faith that he regarded Christianity to be. God saw that beneath that shell of a
persecutor was a man who genuinely desired to do the right thing. And on the road to
As the result of this evaluation, Christ had “put me into the ministry.” He conspicuously does not say “apostleship” In this context he is not interested in vindicating the legitimacy of functioning in that role, but his right to serve God in any capacity.
“ministry” carries the freight of church office, in particular preaching. Perhaps it is the desire to avoid such a
limitation of the meaning that some versions prefer to speak of how Christ
appointed him “to his service” (ESV, ISV, NIV,
Paul’s Pre-Conversion Behavior
“Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” The apostle readily concedes that three derogatory terms quite accurately describe his behavior during the time he persecuted Christianity. First. . . .
“Blasphemer.” He spoke harsh ill of Jesus. The GW’s interpretive gloss of “cursed him” was surely included in this, but his language was hardly likely to be so narrowly limited! Paul’s hostility was so intense that if he found other ways to insult the cause of Jesus and His disciples, he surely did so. It would have been instinctive: The Jesus movement was inherently so vile it had to be stomped out. No rudeness, slur, or insult was “unjustified” in such a context. Whether aimed at Jesus or at His followers.
“Blaspheming” is normally used of insulting God, but the word is broad enough to include speaking severe abuse of human foes as well. Indeed, since the Christians were being attacked because of their unrecognized loyalty to the Father and the Son, any human style reviling was simultaneously and automatically blasphemy in the strict religious sense as well. For they were the true God’s people and God’s servants.
This Greek term is applied in the apocrypha to Antiochus IV because of his extreme mistreatment of God’s people: “So the murderer and blasphemer, having endured the most intense suffering, such as he had inflicted on others, came to the end of his life by a most pitiable fate, among the mountains in a strange land” (2 Maccabees 9:28).
“Persecutor.” He singled the disciples out for ill-treatment because of their religious beliefs. He viewed them as so far beyond the pale that they deserved not so much refutation as suppression. Indeed, we never have a hint that I can think of that he ever attempted to refute their convictions in personal argument. But whatever else would accomplish the goal of destruction of their movement was inherently acceptable in his mind.
became a Christian, he became horrified at his previous blindness and awed at
how generous Jesus Christ had been to make him an apostle: “For I am the
least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I
“Insolent.” Some versions add descriptive language—Paul
becomes an “insolent opponent” (ESV) or “insolent in outrage” (
Others prefer to substitute language that describes not his mind frame—“insolent” or “arrogant”—but his well documented behavioral excess in acting against the Christians: Paul was “violent” (NIV), a “violent man” (ISV), a “violent aggressor” (NASB). In defense of this, it should be noted that the Greek term includes physical assaults of any and all kinds. Nothing was inherently ruled out, so long as it was practical.
Although NET prefers “arrogant,” its accompanying translation notes observe that it could also be translated as either “violent” or “cruel.” In other words to the extent that there is insolence or arrogance in such cases, it is also insolence and arrogance expressed in physical attack--it is the way the arrogance is manifested.
Mark M. Yarbrough argues that each of the three self-descriptions are “progressively more severe.” First blaspheming, then persecuting, and then the current term, which he translates as “violent aggressor.”
Why God Was Willing to Forgive These Excesses
“Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”
In spite of his extreme behavior, God was still willing to grant “mercy.” There is a deep paradox here: What did Paul actually deserve due to the extremes of his behavior? Divine wrath for the flip side of Divine mercy is Divine punishment: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John ). In spite of Saul’s well-established track record of anti-Christian suppression, God still gave him the opportunity to set his life and religious convictions right. Hence we have the precedent that it is not what one has done, but what one is willing to do in the future that determines God’s willingness to embrace you.
But. But—isn’t there always one? “I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1:13b). There is a profound difference between doing wrong because one doesn’t know better and doing wrong in spite of knowing better. As the writer of Hebrews warned Christians, if the Old Testament provided for a physical death penalty upon the testimony of a few witnesses (10:28), “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (). Such people will learn the full meaning of the ancient threats of Divine vengeance and how God comes in judgment even upon His own people (verse 30).
The Hebrews writer doesn’t bother to spell out the details but leaves it ominously vague, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (). He leaves it to their imagination, but surely there is an implied caution that goes with that warning: “assume the worst you can imagine.” Not that it necessarily will fit what you fear, but that the impact will be at least that dreadful.
At this point we encounter a seeming problem within the text for we find that the mercy was given “because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” The problem is that Paul was not what anyone could call a religiously ignorant man.
Gamaliel was among the most prestigious and well regarded
rabbis and religious educators of the day, a Pharisee and “a teacher of the law
held in respect by all the people” (Acts ). And it was at his hands that he received his
religious education, “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia,
but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel,
taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward
God as you all are today” (Acts 22:3).
“Brought up” would seem to imply an extended period of
instruction from Gamaliel lasting a number of years. Two alternate translations that bring out
that point are “thoroughly trained” (NIV) and “carefully trained” (
Furthermore his theology was “according to the strictness of our fathers’ law.” He accepted the existing scriptures as authoritative and obligatory and their requirements to be carefully observed.
But somewhere in this education he started imbibing large amounts of non-Biblical traditions as well, “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians ) . . . “ancestral traditions” (NASB) . . . “traditions of my ancestors” (GW, Holman, ISV, NET). Divine law was still pivotal, but it was Divine law as filtered through the medium of past rabbis and contemporaries such as Gamaliel.
And when it came to matters of the Messiah, this became critically important: Jesus simply was not the kind of Redeemer the rabbis expected and if that were not enough there was the matter of His teaching. Much of their teaching was absolutely right, as Jesus Himself readily conceded (Matthew 23:2). But He made no secret of His vigorous repudiation of the common interpretive glosses they had placed on the scriptural text—see Matthew 23 for examples. Nor did He hide his annoyance at the hypocrisy of many in binding their interpretation on others while finding excuses to avoid requiring the same standards of themselves (verse 4).
So we have the paradox of Paul: He heartily embraced the authority of the Torah for that was the Divine law at the time and he was well versed in it. He was far from “ignorant!” But allowing rabbinical assumptions and interpretations to control his thinking, he made himself voluntarily “ignorant” of what the Law really meant and intended. When that happened “unbelief” in Christ was the inevitable result. From faulty premises faulty results were inevitable.
