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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

1 Timothy 4


A.M. 4069. A.D. 65.


(1,) The apostle foretels a dreadful apostacy from the doctrines and practices of the gospel, 1 Timothy 4:1-5 .

(2,) He directs Timothy to attend to the great essential matters of religion, and to be diligent, prudent, and faithful in his personal conduct, and in the discharge of the duties of his office, 1 Timothy 4:6-16 .

Verse 1

1 Timothy 4:1. Now the Spirit By calling the Christian Church, in the end of the preceding chapter, the pillar and support of the truth, the apostle taught, that one of the important purposes for which that great spiritual building was reared, was to preserve the knowledge and practice of true religion in the world. Nevertheless, knowing that in after times great corruptions, both in doctrine and practice, would at length take place in the church itself, and that the general reception of these corruptions by professed Christians would be urged as a proof of their being the truths and precepts of God, on pretence that the church is the pillar, &c., of the truth, the apostle, to strip these corruptions of any credit which they might derive from their being received by the multitude, and maintained by persons of the greatest note in the church, judged it necessary in this chapter to foretel the introduction of these corruptions, under the appellation of an apostacy from the faith, and to stigmatize the authors thereof as hypocrites and deceivers. And to give his prediction the greater authority, he informed Timothy that it was revealed to him in a peculiar and express manner. The Spirit, says he, speaketh expressly As concerning a thing of great moment, and soon to be fulfilled. Some have thought the meaning of the apostle to be, that the Holy Spirit had revealed what follows by Daniel, and some of the other prophets; but, says Macknight, “the things here mentioned are not in Daniel, nor anywhere else in Scripture, not even in the prophecy which the apostle himself formerly delivered concerning the man of sin. I therefore think these words were, for the greater solemnity and certainty, pronounced by the Spirit in the apostle’s hearing, after he had finished the preceding passage.” But the apostle might mean, that the Holy Spirit had revealed this, not only to him, but also to other contemporary prophets.

That in the latter, or after times As the phrase εν υστεροις καιροις may be translated, because it denotes future times, without marking whether they are near or remote. Or if, as Mede thinks, Daniel’s four monarchies are referred to, as it was under the Roman that the God of heaven set up the kingdom of his Son, the latter, or after times here intended, may be the last part of the duration of the Roman empire. Some shall depart Or rather, shall apostatize, from the faith The apostle had predicted the same thing before, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where see the notes. There the character of the teachers who were to introduce the apostacy is described; but in this epistle the erroneous opinions and corrupt practices which constituted the apostacy are foretold. And as the apostle hath introduced this prophecy immediately after his account of the mystery of godliness, is it not probable that his design in so doing was to give the faithful an opportunity of comparing this mystery of iniquity with the mystery of godliness, that they might be more sensible of the pernicious nature of it? It may be proper to observe, that it is not every error or heresy that is an apostacy from the faith. It is a revolt in the principal and essential articles, as when we worship God by an image or representation, or when we worship other beings besides God, and pray unto other mediators besides the one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. It is the very essence of Christian worship, to worship the one true God through the one true Christ; and to worship any other God or any other Mediator, is apostacy and rebellion against God and Christ. It is, as St. Paul says, (Colossians 2:19,) not holding the head, but depending upon other heads; it is, as St. Peter expresses it, denying the Lord that bought us, and serving other lords; and the denial of such an essential part may as properly be called apostacy, as if we were to renounce the whole Christian faith and worship. It is renouncing them in effect, and not regarding God as God, or Christ as Christ. Such is the nature of apostacy from the faith, and it is implied that this apostacy should be general, and infect great numbers. For though it be said only some shall apostatize, yet by some in this place many are understood, which is the case also in many other passages of the Scriptures, as Bishop Newton has fully proved. Giving heed to seducing spirits Who inspire false teachers; or to men that persuade others to believe them by the pretence of some inspiration or revelation of the Holy Spirit, and thereby cause people to err from the true faith of the gospel. The apostle means those gross frauds by which the corrupt teachers, in the dark ages, would enforce their erroneous doctrines and superstitious practices on the ignorant multitudes, under the notion of revelations from God, or from angels, or departed saints. In the same sense St. John is to be understood, when he says, (1 John 4:1,) Believe not every spirit, every pretender to inspiration, but try the spirits whether they be of God. And to doctrines of devils Or rather, doctrines concerning demons. The word διαμονια , translated demons, was used by the Greeks to denote a kind of beings of a middle nature between God and man. They gave the same name also to the souls of some departed men, who they thought were exalted to the state and honour of demons for their virtue. The former sort they called superior demons, and supposed them to have the nature and office which we ascribe to angels. The latter they termed inferior demons. These were of the same character with the Romish saints. And both sorts were worshipped as mediators. When therefore the Spirit of God foretold, that in after times many would give heed to deceiving spirits, and to doctrines concerning demons, he foretold that, on the authority of feigned revelations, many in the church would receive the doctrine concerning the worship of angels and saints, and the praying souls out of purgatory; and called it the doctrine of demons, because it was in reality the same with the ancient heathenish worship of demons, as mediators between the gods and men. Thus the sin for which many are represented as being punished, (Revelation 9:20,) is said to be their worshipping, τα δαιμονια , demons, that is, angels and saints; not devils, as our translators have rendered the word, for in no period of the church have devils been worshipped by Christians.

