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Notes on the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 1:3-7) 2005-03-21

Posted by Peter Kirby at 5:43 PM | Permalink

I have begun to create a set of notes on the interpretation of the Pastoral Epistles. I have completed the first two sections of it (and part of the third). I plan to do a section or two per day. After I have finished making notes, I plan to write an introduction, treating at least the issues of authorship, date, provenance, and occasion. At that time I may, or I may not, write the kind of free flowing prose that is usually termed "commentary."

Here is the second section. I invite your help in making it better.
First Timothy, Warning against False Teachers
1:3 As I urged you to stay at Ephesus, when I was going to Macedonia, that you may charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine, 1:4 nor to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which promote speculations, rather than the divine plan that works through faith; [so do I now] . 1:5 But the purpose of the charge is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith: 1:6 from which things some, having swerved, have turned aside unto vain talking,1:7 desiring to be teachers of the moral law, though they understand neither what they say nor the subjects of which they make assertions.
Donald Guthrie says that the author "forgets to reach the grammatical end of the sentence begun in this verse" but that "it should be noted that the roughness would not be quite as apparent in Greek as in English." (1957: 57) The verb translated "charge" is "a military term which means literally to pass commands from one to the other." (1957: 57)

J. L. Houlden writes about the geographical element: "II Timothy is set at the end of Paul's life (4:6 ff.); and the only position for the journey referred to in 1 Tim. 1:3 known from the genuine letters is that mentioned in 1 Cor. 16:5. Together with v. 8 of the same chapter, could that have been the basis on which our writer constructs his little piece of verisimilitude? V. 8 speaks of Paul remaining (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3) in Ephesus until his travelling starts—which could be supposed not to be before Timothy's return, foreseen in v. 11. Then Timothy will in turn remain at Ephesus. If our writer used 1 Corinthians (which was, we know, among the best known of Paul's epistles in these early decades), and used it thus (in a manner so sloppy from the point of view of anyone interested in fitting together a total picture of Paul's career), then we need not be surprised that the evidence of Acts has no useful bearing on our passage. ... In Acts, there are two journeys to Macedonia. The first follows closely on the episode of Timothy's circumcision (16:1 ff., 11 f.), and antedates Paul's activity in Ephesus. From 17:14 f., it may be inferred that Timothy actually accompanies Paul on this journey. In the case of the second visit (20:1), Timothy has gone ahead of Paul (19:22). Neither story can be pressed into any connection with our present passage." (1976: 55) Paul makes a statement to the Ephesian elders along the lines "that they should see his face no more" in Acts 20:38. If verse 3 suggests that Paul was in Ephesus when he urged Timothy to stay there, this is another discrepancy between the Pastoral Epistles and Acts.

L. T. Johnson, on the Greek word translated "to teach a different doctrine," writes, "The verb ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖν here and in 1 Tim 6:3 is a NT hapax legomenon, but appears in Ignatius, Polycarp 3:1. Other such hetero- combinations also appear in the Apostolic Fathers; see heterognwmwn (1 Clement 11:2), heterodoxein (Ignatius, Smyrneans 6:2), and heterodoxein [sic] (Ignatius, Magnesians 8:1). These observations formed the basis for Schleiermacher's original linguistic challenge to the authenticity of 1 Timothy. It should also be observed, however, that all three of the hetero- combinations also appear in literature prior to the second century (for hetergnwmwn, see Josephus, Antiquities 10:281; for heterodoxein, see Josephus, Jewish War 2:129; Plato Thaetetus 190E; Epictetus, Discourses 2.9, 19; for heterodoxia, see Plato, Thaetetus, 193D). As his use of heteroglwsso (other tongue, 1 Cor 14:21) and heterozygein (mismatched, 2 Cor 6:14) shows, Paul is not averse to such constructions, and as 2 Cor 11:4 and Gal 1:6 indicate, he is capable of accusing his adversaries of preaching 'another Gospel' (heteron euangelion)." (2001: 162)

Of the references to speculations and vain talking, Craig S. Keener writes: "Both Judaism and the philosophers condemned empty, worthless talk, including arguments about words and the verbal skills of wordy rhetoricians unconcerned with truth. Some groups of philosophers from Protagoras on emphasized verbal quibbling more than seeking truth, regarding the latter as inaccessible; but most philosophers criticized these agnostics. Many professional speakers also valued important speeches above subtle disputes over trivialities, although training in public speaking included extemporaneous speeches on randomly assigned topics." (1993)

Reference to "myths and genealogies" is found in Plato (Timaeus 22a), Polybius (Histories 9.2.4), and Julian (Oration 7:205C). It is possible that this is another reference to "vain talking" without anything more specific in mind, but two interpretations have been popular since antiquity.

George W. Knight writes, "BAGD also indicate that the idea that 'the errors in question have a Jewish background and involve rabbinical speculation' began in the commentaries of Ambrosiaster (cf. also on Tit. 1:14) and Chrysostom, and is 'more or less favored' by Kittel, 'γενεαλογία.' This interpretation is also favored in the commentaries of Jeremias, Kelly, Lock, Schlatter, Simpson, Spicq (ad loc. and 99-104), Weiss, and Wohlenberg (30-44, arguing from Jubilees). Lock argues for the probability of Jewish reference from the teachers' claim to be νομοδιδάσκαλος, from the references in Titus to Ἰουδαϊκοῖς μῦθοι (1:14) and γενεαλογίας καὶ ἐρεῖς καὶ μάχας νομικὰς (3:9), and from Ignatius Magn. 8:1 (which may allude to 1 Tim. 1:4), where μυθεύμασιν παλαιοῖς πλανᾶσθαι is regarded as a sign of living κατὰ Ἰουδαϊσμόν. Jeremias regards the 'myths' as stories of creation and 'genealogies' as the genealogies or generations of the patriarchs (so also Spicq) and appeals to Philo's designation of the history of the patriarchs as 'genealogies.' Lock understands μῦθοι as 'defined by γενεαλογίαι, legendary stories about genealogies' (see also Hendriksen). Spicq points to 'examples of this fantastic and unbridled hermeneutic' in rabbinic Haggadah, Philo's writings, the pseudo-Philonic Biblical Antiquities, Jubilees, and in the Qumran writings (cf. 1QS 3:13-15)." (1992: 73-74)

Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 1, preface 1) and Tertullian (De Praesc. 7; 33; Adv. Val. 3) interpret the "endlesss genealogies" in reference to Gnostic thought, particularly the emanations of Aeons, invisible powers inferior to the supreme God, their ultimate source. J. N. D. Kelly makes four arguments against such a view: "(a) the Gnostic systems of aeons were never, so far as we know, called genealogies; (b) had he had them in mind, we should have expected the writer to go more fully into their content instead of being satisfied with a passing, imprecise allusion; (c) we should also have expected a much sharper, more far-reaching criticism than that they encouraged idle speculation and contentiousness; and (d) the fables are expressly labelled 'Jewish' in Tit. i.14, while in [Tit.] iii.9, 'genealogies' are lumped with 'controversies about the law.'" (1963) These arguments are not decisive. For the first argument, at least the Gnostic systems were close enough to be genealogical that both Irenaeus and Tertullian regarded them as such, and the language of engendering is used in the Gnostic literature (see references to "engendered," "begotten," a "mother of the entirety of aions," and the careful attention paid to the order of emanation in Ptolemy's commentary on the prologue of John). The second and third arguments, which are similar in form, could also be applied to the interpretation that these are genealogies of the Hebrews, to ask why the refutation does not go into more detail. Here is one of the occasions in which the pseudepigrapher attempts to avoid absurdity in their refutation of heresy by avoiding too many specifics, which would be appropriate to the genre of a non-pseudonymous heresiology (such as the ones written by Irenaeus and Tertullian). The reference to "Jewish myths" could point to the liberal use of Jewish scripture in some Gnostic groups, while the statement denouncing "controversies about the law" is parallel to the reference to those who set themselves up as experts in morality in this passage and does not refer to the Jewish law in a technical sense.

Presenting a middle view between the Judaizing interpretation and the Gnosticizing one, Dibelius and Conzelmann write: "Since the genealogies are mentioned together with 'myths,' they cannot, in this passage, refer to the Jewish proof for kinship of Abraham, nor to the demonstration of Israel's historical continuity. Neither Paul nor a pseudo-Paul could mention such things in the same breath with 'fables.' ... Gnosticizing interpretations in which Old Testament genealogical registers are understood mythologically (Iren. Adv. haer. 1.30.9) and, moreover, mythical speculations about sequences of principalities and aeons are as fundamental to the the ology of Gnsoticism ... as they are destructive to the belief in the divine education for salvation (οἰκονομία) which is held by the writer of the Pastorals. ... we msut think of early Jewish or Judaizing forms of Gnosticism, which are reflected elsewhere within the horizon of deutero-Pauline literature. Characteristic are: speculations about the elements, but no systematic cosmology; a tendency toward soteriological dualism and the observation of ascetic rules. All this applies to the false teachers opposed by the Pastorals; a similar picture emerges from the epistles of Ignatius." (1972: 17)

Jouette M. Bassler notes, "This Greek phrase [οἰκονομία θεοῦ], which appears only here in the Pastoral Letters, is translated in the NRSV as 'divine training,' though it is found nowhere else with this meaning until the end of the second century in the writings of Clement of Alexandria. The phrase usually refers to God's administration of the universe, including the divine plan for the universe and the divine execution of that plan (see Eph 1:10; 3:9). This more general sense is probably intended here, for there are hints throughout these letters of a divine plan operating in the universe and coming now to fruition (2:6b; 6:15; 2 Tim 1:8-10; Titus 1:2)." (1996: 39)

A. T. Hanson writes, "The phrase a clean heart is used very frequently in The Shepherd of Hermas, a Christian book written in Rome probably at very much the same time as the Pastorals. a good conscience, familiar as the phrase is to us, is not found at all in the genuine letters of Paul. It occurs in 1 Pet. 3:16, 21, and a similar phrase in Heb. 13:18. The author of the Pastorals has a fondness for this sort of phrase. This suggests perhaps that he did not fully understand what Paul had to say about sin and faith." (1966: 24) Hellenistic parallels for the idea of a moral conscience can be found in Seneca (Happy Life 20.3-5, Tranquility of Mind 3.4, Epistle 43.4-5) and Philo (Special Laws 1.203). The phrase "genuine faith" here is a departure from Paul's understanding of "faith," used to speak of the believer's relationship with God. Spicq writes, "A 'sincere' faith is faith that includes intellectual orthodoxy, pious conduct, faithfulness, and loyalty in keeping obligations." (1969: 1.135)

Noticing that Paul usually followed the greeting with a thanksgiving, J. L. Houlden writes, "In our present case, it was, so it seems, more important to make certain preliminary points than to follow slavishly Paul's epistolary habits. If this is correct, then these points give us a guide to the writer's priorities. Two things needed to be done urgently, as soon as he took up his pen. First, he must give an impression of Pauline authenticity by means of geographical reference (v. 3). Second, and more important, he must give an unmistakable account of the doctrinal and moral evils to whose destruction he is dedicated. These matters occupy the forefront of his mind. They form the urgent threat to which he responds. Their prominence is an indication of that urgency." (1976: 51)


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