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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

1 Timothy 4


Analysis Of The Chapter

There is, in many respects, a strong resemblance between the first part of this chapter, 1 Timothy 4:0, and 2 Thessalonians 2:0; compare notes on that chapter. The leading object of this chapter is to state to Timothy certain things of which he was constantly to remind the church; and having done this, the apostle gives him some directions about his personal deportment. The chapter may be conveniently divided into three parts:

I. Timothy was to put the church constantly in remembrance of the great apostasy which was to occur, and to guard them against the doctrines which would be inculcated under that apostasy; 1 Timothy 4:1-6.

  1. There was to be, in the latter days, a great departing from the faith; 1 Timothy 4:1.
    1. Some of the characteristics of that apostasy were these; there would be a giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; 1 Timothy 4:1. Those who taught would hypocritically speak what they knew to be falsehood, having their own consciences seared; 1 Timothy 4:2. They would forbid to marry, and forbid the use of certain articles of food which God had appointed for man; 1 Timothy 4:3-5.

II. Timothy was to warn the churches against trifling and superstitious views, such as the apostle calls “old wives’” fables; 1 Timothy 4:7-11.

  1. He was not to allow himself to be influenced by such fables, but at once to reject them; 1 Timothy 4:7.
    1. The bodily exercise which the friends of such “fables” recommended was of no advantage to the soul, and no stress ought to be laid on it, as if it were important; 1 Timothy 4:8.
    2. That which was truly profitable, and which ought to be regarded as important was godliness; for “that” had promise of the present life, and of the life to come; 1 Timothy 4:8.
    3. Timothy must expect, in giving these instructions, to endure labor and to suffer reproach; nevertheless, he was faithfully to inculcate these important truths; 1 Timothy 4:10-11.

III. Various admonitions respecting his personal deportment; 1 Timothy 4:12-16.

  1. He was so to live that no one would despise him or his ministry because he was young; 1 Timothy 4:12.
    1. He was to give a constant attention to his duties until the apostle should himself return to him; 1 Timothy 4:13.
    2. He was carefully to cultivate the gift which has been conferred by his education, and by his ordination to the work of the ministry; 1 Timothy 4:14.
    3. He was to meditate on these things, and to give himself wholly to the work, so that his profiting might appear to all; 1 Timothy 4:15.
    4. He was to take good heed to himself, and to the manner and matter of his teaching, that he might save himself and those who heard him; 1 Timothy 4:16.

Verse 1

Now the Spirit - Evidently the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of inspiration. It is not quite certain, from this passage, whether the apostle means to say that this was a revelation “then” made to him, or whether it was a well-understood thing as taught by the Holy Spirit. He himself elsewhere refers to this same prophecy, and John also more than once mentions it; compare 2 Thessalonians 2:0; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 20:1-15. From 2 Thessalonians 2:5, it would seem that this was a truth which had before been communicated to the apostle Paul, and that he had dwelt on it when he preached the gospel in Thessalonica. There is no improbability, however, in the supposition that so important a subject was communicated directly by the Holy Spirit to others of the apostles.

Speaketh expressly - In express words, ῥητῶς rētōs. It was not by mere hints, and symbols, and shadowy images of the future; it was in an open and plain manner - in so many words. The object of this statement seems to be to call the attention of Timothy to it in an emphatic manner, and to show the importance of attending to it.

That in the latter times - Under the last dispensation, during which the affairs of the world would close; see the notes on Hebrews 1:2. It does not mean that this would occur “just before” the end of the world, but that it would take place during “that last dispensation,” and that the end of the world would not happen until this should take place; see the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

Some shall depart from the faith - The Greek word here - ἀποστήσονται apostēsontai - is that from which we have derived the word “apostatize,” and would be properly so rendered here. The meaning is, that they would “apostatize” from the belief of the truths of the gospel. It does not mean that, as individuals, they would have been true Christians; but that there would be a departure from the great doctrines which constitute the Christian faith. The ways in which they would do this are immediately specified, showing what the apostle meant here by departing from the faith. They would give heed to seducing spirits, to the doctrines of devils, etc. The use of the word “some,” here τινες tines - does not imply that the number would be small. The meaning is, that “certain persons” would thus depart, or that “there would be” an apostasy of the kind here mentioned, in the last days. From the parallel passage in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, it would seem that this was to be an extensive apostasy.

Giving heed to seducing spirits - Rather than to the Spirit of God. It would be a part of their system to yield to those spirits that led astray. The spirits here referred to are any that cause to err, and the most obvious and natural construction is to refer it to the agency of fallen spirits. Though it “may” apply to false teachers, yet, if so, it is rather to them as under the influence of evil spirits. This may be applied, so far as the phraseology is concerned, to “any” false teaching; but it is evident that the apostle had a specific apostasy in view - some great “system” that would greatly corrupt the Christian faith; and the words here should be interpreted with reference to that. It is true that people in all ages are prone to give heed to seducing spirits; but the thing referred to here is some grand apostasy, in which the characteristics would be manifested, and the doctrines held, which the apostle proceeds immediately to specify; compare 1 John 4:1.

And doctrines of devils - Greek, “Teachings of demons - διδασκαλίαις δαιμωνίων didaskaliais daimōniōn. This may either mean teachings “respecting” demons, or teachings “by” demons. The particular sense must be determined by the connection. Ambiguity of this kind in the construction of words, where one is in the genitive case, is not uncommon; compare John 15:9-10; John 21:15. Instances of the construction where the genitive denotes the “object,” and should be translated “concerning,” occur in Matthew 9:25; “The gospel of the kingdom,” i. e., concerning the kingdom; Matthew 10:1; “Power of unclean spirits,” i. e., over or concerning unclean spirits; so, also, Acts 4:9; Romans 16:15; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Ephesians 3:1; Revelation 2:13. Instances of construction where the genitive denotes the “agent,” occur in the following places: Luke 1:69, “A horn of salvation,” i. e., a horn which produces or causes salvation; John 6:28; Romans 3:22; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Ephesians 4:18; Colossians 2:11. Whether the phrase here means that, in the apostasy, they would give heed to doctrines “respecting” demons, or to doctrines which demons “taught,” cannot, it seems to me, be determined with certainty. If the previous phrase, however, means that they would embrace doctrines taught by evil spirits, it can hardly be supposed that the apostle would immediately repeat the same idea in another form; and then the sense would be, that one characteristic of the time referred to would be the prevalent teaching “respecting” demons. They would “give heed to,” or embrace, some special views respecting demons. The word here rendered “devils” is δαιμονία daimonia - “demons.” This word, among the Greeks, denoted the following things:

(1) A god or goddess, spoken of the pagan gods; compare in New Testament, Acts 17:18.

