Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
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Setting aside the application of the “food truths” to false teachers that we have discussed, what were the positive, general truths that the text teaches about our food consumption?
Our food is to be partaken of with joy and happiness: “ . . . Foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving” (4:3); “ . . . Nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (4:4).
comparative translations of 4:3, a minor adjustment in wording is found in the
GW (“prayers of thanks”) and
In verse 4
The ancient Jews thanked God before a meal and why shouldn’t they? Aren’t these “God’s blessings,” made possible by an eco-system that He designed to provide for humanity’s survival needs?
The “thanksgiving” surely has two aspects. The first is so elementary it would automatically have been thought of in the ancient world, but we in the modern “first world” countries all too easily forget it: we should be grateful that there is food. We take it for granted. The ancients did not. They knew that crop failure could reduce a country’s food supply to “short rations” or even outright starvation.
The second element of “thanksgiving” is thanking God for the particular food we have in front of us. The scriptures repeatedly mention that we should be a “thanks giving” people. For example, in the broadest sense, in Ephesians we read, “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As to food, Paul argued that so long as he gave thanks for what he ate, there was no legitimate cause for complaint about what he ate, “But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?” (1 Corinthians 15:30).
He partook of the
available food—even under the most trying
circumstances. After fourteen days of
foul weather at sea, the ship he and many others were on was soon going to hit
the rocks and he knew that everyone was weak and needed nourishment whether
they wanted to eat or not. “ ‘34 Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for
your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.’ 35 And
when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the
presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. 36 Then
they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves” (verses 34-36).
We also have the example of Jesus. In feeding the two multitudes in Matthew -21 and -36, He gave public thanks on both occasions before distributing the miraculously multiplied food. After the resurrection, He encountered certain travelers on the way to Emmaus and when He tarried with them “as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30).
Although there is no passage I can think of that requires that prayer be given each time we eat—as versus thanking the Lord each morning for all the food we will consume during the day. Such a morning prayer for all that is available does seem to be in mind when Jesus urges, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11)--i.e. give it to us throughout the entire day. Alternatively one could both do this and give a specific prayer at each meal.
Of course there is certainly nothing wrong with regular meal time prayer either. Indeed such prayers would be a way of regularly reminding ourselves that our earlier prayer for nourishment is being fulfilled. If nothing else, it reminds us of how much we owe to God. It is, in a very tangible way, the recognition that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights” (James )--including the food God gifts us with access to. And when we are in the presence of children or others we have invited, it is especially useful to remind them and ourselves that regardless of how much we may have, we still owe thankfulness to God for the blessing itself and our ability to obtain it.
In other words the prayer is not so much to make the food something special or different, but to honor God for its availability--to give thanks to Him for it. It has been noted that the typical food blessing of Hebrew antiquity is still used today and reflects this priority: “ ‘Blessed are you O lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.’ In this age-old prayer that Jesus would have recited, again God is the one being blessed and not the food.” In other words, we give thanks for food; our words do not impose upon it some special degree of “blessing” even though “blessing the food” and “saying grace” are still phrases that are common. But what is really meant by the expression is receiving it with thanksgiving and joy, which is what we study next.
Our food is to be eaten with prayerful appreciation for it being available: “for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (4:5). The revealed “word of God” announces that these foods are sanctified/set apart for our consumption. This is a broad, general statement, applicable to all food that exists and which we might consume. The “prayer” itself envolves two elements--expressing appreciation that it is available and, secondarily, asking God to set it apart/dedicate it to (= “sanctify” it to) our body’s use. We take a generality and make it specific to us and our own situation. Perhaps this was in his mind when the ancient writer Chrysostom spoke of how “grace before meat disinfects even what has been offered to idols.” Even that is thereby set apart for our nourishment.
It is up to our individual taste preferences to decide
what to eat and not some external rule imposed on us by others: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused if it is received
with thanksgiving” (4:4). Eight
of our comparative translations making the “refused” slightly more emphatic by
speaking of how foods should not “be/to be rejected” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV,
NASB, NET, NIV, WEB). Only
The text and personal food preferences. Paul is stressing the abstract principle that all foods are good, but that in no way affects personal preference. For one thing, some people simply like certain foods: I still have a passionate culinary connection with baloney in my 70s. Others don’t like certain foods: don’t even think about offering me peaches.
Such things may be cultural or regional. But there may also be religious inhibitions due to one’s upbringing. Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 that one is not to encourage others to violate their scruples about what to eat nor is one to seek out a theological objection to eating what is available that is not immediately obvious.
Hence Paul stresses mutual forbearance--you not pressing him nor vice versa. This is how Paul develops the point in Romans 8:
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
Are Old Testament food restrictions still obligatory? Although Paul was quite willing to have people continue their Old Testament inspired restrictions, the texts above make plain that he had no problem with those who did not follow those restrictions either. Accept that premise and his argument that that “every food” is acceptable makes perfect sense.
