Correct Use of the Law in 1 Timothy

In 1 Tim 1:8 Paul says that the “law” is good if one uses it “lawfully”. He goes on to explain that the law is not for the righteous, but for sinners, and gives a list of examples of sinful lifestyles (1 Tim 1:9-11). These verses raise the interesting and controversial question of what use the “law” is to Christians. If we are the “righteous” in Christ, does that make the law completely irrelevant for us? Are any commands still binding on us in the New Covenant? Is it only to be mined for prophetic references to Christ?

I thought it would be interesting to look and see how Paul uses the law in the rest of 1 Timothy, since that would constitute a good example of what he considers “lawful” use of the law. The first difficulty is in deciding what exactly he includes in “the law”. Is this a reference to the 623 commands found in the Pentateuch (i.e. those things which are specifically ‘laws’)? Or does it refer more generally to the first five books of the Bible? Or even to the whole Old Testament? It is hard to say for sure. The false teachers in Ephesus that Paul wants Timothy to deal with consider themselves to be teachers of the law (1 Tim 1:7), and since their speciality included “genealogies” I opt for at least the whole five books of Moses being in view.

  • The first clear allusion to the “law” comes in the most confusing and contentious part of the letter. 1 Tim 2:13-14 refers to Adam and Eve. Some would say Paul uses this text to illustrate a “principle” from creation, although others argue this is merely an “example” of a woman being deceived.
  • The qualifications listed for overseers and deacons in 1 Tim 3:1-13 include several virtues that the Old Testament praises, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear link to the law.
  • 1 Tim 4:3-5 seems to allude to both the creation story, and possibly to various food restrictions in the law. Here Paul emphasises the primacy of the creation story – what God calls good is good, and no one should introduce laws against those things.
  • In 1 Tim 4:13 Timothy is urged to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. With the New Testament not yet written, this clearly is a reference to the Old Testament. Paul firmly believes it has on-going benefit for Christians to read and meditate on.
  • 1 Tim 5:3 speaks about the church’s ministry to widows. Where did they get this idea from? Almost certainly it flows from the Old Testament’s repeated concern for the plight of widows and orphans (e.g. Ex 22:22, Deut 14:29). This is a good example of a principle from the OT law being practically applied into the life of the church.
  • Showing “honour” is a recurring theme in the latter part of 1 Timothy, so 1 Tim 5:4,8 quite possibly are intended to invoke the command to “honour” your father and mother.
  • The first unambiguous citation of an Old Testament law is in 1 Tim 5:18. Paul quotes Deut 25:4 which is a command not to muzzle an ox while it treads the grain, and then applies it to providing financial support for elders.
  • In the next verse (1 Tim 5:19), he appears to take another principle from the OT law, this time Deut 19:15, which requires two or three witnesses to establish a matter. Again, these are principles reapplied into the new context of the church.
  • The final reference I noticed was in 1 Tim 6:7, which is a possible allusion to various passages from the wisdom literature (Job 1:21; Ps 49:17; Ecc 5:15). Whether this falls under the category of “law” is debatable, but it again shows Paul drawing on the OT to back up his teaching.

Overall then, the pattern that emerges is that Paul has an intimate knowledge of the OT and draws on it regularly as a source of principles for Christian living. He doesn’t however seem to cite commands directly and demand that we keep them. When he does issue commands they tend to come from his apostolic authority instead. His position with regards to the OT “law” can probably be best summed up in his words in 2 Tim 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Taken with the preceding verse (2 Tim 3:15), we could say that Paul sees the OT as having two great purposes. First it makes us “wise to salvation” by telling us the story of God’s plan of redemption, throughout which we see Christ prophesied and prefigured. But second, it is intensely practical. That is why Paul has no difficulty in seeing the commands as a rich store of principles, even if he doesn’t necessarily see them as having an on-going binding force on us in the New Covenant. Yes, we are under a new law, written on our hearts by the Spirit, but as we look at the law of the Old Covenant, there is much in there that points us to the unchanging character of God, and as such it is quite appropriate to use it to shape the way we live and do church.

