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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

1 Timothy 4

Verse 1

"This whole chapter (1 Timothy 4:1-16) constitutes a main division of 1Timothy; it deals with coming heresies and tells how Timothy is to be fortified and is to fortify the churches against them."[1] Lenski also denied the proposition that Paul was here merely writing instructions to the minister of a single congregation. "He is addressing his apostolic representative for the whole territory of which Ephesus is the center."[2] The first five verses (1 Timothy 4:1-5) deal with particular features of the great apostasy which all of the sacred writers revealed would develop during the historical progression of Christianity. Before beginning the study of this chapter, a glance at some of their prophecies is in order.


Christ foretold that "wolves in sheep's clothing" would ravage the flock of God (Matthew 7:15ff), indicating that the church itself would be the theater of the apostasy.

Paul, right here in Ephesus, had warned that the "grievous wolves" would come from the eldership itself, "from among your own selves" (Acts 20:28-30).

The Corinthians were alerted to the fact that Satan would seduce them, and that their minds should "be corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ"; and the contrast of the bride of Christ with that of Adam points to the church (2 Corinthians 11:3).

The apostasy shall occur, or be centered, in the very temple of God, in context a reference to the church, the spiritual body of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). See under those verses above.

The falling (apostasy) "away from the faith" in this passage (1 Timothy 4:1-5) carries the presumption that the apostates were once in the true faith.

Another phase of the apostasy, namely, its amorality and lawlessness, is stressed in 2 Timothy 3:1-8; and the indifference of Christians to sound teaching and their desire for "teachers after their own lusts" are pinpointed in 2 Timothy 4:1-7.

Methods and character of the apostate teachers appear in 2 Peter 2:1-3, where is found remarkably supplementary material for what Paul mentioned in this chapter of Timothy, that the false teachers, greedy for money, teach what they know to be a falsehood.

Of course, chapters 17,18 of the Revelation set forth still other characteristics of the apostasy prophesied by the Lord and his apostles; and, in perfect consonance with everything else that was written about it, the heretical and persecuting power is a harlot church.

From the above, it is concluded, to begin with, that the fulfillment of Paul's words in 1 Timothy 4 must be looked for within the church itself, and not in some obscure ancient sect.

[1] R. H. H. Lenski, St. Paul's Epistles. 1Timothy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937), p. 626.

[2] Ibid., p. 627.

But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times, some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1)

The Spirit saith expressly ... "This means that there was neither doubt nor vagueness about it."[3] The connection of this section with the preceding chapter is seen in the contrast with the triumphant Christ depicted in the final six poetical lines of chapter 3. "Over against the future triumph of the church, assured by the finished work of Christ, we must set the opposition."[4]

That in later times ... This is not limited to any immediate period after Paul's letter. "From the time at which he was writing and forward in all periods of the church, men have apostatized from the faith."[5]

Some shall fall away from the faith ... Paul did not use the same word here for "fall away" which he used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-11; but as Carl Spain said:

The APOSTASY of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the same as the DEPARTURE here in 1Tim. 4:1. Both words are from [@afistemi], meaning to abandon, to rebel, to desert. It is translated FORSAKE (Acts 21:21), and "fall away from" (Hebrews 3:12).[6]

The obvious connection with other New Testament references to the apostasy requires the deduction mentioned by Ward, "The `later times' foreshadow the gathering eschatological storm."[7] The Second Coming is also connected with the final and complete manifestation of this apostasy in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Lenski made it "the whole time between the two Advents."[8]

From the faith ... simply means "the Christian faith," giving further emphasis to the Christian roots of the apostasy in view.

Giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons ... It is not taught here that evil spirits actually teach, but that they "through men" (mentioned a moment later) deceived multitudes and are, in fact, themselves instigators of the false teaching. In the Old Testament, the evil spirit who stood before the Lord said, "I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets" (1 Kings 22:22); and the same evil power would be able also to corrupt Christian elders, change them into hardened hypocrites, speaking the most glaring falsehood, with no reproach whatever from their dead consciences. Of course, not elders alone, but ministers, church prelates, and the whole echelon of religious hierarchies are included in this.

Most scholars accept "doctrines of demons" in this passage subjectively, that is, doctrines taught by demons (through men); but there is a very possible interpretation which construes this as meaning "doctrines regarding demons"; and, as every Roman emperor upon his death became a demon to be prayed to, the historical church herself finally began offering prayers "to" its dead saints, which most certainly fulfills the definition of "doctrines of demons" understood objectively.

