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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
1 Timothy 2



Verses 1-15

Chapter 2


2:1-7 So then the first thing I urge you to do is to offer your requests, your prayers, your petitions, your thanksgivings for all men. Pray for kings and for all who are in authority, that they may enjoy a life that is tranquil and undisturbed, and that they may act in all godliness and reverence. That is the fine way to live, the way which meets with the approval of God, our Saviour, who wishes all men to be saved, and to come to a full knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator, between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself a ransom for all. It was thus he bore his witness to God in his own good times, a witness to which I have been appointed a herald and an envoy (I am speaking the truth: I do not lie), a teacher to the Gentiles, a teacher whose message is based on faith and truth.

Before we study this passage in detail we must note one thing which shines out from it in a way that no one can fail to see. Few passages in the New Testament so stress the universality of the gospel. Prayer is to be made for all men; God is the Saviour who wishes all men to be saved; Jesus gave his life a ransom for all. As Walter Lock writes: "God's will to save is as wide as his will to create."

This is a note which sounds in the New Testament again and again. Through Christ God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). It was Jesus' confidence that, if he was lifted up on his Cross, soon or late he would draw all men to him (John 12:32).

E. F. Brown calls this passage "the charter of missionary work." He says that it is the proof that all men are capax dei, capable of receiving God. They may be lost, but they can be found; they may be ignorant, but they can be enlightened; they may be sinners, but they can be saved. George Wishart, the forerunner of John Knox, writes in his translation of the First Swiss Confession: "The end and intent of the Scripture is to declare that God is benevolent and friendly-minded to mankind; and that he hath declared that kindness in and through Jesus Christ, his only Son; the which kindness is received by faith." That is why prayer must be made for all. God wants all men, and so, therefore, must his Church.

(i) The gospel includes high and low. Both the Emperor in his power and the slave in his helplessness were included in the sweep of the gospel. Both the philosopher in his wisdom and the simple man in his ignorance need the grace and truth that the gospel can bring. Within the gospel there are no class distinctions. King and commoner, rich and poor, aristocrat and peasant, master and man are all included in its limitless embrace.

(ii) The gospel includes good and bad. A strange malady has sometimes afflicted the Church in modern times, causing it to insist that a man be respectable before he is allowed in, and to took askance at sinners who seek entry to its doors. But the New Testament is clear that the Church exists, not only to edify the good, but to welcome and save the sinner. C. T. Studd used to repeat four lines of doggerel:

"Some want to live within the sound

Of Church or Chapel bell;

I want to run a rescue shop

Within a yard of hell."

One of the great saints of modern times, and indeed of all time, was Toyohiko Kagawa. It was to Shinkawa that he went to find men and women for Christ and he lived there in the filthiest and most depraved slums in the world. W. J. Smart describes the situation: "His neighbours were unregistered prostitutes, thieves who boasted of their power to outwit all the police in the city, and murderers who were not only proud of their murder record but always ready to add to their local prestige by committing another. All the people, whether sick, or feeble-minded or criminal, lived in conditions of abysmal misery, in streets slippery with filth, where rats crawled out of open sewers to die. The air was always filled with stench. An idiot girl who lived next door to Kagawa had vile pictures painted on her back to decoy lustful men to her den. Everywhere human bodies rotted with syphilis." Kagawa wanted people like that, and so does Jesus Christ, for he wants all men, good and bad alike.

(iii) The gospel embraces Christian and non-Christian. Prayer is to be made for all men. The Emperors and rulers for whom this letter bids us pray were not Christians; they were in fact hostile to the Church; and yet they were to be borne to the throne of grace by the prayers of the Church. For the true Christian there is no such thing as an enemy in all this world. None is outside his prayers, for none is outside the love of Christ, and none is outside the purpose of God, who wishes all men to be saved.

THE WAY OF PRAYER (1 Timothy 2:1-7 continued)

Four different words for prayer are grouped together. It is true that they are not to be sharply distinguished; nevertheless each has something to tell us of the way of prayer.

(i) The first is deesis (Greek #1162), which we have translated request. It is not exclusively a religious word; it can be used of a request made either to a fellow-man or to God. But its fundamental idea is a sense of need. No one will make a request unless a sense of need has already wakened a desire. Prayer begins with a sense of need. It begins with the conviction that we cannot deal with life ourselves. That sense of human weakness is the basis of all approach to God.

"Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness he requireth

Is to feel your need of him."