Universal offer of Salvation in the Pastorals

I posted a while ago about limited atonement, and included a reference to 1 Tim 4:10, which I think is a helpful verse that can defuse some of the contentiousness about this point.  As I have been studying the Pastorals in more detail over the past few months, I have been on the lookout for more verses about the scope of salvation.

The first passage of note is 1 Tim 2:1-7, with the recurring word “all” (πάντων) standing out. Paul starts off by asking us to pray for all people (1 Tim 2:1). It becomes clear that praying for their salvation is in view since God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). 1 Tim 2:6 then goes on to say that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. These verses certainly fit nicely in the Arminian framework, and have to be qualified somewhat by Calvinists.

1 Tim 2:7 does however state that it is this universality of salvation that has resulted in Paul becoming a preacher to the Gentiles. In other words, the force of the all in this passage may be that Paul wants to say that God’s heart is for all nations, not just the Jews, and that Jesus is the Saviour for all nations, not just the Jews. This is why in 2 Tim 4:17, Paul says he wants all the Gentiles to hear the gospel.

Then we have 1 Tim 4:10. Here, God is the “Saviour of all people”, but especially the Saviour of “those who believe”. I take this to mean that he is the only Saviour available to people, but only actually saves those who believe.

The final verse of note is in Titus 2:11, which speaks of the “appearing of grace” (referring to Jesus’ incarnation). The coming of Jesus brought salvation for all people, which unless we are universalists, means that it provided a way of salvation available to all people.

In summary, the Pastoral epistles regularly speak of the offer and availability of salvation in universal terms, and if we want to be biblical Christians, we should do the same. Jesus is the only Saviour available to the people of this world, and his sacrifice was sufficient to atone for the sins of the world. As a Calvinist I am happy to affirm this. The sticking point remains at why some avail themselves of this salvation, and others do not. Is it rooted in the eternal choice of God, or in human free will?

Fake Paul and the Pastoral Epistles

For most evangelicals, the debate about whether or not Paul wrote the Pastorals is a non-issue. The Bible says so, and that is good enough.

But anyone who has read the commentaries will know there is a real debate on this topic, with many scholars opting to reject Pauline authorship. Much of the debate rests on issues outside of my area of expertise, such as the Greek vocabulary and grammar, but I would nevertheless like to present a few brief thoughts of my own on the topic, after spending the last few months studying the Pastorals.

First, it is not hard to be convinced that the same author wrote all three Pastorals. There are so many points of contact between them that to imagine a different author wrote them feels weird to me. You’d have to imagine that “fake Paul” wrote 1 Timothy, and then someone else, fooled into thinking it was real Paul, wrote 2 Timothy in the style of 1 Timothy.

Having said that, it is also possible to discern some variations from Paul’s more “normal” way of speaking that we are familiar with from his earlier writings (e.g. “trustworthy sayings”, or non-characteristic words like epiphany). Of course, there are some quite plausible natural explanations for this, including a development in his own writing style and vocabulary over time, and the possible use of an amanuensis. The trustworthy sayings are in fact evidence that Paul was happy to borrow from other Christian’s creedal statements and hymns, thus broadening his own way of speaking.

But let us contemplate for a moment that someone else did write these letters. “Fake Paul” is writing a letter, but we need a motive. Is he trying to trick the real Timothy and the real Titus into thinking they are receiving instructions from the real Paul? This seems very unlikely indeed. They would be the hardest people to fool, and would soon enough find out that the letters were a fraud. So “fake Paul” is also writing to “fake Timothy”, a fabricated recipient, when in fact the real target audience of the letter is someone else entirely.

Various motives for writing as “fake Paul” have been suggested. Some argue for a well-meaning person telling us “what Paul would have said to Timothy”, but never intended to deceive anyone  or teach anything Paul wouldn’t have agreed with. Another possibility is that someone uses this technique to lend authority to some theological ideas of their own that otherwise would be hard to persuade people of.

