Comparative Commentary on 1 Timothy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2020
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In Spite of These Dangers and Obligations,
Timothy Is Not to Neglect the
Development of His Own Spirituality
TCNT: 12 Do not let any one look down on you because you are young, but, by your conversation, your conduct, your love, your faith, and your purity, be an example to those who hold the Faith. 13 Till I come, apply yourself to public reading, preaching, and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the divine gift within you, which was given you, amid many a prediction, when the hands of the Officers of the Church were laid on your head.
15 Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that your progress may be plain to every one. 16 Look to yourself as well as to your teaching. Persevere in this, for your doing so will mean Salvation for yourself as well as for your hearers.
Timothy must function as a role model for other believers in spite of his youth (): “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.” Paul argues that Timothy can avoid the potentially large pitfall of his youth--falling into misconduct or youth being used against him to discredit what he has to say--by controlling the way he behaves and by actions that reveal the positive motivations behind what he preaches and does.
Comparative translations of Timothy’s youthfulness: In describing his age there is not much
different a way to describe his “youth” (retained in ESV, Holman, WEB;
“youthfulness,” NASB) than to change it to “young” (GW, ISV, NET, NASV; “young
Even so how old was Timothy? The range of 25-30 has been speculated as well as 30-40, and 35-40. The standard of comparison does not seem to be mainly chronological since high childhood death rates would have made somewhere in the 30s as being a rather “respectable” age by any statistical standard. To us in the technological “modern age” he seemingly had reached the equivalent of “middle age”--or close to it. By our standards. The first century though considered such people, in effect, “young” until physical infirmities proved they weren’t. “Young” but finally ready to fully launch onto the sea of adult political and religious responsibilities.
We have indirect evidence about the Gentiles from the way laws and expectations were fixed in popular thought.
the early 7th Century BC, the Greek poet Hesiod wrote
that a man should marry “when you are not much less than 30, and not much
more”. Meanwhile, ancient
There was no Torah command pointing to thirty as the key year for full adult religious responsibility, but there were at least limited hints that such was the case. The Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (on Luke 3:23) notes that, “The age of 30 was that at which a Levite might enter on his full services (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:47), and the age at which Joseph had stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46), and at which David had begun to reign (2 Samuel 5:4), and at which scribes were allowed to teach.” Ezekiel began his prophetic work when he was this age (Ezekiel 1:1). The cases of David and Ezekiel may have been mere coincidence; the others were matters of settled policy.
The Talmud indicates thirty is the pivotal year. In the Pirke Avot (second century) it is asserted:
At age 5,
one studies Bible.
At ten, the Mishna.
At thirteen, one is responsible for the mitzvoth.
At fifteen, one studies Talmud.
At eighteen, one is ready for marriage.
At twenty, one begins a career.
At thirty, one is at the height of one’s powers.
At forty, one achieves understanding [bina].
At fifty, one is prepared to give wise counsel [aitzah].
At sixty, one is given the deference of seniority.
At seventy, one is considered a sage.
Eighty is the age of heroic strength.
The view that thirty was still youth was one accepted by those in the evolving Christian movement as well. For example, however much the anti-heretic apologist Irenaeus errs in claiming Jesus had to be fifty years old when He died (making His ministry about 20 years long!) he certainly was aware of how popular opinion held firmly to the belief that “youth” carried over into the late 30s:
They, however, that they may establish their false opinion regarding that which is written, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” maintain that He preached for one year only, and then suffered in the twelfth month. In speaking thus, they are forgetful to their own disadvantage, destroying His whole work, and robbing Him of that age which is both more necessary and more honorable than any other; that more advanced age, I mean, during which also as a teacher He excelled all others.
For how could He have had disciples, if He did not teach? And how could He have taught, unless He had reached the age of a Master? For when He came to be baptized, He had not yet completed His thirtieth year, but was beginning to be about thirty years of age (for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it: “Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be thirty years old,” when He came to receive baptism); and, according to these men, He preached only one year reckoning from His baptism. On completing His thirtieth year He suffered, being in fact still a young man, and who had by no means attained to advanced age.
Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, affirming that John conveyed to them that information. (2.22.5.)
Clearly he could not conceive of any contemporary denying that “youth” lasted throughout one’s thirties—it simply wasn’t controversial. It wasn’t doctrinally centered in the least; it was centered on the common perception of apparently Christian and polytheist alike. For whatever it may be worth, he does not, however, describe Timothy as a “young” man in anything he had to say on First Timothy.
We naturally conclude from our survey, that Paul could have, quite reasonably and realistically, described Timothy in “youth” language. On the other hand he did not have to be that old either.
Calculating Timothy’s age hinges upon two things: (1) The number of years that had passed since beginning joint labor with the apostle Paul and (2) his age at the time that work began. Most folk would probably agree with a minimum of fourteen years difference between the two events.
One way too minimize Timothy’s age at the time of this epistle is to assume that he began accompanying Paul before he was 17. R. L. Serralta Nogués argues that the 17 or under scenario is simply not realistic both on the grounds of what we know and on the basis of what we can reasonably assume in reading Acts 16:1-3:
a) It was not fit that Paul would drag a teenager through his hard and dangerous life of missionary endeavors.
b) When Paul first met Timothy, he was already a disciple (verse 1), which suggests that he was not a boy or a teenager. In those times a youngster became an adult at the age of twenty.
c) Timothy was a well known man in at least two cities, Lystra and Iconium (verse 2), which tells us that he was old enough to have been traveling between at least these two cities for some time, and relating with their inhabitants.
d) The brethren of these two cities spoke well of him, which tells us that they knew him, his doings, behavior, and attitude, for some years before Paul met him.
Points “c” and “d” are certainly challengeable on the grounds that it was quite realistic for a teenager to be traveling with other family members on family or other business matters. Not in charge, but with them, and thereby developing his skills and talents.
Technically as a Jew, Timothy today would be counted as an adult as of age 13 and the time of his Bar Mitzvah celebration. The Biblical rationale for this has been found in Genesis 21:8 in the celebration when Isaac was weaned. This is interpreted as being weaned not off the breast but from childhood habits and failures.
It appears that the Bar Mitzvah concept became “world wide” only in the 1500s. The roots for it, however, do go back to the first century. The Talmud speaks of becoming subject to the commandments of the Torah at that age—which is not exactly the same thing as it fully marking the transition into adulthood . . . unless we wish to merge together both religious adulthood and responsibility and physical adulthood and responsibility. (In all fairness, in the ancient world there may not have been a reason to make any serious distinction because the bulk of the population was relatively poor and every one was needed to assure family income and food.)
This might well be the reason that we find the incident in Luke 2, though the text does not quite come out and directly say that this was at the end of Jesus’ twelfth year and as He was getting ready to start his 13th:
41 His parents went to
48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” 49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
Although no formal “event” is referred to as taking place to mark the occasion, he is certainly manifesting the sense of religious responsibility and independence that would naturally accompany a young man reaching what was societally regarded as the beginning of adult religious accountability.
Point “a” of Nogués certainly appeals both to our human emotions and the sense of responsibility that any sensible adult has for someone still so young. Even so people had to “grow up younger” back then--out of necessity.
The pivotal issue is point “b”—which gives every indication of also being quite true: “In those times a youngster became an adult at the age of twenty.”
In the wilderness the people were cursed with a forty year period of wandering short of their ultimate goal due to their sin. The dividing line on who was punished was whether a person had attained twenty years of age:
29 The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. 30 Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. 31 But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised (Numbers 14).
10 So the Lord’s anger was aroused on that day, and He swore an oath, saying, 11 “Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me” (Numbers 32).
Although they aren’t called “young,” the dividing point for criminal responsibility is put at and up you died; 19 and under you got to enter the promised land. The implicit division is surely between “young” and “adult.”