(2) A divine being, where no particular one was specified, the agent or author of good or evil fortune; of death, fate, etc. In this sense it is often used in Homer.

(3) The souls of people of the golden age, which dwelt unobserved upon the earth to regard the actions of men, and to defend them - tutelary divinities, or geniuses - like that which Socrates regarded as his constant attendant. Xen. Mem. 4. 8. 1. 5; Apol. Soc. 4. See “Passow.”

(4) To this may be added the common use in the New Testament, where the word denotes a demon in the Jewish sense - a bad spirit, subject to Satan, and under his control; one of the host of fallen angels - commonly, but not very properly rendered “devil” or “devils.” These spirits were supposed to wander in desolate places, Matthew 12:43; compare Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; or they dwell in the air, Ephesians 2:2. They were regarded as hostile to mankind, John 8:44; as able to utter pagan oracles, Acts 16:17; as lurking in the idols of the pagan, 1 Corinthians 10:20; Revelation 9:20. They are spoken of as the authors of evil, James 2:19; compare Ephesians 6:12, and as having the power of taking “possession” of a person, of producing diseases, or of causing mania, as in the case of the demoniacs, Luke 4:33; Luke 8:27; Matthew 17:18; Mark 7:29-30; and often elsewhere. The doctrine, therefore, which the apostle predicted would prevail, might, “so far as the word used is concerned,” be either of the following:

(1) Accordance with the prevalent notions of the pagan respecting false gods; or a falling into idolatry similar to that taught in the Grecian mythology. It can hardly be supposed, however, that he designed to say that the common notions of the pagan would prevail in the Christian church, or that the worship of the pagan gods “as such” would be set up there.

(2) An accordance with the Jewish views respecting demoniacal possessions and the power of exorcising them. If this view should extensively prevail in the Christian church, it would be in accordance with the language of the prediction.

(3) Accordance with the prevalent pagan notions respecting the departed spirits of the good and the great, who were exalted to the rank of demi-gods, and who, though invisible, were supposed still to exert an important influence in favor of mankind. To these beings, the pagan rendered extraordinary homage. They regarded them as demi-gods. They supposed that they took a deep interest in human affairs. They invoked their aid. They set apart days in honor of them. They offered sacrifices, and performed rites and ceremonies to propitiate their favor. They were regarded as a sort of mediators or intercessors between man and the superior divinities. If these things are found anywhere in the Christian church, they may be regarded as a fulfillment of this prediction, for they were not of a nature to be foreseen by any human sagacity. Now it so happens, that they are in fact found in the Papal communion, and in a way that corresponds fairly to the meaning of the phrase, as it would have been understood in the time of the apostle.

There is, “first,” the worship of the virgin and of the saints, or the extraordinary honors rendered to them - corresponding almost entirely with the reverence paid by the pagan to the spirits of heroes or to demi-gods. The saints are supposed to have extraordinary power with God, and their aid is implored as intercessors. The virgin Mary is invoked as “the mother of God,” and as having power still to command her Son. The Papists do not, indeed, offer the same homage to the saints which they do to God, but they ask their aid; they offer prayer to them. The following extracts from the catechism of Dr. James Butler, approved and recommended by Dr. Kenrick, “Bishop of Philadelphia,” expresses the general views of Roman Catholics on this subject. “Question: How do Catholics distinguish between the honor they give to God, and the honor they give to the saints, when they pray to God and the saints?

Answer: Of God alone they beg grace and mercy; and of the saints they only ask the assistance of their prayers? Question Is it lawful to recommend ourselves to the saints, and ask their prayers. Answer: Yes; as it is lawful and a very pious practice to ask the prayers of our fellow-creatures on earth, and to pray for them.” In the “Prayer to be said before mass,” the following language occurs: “In union with the holy church and its minister, and invoking the blessed virgin Mary, Mother of God, and all the angels and saints, we now offer the adorable sacrifice of the mass,” etc. In the General Confession, it is said - “I confess to Almighty God, to the blessed Mary, ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and to all the saints, that I have sinned exceedingly.” So also, the council of Trent declared, Sess. 25, “Concerning the invocation of the saints,” “that it is good and useful to supplicate them, and to fly to their prayers, power, and aid; but that they who deny that the saints are to be invoked, or who assert that they do not pray for people, or that their invocation of them is idolatry, hold an impious opinion. See also Peter Den’s Moral Theology, translated by the Rev. John F. Berg, pp. 342-356. “Secondly,” in the Papal communion the doctrine of “exorcism” is still held - implying a belief that evil spirits or demons have power over the human frame - a doctrine which comes fairly under the meaning of the phrase here - “the doctrine respecting demons.”

Thus, in Dr. Butler’s Catechism: “Question: What do you mean by exorcism? Answer: The rites and prayers instituted by the church for the casting out devils, or restraining them from hurting persons, disquieting places, or abusing any of God’s creatures to our harm. Question: Has Christ given his church any such power over devils? Anser: Yes, he has; see Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:15; Luke 9:1. And that this power was not to die with the apostles, nor to cease after the apostolic age, we learn from the perpetual practice of the church, and the experience of all ages.” The characteristic here referred to by the apostle, therefore, is one that applies precisely to the Roman Catholic communion, and cannot be applied with the same fitness to any other association calling itself Christian on earth. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Holy Spirit designed to designate that apostate church.