There are those who insist that such is absolutely not the case and attempt to interpretively put a gloss on this passage . . . to limit it by arguing that the context actually permits—even requires—that one do so:
3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
The argument begins with the valid assertion that there are two requirements for proper food consumption: (1) that one gives thanks for it and (2) that “it is sanctified [= blessed, approved of] by the word of God.” True enough.
However the all inclusive wording in this very passage--and other Pauline texts as well--shows the apostle insisting that all foods can be consumed without sin. To stress our point again: Note that he imposes no limitations at all on his teaching. Hence all foods are “sanctified by” the revelation of God. Therefore there are no restrictions beyond personal preference. That is the natural meaning of our text.
However what Paul said is not adequate to explain what he “really” means: Speaking in the Old Testament “the word of God” prohibited certain meats. True enough, but then comes the unexpected curve ball: because it was contained in the Torah, that prohibition must continue today. (Shall we mention that Paul more than once argued that Christians are not under those laws? They may follow them voluntarily but not as a matter of Divine obligation.) To make the unexpected gloss even more convincing, multiple prohibitions of eating all animals are said to be found in this very text in 1 Timothy 4! As one person argues the case (we have retained his bold print):
Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, have laid down detailed listings of the clean and unclean categories of animals. . . . Can you give God glory by eating what He says is unhealthy and unclean for food? . . .
If you read verse 3 you will see that verse 4 is speaking of meats “which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving” by His people. A Biblical fact here is His people NEVER would give thanks for a pig or any other unclean meat as Leviticus 11, or Deuteronomy 14 speaks of.
If you also look at verse 5 you will also see that these meats are those that are “sanctified” by the Lord. The Lord never sanctified pigs or other unclean animals.
What really amazes me here is, 1 Timothy 4 starts out speaking of how many people in the last days people will be “giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” and this ability to eat unclean foods that were NOT sanctified or cleansed by the Lord is in fact one of those “doctrines of devils.” We are seeing this fulfilled IN OUR DAY!
I must admit a certain pleasure in his argument. I don’t believe I have ever seen a text so effectively used to “prove” that it is demanding the 180 degree opposite of what it seems to be saying on the first read. A text that condemns forbidding to partake of foods suddenly becomes a text that approves of forbidding to partake of foods! It is “really” talking about prohibiting foods outside the traditional list of “ceremonially clean” foods. Wouldn’t it have made far more sense for him to simply come out and say that rather than require the reader to do these mental gymnastics to get at such an unobvious point?
Furthermore the argument fundamentally misreads Paul’s argument: “4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” “Every creature” can be taken for food consumption because “it [= each and every type of creature] is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” In other words for the Christian this is the case. It wasn’t for the Jew. With the nailing of the Jewish law to the cross that created such restrictions (Colossians ), a new dietary standard came into existence.
Hence all foods are acceptable to eat (verse 4) because “it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (verse 5). We have already discussed above the propriety of prayer for the food we eat. That leaves us with the need for a few more words on “it is sanctified by the word of God” as well as by prayer. In other words the revealed word has set apart our food as something special, something separated--something “holy” in Biblical language—for our consumption.
We might or might not like a particular food. We might even think there is nothing appealing to it that would even encourage us to desire to eat it. The point is that in itself God has no concern if we do so. There are no longer “clean versus unclean” foods as in the Old Testament.
Jesus had laid the precedent for this during His earthly ministry:
14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” 20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7)
Some attempt to get around “thus purifying all foods” by arguing that Jews would not have considered unclean foods “food” in the first place. However they knew full well that Gentiles consumed such for nourishment and strength. Hence they were fully aware that it was “food” however distasteful to themselves.
Furthermore all ceremonially “clean” foods were already clean; it took no action of Jesus to make them “pure!” So the words had to have something far more drastic in mind in regard to the varied foods of the time—undermining the need for a clean/unclean food distinction at all.
All such—and it should have been such even for the ritually observant Jew of His day—all such ought to already have been at least comparatively regarded as irrelevant when compared with the demands of proper morality and good behavior that the Lord specifies. After all character was many times more important than ritual “purity.” Or as one commentator concisely described it, “In context, Jesus is pointing out the futility of seeking spiritual salvation by means of ritual observances, like dietary laws, which are incapable of purifying the heart (i.e., the moral life). A clean heart is something different from a properly cared-for digestive tract.” One concerns our stomach; the other concerns our character.
Contemporaries Needed To Be Warned
of This and Existing Problems
that Set the Stage for Worse Later
TCNT: 6 Put all this before the Brethren, and you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, sustained by the precepts of the Faith and of that Good Teaching by which you have guided your life. 7 As for profane legends and old wives’ tales, leave them alone. Train yourself to lead a religious life; 8 for while the training of the body is of service in some respects, religion is of service in all, carrying with it, as it does, a promise of Life both here and hereafter.
9 How true that saying is and worthy of the fullest acceptance! 10 With that aim we toil and struggle, for we have set our hopes on the Living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who hold the Faith. 11 Dwell upon these things in your teaching.