There are other indications that this was the decisive turning point into full adulthood responsibility: The age to offer offerings to God was twenty years of age and up (Exodus 30:14), as was the age for going to war (Numbers 1:2-3).
Now to tie this in with what age Timothy was when he was declared a mere “youth” in 1 Timothy: Add 20 and a minimum of 14 joint years of work and you have him at 34. Since the epistle is likely later than a mere 14 years after beginning their collaboration, you do seem pushed to a time between 35 and 40 years of age for Timothy at the time of the epistle being written.
pass on, however--Paul himself uses the same term to describe his own
early adult life in
The strong language of “despise” (ESV, Holman,
WEB) is softened to a less intense “look down on you” among quite a few (GW,
ISV, NASB, NET, NIV). Either way the
message being conveyed is the danger of having your good judgments and sound
teaching dismissed because of your age.
Greek here is rather emphatic. “Despise”
does the job well, but it also includes the ideas of scorning and looking at
with contempt. Likewise Robertson’s
Word Pictures defines the term as “to think down on, to despise.”
Yes, people “look down on you.” Although that is the kind of language we most naturally associate with class condescension, it fits condescension of all types. Perhaps a contemporary colloquialism would be, “They think you’ve made a fool out of yourself. You can’t be right because you are simply too young to be right.”
The Contemporary English Version is thinking along that line when it renders our text, “Don’t let anyone make fun of you, just because you are young.” The Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament reads, “Let no one treat you contemptuously because of your youth.” Paul doesn’t say Timothy has erred, but that he must actively fight the danger of being so labeled through the tool of his behavior and actions. His youth can be turned into a tool against him.
the rejection and contempt grows out of our behavior, the solution is to avoid
the behaviors that breed it. But such
doesn’t work in a case like Timothy when it is age alone rather than
“youthful indiscretions” that are doing the undermining. Words aren’t likely to get one very
far in convincing others to dismiss their age prejudice, but it can still be fought
by a “positive example.” That
theme Paul turns to next in language retained by all our cross section of
alternative translations. Only the
support words vary with “be an example” predominating (Holman, ISV, NET, WEB,
All of these convey the idea of consciously setting out to be an example. That means we are alert to the behaviors that would undermine us and attempt to avoid them. Not just things that would give them an easy tool to throw back at us. But also things that could be interpreted ambiguously by potential critics; we try to find a way to avoid that ambiguity so that our intents and purposes are made crystal clear.
course the targeted audience is “believers” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV),
“those who believe” (NASB, WEB,
Timothy established a lengthy track record of both working with the apostle Paul and also being sent on assignments to work independently. As one scholar concisely sums it up,
Timothy is mentioned often as being in Paul’s presence, for instance as the ‘co-author’ of several epistles (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon), and just as often as being away from Paul on strategic trips (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philippians 2:19-24); of course the Pastoral Epistles [also] testify to Timothy’s independent pastoral ministry.
What we don’t know is how much personal self-confidence Timothy had when working alone. (This is without factoring in the health problems of his: the “frequent infirmities in 1 Timothy ). Was he skittish and a bit uncertain even though (intellectually) he knew he was right?
Hence Timothy “might be lacking in confidence to face controversial issues.” By proceeding on the basis of what Paul was writing, however, he would intellectually know he was approaching the issues the right way. And by the epistle being read before the congregation—surely upon repeated occasions, since it was, uniquely, an epistle to a minister who was theirs—the congregation itself would recognize that Timothy was only doing what the apostle wanted as well. But there can be a profound gap between what one knows with the mind and what one knows with the emotions. Bringing them into agreement can become a major challenge.
Even without that the “young” Timothy was, well, young. Who is this young puppy to give reliable counsel? Or to provide insight into the scriptures that is contrary to what is traditional? Simply as a participating Bible class member—not as a preacher—I remember in my early twenties contributing a certain interpretation of a text and having it dismissed. Five years or so later we had a gospel meeting and the same interpretation was presented and the members thought it had provided them a great insight they had previously missed! “You are too young and inexperienced in scripture and things of this world. You can’t possibly have it right.” Except, of course, when you do.
This is likely a significant part of the problem that Timothy faced as well. Years had not given him enough “gravitas”—or wrinkles—to assure the audience that the teaching was fully credible rather than just fanciful. Paul recommends this be dealt with in the only manner one can: develop a reputation for being an exemplary Christian. That way your audience will be strongly encouraged to judge the validity of what you say by its inherent logical and loyalty to scripture rather than cavalierly dismissing it on the basis of your age. He proceeds to give a list of five areas in which this is to be pursued—six if one follows the Greek text underlying the KJV and NKJV.
Today we add new problems to the “youthful” ones that existed in Paul’s day. Timothy would have dressed, behaved, and looked rather consistent with Paul and those of the apostle’s generation. Today that is not necessarily so. Being younger nowadays can quite possibly involve acting in ways that seem a bit odd to those who are older. It would be quite easy to attribute such actions to the worst possible explanation. For example, I did not understand in my youth the fake poverty style clothing popular among my contemporaries in the 60s and 70s; it remains around among many in 2020, and if anything, is even more exaggerated: Paying good money for “pre-torn clothing?” I still don’t comprehend the rationality of it.
Now we add in this strange compulsion for obvious and visible tattoos. Evil, no. Ill-advised, quite possibly: Like it or not, the person you are ten or twenty years from now will likely vary significantly from what you are now. Will you still want that “endearing” visual tattoo of (fill in the blank) or the one that says (fill in the blank)?
One could easily interpret such things as evidence of “worldliness” or “blindness” and why a preacher’s judgment can’t possibly be taken seriously. Even if he is just as sound—or sounder—in the faith than the critics actually are.
The contemporary man who wishes to be a bridge to Christ has to consider whether he is turning what would otherwise be an idiosyncrasy into a barrier to those who are significantly older. If your visible appearance is taken to reflect the nature of “Christianity,” quite a few will simply not want to be part of it. Not necessarily because of what faith demands, but the “public image” you are presenting of a Christian. Frankly I’m highly pleased I’m not of an age where working out the “right balance” in such matters will be important.
Timothy is to have a lifestyle
worth of imitation by others: “be an
example to the believers” (). The exact wording “be an example”
is kept in four cases (Holman, ISV, WEB,
The apostle wrote in the same warning / encouraging manner to Titus: “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7): “an example” (GW, Holman, ISV, NET), “a model” (ESV). Elders are also instructed to be such (1 Peter 5:3) and Paul held himself up as a role model on the subject: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). “Join in following my example” (Philippians ). “We . . . make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:9) Paul demanded no more of Timothy than he demanded of himself.
How else can a person seriously hope to get others to act in a certain manner if one’s own example is the very opposite? Whether we want to be or not, every Christian is a role model for others. This is even more so for preachers since they are supposed to have a deeper insight into scripture than (most) other members and their “professional job” is to encourage a superior lifestyle.
By actually living that way, he could neutralize their criticism of his youthfulness. “He had walked the walk and talked the talk.” He is not told to teach them to respect him; he is instructed to, by his behavior, give them abundant reason to.
(1) He is to be an
example “in word.” That is, in what he has to say. “Speech” is overwhelmingly the replacement
for “word” in most other translations (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET
There are many applications of this principle. Everything James has to say about control of the tongue—against it being used in a destructive manner—have an obvious application here (James 3:1-12). But so do things that are not so obvious: When is the best time to say something to someone? What are the best arguments to use to back it up? How do you deal with potential objections?