There is an ominous warning in Paul’s example for today: Quite a few people have either a passing or even detailed understanding of what the scriptures teach but have let their “denominational traditions” bend the text just like Paul did. Hence they have a form of “faith” that is little different from the “unbelief” that was the result in Paul’s day. God was willing to see in Paul someone who could be saved from their erroneous mind frame of disbelief. The same remains true today as well.
The Scope of God’s Blessing
“And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” In light of how radically dangerous Paul’s opposition to Christianity had been, for “grace” (Divine favor) to have been extended to Paul at all required that it be “exceedingly abundant.” For his actions had been so viciously hostile, any intervention in his behalf could only be “going the extra mile”—to use our modern idiom.
reading has been modified to “abounded exceedingly” (in WEB) and “more than
abundant” (NASB). A different image to
invoke an impressive amount is found in the substitution of “overflowed” (ESV,
Holman, ISV) and “overflowing fullness” (
Leon Morris notes that the “exceedingly abundant”—“overflowed” in his version—“translates a strong term giving the thought of lavish and abundant supply.”
Not a little but a flood, so to speak, of grace. Nothing else could cover the amount of sin he was responsible for. The amount was so massive “exceedingly abundant” might even be described / translated as “extravagant.” Likewise the amount of “love” Christ provided had to be described in similarly broad and intense terms.
But note that Paul refers not just to “love” being extended towards him in addition to grace, but also “faith and love.” That “grace” must originate in God and Christ makes inherent sense. Where else could it come from if we are to have it at all? It is not something we can give ourselves; it is something that must come from an external source. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
Likewise that “love” would be expressed toward us by Deity: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John ). And if the Son did not similarly love the world as the Father, why would He have agreed to come?
But our text speaks in terms of “faith and love” coming from God. This startles us because we think in terms—properly so—of faith as coming from within ourselves. In this verse it seems to be clearly pictured as coming from the Lord Jesus as well. Hence both the Father and Jesus gave Paul abundant faith?
In the normal usage of language that seems impossible unless one views Paul as little more than a “sock puppet” into which faith has to be crammed to make it fully functional. (Of course Calvinism falls little short of this attitude in its conviction that our salvation is fully dependent upon what God does to us rather than upon our response to God’s invitation resulting in God’s intervention.)
is a responsible sense in which Christ did express great “faith”
in Paul--in his potential. And
“love” in his potential for good as well since Paul’s behavior had so
far earned him only the right to the title of “hostile enemy.” But love was manifested, again, because of
the abundant potential for good that still lay within the man. Surely the dramatic means chosen to produce
his conversion on the road to
The normal interpretation of our text is quite different from what I have just outlined: Though Paul was blessed with great “grace” the “faith and love” refer to Paul’s response to that blessing of Divine favor. One can certainly get there if one assumes there is an unwritten gloss intended for our text, perhaps along this line: “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with my faith and love which are in Christ Jesus which resulted from that grace.” This certainly avoids the potential problem we discussed, but is this really the way Paul’s words were intended to be read?
To the extent that there are significant alterations in the rendition into English the alternative versions could be cited on both sides. Leaning to our approach, “And the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (Holman; the NIV also speaks of “along with”). “And the grace of our Lord came to me in overflowing fullness, conferring faith on me and the love which is in Christ Jesus” (Weymouth).
Leaning toward the alternative is, possibly, “And our Lord's grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus” (NET). “Bringing” could convey either “faith and love” were brought along with--in addition to--grace or it could mean that grace produced “faith and love” within.
Paul As an Example That Anyone Can Be Saved
“This is a
faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (). “Faithful”
is retained by some (WEB,
What all these convey is that what Paul is presenting is an absolutely dependable claim. A trustworthy axiom; an unchallengeable assertion.
With this fact goes the obvious corollary that it was “worthy of all acceptance”-- Which is exactly what we would expect with something so far beyond legitimate challenge.
translation sticks with that wording (WEB) while others make it even more
emphatic: “full acceptance” (ESV,
Holman, NASB, NET, NIV), “deserves complete acceptance” (GW, ISV), or
“deserving of universal acceptance” (
In light of its complete reliability, they should be willing to accept the fact under consideration. . . .
And that fact is “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (). In one form or another this teaching occurred on multiple occasions during Jesus’ ministry. In Mark 2:17, He described those who were trapped by sin as spiritually “sick” and immediately promised that He could provide a way out for them: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” In Luke 19:10, He stressed that it was His intention to provide the way back for those who had gone astray: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He knew full well that this would require His own death: “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). John later calls this ransom “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John ).
still Saul, he had fundamentally “misread” Jesus. He saw Him as a misleader of the people and
the endangerer of the soul of all Jews. He saw Jesus as leading them away from God
rather than accomplishing the full reconciliation that could never be obtained
by mere animal sacrifices.
This truth had a personal application, obviously: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (). Jesus is quite willing to accept sinners no matter how extreme their past misbehavior. You could hardly provide a better illustration than the generosity extended to Paul. He had been “chief” of all the church’s foes, according to this verse. He stood in line, so to speak, in front of everyone else. They think those others were bad; Paul was far worse! Hence the example of the apostle shows that salvation is available to anyone and everyone, if they but take the opportunity offered them.
The example of Paul’s own behavior—and Divine forgiveness—functions to drive home his earlier rebuke of sin in any Christian’s actions (verses 9-11). There are those who think they have lived a certain way so long that they don’t “deserve” Divine forgiveness. Or that they “can’t” change. (That attitude was around long before anyone started to claim a genetic inability!) Or they have defined what they and everyone else expected of them in terms of these misbehaviors and can’t imagine a life without them. But Paul’s reversal exhibits that extreme behavior change in a constructive direction is still quite possible.
Not necessarily easy. Not necessarily pleasant.
But if one is willing to make the change, God is willing to accept them.
Indeed, one of the reasons Jesus went so far out of the way to change Paul was for this very reason—to show that it can be done—by anyone and everyone: “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1:16). If anything the GW makes it even more emphatic, “However, I was treated with mercy so that Christ Jesus could use me, the foremost sinner, to demonstrate his patience. This patience serves as an example for those who would believe in him and live forever.”