[3] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, 1,2Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1957), p. 145.

[4] Newport J. D. White, Expositors Greek Testament, Vol. IV (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 120.

[5] David Lipscomb, Commentary on 1Timothy (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1942), p. 154.

[6] Carl Spain, The Letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1970), p. 73.

[7] Ronald Ward, Commentary on 1,2Timothy and Titus (Waco: Word Books, 1974), p. 67.

[8] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 618.

Verse 2

through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron;

Reference is again made to the passages outlined at the head of this chapter. The very worst mistake that any sincere student of the word of God can make is to assume that teachers of false doctrine are either telling the truth, or that they are unaware of the false doctrines they are teaching. The Scriptures leave no doubt at all on this.

Branded in their conscience as with a hot iron ... This is a description of the "hardened," "blinded," deadened soul in whom the truth principle has utterly perished. It begins by rejecting what is known to be true, but in its progression it leaves the "deluded" totally without moral or spiritual guidelines. The Scriptures contain a great deal of material on the judicial hardening of willful sinners; and those interested in further pursuit of the subject will find a discussion of it in my Commentary on Romans, pp. 392-395.

Verse 3

forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.

Forbidding to marry ... This heads the list of characteristics of the great apostasy that shall seduce and mislead the church of God; and one may only be astounded at the fanciful interpretations of this that one finds in commentaries. Note some of these:

False teachers were to arise in Timothy's day, and shortly thereafter who would teach that God did not create matter because matter is evil ... The command to abstain from meats and marriage is based upon the supposed evil of matter.[9]

(This is an indication) of the impious doctrine of some of the great Gnostic schools ... probably in those early days creeping into the churches. The Jewish sects of the Essenes and the Therapeutae had already taught abstinence from marriage was meritorious.[10]

A hundred other instances could be cited in which there seems to be a total blindness to the one overwhelming, universal fulfillment of this very prophecy, namely, that found in the apostate church herself, which there is no need to name, because every child on five continents already knows it.

To mention the Therapeutae (as in Spence, above), offers little that is tangile ... We may safely say that no sect that bore this name ever existed.[11]

It is only among the more recent commentators that the phenomenal blindness to the historical fulfillment of the apostasy is observed; and therefore we are doubly thankful for comments like the following:

The whole monastic system that developed, together with all the lying teachings from which it arose, appeared soon enough. It still flourishes in Rome and in all the rest of the false ascetism.[12]

T. Croskery gave the following historical progression of the development of the heresy of forbidding Christians to marry:

This notion may already have influenced opinion in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 7); it developed in less than a century into Gnostic contempt for marriage; it entered patristic theology in the form of an exaggerated veneration for virginity; it developed in the Latin and Greek churches into the celibacy of the clergy and of religious orders; it was a tendency wholly opposed to Scripture teaching which allows "marriage is honorable in all" (Hebrews 13:2); it forbade marriage to church rulers and ministers, despite the fact of Old Testament priests and New Testament elders having been required to be "husbands of one wife." Apostles were permitted to take their wives with them on mission tours (1 Corinthians 9:5).[13]

Wesley explained the meaning here thus:

Forbidding priests, monks and nuns to marry, and commanding all men to abstain from such and such meats on such and such days.[14]

There is also the universal prohibition against marriage during Lent, a ban that denies marriage during a specified period to hundreds of millions throughout the earth. Yes, Paul's prophesy was fulfilled in the most comprehensive and extensive dimensions imaginable.

Commanding to abstain from meats ... This is partially treated under the preceding verse. Paul's condemnation of such doctrine has in view the fact that Jesus Christ made "all meats clean" (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:13-16).

Them that believe and know the truth ... Once again the order of trust, then knowledge, appears in the New Testament, as in "We have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God" (John 6:69). The knowledge that amounts to an absolute certainty is experiential in that it follows, but does not precede, belief.

[9] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 78.

[10] H. D. M. Spence, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), p. 196.

[11] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 622.

[12] Ibid., p. 623.

[13] T. Croskery, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21,1Tim. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 75.

[14] John Wesley, One Volume New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), in loco.

Verse 4

For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving:

Every creature of God is good ... This is attested by the fact that even those creatures held to be unsuitable for food in some countries are yet considered delicacies in others, as any international market demonstrates.

If it be received with thanksgiving ... Thanksgiving at meals is a basic Christian duty, and the same is in view here.

Verse 5

for it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer.