In opposing evil it is much easier to rant than to reason—much easier to scald the hide of the opponent than to try to convince him. God isn’t interested in how much we “roar” against evil. He’s interested in how much we effectively undermine its acceptance by those who are tempted by it.
historical illustration from the field of temporal warfare: “During the war between Alexander the
Great and Darius, king of
(2) He is to be an
example “in conduct.” The only real translation alternative
to “conduct” (with the “in” included [ESV, Holman, NASB, NIV] or with it
This refers to “public life, general behavior, ways of dealing with people. The word covers a multitude of practical matters involving such things as work habits and business dealings as well as morals and leadership.” As recently as forty or fifty years ago there was still the lingering expectation that public leaders in even secular and business matters should be “respectable” and exhibit a positive lifestyle worthy of imitation.
In private things could easily far fall short. There is a fascinating 1977 volume entitled Fishbait: The Memoirs of the Congressional Doorkeeper that will walk you through decades of odd (and often amusing) conduct by members of the House of Representatives. Even where the Congressional bar was hidden during Prohibition!
Now all that seems to be expected is that leaders be “discrete” and what they need to be “discrete” over becomes ever more extreme. Ironically we live in a period when technological advances and quick mass communication make even that increasingly impossible. Do we need even mention a widespread attitude that “it doesn’t really matter”--especially since such an incredibly wide variety of strange and eccentric behaviors are outright glorified? And I don’t necessarily mean merely “sinful,” but seriously weird?
Even so how you act still reveals what you regard as truly important. It separates the “omitable” from the “essential.” It reveals what your priorities are. Lifestyle constitutes an “acted out sermon,” revealing both the similarities with the truth you teach and whether or not there are elements you are willing to omit in everyday life. And if you omit them, why should your Sunday “audience” feel any differently?
(3) He is to be an example “in love.” Whether with or without the “in” included, our sample is unanimous in retaining “love” as the translation. What Paul meant by it is most exhaustively discussed in 1 Corinthians 13.
You may do right because it is Divine law and you, thereby, meet the exact letter of what God demands. That is praiseworthy! But He also wants you to manifest this loyalty through genuine concern for others as well. Full love lifts right behavior into that realm. This demonstrates love to God—it lifts it up from “rhetoric” into “lived joint experience” through it being embraced by others as well.
Jesus Himself taught that these should walk hand-in-hand (Matthew -39). Unfortunately there are those who demand we put love of man above love of God. They are convinced that we aren’t supposed to teach and expect others to avoid the behaviors He clearly condemns in the Scriptures. That, such foolish people insist, actually demonstrates “hatred” of our fellow man. Hate becomes saying “no” to actions and attitudes that the gospel says should be repudiated.
Actually it is exactly the opposite of hate! It is because we love them that we urge them to set their moral life aright. If they don’t, they only face the promise of Divine wrath in eternity. In such a case, to set aside God’s standards would be like knowing the Titanic is sinking but regarding it as too “hurtful” and “alarming” to point the passengers toward the lifeboats.
(4) He is to be an
example “in spirit.” With only one translation of our
sample retaining this (WEB) it is overwhelmingly omitted by all the others
(ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV,
If we include the wording, the idea would likely be that we are to have the right attitude in our actions and behavior. Even preachers don’t always do things for the right reason. Factors of self-promotion, animosity, and being stubborn and muleheaded occur among them just as among everyone else.
The wording reminds me of Jesus’ rebuke of the idea of calling down fire from heaven to destroy a village that would not receive them: “But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of’ ” (Luke ).
(5) He is to be an
example “in faith.” The reference to “faith” (with or
without the “in”) is retained by all our surveyed list
(ESV, GW, Holman, NASB, NIV, WEB,
There would be trials and hardships that would hit Timothy—just as other congregational members—and he would need to behave in the same manner he expected them to. A lot easier to teach “the right way,” than to practice it under pressure, isn’t it?
(6) He is to be an
example in personal character: “purity.” This final
entry about “purity” (again, with or without the “in”) is maintained by our
entire sample of translations (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB,
This is an application of the principle Paul lays down in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . .” What goes into the mind, shapes the mind. No wonder Paul says in the current chapter we are studying: “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy ). He was to consider and reconsider the implications of what Paul had written him. And by allowing the written revelation to guide him, he would be shaped into the kind of personality and mindframe that maximized doing the right thing—whether popular or not.
Such a person follows a firm and consistent positive life pattern. He is not hemming and hawing one way and then another. He attempts his level best to maintain the same moral standards day in and day out. He avoids both conscious hypocrisy and the efforts to remove the demands his faith imposes upon him. He is pure both in regard to sexual behavior and all other parts of life as well.
The requirements necessary to become such a role model (-14): “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. (14) Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” In these verses the apostle argues that for Timothy to be the preacher he should be there are four things he needs to stress: to become well versed in what he teaches and preaches about, to encourage others, to emphasize doctrine, and to further develop the inner “gift” he possesses.
(1) The need to be an informed preacher (4:13a): “Till I come, give attention to reading. . . . ” “Till I come” means that this is not something that can safely be postponed until Paul arrives. Nor is it in any way likely to carry the connotation of “begin what you haven’t been doing previously.” (If that had been the case, surely there would have been some clear and overt censure for his omission!) Rather the idea is to continue in a course he is already following. To do something sporadically is far easier than doing something systematically and on an on-going basis. And it is a human failure all too easy to fall into—even for preachers!
“Give attention to” means he must put an emphasis on. If one seeks an alternative to a translation emphasizing “attention,” the GW suggests “concentrate on” and the ISV “give your full concentration.” The element of commitment to the effort is also emphasized when the wording is shifted to “devote yourself” (ESV, NIV).
“reading” is maintained as the complete text in only two of our comparison
That there would be public reading would be natural since copies of the text were handwritten and expensive. This would be the easiest way for most Christians to have access to it. For a similar reason, public reading of texts was standard procedure in the synagogues.
Even if Timothy did not have the responsibility of safeguarding whatever copies were available for the congregation—see more on this below--it is impossible to believe that whoever did would hesitate to allow him maximum unfettered access outside the congregational meetings. Similarly if there were no congregational copies as such but only copies in the hands of various individuals. Is it likely those folk would say “no” to any request of him for a “loan” of their copy? And if they did have hesitancy, refuse him permission to come to their residence and study it there?
Timothy certainly had his copy of the current epistle and it would stun the imagination if copies were not made for others as well. To this must be added whatever other manuscripts he had, such as some other apostolic texts. Either his own or those of other members of the congregation. Limited in number due to the cost of the material for the scrolls and the need to have someone with good writing ability, one would anticipate at least their limited presence among wealthier members.
We know that copies of these texts were exchanged from an early date, thereby multiplying their availability for additional copying: “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16).
We also know that the available epistles were read publicly in a congregational setting, “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren” (1 Thessalonians ). Indeed it would be impossible to comprehend a congregation receiving a copy of an apostolic text—whether written to them in particular or to a different set of believers—without it being publicly shared. How else were they to know that what was being said was truly the unedited version of what the apostles taught?
Indeed, any effort to avoid reading the texts would be a fertile breeding ground for either fears that “something is being hidden” . . . or as an encouragement of Gnosticism with its fantasy that God would endorse a “secret” teaching available just for the spiritual elite.
same reasoning backs the assumption that any personal copy that a disciple
might have of apostolic correspondence would be happily quoted as proof of
their own teaching. The same is true of
any copy of Old Testament texts that were possessed. Indeed we have the clear implication that Paul
himself had copies of such, though it was not always possible for him to have
them with him: “Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus
What constituted the collection of Paul’s personally owned treasures we have no idea. But he loved his books so much that he missed having them. Which argues that he enjoyed reading and re-reading them. This, in turn, brings us back to where we began: “Till I come, give attention to reading.” However much the Old and New Testament texts would be read publicly, does this not sound like Paul had in mind private reading and meditation?