Verse 2

1 Timothy 4:2. Speaking lies in hypocrisy Greek, εν υποκρισει ψευδολογων , by the hypocrisy of them that speak lies. This is a more literal, and at the same time a more just translation of the words than that given in our Bible, which represents the demons as speaking lies in hypocrisy, which could not be the apostle’s meaning, as it would not accord with what follows. Having their conscience seared, &c. An expression which could not be intended of devils. The hypocrisy here mentioned is that reigned show of extraordinary piety and sanctity which the lying teachers were to put on, with an intention to gain the confidence of the multitude. Hence they are described as having the form of godliness, but denying the power, 2 Timothy 3:5. These hypocritical teachers are called liars, because of the gross fictions and frauds which they were to contrive for the purpose of establishing the worship of demons. How well the appellation agrees to the Romish clergy in the dark ages, any one may understand who is acquainted with the lies then propagated concerning the apparitions of angels, and of the ghosts of departed saints; and concerning the miracles done by them, and by their relics, and by the sign of the cross, &c., all preached by monks, priests, and even bishops; and committed to writing, in the fabulous legends of their saints, to render them objects of adoration. “It is impossible,” says Bishop Newton, “to relate or enumerate all the various falsehoods and lies which have been invented and propagated for this purpose; the fabulous books forged under the names of apostles, saints, and martyrs; the fabulous legends of their lives, actions, sufferings, and deaths; the fabulous miracles ascribed to their sepulchres, bones, and other relics; the fabulous dreams and revelations, visions, and apparitions of the dead to the living; and even the fabulous saints who never existed but in the imagination of their worshippers: and all these stories the monks, the priests, the bishops of the church, have imposed and obtruded upon mankind, it is difficult to say, whether with greater artifice or cruelty, with greater confidence or hypocrisy, and pretended sanctity, a more hardened face, or a more hardened conscience. The history of the church, saith Pascal, is the history of truth; but, as written by bigoted Papists, it is rather the history of lies.”

