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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

1 Timothy 4

Verse 1

1 Timothy 4:1. Now. Better ‘ but,’ as introducing a contrast to the mystery of godliness in 1 Timothy 3:16.

The Spirit speaketh expressly. The reference is clearly not to Old Testament prophecies, which would have been cited in terms, and quoted as Scripture, nor to our Lord’s words in Matthew 24:11, which if known to St. Paul, would have been assigned to Him, but to the direct teaching of the Spirit at or about the period at which St. Paul wrote. Whether that teaching came immediately to the apostle, or through the utterances of other prophets, we cannot decide. On the whole, the atter view seems the more probable. There seems, from 2 Peter 2:0 and Jude 1:17, to have been about this time a burst of prophecy throughout the Asiatic churches indicating the approach of a time of trial and persecution for the faithful, the increase of heresy and iniquity; and to such utterances, analogous to those to which St. Paul refers in Acts 20:23, and to his own warnings on that occasion (Acts 20:29-44.20.30) he is probably alluding. 2 Thessalonians 2:0 presents predictions of a like kind.

Some shall depart from the faith. The ‘falling away’ or apostasy of 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

Seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils. The apostle here distinctly recognises a preternatural element in the workings of evil in the Church. They are many and diverse in contrast with the unity of the Spirit, but they have this in common, that they all lead astray. So St. John (1 John 4:1-62.4.3) and St. Paul himself (1 Corinthians 12:1-46.12.3) recognise the work of evil spirits in the simulated prophecies or ecstatic utterances which disturbed and startled the assemblies of Christians, and give tests for discriminating between the reality and the counterfeit. The meaning of these words determines the interpretation of those that follow. ‘The doctrines of devils’ or ‘demons’ are not doctrines about demons, as some have contended, pressing the text into the controversy against the Romish doctrine of the worship of the departed spirits of the saints, but’ doctrines that came from demons,’ the frenzied ravings as of men possessed by a nature more evil than their own. Comp. St. James’s description of false wisdom ‘as earthly, sensual, demon-like ’ (1 Timothy 2:15).

Verse 2

1 Timothy 4:2. Speaking lies in hypocrisy. The grammar of the sentence requires a different rendering: ‘ In, or by, the hypocrisy of men who speak lies.’

Having their conscience seared as with a red-hot iron. The English Version (rightly, as I think) gives prominence to the idea of the callous insensibility produced by cauterizing. The thought of this as the stage to which even conscience may be brought, as of one who has made himself ‘past feeling,’ was already indeed familiar to St. Paul, in Ephesians 4:19. The other aspect of the word, as pointing to the brand by which criminals were stamped with infamy, is perhaps included. The fact that the one implied the other in the actual branding process, a fact which he may well have learnt from St. Luke’s medical experience, would suggest to him that which was analogous to it in the history of the soul.

Verse 3

1 Timothy 4:3. Forbidding to marry. The phenomenon taken by itself has been so common in all ascetic systems that it is not easy to identify the particular system to which St. Paul referred. Some of the Essene communities practised celibacy, and there were, as St. Paul’s own teaching shows (1 Corinthians 7:25-46.7.35), reasons why many should prefer it. Here, however, the teachers condemned went beyond the acceptance of celibacy as the higher life, and ‘forbade marriage.’ The nearest and earliest approach to this form of error was found in the teaching of Saturninus and Marcion, and the school of the Encratites which took its rise from them; and it is probable enough that the germs of this, as of other forms of Gnosticism (comp. Colossians 2:23), existed even in the Apostolic Age. The East has never emancipated itself from the feeling of the inherent impurity of matter, and of all acts that tended to perpetuate and reproduce its existence in new forms.

Commanding to abstain from meats. The word ‘commanding’ is not in the Greek, but is supplied by a natural ellipsis from the previous prohibition. The word rendered ‘meats’ is, as in Rom 14:15-18 , 1 Corinthians 6:13, generic, but is probably used with special reference to animal food, abstinence from which has always been the mark of a false asceticism.

Hath created to be received. The statement strikes at the root of all Mankhæan theories of creation. God has made these things, and pronounced them good; He created them not as temptations and stumbling-blocks, but for men to partake of.

With thanksgiving. There is no ground for thinking that the word (εὐχαριστίας) had as yet acquired the higher sense which it afterwards gained in liturgical phraseology, but it is not unlikely that St. Paul’s thoughts travelled on to the logical conclusion from the dogma against which he was protesting, as afterwards in the case of the Encratites, and more recently, of some of the extreme advocates of total abstinence. Men were drifting to a position from which they looked even on the Supper of the Lord as ‘common and unclean.’ To this thought we may, I believe, trace the increasing solemnity of language in 1 Timothy 4:5.