To choose between these options, we must reconstruct what we can about “fake Paul”. First, he knows quite a lot about Paul. He must have read other Pauline letters, and be familiar with the accounts from Acts. He comes up with some brilliant pithy summaries of the gospel (1 Tim 2:5-6; Titus 1:1-3; Titus 2:11-14) which makes him a pretty astute theologian in his own right. He has got all kinds of Pauline mannerisms down to a tee, from the way he does the introductions, to the occasional spontaneous doxologies (e.g. 1 Tim 1:17), to the Christian adaption of household codes, to the greetings to assorted colleagues at the end of letters (e.g. 2 Tim 4:19-21).

What’s more, he uses his knowledge of Paul’s missionary movements to add authenticity (e.g. 2 Tim 3:11), as well as his knowledge of Paul’s companions and their locations (e.g. 2 Tim 4:10,19), and yet at the same time chooses to locate Titus on an island never mentioned in Acts, and introduce a random assortment of additional companions not known elsewhere. He either has a very fertile imagination or insider information not contained within Acts.

Even more curious is the personal details “fake Paul” knows about Timothy. He recalls incidents that include prophecies made Timothy’s ordination (1 Tim 4:14) and baptism, who Timothy’s mother and grandmother are (2 Tim 1:5), and knows that Timothy has stomach problems (1 Tim 5:23).

When we search for fake Paul’s hidden agenda, it is hard to find. The letters are greatly concerned with opposing false teaching, but we don’t really get told much about what that teaching entailed. If this is real Paul writing to real Timothy that makes perfect sense. But surely “fake Paul” would want his audience to know what teachings in particular were in need of rejecting. Instead he names and shames the (presumably fake) false teachers.

We have already established that fake Paul isn’t addressing the real Timothy or Titus, so why address so much of his letter directly and personally to them? The genuine Pauline letters are more broadly directed to a whole church, so why not utilise that style as the model which would give fake Paul much more freedom to make his point without having to resort to ridiculous fictions such as “please go to Troas and get my cloak and scrolls” (2 Tim 4:13).

One of the most readily identifiable features of Paul’s letters is his trademark greeting, “grace to you and peace” which is found in all his other letters: Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2, Col 1:2, 1 Thess 1:1, 2 Thess 1:2, Phil 1:3. Even the other fake Paul, you know, the one who wrote Ephesians, remembered to include it. This fake Paul clearly has read other letters by the real Paul, so why on earth would he diverge from Paul’s standard greeting and use “grace, mercy, peace” (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2) instead? Even Tit 1:4 doesn’t get it quite right. We have to either put this down to a remarkable blunder on the part of fake Paul, or, more plausibly in my view, it is real Paul writing it in which case he has complete freedom to give an alternative special greeting to his close friend Timothy.

In other words, we have to imagine someone who has brilliantly done his homework in pretending to be Paul, fabricates all kinds of pointless details just for good effect, and yet introduces a major faux pas by failing to precisely copy Paul’s most readily identifiable catchphrase. He goes to great lengths to include fictitious personal information, with no discernible purpose other than to lend authenticity to his hidden agenda, which he in large part forgets to include, since the overriding theological themes of the Pastorals are in full agreement with the other Pauline letters.

In short, while the Pastorals do indeed have a different feel and flavour to the other Pauline epistles, the theory that someone else wrote these requires us to believe in a “fake Paul” who I find to be frankly unbelievable.

Epiphany of Grace and Glory

One of the recurring words in the Pastoral epistles is ἐπιφάνεια, translated as “appearing” or “revealed”, and from which we get the word “epiphany”. It is used to describe both the return of Jesus and his incarnation. Both were an “appearing” of Jesus. 2 Tim 1:10, Tit 2:11 and Tit 3:4 refer to Jesus’ first coming. 1 Tim 6:14 and Tit 3:4 refer to Christ’s second coming. 2 Tim 4:1 and 2 Tim 4:8 are a little less clear, but I think they also refer to the Parousia.

For Paul, these two “appearings” of Jesus are the two most significant interventions of God in human history, and we are living in between. I particularly like the way he describes the two appearings in Tit 2:11,13. Jesus’ first coming is the “epiphany of the grace of God”, and his second coming is the “epiphany of the glory of God”.

