Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
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(1 Timothy 2:1-8)
Prayer For Others Is to Include
Government Leaders of All Types
TCNT: 1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be offered for every one, 2 especially for kings and all who are in high positions, in order that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in a deeply religious and reverent spirit. 3 This will be good and acceptable in the eyes of God, our Saviour, 4 whose will is that every one should be saved, and attain to a full knowledge of the Truth.
5 There is but one God, and one mediator between God and men—the man, Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom on behalf of all men. This must be our testimony, as opportunities present themselves; 7 and it was for this that I was myself appointed a Herald and an Apostle (I am telling the simple truth and no lie)—a Teacher of the Gentiles in the Faith and Truth.
Prayer for Rulers and Everyone An Essential
Context: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
Preventive medicine for error starts with prayer: “Therefore I exhort first of all” (2:1). The “therefore” links what is about to be said with what he had just been discussing. (Translations substituting “then” imply the correlation, but this makes it even more obvious and clear cut.) But what in the world is the linkage? The International Critical Commentary suggests that it might be: “ ‘Since, then, our one object is to produce love (1:5), and to carry the message of salvation to all sinners (), there must be prayer for all men.’ ”
The Pulpit Commentary, I think, does a better job when it links the prayer instruction to (“this charge I commit to you”): “The insertion of the connecting particle ‘therefore’ marks that this arrangement of Church prayers is a part-- . . . mark that it is the ‘first’ part--of that charge or administration which was now committed to Timothy.” This is where they are to begin, with prayer.
What is immediately mentioned in -20 is the danger of false teaching producing spiritual shipwreck. “Therefore I exhort first of all”—as the first step of preparing to do spiritual battle—develop your own spiritual prayer life to its fullest. This prepares you both to deal with such folk but also to have the right attitude in attempting to convince the outsider. For God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:4)—both the erring Christian and those who never knew faith in the first place.
And this is true on all levels of society and regardless of who they might be--the “all men” of 2:1--but with a special emphasis on those having authority in governance (2:2) since they are in the best position to make a bad situation worse. The other side of the coin is that they are in an ideal place to spread “oil on troubled waters” when outside zealots want to irritate anti-Christian sentiments to a crisis level.
Prayer for everyone who needs it: “for all men” (2:1). Since God’s love for others and desire for them to come to the Lord is world-wide (“who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” verse 4), it is hardly surprising that the proper subject of prayer should expand far beyond just ourselves.
A Gnostic mindframe being rebuked? Some see here an attack on theological opponents as well: “Gnostic opponents may have taught that salvation was limited to some few elect [verse 4]. . . . They may have taught that there are more gods than the one God and more mediators than the one mediator [verse 4]. . . .” The inclusion of “may” shows how conjectural is the basis of the argument. Admittedly, if one insists 1 Timothy is a second century work--as this particular commentator does--the temptation is great to drag into the conversation a theological system (actually “systems” in the plural) that only begin to emerge in its full ugliness decades after Paul’s death.
If Paul has in mind a very primitive Gnostic-like system in this epistle, these words certainly include a rebuke to its proponents, but they make full sense without such a context as well! From its early days, the evolving doctrines of Gnosticism were elitist in nature and appealed to that sub-spectrum of society that had time and leisure to work out elaborate scenarios of the hidden “real reality” of the world and its spiritual history. It allowed a certain mind frame—in Christianity, Judaism, and outright paganism—the opportunity to cultivate “insights” that were beyond those of folk with “less comprehension;” Gnostic embracing and understanding of them was self-verifying proof of their own superior spirituality.
Of course, Christianity had its own “difficult ideas”—“some things hard to understand” (2 Peter )—but the vast bulk of its goals and teachings and principles were easily available to one and all. It was, by nature, a learner orientated movement: “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter ). It lacked a special set of doctrines available and understandable only to the “elite.”
Hence to the extent that Gnostic style concepts took root within Christianity, it ran the danger of changing the nature of it from a mass based movement with its teachings freely available to one and all into a two-level movement in which the most “important” insights (= Gnostic “truths”) were available only to the insiders. For these elitists had moved “beyond” mere redemption and eternal salvation in the Lord into esoteric “knowledge” that was, it seems—to judge by their emphasis—even more important than these other matters.
There are severe problems with trying to find an implicit theological system that is being attacked in these words about prayer however. For one thing Paul is quite capable of making his criticisms quite clear cut and obvious—both as to the doctrine being taught and the party/parties it is coming from. If such really motivated his words, we would surely expect at least something along the line of: “Unlike some foolish souls who refuse to pray for others, let us not imitate their blind mistake!”
Furthermore the admonition for prayer for others makes full sense independent of that narrow a target. God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew ) So naturally it would be appropriate for us to be concerned with everyone else as well. (Consider the line of Christ’s argument in -48.)
From the practical standpoint, there is every reason to believe Paul’s admonition grows out of (1) his recognition of our need to pray and (2) an understanding of the fact that since it is usually not something observable by others, it is very easy for us to let it “slide” and become erratic or, in extreme cases, non-existent.
Furthermore it is hard to avoid the conclusion that prayer is demanded because—even when it is for other people—it still benefits us as well. It reminds us of how dependent on God we really are. How uncertain the future always is. And how we need the Divine presence under any and all circumstances--just as others do.
Now let us move on into an examination of the five types or aspects of prayer that are mentioned. Four are found in verse 1 alone:
(1) “Supplications.” These would be “petitions” (GW, Holman, ISV, NIV) or “requests” (NET). The idea is that the person is asking for something they don’t have but realize it would be desirable or even needed. It is not primarily about having “more” but having “enough,” having what is truly needed. Arichea and Hatton note that the “Greek verb means ‘to ask with urgency based on presumed need,’ ‘to plead,’ ‘to beg.’ ”
You feel the need for something so you ask for it. Several passages have rightly been cited as examples of this mental process at work, of how the recognition of a need leads to prayer:
Philippians 1:4: “Always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.”
Luke 1:13: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’ ” [The prayer obviously being the request for a child.]
2 Timothy 1:3: “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day.”
Although our supplications/petitions may be for others (Philippians 1:4 and 2 Timothy 1:3 in the list above), it can also properly be for ourselves as well (the prayer to have a child in Luke ). James pointed out the necessity of this in a few simple words: “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Why should you expect to receive if you don’t think it’s worth the time to ask? Of course the things have to be honorable or even prayer will do no good, as he immediately adds: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (4:3).
(2) “Prayers.” This is the broadest term and includes taking matters to God in all the various forms that such can be done. The fact that he specifies certain specific types of prayer as well, may reflect his desire to make the instruction even more emphatic or to indicate that everyone needs prayer of some kind—but the specific type may well vary from situation to situation, but never the underlying need.
(3) “Intercessions.” The person has a problem, a difficulty, and the outcome is far from guaranteed. We plead that the best result might be the one that occurs. It may be our private prayer for a friend or it may be a well known problem that an entire congregation joins in prayer about—think of the prayer of the Jerusalem church for Peter, for example (Acts 12:5).