Before the death of the Lord, Paul served as an exemplar of proper morality and loyalty to God, but he stumbled away from that precedent by rejecting the Lord’s claims. Just as Jesus had been merciful to Paul after he had drifted, He gives Christian believers the same expectation if they should drift into sinful behaviors of their own. The offer of mercy is always there, but it is always their decision whether to accept it.
(Aside: The Greek word for “first” in verse 16 is the same as in “chief” [of sinners] in verse 15. So the text could refer to the chronology of Paul’s life—through Paul’s missionary work his conversion led to theirs—or as precedent for Christ saving individuals regardless of their degree of sinfulness: look what he had done for Paul! It may well be that Paul uses the word because of this possible double significance. After all, both statements are fully true.)
The fact that God permits years and even decades for a person to set his or her life right manifests how “longsuffering” He really is. It reveals that God thinks in the long-term. In contrast, we are often ready to give up on a goal or a dream after only a few difficulties and delays. It also shows how important God views our salvation. How many things do we “let slide” because we come to the conclusion that it is more likely to be “wasted” effort rather than successful? But God, acting through His Son, sees our redemption as so important that He will never give up on it so long as earth time remains.
“All longsuffering” normally disappears from twentieth/twenty-first century translations because the expression has faded from general usage. Nowadays we speak of “patience.” GW uses it standing alone, but everyone else stresses its vastness: “all/all of His patience” (ISV, WEB), “utmost patience” (NET), “perfect patience” (ESV, NASB), “immense patience” (NIV), “extraordinary patience” (Holman).
Paul used the same Greek term translated here as “longsuffering” to describe the Divine willingness to endure human resistance in other passages as well. In Romans 2:4 we read, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” Likewise in Romans , “. . . God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.”
Christ bore patiently with Paul’s excesses—rather than striking him dead or refusing to have anything to do with him. Instead He used him “as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” Anger God repeatedly and you have no possibility for a reconciled future? In marriages it may become that way, but not in dealing with God. Through the example of Paul, Jesus demonstrated that doesn’t have to be the way things work out on a spiritual and redemptive level.
The bulk who are going to change do so at a time when their life will manifest their faith for years or decades before their death. He gives us that opportunity a multitude of times over. If it is not taken advantage of in time, the fault is solely our own. And relying on last minute “deathbed repentance” is playing the role of a fool: He who “plays games” in this manner with the Almighty will find the game “forfeited” for refusal to play by His rules. It is like a man who has known for years that he needs to lose 70 pounds but only begins his diet the day he dies.
other translations strike the word “pattern” and substitute “as an
example” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV,
Those who take the opportunity to
change for the better “are those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life”
(). The rendition nowadays is typically “eternal
life” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB).
The GW opts for “live forever” (GW) and
that there is a profound difference between “everlasting life” and “eternal
While the terms everlasting and eternal could be synonyms, the word everlasting implies a coming age in which time never ends. It is based on the Jewish eschatological hope the rabbis called “the world to come” (ha-olam ha-ba). The phrase in the New Testament often translated “eternal/everlasting life” may be better understood as “life in the age to come.”
Eternal, on the other hand, for many people implies a state of timelessness. The Jewish hope in the age to come is not a timeless existence as we see implied in the Platonic tradition but an existence in which time never ends. This is why we opted for the phrase everlasting life rather than eternal life.
If, as Capes insists, “everlasting life” only implies “life in the age to come” doesn’t that leave open the option--even the probability--that at some point after death the righteous will die, cease to exist, call it what you may? It is time that we are promised no ending to rather than our own existence!
Does “eternal life” eliminate that problem? But that, too, he defines as “existence in which time never ends.” Again that says nothing about the duration of our own existence does it? Perhaps I am missing something here and the reader will grasp some “deeper perceptivity” here that I have missed, but as I see it he has effective redefined our personal and permanent existence out of both expressions--“everlasting life” and “eternal life.” So far as I am concerned both expressions properly refer to our personal and individual lives never coming to an end.
Now to get back to , through faith we obtain “everlasting/eternal life.” “Everlasting/eternal” expresses duration: it won’t come to an end. Life on this earth is short. In the early 1940s, most folk could figure on living to the sixties or a little longer. Nowadays we take the seventies as routine and the eighties as far from uncommon. But we all still end up dead.
And most folks are still like an old car in that last decade or two—our bodies still get us where we want to go but the “parts” creak and groan and express discomforting annoyance at the effort. Although The Message Bible (1993) paraphrase really pushes the text well beyond what the text actually says, in Ecclesiastes 12:3-6 it still sums up well those common problems of ever increasing old age:
1 Honor and enjoy your Creator while you’re still young, before the years take their toll and your vigor wanes, 2 before your vision dims and the world blurs and the winter years keep you close to the fire.
3 In old age, your body no longer serves you so well. Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen. The shades are pulled down on the world. 4 You can’t come and go at will. Things grind to a halt. The hum of the household fades away. You are wakened now by bird-song. 5 Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past. Even a stroll down the road has its terrors. Your hair turns apple-blossom white, a dorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body. Yes, you’re well on your way to eternal rest, while your friends make plans for your funeral
6 Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
Ah, but in the resurrection our bodies are altered and changed from corruptible into incorruptible (1 Corinthians -53), resulting in death no more existing as a plague on our lives (verse 54). Eternal life, given to us by a gracious and loving Father who has demanded only that we respect, honor, and obey Him in the current life. And we dare begrudge Him that?
If “everlasting/eternal life” begins with an allusion to its permanence, its un-endedness, it concludes with a description of the qualitativeness of that existence--as being true “life.” After all, just because life is unending does not necessarily mean it is desirable: Remember the New Testament warnings about unending punishment? (In Matthew 25:46 the “everlasting punishment” is directly compared with the “eternal life” that the obedient receive. Both live forever, but the punished won’t want to!)
We define “life” not merely by the fact of existence but also by the quality of it. Think of expressions like, “That is the life!” Or “the good life.” If we are having a really rough time in life we may utter words along the lines of, “I’m alive but I’m not really living.”