The “appearing of grace” is a beautiful way of describing what happened in the incarnation. Jesus came as a servant, rather than a king, as a rescuer rather than as a judge. His glory was concealed, only perceived by those whose eyes had been opened (Jn 1:14). Jesus’ first coming is the ultimate revelation and embodiment of the grace of God.

We now await the “appearing of glory”. When Jesus returns, this time his true glory will be evident to all. This will be a day of judgment (2 Tim 4:1) and reward (2 Tim 4:8). It is not that Christ will no longer be gracious – it is only on the basis of grace that anyone can expect a favourable outcome on that day. Jesus’ second coming is the ultimate revelation and embodiment of the glory of God.

It seems a shame to me that controversy over the end times (premil, amil, postmil, rapture, mark of the beast etc) has caused many Christians to steer clear of the topic of the second coming. We have many songs and sermons on the epiphany of grace, but comparatively few on the epiphany of glory. But we are not only to be a backwards oriented people, simply thanking God for his grace in the past. We should be those who live in the light of the appearing of God’s grace, and live in the hope of the appearing of God’s glory.

Free Download – My Exposition of 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus

I hope you don’t laugh out loud when you read this, but I am actually trying to write a commentary on the entire New Testament. I’ve been going for about eight years now, and have completed Mark, John, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, James, 1 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, and most recently the Pastorals (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus).

I always intended to publish them here on my site as I completed each one, but the truth is I am embarrassed about my inadequacy in both understanding the Biblical text and being able to write in a way that doesn’t bore people to tears. Nevertheless, I have decided that it is about time I simply put them up here. It’s not as if more than a handful of people are likely to download, let alone read them, and any feedback on how they can be improved would be gratefully received.

I should also say that I can think of no sane reason why anyone would actually read these. The commentary market is awash with much better materials, and if you want recommendations I am always glad to oblige. These are written more for my own benefit than for anyone else, as it is a good way to help myself grapple with the meaning of the text.

My basic approach is to take blocks of around five verses at a time, and briefly explain what I think they mean before making some points of application. After commenting on each section, I then consult at least one commentary in order to answer difficult questions and discover things I have missed and ways in which I have misunderstood the text.

I’ve really enjoyed working through the Pastorals over the past few months, and I’ve been mainly using Towner’s NICNT commentary. I’ve also made extensive notes on themes I have found in the Pastorals, a few of which I have turned into blog posts, with hopefully a few more to follow. There have been several passages that I found really challenging to understand, but I have tried to adopt a position on most issues, and only remain noncommital on the most difficult.

The PDF of my first draft is available here. It is very rough and ready, and needs a proof reader, so please send me any tips for improvement if you do have a look through.

If you want to download any of the others in my series, follow this link. There are three that need a little tidying up before they go online (Mark, Thessalonians, 1-3 John), but the rest of them are up, and I’ll probably do a blog post introducing each one individually at some point in the future.

A Pattern of Sound Words

In 2 Tim 1:13, Paul asks Timothy to follow the “pattern of sound words” that he has been taught. One possible meaning of this phrase I considered was that Paul had shaped the gospel into some sort of memorable creedal statements, and that Timothy should make use of those same verbal forms. I don’t think that is in fact the best explanation, and this verse probably means that Timothy should consider Paul’s doctrine to be “sound” and should stick to it.

Regardless of what 2 Tim 1:13 means, you can’t help but notice as you work through the Pastoral epistles how many times Paul makes use of what appear to be pre-existing sayings. For example, there are at least five “trustworthy sayings” (1 Tim 1:15; 1 Tim 3:1; 1 Tim 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11-13; Tit 3:8). 1 Tim 3:16 has the feel of a hymn, while the prayers in 1 Tim 1:17 and 1 Tim 6:15-16 are short and memorable doxologies. There are also a number of succinct and carefully crafted gospel summaries (e.g. 2 Tim 2:9-10, Tit 1:1-4, Tit 2:11-14, Tit 3:4-7).

All of this points to the fact that Paul didn’t blurt things out, but thought very carefully about how exactly he wanted to say them. I’m not saying that the church at this point in history was particularly “liturgical”, but it does seem that already Paul had a wealth of material from which he was able to draw.