Although one could go into great detail, the following short compilation of Bible examples should prove a useful jumping off point to consider who to intercede for:
All in authority (1
Timothy 2:2); ministers (Philippians );
Note that it is not limited to some special category of Christian to serve the role of intervener, though the idea is surprisingly popular in some American religious circles who are convinced a preacher or priest’s prayer is the type uniquely likely to be answered. The Biblical principle is far broader: You see the problem; you pray about it. Or as the Old Testament prophet pungently put it, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you . . .” (1 Samuel ).
The term “intercession,” however, can take the overtones of the broader expression, “prayer.” The Greek word here in 2:1 is found in only one other place and that is in 4:5’s closing words about how our food “is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” Even here there is an “intercession” on its behalf—the asking of God to dedicate it to our physical nourishment and well being. The GW implies that connotation when it speaks of how “The word of God and prayer set it apart as holy.” Sanctified, set apart for a special and honorable purpose.
The 2:1 use of enteuxis in regard to people is the form that we find in non-Biblical sources: “this word is used to describe an official petition to a superior, sometimes a king.” We are the subordinate and we are asking for intervention from God--the ultimate King and Ruler over all.
(4) “Giving of thanks.” Different
translations may modify this into “prayers of thanks” (GW) or “expressions of
thanks” (ISV) or simply abbreviate it down to a simple “thanks” (NET). Others substitute “thanksgiving(s)” (ESV,
Every generation spawns a new group of self-centered individuals. Folk who “want” this or that and the current generation has taken to describing these desired things as their “rights.” As if that magically transforms the world into a place where the money and opportunity will promptly appear to pay for them: after all it is our “right.” And even if what we want is a genuine “right,” where is the gratitude for it? Unless you are totally blind and self-deceived, you know that a lot of people in this grim world are not so blessed.
Hence the only proper attitude is to show our appreciation for the good things of life and for things turning out well for ourselves and others. None of it was inevitable, was it?
We should be on the outlook for those who need one or more of these forms of prayer among everyone who we come in contact with (“all men”--2:1). In other words, we need to have an active concern for our fellow man. Prayer may seem a simple act, but in many cases it may be the only way we can help; often it is simply not something that we can affect or change by our own actions. Every person’s situation is different and easily alters from week to week and even day to day. Economic pressures, ill health, family problems. In so many cases all we can pray is that they have the wisdom and emotional-spiritual strength to handle their burdens--and that God will intervene to lighten or remove them.
Such prayers, however, also mentally prepare us for actively assisting the other person if that opportunity arises. We already have shown enough interest and concern to pray on their behalf. Are we then likely to do nothing if circumstances change and our opportunity to be personally helpful actually emerges?
In either case, how are we to pray for others intelligently and with insight unless we know enough about them to know what needs to be prayed for? Fifty years ago it was taken for granted that you knew your neighbor—sometimes more than you wanted to! Nowadays isolation is often the “name of the game.” Your neighbor is an anonymous “somebody” who you may have seen in the yard but never met and neither of you have a desire to do so. Except in the most vague and imprecise manner, what do you have to pray about for them? Might this not carry a deserved rebuke for our “care less” modern form of alleged “advanced” society?
Synonyms or separate types of prayers? All these four “types” of request will typically be found in any prayer of moderate length, but it is easy to see how prayers might emphasize one of these “components” in particular. If we are visiting a person who is sick, would not that the core element of our prayer with them—quite possibly the only major thing mentioned—be their physical well-being? (And emotional strength to survive the psychological “wear and tear” of their exhausting experience.)
Some have argued that all four elements of prayer that are mentioned in 2:1 (“supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks”) are essentially synonyms and “no precise distinction” can be made between them. There is certainly an overlap between at least some of them. The specification of all of them could, in part, be caused by the desire to assure that all possibilities are covered: While recognizing that there are differences, different people might well use one of the terms for a particular element of their prayers and others invoke a different one. (Just as there can be regional variances in today’s world in language: in one place it is “supper,” while in another it is “dinner.”)
the argument of these being (in effect) synonyms overstated? When we “intercede” for someone’s needs, that
is hardly “giving of thanks:” we are
imploring that their situation will change for the better. In contrast, when we “give thanks” we are
rejoicing that the situation is the way it currently exists! In one case we seek improvement; in the other
we express gratitude that improvement has occurred. Hence we should recognize not only the
possibility of an overlap in some of the expressions, but think carefully about
the ways they may differ as well.
Newport J. D. White probably sums it up best when he writes that Paul’s point is neither to make all the terms equivalent nor to spin out the fine “nuances of meaning” that can be deducted from them. Rather “his object in the enumeration is simply to cover every possible variety of public prayer.” He wants to assure that nothing is left out.
Where did these prayers take place? Robert G. Bratcher is convinced that these prayers were to be made “in church worship.” Although there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it is hardly limited contextually to that situation alone. Indeed, how can we properly limit “intercessions” to that context? If it is our spouse, child, kin, who is sick would we be guilty of anything short of negligence if we did not pray specifically, repeatedly, and passionately for them in our own private prayers? Greater in length, greater in intensity, greater in detail than would ever be appropriate in a congregational setting.
(5) Prayer for everyone includes government officials: “for rulers and all who are in authority” (2:2). Paul does not immediately come right out and say, “Pray for your rulers.” Instead he approaches it from the backdoor in verse 1: Pray for everyone (“for all men”) and then specifies various forms prayer may take and only afterwards narrows the subject down to rulers in particular. We easily fall into the trap of praying only for a narrow circle—ourselves, our family, our church. The people we are predisposed to have a liking for.
But there are others who need our prayer far beyond these groups. Here Paul targets what we today might well call “the political class” or, to use his actual wording, “for kings and all who are in authority.” Those folks aren’t necessarily lovable or adorable . . . but are still essential for any country’s governance.
[These words remain relevant though
written four years ago:] As I write
these particular words in 2016, we are in the pre-political convention stage of
the Presidential race in the
But the simple truth is that these folk can literally destroy a nation—economically, morally, and spiritually. But the other edge of that sword is that they can promote good equally passionately. At the very minimum, we can pray that they rule in such a manner that Christians can live “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” To do that envolves them repudiating and opposing the silencing of the gospel in all its moral aspects rather than attempting to make illegal the public standing for its principles. That was what was needed in Paul’s day and remains true today. And a hundred years from now as well.
Although unexpected it is not without precedent in the Old Testament as well. Jeremiah urged the Jewish exiles to set down roots in the place they had been taken to in captivity and to pray for its well. One of the reasons was surely in Paul’s mind as well--that its welfare benefited you and its harm ultimately hurt you:
1 Now these are the
words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the
remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the
prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from
Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus
says the Lord of hosts, the God
of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be
carried away from
Various translations try to bring out the conceptual “load” being conveyed in verse 7. The ISV does it especially well when it says: “Seek the welfare of the city to which ‘I’ve exiled you and pray to the Lord for it, for your welfare depends on its welfare.” NET words it this way: “Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.”
Jeremiah’s plea that they seek the best for their new home because it could produce good for them as well, was ironically true of the apostle Paul in regard to the very city where Timothy was preaching: several of the Christians had been grabbed by a mob of economically self-serving idol makers and dragged before the magistrates of the city demanding punishment for the monotheistic challenge to their trade. The town clerk responded to the angry crowd that if they had a legitimate case—well, take it to the law courts. They were open and freely available.
