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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Timothy 4


The 1 Timothy 4:1-54.4.10 are a continuation of paragraph beginning 1 Timothy 3:14, and should be read with it as one piece. But 1-3 is a counter picture to 1 Timothy 3:15-54.3.16, especially. They are a contrast of the Church of apostasy versus the Church of faith; the truth of the incarnation opposed by the errors of Gnosticism.

Verse 1

1. Now Greek, but, contrastive between the incarnation and matter-hating Gnosticism.

The Spirit The divine inspirer of all prophecy. The apostle does not here refer to any written prophecy, although the same essential prophecy we now have at any rate in the epistles of John. He had himself briefly uttered the same prediction to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:29-44.20.30. He had written to the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:7, where see notes) cognate predictions. The Spirit, therefore, is here the permanent prophetic witness within himself speaking forth on its own occasions.

Expressly Not in parable, allegory, or symbol; but in explicit, unmistakable, literal words.

Latter times The various phrases of this kind are of course antithetical, and to be explained by the former period to which they stand in contrast. In these last days, Hebrews 1:1, stands in antithesis to the Old Testament days, and means the days of the Christian dispensation. The last days of 2 Peter 3:3, plainly refers to the last days before the second advent; of which Martha, in John 11:24, mentions the very last day. In 1 John 2:18, we have a (not in Greek the) last time, which, in our note on 2 Thessalonians 2:7, we imply to be the close of the apostolic age. It is the same period with the latter times of this verse, when, the apostles having deceased, and the apostolic age closed, the Church is handed over to their successors, and their hands having ceased to write, the completed canon becomes her guide. John’s many antichrists are the very same as the seducing spirits of Paul here. Hegesippus, the earliest of Church historians, near the end of the second century, says, in a fragment quoted by Eusebius, (Book iii, § 32:) “The Church remained until then a pure and incorrupt virgin. If there were any that desired to corrupt the healthful type of gospel doctrine they lurked in dark retreats. But when the sacred choir of apostles departed from life, and the generation privileged to listen to their divine teachings passed away, then the system of godless error took a start, through deception of teachers varying from the apostolic doctrine. No one of the apostles surviving, they attempted with bare face to preach a falsely-styled gnosis in opposition to the preaching of the truth.”

Some The followers, of whom the seducing spirits are the leaders.

Depart from the faith As a true church officer should hold the faith. 1 Timothy 3:9; Titus 1:9.

Seducing spirits The demoniac opposite of the Spirit just mentioned. The Holy Spirit gives warning of the diabolic spirits.

Doctrines of devils Doctrines propagated by demons; not doctrines about demons.

Verse 2

2. Speaking lies In the Greek a single noun, lie-utterers. And the whole should read, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons, of (or by) those in hypocrisy, speaking lies, (to others,) being seared (or rather, branded) in their own conscience. The some are the followers, as the lie-utterers are the leaders of the apostasy, who are inspired by the seducing spirits, and their teachings are demoniac doctrines. The best commentators understand, not seared, by which the conscience is deadened, but branded, so marked and spotted with criminalities that they are conscious of their own guilt. It will be seen that the apostle’s charges of deep guilt fall much more heavily upon the leaders than upon the followers.

Verse 3

3. Some of their particular tenets are now specified. They present the ascetic side of Gnosticism as distinguished in our note on 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Jude and John deal with the licentious side. Hence Paul imputes to the leaders not so much sins of the flesh, as sins of the spirit.

Their sin consisted in an apostasy from the Christian faith, and the formation of a spiritual influence, power, and ultimate despotism, based upon the diffusion of an austere and oppressive superstition among the people.

Forbidding to marry From an ascetic view of the sinfulness of matter an exaggerated estimate of a virgin life was propagated. This same view among the Christian Gnostic heretics rejected the real manifestation of Christ in the flesh, maintaining that his was a body in appearance only, and condemned by 1 John 4:3, as antichrist. A matter-condemning celibacy was antichrist, because it condemned the incarnation. This doctrine of the angelic nature of a celibate life deeply infected the Church. It tinges the writings of the earliest post-apostolic fathers, the coloring growing intenser until monasteries and nunneries covered the face of Christendom. These became the organized support of the absolute despotism of the Roman conclave. The last display of this superstitious reverence for virgin life was the enforcement as an article of faith in our own day of the dogma of the immaculate conception of the blessed virgin, followed by the proclamation of the infallibility of the pope. Paul might well say, even in his own day, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work,” (2 Thessalonians 2:7;) and John as significantly assert that the elemental “antichrists” were already “many” in existence. 1 John 2:18.