Verse 2

Speaking lies in hypocrisy - ἐν ὑποκρισει ψευδολόγων en hupokrisei pseudologōn. Or rather, “by, or through the hypocrisy of those speaking lies. So it is rendered by Whitby, Benson, Macknight, and others. Our translators have rendered it as if the word translated “speaking lies” - ψευδολόγων pseudologōn - referred to “demons,” or, “devils,” δαιμονίων daimoniōn - in the previous verse. But there are two objections to this. One is, that then, as Koppe observes, the words would have been inverted - ψευδολόγων ἐν ὑποκρίσει pseudologōn en hupokrisei. The other is, that if that construction is adopted, it must be carried through the sentence, and then all the phrases “speaking lies,” “having their conscience seared,” “forbidding to marry,” etc., must be referred to demons. The preposition ἐν en, “in” may denote “by” or “through,” and is often so used.

If this be the true construction, then it will mean that those who departed from the faith did it “by” or “through” the hypocritical teachings of those who spoke lies, or who knew that they were inculcating falsehoods; of those whose conscience was seared; of those who forbade to marry, etc. The meaning then will be, “In the last days certain persons will depart from the faith of the gospel. This apostasy will essentially consist in their giving heed to spirits that lead to error, and in embracing corrupt and erroneous views on demonology, or in reference to invisible beings between us and God. This they will do through the hypocritical teaching of those who inculcate falsehood; whose consciences are seared,” etc. The series of characteristics, therefore, which follow, are those of the “teachers,” not of “the taught;” of the ministers of the church, not of the great body of the people.

The apostle meant to say that this grand apostasy would occur under the influence of a hypocritical, hardened, and arbitrary ministry, teaching their own doctrines instead of the divine commands, and forbidding that which God had declared to be lawful. In the clause before us - “speaking lies in hypocrisy” - two things are implied, “first,” that the characteristic of those referred to would be that they would “speak lies;” “second,” that this would be done “hypocritically.” In regard to the first, there can be no doubt among Protestants of its applicability to the papal communion. The entire series of doctrines respecting the authority of the Pope, purgatory, the mass, the invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics, the seven sacraments, the authority of tradition, the doctrine of merit, etc., is regarded as false. Indeed, the system could not be better characterized than by saying that it is a system “speaking lies.” The entire scheme attempts to palm falsehood upon the world, in the place of the simple teaching of the New Testament. The only question is, whether this is done “in hypocrisy,” or hypocritically. In regard to this, it is not necessary to maintain that there is “no” sincerity among the ministers of that communion, or that “all” are hypocritical in their belief and their teaching. The sense is, that this is the general characteristic, or that this is understood by the leaders or prime movers in that apostasy. In regard to the applicability of this to the ministers of the Papal communion, and the question whether they teach what they know to be false, we may observe:

(1) That many of them are men of eminent learning, and there can he no reason to doubt that they Know that many of the Catholic legends are false, and many of the doctrines of their faith contrary to the Bible.

(2) Not a few of the things in that communion must be known by them to be false, though not known to be so by the people. Such are all the pretended miracles performed by the relics of the saints; the liquefying of the blood of Januarius, etc.; see the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:9. As the working of these tricks depends wholly on the priesthood, they must know that they are “speaking lies in hypocrisy.”

(3) The matter of fact seems to be, that when young men who have been trained in the Catholic Church, first turn their attention to the ministry, they are sincere. They have not yet been made acquainted with the “mysteries of iniquity” in the communion in which they have been trained, and they do not suspect the deceptions that are practiced there. When they pass through their course of study, however, and become acquainted with the arts and devices on which the fabric rests, and with the scandalous lives of many of the clergy, they are shocked to find how corrupt and false the whole system is. But they are now committed. They have devoted their lives to this profession. They are trained now to this system of imposture, and they must continue to practice and perpetuate the fraud, or abandon the church, and subject themselves to all the civil and ecclesiastical disabilities which would now follow if they were to leave and reveal all its frauds and impostures. A gentleman of high authority, and who has had as good an opportunity as any man living to make accurate and extensive observations, stated to me, that this was a common thing in regard to the Catholic clergy in France and Italy. No one can reasonably doubt that the great body of that clergy “must” be apprized that much that is relied on for the support of the system is mere legend, and that the miracles which are pretended to be performed are mere trick and imposture.

Having their conscience seared with a hot iron - The allusion here is doubtless to the effect of applying a hot iron to the skin. The cauterized part becomes rigid and hard, and is dead to sensibility. So with the conscience of those referred to. It has the same relation to a conscience that is sensitive and quick in its decisions, that a cauterized part of the body has to a thin, delicate, and sensitive skin. Such a conscience exists in a mind that will practice delusion without concern; that will carry on a vast system of fraud without wincing; that will incarcerate, scourge, or burn the innocent without compassion; and that will practice gross enormities, and indulge in sensual gratifications under the mask of piety. While there are many eminent exceptions to an application of this to the Papal communion, yet this description will apply better to the Roman priesthood in the time of Luther - and in many other periods of the world - than to any other “body of men” that ever lived.

Verse 3

Forbidding to marry - That is, “They will depart from the faith through the hypocritical teaching - of those who forbid to marry;” see notes on 1 Timothy 4:2. This does not necessarily mean that they would prohibit marriage altogether, but that it would be a characteristic of their teaching that marriage would “be forbidden,” whether of one class of persons or many. They would “commend” and “enjoin” celibacy and virginity. They would regard such a state, for certain persons, as more holy than the married condition, and would consider it as “so” holy that they would absolutely prohibit those who wished to be most holy from entering into the relation. It is needless to say how accurately this applies to the views of the papacy in regard to the comparative purity and advantages of a state of celibacy, and to their absolute prohibition of the marriage of the clergy. The tenth article of the decree of the Council of Trent, in relation to marriage, will show the general view of the papacy on that subject. “Whosoever shall say that the married state is to be preferred to a state of virginity, or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or celibacy, than to be joined in marriage; let him be accursed!” Compare Peter Dens’ Moral Theology, pp. 497-500.