The charismatic churches I have been part of are typically very suspicious of liturgy. Any form of set words seems like dead formalism, and it is considered far more preferable to address God in your own words wherever possible (except of course in song). Prayers are extemporaneous, there is no formal liturgy surrounding the Lord’s supper or baptism, creeds are rarely if ever recited.

There are strengths to this approach (not least in that there is an authenticity about using your own words rather than someone else’s), but an obvious weakness is that it can be possible for our prayers and the words we use within meetings to lack real depth. Informal liturgies often emerge where the same clichéd phrases are repeated over and over, mainly because we can’t think of anything else to say on the spur of the moment.

Personally I think that church history has given us a rich store of hymns, creeds, prayers and sayings and our “non-liturgical” modern churches impoverish themselves by failing to make use of them. And that is to say nothing of the numerous prayers within Scripture that could be utilised. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination arguing for pre-scripting our services. But I do wonder whether more attention to the pattern of words we use could bring a depth to what we say that is sometimes sadly lacking.

I think both the liturgical and the anti-liturgical camps can find that, for different reasons, the words spoken at their meetings lack real impact. The challenge for the church is to find ways of speaking God’s truth that are fresh, powerful, profound, striking and surprising. Neither predictable liturgy on the one hand, nor unprepared improvisation on the other will be able to achieve this.

Book Review – The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Philip Towner)

This is a fairly recent addition (2006) to the long-running New International Commentary series, currently under the editorship of Gordon Fee. As with others in the series, this is a thorough exegetical commentary that leaves no phrase unexamined, interacts with modern scholarship, and often deals with issues of Greek vocabulary and grammar. The series also comes from within the evangelical tradition, and seeks to address the sorts of questions preachers and serious students of the Scriptures will have.

The Pastoral Epistles carry their fair share of controversial issues, the first of which is of course whether Paul really wrote them. Towner’s introduction outlines the various arguments against Pauline authorship, which he does not find convincing, although he has more time for Marshall’s idea of “allonymity”. However, his commentary treats Paul as the author, and he continues to probe the topic throughout.

He explains the historical context into which the letters were written, including the likely beliefs of the false teachers Timothy was opposing (he does not think they were Gnostics), and the moral climate, particularly in Crete, which was similar to Corinth. Each letter in the PE brings its own theological contributions, and Towner gives particular attention to the Christology of the three letters.

He commentates on the TNIV, although in places goes with his own alternative translation. For example he prefers “compete in the good contest of faith” instead of “fight the good fight” in 1 Tim 6:12 to keep with the athletic metaphor he discerns in 1 Tim 6:11.

He includes several excursuses, which are in-depth word studies of key words in the PE. These are a little on the academic side and you could skip over them. However, by the end of the commentary it often becomes clear that the words they explore are important recurring terms within the PE. For example there is one on ἐπιφαίνω which is an appearing or epiphany.

A few highlights for me were his treatment of 1 Tim 2:1-7 on the “universality” of salvation and on the significance of Jesus’ humanity. He is also very illuminating on the somewhat confusing section about widows in 1 Tim 5:3-16. He argues that it was not likely an office / sisterhood with vows of celibacy. Another passage that he gives particularly close attention to is 2 Tim 4:16-18, in which he detects several allusions to Psalm 21. In fact, allusions to the OT, or “intertextuality”, is one of the key areas Towner states in the introduction that intends his commentary to focus on.

Although this is primarily an exegetical commentary, there are places where he will briefly switch gear and move into preaching mode. For example, in some challenging summarising comments on 2 Tim 3:1-9, he asks us to consider our own potential for apostasy by remaking the “untameable” gospel into something we find more accommodating. Are these verses a “mirror” that we need to consider whether we see our own reflection in, and not just a description of what “they” are like?

In a detailed discussion of Titus 2:13, he considers the debate about whether Jesus is referred to as God. He argues “God and Saviour” has a single, not multiple referent, and then that it is “glory” that Jesus is set in apposition to not God. In other words instead of “Jesus, who is our great God and Saviour”, he argues for something along the lines of “Jesus, who is the glory of our great God and Saviour”, or to put it another way “Jesus is the embodiment of the glory of God”. I found this quite convincing, and it seems to me to fit nicely with Titus 2:11, in which we have the “epiphany” of “grace” (Christ’s first coming), which makes the second coming in Titus 2:13 the “epiphany of glory”.