To be a faithful minister of Christ requires that one teach and stress the things that Paul had discussed (4:6): “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.”
The immediate context of what he is to “instruct” about refers to the coming danger where some will demean the marriage institution and prohibit the eating of foods. However, it is impossible to believe that Paul believed it was so important to be aware of coming dangers—that were yet in their embryo form—that one could safely ignore the other truths he has been presenting throughout the epistle. And in his other epistles, for that matter.
Hence, to avoid demeaning the importance of his own message, Paul had to have in mind everything he was teaching—with no exclusions. This is confirmed by how he speaks in the same verse “of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.” Hence all of what he already had was vital to hold onto and advocate.
These things Timothy is to “instruct” the church members about, a rendering followed by only one other version (WEB). “Instruct” carries with it the idea of emphasizing these matters to others. GNT does well with, “If you give these instructions to the believers.”
“Point/pointing out” language, with varying additional words to flesh out the thought, is the preference of the bulk of translations (GW, Holman, NASB, NET, NIV). The best in this line of approach is the ISV’s elaboration, “If you continue to point these things out,” i.e., he keeps doing so . . . he stresses it. The common substitute wording seems to lack such an overtone. Telling him to “put these things before” (ESV) also appears to have the same lack of emphasis.
This verse insists that for Timothy to be “a good minister,” he must do this. It is an essential requirement of being such. Can that role possibly be carried out without emphasizing these matters?
Timothy does this he will be “a good minister,” language nearly always omitted (except by NIV)
and substituted with “good servant” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, WEB). His qualitative
success in holding to the apostolic message is stressed by the expansion of
We tend to equate “minister” with “pulpit minister.” Timothy was clearly such, but pulpit ministering is put a modest fraction of any successful minister’s work and this is reflected in the underlying Greek text which speaks of Timothy being a successful servant—using the terminology of being a deacon and is translated as such in 3:8. The apostolic truths are the things he is to cling to in and out of the pulpit, in any and all ways that he functions as a servant of God.
When he acts this way, he will demonstrate that he is immersed in two things that are effectively synonyms: “nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (4:6).
way proves that he has been consuming the right “food,” which motivates him to
do the right thing. He has been
“nourished” on it, which remains the dominant choice of translators (Holman,
ISV, NET, NIV, WEB) while the NASB emphasizes this as
an ongoing and constant partaking of the Word by referring to how Timothy was
“constantly nourished” (NASB). “Inwardly
feeding on” (
“Trained in” (ESV, GW) suggests the idea that Paul (and quite possibly others) had already encouraged him in this course. In such a context we would naturally think of Paul’s teaching and, for that matter, even Timothy’s indoctrination in things Biblical from his childhood, “I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).
What had produced his spiritual growth and strength is described as “the good doctrine.” Paul has just been discussing the erroneous and damaging type. Instead of imbibing and consuming that kind of thing, Timothy had wisely and properly chosen “the good doctrine” to be nourished with. By its very nature that could not be forced upon him. His nourishment with it reflected his voluntary dedication to the truths God had revealed through Jesus and His apostles.
Those things Timothy was indoctrinated in were rooted in the teachings that embodied and encouraged faith and which were thoroughly reliable (4:6). The first of these is described as “the words of faith.” All the alternatives surveyed insert “the” between “of” and “faith.” For the bulk, this results in “the words of the faith” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, WEB). Although “the words of the Christian faith” (GW) is true enough, one finds it hard to imagine that many back then would have needed such a supplement, though it makes more than a little sense from our more distant contemporary perspective.
Words convey meaning and concepts with them. And it is likely that this point Weymouth intends to bring out when he speaks of “the lessons of the faith.” Since Paul presents his apostolic message as authoritative and reliable, then these are also “the truths of the faith” (NIV).
That Paul would have the system of faith rather than “mere” faith (= believing) in mind is logical in the light of how he makes such a reference in the first verse of this chapter: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith. . . .”
Arichea and Hatton explain why, though it could be taken either way in the current verse, the latter is far more probable: “ ‘Faith’ here may be understood subjectively, in which case the whole expression refers to the words that are used to lead people to trust in Jesus Christ or to become Christians. But since ‘faith’ is with the definite article, it seems more likely that it should be understood objectively, as in verse 1.”
By speaking of “the words of faith,” Paul is conveying the idea of a system that is known and authoritative, of something that has been revealed. Our verbal shorthand for this is “the gospel”--or “Scripture.” These “words” shape both what they should believe and how they should act. As the apostle Peter put it, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).
Jude stresses the permanent authoritativeness of this revelation when he writes, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” There was nothing to be changed; there was nothing to be added. They and future generations had received all that was necessary.
The reliability of what he had learned was also due to the fact that it constituted “the good doctrine.” “Good” is a qualitative term that stresses not only that it is adequate, but that it is far more than that; it surpasses into a higher category. And what else would we expect when the described teaching had been given by Divine inspiration! (And that it would be permanently authoritative in future generations, as Jude 3 stresses.)