And commanding to abstain from meats, ... - The word “meat” in the Scriptures, commonly denotes “food” of all kinds; Matthew 3:4; Matthew 6:25; Matthew 10:10; Matthew 15:37. This was the meaning of the word when the translation of the Bible was made. It is now used by us, almost exclusively, to denote animal food. The word here used - βρῶμα brōma - means, properly, whatever is eaten, and may refer to animal flesh, fish, fruit, or vegetables. It is often, however, in the New Testament, employed particularly to denote the flesh of animals; Heb, Matthew 9:10; Matthew 13:9; Romans 14:15, Romans 14:20; 1 Corinthians 8:8, 1 Corinthians 8:13. As it was animal food particularly which was forbidden under the Jewish code, and as the questions on this subject among Christians would relate to the same kinds of prohibition, it is probable that the word has the same limited signification here, and should be taken as meaning the same thing that the word “meat” does with us.

To forbid the use of certain meats, is here described as one of the characteristics of those who would instruct the church in the time of the great apostasy. It is not necessary to suppose that there would be an “entire” prohibition, but only a prohibition of certain kinds, and at certain seasons. That “this” characteristic is found in the papacy more than anywhere else in the Christian world, it is needless to prove. The following questions and answers from Dr. Butler’s Catechism, will show what is the sentiment of Roman Catholics on this subject. “Question: Are there any other commandments besides the Ten Commandments of God? Answer: There are the commandments or precepts of the church, which are chiefly six. Question: What are we obliged to do by the second commandment of the church? Answer: To give part of the year to fast and abstinence. Question: What do you mean by fast-days? Answer: Certain days on which we are allowed but one meal, and “forbidden flesh meat.”

Question: What do you mean by days of abstinence? Answer: Certain days on which we are forbidden to eat flesh meat; but are allowed the usual number of meals. Question: Is it strictly forbidden by the church to eat flesh meat on days of abstinence? Answer: Yes; and to eat flesh meat on any day on which it is forbidden, without necessity and leave of the church, is very sinful.” Could there be a more impressive and striking commentary on what the apostle says here, that “in the latter days some would depart from the faith, under the hypocritical teaching of those who commanded to abstain from meats?” The authority claimed by the papacy to issue “commands” on this subject, may be seen still further by the following extract from the same catechism, showing the gracious permission of the church to the “faithful.” “The abstinence on Saturday is dispensed with, for the faithful throughout the United States, for the space of ten years (from 1833), except when a fast falls on a Saturday. The use of flesh meat is allowed at present by dispensation in the diocess of Philadelphia, on all the Sundays of Lent, except Palm Sunday, and once a day on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday in each week, except the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, and also excepting Holy-week.” Such is the Roman Catholic religion! See also Peter Dens’ Moral Theology, pp. 321-330. It is true that what is said here “might” apply to the Essenes, as Koppe supposes, or to the Judaizing teachers, but it applies more appropriately and fully to the Papal communion than to any other body of men professing Christianity, and taken in connection with the other characteristics of the apostasy, there can be no doubt that the reference is to that.

Which God hath created - The articles of food which he has made, and which he has designed for the nourishment of man. The fact that God had “created” them was proof that they were not to be regarded as evil, and that it was not to be considered as a religious duty to abstain from them. All that “God” has made is good in its place, and what is adapted to be food for man is not to be refused or forbidden; compare Ecclesiastes 5:18. There can be no doubt that in the apostasy here referred to, those things would be forbidden, not because they were injurious or hurtful in their nature, but because it might be made a part of a system of religion of self-righteousness and because there might be connected with such a prohibition the belief of special merit.

Verse 4

For every creature of God is good - Greek, “all the creatures, or all that God has created” - πᾶν κτίσμα pan ktisma: that is, as he made it; compare Genesis 1:10, Genesis 1:12, Genesis 1:18, Genesis 1:31. It does not mean that every moral agent remains good as long as he is “a creature of God,” but moral agents, human beings and angels, were good as they were made at first; Genesis 1:31. Nor does it mean that all that God has made is good “for every object to which it can be applied.” It is good in its place; good for the purpose for which he made it. But it should not be inferred that a thing which is poisonous in its nature is good for food, “because” it is a creation of God. It is good only in its place, and for the ends for which he intended it. Nor should it be inferred that what God has made is necessarily good “after” it has been perverted by man. As God made it originally, it might have been used without injury.

Apples and peaches were made good, and are still useful and proper as articles of food; rye and Indian-corn are good, and are admirably adapted to the support of man and beast, but it does not follow that all that “man” can make of them is necessarily good. He extracts from them a poisonous liquid, and then says that “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” But is this a fair use of this passage of Scripture? True, they “are” good - they “are” to be received with gratitude as he made them, and as applied to the uses for which he designed them; but why apply this passage to prove that a deleterious beverage, which “man” has extracted from what God has made, is good also, and good for all the purposes to which it can be applied? As “God” made these things, they are good. As man perverts them, it is no longer proper to call them the “creation of God,” and they may be injurious in the highest degree. This passage, therefore, should not be adduced to vindicate the use of intoxicating drinks. As employed by the apostle, it had no such reference, nor does it contain any “principle” which can properly receive any such application.

And nothing to be refused - Nothing that God has made, for the purposes for which he designed it. The necessity of the case the “exigency of the passage” - requires this interpretation. It “cannot” mean that we are not to refuse poison if offered in our food, or that we are never to refuse food that is to us injurious or offensive; nor can it anymore mean that we are to receive “all” that may be offered to us as a beverage. The sense is, that as God made it, and for the purposes for which he designed it, it is not to be held to be evil; or, which is the same thing, it is not to be prohibited as if there were merit in abstaining from it. It is not to be regarded as a religious duty to abstain from food which God has appointed for the support of man.

If it be received with thanksgiving - see the 1 Corinthians 10:31 note; Ephesians 5:20 note; Philippians 4:6 note.

Verse 5

For it is sanctified by the word of God - By the authority or permission of God. It would be profane or unholy if he had forbidden it; it is made holy or proper for our use by his permission, and no command of “man” can make it unholy or improper; compare Genesis 1:29; Genesis 9:3.