Hence “life” as a reward carries with it the inherent connotation that it will fully meet our needs and allow us to escape the worries and anguish that periodically plague us in the flesh. When we speak of the “life” that God gives through His Son, the degree of joy that can legitimately be inferred from “eternal life” is magnified both in positiveness and intensity. The promise in Revelation 21:4-5 is:
4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful. (NKJV)
4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. 5 Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” (Holman)
In the Book of Revelation the glories of the future are pictured in language that we earthlings can comprehend. But how do you explain nuclear physics to an elementary school drop out? The background simply isn’t there. In a similar way, the smartest of us could hardly be expected to comprehend something that is physically and spiritually the equivalent distance from us. In short, what we find in Revelation is a shadow of a future even more profound and beautiful than what the words literally describe. We use the expression, “It will take your breath away.” The reality of Heaven will be like that to you and me.
God Should Be Honored for
Being So Generous in His Forgiveness
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” God is to be given praise and adoration for so generously offering the degree of mercy that is extended through His Son. After all, mankind has done nothing to earn it. The human race falls into two broad categories. The first consists of those who have virtually no sense of obligation to God in the first place. The second consists of those who recognize such but have rationalized doing far less.
Often members of both groups have not even had the desire to make a major change before encountering the gospel of Christ in its purity. But once it is encountered, one discovers a vitally important fact--that the past does not have to control the future. That there can be constructive change. The same is true of the Christian who has fallen back into a pre-Christian lifestyle. (Old habits are hard to break. Lifestyles even more so.) God leaves an open door even for them. Therefore, as Paul argues, He deserves praise for such forgiveness. In giving Him this we also need to recognize the broad contours of His true greatness in other areas as well.
(1) First of all, God is “King.” Monarch. Ruler. Jesus rules in His behalf and will ultimately return the Divine kingdom to the Father Himself (1 Corinthians 15). It is not a democracy or a republic. The citizenry don’t get to change the rules! On the other hand, there is a ruler incomparably wiser and more astute than any human ruler ever has been or ever could be.
The description of God as “King” is only found twice in the New Testament, here and in Revelation 15:3. There the Kingship is described as rooted in both Jesus’ own teaching as well as that of the Old Testament: “sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints.’ ”
The explicit language describing God as King is found repeatedly in the Old Testament though the usage in the Psalms is the place most likely to come immediately to mind (Psalms 5:2, 29:10, 95:3, 98:6; etc.). In the strict sense, God’s “kingdom” came into existence, when He created a nation by pulling the masses of Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. So there is a great appropriateness that this is the time God is first referred to as King, though even there it is the fact rather than the title that is invoked in Exodus 15:18: “The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
Paul does not call God “king” again, the description is implicit whenever he
invokes the image of “
The verse continues with four descriptions of God’s nature and then words of praise for Him. These describe Jehovah’s uniqueness that none other has, will, or can share in. Isaiah 43:10 puts the concept in these words: “You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me.”
(2) God is “Eternal.” He never comes to an end. He never ceases to be. Love Him or hate Him, He’s still going to “outlive you” and every fleshly generation to come! If that is not enough, He has always been--before humankind and even before this planet. The Psalmist combines those ideas in these words: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90:1-2).
He preceded the earth’s existence and He will be there after it has ceased to be:
24 I said, “O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days; Your years are throughout all generations. 25 Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 They will perish, but You will endure. Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. 27 But You are the same, and Your years will have no end. (Psalms 102)
The notes on NET’s translation of our current verse notes that “eternal king” or “king eternal” could “more literally” be rendered as “king of the ages.” Not just of the immediate time period but of the entire future--of all ages, past and future. (This is the most likely meaning.) However if we prefer to take “ages” only as periods that will come in the indefinite future, we don’t know how many there will be—few or many or what standard He will use to determine the passing from one to another. Whatever their number and whatever their duration, God will out last them all. And, no doubt, be smiling at the memory of how mere mortals thought that He would be the one consigned to the trash can of outdated and forgotten memories.
(3) God is “Immortal.” “Eternal” stresses what God is—there is no end to His existence; “immortal” stresses the reason for this fact: He can’t die or be made to cease to exist. In 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 are the only two other usages of the underlying Greek word, athanasia and the point made there is that immortality carries with it the impossibility of dying--the permanent triumph over the possibility of death:
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (athanasia). 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality (athanasia), then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
Hence God is absolutely “beyond the ravages of decay and death.” None of it can touch Him. Some suggest that this also “identifies God as the giver of life,” presumably since He was the one in existence before humanity was brought into existence and without whom it would never have been made possible.
(4) God is “Invisible.” A key characteristic of polytheistic gods was that you could literally see them in front of your eyes in the carved images that were before you as you worshipped. A pivotal difference in the God of Israel was that you might see His temple easily enough—it had world renown in the first-century—but no one could see the God who was worshipped there.
The times when He manifested Himself in a visible form were rare indeed and these uncommon exceptions weren’t always as “visible of His substance” as we would take the language to initially indicate.
At one point during the wilderness journeys, “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). But even here the emphasis is on revelation by speaking (“spoke to Moses”) as if both are present rather than stressing the actual visibility of his “face.” This approach is appropriate because we read later in the same chapter, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (verse 20). And what is actually seen by Moses is observed as He departed rather than as He arrived. Hence not His face: “Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen” (verse 23). The “seeing” had to be filtered, limited not because of some inhibition on God’s part, but due to the physical and mental limitations of the viewer.
In Numbers 14:14 we read, “They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people; that You, Lord, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.” In this case, this seems to be saying that he was “seen face to face” by the act of His being physically manifested through the presence of the pillar of cloud and fire.
The fact that “no man shall see Me and live” argues not so much literal invisibility as there being something so profound in His nature that the human body and mind can not survive beholding His “unveneered” appearance without sending the human body into shock and death. This nature has been described by some as His absolute embodiment of unalloyed holiness.
And the vast bulk of the time the ancient Israelites did not even have but a “pinch” of that kind of “visibility” available to them. Hence His essence was always as morally and physically “invisible” to them as that word can possibly convey.
Some use God’s invisibility as an excuse to ignore the evidence for His existence. But if He was personally visible would they repent or simply fall back on some other excuse for their obstinacy? We can find the conclusive answer when we observe how His only Son was treated when He took on a physical form: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him’ (John -11).
(5) The perceptive fullness and completeness of His wisdom: “who alone is wise.” Pagan gods—in particular their visible form of idols—definitely were not. They were quite literally “dumb idols,” as Paul said to the Corinthians--though “dumb” in that context specifically carries the meaning of “mute” or “unable to speak.” Even so there is a barely hidden dig at their limitations above and beyond this as well--they were gods that “couldn’t even speak” (GW, ISV). And if they couldn’t say anything how in the world could they provide anything of value to you? Encouragement? Insight? Anything? One gets very close to the idea of them not only being neither “wise” or “intelligent,” but of them being literally “mindless”--in contrast to Jehovah who manifests His abilities through His written revelation and His creation of the world.
