Monday, September 27, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Timothy 1-5

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through 1 Timothy, chapters 1-5.

Chapter 1

  • Verse 1 - This letter, along with the two that follow it (2 Timothy and Titus) are often referred to collectively as "The Pastoral Epistles," because of the particular "pastoral" concerns addressed within them.  There are a number of differences between the Pastoral Epistles and other letters that appear to be written by Paul.  These differences are sufficient for many scholars to argue that Paul was not the actual author of these letters, but were written instead by a follower of Paul (or of Paul's teachings) claiming his authority by using his name.  This phenomenon, sometimes referred to as "pseudepigraphy," was not at all uncommon in the world into which these letters were written.  Many Christians reject this theory on the grounds that it is dishonest to write under an assumed name in this way, or by arguing that if Scripture cannot contain any errors, the claim of a letter to be written by Paul must therefore be accurate.  I see no need to be dogmatic one way or the other about this, but would wish to point out that if these were in fact written by someone other than Paul, the original readers would almost certainly have known this from the start.  Pseudepigrapha was simply not treated as "dishonesty" in the ancient world in the same way as we might treat such a letter today.  These letters were accepted by the early church, and thus eventually made their way into our biblical canon.  For the sake of expediency, I will refer to the author as "Paul," even though I know that if Paul really wasn't the author, that would of course have implications for the interpretation of this letter (although probably not as many, or as significant, implications as many Pauline-authorship defenders would have people believe!).
  • Verses 3-4 - As with other letters, we see pretty quickly that there was an issue that Paul wanted to address within the church, specifically said here to be in Ephesus.  Unlike other letters, this wasn't addressed to the whole community, however, but rather to a particular person in leadership over that community.
  • Verse 7 - I daresay this is a common problem, today, too.  Some might say that I'm guilty of it, myself.
  • Verse 15: "of whom I am the worst" - Hanson (who believes that the Pastoral Epistles are pseudepigrapha) notes that the use of the present tense (I am) rather than the past tense (I was) is "a truly Pauline touch."1
Chapter 2
  • Verse 7: "I am telling the truth, I am not lying" - A similar interjection was also used in Romans 9:1.
  • Verses 11-12 - It would be irresponsible of me not to comment on these verses, given how often I advocate for the right of women to all forms of ministry on this blog.  For many Christians, these verses are considered indisputable proof that God does not permit women to ordained office.  Even these Christians will admit that ordained office isn't explicitly mentioned here, but many consider this to be implied by Paul's words.  In any event, nothing I say is likely to change those whose minds are already made up on this issue, but very briefly, I should at least note my comments on the similarly-themed verses in 1 Corinthians,2 and that, noting the frequent references to false teachers, some scholars believe that Paul is here addressing a particular situation in Ephesus.3 It might be further noted that Ephesus is where the temple of Artemis was a prominent fixture (see also Acts 19).4  Paul's words here, then, would not have been intended as a for-all-time injunction against women in leadership, but were rather intended to give instruction to particular women falling prey to a particular heresy in a particular context.
Chapter 3
  • Verses 2, 12: "faithful to his wife" - This phrase, translated as "the husband of one wife" in more traditional translations, has been the source of a fair amount of debate.  The interpretive options include 1) if a spouse has died, the remaining person may not remarry, 2) spouses may not commit adultery, 3) polygamy is prohibited, 4) the would-be leader may not have divorced and remarried.  The last of these is Hanson's view for this particular context.5
Chapter 4
  • Verses 1-5 - Paul seems to be arguing against (an early form of?) Gnosticism here.  Gnosticism was a common form of heresy that gained prominence in the 2nd century, and which held that physical things were evil.
Chapter 5
  • Verse 2 - The Greek word rendered here as "purity" is `αγνεια. It also occurred in chapter 4, verse 12, where Hanson suggested that it was probably intended to convey "sexual purity" (as opposed to the other potential meaning, "ritual purity.").6  It seems extremely likely to me that the same sense is intended here in this context of how Timothy should treat young women, even though Hanson doesn't comment on the use of the word here at all. 
  • Verses 3-8 - An interesting window into how the church commits to help those in need, while acknowledging proper spheres of responsibility.
  • Verse 6 - This verse seems strange.  As Hanson notes: "this can hardly apply to a destitute widow, who would not have the means for self-indulgence."  He suggests that the verse "probably has a sexual overtone," but admits to a lack of certainty.7
  • Verse 23 - The reference to wine seems out of place.  Hanson refers to other scholars to suggest that the line of thought here is (in keeping with the context of the passage) "Do not put yourself in a position where you may be held responsible for another man's sins.... By this I do not mean the pseudo-ascetic purity of the false teachers.  On the contrary, use wine occasionally, since it is good for your health."8

1A. T. Hanson, The Pastoral Epistles (The New Century Bible Commentary), Eerdmans, 1982, p. 61.
2Although, as David M. Scholer notes in his article, "1 Timothy 2:9-15 & the Place of Women in the Church's Ministry" (p. 193, see below for full reference), the 1 Corinthians passage "is not cited as frequently or as forcefully" because of the obvious reference to women prophesying, and therefore speaking, in that same epistle.
3See David M. Scholer, "1 Timothy 2:9-15 & the Place of Women in the Church's Ministry", in Women, Authority & the Bible, edited by Avera Mickelsen, InterVarsity Press, 1986, p. 199.
4Although in his footnotes to p. 199, Scholer points out that "there is no clear or particular evidence that connects this heresy with any pagan worship in Ephesus and its sexual activities and connotations," and thus cautions against building a case solely on this evidence. It is enough to argue that Paul is writing against a heresy particular to the context in which the epistle is intended.
5Hanson, pp. 75, 77-78.
6Hanson, p. 92.
7Hanson, p. 97.
8Hanson, p. 104.

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