(ii) The second is proseuche (Greek #4335), which we have translated prayer. The basic difference between deesis (Greek #1162) and proseuche (Greek #4335) is that deesis (Greek #1162) may be addressed either to man or God, but proseuche (Greek #4335) is never used of anything else but approach to God. There are certain needs which only God can satisfy. There is a strength which he alone can give; a forgiveness which he alone can grant; a certainty which he alone can bestow. It may well be that our weakness haunts us because we so often take our needs to the wrong place.

(iii) The third is enteuxis (Greek #1783), which we have translated petition. Of the three words this is the most interesting. It has a most interesting history. It is the noun from the verb entugchanein (Greek #1793). This originally meant simply to meet, or to fall in with a person; it went on to mean to hold intimate conversation with a person; then it acquired a special meaning and meant to enter into a king's presence and to submit a petition to him. That tells us much about prayer. It tells us that the way to God stands open and that we have the right to bring our petitions to one who is a king.

"Thou art coming to a King;

Large petitions with thee bring;

For his grace and power are such,

None can ever ask too much."

It is impossible to ask too great a boon from this King.

(iv) The fourth is eucharistia (Greek #2169), which we have translated thanksgiving. Prayer does not mean only asking God for things; it also means thanking God for things. For too many of us prayer is an exercise in complaint, when it should be an exercise in thanksgiving. Epictetus, not a Christian but a Stoic philosopher, used to say: "What can I, who am a little old lame man, do, except give praise to God?" We have the right to bring our needs to God; but we have also the duty of bringing our thanksgivings to him.

PRAYER FOR THOSE IN AUTHORITY (1 Timothy 2:1-7 continued)

This passage distinctly commands prayer for kings and emperors and all who are set in authority. This was a cardinal principle of communal Christian prayer. Emperors might be persecutors and those in authority might be determined to stamp out Christianity. But the Christian Church never, even in the times of bitterest persecution, ceased to pray for them.

It is extraordinary to trace how all through its early days, those days of bitter persecution, the Church regarded it as an absolute duty to pray for the Emperor and his subordinate kings and governors. "Fear God," said Peter. "Honour the Emperor" (1 Peter 2:17), and we must remember that that Emperor was none other than Nero, that monster of cruelty. Tertullian insists that for the Emperor the Christian pray for "long life, secure dominion, a safe home, a faithful senate, a righteous people, and a world at peace" (Apology 30). "We pray for our rulers," he wrote, "for the state of the world, for the peace of all things and for the postponement of the end" (Apology 39). He writes: "The Christian is the enemy of no man, least of all of the Emperor, for we know that, since he has been appointed by God, it is necessary that we should love him, and reverence him, and honour him, and desire his safety, together with that of the whole Roman Empire. Therefore we sacrifice for the safety of the Emperor" (Ad Scapulam 2). Cyprian, writing to Demetrianus, speaks of the Christian Church as "sacrificing and placating God night and day for your peace and safety" (Ad Demetrianum 20). In A.D. 311 the Emperor Galerius actually asked for the prayers of the Christians, and promised them mercy and indulgence if they prayed for the state. Tatian writes: "Does the Emperor order us to pay tribute? We willingly offer it. Does the ruler order us to render service or servitude? We acknowledge our servitude. But a man must be honoured as befits a man but only God is to be reverenced" (Apology 4). Theophilus of Antioch writes: "The honour that I will give the Emperor is all the greater, because I will not worship him, but I will pray for him. I will worship no one but the true and real God, for I know that the Emperor was appointed by him.... Those give real honour to the Emperor who are well-disposed to him, who obey him, and who pray for him" (Apology 1: 11). Justin Martyr writes: "We worship God alone, but in all other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging kings and rulers of men, and praying that they may be found to have pure reason with kingly power" (Apology 1: 14,17).

The greatest of all the prayers for the Emperor is in Clement of Rome's First Letter to the Church at Corinth which was written about A.D. 90 when the savagery of Domitian was still fresh in men's minds: "Thou, Lord and Master, hast given our rulers and governors the power of sovereignty through thine excellent and unspeakable might, that we, knowing the glory and honour which thou hast given them, may submit ourselves unto them, in nothing resisting thy will. Grant unto them, therefore, O Lord, health, peace, concord, stability, that they may administer the government which thou hast given them without failure. For thou, O heavenly Master, King of the Ages, givest to the sons of men glory and honour and power over all things that are upon the earth. Do thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in thy sight, that, administering the power which thou hast given them in peace and gentleness with godliness, they may obtain thy favour. O thou, who alone art able to do these things, and things far more exceeding good than these for us, we praise thee through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be the glory and the majesty unto thee both now and for all generations, and for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Clement 61).