The congregation would only gather so often. But by having his own collection of spiritual reading matter, he could immerse himself in this as often as he wished. Even on a daily basis. So even though it is true that Timothy would read his texts to the congregation, the apostolic emphasis is actually on Timothy’s personal immersion in all settings public and private.
Furthermore, against the public reading being exclusively in mind is that Paul doesn’t specify what Timothy was to read. That scripture would have top priority is a “given,” but that it would be the only thing on Timothy’s reading agenda seems inherently unlikely—unless we are going to foolishly assume that scripture is the only proper source of our reading and the only source from what we can gain knowledge. (Pre-eminent and the most important knowledge, of course. But, really, the only? I think not.)
I rather like the words of the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon on 2 Timothy 4:13:
We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains—oh! that is the preacher.
How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, . . . and expositions of the Bible. . . . You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.
A congregational setting for the reading? The Greek word here is anagnósis and of the two other times it occurs, it is explicitly used in one text of the public reading of scripture: “after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them” (Acts ). In the other it is commonly interpreted in that manner though there is nothing actually said that requires it to be limited to such a setting: “even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart,” 2 Corinthians 3:15. Are we to really believe that the types of traditionalist Jews Paul is describing had that “veil” of misunderstanding removed when they read the text outside the synagogue? It would remain true whatever place they read it would it not?
The word was used in Greek in a secular setting of the public “reading of wills, petitions, dispatches and reports.” This and Acts surely proves that it includes public reading--but there remains a major gap to proving the assertion that it exclusively means that context. Furthermore do we really believe that rabbis and anyone else who had at least sporadic access to the text limited their reading (and listening) to strictly worship settings?
Although a few have “reading” standing
alone in our text (WEB,
We can verify easy enough—from texts where this expression isn’t used—that there was an overwhelming precedent for the reading of Old Testament passages in the public worship of the Jewish synagogue:
Jesus Himself had participated
in worship as such a reader: “16 So He came to
At the Council of
Paul made the same
assertion: “27 For those who
Paul was invited to speak in the synagogue in Antioch after one such set of readings: “15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on’ ” (Acts 13).
There was nothing inherently wrong with the custom. Since familiarity with the revealed word was obviously desirable and since copies were expensive, worship was a natural setting for the sharing of the word. Furthermore, as we saw above, there was direct apostolic command to read the apostolic texts to the people and it is hard to believe that such readings did not become systematic, as in the synagogue, to remind one and all what had been said and by whom. And, quite likely, serve as the text for the speaker of the day.
There are multiple advantages to the oral presentation of the sacred text on Sunday and other days of joint meeting:
Reading the Scriptures aloud in worship has several advantages. First, it helps the congregation become more acquainted with the content of the Word of God. Second, reading the Bible aloud to God’s people guarantees that they will hear divine truth. Even if the preacher has an off week or inadvertently delivers a mistaken teaching, having the Scriptures read aloud in the service ensures that the Lord’s flock receives God’s truth and can be encouraged to heed it. Third, it is also worth noting that the Scriptures have been designed to be read aloud. During the period in which the Scriptures were written, very few people could read, and even those who could read seldom owned their own copies of any portion of the Bible. They learned the Word of God by hearing it.
Perhaps the greatest benefit text reading has is that it puts the stress on the authority behind whatever theme is to be developed that Sunday. It emphasizes that we are not going to be talking about mere personal opinion.
Although all this is true it is still hard to believe that this alone is what Paul has in mind. Will congregational reading alone be enough for Timothy’s spiritual needs and development? Remember our text is clearly emphasizing what will be of personal value to the man. The amount of public reading will, inherently, be far less than private consideration. You have only “X” amount of time for public reading within a congregation: Five minutes? Ten minutes? Surely not much more.
Yet, assuming you have that text available, in private you can read for an hour at a time. If you are preparing a sermon and want to deal with a certain passage, you can go through the text dozens of times, thinking about the implications and applications that can rightly be made. You can make notes of them for your sermon. (Nor would it be improper, as noted previously, to consult non-inspired resources when they would be useful.)
To what extent Timothy’s sermons envolved inspired preaching we do not know. But if one believes that such a phenomena genuinely existed (as we do), it is still hard to believe that all, or even the majority, was such. Otherwise you were little more than a “recitation machine” for God. Hence I conclude that Timothy usually had to “sweat the text” just as we do, so that we can be sure that we understand it correctly and present it accurately. He would prove his by appealing to texts both he and they regarded as authoritative.
This custom of public reading combined with an application of the texts by the speaker became a hallmark of ancient Christianity. In Justin Martyr’s First Apology (I.67)--written sometime in mid-second century--he preserved an account not just of this but of Christian worship at the time in general. Since many readers are likely to be unacquainted with this source, we include both the part that is of immediate interest but also the remainder of his remarks as well for they provide us with an insight as to how things were as of that date:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
(2) The need to encourage others in what he has
learned (4:13b): “Till I come . . . give
attention to exhortation. . . .”
The vast bulk of versions continue this reading (ESV, Holman,
NASB, NET, WEB,
All of these envolve both “the interpretation and application of the text.” For the Scriptures to be of value we must hear not only the words but their underlying intent—sometimes obvious; sometimes possible only after considerable thought. And then what we’ve learned needs to be personally applied in whatever manner it may be directly relevant to our own life.
The importance of a positive, encouraging element to this can hardly be over emphasized: Life can be hard; in many societies throughout history, life is hard for most people. Even when one is attempting to follow God and do the right thing, words of encouragement are needed. As well as shared insight into how the Divine revelation applies to our own specific changing situation.
It is hard to believe it was mere coincidence that the reading was put first. For it was not Timothy or any other preacher who was the true authority. True authority lay in what was revealed. It was their job to relay that to the audience, to explain it, to apply it. To whatever extent such folk have “authority” it is not in place of the revealed word but as perceptive presenters and explainers of it.
(3) The need to
stress doctrine (4:13c): “Till I come, give attention . . . to doctrine.” Here the unanimous
shift is to “teaching” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, WEB,
Such can even be done in a less formal setting in the context of a church service. On Sunday evenings when the communion is finished, our small congregation becomes a de facto adult Bible study. It wasn’t intended this way; it happened by accident. I was new to the congregation where I now worship and one of the members asked questions several times during services and I followed right along, assuming that was customary. And we kept doing it and others start joining in. It was only years later that I discovered that I was getting the credit for the innovation. I had just assumed I was doing what had always been done!
But this approach certainly has advantages. Just like the morning adult Bible class, it permits immediate listener feedback if anything is unclear or if other applications of the preacher’s point occurs to the listeners. It is no longer passive listening; it is active envolvement by anyone with something to suggest. Just like in the ideal situation in a secular classroom; teacher and students working together for a shared goal of greater insight.
(4) The need to cultivate the internal gift he already had (): “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” There is such a thing as becoming too assured of oneself, too accustomed to easily carry out one task or another. We land up “coasting” rather than “growing.” On a spiritual level, Timothy is urged not to fall into that trap.
not neglect” remains the preferred English reading (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB,
NET, NIV) except for those who make it a more colloquial, “don’t
neglect” (GW, WEB). It does not
necessarily carry the connotation “do not be
We have the modern idiom of “use it or lose it.” Whatever spiritual capacities we may have are much the same: don’t use them and the “edge” falls off the ability to effectively utilize them. To use a car analogy: a brand new sports car gets converted into a Model T. To use an athletic analogy: Once we could easily run a hundred yard dash; now we have trouble getting through the race at all. Of what ongoing usefulness is having crippled capacities that once were in full bloom?