And he warms that they had better watch their own steps: “For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering” (Acts 19:40). He could have inflamed the situation himself or even thrown the Christians in jail. He refused to do any of this.
He treated them with the restraint and neutrality that one would want from a political figure who could either make life fairer or worse. He chose the path of honor and responsibility. It would have been self-evident to the Ephesians—aware of this event—that it was a germane, appropriate, and praiseworthy prayer that such attitudes might be continued among the community’s present public figures.
for rulers under whatever label they might come: “For kings and all who are in authority”
(2:2). The plural is
appropriate because all emperors died and were replaced. When one crossed the international boundaries
Perhaps because we so seldom have actual kings or queens ruling anymore, the GW substitutes “rulers.” Even in the first century not all rulers were called “kings” and probably for that reason Paul structures his description to describe all categories—“for kings and all who are in authority.”
Under kings (or the functional equivalent for rulers of mini-kingdoms) would come the rulers over cities and they, also, might bear different titles. Not to mention agents who might exercise a general authority over some function and not be bound to a specific geographic location within their territory.
It would be the secondary level officials who Christians would most often come in personal contact with. Yet even those lower ranked individuals would be supposed to be following the policies and priorities set by those who had higher positions of rank in the government. Hence the appropriateness for prayer for all who affected the lives of Christ’s followers.
It should be remembered that some rulers were quite unsavory individuals. Remember Herod who attempted to have the newborn Jesus murdered while in His infancy. Although even a despot such as him likely had it done “discretely,” by unidentified marauders. There are times when, though you have the naked power to do something, it is advantageous even for a tyrant to obscure who was actually behind the orders.
Of more immediate relevance to
Paul, think of Nero. Whether the burning
Yet this was the kind of man who could successfully become a king and have great popularity. Usually they were more moderate and restrained; but not always. Yet they were to be prayed for in spite of the fact that they could be irresponsible and treat law-abiding Christians as their enemies.
There was an importance to the office they held and the function they performed in society. They needed wisdom, good judgment, prudence, and self-control to do their jobs rightly and effectively. These are examples of the things it is right to mention in our prayers. But there is something far more immediately relevant that Paul zeroes in on. Something so important that these other reasonable reasons fade into almost insignificance.
specifies the subject matter of what should be their top priority: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness
and reverence.” The “quiet” part few if any translation seems to wish to
alter, while “peaceable” may be slightly changed into “peaceful” (ESV,
GW, ISV, NET, NIV,
Although both terms could refer to our relationship to the surrounding world, to me “peaceful” would most naturally refer to our outward, external relationship with it—there is no open breach or conflict. In contrast, “tranquil” could then point to our inward reaction to the outward circumstances: the stress, pressure, and even fear has been alleviated and removed.
Paul’s specification of these two characteristics have a broader and narrower application.
The broader application is to conditions in general: That the society may be kept on an even keel. That dramatic changes may not be unleashed that could destabilize a working and functional society. Even when a society is only doing “so-so,” it is still possible to make it far, far worse. Imperfect can be tolerated; turning the situation into a sea of turmoil and near civil war is another thing entirely. Approached from this standpoint, Paul’s admonition is to pray that the rulers may be responsible and restrained in their exercise of power.
That includes being aware of the forces of societal disintegration that are present in every place in every age. These are the violent, the self-obsessed, the powerful who view others not as dinner guests but as the dinner itself. A rabbinic adage sums it up well, “Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for the fear thereof men would swallow each other alive” (Pirke Aboth III.2).
The narrower and surely central application of Paul’s words is to the life of Christians in distinction from those of the surrounding world. That they may live “a quiet and peaceful life” then takes on the connotation of avoiding persecution and that rulers and other officials not yield to rabble rousing troublemakers that want to make their lives miserable. Even put them to death.
One commentator suggests that the text refers to the ability to “pursue a tranquil and quiet livelihood apart from persecution, which could deprive them of their livelihood.” He hits upon an element of persecution that is easily overlooked: to the extent it is successful it is probably going to disrupt the income as well. The kind of hostility that today stops short of throwing you in jail, but envolves disrupting your economic life—a refusal to permit you to freely and unhindered use your talents. Giving you a “quiet death” so to speak, rather than the overt martyrdom that we usually link to first century Christianity.
The 21st century has already exhibited the beginning of this becoming its own “front” in the anti-Christian warfare waged by infidelity and depravity. Pass a law that is used to demand that a Christian do or say something that violates his conscience or be bankrupted out of business. (Or banned from your profession.) Out of the desire to demand “respect” of others, while all respect for you has been ripped out of the equation. A strange world that even the Romans might have had trouble imagining!
As to the immediate first century context. . . . These early Christians had a nebulous legal status. To the extent that the members were Jewish or the movement considered a Jewish sect, to that extent they enjoyed the status of a legal religion. To the extent that they were regarded as separate from Judaism, to that extent they were regarded as members of an unauthorized and illegal religion.
To add to the uncertainty, there would always be a certain number of folk who flat out hated Jews whatever their religious convictions might be. They would enjoy creating turmoil for believers by trying to circumvent the legal protections. To the extent that the traditionalist Jewish leaders of a given community became annoyed at them, even they might attempt to turn the authorities loose upon their theological opponents.
Rulers, whether “kings” or not, were usually reactive folks: They intervened against individuals and groups when pressure was brought to bear. This was simply the way legal controversies were normally carried out: it was that some opponent was insisting that the government listen to them and punish you for an alleged improper or illegal act. Hence in the first century the usual situation was whether the government could be convinced to act against you; it would not normally initiate the attack itself.
Hence when Christians prayed that their rulers would act in such a manner “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,” it was a prayer—in part—that they might act wisely and avoid anti-Christian acts even when encouraged to them by anti-Christian zealots. But it envolved far more as well: it included what back in the 1980s was called “law and order.”
If one permits the termites of society to successfully ply their violence and intimidation, their robbery and theft, the social order ruptures. No one can feel secure. And that includes non-Christians just as much as Christians. But if a government energetically acts to minimize and suppress such excesses (cf. Romans 13:3-4), then everyone—believers included—have a vastly increased opportunity to lead “a quiet and peaceable life” rather than one emotionally torn apart by stress and fear.
Such conditions are beneficial to the nation, to ourselves, and also to the spread of the gospel. As Stuart Allen puts it, “Prayer for rulers accords with the divine willingness that all should be preserved from lawless misrule and come to a recognition of the truth which is resident only in Christ, for peaceful conditions give scope to the propagation of the gospel.”
That we might honorably pray for an authoritarian government may well sound strange, but even they keep a lid upon certain extremes that would otherwise exist unchecked. At the least they certainly make the decisions that determine whether wars will rack the landscape as well.
The last few words of the current verse (2:2), tell us of the kind of life that this prayer for societal peace and the avoidance of anti-Christian acts was supposed to encourage among believers: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” In other words relief from the dangers was to encourage them in moral and respectful behavior. The pressures to act otherwise have been removed and they are to take advantage of this to develop greater spiritual maturity.
The first mentioned is that their behavior was to exhibit the patterns one should expect from a faithful follower of God: “Godliness” or, if you wish, being “godly” (ESV). Although Divinely approved lifestyle and the faithful worship of Him are obvious pillars of the concept, it is easy to suspect that more could be included as well.