Technically our remarks on “who alone is wise’ were probably not needed. Few translations include the words anymore (the NKJV and WEB being the most obvious exceptions). Relying upon “critical texts” the consensus nowadays is that the text is asserting monotheism rather than the insight and knowledge of God: “the only God” has become the established substitute (ESV, Holman, GW, ISV, NASB, NIV).
The reasoning is that:
Although it could be argued that μονῳ (“wise”) was accidentally dropped due to homoeoteleuton (both words on either side also end with omega), it is far more likely that scribes were influenced by Romans 16:27, a similar verse, and then inserted it into this verse. The three corrected manuscripts (2 D1 Hc ) bear witness to this scribal interpolation. In a context that emphasizes the gift of eternal life (), this verse eulogizes God’s eternality, incorruptibility, and uniqueness. It need not say anything about his wisdom; such words are appropriate in verses like Romans 16:27, where Paul extols God’s sagiousness in making His eternal plan.
Although the argumentation is reasonable it is far from conclusive. It begins with a reasonable explanation of why “wise” could have been accidentally dropped in copying. This is immediately followed by the citation of three manuscripts which had added it to their text. Instead of having “added” the words, the insertion could easily be taken as evidence that it was present in the other contemporary manuscripts which they had access to. In other words, that they were correcting a manuscript error rather than creating one.
The argument that a reference to God’s wisdom is unneeded may be true, but that does not make it inappropriate or improbable to add. Especially in this epistle where the author is concerned with the danger of false pseudo-knowledge plaguing the church members. In 4:7 he speaks of the need to “reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness,” indicating that strange and unreliable concepts were being floated as spiritual truths and insights to the ultimate harm of those who embraced them. In 5:4-5 we read of those “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth. . . .” Surely a reference to those thinking they had insight and knowledge others did not have and which was hostile to that revealed and taught them.
Indeed the almost closing words of the epistle is about this very danger of human wisdom being leaned on to the abandonment of the Divinely revealed wisdom, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith . . . ” (6:20-21).
In light of this underlying danger, would not the attribution of wisdom to God—who speaks through Paul—not only be appropriate, but perhaps even required? Possibly that last word takes the case a little too far. But the evidence surely argues for at least the reasonableness that Paul would stress the pervasive and total wisdom of God in an epistle such as this. Indeed, “who alone is wise” would convey the implicit warning that any teaching they came up with which was contrary to His doctrine was—by the very fact of being different—self-condemned as folly and error.
Finally are the words in of praise: “honor and glory forever and ever” are His proper due. And if the attributes attributed to Him are true . . . and if His willingness to forgive is so profound . . . how in the world could it be otherwise?
GW experiments with “worship” as a substitute for “honor” and that would certainly be an obvious form of honoring God, but it would seem that “honor” envolves a deep-seated respect that goes far beyond this one manifestation. It reveals a mind-frame that exists whether in conscious and intended worship or not--in regard to our entire attitude toward the supernatural world..
It has been wisely suggested that since “honor and glory” were regarded as the highest expression of respect for an earthly ruler, it was inevitable that the same esteem be given to the Heavenly Ruler—one who preceded their existence and who would still be in power when the contemporaries were assigned to the dump heap of forgotten history.
Timothy Shares in that Obligation
To Be Faithful
TCNT: 18 This, then, is the charge that I lay upon you, Timothy, my Child, in accordance with what was predicted of you—Fight the good fight in the spirit of those predictions, 19 with faith, and with a clear conscience; and it is because they have thrust this aside, that, as regards the Faith, some have wrecked their lives. 20 Hymenaeus and Alexander are instances—the men whom I delivered over to Satan, that they might be taught not to blaspheme.
“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you. . . .” Paul next moves to Timothy’s personal duties. What Paul has said so far are words clearly addressed to everyone where Timothy was preaching. So having heard these Pauline admonitions to respect God’s teachings in all moral spheres and to embrace His grace when we are afflicted with weakness, what was Timothy’s role in the congregation that would promote these goals? To use modern language, perhaps we would say that he is instructed to be a faithful Christian and minister, zealously advocating what the gospel teaches.
Paul calls this a “charge:” In normal English usage we come across that word most commonly in far different contexts. We “charge” on our credit card; we are “charged” by the police with speeding or some other offense (hopefully minor); we are “charged” with misbehavior by some enemy.
Of course “charge” has in mind here (from least emphatic to most): “instruction” (Holman), “order” (GW), “command” (NASB, NIV). Any of these would be far preferable for they emphatically inform Timothy that this is not a mere suggestion or an option to consider, but a course that Paul regards as absolutely essential. The apostle is not there to do it himself, so he is counting on Timothy to be an energetic proponent of unalloyed Christian faith. He is, if you will, “handing over” the immediate responsibility for the “implementation and preservation” of his teachings.
The instruction should not be that unexpected to Timothy: this instruction was “according to the prophecies previously made concerning you,” i.e., in conformity with it, in (partial) fulfillment of what had been spoken. In other words, his forthcoming role in proclaiming the gospel had been predicted. What was to be said now was to assure that Timothy did so in the manner that was most appropriate and likely to produce the sought for results.
“I commit to you.” The ball is now “in his court.” There can be no doubt of what is expected. The only thing that can vary is how he carries it out.
“son Timothy.” This wording may well be used to take some of the “edge” off of Paul’s instructions. The young man is not to regard it as some formal order from the “commanding general” he is serving under, but as an imperative plea from his nearest kin. It isn’t given to make his life harder or more complicated, but so that he will be sure to fully carry out the duties he has been assigned.
The reason Paul cites for the fully committed spiritual warfare is not “because it is what God has commanded we do” or “because it is your duty as a faithful minister.” Instead this appeal is grounded in the fact that “prophecies [were] previously made concerning you.” Supernaturally inspired predictions that he could, should, and would teach the word of God. That would be the connotation we most easily deduce from the “prophecies” reference.