Neglect creates problems in every other area of life. “Neglect always has its attendant consequences: by neglect the roof sinks in; the field overgrows with briars and weeds; the cow breaks out of the pasture; the door is left unlocked, an invitation to the thief.” Why should we expect things to be any different in regard to the spiritual?
“The gift which was given you.” All of our samples retain the “gift” language
though one shifts to “gifts” in the plural (
The gift was the subject of “prophecy” (). The NKJV speaks of it being “by prophecy.” This is continued by the ESV and WEB. There is now also the strong current of it being given “through prophecy” (GW, Holman, ISV, NIV), with the NASB preferring “through prophetic utterance.” (Again, the thought is fleshed out with varying supporting language.)
This sounds like it had been prophesied that he would
receive this gift and the receiving occurred at the time of the laying on of
Although we have an almost instinctive tendency to look upon “prophecy” as meaning foretelling, scripturally it can just as well mean forthtelling--miraculously speaking about God’s will or revelation. For there to be a Divine revelation that he had already received it seems inherently absurd. Hence the likely intent is to explain why the elders had laid their hands on him in the first place: the suggestion or intent to do so had been “confirmed by prophetic words” as to its propriety . . . that they were going to be doing the right and proper thing.
Alternatively, if this is reference to a prophetic message received after the gift: perhaps it was to assuage any remaining doubts or concerns that abided in Timothy’s mind. You may intellectually “know” something; but to emotionally “feel” it as valid may take something additional. In this case Divine revelation.
Another scenario takes these to be “predictive prophecies” about Timothy’s future. The apostle “cites those prophecies as the basis for Paul’s entrusting the order to Timothy” to fight the good fight of faith in .
Both of these options seem significantly weaker than interpreting the language as indicating that the reason hands were laid on him in the first place was due to “prophecy” (= inspired teaching; not the prediction of future events) that had been given. Either the order to do so or the confirmation that the decision to endorse Timothy through the laying on of hands was the right and proper thing to do.
The receipt of the gift is somehow interlocked with the actions of the eldership: “with the laying on of hands of the eldership.” WEB continues that exact reading, shifting only “eldership” to “elders.”
Since this was done by all the elders at the same time, the NASB speaks of “with the laying on of hands by the presbytery,” although that runs the danger of inserting contemporary concepts of “presbytery” (council of elders) back into the first century. Holman is probably better here, leaving it a tad more ambiguous by speaking simply of “the council of elders,” a preference shared by the ESV. The NIV embraces “the body of elders” i.e., the collective group of elders . . . all of them.
The GW marches to its own drummer when it speaks of “when the spiritual leaders placed their hands on you [to ordain you].” Note that the additional words may imply an editorial evaluation of the nature of the “gift”--his being ordained to the ministry.
Another interesting shift is from this being done “with” their laying on of hands (Holman, NASB, WEB) to “when” the elders did this (ESV, GW, ISV, NET, NIV, Weymouth). Both conveying, with different words, that the gift was seemingly received at the same time as the laying on of hands.
Why were hands laid on Timothy at all? Every society has a means of emphasizing the importance and solemnity of an occasion. In courts it is the swearing in of witnesses. When legislation is of special importance, the President typically signs the document on live television in front of witnesses. When something particularly grievous has happened, a governor or the President will stand before the legislative assembly and give a special address on how he or she plans on dealing with what has happened.
The ancient Hebrew world did as well. Bruce Edwards, Jr., rightly points out that the symbolism intended often has to be understood through examples of it being invoked:
In order to understand and appreciate the nature of some of the incidents in the lives of Biblical characters, we must cast ourselves back- into their historical context. Many symbolic gestures and rituals which occur in the Scriptural record are relatively meaningless to us simply because our culture has no such custom (cf. “holy kiss” or “feet-washing”). . . .
A typical means of visually and symbolically stressing the significance of what was being done in Bible days was through the laying on of hands. It was an ancient “acted out” means of conveying to the recipient and all observers that something important was being given, transferred, or authorized. To keep the discussion brief, we’ll note the concise summary of William R. Vincent:
“The custom,” says Lange, “is as old as the race.” The Biblical custom rests on the conception of the hand as the organ of mediation and transference. The priest laid his hand on the head of the bullock or goat (Leviticus 1:4) to show that the guilt of the people was transferred. The hand was laid on the head of a son, to indicate the transmission of the hereditary blessing (Genesis 48:14); upon one appointed to a position of authority, as Joshua (Numbers 27:18-23); upon the sick or dead in token of miraculous power to heal or to restore to life (2 Kings 4:34). So Christ (Mark 6:5; Luke ).
In each of these instances, the particular sacrifice or individual involved was set apart for a honor, duty or responsibility in a “ceremony” which involved the “laying on of hands.” This act symbolized the respective sanctification (setting apart) without any peculiar connotation of the miraculous or special gifts. Indeed these examples establish the fact that the “laying on of hands” has historically often meant something other than the impartation of spiritual gifts.
It also symbolized the acceptance of the task and responsibility by those receiving the blessing. Whether anything more is conveyed or not, can any doubt that a “gift of responsibility”--“gift of receiving a Divine commission for a specific task”--was inherent in what Timothy went through?
What eldership laid their hands on Timothy? Two possibilities
easily come to mind: Either Ephesus or Lystra.
The second option is Lystra, which is commonly assumed to be his birthplace. In Acts 16:2 he is described as “well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.” What more likely place to “commission” him as an on-going preacher—or simply a local preacher—than the place he was attached to by birth and upbringing?
obvious problem is that he is identified with “Lystra
and Iconium,” making either arguable from this
text. When Paul left where he was in
Acts 20:4 we read that, “And Sopater of
This could well be simple verbal variety and nothing more. The NIV clearly believes this was the case for it speaks of “Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also,” but none of the other of our ten comparative translations takes that step.
As to which
city he had hands laid on him by the eldership, I would think
Others find it more appealing to make the eldership event occur at the beginning of his labors with Paul at Lystrra: “acknowledging the prophetic call of Timothy to the work of an evangelist and assistant of Paul.” Jim Jonas goes on to argue that we should seriously hesitate to say Paul gave him a supernatural gift because “there is no record of his ever using it. More likely, Paul refers to the commencement of Timothy’s work with him and the concurrent actions of himself and the elders at Lystra to formally appoint him to the work.” Potentially reinforcing his argument is that we read nothing in 1 Timothy of the young man being given guidelines on usage of any supernatural gift--whatever form it may have taken--in obvious contrast to the speaking in tongues provisions in 1 Corinthians.
What was this gift that was received: something miraculous? Was it at the same time as--or through the agency of--the elders laying their hands on him? If this was a miraculous spiritual gift why do we read of it in connection with the laying on of their hands in particular? We do know that the elders did lay on hands upon occasion. However when miraculous gifts are given—and clearly identified or required to be such by the context—that is always done by direct miraculous action of the Holy Spirit . . . or through the Spirit acting through the intermediary means of apostolic action.
Wayne Jackson provides an effective and concise summary of what Paul seems to have in mind:
The New Testament teaches that spiritual (miraculous) gifts were received in the first century in only two ways:
1. Holy Spirit baptism — which came upon the apostles (Acts
2) and upon the household of Cornelius (Acts 10).
2. By the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts ; 19:6).
Some allege, however, that 1 Timothy broadens the method of gift reception. The claim is made that this passage shows that supernatural gifts could be received from a “presbytery,” i.e., an eldership. Does it? Actually it does not. The facts are these:
1. Paul states that Timothy possessed a gift.
2. The gift was given “by prophecy,” i.e., its bestowal was accompanied by prophecy.
3. The event occurred at the same time the young evangelist was appointed to a ministry by an eldership. It was “with [meta] the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” A.T. Robertson observes that meta “does not express instrument or means, but merely accompaniment” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol.IV, p. 581). Timothy’s miraculous gift actually came “through [dia] the laying on of [Paul’s] hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).