A. E. Humphreys suggests it means “a constant devout realization of God’s presence and greatness.”
“Reverence” or being “reverent” (GW) would suggest a life full of respect—presumably for God, since that is the context where we would most commonly use that term. Perhaps accepting that this is a God-ward attitude . . . a God orientated mindframe . . . leads some to substitute “holiness” (NIV). This would indicate the God-respectful character of behavior that is observed by the surrounding world.
In that case, “godliness” might express the inner nature of what we are and “holiness” indicate the expression of that in how we act. A. E. Humphreys embraces this approach when he writes that “the Greek word only occurs here and 1 Timothy 3:4, and Titus 2:7. The idea is that of propriety of conduct, the outward counterpart of godliness.”
are discussing honor and respect and self-control being exhibited, it is common
for versions to substitute a different mental image: they speak of being “dignified” (ESV) or
having “dignity” (Holman, ISV, NASB, NET).
In short, one does not react to this prayer being granted by excess or as an excuse to behave in ways one knows is improper but as yet further encouragement to do right. And to appear as acting responsibly in the eyes of our fellow citizens as well.
Note: Personally I have trouble with the translation “dignity.” Based on dictionary definitions the usage makes full sense, however: “serious and graceful in manner or style in a way that deserves respect” (Cambridge Dictionary). Rightly or wrongly I tend to equate the word with “stuffed shirt”--the person who is hyper-sensitive to upholding their “place” in society. In short as a snob: “I must uphold my ‘dignity’ to you unwashed barbarians.” Or perhaps I am led astray by my fiction reading?)
Why Pray for Rulers?
Context: 3 “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, (verse 4:) 3 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The two reasons for praying that Christians might live in a safe society (2:1-2) might be labeled, respectively, idealistic (verse 3) and practical (verse 4).
The “idealistic” reason to pray for a safe society: “For this is
good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (2:3). All our translations
retain “good” as the first reason that we pray as we do—with the exception of
Luke T. Johnson is convinced that the context of this statement (verses 1-2) should make us give extremely serious consideration to a different rendition: “As always in these letters, the decision exactly how to translate kalos is difficult, given the range of possibilities. . . . I have with some trepidation chosen ‘noble’ most often, since it contains the notion of ‘moral good,’ but also suggests the implicit dimension of honorable as opposed to the shameful.”
The reasons God so deems such prayer to be of this nature are not given, though we surely can deduce some of them from what we are told to pray for. Above and beyond this, the knowledge of such regular prayers would have been an evidence that Christians were not a subversive group, intent upon the overthrow of the present regime--an easy libel to make and something vastly dangerous if the local authorities began to believe it.
It is inherently “good,” i.e., desirable and praiseworthy. And if anyone wants to quibble about that enthusiastic an endorsement then how about the command then being called “acceptable” (NKJV, NASB)--as if both terms wish to emphasize God’s endorsement of the practice.
Varied translations use an alternative that makes the “acceptable” emphatic--effectively a synonym of “good:” “pleases God our Savior” (GW, Holman, NIV); “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (ESV). “Welcomed” (NET) also carries a more clear-cut connotation of Divine endorsement and encouragement for the practice.
This is no mere token encouragement for Paul stresses that it comes from “God our Savior.” Do we not have the moral obligation to do what He has commanded? Do we not show disrespect and even scorn for our salvation when we do anything else? If we owe our lives to Him, how can we dare ignore Him? This is an indirect way of stressing the importance of this prayer command to God’s people.
The description of the Father as “our Savior” leads quite naturally to a number of ideas. I came across a useful sermon summary that develops the various ways the statement is true and it can be condensed down to this essence:
1. He is a seeking Saviour.
2. God is a gracious Saviour.
3. God is a truthful Saviour. His word may be relied on.
4. He is a loving Saviour [in spite of our many faults].
5. The Lord is a powerful Saviour.
6. God is our present Saviour. He saves now.
7. God is our everlasting Saviour [and He never stops being that].
I rather like that outline, but an eighth point should be added: 8. God is a remembering Savior. He is fully aware of whether we have done what He has instructed and with the attitude that He expects. There is no hiding from God’s memory. He knows whether we have done these things or not.
The “practical” reason to pray for a safe society: “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge
of the truth” (2:4). The two translation alternatives one is most
likely to encounter are divided between the preservation of the traditional wording
of “desires” (ESV, NASB, WEB) and those who substitute the synonym “wants” (GW,
Holman, ISV, NET, NIV). In comparison
We should never overlook the significance of “the knowledge of the truth:” God wants those in that category to be just as numerous as the “saved” that begins the verse. The idea of an educated tiny elite and ignorant masses is anathema to the apostolic message.
They did not expect every one to be a genius. They did not expect everyone to be an expert. But they did expect them all to be able to explain the basis on which they believed. Peter worded the expectation this way: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter ). Certainty, but not arrogance. Confidence, but not intimidation. Urging and hoping that others would become as convinced of the truth as they themselves had been.
Paul advocated the same course: “5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:5-6). Even a preacher like Timothy was to restrain himself from verbal overkill:
24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2)
The stable society that Paul wants us to pray for is one that provides the most opportunity for the gospel to spread. A turbulent society, in contrast, is one in which survival risk is so significant that the obsession is with getting through the current day rather than considering matters that, long term, are actually far more important. It is an environment in which many are so distracted that it is nearly impossible for them to consider anything but the immediate moment.
Even without overt and official persecution, a toxic anti-faith atmosphere can still poison the air. When Christians are having to keep an especially low profile to avoid harassment, things they might otherwise say will sometimes go unsaid; individuals who one might normally think worth sharing the saving power of the Lord are potential informers and caution is specially called for. And in such an environment the risks that would be encountered by a new convert would surely make more than a few reluctant to make their break with the spiritual contamination of the world.
The impact of 2:4—“Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”—on both this and all other subjects as well. In one sense the church was designed to be an “elite” institution, one aspiring to the highest moral and ethical standards. Normally “elite” carries the connotation of a small group of people in contrast to a larger. Here, though, God’s purpose is revealed to make “all” part of that elite! Naturally anything like persecution or an unsettled society would get in the way of that goal.
That “all” is truly all-encompassing. Yes, even that “fool down the street who wouldn’t recognize good intentions if you beat him over the head with them.” Or is that simply the description others had of us before our own conversion? Many were “easy sells.” That others would be amenable to God’s call seemed borderline absurdity—yet it happened upon occasion. Quite a few occasions.
We do our best—and leave the rest to God.
God “desires” all to be saved—but He won’t coerce even one against his or her own will. The fealty has to be voluntary. The loyalty to the Sovereign, heart-given.
This image of God’s intent to save everyone is, of course, utterly fatal to Calvinism which finds God selecting—from before the very beginning of creation yet!—those limited numbers who will be saved. Paul presents the alternative that the future is still contingent—contingent on the behavior of actual individuals and how it may or may not change.
Squaring this with predestination—the selection of that small elite before time even began—is extraordinarily hard, but the effort has certainly been made. John Calvin argued that the current text means that no nation or class within society is denied salvation. Augustine reasoned similarly: “. . . [A]ll the predestined may be understood by it, because every kind of man is among them.”