Abstain from meats Note on Romans 14:1-45.14.6.

Created to be received These meats, matter though they be, are not concrete and solid lumps of sin. They were not brought into existence by the principle of evil; nor are they the eternal evil principle itself, opposed to the true God. They are created by the true God, to be both the proper gratification of our created appetite and the proper support of our bodily life.

Received Of them which believe This does not mean, as Alford, quoting Calvin, maintains, that the world and its gratifications are created for believers alone; but that they are rightfully used by true believers when thankfully used. Christian faith enjoins the enjoyment sweetened by the gratitude.

Know the truth The truth of 1 Timothy 3:16, that matter and flesh are honoured by the incarnation.

Verse 4

4. For Assigning the ground reason for so receiving; namely, the cheerful Christian maxim, that under the divine benevolence we are born to enjoy. The creation is a storehouse of supplies, and man’s appetites are the avenues through which they are to be received. Atheism scowls at the whole system of things, sinks into pessimism, and says, with Voltaire, “I wish I had never been born.” Buddhism, the religion of despair, that knows no God but law, looks and pants for release from existence in annihilation. Christianity rejoices in the perpetual presence of the All-Father, as being, indeed, often tried and chastened, yet chastened by parental love, the same love which gives us all things richly to enjoy, and promises eternal enjoyment to our faith.

Every creature Every created thing.

Is good Is not the mere effect of physical laws, but the product of a good Creator, who pronounced them good at the creation, and is good for its purpose, if we can find what its true purpose is.

Nothing to be refused From a wise and temperate use. Yet our apostle, in perfect consistency, was ready for a total abstinence from meats through his whole life if it were necessary to save his brother.

Asceticism or abstinence is to be condemned: 1. When it is based on such idea of the sinfulness of matter as condemns the incarnation. 2. When it is used by us as a penance, or atonement, for our own sin, as if we might thereby be justified or pardoned. 3. When it is assumed to be a meritorious act, winning for us the divine approbation, as if God were gratified by our suffering. 4. When it tends to diffuse a gloomy and superstitious view of God and religion among men, instead of a benevolent, cheerful, practical, good-doing piety. Abstinence is commendable, on the other hand: 1. When it conduces to our health, serenity, or cheerfulness. 2. When it aids us in obtaining a mastery of our appetites and passions. 3. When by our example we induce others to abstain from those indulgences and intemperances by which their bodies, souls, estates, and families are brought to ruin.

Dr. Wordsworth, and Mr. Washburn, in Lange’s “Bibel-Werk,” infer from St. Paul’s words a condemnation of a pledge of total abstinence from intoxicants. But surely both Timothy’s practice and Paul’s direction presuppose the duty of total abstinence in all cases where drinking is not required by medical necessity. It required an inspired adviser to induce Timothy to drink wine; and by parity, it ought to require a temperate medical adviser to induce any other man to drink; and no medical adviser ought to prescribe it where any other medicine will suffice as well.

With thanksgiving Which in the right temper will regulate our enjoyments to the due object and in their due degree.

Verse 5

5. Sanctified Though it be a piece of flesh, it is not a lump of sin; it is consecrated to be aliment for the holy life of a holy man. And no man is the holier for looking pure and solemn and refusing it as a defilement.

By the word of God As some explain, by the declaration of God, as in Genesis 1:29: “God said, Behold, I have given you every herb… and every tree… to you it shall be for meat.” Huther, Alford, and Ellicott refer the sanctification to the offering of prayer composed in spirit or in words of the word of God. Huther gives, from the Apostolic Constitutions, the beautiful Greek of the following primitive prayer at table: “Blessed art thou, O Lord, who nourishest me from my youth up, who givest food to all flesh. Fill our hearts with joy and gladness, in order that we, having all contentment, may abound unto every good work, in Christ Jesus our Lord; through whom to thee be glory, honour, and power, for ever and ever. Amen.” This formula is a holy blend of “the word of God and prayer,” whereby, offered in spirit and truth, the meat is sanctified.