The responsibility assigned Timothy through the laying on of hands of the elders might well be considered a kind of “gift”—a “gift” of specific responsibility and obligation. The specific “gift” Paul gave may well have been given upon the same occasion. But it was not “gifted” through what the elders did but through his own laying hands, thereby providing a miraculous gift of an unidentified nature. If you wish, two gifts upon the same occasion—one a “gift” of duty and one a miraculous gift . . . but with Paul choosing to remind Timothy of the importance of the latter in particular.
William J. McRae has argued along the same line as Wayne Jackson that the actual terms used to refer to the apostolic and presbyterial laying on of hands establishes that two distinctly different actions and functions were carried out:
The prepositions used in these two verses are critical to the interpreter. Timothy’s gift was “through” the instrumentality of prophecy (1 Timothy ), that is, direct revelation, and “through” the instrumentality of the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Timothy 1:6). Here are the two instruments then. God directly revealed to Paul what Timothy’s role was to be. . . . Through the laying on of hands, Timothy received his gift and with it an authority derived from the apostle.
In 1 Timothy it was “with the laying on of the hands by the presbytery.” This preposition merely implies association, not instrumentality. The prophecy to Paul that Timothy should have a certain gift was followed by Paul’s laying his hands on Timothy to bestow that gift on him. This gift was then recognized by the elders who were associated with Paul in this matter.
Ben Witherington III appeals directly to the Greek to make that last point as well, “The preposition here is meta, not dia, and should be translated ‘with,’ referring to an accompanying action: the human recognition by church leaders that God had done something in Timothy’s life.”
The relationship of Paul to the receiving of Timothy’s gift has been approached in two diametrically different manners. One approach is to blend Paul into the group of elders who gave the gift by the laying on of hands--as a distinct member of it: “A presbytery is a gathering of elders who are called by God for this purpose. . . . Paul was part of the presbytery that prayed and prophesied over Timothy, imparting spiritual gifts to equip him for his ministry.”
The initial problem here is that scripturally we know that the Holy Spirit could act either directly and independently (in regard to speaking foreign languages) or through the apostles for a broad range of spiritual gifts. We have no evidence that the presbytery of any congregation had such an ability. Even a greater problem is that Paul was not and could not be a member of the presbytery: In chapter three of this very book Paul specifies that an elder had to be married and Paul wasn’t. By his own list of qualifications he could not serve as part of the presbytery!
One could attempt to get around this by arguing that Paul independently and upon the same occasion also laid his hands on Timothy. There would certainly be no scriptural problem with that. One could also argue that Paul independently joined in with the commissioning of Timothy—not as an elder but as an apostle and respected Christian. In neither case was he part of the presbytery, however.
In contrast, others leave out any role of Paul in what was happening and shift the mechanism to a direct action by the Holy Spirit Himself at the time of the presbytery’s laying on of hands: “Regarding the ‘laying on of hands,’ again, Timothy was ordained in the usual way for the apostolic age, and, at that ordination, the Spirit conferred upon him new gifts.”
The problem here is that when we find the Spirit acting directly (Acts 2 and 10) it was only to provide the gift to speak in tongues—contextually, languages otherwise unknown to the speakers. (Acts 2 is specially emphatic on this point: “7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?’ ”) In regard to Timothy, there is no evidence that he had this particular gift of the Spirit.
Either of these approaches faces a further potentially fundamental roadblock: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership” (). There is absolutely nothing in the verse that says Paul laid his hands on Timothy at the time the eldership did. It has to be (a) assumed that Paul did so and (b) that he did so either as an elder or at the same time as the elders. Leaving the text as is, it sounds like the apostle is actually emphasizing something that happened separate from Paul’s own actions. It is as if to say: “Independent of any relationship you have with me, the eldership also endorsed and confirmed you to minister for Jesus Christ.”
The best “proof” that Paul laid his hands on Timothy at the same time as the elders is found in 2 Timothy 1:6, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” No mention or hint is made, however, that this was in conjunction with anything elders did. Paul speaks of what elders did (1 Timothy 4) and what he himself did (2 Timothy 1) but does not provide any conclusive indication that these were done simultaneously. A reasonable scenario can be constructed for either case.
One can easily imagine, for example, that Paul provided one or more gifts of the Spirit on Timothy via laying on of hands and afterwards the elders formally appointed him to the task of ministry or, more likely, to a specific ministerial task--as Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned for one by inspired prophets in Acts 13:1-5 and in both cases it envolved the laying on of hands.
But even then we are really talking about two quite distinct actions in terms of origin, who does it, and purpose. They coincide (at the most) with the time when they were (simultaneously?) done, but nothing else. So long as one does not insist that Paul was part of the “eldership,” there is nothing objectionable in this reconstruction.
Before leaving our topic, it should be again noted that a powerful case is made that the underlying Greek requires that what Paul was giving was separate, distinct, and different from what the elders were doing in their laying on of hands. We have mentioned this briefly but it might well be good to go into greater detail: Dave Miller writes (and documents through the parenthetical inclusion of Greek lexicons and Greek specialists):
In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul plainly declared that the “gift of God” which Timothy possessed was conferred “through the laying on of my hands.” How does one harmonize 1 Timothy 4:14 with 2 Timothy 1:6? Was Timothy’s miraculous ability conferred upon him by Paul, by the eldership, or by both?
The grammar of the text provides the answer. In 2 Timothy 1:6, where Paul claimed sole credit for imparting the gift to Timothy, the Holy Spirit employed the Greek preposition dia with the genitive, which means “through” or “by means of” (Machen, 1923, p. 41; Dana and Mantey, 1927, p. 101).
However, in 1 Timothy , where Paul included the eldership in the action of impartation, he employed a completely different Greek preposition--meta. The root meaning of meta is “in the midst of” (Dana and Mantey, p. 107). It denotes “the attendant circumstance of something that takes place”--the “accompanying phenomena” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, pp. 510-511, emphasis added. It means “in association with” or “accompanied by” (Moule, 1959, p. 61; Thayer, 1901, p. 404; cf. Robertson, 1934, p. 611).
In other words, Paul--as an apostle--imparted the miraculous gift to Timothy. It came from God through Paul. . . . Consequently, 1 Timothy 4:14 provides no proof that miraculous capability could be received through other means in addition to apostolic imposition of hands and the two clear instances of Holy Spirit baptism.
What then was this gift: non-miraculous? A distinct and realistic possibility is that it was the gift of a special responsibility or charge, labeled a “gift” because Timothy in particular had it--it was not one being shared or given to others at the same time. In contrast we read of the gift/responsibility of a specific preaching task/mission being symbolically bestowed on two individuals simultaneously in the same manner:
1 Now in the
church that was at
of the revelation of the Holy Spirit (verse 4), the prophets and teachers sent
them out on this specific teaching and preaching effort. At the conclusion of the mission we read that
“they sailed to
Regardless of whether this is an example of inspired elders doing so or not, it is certainly evidence that a preaching task might be given by revelation and those envolved as key players in the task publicly confirmed in the role by the laying on of hands. No mention is made of a spiritual gift being provided. The role of the Holy Spirit is identified (verse 4) not as a gift of the Spirit being given thru their hands, but by the fact that it was the Holy Spirit who instructed/motivated them to send out these teachers.
We have a
similar case in Acts 6 and the appointment of “deacons” in
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5 And the saying pleased the whole
multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man
full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus,
Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from
There has been much discussion of whether these are truly “deacons.” That there is a distinct difference between these men and those discussed in 1 Timothy 3 can rightly be argued from the far more detailed requirements set forth in the Pauline epistle. There the responsibilities are left open-ended, presumably to be fulfilled according to the varying individual needs of the specific congregation.