Paul could quite easily have said this if it had been his intent. Instead his focus is on individuals and his language is such that it most naturally applies to all individuals rather than just a small subset within it. He is talking as if salvation were freely available to one and all. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t his words be thoroughly misleading?
Nor is Paul’s emphasis on “knowledge of the truth” to be overlooked either. The Biblically ignorant Christian is one who has no reason to remain a Christian beyond the fact that he was “raised” in that tradition or has “always” been one. Times and mores change and since he has only the most superficial understanding of what God labels sin, how in the world is he supposed to avoid changing his or her moral views to one finding contemporary evil lifestyles to be quite acceptable after all?
“Times change.” True, but scripture remains permanent. And what was sin at one point cannot be magically transformed into something morally neutral—or even praiseworthy!—merely by the passage of time.
The Biblically uninformed Christian easily becomes the ex-Christian. Sometimes even while still going to church and participating in worship. Occasionally even while becoming a Bible class teacher or a preacher.
The Truth That Must be Taught to Rulers
and Everyone Else
Context: 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Paul now moves on to three pivotal truths that he wishes to teach to everyone and have them accept.
(1) “There is one God” (2:5). This is traditional Judaism and a core precept of Christianity as well: There are neither hundreds nor thousands of “gods.” There may be many that are called such. There may be temples to a multitude of them. They may even have a coterie of devout followers. But in the “real world” rather than the world of theological invention—there is only one, Jehovah or (if you prefer the more accurate rendition of the name) Yahweh of Israel.
This is as fundamental a root of Old Testament teaching as you are going to find. It is a repeated assertion, for example, in Isaiah:
· “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth” (Isaiah 37:16).
· “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts; ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no God’ (Isaiah 44:6).
· “I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no god besides Me. . . . Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5, 22).
· [Contrasting Himself to the idols that people worshipped (verses 5-8), He is the only God that is objectively real and not a mere fantasy. Hence He can promise as He deems best and humans can be fully sure that it will be done and can not be prevented:] 9 Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46).
The advocacy of this pivotal truth,
the constant holding to it, and the spreading of this fundamental reality, was
(2) There is “one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (2:5). The importance of the mediator being “the man Christ Jesus” is that it shows that He is fully acquainted with our weaknesses and potential for erring. As the Hebrews author explains, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Hence the logical deduction, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (). In His human years, He saw the difficulties and temptations of daily life, He felt it, He survived it. Therefore, if you wish to, you could express it this way: “we have a sympathetic friend in high places”--to help us and intervene on our behalf.
In contemporary language “mediator” typically means someone who works to make an agreement between two other parties. He is the “middle man” with no commitments to either, the disinterested third party who attempts to negotiate a compromise that is mutually agreeable to both sides. (“Labor negotiator” would be the most common illustration in our society, but it can exist in other contexts as well.)
Obviously Jesus is not and never has been a “mediator” in the sense that we most commonly use the term. For one thing He is not a disinterested third party between God and man for He Himself is deity: “I and My Father are one” (John ). Furthermore His agenda is strictly His Father’s and He is not going to deviate from it: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John ).
He could not fully represent man unless he really was such—not having the mere appearance but being the reality as well, just like his brothers and kinsmen. On the other hand, He could not completely represent God unless His nature was so fully the same that He could make no mistakes in dealing on the Father’s behalf. Of all who have ever walked the paths of earth, only He was the perfect reflection of both.
Although the language of “mediator” is virtually universal in translations it clearly does not fulfill the underlying intent of Paul’s use of the word. NET opts for “one intermediary between God and humanity.” In other words, he is our “go to man” in our relationship with God and He functions perfectly in that role for He has known both the character of deity in heaven and occupying a human body on earth. He is not going to “mediate” a moral or doctrinal compromise with the Father on our behalf for their interests are identical. Instead, because of His having the personal experience of a fleshly body, He is uniquely qualified to be that special individual who can unite in one the personal experiences of both heaven and flesh.
The Old Testament had individuals who might be broadly portrayed in terms of “mediator,” “intermediary,” or “middle man” between mortals and God. Moses at the time of the Exodus. The high priest in his role of entering the holy of holies once a year. But these pale into mere shadows compared to Jesus of Nazareth whose own shed blood would make possible the salvation of all who became His faithful followers.
A mediator in the fullest sense must be someone “able to represent both sides equally.” In vain, Job wished for such a person in his day: “32 For He is not a man, as I am, that I may answer Him, and that we should go to court together. 33 Nor is there any mediator between us, who may lay his hand on us both” (Job 9). (This is the only use of Paul’s term that is found in the Old Testament—in the Septuagint version, of course.
But in Jesus Job’s dream become a fully embodied reality. God in His pre-incarnation reality, but appearing in human affairs in a fleshly body from his earthly mother. Embracing characteristics of both while on earth and carrying in His unforgetting memory what it was like when He returned to Heaven to set on His throne next to the Father. Jesus was one “who may lay his hand on us both” as equals because He was equal to both—fully mankind when in the flesh and yet fully Deity.
Those who drifted into forms of Gnosticism had a terrible time with this, looking upon the flesh as inherently evil. Therefore Jesus might look like a man but He somehow wasn’t. Whether this was already a problem or whether Paul simply foresaw how the twisted ideas of contemporary theorizing could easily evolve we don’t know. Either way he provides an implicit warning against it: Jesus was a man.
Some later Gnostics took the view that the Christ entered decrepit man and on the cross left, leaving the empty shell (so to speak)--now empty of what had really been important. Others took the view that there was flesh but nothing akin to what we would call flesh. Tertullian (c. 155-240 A.D.) clearly regarded the idea as inherently rather silly: “Valentinus, indeed, on the strength of his heretical system, might consistently fantasize a spiritual flesh for Christ. Any who refused to believe that that flesh was human might then pretend it to be anything he liked.”
Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch stress that both the number of mediators (one) and the specific identity given of the mediator in our text, also put the author in direct conflict with the assumptions of what ultimately developed into Gnosticism: “A mediator is here understood as one who brings together hitherto unrelated parties. This is in clear contrast to the many intermediaries postulated by proto-Gnosticism. Identifying Jesus as human is a deliberate contrast to the angelic intermediaries of Gnosticism.”
(3) Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all” (2:6) or “everyone” (ISV). Perhaps fearing that “ransom” would be a puzzling concept to readers, the GW has shifted from what Jesus was in His death to the salvational results of being a “ransom:” it reads, “to free them from their sins” (GW).
Jesus Himself had spoken during His ministry of fulfilling this role, “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).
The heavenly chorus in Revelation 5:9 explains that this ransom was paid through His sacrificial death, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” In a similar vein Revelation 1:5b, “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
The imagery is surely rooted in the prophetic language of Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” The ultimate Just died for the multitudes of unjust, making their salvation possible--providing the required “ransom” to get them back.
Potentially every single person on planet earth. But salvation is like a life vest: It is offered to one and all. But it is left to human choice whether to put it on and take advantage of the gift. He will freely save everyone who wants it, but not one single person who turns down the opportunity. Yet how many people will, so to speak, spit in the face of the One offering a sure fire way out of their sins and needless guilt? Human nature is strange at times, isn’t it?