Verse 3

1 Timothy 4:3. Forbidding to marry The same hypocritical liars, who should promote the worship of demons, should also prohibit lawful marriage. This false morality was very early introduced into the church, being taught first by the Encratites and Marcionites, and afterward by the Manicheans, who said marriage was the invention of the evil god; and who considered it as sinful to bring creatures into the world to be unhappy, and to be food for death. In process of time the monks embraced celibacy, and represented it as the highest pitch of sanctity. It is a thing universally known, that one of the primary and most essential laws and constitutions of all monks, whether solitary or associated, whether living in deserts or in convents, is the profession of a single life, to abstain from marriage themselves, and to discourage it all they can in others. It is equally certain that the monks had the principal share in promoting and propagating the worship of the dead; and either out of credulity, or for worse reasons, recommended it to the people with all the pomp and power of their eloquence in their homilies and orations. At length celibacy was recommended by the priests, and by the orthodox themselves, and more especially by the bishops of Rome, the great patrons of the worship of angels and saints. For they strictly enjoined their clergy, both regular and secular, to abstain from marriage. Thus the worship of demons and the prohibition of marriage, though naturally unconnected, have gone hand in hand in the church, as the Spirit here foretold. And commanding to abstain from meats The same lying hypocrites, who enjoined the worship of demons, would not only prohibit lawful marriage, but likewise impose unnecessary abstinence from meats. This part of the prophecy hath been exactly fulfilled; for it is as much the rule of the monks and nuns to abstain from meats as from marriage. Some never eat any flesh, others only of certain kinds, and on certain days. Frequent fasts are the rule, the boast of their order; and their carnal humility is their spiritual pride. So lived the monks of the ancient church; so live, with less strictness, perhaps, but with greater ostentation, the monks and friars of the Church of Rome: and these have been the principal propagators and defenders of the worship of the dead, both in former and in latter times. Here therefore the apostle hath pointed out two instances of the hypocrisy of the lying teachers, who should enjoin the worship of demons. Under the false pretence of holiness, they should recommend abstinence from marriage to the monks, friars, and nuns; and under the equally false pretence of devotion, they should enjoin abstinence from meats, to some men at all times, and to all men at some times. There is no necessary connection between the worship of demons and abstinence from marriage and meats. And yet it is certain that the great advocates of this worship have commanded both: and by this pretended purity and mortification have procured the greater reverence to their persons, and the readier reception of their doctrine: a proceeding this which the Spirit of God alone could have foreseen and foretold.

Which meats God hath created to be received with thanksgiving So that this Popish, monkish abstinence is as unworthy of a Christian, as it is unnatural to man. It is perverting the purpose of the Author of nature, and prohibiting the use of the creatures which he hath made, and given to be used of them who believe and obey the truth Here the apostle intimates that only true believers have a covenant right to the creatures of God, though others may have a providential right. By those, however, who know the truth, he may chiefly intend those who are instructed to place religion not in such indifferent things as abstaining from marriage, or from certain meats, but in things more truly excellent and worthy of God, and who know that all meats are now clean, and therefore may be used with a pure conscience, and with thanksgiving flowing therefrom. For every creature of God Fit for man’s food; is good Lawful to be used, and nothing to be refused Αποβλητον , to be rejected, or cast away, either from peevishness, or a fancy that it is unlawful; if it be received with thanksgiving Which is a necessary condition. For it is sanctified That is, under the gospel all meats are made lawful to us; by the word of God Allowing us to eat of every kind in moderation; and by prayer To God, that he would bless us in the use of it. Observe, reader, the children of God are to pray for the sanctification of all the creatures which they use, and to give thanks for them: and not only the Christians, but even the Jews, yea, the very heathen, used to consecrate their table by prayer and praise. “What then,” says Bishop Newton, “can be said of those who have their tables spread with the most plentiful gifts of God, and yet constantly sit down and rise up again without suffering so much as one thought of the Giver to intrude upon them? Can such persons be reputed either to believe or know the truth?”

Verses 6-7

1 Timothy 4:6-7. If thou put the brethren in remembrance, &c. Ταυτα υποτιθεμενος τοις αδελφοις , suggesting these things to the brethren, concerning the lawfulness of all sorts of meats, and concerning the corrupt doctrines and practices which are to arise in the church; thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ And shalt act as may be expected from one who has been nourished up From his very childhood; in the words of faith Words laying a foundation for faith, and the means of producing it in men’s hearts; and good doctrine True, genuine, gospel doctrine; whereunto That is, to the knowledge of which, thou hast attained So η παρηκολουθηκας may be properly translated. See Luke 1:3, where the same verb is rendered, having perfect understanding. It is a just remark of Macknight here, that, “If any prejudices, with respect to the distinction of meats, remained in Timothy’s mind, through the strictness of his education in the Jewish religion, the clear and express manner in which the apostle here asserted the lawfulness of eating all kinds of meats, must have entirely freed him from these pre-possessions.” But refuse profane and old wives’ fables This, says Dr. Doddridge, “undoubtedly signifies Jewish traditions; and if they were such as those with which the rabbinical writers abound, nothing ever better deserved the name, they being not only the most incredible, but the most insipid and senseless tales anywhere to be met with.” In Bishop Newton’s opinion, however, the apostle intended here to signify, that all the things which the lying teachers would preach, during the above-mentioned apostacy, concerning the worship of angels, abstinence from meats, and the miracles said to be performed by the saints and their relics, in confirmation of the superstitions which they inculcated, are no better than profane and old wives’ fables, told to amuse children. And exercise thyself (the word γυμναζε , so rendered, is used in allusion to the exercises by which the contenders prepared themselves for the combats in the Grecian games) unto godliness Train thyself up in holiness of heart and life with the utmost vigour and diligence.