Here the duties are mission specific: handling the “daily distribution” of food. In other words, hands are laid upon them to formally endorse and specify them as the agents for a specific purpose and that alone. The laying on of hands is, again, job/mission specific rather than position specific.
Although the sense of the “gift” being synonymous with being given (= gifted with) the assignment would certainly fit in both these cases from Acts, it still seems far better to identify what happened in 4:14 as a case when the elders laid hands on Timothy; Paul, during the same event, laid his own hands on Timothy and passed on a miraculous gift of some type.
Was the “gift” that of eldership? Robert J. Karris is convinced that this verse establishes the right of the young to be designated to the church office of elder:
Through the person of Timothy the author asks his communities to consider young men for leadership posts. . . . By “young man” the author probably means someone between thirty and forty years of age. Verse 14 points out the innovative character of this lowering of the age requirement for a church leader, especially if we follow another possible way of translating that verse, namely, ‘‘when hands were laid upon you to make you an elder.” An “elder” is no longer the leader who is elder in age; an “elder” can be a young man.
Karris’ closing sentence would seemingly make previous elders into a strictly chronological position (“no longer the leader who is elder in age”) . . . they had previously been gaining the post strictly because of how old they were. (Or, at the least, it was the pivotal factor.) Now it no longer matters. No, a person becomes an elder in authority because he has met the prerequisite qualifications and has been appointed and accepted as such. The text has nothing to do with redefining the meaning of the term.
There is a profound difference between a person being “a church leader”—a vague expression that can encompass a variety of de facto responsibilities—and that of being a church “elder” in particular. That is a particular post with the qualifications Paul had laid out in the preceding chapter.
If that was in his mind, why didn’t Paul come out and make the allusion specific: “Do not neglect what comes with your being appointed an elder”? Indeed Karris is convinced that a “possible way of translating that verse” explicitly says the laying on of hands was to “make you an elder.” I have just scanned through literally dozens of alternate translations and none of them do that. Does that not suggest “possible” really means “barely possible” at the best? In addition, would we not anticipate a reference in chapter 3, “Those who wish to be an elder as you are should meet these qualifications” . . . and then given the list of qualifications that begin that chapter?
The closest I can find to what Karris wants is in the God’s Word translation: “Don't neglect the gift which you received through prophecy when the spiritual leaders placed their hands on you to ordain you” and even there the final words are marked as an interpretive addition by the translation through the use of half-brackets.
And there is no reason, even if you accept, the speculative propriety of the addition to assume that it was ordination to the post of elder in particular. In 1 Timothy 3 we read of deacons; wouldn’t that appointment also envolve something that could well be called an “ordaining?” Or to that of minister for that matter.
In the print edition of GW that I have used for many years it provides the possible alternative translations of only the first and last of these: “Or ‘pastors,’ or ‘elders.’ ” (Although we in the church of Christ don’t like “pastors” as a synonym for preachers virtually everyone else in the religious world uses it that way and it is surely their intent.) It should be stressed that these are their alternative translations of what their half-brackets indicate is an interpretive addition in the first place!
Finally, if Timothy was in the 30-40 age span—especially toward the higher number—would he not have had plenty of time to get married and successfully raise children? In other words, to meet the qualifications given in chapter 3 for an elder? In short he was already in the right age span to qualify for the post. Hence the text can not possibly mean that the age to be an elder was now drastically reduced from what it had previously been . . . assuming the text has anything to do with being an elder in the first place.
The rewards of acting in the way Paul has just described (-16): “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. (16) Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
These tasks are to be carried out whole-heartedly so that his spiritual advancement will be obvious to everyone (): “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” “Do not neglect the gift that is in you” () presents the point from a negative standpoint; here it is done from a positive one.
Comparative translations: The instruction to “meditate on these things” This roughly means, as in the ISV, “think on these things.” The Greek word can carry both the ideas of “meditate” and “(make a pattern of) thinking on these things.” However it can easily also carry considerably more conceptual freight along with that: “It was used frequently by Greek writers of that period in the sense of ‘practice, cultivate, take pains with’ . . . .” “Keep on practicing these things” in the words of Robertson’s Word Pictures. Schaff’s Popular Commentary on the New Testament argues that it means “literally, live, be, exist in them.”
When the instruction is immediately followed by “give yourself entirely to them,” Paul certainly doesn’t have just book study and analysis in mind, the mental “hashing and rehashing” of what is said into “what does this mean for me.” That is good as far as it goes and is certainly praiseworthy in its own right.
more than just this is in mind. It
includes the more expansive meaning of “practice these things” (ESV,
GW, Holman) or better yet “habitually practice these duties” (
This was not a new principle. Centuries before the Psalmist made the connection between study and its lived out results: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalms 1:1-2).
The persistence element in the instruction is stressed by the NIV and WEB when they speak of the need to “be diligent” in regard to them. Although the NASB and NET are correct that this involves the need to “take pains with these things,” “diligent” would seem to convey the intent better.
The point is not to let these matters remain mere matters of just “brain knowledge.” Instead they are to shape actual behavior and attitudes.
The commitment is supposed to be total: “give yourself entirely to them.” The NIV and WEB retain this, with the substitution of “wholly” for “entirely.” The ESV conveys the idea of complete dedication by speaking of how they should “immerse yourself in them.”
your life to them” (GW, ISV) marginally moves away from that image while “be
absorbed in them” (NASB, NET,
Implicit in the admonition is a rejection of “pick and choose” theology: “I’ll be really strong on these points, but these others I can safely set aside and ignore.” The commitment to the faith of Christ was intended to be a “package deal”—commitment to all or to none. Partial commitment might, indeed, make you feel better but it’s rather like taking confidence in the fact that you “believe” in Christ while you ignore the personal implications of the “repentance” taught and demanded by the same Christ. It’s a theoretical faith rather than a truly functional one.
No one is all they can be overnight. Insight and growth take time. But the sincerity and depth of your commitment will alter you one step at a time. So far as others go, your improvements should prove that Christianity can, indeed, work such a transformation. It provides a living text, so to speak, to show it can be done.
Hence Paul’s desire “that your progress may be evident to all.” The NASB substitutes “will be” for “may be” and retains this order of words. WEB retains it with the single difference of substituting “revealed” for evident.”
substitution is to restructure the order of the words: “so that everyone will [or may or can] see your progress” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NET, NIV).
Even there Paul is certainly not encouraging a “show off” mentality—“Look at how great I am now!” Instead he wants Timothy to spiritually advance not only because it is good for the man himself, but also because he encourages others to do so as well. Teaching others “how they should live” is best supported by a life that demonstrates it in personal practice.
By paying attention to both personal behavior and doctrine, salvation will occur for both himself and his audience (): “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
Faithfulness to God envolves
not just how we live but also what we believe. Hence Timothy needed to “take heed . . . to
the doctrine” as well as to his own life. Only one translation keeps “doctrine” (NIV),
everyone else preferring to substitute “teaching” (ESV, GW, Holman, ISV, NASB,
Julius Soyinka rightly stresses that the admonition involves four things: “(1) a knowledge in the doctrine; (2) a loyalty to the doctrine; (3) a zeal for the doctrine; and (4) a faithful proclamation of the doctrine.”