Who was the “ransom” paid to? In this case a “ransom” is not required to make someone richer; the “ransom” is solely required to free us from something--sin. To the extent that anyone can be described as “receiving” the ransom it would have to be one (or both) of two parties. Galatians would fit one approach especially well: “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe,” i.e., we are all prisoners of sin until we are redeemed by the blood of Christ from it. The ransom is paid to sin, so to speak, for it is that which has enslaved us and from which we need to escape. It is accommodative language, not literal language, to convey a fundamental Biblical truth.
The other and
stronger possibility is that the “ransom” is paid to God Himself. “For
God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on
all” (Romans ). “Committed them to” is reduced
to “imprisoned all” by Holman. It is
expanded by other versions into: “locked
up all in the prison of unbelief” (
In the first case the “ransom” is seen as paid to get us out of something (sin)--the price being paid to the one holding us in captivity. In the other case the “ransom” is paid to God to get us back into His good favor. Effectively two sides of the same coin, the same reality.
That Jesus was a ransom is clear enough—whether one takes advantage of it or not—but more confusing is Paul immediately adding, “to be testified in due time” (2:6). “Due time” renders a term that refers not to a specific date on the calendar but to what is the most appropriate point in time for something to occur. But did Paul intend this as a reference to past, present, or future?
Most translations leave the impression that this testifying had already been done: the sacrificial death had already occurred and Divine revelation “testified” as to its meaning and importance. This would be the obvious point in translations such as the NIV, “This has now been witnessed to at the proper time” (NIV). Two others speak of this already having been accomplished, “the testimony given at the proper time” (ESV, NASB)—note the past tense “given.”
Others speak less explicitly but with the same apparent point (and bringing out the more exact meaning of “due time” in the process): “revealing God's purpose at his appointed time” (NET) and “the testimony at the proper time” (ISV). Both speak as if it has already done.
The GW speaks in terms of this testimony being ongoing, “This message is valid for every era” (GW). Whether that is Paul’s actual point here, there is no secret that he was quite emphatic on his message on all topics being faithfully conveyed to others. There is not the slightest hint that he would ever have been satisfied at there being a time in the future when it was not done.
The initial words “for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle” in verse 7 alludes to what he has just been saying--about testifying that Christ dying as a ransom for humankind. He presents the ongoing proclamation of this as part of the reason for his appointment by God to both responsibilities. In other words, teaching this was part of his ongoing duty; hence he was going to continue teaching the same thing in the future. So even though there had already been testimony of Jesus’ sacrificial death, it would continue to be provided by him since he had been “appointed a preacher and an apostle.” Neither function would end until he died.
These two descriptions are distinctly different, though overlapping in part. An apostle preached, but an apostle was fundamentally one of the authoritative core of the early church. Twelve men, in declining number as various ones passed on through death to the next world. It was an authority position just as much—arguably far more than—merely a teaching one. It combined inerrancy (John -15) with Divinely backed authority to both require and permit (Matthew ).
In contrast the “preacher” role could be fulfilled by many others, even ones who did not have any of the special illumination and authority that went with the role of being apostle. Indeed, by the very nature of the requirements for the position, it is hard to imagine a situation in which there could even theoretically be more apostles than preachers. They required direct Divine appointment and preachers did not. And there was the requirement to have seen the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts -22). The number who had done so became smaller every year. In contrast being a preacher did not carry these requirements, so their numbers were always subject to potential growth.
Some are convinced—especially in light of the next words “I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying” (2:7)—that these observations were being written because Paul’s apostleship was under challenge. Perhaps, but if this were the point, it seems an awfully indirect way of going about doing it.
Paul was quite willing to admit that there were those who denied his apostleship and he stood firmly in defense of it: “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. . . .” (1 Corinthians 9:1-2).
Yet the same epistle in which he says this clearly show that those who conceded the genuineness of Paul’s apostleship were quite willing to challenge what he had to say (on the nature of the resurrection, for example). How this was rationalized I don’t claim to know; perhaps simply the obnoxiousness of human nature when it knows what “must” be true and takes unkindly to anyone who challenges it. Why should more than this be at work in 1 Timothy?
How confident can we be in the reliablity of Paul’s teaching? He next explains why everyone can trust it: “I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (2:7). “It means that faith and truth are the element or sphere in which the apostolic function is discharged: that he preaches with a sincere faith in the gospel, and with a truthful representation of the gospel which he believes.”
Furthermore his teaching function was an inevitable outgrowth of both his preaching and his apostolic roles. Was one to know the invaluable message he knew and keep his mouth shut? It would be an inherent absurdity.
Not all spiritual teachers were honest and he implicitly throws down the gauntlet to those he rebukes in chapter 1:3-10: You may like or dislike what I have to say, but do you have the slightest indication I have lied to you or taught anything else than “the truth in Christ”--consistently and persistently? Haven’t these folk I have criticized violated their own candor and consistency? I never have.
Note how he makes his assertion even more emphatic: First comes the “I am speaking the truth,” a positive statement, and then immediately the negative one that expresses the same underlying reality “I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying.”
In part this is an affirmation of why what he had just taught was authoritative; it is also an affirmation of why what he is about to teach about men and women (2:8-15), requirements for church office holding (3:1-13), and the certainty of the emergence of false teachers (chapter 4) is also absolutely reliable and must be followed: He knows what he is talking about. They might prefer something else, but Paul knows what is right and is not compromising it in any manner.
His audience –beyond Timothy himself—might have a few reservations. After all these are likely Gentiles and Paul is proudly Jewish. However much he is working for their cause and sake, an occasional ethnic tension or concern might well slip in. They are human after all and even certain of Paul’s fellow Jewish Christians were known to go way “overboard” in disagreeing with him, as seen in the circumcision controversies.
It is vital to the acceptance of his written instructions for them to recognize that Paul is speaking the truth as precisely and specifically as humanly possible rather than binding upon them “rules and regulations” that are unique to his own religious background and preferences. He is teaching what is right regardless of his human preferences and he is urging them to seek and embrace what is right regardless of their own as well.
Fundamental Principles of Male and Female Behavior
in the Church Assembly
TCNT: 8 My desire, then, is that it should be the custom everywhere for the men to lead the prayers, with hands reverently uplifted, avoiding heated controversy.
9 I also desire that women should adorn themselves with appropriate dress, worn quietly and modestly, and not with wreaths or gold ornaments for the hair, or pearls, or costly clothing, 10 but—as is proper for women who profess to be religious—with good actions.
11 A woman should listen silently to her teachers, and show them all deference. 12 I do not consent to a woman’s becoming a teacher, or exercising authority over a man; she ought to be silent.
13 Adam was formed first, not Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived; it was the woman who was entirely deceived and fell into sin.
15 But women will find their salvation in motherhood, if they never abandon faith, love, or holiness, and behave with modesty.
In verses 8-15, Paul concisely argues that leadership roles in the church assembly should be restricted to the males. This does not mean that women are without their obligations but that they are different obligations, which he also points out. It should be remembered just how short this section is. He is clearly trying to cram a lot of information into a few verses and if he felt he had more space to deal with the matter—or if he did not risk running out of space to handle other matters—he likely would have had considerably more to say.
