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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Babblings

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(1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 2:16 βεβήλους κενοφωνίας)

The ‘profane babblings, and the oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called’ are all profitless speculation and empty religious talk which only minister questions, but have no value in the equipment of a man of God, or in the building up of the Church. The implied contrast is between intellectualism in religion, and genuine piety in heart and life (cf. F. Godet, Expositor, 3rd ser., vii. [1888] 45ff.).

Some have seen in ‘the oppositions (ἀντιθέσεις) of the knowledge which is falsely so called,’ a reference, covert or open, to Marcion’s Antitheses; but this has scarcely been made out, and it is better to take the words as pointing to an incipient Gnosticism, hardly yet conscious of itself, against which the writer-be he St. Paul or a Paulinist-warns his readers (cf. M. Dods, Introd. to NT, London, 1888, p. 174). The Greek mind was always desirous of being saved by dialectic, and ready to hear or to tell some newer thing (cf. Acts 17:21). In the fermenting vat of the Greek cities in the Apostolic as well as in the sub-Apostolic Age there were frothy, windy men who knew everything about religion except ‘the practick part’ (cf. Didache, ii. 40-45: οὐκ ἔσται ὁ λόγος σου ψευδής, οὐ κενός, ἀλλά μεμεστωμένος πράξει-‘Thy speech shall not be false, nor empty, but filled with doing’). Practical piety is the writer’s theme, and he calls Christians to cultivate simplicity as it is in Jesus; not to lose themselves in a cloud of words, but to be direct and devout. Cf. A. Rowland (1 Tim., London, 1887): ‘It is easier to quibble over Christ’s words than to imitate His life.’ To the same effect, Butler (Charge to the Clergy) advises them ‘not to trouble about objections raised by men of gaiety and speculation,’ but to endeavour to beget a practical sense of religion ‘upon the hearts of the people’ (cf. Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 5094).

The standing type of the religious babbler is Bunyan’s ‘Talkative,’ who will ‘talk of things Heavenly or things Earthly … things sacred or things profane, things past or things to come, things more essential or things circumstantial.’ To this masterly characterization ‘of the evil excesses of some of the prophets, lunatic preachers, and loquacious hypocrites’ in Puritan times may be added R. H. Hutton’s description (Contemporary Thought and Thinkers, London, 1894, i. 257) of a certain rampant sceptic of yesterday as a man ‘hurling about wildly loose thoughts over which he has no intellectual control.’ These are the profane babblers of the Pastoral Epistles. They were not only unsettling to the Church-‘If I had said “I will speak thus,” I should have been faithless to the generation of thy children,’ Psalms 73:15 -but the unreal words corrupted the babbler himself, as the writer not obscurely hints. His nature is subdued to what he works among (cf. Emerson; ‘I cannot listen to what you are saying for thinking of what you are’).

To use unreal words, to be constantly dealing with the greatest things, and yet to be too shallow or flippant to realize their majesty, was, in the Apostolic Age, and ever since has been, the peculiar snare and peril of religious speakers, and gives point to the taunt of Carlyle: ‘When a man takes to tongue-work, it is all over with him.’ The Carthusian student who went to a teacher and got the text ‘I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue,’ found that enough for a lifetime.

On the whole subject Newman’s lines (‘Flowers without Fruit,’ in Verses on Various Occasions) are an apt and instructive commentary:

‘Prune thou thy words, the thoughts control

That o’er thee swell and throng.’

Literature.-In addition to the works cited above, see A. Whyte, Bunyan Characters, i. [Edinburgh, 1895] 180; J. Kelman, The Road, i. [do. 1911] 180; Joseph Butler, Sermons, ed. Gladstone, Oxford, 1896, no. 4.

W. M. Grant.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Babblings'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/b/babblings.html. 1906-1918.

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