Verse 4

1 Timothy 4:4. Good. The higher word (καλόν, excellent, not ἀ γαθόν) is used in the Greek, as in the LXX. of Genesis 1:0, and with a manifest reference to that history. The repetition of the clause (‘with thanksgiving ‘) is striking, as showing how the apostle’s mind recognised that it was the spiritual state of the receiver, not the physical characteristics of the thing received, that determined the lawfulness of the reception.

Verse 5

1 Timothy 4:5. Sanctified. Better, ‘consecrated.’

By the word of God and prayer. We are thrown back upon what we know of Jewish and early Christian forms of blessing and thanksgiving. Such formulae, so far as they are now extant, were for the most part a tesselated mosaic of scriptural phrases, and so in this way the very food men ate, as e.g. at the Agape, or feast of charity, was as truly consecrated as was the bread or the cup of the Lord’s Supper in later liturgies. The word rendered ‘prayer’ is that translated ‘ intercession’ in 1 Timothy 2:1, and implies a prayer offered by the head of the household for all members of it, that they might receive the food before them according to the Divine purpose in bestowing it.

Verse 6

1 Timothy 4:6. If thou put the brethren in remembrance. The Greek verb is hardly so definite, and is better expressed by ‘ suggesting’ or ‘ advising.’ The use of the word tends to limit ‘these things’ to the immediate context. A stronger word would naturally have been used had the writer been thinking of the great ‘mystery of godliness,’

Minister, in its general rather than its technical sense, and yet, perhaps, not without a reference to the distinctive name. Whatever difference there might be between apostles, elders, deacons, all were alike ‘ministers’ of Christ.

Nourished up. The word expresses rather the thought of being ‘reared’ or ‘educated in’ the words of faith, and suggests the half-medical reference to ‘bodily exercise’ that follows.

Of good doctrine where-unto . . . Better,’ of the good doctrine which thou hast followed oil along’ The Greek article and the relative pronoun in the singular give a special emphasis to the ‘doctrine.’ The verb is the same as that used by St. Luke in his Gospel (1 Timothy 1:3).

Verse 7

1 Timothy 4:7. Refuse. Better, ‘ avoid.’

Old wives’ fables. The adjective is found here only in the New Testament, and takes its place among the strong colloquial phrases which characterize these Epistles. In the absence of any more distinct evidence, it is reasonable to assume that the fables were of the same kind generally as those mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 1:9. It does not follow, however, that they belonged to the same school of opinion. The apostle might well apply the same word to deviations from the truth, on the right hand or the left, whether in the direction of Jewish asceticism or the Gnosticism afterwards systematically developed by Valentinus and Basilides.

Exercise thyself rather. The last word has nothing answering to it in the Greek, and is better omitted. The ‘exercise’ is primarily that of the gymnasium, but is here used figuratively of any systematic discipline.

Verse 8

1 Timothy 4:8. Bodily exercise. The figure is continued. We can hardly suppose that Timothy ‘trained,’ as the Greek athlete did, with a view to the prizes for which the athlete contended. But the example of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:25-46.9.27) might well suggest a like discipline with the aim of bringing the body under the control of the higher life, and the glimpse we get farther on of Timothy’s habits of abstinence (1 Corinthians 9:23) indicates that he practised it. From St. Paul’s point of view, the training was useful as a means to an end, and that end, godliness. When it was made an end and not a means, it sank to the level of the training of the athlete (just as circumcision, when it had come to belong to the past, sank to the level of the mutilation of some forms of heathen worship, Galatians 5:12), and was profitable only ‘for little,’ as a condition of health, and nothing more, sometimes not even as that.

All things outward, inward, bodily, spiritual, and as the words that follow show, temporal and eternal.

Of the life that now is. The genitive of possession: ‘the promise that belongs to the present life, and also to the future.’

Verse 9

1 Timothy 4:9. This is a faithful saying. At first it might seem as if the words referred to what had immediately preceded, and it is possible that they do so here; but the rule in all other cases is that they precede the truth to which they refer, and the verse that follows is sufficiently axiomatic in its substance to have the character of a ‘faithful saying.’

Verse 10

1 Timothy 4:10. For therefore. The latter word suggests a logical inference more strongly than the Greek; better, ‘ to this end.’

Labour and suffer reproach. The first word involves ‘toil and trouble’ as well as simple work. Commonly such toil led to praise and reward. The Christian too often had nothing for it but reviling and reproach (1 Peter 4:14), and this experience had embodied itself in the ‘saying’ which had be-come proverbial (comp. Acts 14:22). The train of thought implied in the ‘for,’ is that the patient endurance of the Christian was a practical proof that the religion which he professed had for him the twofold promise of which the previous verse had spoken.