I suspect many readers of this review will be interested in his take on one of the most contentious sections of the PE, the instructions to women in 1 Tim 2:8-15, to which he devotes 50 pages of comments. Towner, like the series editor Fee, holds to the egalitarian position, and therefore does not see these commands as having universal applicability. However, he does not choose to follow the interpretive line of some egalitarians who think that the husband/wife relationship in the privacy of the home is in view. He very much places these instructions in the context of public worship.

As someone who holds to a complementarian view but willing to have my mind changed, I was a little disappointed with his dismissive and sometimes acerbic comments directed towards the likes of Mounce, Knight, and Köstenberger. In fact he refuses to use the term “complementarian”, preferring to characterise the opposing view as “hierarchicalism” or “traditionalism”.

He draws heavily on Bruce Winter’s work on the “new Roman woman”, and this which he sees as something of an interpretive key to 1 Tim 2:8-15, 1 Tim 5:3-16 and also Titus 2:3-8. These were wealthy women who wanted the freedoms normally restricted to men, including sexual freedom, and were speaking up in public gatherings, and less modest in dress. There seems a lot that is plausible in this reconstruction, whatever one thinks of the ongoing validity of the commands. In fact, Towner himself in his comments sees these restrictions very much related to the church’s witness within society, and suggests that in certain Asian cultures, a similarly conservative approach to women’s roles might be wise, but in our western culture the opposite is true, and Christians dragging their feet with regards to the “egalitarian trajectory within the gospel” are damaging the witness of the church.

I was not persuaded by his view that the overseer and elder do not refer to the same role (he suggests a single overseer leads in concert with a larger council of elders). He sees both Timothy and Titus as operating in the role of “apostolic delegate”.

I made use of this commentary as part of a detailed study of the Pastoral Epistles I have been doing over the past few months. I would study a few verses myself, coming up with my own understanding, before consulting Towner. Only very rarely did I find that questions I had about the text weren’t addressed in some way in the text. So I would say this is an excellent resource filled with stimulating and insightful comments, that has greatly helped in my understanding of the PE.

Book Review–The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (John Stott)

Apologies for the lack of posts here recently. My energies recently have been focused on preparing some talks for Southampton and Solent CUs.

Although this commentary does not cover all three pastoral epistles, Stott uses the introduction to discuss the arguments for and against Pauline authorship for the pastorals as a whole. He does not go into exhaustive detail, but the discussion is fuller than normal for the Bible Speaks Today series.

He works verse by verse through the two letters in expository fashion, not just explaining the text, but applying it to contemporary church situations and is always willing to briefly comment on theological issues raised. Both letters contain plenty of material directed to church leaders, a passion that Stott shares, believing that “the health of the church depends very largely on the quality, faithfulness and teaching of its ordained ministers.”

His discussion of gender issues is sensitively handled, and he argues for a creation principle of male “headship” which has varying cultural expressions. This leads him to categorise women teaching alongside men raising their hands and women plaiting their hair – practises that may or may not be appropriate in different cultures as expressions of an underlying principle. It is an interesting suggestion, although it does require him to maintain that the first century cultural expression of this principle is the exact opposite of the modern one in this case.

He suggests that the ministry of deacons includes teachings, and that they functioned as assistants to the elders. The treatment of the subject of money in chapter six is particularly insightful, discussing simplicity and destitution. “Money is a drug, and covetousness a drug addiction”.

The letters of 1 Timothy and Titus have plenty to say on the importance of sound doctrine, a passion that Stott shares. He also highlights the emphasis on the importance of good works that permeates the letter to Titus. He describes Titus as being about “doctrine and duty” – in the church, the home, and the world. He argues that there is an “indissoluble connection” between doctrine and duty and that “any doctrine that does not promote godliness is manifestly bogus”.

As with all Stott’s contributions to the Bible Speaks Today Series, this is one that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to go deeper in their personal Bible study.