“Good” is nearly always retained by translators but the ISV touches in a different way upon the quality element by describing it as “healthy teaching.” The GW is even more emphatic with its “excellent teachings.” Approaching it from the standpoint of the doctrinal reliability implied by the language, the NASB is certainly right when it speaks of “the sound doctrine which you have been following.”
Yet if the qualitative element that is in Paul’s mind is to be kept at the forefront of one’s mind—rather than the doctrinal result of that quality—“good” or “healthy” or “excellent” does the job quite well. All these express the quality of the teaching Timothy had embraced and accepted as his own.
doctrine” is retained only by ESV and WEB with it being replaced with
“teaching” among the majority (GNT, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV,
Timothy had manifested steadfastness in these things as
demonstrated by the fact that he had “carefully followed” them. The
“carefully” is dropped by a number of new translations, leaving us with “you
have followed” (ESV, Holman, NIV, WEB) and “which you have been following”
(NASB). When the concept of “carefully”
is retained, the preferred substitute is “that/which you have followed closely”
(GW, ISV, NET).
Adding “carefully” (or a conceptual equivalent) is quite logical. “The word for ‘followed’ is a compound verb that pertains to following someone by being always at his or her side; the verb therefore gives the sense of not only following, but following closely and faithfully.”
Hence being full of this healthy doctrine was not just an intellectual past time with him: “you have carefully followed it.” Revelation was given to be learned; it was given to be practiced as well. Reinforcing it both through one’s study and one’s behavior drives it even deeper into our intellectual and moral “DNA.”
In short, what Timothy is urged to do is nothing new. He is urged to continue doing what has already become a lifestyle for him. The message is not one of repentance, but of persistence.
Timothy is to
avoid impediments to his ministry. For
example, he should refuse to get envolved in the
popular tall tales of existing society (4:7a): “But reject profane and old wives’ fables. . . .” This can be
interpreted as either distinct categories (“profane and old wives’
fables” = two separate categories) or as a single category/a double description
of those outlandish tales told and retold especially by elderly women of the
day. Three translations clearly endorse
the latter approach: “worldly
fables fit only for old women” (NASB), “worldly stories, fit only for credulous
old women” (
To convey the intent of “profane” only the WEB continues that wording while the others opt for “godless” (GW, ISV, NET, NIV); yet others prefer “irreverent” (ESV, Holman), or “worldly” (NASB, Weymouth). In traditional Greek usage the underlying term was used to describe whatever is of this world rather than the Divine. In its more neutral usage it carries the connotation of “secular” (verses “holy”). But here the emphasis is not just that it is “of this world” but that it is antithetical, hostile to, the Divine. Hence the obvious appeal of language such as “godless” and “irreverent” to go with it.
As to what
these stories are, “fables” is the language preserved by the ISV, NASB, and
WEB. Others prefer “myths” (ESV, GW,
Holman, NET), and even the vaguer “tales” (NIV) and “stories” (
reference to “old wives” provides gender specific language for at least part of
those most vulnerable to be influenced.
It is maintained by the NIV and WEB.
The marital language (“wives”) is omitted by the substitution of “old
women” (GW, ISV, NASB,
The expressions are used for the kind of claims that should only be taken seriously by those of diminishing intellect—with the example of old age being cited in particular. Think of the kind of tall tale that a gullible or senile person might embrace or spin out of their own overworked imagination (maybe even believing it themselves), but everyone else should dismiss as absurd or silly.
The fact that Timothy is warned against embracing these things shows us that the power of these legends and imaginary stories to encourage a drift away from the pure gospel was not limited by either age or gender—since Timothy was both young and a male and is still warned against them. Fantasy can overwhelm realism and Timothy is not to permit himself to become a victim.
A few translations leave out both the gender and age references and strive to convey the underlying concept as “silly myths” (ESV, Holman) or “myths fit only for the . . . gullible” (NET). This, of course, is what the text is driving at—but not quite what it says!
Some have felt offended at the supposed “sexism” of the words. If, however, these type of stories were unusually common to females in particular, should he have pretended that was not the case? Some have wondered whether the female reference might have been produced because he had some particular type of tall tale that was far more popular among women than men.
For that matter could this be a
conceptual book end—“profane and old wives” tales at one end and the (male
generated and spread?) “fables and endless
genealogies” of chapter 1 (verse 4)? In
other words, both genders in
If the ancient world could typify the most ready “market” for fables as the elderly—presumably with the connotation of having declining reasoning powers and increased gullibility—the modern world has broadened out in both the sources and audience for such things. If you doubt this, consider the topic of conspiracy theories: they are endless in number, variety, and with an astounding number of advocates and embracers. If you seek something in a “lighter” vein, consider the semi-popular fables and myths that are innocent foolishness: No, Elvis isn’t really still alive. And no it wasn’t likely at all that it was murder.