On repeated occasions, we might add: note the plural “prophecies” rather than the singular “prophecy.” This could indicate that there had been multiple prophecies that he would undertake gospel labor or multiple prophecies of what gospel labor would envolve—or both. (We must always remember that in the New Testament, “prophecy” can refer to either prediction or inspired teaching— forthtelling instead of foretelling.) The description of what his duties would be would have prepared him for when he formally undertook his task of preaching alone. It encouraged him to develop those talents that were, perhaps, already latent and bring them to full fruition.
In this type of approach, the “prophecy” is not so much what Timothy would do but of what he could do. A young (and insecure?) preacher might well need the latter even more than the former. The NIV seems to have this kind of idea in mind when it renders the passage: “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well.” In other words, the “prophecies” are not taken as references to the specifics of what he should do but to provide incentive to actually do it: “I put this charge before you, Timothy my child, in keeping with the prophecies once spoken about you, in order that with such encouragement you may fight the good fight” (NET)
previously made concerning you” is glossed in even more interesting ways as
Some seem to take the “prophecies” not as being of what he should and would do, but as tools he could cite in presenting and advocating his teaching. In effect as what we today would call “proof texts.” One perhaps finds this in: “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight” (NASB). Virtually identical is the ESV, which speaks of how “by them you may wage the good warfare.”
Other renderings can edge up to the suggestion of the GW that not only could he cite prophecies that he had heard or received in the past, but that these prophecies continued to be revealed to him personally: : “Timothy, my child, I'm giving you this order about the prophecies that are still coming to you: Use these prophecies in faith and with a clear conscience to fight this noble war.”
The Moral Boundaries Within Which Timothy
Is to Wage His Spiritual Warfare
section reads “. . . Wage
the good warfare, having faith and a good
conscience . . . .” The order (“charge”) Paul gives is to “wage the good warfare.” The warfare image is retained by “fight this
noble war” (GW), “fight the battle well” (NIV), “strongly engage in battle”
(Holman). Although probably intending to
imply such an image, others prefer language that would more easily apply to
boxing or other strictly one-on-one conflict:
“fight the good fight” (ISV, NASB, NET) and “you may be continually
fighting the good fight” (
The first word “good” is a qualitative word. It conveys the idea that what one does is honorable and praiseworthy. “Warfare” conveys the idea that there will be conflict, that the opposing side is not going to be pleased with what you are doing but will forcefully oppose it.
Paul returns to this type of instruction in the final chapter, “Fight the good fight of faith” (). Both here and in the words convey the message of “defend[ing] the revealed truth of God against those who deny or distort it. . . .” We know that the apostle has in mind internal sources of difficulty because of (a) the reference to “Hymenaeus and Alexander” () and (b) the closing remarks about those embracing “profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” and how they had “strayed from the faith” as the result.
Such people may be rabble rousers . . . the confused . . .
the self-serving . . . those who are spiritually dangerous both to themselves
and their brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Some are malicious and malcontents; most are probably just well meaning
but confused. In whatever form they
come, the danger has to be dealt with.
It is much easier to put out a small fire than wait until it is a
“forest fire” that endangers one and all.
Christianity is a religion of peace—with God and with our fellow humans but never at the price of truth. Take the example of Jesus Himself. Even as He taught others to seek out peace with others in word and deed, He never allowed that to silence Him in firmly explaining the difference between right and wrong. I recently read a foolish man arguing that it is impossible “to love the man and hate the sin.” Why? Because that lifestyle is so much a part of himself that to love him requires you to embrace the propriety of how he has chosen to live.
Would Jesus have exploded in rage or simply laughed His head off at the folly? The one thing truth teller Jesus would not have done was to agree with the folly.
Timothy was not to be, so to speak, a conscientious objector in the conflict against depravity and spiritual ignorance. He was not to avoid the war; he was to be an active and energetic participant within it.
inherently envolved such “warfare against
spiritual, moral, and social evils” of all types, which Paul spells out both
here and his other epistles. Spiritual and moral loyalty demanded exclusive alliance to Christ and Christ alone
rather as than one deity among many. The
latter there was plenty of precedent for in his day.
Though conflict was inevitable as the world resisted moral truth, that still did not mean that any and all types of behavior to further the cause were acceptable. Paul here mentions that there were at least two standards that Timothy’s behavior in spiritual warfare had to reflect.
First, “faith” was to be manifested in his warfare. Folks have disagreed whether “the faith” is in mind or simply “faith;” i.e., whether loyalty to the system of faith (the gospel) or personal faith in Christ. The first way it is a warning to Timothy not to allow his enthusiasm for victory to allow his own preferences to creep their way in. Of what value is it to expose the other person’s heresy if you have been growing your own?
Either way fundamental “faith” in God and Christ was not to be lost either. One can become so passionate for victory that one overlooks the reason one is fighting. The battle becomes the end in itself rather than the means to the end: The triumph of the will of the Father and Son. Not the satisfying of our own ego in obtaining the victory.
“A good conscience” was also to be reflected in his warfare. Politicians speak of “dirty tricks”--things that dishonorably misrepresent others and what they believe and what they have done. “Sanctifying the lie”--because one does it in order to preserve “the faith”--is just as dishonorable because the real truth has been sacrificed to obtain the desired goal.
When properly trained with the gospel truth, conscience has been “reprogrammed” with new standards and principles. In such cases, “conscience is the voice of God within.” However it is a reliable standard only to the extent that we have truly allowed the Divine guidelines to be internalized and transformed into our own standards.
To interlock that with an earlier point: it was the rejection of these fundamental anchors of the soul that had destroyed (shipwrecked) the true spirituality of certain Christians—those Timothy needed to deal with. True they maintained a form of Christianity. But they had wrecked key doctrinal foundations. In 2 Timothy such people are described as also rejecting the moral foundations of the gospel as well: though “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (3:5).
“Faith” as either the system of faith or as a description of their acceptance of it had been poisoned because they had injected a “poisoned pill” into its heart. Furthermore—presumably to defend the pseudo-“truth” they advocated—they had lost all moral scruples and defiled what once had been “a good conscience.” Victory was simply too important to allow a confining thing like “truth” to control it. We have here the danger faced by any ideologue—or, in this context, should we say “theologue?”—allowing a set of convictions to become so vital that no item of personal integrity can be permitted to stand in the way of triumphing.