Sanctified ... or "consecrated ..." Ward pointed out the value of this verse in another connection:

Paul says the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife (1 Corinthians 7:14). It cannot mean that the husband is saved because he has a Christian wife. But what does it mean? ... He is not to be regarded as unclean, and therefore divorced; he can continue to be the husband of a Christian.[15]

Spence noted that quotations, or allusions, founded upon the Bible often made up a portion of thanksgiving at meals in the Christian community, citing a very old form of the practice from the Apostolic Constitutions, thus:

Blessed be Thou, O Lord, who nourishes men from their youth up, and who givest meat to all flesh; fill our hearts with joy and gladness, so that we, always enjoying a sufficiency, may abound unto every good work in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be ascribed the glory, honour and power unto the ages. Amen.[16]

In this connection, Gould also pointed out the "table thanks" common among Wesley and his preachers thus:

Be present at this table Lord;

Be here and everywhere adored;

These creatures bless, and grant that we

May Feast in Paradise with Thee."[17]

[15] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 70.

[16] H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 197.

[17] J. Glenn Gould, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1965), p. 594.

Verse 6

If thou put the brethren in mind of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which thou hast followed until now:

This is one of the passages which the source critics have bitterly complained about, Faith in the Pauline epistles is a subjective experience, but in the Pastorals it is more objective in character."[18] Of course, this is their excuse for denying Paul wrote the Pastorals. However, as pointed out extensively in this series, it is simply a conceit on the part of scholars that "faith" is usually subjective in Paul's other writings. "Faith" in this place is undeniably objective, being related not so much to "trusting" as it is to piety and good works; and Paul's letters do not contradict each other. See extensive exegesis on this in my Commentary on Galatians, pp. 69,70.

In his book on Romans, Sanday tells us that we must distinguish between at least seven different senses given the word "faith" in that one epistle, and he says that Paul has all of these meanings before him.[19]

The most widespread theological error of this age is that of misunderstanding the use of "faith" by Paul in his letters, and the unlawful, ridiculous interpretation of it as meaning, invariably, "trust/faith." That it does occasionally have that meaning is certain; but as Dr. Howard of the University of Georgia declared, "The usual meaning of the word in the New Testament is fidelity."[20]

Paul's emphasis in this place on sound doctrine is also offensive to some who boast that they do not "preach doctrine"; and such a boast separates one emphatically from the New Testament tradition. "A good minister," in the Pauline definition, is one who is both nourished by and a teacher of the sound Scriptural doctrine upon which the New Testament church is founded.

[18] D. A. Hayes, Paul and His Epistles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 453.

[19] Ibid, p. 458.

[20] George Howard, article: "The Faith of Christ," in Expository Times, Vol. 7 (April, 1974), pp. 212-214.

Verse 7

but refuse profane and old wives' fables. And exercise thyself unto godliness:

"Invented stories and untrue fables have no place in Christian proclamation. The faith is rooted in history."[21]

How much of the lore regarding the so-called canonization of the "saints" of the church is pure fable? For example, take the tale regarding St. Patrick who was said to have died in Ireland; but he was so beloved that his friends would not bury him; and on the fourth day his body swelled up, burst, and emitted profusely the most marvelous perfume men had ever smelled! This yarn was told by a clergyman of the historical church in this writer's community, when he was a small boy.

Exercise thyself unto godliness ... A moment later Paul would cite the reason for this admonition. Exercise unto godliness leads to eternal rewards; the other type of exercise provides only temporal benefits.

Verse 8

for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.

This is denominated a "faithful saying" in the next verse. The contrast between the mere care of the body and the far more important care of the soul is the thing in view. It is incredible how much time, effort, expense and concern men lavish upon exercise and care of their bodies; and, while Paul allows this to be profitable "for a little," that is, "for a little time, only," the far more important requirements of the religious life of the soul should be stressed more than the other.

Verse 9

Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation.

Commentators are sharply divided on whether this applies to the preceding 1 Timothy 4:8, or to the following 1 Timothy 4:10. The view preferred here sees it as applicable to the preceding verse, above. As Lenski expressed it:

This saying is identical with the dictum in 1 Timothy 1:15, and does not seal what follows, but what precedes ... (It carries the idea) Trust it or not; it is and remains worthy of all acceptation.[22]

Verse 10

For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe.

Of the living God ... The Christian hope contrasted starkly with the hope of the pagan world which was set upon dead idols.