Laying aside the propensity of both educated men and women to deceive themselves by carefully crafted “theories” and the blindness or gullibility of masses to embrace them, the most alarming are those efforts to craft such things out of the Bible itself. The “Bible Code” mythology exhibits both the hard work and blindness that I am referring to. Even more “true predictions” than Nostradamus has!
The ethnicity of the tall tale
sharers. In Titus Paul urges to “not give heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who
turn from the truth.” This is an epistle
Today we tend to look upon old wives’ tales in a rather secularistic manner: “Feed a cold, starve a fever;” “after you finish eating, you have to wait an hour before swimming;” “watching too much television is bad for your eyes.” Such are a few that are still around. Harmless but not necessarily true.
But here we are dealing with something far more important: Speculations that impact not on safe daily living but upon the salvation of the soul. Would Paul have blasted these “theories” if they were irrelevant to Christian faith? To be annoyed, quite possibly; to denounce them as dangerous (as he does) clearly indicates something that could bend true faith into something it never was intended to be.
Later in church history we certainly find groups that sound like they were practicing the kind of irresponsible fable/myth building Paul criticizes. Irenaeus rebukes the Cainites because they claimed descent from certain ancient “mothers, fathers, and ancestors” (Against Heresies, 1.31.8). They, of course, had no historical records demonstrating any such thing. (The “endless genealogies” of 1:4 is relevant because it demonstrates that such mythmaking already existed in Paul’s day as well.)
So blatant was the later mythmaking that what Paul presents seemed an obvious foreshadowing of the forms it ultimately took. In the early 200s Tertullian wrote Against the Valentinians to expose their ideas and claims. (To illustrate the allusiveness of unquestionably reliable labels, it should be noted that some describe these folk as “Gnostic” while others claim they had stolen ideas from that source without becoming such themselves.) Tertullian invokes 1 Timothy when he writes to believers in his era:
As soon as he finds so many names of aeons, so many marriages, so many offsprings, so many exits, so many issues, felicities and infelicities of a dispersed and mutilated deity, will that man hesitate at once to pronounce that these are ‘the fables and endless genealogies’ which the inspired apostle by anticipation condemned, while these seeds of heresy were even then shooting forth?
Another potential impediment to be kept under control: His “exercise” should primarily be in regard to becoming more spiritually mature (“godly”) rather than just physical improvement (4:7b-8a): “. . . Exercise yourself toward godliness. (8) For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things. . . .”
The Greeks lauded the physical skills demonstrated in athletic competitions. We may have here a hint that Timothy, in particular, did as well. (Or that the societal norms so stressed this element that their “rubbing off” on Timothy would be quite probable.) In either case, he needed to keep in mind the distinction between “good” and “better.” Physical exercise--and all it may do for your personal physique and praise it may gain from friends and admirers--shrinks in importance when compared with furthering one’s spiritual development. The former is unquestionably “good” but the latter is also unquestionably “better.”
the imagery is the assumption that the behavior is habitual. It is not mere “exercise” (NKJV and WEB’s rendering), it is ongoing exercise. Hence “train yourself” conveys the
point better and is now strongly embraced (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV,
Exercise is inherently discomforting, uncomfortable, and often literally painful, however great a usefulness it may provide for the preservation of the health of the body. Even so things in moderation can be easily twisted into “proof” that immoderation is commendable in the same matters as well--even more so.
In this case the pains of physical exercise could become bent into the precedent and pretext for inflicting painful excess on the human body for its own “spiritual well being.” Unquestionably not many centuries later, such sufferings became a manifestation of the spiritual ideal because it was being done in the name of proving one’s superior spirituality. In fact it became, inherently, proof of one’s greater spirituality. An unidentified preacher once spoke of the inherent folly of such an attitude:
Godliness, and not asceticism, is to be the Christian’s aim. “Bodily exercise,” or physical severities and privations, such as many of the early saints imposed upon themselves, is contrasted here with “godliness” or piety, as being only a means to the attainment of the latter, and not therefore an end in itself. The “godliness” here inculcated is well interpreted by the old English word, from which it was probably derived, viz. godlikeness. It is the cultivation of a Divine character in ourselves, a heavenly temper, taste, and disposition. Just as the ‘pietas’ of the ancient world consisted of reverent and loving attachment to the gods, and to one’s parents and family, so that of the Christian should be shown in the service of God, our heavenly Father, and the hallowing of domestic ties. The supreme aim of Christianity is holiness, a life consecrated to God and in constant communication with Him. Everything is therefore to be in subordination to this, and to be tested by it.
Stripping away the foolish excess of fitness extremists, it is still true that “bodily exercise profits a little” (4:8a). It is not that it lacks value, the danger is in inflating its value beyond its proper sphere. Accept it within its limited narrow confines and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
the NASB retains the word “profit” at all, altering it to “of little
profit.” A majority substitute “value,”
producing the readings “of some value” (ESV, NIV), “has some value”
(NET, WEB), “is of limited value” (ISV). GW speaks of how it “helps
a little,” Holman of how it “has a limited benefit.”