The Fate and Treatment of Those Who
Have Gone Spiritually Rogue
There were those who rejected the twin standards of “faith and a good conscience” that Timothy is implored to grasp tightly to himself. This was not a mere trivial error in judgment; in contrast, the consequences were profound: “which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
These two prototype examples of the mindframe and lifestyle to shun had rejected both “faith” and “good conscience.” The first item is described simply as “faith” and not “the faith.” The emphasis is probably not just that they were doing the wrong things, but that even their core “faith” in Christ Himself had been grievously compromised. If they no longer had faith in Him, they could obviously have little or no sense of obligation to do what He had taught.
They had weakened or thrown away the “shackles” not only of faith in their Lord, but also those controlling their own “conscience” as manifested by the fact that their behavior no longer was undergirded by “good conscience.” Most (but not all) nonbelievers have a fundamental sense of honor. These weak Christians now felt as little limited by that as they did by their faith in Christ. If external (Christ) and internal (personal conscience) are crippled as governing standards, what else can happen but spiritual disaster?
Two specific individuals are named as falling into grievous error: Hymenaeus and Alexander. We have no certainty as to who these two men are. But the very mention of their names with no other identifying data proves that Timothy knew full well. Not only who Paul was talking about, but also enough about their teachings and behavior to know the thought and behavioral patterns they advocated. In essence Paul is saying: “It’s people who act and teach like these that you are to be on the outlook for. The specifics may vary, but the behavioral faults and parallel bent doctrines will still manifest themselves in some alarming form.”
Probably as good a concise analysis as one is going to find about the identity of these two men is found in the remarks of A. E. Humphreys:
The name Hymenæus occurs again in 2 Timothy 2:17, and being uncommon and used in both places of an heretical person in the same locality may fairly be taken as referring to the same person; the heresy condemned is practically the same; “the profane babblings” there representing the “vain talking” of 1 Timothy 1:6 here, which is plainly echoed in 1 Timothy 1:19—the test of orthodoxy being “faith and a good conscience.”
The name Alexander
also occurs again in 2 Timothy 4:14; but being common, and having a
distinguishing addition there “the coppersmith,” and referring rather to a
personal enemy of St. Paul than to a heretic, may more probably refer to a
different person, possibly the Alexander of Acts 19:33. Fairbairn adds
reasonably “in the 2nd Epistle Philetus not Alexander
is associated with Hymenæus, and Alexander is
mentioned alone and apparently as a worker of evil, not at
They suffered a double catastrophe: “which some having
rejected [faith and good conscience], concerning the faith have suffered
shipwreck.” -- “Rejected” (in
varying verbal formulations) is the common choice here by a wide margin but there
are occasional substitutions: “ignoring”
(ISV), “some have cast away” (Weymouth), and “some having thrust away” (WEB)
represent the better alternatives.
Especially the last since the English version “translates a [Greek] middle participle of the verb that means ‘to repel,’ ‘to push aside;’ in the reflexive sense it means ‘to thrust away from oneself,’ hence to completely ignore.” To the extent that something can be rejected, they’ve rejected it. Washed their hands of it--thoroughly. The intensity indicated comes out especially well in the rendering of Luke T. Johnson, “spurned.”
The result is that they “have suffered shipwreck.” Greek literature of the time commonly invoked this image to describe situations that took a horrible turn for the worse. One can’t help but wonder if Paul’s personal experience is also behind this expression--the remembered horror of the two weeks of tumultuous seas ending in a shipwreck. He knew by this just how horrible a physical shipwreck could be and knew that it was by God’s grace that he and the others escaped alive though the ship itself was lost. In its own way, a spiritual shipwreck is just as horrifying—though barring repentance there will be no escape from its self-inflicted consequences.
That this description means that they have openly abandoned Christianity is most unlikely: If they had done that, their greatest asset in influencing fellow Christians would not exist. At the most it seems to imply that though they have abandoned Christianity in fact, they adhere to a sufficient amount of the veneer to maintain their believing “credentials” within the church community. Their coveted public and self-image is that of “God-fearing Christians.”
Unfortunately many in the denominational world have also rejected fundamental Bible truths. Outliers have always existed within these religious bodies, but beginning especially in the 1970s, they have even seized effective control of their denominations, paving the way for even greater gutting of any Biblically based faith that remains. The Bible becomes, if you will, a collection of pretexts, passages onto which they have grafted their own secularistic and nonbelieving agenda. They may not save your soul but they are fully determined to save the planet from whatever the newest “threat” they have added to their agenda.
In Paul’s day those who laid aside gospel purity as a goal were not yet dominate. And he was intending to keep it that way. Paul far preferred God’s revealed truth to the delusions of even the most well-intentioned and was determined to put every honorable impediment possible in the way of their further success.
What Paul did in regard to them: “I delivered to Satan.” Part of the local congregation’s collective “discipline” expelling the member? Paul provides no amplification on the meaning of this, again implying that Timothy would be well aware of what had happened and what this involved. This has commonly been taken to mean that they had been “expelled from the Christian fellowship” and the sphere they would function in thereafter was the world, which is under Satan’s dominion.
is that Paul describes himself as if personally doing this, but wouldn’t
rejection by the church be a function of the local congregation rather than one
seemingly unilaterally imposed by Paul alone?
James T. South II sees in “I delivered to Satan” a description of local church
How then do we get from Paul’s “I delivered to Satan” in 1 Timothy 1 to “the church delivers to Satan? What is described in 1 Corinthians 5 is certainly the latter--but if you read the text closely you will notice that Paul describes himself as participating in that rejection:
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
But the context here is much different than in 1 Corinthians 5:
18 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
That this text tells us that Paul had totally washed his hands of these two men we are certain. But if there is a suggestion here of collective church imposed discipline and rejection as well it is extraordinarily indirect. There are no orders given nor church envolvement mentioned at all, unlike in 1 Corinthians. Furthermore it is described in the past tense and not as something to be done “now” or in the near future.
Yet knowing how that language is used in the Corinthian correspondence, in what other sense could Timothy or the Ephesians be expected to take the language other than that he has already concurred and endorsed what they now need to do? Even if we take it at its most restrictive and argue that it only represents a stern expression of personal rejection by the apostle, can any one seriously believe that he would be contented with them acting any less forcefully?
The strongest potential weak point of linking the two situations as requiring similar actions is that it must be assumed that both Hymenaeus and Alexander were Ephesians or, at least, residing in Ephesus. We can get there, but it takes a little work.
