Posted by: mattcolvin | March 18, 2011

Notes on 1 Timothy 1:1-7

1:1 – Paul’s reference to Timothy as γνησίῳ τέκνῳ uses, not the word for “son” (υἱός), but τέκνον, cognate with τίκτω, to beget or bear a child. The thought is the same as 1 Cor. 4:15 (“you have not many fathers”): Paul is the one who converted Timothy along with his mother Lois and grandmother Eunice. Paul thus has a greater claim on Timothy’s loyalty than others.

That Timothy has been loyal to Paul, and has followed his teaching, is conveyed by γνησίῳ, legitimate. He is not a bastard son. The connection between legitimacy and behavior is seen also in Jesus’ discourse with the Jews in John 8:41 (“We are not children of fornication!”).

1:2 χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς κτλ. – this is not a mere wish or even a prayer. It is an apostle conveying these things from the one who sent him. Even in his correspondence with Timothy, Paul still acts as Christ’s plenipotentiary ambassador.

1:3 παρεκάλεσά σε προσμεῖναι ἐν Ἐφέσῳ – We’ve mentioned before how Timothy became a bishop and how this fact is used in the service of the myth of tactile apostolic succession. In the present instance, we see again that Timothy is not yet a bishop, but has been left behind in Ephesus as an “apostle’s apostle”, precisely because Paul himself cannot be there (πορευόμενος εἰς Μακεδονίαν). If Timothy had been a bishop, he would have been stationed permanently in his “diocese” of Ephesus — as in fact he later was. But in Acts 20 we see that this is not yet the case: just three verses after leaving Timothy behind in Ephesus, Paul is back and taking him with him into Asia.

All this confirms what I have argued before: Timothy is a shaliach or apostle or emissary of Paul. He is not an officer of a local church or diocese, but has delegated authority from his apostolic master to do his master’s work, reshaping and directing churches all over the Mediterranean. That is why he is a co-author of the epistles to the Philippians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, and Philemon. He shares the authority of Paul, who gave it to him by the laying on of hands (but more about this ritual act in its proper place). That is also why Paul instructs Timothy to “let no one despise you on account of your youth” 1 Tim. 4:12): as Paul’s shaliach, Timothy bears Paul’s authority. Mistreatment of Timothy is mistreatment of Paul; respect for Timothy is respect for Paul. This is all in accordance with established Biblical principles of representation: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (Mt. 10:40) Thus, Jesus himself is the “apostle and high priest whom we confess” because he represents the Father. Such principles of representation are absolutely foundational to the faith of the New Testament, and indeed to New Testament-era Judaism itself. Some 16 times in the Babylonian Talmud, we find repeated the dictum that “a man’s shaliach is as it were the man himself.” In Hebrews 6:1-2, the laying on of hands (one of the ways to establish such representation) is mentioned alongside baptism, repentance, faith, and eternal judgment as part of the “foundation” of “elementary teachings about Christ.”

As an apostle’s apostle, a shaliach’s shaliach, Timothy is preeminently sent by Paul. In 1 Cor. 4:17, Paul says “I am sending you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus…” Again, in Philippians 2:19-24: “19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.” Thus, Timothy’s loyalty to Paul and his accurate reflection of his master’s character make him a suitable representative to be sent on apostolic business, especially when Paul himself would not have been able to go.

A similar job was probably held by Titus, Tychicus, Silvanus (2 Thess. 1:1), Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1), and Artemas (Titus 3:12). All these are either listed along with Paul as senders of NT epistles, or specifically said to be sent by him on his business.

ἵνα παραγγείλῃς τισὶν μὴ ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖν – “in order that you may command certain people not to teach differently” — Timothy’s job is to shore up the foundations of true teaching that Paul had laid. In God’s perfect wisdom, he chose a persecutor and a violently anti-Christian Jew to be His apostle to the Gentiles. So fiercely did the Lord drive Paul that he became a virtual dervish in his activity, whirling around the eastern Mediterranean preaching and filling up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. But the devil was not idle: faced with such an onslaught of gospel activity, Satan set about diligently to pervert and corrupt Paul’s fledgling churches with false teaching. We see him doing this especially in Galatia by the teaching of Judaizing heretics, and at Corinth with pseudo-spiritual antinomians and so-called “super-apostles” who claimed to be superior in authority to Paul himself. We see the apostle John combatting similar efforts to pervert new churches in 1 John 2:19, where he strenuously denies that recent troublers of the church claiming to be from him had come with any legitimate commission (“they went out from us, but they were not out from us, etc.”). In Paul’s case, his absence was an opportunity for Satan, and Timothy is intended to be a stay and a defense, to keep Paul’s new shoots straight so they can grow up into trees. He is to do this especially by opposing false teaching.