Who is the Saviour of all men ... "This is not universalism. The key is in the words, `specially of them that believe.'"[23] It is a fact, of course, that God is able and willing to save all men, and that all who are ever saved will be saved by him; and it is in this sense that "he is the Saviour of all men." As Lenski said, "We know why so many are not saved (Matthew 23:37)."[24]

[23] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 73.

[24] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 639.

Verse 11

These things command and teach.

Every word Paul addressed to Timothy is Christian doctrine. The order to command and teach those things extends to all times and to all congregations seeking to do the will of the Lord. Paul's instructions in this letter were not merely personal advice to Timothy, but solid doctrinal guidelines for the church of all ages.

Verse 12

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity.

White's paraphrase of the meaning here is as follows:

Assert the dignity of your office even though men may think you young to hold it. Let no one push you aside as a boy.[25]

It should not be inferred from this, however, that Timothy was young by present-day methods of reckoning youth. Youth is a relative term, as pointed out by White: "Forty is reckoned old for a captain in the army, young for a bishop, and very young for a prime minister."[26]

Gould pointed out that:

It is age, rather than youth, that is in danger of being despised today. When a church seeking a minister automatically disqualifies every man on its list who is fifty years old, or older, it has come dangerously near to despising maturity.[27]

Despite the validity of what Gould says, there is also a widespread tendency to ignore and bypass men in their twenties when settled churches start looking for a minister. This also is extremely reprehensible.

In word ... life ... love ... The conduct of any minister is regulated by this. He must be one whose life measures up to the holy ideals which he preaches.

[25] Newport J. D. White, op. cit., p. 126.

[26] Ibid.

[27] J. Glenn Gould, op. cit., p. 598.

Verse 13

Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching.

Till I come ... As previously pointed out, we do not know if Paul ever was permitted to go to Ephesus again, as he planned here to do.

Give heed to reading ... Despite the obvious application of this admonition to the simple necessity of study on the part of every minister, Lenski was sure that something else was meant. He wrote:

Timothy is directed to pay close attention to the reading of the churches, that is, to WHAT is being read, not that SOMETHING should be read, still less that Timothy do the reading but to what is being read."[28]

Full agreement is felt with this; and the point is one worthy of consideration by churches everywhere. Some of the "modern" translations being read publicly are near blasphemy in their contradiction of sacred truth; and one finds reason to rejoice that the Hillsboro church in Nashville, Tennessee, laid down the dictum that only certain versions of the Holy Bible were ever to be read publicly from their pulpit. It was a similar concern which Paul enjoined upon Timothy here.

Verse 14

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

What was this gift, and where did Timothy get it? Lenski answers thus:

God gave (it) not by a miraculous gift from heaven, but "by means of prophecy," by a communication of the word to him, and did that under the tutelage of one of the most capable prophets this word ever had, namely, Paul himself.[29]

The gift may also be identified with Timothy's ability, as Paul's assistant, to found and establish churches in the truth. From 2 Timothy 1:6, it is clear that Paul himself was present and participated in the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, the same being the occasion when Timothy was set aside unto the attainment of this gift, an attainment which was prophesied at the time. As to what prophet may have spoken it, Silas, who was also a prophet, was Paul's companion at the time; and either he or Paul could have made the prophecy which was so gloriously fulfilled in Timothy. If on the first tour, Barnabas could have uttered it.

Verse 15

Be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be made manifest unto all.

The utmost diligence and application to the task in hand are indicated by this; and such diligence and perseverance will surely issue in favorable results. It is regrettable that some ministers seem to believe that they can benefit mankind more by who they are and what they imagine themselves to be, than by any diligent application to the work of saving souls. It was a task, arduous, demanding, and constant to which Paul here assigned Timothy.

Verse 16

Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee.

Paul never thought of salvation as a "once procured, final feat, settled and done forever!" No, salvation was a matter of fidelity and perseverance to the end of life. From this, it is also clear that there is a sense in which men must save themselves, not in the sense of either meriting or earning salvation, but in the sense of diligent continuity in the Christian way. There is no occasion in the Christian life when the follower of the Lord may feel free to rest upon his laurels, assume that he "has it made," or cease the fidelity that should mark the entirety of his whole life. Wallis pointed out that "continuing" is one of the basic words "used to describe the steadfast walk of a Christian (Galatians 3:10; Hebrews 8:9; James 1:25; Acts 14:22 and Colossians 1:23). It is basically the same as ABIDE in John 15,1John."[30]

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.