The Church always regarded it as a bounden duty to pray for those set in authority over the kingdoms of the earth; and brought even its persecutors before the throne of grace.

THE GIFTS OF GOD (1 Timothy 2:1-7 continued)

The Church prayed for certain things for those in authority.

(i) It prayed for "a life that is tranquil and undisturbed." That was the prayer for freedom from war, from rebellion and from anything which would disturb the peace of the realm. That is the good citizen's prayer for his country.

(ii) But the Church prayed for much more than that. It prayed for "a life that is lived in godliness and reverence." Here we are confronted with two great words which are keynotes of the Pastoral Epistles and describe qualities which not only the ruler but every Christian must covet.

First, there is godliness, eusebeia (Greek #2150). This is one of the great and almost untranslatable Greek words. It describes reverence both towards God and man. It describes that attitude of mind which respects man and honours God. Eusebius defined it as "reverence towards the one and only God, and the kind of life that he would wish us to lead." To the Greek, the great example of eusebeia (Greek #2150) was Socrates whom Xenophon describes in the following terms: "So pious and devoutly religious that he would take no step apart from the will of heaven; so just and upright that he never did even a trifling injury to any living soul; so self-controlled, so temperate, that he never at any time chose the sweeter in place of the bitter; so sensible and wise and prudent that in distinguishing the better from the worse he never erred" (Xenophon: Memorabilia, 4, 8, 11). Eusebeia (Greek #2150) comes very near to that great Latin word pietas, which Warde Fowler describes thus: "The quality known to the Romans as pietas rises, in spite of trial and danger, superior to the enticements of individual passion and selfish ease. Aeneas' pietas became a sense of duty to the will of the gods, as well as to his father, his son and his people; and this duty never leaves him." Clearly eusebeia (Greek #2150) is a tremendous thing. It never forgets the reverence due to God; it never forgets the rights due to men; it never forgets the respect due to self. It describes the character of the man who never fails God, man or himself.

Second, there is reverence, semnotes (Greek #4587). Here again we are in the realm of the untranslatable. The corresponding adjective semnos (Greek #4586) is constantly applied to the gods. R. C. Trench says that the man who is semnos (Greek #4586) "has on him a grace and a dignity, not lent by earth." He says that he is one who "without demanding it challenges and inspires reverence." Aristotle was the great ethical teacher of the Greeks. He had a way of describing every virtue as the mean between two extremes. On the one side there was an extreme of excess and on the other an extreme of defect, and in between there was the mean, the happy medium, in which virtue lay. Aristotle says that semnotes (Greek #4587) is the mean between areskeia (Greek #699), subservience, and authadeia (Greek #829), arrogance. It may be said that for the man who is semnos (Greek #4586) all life is one act of worship; all life is lived in the presence of God; he moves through the world, as it has been put, as if it was the temple of the living God. He never forgets the holiness of God or the dignity of man.

These two great qualities are regal qualities which every man must covet and for which every man must pray.

ONE GOD AND ONE SAVIOUR (1 Timothy 2:1-7 continued)

Paul concludes with a statement of the greatest truths of the Christian faith.

(i) There is one God. We are not living in a world such as the Gnostics produced with their theories of two gods, hostile to each other. We are not living in a world such as the heathen produced with their horde of gods, often in competition with one another. Missionaries tell us that one of the greatest reliefs which Christianity brings to the heathen is the conviction that there is only one God. They live for ever terrified of the gods and it is an emancipation to discover that there is one God only whose name is Father and whose nature is Love.

(ii) There is one Mediator. Even the Jews would have said that there are many mediators between God and man. A mediator is one who stands between two parties and acts as go-between. To the Jews the angels were mediators. The Testament of Dan (Daniel 6:2) has it: "Draw near unto God, and unto the angel who intercedes for you, for he is a mediator between God and man." To the Greeks there were all kinds of mediators. Plutarch said it was an insult to God to conceive that he was in any way directly involved in the world; he was involved in the world only through angels and demons and demigods who were, so to speak, his liaison officers.

Neither in Jewish nor in Greek thought had a man direct access to God. But, through Jesus Christ, the Christian has direct that access, with nothing to bar the way between. Further, there is only one Mediator. E. F. Brown tells us that that is, for instance, what the Hindus find so hard to believe. They say: "Your religion is good for you, and ours for us." But unless there is one God and one Mediator there can be no such thing as the brotherhood of man. If there are many gods and many mediators competing for their allegiance and their love, religion becomes something which divides men instead of uniting them. It is because there is one God and one Mediator that men are brethren one of another.