Verse 8

1 Timothy 4:8. For bodily exercise profiteth little That is, say Estius, Whitby, Doddridge, and some others, the exercises about which many are so solicitous, and in the pursuit of which they go through so many fatigues, namely, in preparing for and attending the public games, are but of little use, the best rewards of them being of a very transient and fading nature. Or by bodily exercise may be understood rather the mortifications which the Jewish fables were framed to recommend, and the austerities and labours of the Essenes and Pythagoreans, according to the rules and institutions of their sects: to which we may add, All the diligence that can be used in mere external duties, however laboriously and punctually performed, and with whatever degree of self-denial and punctuality, even although commanded of God, can be of little use to any man, separated from the devotion of the heart; and all inventions and observances merely human, must be still more useless and vain. The apostle, however, may be understood in a yet different sense. He had said in the preceding verse, Exercise thyself unto godliness; including in that term all the graces and virtues of the Christian life. He then adds, η γαρ σωματικη γυμνασια προς ολιγον εστιν ωφελιμος ; literally, for bodily exercise profiteth a little; that is, the exercise of the body is of some use, increasing its health and strength; but godliness In all its branches, namely, true, substantial, and practical godliness, the worship and service of God, by both the inward and outward man, the heart and life; is profitable for all things Benefits a man in every respect; is useful to him in things temporal as well as spiritual, in his domestic and civil, as well as religious affairs and in all his relations and connections in the present world; having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come Christ having assured us that if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, things necessary shall be added unto us, Matthew 6:33. And moreover, that as he gives grace and glory, he will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly, Psalms 84:11. It is true these, and such like promises, do not ascertain to all who live in a godly manner, health, and wealth, and reputation; but they assure us that true piety and virtue have a natural tendency to promote our happiness even in this world, and indeed do promote it, not only in being attended with peace of mind, a conscience void of offence, a well-grounded and lively hope of future felicity, and communion with God, which is heaven begun on earth; but with protection in dangers, succour in temptations, support and comfort in troubles, with an assurance that all things which God may permit to happen to us, even poverty, reproach, affliction, and death, shall work together for our good.

Verses 9-11

1 Timothy 4:9-11. This Concerning the advantage of godliness; is a faithful saying A saying as important as it is true; and worthy of all acceptation That is, of entire credit, and of the most earnest and continued attention and regard. For, therefore On this account, because we are assured of the excellence and necessity of this godliness, and of the advantages attending it in time and in eternity; we both labour and suffer reproach Take all manner of pains, and undergo all kinds of hardships, regarding neither wealth, nor honour, nor pleasure, nor any thing this world can offer; because we trust Ηλπικαμεν , we have trusted, and at present do trust, (the word denoting continuation of action,) in the living God Rest on him for the performance of his promises, fully persuaded he will give the life and felicity he has promised; who is the Saviour of all men Saving them from many evils, and supplying them with manifold mercies; preserving them in this life, and willing to save them eternally; but especially In a more eminent manner, is he the Saviour of those that believe Saving them from their sins here, and from the consequences of them hereafter. These things command and teach For they are of infinite importance.