First there is a section about the males in the congregation (2:8): “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” He is about to speak in 2:8-15 some words of implicit criticism of how women were either already acting or being tempted to act. Just as women are prohibited from church service preaching in those verses, the current passage prohibits them from public prayer leadership as well. There the only alternative if there is to be teaching and preaching at all, is if it is done by the males. Necessary inference in other words. Here the male role is explicitly rolled out. Together the two sections make worship leadership their exclusive realm of responsibility. (I’m tempted to say: whether they want it or not!)
(1) Males and Prayer Leadership (2:8): “I desire therefore.” If it is Paul’s inspired preference, why should anyone wish to challenge it? Just go ahead and do it! He makes the assumption that the instruction will make inherent sense to them and that there is no need to make the language any stronger. Hence it carries the authority of a command without invoking such language explicitly. It permits the authority of a command to be cloaked in the gentle politeness of a respectful request. But it is also an instruction that they should have no logical problem embracing without further encouragement.
His specific “desire” is “that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” The word here for “men” is not the generic one for all of humankind that is often used but is male specific or male only. In other words, it puts prayer leadership responsibility not on generic “man” (= mankind / humankind / humanity in general) but on the male specific “man.” It tells the women, in effect, this is an area you must not encroach upon.
This is not a prohibition of women praying but of their leading such public worship actions. There is a profound difference between those two statements.
Some attempt to work their way around this by noting that though the language used is male specific that an explicit “no women” prohibition only comes in verses 11-12 and there it is in regard to teaching. In other words, there is no unequivocal exclusion of women found in the verse. Hence it can be argued that women would be permitted to lead a prayer but not to teach. If that is the purpose why, then, use the male specific language at all when the instruction on leading prayer is intended to be non-gender specific? You might have something to work with—or, at least, try to work with—if it were the non-gender specific form of “man,” but not in a case like this where a specific one is clearly given.
(This is actually only a theoretical discussion. I seriously doubt that any woman who insists that it is her right to lead prayer will avoid insisting that she also has the right to preach. The right to do one would seemingly automatically involve the right to do the other. Yet the preaching possibility is explicitly excluded by verses 11-12.)
The instruction is intended to be of universal
precedent: “everywhere” or “every place”
(ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB). Paul is not
laying down a rule that is peculiar to
The precedent for congregational prayer anywhere and everywhere follows the Biblical example of individual prayer anywhere and everywhere. As one preacher once summed up some of the evidence:
Among the Jews, who were for a time under a Theocracy, God chose a place where He might reside [=the Temple], and where were the symbols of His presence, and there all the males resorted thrice in the year; but even then God said to Moses, “In all places where I record My name, I will come unto thee and bless thee” [Exodus 20:24]. . . .
Where was Jacob when he said, “This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven” [Genesis 28:16-18]?
Where did Paul take leave of his friends? “He kneeled down on the seashore” [Acts -38].
Where did the Savior pray? “He went out into a private place” [Luke ?], “He went into a desert place” [Mark ], “He went up into a mountain to pray” [Matthew ; Luke ].
When Jones, a famous Welsh preacher, was commanded to appear before the Bishop of St. David’s, the bishop said to him, “I must insist upon it that you never preach upon unconsecrated ground.” “My lord,” said he, “ I never do; I never did; for ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof’ [Psalms 24:1]; and when Immanuel came down to set His foot upon our earth, the whole was sanctified by it.” . . .
[Furthermore], He Himself hath said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name”--let it be where it will--“there am I in the midst of them.” [Matthew ]. . .
Men should pray
everywhere, because they may die everywhere.
They have died in all places: they
have died in a bath, they have died in a tavern, they have died upon the road,
they have died in the
The posture envolves “lifting up holy hands.” That they are to at least figuratively raise “holy hands” and this makes total and easily understood sense even to our modern ears: They will be able to do this because their character and their behavior is “morally and spiritual clean,” resulting in what they do being the same. They are to be men of good character. Their prayers are to be sincere and have no hidden agenda to pollute the apparent intent. The things they seek are honorable and beneficial to those who receive them. Prayer has in mind not just one’s own welfare but also that of others as well.
It could easily be that this is all Paul has in mind. As an unidentified author effectively puts it,
Although paintings of ancient Christians in the catacombs depict believers praying in this posture, the raising of hands in itself is not Paul’s focus but the fact that our hands are to be “holy.” The Old Testament is filled with allusions to clean hands as symbolic of godly actions and a pure heart (Psalm 26:6; Isaiah ); thus, we are to be about the business of good works with a pure heart if we would have the Lord hear our prayers. . . . John MacArthur writes, “Hands symbolize the activities of life; thus, ‘holy hands’ represent a holy life” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,782).
We can easily grasp the linkage. We wash our hands and have clean hands as a result. When we lift our hands that are morally “holy” they are the ethical equivalent of “clean” hands. A spiritual application of a physical act.
That linkage between (morally) clean hands and righteous behavior is also found in such texts as these:
· Job 17:9: “Yet the righteous will hold to his way, and he who has clean hands will be stronger and stronger.”
· Psalms 24:3-4: “3 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.”
· Or at greater length, the repeated affirmation in Psalms 18:20-24: “20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. 21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. 22 For all His judgments were before me, and I did not put away His statutes from me. 23 I was also blameless before Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. 24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His sight.”
The clean/pure and unclean/(spiritually)
defiled imagery was quite alive in first century Palestinian Judaism (Mark
7:1-3): “1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to
Him, having come from
Hence the idea of God expecting and demanding that we beseech him with morally clean hands (= pure behavior and character) is the continuation of a many centuries long moral tradition.
Strangely there are those think the reference is to ceremonially washed hands. The concept is that they did this to symbolically portray the need to have “cleanness” in approaching God. There is not the slightest hint of such in our text. Furthermore the shifting in emphasis from character to ceremonial act allows one to easily divert oneself from the cultivation of what are the truly clean hands—which is produced by acting and behaving in a morally upstanding manner. It also allows those given to spiritual self-deception or simple laziness to substitute the outward form (washing hands with water) with the needed reality (purity of soul and action). This way they get the “feel” of being pious without needing the “substance” of it.
If one believes that humanly invented religious traditions are praiseworthy—like the first century Pharisees—there is much to praise in this approach. If not, there is nothing. Even so, by around 235 A.D. there were Christians falling into exactly this trap. In the Canons of Hippolytus (#241) believers are instructed: “Let the Christian wash his hands every time he prays.”
Contemporary practice: Oddly there is a major strand of Jewish opinion today that this should be done before all of one’s prayers. Scriptural “proof” is Exodus 30:17-21 where Aaron and other priests had to wash their hands and feet before offering sacrifices—not before prayer, we might note.