And prayer - If it is partaken of with prayer. By prayer we are enabled to receive it with gratitude, and everything that we eat or drink may thus be made a means of grace.

Verse 6

If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things - Of the truths just stated. They are, therefore, proper subjects to preach upon. It is the duty of the ministry to show to the people of their charge what “is” error and where it may be apprehended, and to caution them to avoid it.

Nourished up in the words of faith - That is, you will be then “a good minister of Jesus Christ, as becomes one who has been nourished up in the words of faith, or trained up in the doctrines of religion.” The apostle evidently designs to remind Timothy of the manner in which he had been trained, and to show him how he might act in accordance with that. From one who had been thus educated, it was reasonable to expect that he would be a faithful and exemplary minister of the gospel.

Whereunto thou hast attained - The word used here means, properly, to accompany side by side; to follow closely; to follow out, trace, or examine. It is rendered “shall follow,” in Matthew 16:17; “having had understanding,” in Luke 1:3; and “hast fully known,” in 2 Timothy 3:10. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. The meaning here seems to be, that Timothy had followed out the doctrines in which he had been trained to their legitimate results; he had accurately seen and understood their bearing, as leading him to embrace the Christian religion. His early training in the Scriptures of the Old Testament 2Ti 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15, he had now fully carried out, by embracing the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, and by evincing the proper results of the early teaching which he had received in connection with that religion. If he now followed the directions of the apostle, he would be a minister of the Lord Jesus, worthy of the attainments in religious knowledge which he had made, and of the expectations which had been formed of him. No young man should, by neglect, indolence, or folly, disappoint the reasonable expectations of his friends. Their cherished hopes are a proper ground of appeal to him, and it may be properly demanded of every one that he shall carry out to their legitimate results all the principles of his early training, and that he shall be in his profession all that his early advantages make it reasonable to “expect” that he will be.

Verse 7

But refuse - That is, refuse to pay attention to them, or reject them. Do not consider them of sufficient importance to occupy your time.

Profane - The word here used does not mean that the fables here referred to were blasphemous or impious in their character, but that they had not the character of true religion; 2 Timothy 2:16.And old wives’ - Old women’s stories; or such as old women held to be important. The word is used here, as it is often with us, in the sense of silly.

Fables - Fictions, or stories that were not founded on fact. The pagan religion abounded with fictions of this kind, and the Jewish teachers were also remarkable for the number of such fables which they had introduced into their system. It is probable that the apostle referred here particularly to the Jewish fables, and the counsel which he gives to Timothy is, to have nothing to do with them.

And exercise thyself rather unto godliness - Rather than attempt to understand those fables. Do not occupy your time and attention with them, but rather cultivate piety, and seek to become more holy.

Verse 8

For bodily exercise profiteth little - Margin, “for a little time.” The Greek will admit of either interpretation, and what is here affirmed is true in either sense. The bodily exercise to which the apostle refers is of little advantage compared with that piety which he recommended Timothy to cultivate, and whatever advantage could be derived from it, would be but of short duration. “Bodily exercise” here refers, doubtless, to the mortifications of the body by abstinence and penance which the ancient devotees, and particularly the Essenes, made so important as a part of their religion. The apostle does not mean to say that bodily exercise is in itself improper, or that no advantage can be derived from it in the preservation of health, but he refers to it solely as a means of religion; as supposed to promote holiness of heart and of life. By these bodily austerities it was supposed that the corrupt passions would be subdued, the wanderings of an unholy fancy lettered down, and the soul brought into conformity to God. In opposition to this supposition, the apostle has here stated a great principle which experience has shown to be universally correct, that such austerities do little to promote holiness, but much to promote superstition. There must be a deeper work on the soul than any which can be accomplished by the mere mortification of the body; see the notes on Colossians 2:23, and compare 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.

But godliness - Piety or religion.

Is profitable unto all things - In every respect. There is not an interest of man, in reference to this life, or to the life to come, which it would not promote. It is favorable to health of body, by promoting temperance, industry, and frugality; to clearness and vigor of intellect, by giving just views of truth, and of the relative value of objects; to peace of conscience, by leading to the faithful performance of duty; to prosperity in business, by making a man sober, honest, prudent, and industrious; to a good name, by leading a man to pursue such a course of life as shall deserve it; and to comfort in trial, calmness in death, and immortal peace beyond the grave. Religion injures no one. It does not destroy health; it does not enfeeble the intellect; it does not disturb the conscience; it does not pander to raging and consuming passions; it does not diminish the honor of a good name; it furnishes no subject of bitter reflection on a bed of death.

It makes no one the poorer; it prompts to no crime; it engenders no disease. If a man should do that which would most certainly make him happy, he would be decidedly and conscientiously religious; and though piety promises no earthly possessions directly as its reward, and secures no immunity from sickness, bereavement, and death, yet there is nothing which so certainly secures a steady growth of prosperity in a community as the virtues which it engenders and sustains, and there is nothing else that will certainly meet the ills to which man is subject. I have no doubt that it is the real conviction of every man, that if he ever becomes certainly “happy,” he will be a Christian; and I presume that it is the honest belief of every one that the true and consistent Christian is the most happy of people. And yet, with this conviction, people seek everything else rather than religion, and in the pursuit of baubles, which they know cannot confer happiness, they defer religion - the only certain source of happiness at any time - to the last period of life, or reject it altogether.

Having promise of the life that now is - That is, it furnishes the promise of whatever is really necessary for us in this life. The promises of the Scriptures on this subject are abundant, and there is probably not a lack of our nature for which there might not be found a specific promise in the Bible; compare Psalms 23:1; Psalms 84:11; Philippians 4:19. Religion promises us needful food and raiment, Matthew 6:25-33; Isaiah 33:16; comfort in affliction, Deuteronomy 33:27; Job 5:19; Psalms 46:1-11; Hebrews 13:5; support in old age and death, Isaiah 46:4; Psalms 23:4; compare Isaiah 43:2; and a good reputation, an honored name when we are dead; Psalms 37:1-6. There is nothing which man really “needs” in this life, which is not promised by religion; and if the inquiry were made, it would be surprising to many, even with our imperfect religion, how literally these promises are fulfilled. David, near the close of a long life, was able to bear this remarkable testimony on this subject: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread;” Psalms 37:25. And now, of the beggars that come to our doors, to how few of them can we give a cup of cold water, feeling that we are giving it to a disciple! How rare is it that a true Christian becomes a beggar! Of the inmates of our alms-houses, how very few give any evidence that they have religion! They have been brought there by vice, not by religion. True piety sends none to the alms-house; it would have saved the great mass of those who are there from ever needing the charity of their fellow-men.