Why the effort to enhance one’s spiritual improvement (“godliness”) is so important (4:8b-11). In developing this theme, Paul stresses two points and draws a conclusion based on their validity.
* First Argument: It is beneficial both short and long term (4:8b): “. . . Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” In the short term, it makes you a better person. At no point in life, do we reach a “game over” status. Unquestionably not in regard to gaining more knowledge of God’s will. If one were to live to the age of Methuselah one might have it “down pat.” Maybe--but unlikely.
When it comes to actual Christian living, it usually is several steps forward and then a stumble backwards. Life sends so many hindrances and stumbling blocks, the sinless life is only theoretically reachable. And, when reached, do you really believe you can maintain it for but so long? That way goes the road to delusion.
But that kind of perfection is not needed. Only the constant striving and the willingness to ask God to forgive when we have stumbled. It’s called “grace” and however much the concept is widely abused as if it were a “blank ticket” for anything and everything, without reforming effort on our part it is nothing but a self-deception. But with that effort we have God’s guarantee of forgiveness.
And the gospel, having been “profitable” for making us better people in “the life that now is” has prepared us for the life “which is to come” as well. We have already mastered the fundamental attitudes that will benefit us there. It will not be a “culture shock” of going from earth to heaven but more of a “welcome home party,” sharing in the jubilance and success of countless others who have walked that same road before us.
As to that key word “profitable” (used only by NKJV and NASB), it stresses the strongly beneficial nature of our godly character. “Valuable” is equally emphatic (GNT, NET).
translations seemingly weaken the intended emphasis. Although “has value” (NIV, WEB) and “of
value” (ESV) are both true, adding “great” would strengthen the point. The same is true of “beneficial”
(Holman). Similarly “useful” (
How is “godliness” profitable so far as “having promise of the life that now is” (4:8)? It results in our living a life that produces minimum conflict with others. It causes us to avoid shady dealing, empty bravado and is the seedbed for honorable conduct toward one and all—both inside and outside the church. It promises us a better life in the here and now while preparing us for a life superb beyond anything this world can ever offer.
How is “godliness” profitable “having promise of the life . . . which is to come”? Moral purity and honorable behavior are bedrock preconditions of eternal life. Our doctrine may be absolutely unquestionable by one and all. But if we don’t have the kind of lifestyle (“godliness” in behavior) that is supposed to accompany it, we have no hope of eternal rest. We may have so versed ourselves in scripture that we will be the most accomplished “theologian in Hell”—but of what value is such religious astuteness, when our moral blindness has caused us to forfeit the opportunity to enjoy the happiness of Heaven?
One individual has described the point of Paul’s words as being, “The life to come exceeds the present life both in a quantitative and in a qualitative manner, in the same way as ‘in every way’ [NKJV; ‘for all things’] exceeds the indication ‘of some value’ [NKJV: in ‘a little’].” The idea of heaven being “qualitatively” better than earth makes inherent sense: no disease, no death, etc. The things that destroy this world are totally absent. The idea of heaven being “quantitatively” better is harder for me to grasp, but I suppose that is inevitable as well: with the severe limitations of a flesh and blood body being removed, can it avoid offering opportunities utterly impossible in our present world?
* Second argument: Everyone should accept the legitimacy of this assertion because its validity underlies the reason for our behavior as faithful Christians (4:9-10): “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. (10) For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”
In all fairness there seems little difference in result: “godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (verse 8) says, essentially, the same thing as “we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (verse 10). Furthermore the “godliness” of verse 8 is an expression of the “trust in the living God” of verse 10. In addition is not the “promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (verse 8) the same thing as the salvation spoken of in verse 10 (“Savior of all men, especially of those who believe”)? Isn’t this really a case where the same point is made twice—indeed three times, since verse 9 is, effectively, a reaffirmation of those same spiritual realities?
“This is a faithful saying” (4:9):
Retained by WEB and
In short, there is nothing to be doubted in the assertion. It is one that should be embraced by everyone because of its inherent and unquestionable validity.
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance”
The wording is preserved only in WEB. The most common substitute is
“deserves/deserving full acceptance” (Holman, NASB, NET, NIV; the ESV adds “of”
in front of “acceptance”). Two prefer
“deserves complete acceptance” (GW, ISV).
All share in common the idea that there is nothing in what is being said
that should give pause and hesitancy.
The “this is . . . worthy of all acceptance” must refer to either what comes afterwards or what has just been said. What comes afterwards is strictly a personal instruction (though logically applicable to anyone in a situation similar to Timothy): “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” In contrast, what comes in the preceding verse is of immediate universal Christian relevancy and therefore far more worthy of the statement: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” The fact that we have God’s promise to grant us eternal life is at the heart of our convictions. Because it is unquestionably true, it is deserving of “full acceptance.”