We trust. Here (as in Romans 15:12) the Authorised Version misses the force of the Greek. Better, ‘ have hoped,’ or ‘ fixed our hope.’ And this hope is not in a dogma or an abstraction, but in a living God, who is the ‘Saviour,’ in the lower sense of the word as ‘preserver,’ no less than in the higher, thus including the ‘life that now is,’ as well as ‘that which is to come.’ As in 1 Timothy 2:4, the purpose of God for a salvation which shall include all is assumed as an unquestionable truth, but those only who believe taste that salvation in the fulness of its power.

Verse 11

1 Timothy 4:11. The exhortation becomes more personal, as if the writer called to mind all that he had observed of the strength and weakness of his young disciple, and felt for and with him in the work and responsibility to which he had been, it may be, so unexpectedly called.

Command and teach. The first word points to single precepts and counsels, the latter to more systematic instruction.

These things, i.e. the precepts of this chapter specially.

Verse 12

1 Timothy 4:12. Let no man despise thy youth. The words point to a danger to which St. Paul knew that his disciple was exposed. We have no accurate dates as to the life of Timothy, but the tone of Acts 16:1 and 2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15, seems to imply an age, say, between fifteen and twenty, at the time when he is first mentioned in the Acts. On this assumption, he would be, at the date of the Epistle (placing it after St. Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome), from twenty-eight to thirty-three, about the age when St. Paul is described as a ‘young man’ in Acts 7:58. At that age he would naturally be much younger than many of the bishop elders of the Church over whom he was to exercise authority, and they might be tempted to taunt him with his inexperience. The ascetic life to which Timothy was inclined, accompanied perhaps by some shyness and timidity, might make him more than usually sensitive under such circumstances.

Be thou an example. Better ‘ become, implying daily growth towards the ideal standard.

In conversation. Better, ‘ behavior’ or ‘ conduct.’ Here, as elsewhere, there is little or no hope of restoring ‘conversation’ to its true meaning.

Purity, as in 1 Timothy 4:2, with the special half-technical sense of ‘chastity’ in act, word, thought.

Verse 13

1 Timothy 4:13. Till I come. The words seem to imply that Timothy’s work at Ephesus was thought of as temporary and provisional. On St. Paul’s return that delegated work would naturally cease, and the Church be left afterwards to the normal government of its bishop-elders.

To reading. All the words that are joined with this imply public official acts, and so probably does this. One work of the special mission of the young disciple was to read in the Ecclesia (1) with scarcely the shadow of a doubt, the Scriptures of the Old Testament; (2) less certainly, apostolic records of our Lord’s ministry, now beginning to take the place of the earlier oral tradition; (3) apostolic Epistles, according to the directions given in Colossians 4:16.

To exhortation, to doctrine. The two words are contrasted as in 1 Timothy 6:2, the former being more practical, ethical, individual; the latter (‘teaching’ rather than ‘doctrine’) more systematic and intellectual.

Verse 14

1 Timothy 4:14. Neglect not. The words point, like the ‘ rekindle ’ in 2 Timothy 1:6, to the danger of an ascetic temperament tending to meditative quiescence rather than energetic service.

The gift. The context implies that it was the special gift needed for the ‘exhortation’ and ‘teaching’ of the previous verse a gift therefore at once of knowledge and of wisdom, of sympathy and insight.

By prophecy. The scene which the words suggest is that of the young convert kneeling in prayer, the presbytery, or body of elders in the Church of Lystra (or, it may be, Ephesus) laying their hands upon him, in prayer for the gifts he needed, while a prophet, recognising at once his special capacities and the gifts which were required for their full development, told the elders for what gifts to pray. From 2 Timothy 1:6, it would seem as if St. Paul was himself one of those who thus officiated.

Verse 15

1 Timothy 4:15. Give thyself wholly to them. Literally, ‘ live, be, exist in them.’ Alford quotes as a curious verbal parallel the line from Horace (Epp. i. 9. 2): ‘Nescio quid meditans nugarum et totus in illis.’

Verse 16

1 Timothy 4:16. Take heed to thyself and to the doctrine. As before, ‘ teaching’ in its wider sense, rather than ‘doctrine.’ The condensed summary of 1 Timothy 4:12-54.4.13, in their bearing on personal conduct and official work.

Continue in them. See in all the ‘things’ dwelt on in the exhortation from 1 Timothy 4:6 onwards, and referred to in 1 Timothy 4:15.

Thou shalt save. Obviously in the highest sense, as implying the completed salvation from sin and from its penalty.

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Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.