And of that which is to come - Eternal life. And it is the only thing that “promises” such a life. Infidelity makes no “promise” of future happiness. Its business is to take away all the comforts which religion gives, and to leave people to go to a dark eternity with no promise or hope of eternal joy. Vice “promises” pleasures in the present life, but only to disappoint its votaries here; it makes no promise of happiness in the future world. There is nothing that furnishes any certain “promises” of happiness hereafter, in this world or the next, but religion. God makes no promise of such happiness to beauty, birth, or blood; to the possession of honors or wealth; to great attainments in science and learning, or to the graces of external accomplishment. All these, whatever flattering hopes of happiness they may hold out here, have no assurance of future eternal bliss. It is not by such things that God graduates the rewards of heaven, and it is only “piety” or “true religion” that furnishes any assurance of happiness in the world to come.

Verse 9

This is a faithful saying - see the notes on 1 Timothy 1:15.

Verse 10

For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach - In making this truth known, that all might be saved, or that salvation was offered to all. The “labor” was chiefly experienced in carrying this intelligence abroad among the Gentiles; the “reproach” arose chiefly from the Jews for doing it.

Because we trust in the living God - This does not mean, as our translation would seem to imply, that he labored and suffered “because” he confided in God, or that this was the “reason” of his sufferings, but rather that this trust in the living God was his “support” in these labors and trials. “We labor and suffer reproach, for we have hope in God. Through him we look for salvation. We believe that he has made this known to people, and believing this, we labor earnestly to make it known, even though it be attended with reproaches.” The sentiment is, that the belief that God has revealed a plan of salvation for all people, and invites all people to be saved, will make his friends willing to “labor” to make this known, though it be attended with reproaches.

Who is the Saviour of all men - This must be understood as denoting that he is the Saviour of all people in some sense which differs from what is immediately affirmed - “especially of those that believe.” There is something pertaining to “them” in regard to salvation which does not pertain to “all men.” It cannot mean that he brings all people to heaven, “especially” those who believe - for this would be nonsense. And if he brings all people actually to heaven, how can it be “especially” true that he does this in regard to those who believe? Does it mean that he saves others “without” believing? But this would be contrary to the uniform doctrine of the Scriptures; see Mark 16:16. When, therefore, it is said that he “is the Saviour of ‘all’ people, ‘especially’ of those who believe,” it must mean that there is a sense in which it is true that he may be called the Saviour of all people, while, at the same time, it is “actually” true that those only are saved who believe. This may be true in two respects:

  1. As he is the “Preserver” of people Job 7:20, for in this sense he may be said to “save” them from famine, and war, and peril - keeping them from day to day; compare Psalms 107:28;

(2)As he has “provided” salvation for all people. He is thus their Saviour - and may be called the common Saviour of all; that is, he has confined the offer of salvation to no one class of people; he has not limited the atonement to one division of the human race; and he actually saves all who are willing to be saved by him.

(See supplementary note on 2 Corinthians 5:21. This passage however is not regarded a proof text now on the extent of the atonement, as the fair rendering of σωτήρ sōtēr is “Preserver.” Dr. Wardlaw has accordingly excluded it in his recent work.)

Specially of those that believe - This is evidently designed to limit the previous remark. If it had been left there, it might have been inferred that he would “actually save” all people. But the apostle held no such doctrine, and he here teaches that salvation is “actually” limited to those who believe. This is the speciality or the uniqueness in the salvation of those who actually reach heaven, that they are “believers;” see the notes on Mark 16:16. All people, therefore, do not enter heaven, unless all people have faith. But is this so? What evidence is there that the great mass of mankind die believing on the Son of God?

Verse 11

These things command and teach - As important doctrines, and as embracing the sum of the Christian system. It follows from this, that a minister of the gospel is solemnly bound to teach that there is a sense in which God is the Saviour of all people. He is just as much bound to teach this, as he is that only those will be saved who believe. It is a glorious truth - and it is a thing for which a man should unceasingly give thanks to God that he may go and proclaim that He has provided salvation for all, and is willing that all should come and live.

Verse 12

Let no man despise thy youth - That is, do not act in such a manner that any shall despise you on account of your youth. Act as becomes a minister of the gospel in all things, and in such a way that people will respect you as such, though you are young. It is clear from this that Timothy was then a young man, but his exact age there is no means of determining. It is implied here:

(1) That there was danger that, by the levity and indiscretion to which youth are so much exposed, the ministry might be regarded with contempt; and,

(2) That it was possible that his deportment should be so grave, serious, and every way appropriate, that the ministry would not be blamed, but honored. The “way” in which Timothy was to live so that the ministry would not be despised on account of his youth, the apostle proceeds immediately to specify.

But be thou an example of the believers - One of the constant duties of a minister of the gospel, no matter what his age. A minister should so live, that if all his people should closely follow his example, their salvation would be secure, and they would make the highest possible attainments in piety. On the meaning of the word rendered “example,” see the notes on Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:7.

In word - In “speech,” that is, your manner of conversation. This does not refer to his “public teaching” - in which he could not probably be an “example” to them - but to his usual and familiar conversation.

In conversation - In general deportment. See this word explained in the notes on Philippians 1:27.

In charity - Love to the brethren, and to all; see notes on 1 Corinthians 13:0.

In spirit - In the government of your passions, and in a mild, meek, forgiving disposition.

In faith - At all times, and in all trials show to believers by your example, how they ought to maintain unshaken confidence in God.