Verse 6

6. These things Specially of the paragraph beginning with 1 Timothy 3:14, which forms a unity herewith.

Nourished In middle voice, nourishing thyself.

Words of faith Such as compose this paragraph: rehearsing the positive doctrine of Christ, 1 Timothy 3:14-54.3.16, and repelling the formulas of heresy, 1-5.

Attained Which thou hast thoroughly followed up.

Verses 6-10

6-10. A personal impressing of the charge upon Timothy.

Verse 7

7. Paul now gathers into this personal charge the errors also repudiated in 1 Timothy 1:3-54.1.4.

Old wives’ fables On which we again quote Dr. Clarke.

Exercise That is, gymnastize thyself, as a practicing athlete. Train thyself by holy exercises to holiness. Instead of poring over the chaotic pages of Jewish Rabbinism and Gnosticism, cultivate thy powers in Christian piety and holy activity.

Verse 8

8. Bodily exercise Paul is led by his word gymnastize to a brief parallelism between gymnasticism, corporeal and spiritual. The former profiteth little; that is, so far as human salvation is concerned. It may invigorate the body, improve the health, and prolong the life; but not save the soul. We could almost imagine, however, that these ascetics, like our modern Shakers, as well as the Turkish dervishes, practised dancing, or some other activity, as a religious exercise.

All things For body and soul, and in regard to time and eternity.

Verse 9

9. This The value of godliness for either life. Note on 1 Timothy 1:15.

Verse 10

10. And our acceptance of this value is clear for, therefore; that is, for the reason now to be given.

Labour and suffer reproach Things far more serious than exercise. Namely, because.

The Saviour Alford says: “So far as salvation stands in him, he is the Saviour of all men. And it is by virtue of this universality of salvation offered by God that we have rested our hopes on him.”

Specially of those that believe Alford adds: “In these (that believe) alone does that salvation which God has provided become actual. He is the same Saviour, towards and of all: but these alone appropriate his salvation.”

Verse 11

b. Timothy directed to complete his self-qualification for this charge, 1 Timothy 4:11-54.4.16 .

11. These things Embracing the whole epistle thus far, as the nature of the directions shows.

Command Applying to the Church organization in ii, and 1 Timothy 3:1-54.3.13.

Teach Applying to the doctrines of all the preceding paragraphs.

Verse 12

12. Despise thy youth To be avoided by a perfectly circumspect conduct. Though Timothy was probably thirty-five years old, he was younger than many, perhaps, under his administration. At any rate he was young to Paul; just as pupils and sons often never grow old to teacher or father. “In those times,” says Grotius, “presbyters were accustomed to be what their name signifies, persons of advanced age.”

Verse 13

13. Till I come The Greek present indicative implies here a confident expectation. But when Paul came, what then?

To reading… exhortation… doctrine That is, teaching. All three appear to be named as public exercises. The reading does not refer to private study; but the public reading in the Churches of the Old Scripture, or perhaps the gospels so far as published, or apostolic epistles. It was thus that the books of the New Testament became Scripture in the early Church.

Verse 14

14. Neglect not By disuse.

The gift Namely, for the three exercises just mentioned, which gift was, as basis, natural, but divinely quickened and inspired.

Given thee by prophecy In accordance with inspired predictions uttered concerning him personally.

With In concurrence with. From 2 Timothy 1:6, it would seem that the elders or presbytery laid hands on Timothy concurrently with Paul.

Verse 15

15. Wholly to them All other business was to be laid aside, and the whole man to be surrendered to, and kept within, the sacred work, of public reading, exhorting, teaching, and governing the Church. Many men have, as in the “local ministry” of Methodism, maintained a secular business and yet preached, with great success and without remuneration, the holy gospel. Yet others there are, the great body, indeed, of the ministry, who are called to give themselves wholly to the work. The “priesthood of the people” does not so far extend but that there is a divinely established line drawn in the New Testament between ministry and laity.

Thy profiting Thy improved ability from practice.

Verse 16

16. Warning:

Take heed unto thyself Paralleled by save thyself; as to the doctrine is paralleled by them that hear. There is danger for thyself; for it is not the mere office of the ministry that will save thyself. Great heed even for thee is necessary to insure the final reward. Doctrine is teaching, preaching, publicly putting forth of thought. Only by heed, care, earnest purpose, can hearers be saved by it.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.