1:4 – μὴ προσέχειν μύθοις – “not to pay heed to myths” (cf. Titus 1:14’s mention of Jewish μύθοι). What sort of stories are these? False ones, to be sure. Perhaps false Messiah-like claims to “be someone great” — claims for which the “endless genealogies” might be adduced as evidence. We might also imagine people like the Corinthian “super-apostles”. In 2 Cor. 12:18, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to consider, not only how he himself behaved when he was with them, but also the behavior of Titus, walking “in the same spirit” and “in the same steps” as his apostolic master. The continued presence of one of Paul’s deputies — in Corinth, Titus, in Ephesus, Timothy — was an important check on false teaching.

These genealogies and μύθοι promote ἐκζητήσεις. Many English translations render this word “quarrels”, but it means rather research, inquiries, or speculation. To be sure, such things can easily engender quarrels. But Paul is here teaching against a church of ivory tower academics who see the faith as a mere opportunity for intellectual display. He is against Rabbinic systematizing, against scholastic theology (Calvin in his commentary on 1 Timothy includes a special condemnation of the “sophists of the Sorbonne”:

“If this test had been applied during several centuries, although religion had been stained by many errors, at least that diabolical art of disputing, which has obtained the appellation of Scholastic Theology, would not have prevailed to so great an extent. For what does that theology contain but contentions or idle speculations, from which no advantage is derived?”…
We see in the present day with what pride and haughtiness the schools of the Sorbonne pronounce their authoritative decisions. And on what subjects? On those which are altogether hidden from the minds of men — which no word of Scripture, and no revelation has ever made known to us. With greater boldness do they affirm their purgatory than the resurrection of the dead. As to their contrivances about the intercession of the saints, if we do not hold them to be an undoubted oracle, they cry out that the whole of religion is overturned. What shall I say as to their vast labyrinths about the hierarchies of heaven, relationships, and similar contrivances? It is a matter that has no end.

We Reformed have our own problems in this regard. Groen Van Prinsterer mentions the failure of Calvinism in his own day, precisely because of this same obsession with trifles:

I know our theologians displayed a wealth of learning and our people, especially the middle class, evinced a gratifying remnant of godliness and morality. Yet, when I look for the kind of faith that is like the all-pervading leaven, and consider whether it could have been expected to offer any real resistance to a false, seductive, popularized philosophy, then I believe the contrary {176} is apparent. At least, when I think of the elaborate systems of church doctrine; of the hosts of discourses and tedious sermons; of the hair-splitting over words, whereby the power of the Word was so often made of none effect; of that ecclesiastical touchiness whereby the sacredness of Revelation was transferred to every jot and tittle of human conclusion and assumption; of the foolish excitement over secondary matters while being outflanked on all sides by the grossest fallacies — then I no longer detect in all those orthodox exertions and trappings the sword that is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; then I fail to see in them the weapons of our apostolic warfare which in the hands of the Reformers, too, had proved mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.

What would Calvin and Groen think of our modern Reformed and Evangelical blogosphere?

(And what would he think of Episcopal and Anglican obsessions with their bishops’ pedigrees of apostolic succession? Endless genealogies, indeed.)

All these things can be summed up with one word in 1:6: ματαιολογία, “empty talk.” They do not profit or benefit anyone.

What does Paul want instead? οἰκονομίαν θεοῦ τὴν ἐν πίστει. This is not “edification” (NKJV) but “the stewardship of God” — in other words, taking care of the flock, not debating or quarreling or hair-splitting.


  1. […] have discussed some of the phrases in 1 Tim. 1 in light of all this. See also my posts on the ordination of the Seven in Acts 6, and on the ordination of Timothy as […]

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