In purity - In chasteness of life; see 1 Timothy 5:2. There should be nothing in your contact with the other sex that would give rise to scandal. The papists, with great impropriety, understand this as enjoining celibacy - as if there could be no “purity” in that holy relation which God appointed in Eden, and which he has declared to “be honorable in all” Hebrews 13:4, and which he has made so essential to the wellbeing of mankind. If the apostle had wished to produce the highest possible degree of corruption in the church, he would have enjoined the celibacy of the clergy and the celibacy of an indefinite number of nuns and monks. There are no other institutions on the earth which have done so much to corrupt the chastity of the race, as those which have grown out of the doctrine that celibacy is more honorable than marriage.

Verse 13

Till I come; - notes, 1 Timothy 3:14-15.

Give attendance to reading - The word here used may refer either to public or to private reading; see Act 13:15; 2 Corinthians 3:14; compare Esdr. 9:48. The more obvious interpretation here is to refer it to private reading, or to a careful perusal of those books which would qualify him for his public work. The then written portions of the sacred volume - the Old Testament - are doubtless specially intended here, but there is no reason to doubt that there were included also such other books as would be useful, to which Timothy might have access. Even those were then few in number, but Paul evidently meant that Timothy should, as far as practicable, become acquainted with them. The apostle himself, on more than one occasion, showed that he had some acquaintance with the classic writings of Greece; Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12.

To exhortation - see the notes on Romans 12:8.

To doctrine - To teaching - for so the word means; compare notes on Romans 12:7.

Verse 14

Neglect not the gift that is in thee - An important question arises here, to what the word “gift” refers; whether to natural endowment; to office; or to some supposed virtue which had been conferred by ordination - some transmitted influence which made him holy as a minister of religion, and which was to continue to be transmitted by the imposition of apostolic hands. The word which is here used, is rendered “gift” in every place in which it occurs in the New Testament. It is found in the following places, and with the following significations: deliverance from peril, 2 Corinthians 1:11; a gift or quality of the mind, 1 Corinthians 7:7; gifts of Christian knowledge or consolation, Romans 1:11; 1 Corinthians 1:7; redemption or salvation through Christ, Romans 5:15-16; Romans 6:23; Romans 11:29; the miraculous endowments conferred by the Holy Spirit, Romans 12:6; 1Co 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:9,1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 12:30-31, and the special gift or endowment for the work of the ministry, 1Ti 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Peter 4:10. The “gift” then referred to here was that by which Timothy was qualified for the work of the ministry. It relates to his office and qualifications - to “every thing” that entered into his fitness for the work. It does not refer “exclusively” to any influence that came upon him in virtue of his ordination, or to any new grace that was infused into him by that act, making him either officially or personally more holy than other people, or than he was before - or to any efficacy in the mere act of ordination - but it comprised “the whole train of circumstances” by which he had been qualified for the sacred office and recognized as a minister of religion. All this was regarded as a “gift,” a “benefit,” or a “favor” - χαρισμα charisma - and he was not to neglect or disregard the responsibilities and advantages growing out of it. In regard to the manner in which this gift or favor was bestowed, the following things are specified:

(1) It was the gift of God; 2 Timothy 1:6. He was to be recognized as its source; and it was not therefore conferred merely by human hands. The call to the ministry, the qualifications for the office, and the whole arrangement by which one is endowed for the work, are primarily to be traced to him as the source.

(2) It was given to Timothy in accordance with certain predictions which had existed in regard to him - the expectations of those who had observed his qualifications for such an office, and who had expressed the hope that he would one day be permitted to serve the Lord in it.

(3) It was sanctioned by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. The call of God to the work thus recognized by the church, and the approbation of the Presbytery expressed by setting him apart to the office, should be regarded by Timothy as a part of the “gift” or “benefit” (charisma) which had been conferred on him, and which he was not to neglect.

(4) An additional circumstance which might serve to impress the mind of Timothy with the value of this endowment, and the responsibility of this office, was, that Paul himself had been concerned in his ordination; 2 Timothy 1:6. He who was so much more aged (Philemon 1:9; compare 2 Timothy 4:6-7); he who had been a father to him, and who had adopted him and treated him as a son had been concerned in his ordination; and this fact imposed a higher obligation to perform aright the functions of an office which had been conferred on him in this manner. We are not to suppose, therefore, that there was any mysterious influence - any “virus” - conveyed by the act of ordination, or that that act imparted any additional degree of holiness. The endowment for the ministry; the previous anticipations and hopes of friends; and the manner in which he had been inducted into the sacred office, should all be regarded as a “benefit” or “favor” of a high order, and as a reason why the gift thus bestowed should not be neglected - and the same things now should make a man who is in the ministry deeply feel the solemn obligations resting on him to cultivate his powers in the highest degree, and to make the most of his talents.

Which was given thee by prophecy - That is, the prophetic declarations and the hopes of pious friends in regard to your future usefulness, have been among the means by which you have been introduced to the ministry, and should be a reason why you should cultivate your powers, and perform faithfully the duties of your office; see the notes on 1 Timothy 1:18.

With the laying on of the hands of the presbytery - it was common to lay on the hands in imparting a blessing, or in setting apart to any office; see Matthew 19:15; Mark 6:5; Luke 4:40; Luke 12:13; Leviticus 8:14; Numbers 27:23; Acts 28:8; Acts 6:6; Acts 8:17; Acts 13:3. The reference here is undoubtedly to the act by which Timothy was set apart to the office of the ministry. The word rendered “presbytery” - πρεσβυτέριον presbuterion - occurs only in two other places in the New Testament - Luke 22:66, where it is rendered “elders;” and Acts 22:5, where it is rendered “estate of the elders.” It properly means an “assembly of aged men; council of elders.” In Luke 22:66, and Acts 22:5, it refers to the Jewish “sanhedrin;” see the notes on Matthew 5:22. In the passage before us, it cannot refer to that body - for they did not ordain men to the Christian ministry - but to some association, or council, or body of elders of the Christian church. It is clear from the passage:

(1) That there was more than “one person” engaged in this service, and taking part in it when Timothy was ordained, and therefore it could not have been by a “prelate” or “bishop” alone.