Paul goes on to call Jesus the one who gave his life a ransom for all. That simply means that it cost God the life and death of his Son to bring men back to himself. There was a man who lost a son in the war. He had lived a most careless and even a godless life; but his son's death brought him face to face with God as never before. He became a changed man. One day he was standing before the local war memorial, looking at his son's name upon it. And very gently he said: "I guess he had to go down to lift me up." That is what Jesus did; it cost his life and death to tell men of the love of God and to bring men home to him.

Then Paul claims to himself four offices.

(i) He is a herald of the story of Jesus Christ. A herald is a man who makes a statement and who says: "This is true." He is a man who brings a proclamation that is not his own, but which comes from the king.

(ii) He is a witness to the story of Christ. A witness is a man who says: "This is true, and I know it" and says also "It works." He is a man who tells, not only the story of Christ, but also the story of what Christ has done for him.

(iii) He is an envoy. An envoy is one whose duty is to commend his country in a foreign land. An envoy in the Christian sense is therefore one who commends the story of Christ to others. He wishes to communicate that story to others, so that it will mean as much to them as it does to him.

(iv) He is a teacher. The herald is the person who proclaims the facts; the witness is the person who proclaims the power of the facts; the envoy is the person who commends the facts; the teacher is the person who leads men into the meaning of the facts. It is not enough to know that Christ lived and died; we must think out what that meant. A man must not only feel the wonder of the story of Christ; he must think out its meaning for himself and for the world.

BARRIERS TO PRAYER (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

2:8-15 So, then, it is my wish that men should pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, with no anger in their hearts and no doubts in their minds. Even so it is my wish that women should modestly and wisely adorn themselves in seemly dress. This adornment should not consist in braided hair, and ornaments of gold, and pearls, but--as befits women who profess to reverence God--they should adorn themselves with good works. Let a woman learn in silence and with all submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to dictate to a man. Rather, it is my advice that she should be silent. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and so became guilty of transgression. But women will be saved through child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love, and if they wisely walk the road that leads to holiness.

The early Church took over the Jewish attitude of prayer, which was to pray standing, with hands outstretched and the palms upwards. Later Tertullian was to say that this depicted the attitude of Jesus upon the Cross.

The Jews had always known about the barriers which kept a man's prayers from God. Isaiah heard God say to the people: "When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood" (Isaiah 1:15). Here, too, certain things are demanded.

(i) He who prays must stretch forth holy hands. He must hold up to God hands which do not touch the forbidden things. This does not mean for one moment that the sinner is debarred from God; but it does mean that there is no reality in the prayers of the man who then goes out to soil his hands with forbidden things, as if he had never prayed. It is not thinking of the man who is helplessly in the grip of some passion and desperately fighting against it, bitterly conscious of his failure. It is thinking of the man whose prayers are a sheer formality.

(ii) He who prays must have no anger in his heart. It has been said that "forgiveness is indivisible." Human and divine forgiveness go hand in hand. Again and again Jesus stresses the fact that we cannot hope to receive the forgiveness of God so long as we are at enmity with our fellow-men. "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). "If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15). Jesus tells how the unforgiving servant himself found no forgiveness, and ends: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35). To be forgiven, we must be forgiving. The Didache (compare Greek #1322), the earliest Christian book on public worship, which dates from about A.D. 100, has it: "Let no one who has a quarrel with his neighbour come to us, until they are reconciled." The bitterness in a man's heart is a barrier which hinders his prayers from reaching God.

(iii) He who prays must have no doubts in his mind. This phrase can mean two things. The word used is dialogismos (Greek #1261), which can mean both an argument and a doubt. If we take it in the sense of argument, it simply repeats what has gone before and restates the fact that bitterness and quarrels and venomous debates are a hindrance to prayer. It is better to take it in the sense of doubt. Before prayer is answered there must be belief that God will answer. If a man prays pessimistically and with no real belief that it is any use, his prayer falls wingless to the ground. Before a man can be cured, he must believe that he can be cured; before a man can lay hold on the grace of God, he must believe in that grace. We must take our prayers to God in the complete confidence that he hears and answers prayer.

WOMEN IN THE CHURCH (1 Timothy 2:8-15 continued)

The second part of this passage deals with the place of women in the Church. It cannot be read out of its historical context, for it springs entirely from the situation in which it was written.