He goes on to stress how Paul’s injunction also envolves more than just these “intellectual” requirements. It does no good if one gets the doctrine “letter perfect” and your teaching crystal clear, but ruins one’s own character. In a similar way it does no good if one is an exemplar of every moral virtue, but in your teaching set aside what God has revealed. It is very easy for us to define success in life in terms of one narrow aspect of it in which we excel. Paul’s plea is that Timothy not fall into this kind of trap
“Continue in them:” “Literally, ‘abide by them,’ ‘cling to them.’ ” “ ‘Stay by them,’ ‘stick to them,’ ‘see them through,’ ” is the practical definition of Robertson’s Word Pictures. In other words never abandon them--even temporarily. This is a rock solid principle you must ever embrace in order to assure your own salvation and that of those you work among.
attention to personal life and integrity of teaching is not to be a kind of
“annual checkup;” it is to be ongoing, “continue in them” “Persevere” is a typical and dominant
substitution (Holman, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV,
What this envolves: A preacher’s job heavily stresses the spiritual well being of others. In a limited and constructive sense he is, by occupation, “a professional busy body.” He is to point out what is sin, some of which will be done simply as part of his broad preaching and teaching range of topics and, in some cases, because of specific problems known within the local congregation. In doing this it is easy to fall into the trap of being so interested in helping others—and all criticism should be firmly rooted in that goal—that one allows one’s own life to slide. In the final analysis everything we preach to others should also be preaching to ourselves as well. We need to remember the same lessons and moral principles.
Hence it comes as no surprise that Paul implores Timothy to “take heed to yourself.” That means to “pay attention” (WEB) and even “close attention” (Holman, ISV, NASB). “Watch your life . . . closely” (NIV) describes what happens as well as “keep a close watch on yourself” (ESV). “Be on your guard as to yourself” (Weymouth) is a substitution that reminds us that the purpose of this is not just to know whether we have done the wrong thing, but to protect ourselves from doing so in the first place.
Using less obvious rhetoric to convey Paul’s point, NET speaks of how Timothy should “be conscientious about how you live.” Take it seriously. Regard it as of major importance. GW tries to convey this image by speaking of how Timothy should “focus on your life.” Behavior is as important as doctrine to the salvation of the soul of the preacher. God is no more going to tolerate idiocy on our part than on that of any other church member.
And who wishes to fuel His anger because we have caused a needless stumbling block that causes others to fall away? “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him” (1 John ). Even when we are doing the right thing, we need to be cautious lest we cause someone else to imitate us in doing something that to them is improper, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). Hence Timothy’s clear obligation to “take heed to yourself.”
There is a reward that comes from this style of behavior:
“in doing this you will save both
yourself and those who hear you.”
Note that the result hinges upon successfully following the agenda Paul
has laid out: “In doing this” salvation
is made possible (language maintained by WEB); it is “because” of these
behaviors (ISV, NET, NIV). It is “by”
these actions that it occurs (ESV, Holman,
here the importance of Timothy’s teaching.
It is not merely a matter of academic or scholarly interest: it can save both his own soul as well as
“those who hear you” (GW, WEB; without the “you,” NASB); “your hearers” (ESV,
“Those who listen to you” (ISV, NET) perhaps carries an extra stress on not only hearing but also heeding what is said. Of course this is implicit in the very demand for “hearing” in the first place. Paul himself had stressed that “for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans ). Likewise James had cautioned, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Not to mention Jesus’ own warning that “if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
In the short term this “salvation” would be from the influence of false teaching and teachers they have been warned against. In the long term, the teaching would prepare them for facing the Divine judgment and, by adhering to it, to be living by the standards required for salvation.
To use a rough human analogy: Jesus is the car or vehicle that takes us to heaven, but preachers are the earthly intermediaries who put the gas in the tank. At least when they are doing their job right, they are providing the admonition and encouragement that motivate us to do the right thing on an ongoing, rather than sporadic basis. They help make possible our salvation by making sure we have the right “spiritual fuel” to get us to our heavenly destination.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 42.
 Robert J. Karris, Pastoral, 86.
 Stuart Allen, Pastoral Epistles, 288.
 Amanda Ruggeri, “Do We
Really Live Longer Than Our Ancestors?,” part of the BBC
Future website, at:
 Edward Feinstein, “The Wisdom of Jewish Adulthood,” part of the Valley Beth Shalom website, at: https://www.vbs.org/worship/meet-our-clergy/rabbi-ed-feinstein/sermons/wisdom-jewish-adulthood. (Written: 2004; accessed: January 2020.)
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.22.5; Book 2 part of the Early Christian Writings website, at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/irenaeus.html. (Accessed: October 2016.)
 Stephen Katz, “The Messianic Bar Mitzvah,” Part of the Jews for Jesus website, at: https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/havurah/mm96-02/barmitzvah. (Accessed: October 2016.)
 J. H. Bernard, on . (Internet edition.)
 Theopulos, “Paul and Timothy,” at: https://www.fuller.edu/next-faithful-step/resources/paul-and-timothy/. (Posted: 2019; accessed: January 2020.)
 Warren E. Berkley, “Paul’s Counsel for Timothy & All Evangelists Or—Earning Respect the Biblical Way (1 Timothy -16),” part of the Expository Files website, at: http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-1-timothy-4-12-16(2).htm. (Accessed: November 2016.)
 George Barrow, editor, 1-2 Timothy, unidentified author on .
 Reese, 182-183 as quoted by Mark Dunagan, internet edition.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 43.
 Charles Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books,” Sermon 542, preached November 29, 1863, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, part of the Spurgeon Archive website, at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0542.htm. (Accessed: March, 2015).
 John Stott, Guard, 121.
 [Unidentified Author], “Reading Scripture in Worship,” from Tabletalk Magazine, at: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/reading-scripture-worship/. (Accessed: February 2020.)
 Justin Martyr, “First Apology.”
 Robert G. Bratcher, 43.
 Jim McDonald, “Neglect Not the Gift,” at: http://lawofliberty.com/study%20aids/new%20testament%20studies/Resources/28-neglectnotthegift.pdf. (Accessed: January 2016.)
 Gundry, Testament, 834.
 Bruce Edwards, Jr., “Spiritual
Gifts (VI): The Laying on of Hands,” Truth
 Vincent, Word Studies, internet edition on 4:14.
 Derek Prince, Foundational Truths for Christian Living, Revised Edition ([n.p.]: Chrisma Media, 2006), 355.
 Jim Jonas, Jim, “The Laying On of
Hands (Part 1),” from the Centreville Journal of
 Wayne Jackson,
 William J. McRae, The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1983), at: Google Books. (Accessed: January 2016.)
 Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 259.
 Petros B. Scientia, “1 Timothy : Your Ministry and Gifts of the Spirit Are Given by the Laying on of Hands of the Presbytery,” at: http://www.seekfind.net/1Timothy414GiftsOfTheSpiritAreGivenByTheLayingOnOfHandsOfThePresbytery.html#.VpAgfE9Nl-8. (Accessed: January 2016.)
 Robin A. Brace, “Can You Explain 1 Timothy ?,” at: http://www.ukapologetics.net/07/timsgifts.htm. (Dated: 2007; accessed: January 2016.)
 Dave Miller, “Laying On of Hands,” part of the Apologetics Press website, at: https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=3782. (Posted: 2011; accessed: February 2020.)
 Robert J. Karris, Pastoral, 86.
 At: https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/1%20Timothy%204:14. This includes 59 translations. Coming in by their primary entry, you can ask for a specific verse and a note at the bottom will allow you to call up a comparison list of all those they have in their memory bank.
 At: https://biblehub.com/1_timothy/4-14.htm but not in the listing at the previous multi-translation site just mentioned.
 Robert G. Bratcher, 44.
 Ralph Earle, 375.
 Internet edition.
 Internet edition.
 Julius Soyinka, “Take Heed Unto Yourself and the Doctrine,” aAt: https://sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/122293-take-heed-unto-yourself-and-the-doctrine-%22take. (Accessed: February 2020.)
 Internet edition.