The traditional translation of the first words of verse 10: Being right and working hard is no guarantee of being popular or protection against being “scarred” by enemies—“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach.” Paul alludes to this when he notes that both he and Timothy—note the “we”—labored in the gospel because of the certainty that God uses it to save others (verse 10), but that those labors did not always bring compliments and praise. Instead in their ministry they often “suffer reproach” for that very steadfastness—from outside foes certainly. But surely on far too many occasions, as well, from weak Christians and those who might find the heretical musings of the time attractive.
Although WEB joins with the NKJV in retaining this allusion to difficulties and persecutions, the others in our sampling do not. (See below.) The text of many ancient sources—both Greek manuscripts and versions translating it into other languages—carry this type of reading that stresses the hostility that was faced by the two men. The strong majority of 20th century translations however embraced a “critical” text rendering—“labor and strive” or its equivalents--that carry an allusion to how hard Paul had worked in behalf of the gospel rather than the adversity that was suffered as the result. Both alternatives blend in well with the context.
In analyzing the intent of the text let us do so, first, from the standpoint that the adversity inflicted upon himself and Timothy is at the front of Paul’s mind. Regardless of whether we retain the KJV/NKJV style rendering here we certainly know from other passages that Paul encountered such fierce opposition and did not let it stop him from teaching the gospel. As he vividly spells it out in 2 Corinthians 11:
23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
In his second correspondence to Timothy he explicitly points out the adversity he himself had undergone, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, (11) persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. (12) Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy -12). Paul is not unique; his is simply an illustration of the difficulties that will come with faithfulness to the gospel.
Instead of this, the intention of the alternative Greek
reading would be to put additional stress on the intensity of his laboring for
the gospel. Conveying this purpose are the readings “labor and strive” (Holman, NASB, NIV) and
“toil and strive” (ESV). The other
alternatives, ironically, seem to point just as easily to the KJV/NKJV/WEB
approach: “work hard and struggle”
(GW, ISV, NET) and “toiling and wrestling” (
The disagreement between manuscripts (“labor and suffer” approach versus “labor and strive”) arises from a clear confusion in manuscript copying. The Greek underlying both “suffer reproach” and “strive” are spelled much alike and pronounced much alike! The manuscript evidence, however, is strongly in favor of the latter.
And from the Biblical record we know, indeed, that Paul worked quite hard for the gospel. Success did not encourage him to stay in one place permanently; persecution did not cause him to stop preaching, even if it had to be done somewhere else.
Perseverance was something Paul implored for others, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). But it wasn’t as if he was urging on them a principle he was not following himself. Note the “we” language in his letter to the Galatians: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). Note, once again, the “we” language in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.”
All Paul’s spiritual labors were carried out due to his
spiritual confidence: “We trust
in the living God” (). Only WEB still prefers the trust
imagery: “set our trust in.” Regardless of the surrounding words, the
large bulk prefer to substitute “hope” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV;
making the word plural [“hopes”] is
Our God is the only one worth putting trust in because He
is “the living God” (). This is, of course, in contrast to
the pagan gods which existed only within the human imagination. Or, as Paul spelled it out to the
Thessalonians in words that perfectly fitted Gentile dominated
Isaiah vigorously tore into the delusions of the idolatry of his day, forcefully pointing out the absurdity that one worships part of a tree carved into an idol while using the rest to stay warm at night (Isaiah 44:15-17)! They literally could not comprehend that something they had created with their own hands could never be a genuine, truly existing deity (verses 18-20). Technically/theoretically the idol was something different from the “deity” being worshipped, but the idol was treated with such extreme reverence, respect, and adoration that from a practical standpoint it became the deity. In contrast the God of Israel repeatedly intervened to protect and save His people. The carved images of human imagination could never help anyone for they did not reflect anything that truly existed. They were created by mortals and never lived; in contrast Jehovah always existed and caused man to live.
The potential for human salvation is available to one and all: “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” ().
The expression of the desire that all humankind have the opportunity to share in redemption is a far from obscure New Testament teaching. Paul expressed this desire earlier in this epistle (2:4). Indeed, the giving of the Great Commission by Jesus (“go into all the world,” Matthew 28:18-20) is meaningless without this being the Divine goal.
Harder to immediately grasp may be “especially of those who believe” (). It is as if all mankind is guaranteed salvation. A similar connotation could be put on the words in chapter 2, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all . . .” (2:5-6). Alone among our translations, the ISV solves the difficulty by arguing that the text should be rendered (our emphasis added): “we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, that is, of those who believe.” This certainly removes the problem but it is more properly an interpretation of the text rather than a translation.
Although a useful “proof text,” for universal salvation, it clearly can’t be the designed intent of either or 2:5-6: If faith is, as presented throughout the New Testament, is the required prerequisite for salvation, then no one can be saved without it. Hence God is the Savior of all because He offers every single person a way out of their condemnation and He is especially the Savior of Christians because they have already met that standard.