That Paul approves and endorses the literal lifting up of hands in prayers seems clear from our text--but note the very important and easily overlooked caveat noted in the next section below. For this to be obligatory, however, it would seem to require that no other posture in prayer is endorsed by scriptural command or Biblically approved example. That is simply not true. One concise summary provides this survey:
· Standing: 1 Kings 8:22-23; Luke 18:10-14; Mark
· Sitting: 1 Kings 19:1-5; Nehemiah 1:4
· Kneeling: Luke 22:41; Acts ; ; 21:3-6; Daniel 6:10
· Bowing Down: Ezra 10:1; Psalms 95:6
· Lying Down: 2 Kings 20:2
· Prostrate: Numbers 16:22; 1 Chronicles 21:16-17; Matthew 26:39
· With Hands Spread Upwards: 1 Kings 8:54; 2 Chronicles 6:12-13; Ezra 9:5
· Lifting Hands: Lamentations 2:19; Psalms 28:2; 141:2; 1 Timothy 2:8
· Beating Breast: Luke 18:13
· Looking Toward Heaven: John 17:1
· With Downcast Eyes: Luke 18:13
· Wearing Sackcloth and Ashes While Fasting: Psalms 35:13-14; Daniel 9:3
What would be the most obvious meaning of why hands are lifted up in pleading, urging, imploring? Does it not mean that you are begging? There is nothing dishonorable in that. Every one of us has our limits and recognizes that there are things we can’t do—at least solely—on our own. Situations so extreme that we do not merely ask or even implore but literally beg for assistance.
In cases when this is the underlying emotion accompanying prayer, one can well see why one might wish to do this “lifting up of hands” quite literally. But doing it as routine is a very different matter. “The lifting up of hands in prayer holds meaning. It is not just a ritualistic stance.” If it is turned into one, of what spiritual value is it?
Figuratively lifting up one’s hands and hearts in prayer makes ample sense to the modern mind. What strikes many more than a bit odd, however, is when “holy hands” are literally lifted up. One thing it would certainly do would be to guarantee short prayers: Because of fatigue and human weakness there is little choice. Otherwise the body rebels. Furthermore if it’s not kept short, would not so much physical effort be put into the lifting that we become distracted from the prayer itself--in our concentration on having the “right form,” as contrasted with “the right content?”
Indeed it should be noted that the official priestly prayer/blessing to be given to the people met this exact criteria—short and to the point:
3 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This
is the way you shall bless the children of
Furthermore we easily recognize
that when Paul discusses women teaching in the church assembly, that he has in
mind the one person teaching/leading the class (2:12). Would it be odd if he only had one
person in mind here as well rather than the entire group that is present? Others might join him in such a posture, but if Paul obligates anyone it would seem
to be that prayer leader and him alone.
Yet it is often assumed that all members were to be doing the same thing and that the hands were kept raised throughout the entire prayer. Alternatively that regardless of what the prayer leader did, that the hands of all members were lifted only at the very ending—a kind of visual “Amen” so to speak.
For what it is worth, we certainly find Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata (7.740)--in the last decades of the second century--argue that in his day, at least, the hands were raised specifically at the end--with the clear implication they weren’t kept raised throughout:
Prayer is, then, to speak more boldly, converse with God. Though whispering, consequently, and not opening the lips, we speak in silence, yet we cry inwardly. For God hears continually all the inward converse. So also we raise the head and lift the hands to heaven, and set the feet in motion at the closing utterance of the prayer, following the eagerness of the spirit directed towards the intellectual essence; and endeavouring to abstract the body from the earth, along with the discourse, raising the soul aloft, winged with longing for better things, we compel it to advance to the region of holiness, magnanimously despising the chain of the flesh.
I have seen this placed, by commenters, as occurring at the end of what we today would call the closing prayer of the church service. In its original context, I can’t find any such hint. Rather he appears to be laying down a general rule for any and all prayers that might be made during the service. That it would be especially appropriate at the end prayer, enthusiastically embracing what is said, is unquestionably true however.
Certainly the “letter” of Paul’s instructions would be met by such a procedure and quite possibly his inherent intent. But that is a fine point I have no intention of arguing in either direction.
These prayers are to lack two things; the first is
“wrath.” We find the common substitution here of
“anger” (ESV, GW, NET, NIV, WEB,
This admonition argues strongly that vindictive prayers should be lacking in our private as well as our public life. To plead for “justice” and “just retribution” is one thing. But there is a thin line between that and pure revenge—a barrier that should never be crossed.
The second thing their prayers are to omit is “doubting.” “Doubting” envolves inward disputing--our own disagreements within ourselves, our unsettled thoughts and concerns as to whether a prayer will be granted and answered. The bulk of translations today, however, seek an outward explanation. Since the underlying Greek term can also carry the connotation of hostilities and antagonism toward others, they prefer to find that meaning here.
Hence we read
of “quarreling” (ESV) or “quarrels” (GW), “argument” (Holman) or “argumentive” (ISV), “dispute (NET) or “disputing”
(NIV). Then there is “dissension” (NASB)
and “strife” (
In such cases one is utilizing prayer not to express wishes, wants, and needs, but as an offensive tool to degrade and attack our brothers and sisters in Christ. And in such a place—prayer—it is hard to imagine how anyone gets the opportunity for an effective rebuttal. Prayer becomes not a means of communicating with God, but an offensive tool to be used against our coreligionists. In such a setting, one can easily imagine tempers slowly boiling at any real or perceived unjust remarks. We have something bordering on a parallel with Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2:14: “Do all things without complaining [= expressing disagreement and anger?] and disputing.”
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 188.
 Karris, Pastoral, 61.
 Earle, 357.
 Arichea and Hatton, 45.
 Humphreys, on 2:1.
 [Unidentified author], “What Is Intercessory Prayer?” Part of the GotQuestions.org website. At: http://www.gotquestions.org/intercessory-prayer.html. (Accessed: June, 2015)
 Witherington, n. 144, 212.
 Bratcher, 20.
 White on 2:1.
 Bratcher, 20.
 DeWelt, 49, using the translations “tranquil” and “quiet,” points them in the opposite directions than we do.
 As quoted by Malina and Pilch, 108.
 Witherington, 214.
 Gundry, Testament, 834.
 Allen, 271.
 Humphreys on 2:2.
 Humphreys on 2:2.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 190.
 Humphreys on 2:2.
 W. Birch on 2:3 in Exell, Illustrator.
 Stott, Guard, 65.
 Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace, 14.44, as quoted by Gordy, 156.
 Witherington, 215.
 Stott, Guard, 69.
 Earle, 358.
 Gordy, 158.
 Malina and Pilch, 109.
 Arichea and Hatton, 50.
 Chiao Ek Ho, “Mission in the Pastoral Epistles,” in Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, edited by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Terry L. Wilder (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2010), 251.
 Vincent on 2:7 (internet).
 Arichea and Hatton, 52.
 Bratcher, 23.
 Arichea and Hatton, 54.
 Arichea and Hatton, 54.
 W. Jay on 2:8 in Exell, Illustrator.
 A. T. Robertson on 1:8.
 [Unidentified Author], “Lifting Holy Hands in Prayer.” At: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/lifting-holy-hands-prayer/. (Accessed: February, 2015).
 Malina and Pilch, 113.
 As quoted by Ibid.
 (Rabbi) Yosef Eliyah, “Must We Wash Our Face, Feet, and Hands Before
Every Prayer?” At:
 Jeffrey W. Hamilton (?), Untitled answer to question on lifting up hands in prayer. At: http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVanswers/2006/07-04.htm. (Accessed: October 2015.)
 Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata or Miscellanies, Book VII, Roberts-Donaldson English translation, as reprinted at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-stromata-book7.html. (Accessed October 2015.)
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 199.