(2) That the power conferred, whatever it was, was conferred by the whole body constituting the presbytery - since the apostle says that the “gift” was imparted, not in virtue of any particular power or eminence in anyone individual, but by the “laying on of the hands of the presbytery.”

(3) The statement here is just such a one as would be made now respecting a Presbyterian ordination; it is not one which would be made of an Episcopal ordination. A Presbyterian would choose “these very words” in giving an account of an ordination to the work of the ministry; an Episcopalian “would not.” The former speaks of an ordination by a “presbytery;” the latter of ordination by a “bishop.” The former can use the account of the apostle Paul here as applicable to an ordination, without explanations, comments, new versions or criticisms; the latter cannot. The passage, therefore, is full proof that, in one of the most important ordinations mentioned in the New Testament, it was performed by an association of men, and not by a prelate, and therefore, that this was the primitive mode of ordination. Indeed, there is not a single instance of ordination to an office mentioned in the New Testament which was performed by one man alone. See this passage examined at greater length in my” Enquiry into the organization and government of the apostolic church,” pp. 208-221.

Verse 15

Meditate upon these things - Upon the train of events by which you have been led into the ministry, and upon the responsibilites and duties of the office. Let your mind be deeply impressed with these things; make them the subject of profound and serious thought.

Give thyself wholly to them - Greek “Be in them” - a phrase similar to that of Horace - “totus in illis.” The meaning is plain. He was to devote his life wholly to this work. He was to have no other grand aim of living. His time, attention, talents, were to be absorbed in the proper duties of the work. He was not to make that subordinate and tributary to any other purpose, nor was he to allow any other object to interfere with the appropriate duties of that office. He was not to live for money, fame, or pleasure; not to devote his time to the pursuits of literature or science for their own sakes; not to seek the reputation of an elegant or profound scholar; not to aim to be distinguished merely as an accomplished gentleman, or as a skillful farmer, teacher, or author. Whatever was done in any of these departments, was to be wholly consistent with the direction, ἐν τούτοις ἴσθι en toutois isthi - “be in these things” - be absorbed in the appropriate duties of the ministerial office. It may be remarked here that no man will ever make much of himself, or accomplish much in any profession, who does not make this the rule of his life. He who has one great purpose of life to which he patiently and steadily devotes himself, and to which he makes everything else bend, will uniformly rise to high respectability, if not to eminence. He who does not do this can expect to accomplish nothing.

That thy profiting - Greek Thy going forward; that is, thy advancement, or progress. A minister of the gospel ought to make steady improvement in all that pertains to his office. No man ought to be satisfied with present attainments.

To all - Margin, “in all things.” The margin is the more correct rendering, but either of them makes good sense. It should be apparent to all persons who attend on the stated preaching of a minister of the gospel, that he is making steady advances in knowledge, wisdom, and piety, and in all things that pertain to the proper performance of the duties of his office. If a man really makes progress, it will be seen and appreciated by others; if he does not, that will be as well understood by his hearers.

Verse 16

Take heed unto thyself - This may be understood as relating to everything of a personal nature that would qualify him for his work. It may be applied to personal piety; to health; to manners; to habits of living; to temper; to the ruling purposes; to the contact with others. In relation to personal religion, a minister should take heed:

(1) That he has true piety; and,

(2) That he is advancing in the knowledge and love of God. In relation to morals, he should be upright; to his contact with others, and his personal habits, he should be correct, consistent, and gentlemanly, so as to give needless offence to none. The person of a minister should be neat and cleanly; his manners such as will show the fair influence of religion on his temper and deportment; his style of conversation such as will be an example to the old and the young, and such as will not offend against the proper laws of courtesy and urbanity. There is no religion in a filthy person; in uncouth manners; in an inconvenient and strange form of apparel; in bad grammar, and in slovenly habits - and to be a real gentleman should be as much a matter of conscience with a minister of the gospel as to be a real Christian. Indeed, under the full and fair influence of the gospel, the one always implies the other. Religion refines the manners - it does not corrupt them; it makes one courteous, polite, and kind - it never produces boorish manners, or habits that give offence to the well-bred and the refined.

And unto the doctrine - The kind of teaching which you give, or to your public instructions. The meaning is, that he should hold and teach only the truth. He was to “take heed” to the whole business of public instruction; that is, both to the matter and the manner. The great object was to get as much truth as possible before the minds of his hearers, and in such a way as to produce the deepest impression on them.

Continue in them - That is, in these things which have been specified. He was ever to be found perseveringly engaged in the performance of these duties.

For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself - By holding of the truth, and by the faithful performance of your duties, you will secure the salvation of the soul. We are not to suppose that the apostle meant to teach that this would be the meritorious cause of his salvation, but that these faithful labors would be regarded as an evidence of piety, and would be accepted as such. It is equivalent to saying, that an unfaithful minister of the gospel cannot be saved; one who faithfully performs all the duties of that office with a right spirit, will be.

And them that hear thee - That is, you will be the means of their salvation. It is not necessary to suppose that the apostle meant to teach that he would save all that heard him. The declaration is to be understood in a popular sense, and it is undoubtedly true that a faithful minister will be the means of saving many sinners. This assurance furnishes a ground of encouragement for a minister of the gospel. He may hope for success, and should look for success. He has the promise of God that if he is faithful he shall see the fruit of his labors, and this result of his work is a sufficient reward for all the toils and sacrifices and self-denials of the ministry. If a minister should be the means of saving but one soul from the horrors of eternal suffering and eternal sinning, it would be worth the most self-denying labors of the longest life. Yet what minister of the gospel is there, who is at all faithful to his trust, who is not made the honored instrument of the salvation of many more than one? Few are the devoted ministers of Christ who are not permitted to see evidence even here, that their labor has not been in vain. Let not, then, the faithful preacher be discouraged. A single soul rescued from death will be a gem in his eternal crown brighter by far than ever sparkled on the brow of royalty.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.