J. H. Bernard seems clearly thinking along this line when he writes, “There is, then, a special sense in which God is the Saviour of those who believe, as distinct from all men; it is only in those who believe that the Divine intention that all men should be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) can be completely fulfilled. For the same thought stated in the reverse order, see 1 John 2:2.” [“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”]
Some prefer to interpret the text as referring to two types of “salvation:” that given to “all men” is the physical life-preserving kind, while that given to believers is the spiritual, soul saving kind. This is objected to on the grounds that there is nothing in the context to suggest that the physical, rather than spiritual, sense of salvation is under consideration or that Paul shifts the meaning of “Savior” between the two categories of people. In other words, it may reasonably explain the shift but there isn’t anything really in text or context that provides supporting evidence for us.
Some argue that “all” may not necessarily refer to “people” in the way it is commonly read. Hence, “The context here does not state what Paul means by ‘all people.’ He could refer to every single person, or he could refer to all kinds of people. . . . ‘all sorts of people,’ not every single person who has ever lived on planet earth.”
Oddly the same person who seemingly embraces the above reading—he explicitly does so on 1 Timothy 2:4—prefers to embrace a different approach that is unquestionably true as a fact but which I have a far harder time seeing as the obvious point in our current passage: “The most plausible interpretation of this verse is what I call the Monotheistic-Exclusivism Interpretation. What Paul is saying is that God (and by extension Christ as Redeemer) is the only true Savior in the world, therefore humanity cannot find any other competing Savior outside of the living God. They have no other Savior to turn to.”
* Conclusion drawn from Paul’s arguments: Timothy is instructed to continue to advocate these facts to all believers (): “These things command and teach.” Good variants that stress the same thing are “these are the things you must insist on and teach” (ISV) and the more concise “insist on these things and teach them” (GW).
Since these things represented fundamental truths, it was Timothy’s responsibility as a teacher and preacher to emphatically emphasize them in his instruction of others. This responsibility to share Paul’s message is returned to in 5:7, “And these things command, that they may be blameless.” If they aren’t informed of their obligations, how are they possibly going to fulfill them and be counted acceptable in God’s sight?
The fact that such teaching was to be ongoing and repeated implies what is brought out in his second epistle, that he was not to tire of this task: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Or as Holman has it, “persist in it whether convenient or not” (cf. essentially the same reading in ISV, NET).
With “command and teach” linked, we could interpret “teach” as a conceptual repetition of “command.” The repetition is made to make the point even more emphatic. Alternatively, we could take “command” as stressing the authoritativeness of what is to be taught and “teach” to convey the idea that it is the teacher’s inherent responsibility to convey, stress, and explain that authoritative material.
What is to be taught is that which has Divine endorsement behind it rather than personal opinion, preference, or invention. Think of the Pharissic “traditions,” for example, in which Divine commandments would be parsed, expanded, or limited according to their preferences. Not to mention the creation of new requirements that even an agile mind would find precious little to build on from the Torah itself. It was wrong for them to twist Judaism in that manner. Likewise, it is wrong for ministers to bend the gospel of Christ in that way.
 Arichea and Hatton, 92.
Whitney, “No I Won’t Bless the Food,” at:
Dodson, “Why Do We Bless Our Food?,” part of the Acts
242 Study website, at: http://acts242study.com/why-do-we-bless-our-food/. (Dated:
 For other interpretations, concisely presented, see Arichea and Hatton, 94.
 Stuart Allen, Pastoral Epistles, 287.
 Darrell Baudoin, “Is Every Creature of God Good To Eat?,” at: http://www.darrellbaudoin.com/every-creature-god-good-eat/. (Accessed: November 2016).
 [Unidentified Author], “Mark Chapter 7,” at: https://www.bible-studys-org/Bible%20Books/Mark/Mark%20Chapter%207.html. (Accessed: January 2020.) Strangely enough this commentator provided no obvious evidence of identity even though he ultimately posted commentary on the entire Bible.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 40, and Arichea and Hatton, 97.
 Arichea and Hatton, 97.
 Luke T. Johnson, Letters, 243.
 Arichea and Hatton, 97.
 Ibid., 98.
 Arichea and Hatton, 98.
 For others as well and an evaluation of them as ill founded see [Unidentified Author], “What Is An Old Wives’ Tale?,” “Wonder of the Day #232” at the Wonderopolis website, at: https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-an-old-wives-tale. (Accessed January 2020.)
 Marg Mowczko, “The Heresy In the Ephesian Church,” at:
 James Nisbett, Pulpit, quoting unidentified individual on 4:7-8.
 Bernhard Mutschler, 365.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 41.
 As do such others as George W. Knight III, 65.
 Arichea and Hatton, 101.
 J. H. Bernard, on . (Internet edition.)
 Alan E. Kurschner, “An Exegesis of 1 Timothy ,” part of
the Alpha & Omega Ministries website, at:
 Ibid. He also believes this is the meaning in 1 Timothy 2:4 as well: “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”