Verses 12-13

1 Timothy 4:12-13. Let no man despise thy youth That is, let no one have reason to despise it, but conduct thyself with such gravity, wisdom, and steadiness, as, instead of exposing thee to contempt, will rather gain thee respect and reverence. In particular, be thou an example of the believers A pattern worthy of their imitation; in word In prudent and edifying discourse, whether public or private; in conversation Greek, αναστροφη , in behaviour; in charity Or love, rather, namely to God, his people, and all mankind; in spirit In thy whole temper; in faith In thy sincere and constant belief of, and adherence to, the truth as it is in Jesus; in thy profession of it, and faithfulness to thy trust in the execution of thy office. When faith is placed in the midst of several other Christian graces, it generally means fidelity, or faithfulness; in purity Of heart and life. Till I come To take thee along with me; give attendance to reading Both publicly and privately. Study the Scriptures diligently, and read and expound them to the people, whose instructer thou art appointed to be. “Enthusiasts, observe this! expect no end without the means.” Wesley. “Besides reading the Jewish Scriptures to the brethren in their assemblies for worship, after the example of the synagogue, Timothy was here directed to read these Scriptures in private likewise for his own improvement, (1 Timothy 4:15,) that he might be able to confute the Jews and Judaizers, who founded their errors on misinterpretations of them. Thus understood, the direction, as the ancient commentators observe, is a useful lesson to the ministers of the gospel in all ages. For if a teacher, who possessed the spiritual gifts, was commanded to read the Scriptures for improving himself in the knowledge of the doctrines of religion, how much more necessary is that help to those teachers who must derive all their knowledge of the gospel from the Scriptures, and who cannot, without much study, be supposed to know the customs, manners, and opinions alluded to in these writings.” Macknight.

Verse 14

1 Timothy 4:14. Neglect not Through omitting to exercise it to the full; the gift that is in thee The word χαρισμα , here used, commonly denotes some spiritual gift conferred on believers in the first age, whether by an immediate effusion of the Holy Spirit, or by means of the imposition of the apostle’s hands. See Romans 1:10. By this it appears, that even the miraculous gifts might be improved; and that the continuance of them with individuals depended in a great measure upon the right temper of their minds, and upon their making a proper use of their gifts. Which was given thee by prophecy By immediate direction from God, or in consequence of predictions uttered by those who had the gift of prophecy, pointing thee out as a person fit to be invested with the office of an evangelist, and called of God to it. As it appears, from 2 Timothy 1:6, that the gift here referred to was given to Timothy by the laying on of the apostle’s hands, we learn from hence, that in conferring the spiritual gifts, as well as in working miracles, the apostles were not left to their own prudence, but were directed by revelations from God, communicated to themselves or others. With the laying on of the hands of the presbytery Whose hands, with those of Paul, were laid on Timothy at the time when he was set apart solemnly by prayer to the office of the ministry, and received the spiritual gift here spoken of. Probably the apostle first conferred on Timothy the gift by the laying on of his own hands, and then set him apart to his office by prayer, the elders joining with him, and laying on their hands to show their concurrence with him in the solemn work.

Verses 15-16

1 Timothy 4:15-16. Meditate on these things On the instructions I have given thee, or the things mentioned 1 Timothy 4:13. True meditation implies the lively exercise of faith, hope, love, joy, as it were melted down together by the fire of God’s Holy Spirit, and offered up to God in secret. Give thyself wholly to them On this passage Bengelius writes, He that is wholly in these things, will be little in worldly company, in other studies, in collecting books, shells, coins, wherein many pastors consume a considerable part of their lives. That thy profiting Thy proficiency in knowledge and wisdom, holiness and usefulness; may appear unto all To their edification and the honour of the gospel. Take heed unto thyself To the state of thy own soul, thy growth in grace, the motives of thy actions, and thy whole spirit and conduct; and to thy doctrine That it be true, important, and adapted to the state and character of thy hearers. Continue in them In attention to all the preceding advices, and especially in this diligent care respecting both thy life and doctrine. For in doing this With zeal, constancy, and perseverance; thou shalt both save thyself and those that hear thee What a powerful argument is here suggested to engage ministers to preach the doctrines of the gospel with truth, zeal, fidelity, and diligence, and to set a proper example before their hearers! By thus faithfully discharging their duty, they will give satisfactory proof of the reality of their faith and love, and the sincerity of their obedience, and, persevering in this way, will save themselves eternally. In the mean time by their sound doctrine, and, edifying example, they will impress their hearers with such a just sense of the truth and excellence of Christianity, as to induce them also to believe and obey the gospel, so that they likewise will be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". Benson's Commentary. 1857.