(i) It was written against a Jewish background. No nation ever gave a bigger place to women in home and in family things than the Jews did; but officially the position of a woman was very low. In Jewish law she was not a person but a thing; she was entirely at the disposal of her father or of her husband. She was forbidden to learn the law; to instruct a woman in the law was to cast pearls before swine. Women had no part in the synagogue service; they were shut apart in a section of the synagogue, or in a gallery, where they could not be seen. A man came to the synagogue to learn; but, at the most, a woman came to hear. In the synagogue the lesson from Scripture was read by members of the congregation; but not by women, for that would have been to lessen "the honour of the congregation." It was absolutely forbidden for a woman to teach in a school; she might not even teach the youngest children. A woman was exempt from the stated demands of the Law. It was not obligatory on her to attend the sacred feasts and festivals. Women, slaves and children were classed together. In the Jewish morning prayer a man thanked God that God had not made him "a Gentile, a slave or a woman." In the Sayings of the Fathers Rabbi Jose ben Johanan is quoted as saying: "'Let thy house be opened wide, and let the poor be thy household, and talk not much with a woman.' Hence the wise have said: 'Everyone that talketh much with a woman causes evil to himself, and desists from the works of the Law, and his end is that he inherits Gehenna.'" A strict Rabbi would never greet a woman on the street, not even his own wife or daughter or mother or sister. It was said of woman: "Her work is to send her children to the synagogue; to attend to domestic concerns; to leave her husband free to study in the schools; to keep house for him until he returns."

(ii) It was written against a Greek background. The Greek background made things doubly difficult. The place of women in Greek religion was low. The Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth had a thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes and every evening plied their trade on the city streets. The Temple of Diana in Ephesus had its hundreds of priestesses called the Melissae, which means the bees, whose function was the same. The respectable Greek woman led a very confined life. She lived in her own quarters into which no one but her husband came. She did not even appear at meals. She never at any time appeared on the street alone; she never went to any public assembly. The fact is that if in a Greek town Christian women had taken an active and a speaking part in its work, the Church would inevitably have gained the reputation of being the resort of loose women.

Further, in Greek society there were women whose whole life consisted in elaborate dressing and braiding of the hair. In Rome, Pliny tells us of a bride, Lollia Paulina, whose bridal dress cost the equivalent of 432,000 British pounds. Even the Greeks and the Romans were shocked at the love of dress and of adornment which characterized some of their women. The great Greek religions were called the Mystery religions, and they had precisely the same regulations about dress as Paul has here. There is an inscription which reads: "A consecrated woman shall not have gold ornaments, nor rouge, nor face-whitening, nor a head-band, nor braided hair, nor shoes, except those made of felt or of the skins of sacrificed animals. "The early Church did not lay down these regulations as in any sense permanent, but as things which were necessary in the situation in which it found itself.

In any event there is much on the other side. In the old story it was the woman who was created second and who fell to the seduction of the serpent tempter; but it was Mary of Nazareth who bore and who trained the child Jesus; it was Mary of Magdala who was first to see the risen Lord; it was four women who of all the disciples stood by the Cross. Priscilla with her husband Aquila was a valued teacher in the early Church, who led Apollos to a knowledge of the truth (Acts 18:26). Euodia and Syntyche, in spite of their quarrel, were women who laboured in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3). Philip, the evangelist, had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). The aged women were to teach (Titus 2:3). Paul held Lois and Eunice in the highest honour (2 Timothy 1:5), and there is many a woman's name held in honour in Romans 16:1-27 .

All the things in this chapter are mere temporary regulations to meet a given situation. If we want Paul's permanent view on this matter, we get it in Galatians 3:28 : "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In Christ the differences of place and honour and function within the Church are all wiped out.

And yet this passage ends with a real truth. Women, it says, will be saved in child-bearing. There are two possible meanings here. It is just possible that this is a reference to the fact that Mary, a woman, was the mother of Jesus and that it means that women will be saved--as all others will--by that supreme act of child-bearing. But it is much more likely that the meaning is much simpler; and that it means that women will find salvation, not in addressing meetings, but in motherhood, which is their crown. Whatever else is true, a woman is queen within her home.

We must not read this passage as a barrier to all women's service within the Church, but in the light of its Jewish and its Greek background. And we must look for Paul's permanent views in the passage where he tells us that the differences are wiped out, and that men and women, slaves and freemen, Jews and Gentiles, are all eligible to serve Christ.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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