There certainly was a Hymenaeus present who might well be the same man (the name being uncommon): 2 Timothy 2:16-18, but there the name is teamed up with a different person, Philetus who goes unmentioned here. If the Hymenaeus was the local man knee deep in evil and Philetus is his companion in trouble, then would we not expect these to be the ones mentioned in 1 Timothy 1? The fact that the combination is different weakens the probability that a local reference is in mind.
2 Timothy mentions an Alexander who was a coppersmith and notes that the Lord will in the future punish him for his mistreatment of Paul. Yet the punishment needed in 1 Timothy 1 is because of “blasphemy” rather than for mistreatment of the apostle. Are these are to be treated as synonyms or as two different offenses? If the latter the linkage to the Alexander in chapter 1 is significantly weakened.
Worthy of further consideration is the fact that in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul does not name the person to be disciplined. This is reasonably answered by properly noting that the question there was a matter of personal morality failing to meet the ideal and the direct danger of it leading others astray was modest: the man was surely far more interested in seeking out his own happiness rather than encouraging others to imitate his evil! In contrast those guilty of extreme doctrinal unorthodoxy, when they are of the extreme proselytizing type, are very desirous of increasing the number of followers.
On the other hand . . . the mention of their names would surely argue that the Ephesians knew who they were, whether they were (or had been) local men. Though there is nothing clear cut in Paul’s words to make us place them there, why bring them up by name at all unless they were there--or at least were influential within that congregation?
The other possible weak point in interlocking the two procedures in Corinth and Ephesus is that Paul writes as if what needed to be done had already been done: “whom I delivered to Satan” sounds like an already accomplished result . . . it is placed in the past—Paul had already done it—and there is zilch explicit mention of the Ephesians needing to do anything more. Profoundly unlike the situation in 1 Corinthians 5!
This must be balanced against this possibility: Paul is saying explicitly, “I have done my part;” he is asking implicitly, “when are you going to do your part?” Are we really going to stress the importance of the situation and you do nothing about it?
The alternative approach would be: (1) You have a major problem; (2) these two men are prominent individuals playing some kind of pivotal role concerning it; and (3) now I’ll drop the discussion and go on to something else.
That just doesn’t ring true, does
it? Doesn’t his logic have to be: I’ve done my part; now you must do yours? Not “ordering them” (as in
that Paul described himself as envolved in the
The purpose of Paul’s action: “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Paul’s actions grew not out of the desire for retribution, but that they “may learn” not to behave as they had been doing—behavior so severe that it could be described in terms of blasphemy. The vast bulk of translations stick with the term “blaspheme.” Of our ten sample translations only GW ventures elsewhere, substituting “in order to teach them not to dishonor God.” In less explicitly “religious” terminology—as “blaspheme” clearly is—that conveys the point very well.
To go outside the perimeters of our ten translations two others stand out particularly well: “so they will learn not to oppose God” -- Contemporary English Version (1995); “so that they will learn not to insult God” -- Complete Jewish Bible (1998). Obviously blaspheming involve both of these either explicitly or implicitly.
Some have, oddly, interpreted the text to mean that Satan would teach them not to blaspheme. But it was the consequence / result of being handed over that was to produce the result, not Satan himself. Hence we need to look at the personal emotional, spiritual, and temporal backlash that would grow out of their rejection. This would, Paul hoped, be sufficient to shake them out of their blindness and arrogance.
Or to put it in more contemporary language, the wording I used to describe a certain young man comes to mind: “He’s going to have to get run over by a truck and, hopefully, be able to put the pieces back together before his pride and arrogance is going to be gutted out of him.” Rejection was Paul’s way of assuring that the two men had the best chance of being shaken back into reality.
 Earle, 352.
 Bratcher, 12.
 Earle, 352.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 169.
 Earle, 352.
 Arichea and Hatton, 24.
 Ibid., 25.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 170.
 John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 77-78. The text comes from what appears to be a Kindle (or equivalent) edition of the book; the page numbers come from his reference to it in his commentary on Galatians.
 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 4: The Epistles of Paul ([N.p.]: Broadman Press, 1932-1933), on . At: http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/view.cgi?bk=53. (Accessed September 2015.)
 Walter Scheidel, “The Roman
Slave Supply,” in the series Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics (Version
1.0; May 2007), 9. At:
June, 2015). This material was
scheduled to be printed in Keith Bradley and Paul Cartledge
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 8.
 Bratcher, 13.
 As quoted by Earle, 352.
 Bernard, on .
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 172.
 Ibid., 177.
 Bratcher, 14.
 Arichea and Hatton, 30.
 Bratcher, 15.
 Mark M. Yarbrough, Paul’s Utilization of Preformed
Traditions in 1 Timothy—An Evaluation of the Apostle’s Literary, Rhetorical,
and Theological Tactics, in the Library of New Testament Studies, volume
 Morris, 327.
 As is done by Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 179.
 For variants on this, see DeWelt, 43.
 Bratcher, 16.
 Bratcher, 17.
 Arichea and Hatton, 35.
 Arichea and Hatton, 36.
 Stott, Guard, 55.
 Malina and Pilch, 104.
 Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Invisibility of God (Genesis 32:22-30; Exodus 24:9-11; 1 Timothy ),” Sermon 14 in “Let Me See Thy Glory—A Study of the Attributes of God.” At: https://bible.org/seriespage/14-invisibility-god-genesis-3222-30-exodus-249-11-1-timothy-117. (Accessed: February, 2015).
 Arichea and Hatton, 37.
 Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and
Translation Commentary (
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 182.
 Arichea and Hatton, 39.
 DeWelt, 45.
 Wayne Gudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Revised Edition ([N.p.]: Crossway, 2000), 133.
 Stott, Guard, 56.
 Dean Wace on 1:18-19 in James Nisbett, editor, Church Pulpit Commentary (1876). This is not the well known “Pulpit Commentary,” which includes homilectical material along with its commentary. At: http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/. (Accessed: October 2015.)
 Unidentified author on in Nisbett.
 Arichea and Hatton, 41.
 A. E. Humphreys, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus,
 Arichea and Hatton, 41.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 185.
 Arichea and Hatton, 41.
 J. T. Davidson on in Illustrator (online).
 Bratcher, 19.
 South, 276.
 DeWelt, 46.