1 Timothy 1

1 This is the first of three pastoral letters that Paul wrote towards the end of his life (63-66 AD). While this letter does not fit within the chronology of Acts, tradition holds that Paul was released after his imprisonment recorded at the end of Acts, and it was during a brief period of freedom that he wrote this letter and the one to Titus. Understanding that the end of his life was near, he wrote this letter to Timothy to advise him about developing structure within the church and combating false teachings.

Paul introduced himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The word "apostle" here indicates that he had both seen the risen Christ and was commanded by Him and God to preach the Gospel. It also emphasizes his authority in the matters to be discussed in this letter, implying that the Church is to accept and obey his words.

Paul designates God as "Savior" here, drawing from the Old Testament expression of devotion (e.g., Isa 12:2), because He made the plan of salvation possible. Jesus carried out that plan, and subsequently faith in Him became mankind's only hope for escaping the certain doom that exists because of our naturally separated state from God that has existed since the Fall.

2 Timothy was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish woman named Eunice. Paul was on his second missionary journey when he met Timothy in Lystra. It is not clear whether Timothy became a Christian in response to Paul's message or he was already a disciple when they met. The wording of this verse can be interpreted as the former while the sense of Acts 16:1-3 is that Timothy was already a Christian with a good reputation when he and Paul first met. Paul had been to Lystra before (Acts 14:5-20), at which time it is likely that Lois, his grandmother, and Eunice had become Christians. These women may have lead Timothy to Christ, or Timothy may have believed at the same time, but he had not met with Paul at that time. In any event, it was during their travels together that Paul became like a spiritual father to Timothy. Some have suggested that Paul may have ordained Timothy, and thus become his "spiritual father." Still others suggest that since Paul had no children of his own, he essentially adopted Timothy.

As is typical of Paul's letters, he wished Timothy grace, mercy, and peace. The purest and most enduring forms of these spiritual blessings can only come from God and His Son as we allow them to be Father and Lord of our lives. Grace is God's unmerited favor in which He gives us mercy through faith by forgiving our sins. This results in peace, knowing that we have the assurance of God's blessings and hope for a wonderful eternal life with Him.

3 It appears that Paul was likely in Macedonia when he wrote this letter. He left Timothy, whom he often assigned to critical missions, with instructions to stop some of the congregation members in Ephesus from preaching "strange" doctrines. Paul may have felt that his verbal instructions were too vague, so he begins his letter with examples of the kinds of topics and beliefs that hinder one's growth as a Christian. In Acts 20:29-30, Paul predicted that false doctrines would arise in the Ephesian church, and it appears that his fears quickly became true. This verse may be interpreted that Paul went to Ephesus after his release from Roman imprisonment and then continued on to Macedonia. If this is the case, then either Paul did not have the time to deal with the problems in Ephesus, or he dealt with them briefly and left Timothy there to make sure his instructions were followed. However, it might have also been the case that Timothy was residing in Ephesus but had traveled to another location to meet with Paul who was departing from there to Macedonia. If this were the scenario, then it may make more sense why Paul did not directly address the problems in Ephesus and instead used a letter to detail his instructions in these matters.
4 We do not know the exact nature of the myths that Paul refers to here, but it is well known in the literature that both the Jews and Greeks made up legends, sometimes mixing truth in with fiction, to try to illustrate certain points or philosophies. In addition, the Jews in particular adhered closely to a number of traditional superstitions. Paul saw the addition of such fables as dangerous to the teaching of the Gospel, in that they dilute the truth and confuse those who might get a different sense of what is important depending on which person or group they talked with. The teachings of Jesus stand on their own, and are sufficient to explain God's plan of salvation.

The endless genealogies were undoubtedly of Jewish influence. As is illustrated in both the Old and New Testaments, it was important for the Jews to keep track of their lineage, and at the very least know what tribe of Israel they came from. The most important lineages belonged to the Aaronic priesthood and the royal line of David. However, such genealogies are meaningless to the ordinary Christian, especially Gentiles. It is clear that Israeli lineage will be important in the events of Revelation, but it makes little difference in the Church age, and Paul specifically points out that Jews need to be saved by faith in Christ just as much as Gentiles (Rom 3:9). He also points out that God adopts all who believe in Him, and we can all look forward to a wonderful eternal life with Him regardless of one's earthly genealogy (Eph 3:6). John the Baptist also pointed out that lineages do not save people (Luke 3:8). Jews might boast that they come from the favored people of God and alienate Gentile believers, or they might compare among themselves who came from "better" lines and cause contention with one another. Such posturing ruins harmony in a church and serves no good purpose in furthering the kingdom of God.

Another thing that Paul may be referring to was the destruction of the official genealogies that were kept in the Temple by Herod the Great. He apparently ordered them to be burned, most likely in an attempt to quell Jewish objections to his ruling over them, since he was a half-Jew. This was a devastating blow to the Jews, who then had to attempt to reconstruct the lineages from memory. Such a task undoubtedly caused uncertainty, contradictions, and confusions. If they brought this process into the Church, it would at the least distract people from what was important, and at worst would cause arguments that could break the church apart.

5 In contrast to those who would needlessly stir up trouble, a good Christian minister is concerned about loving others without ulterior motives, having a clear conscious, and living in a manner consistent with the Gospel. Indeed, integrity and selflessness should be hallmarks of all Christians.
6 However, there were some leaders in the Ephesian church who had "missed the mark" they were supposed to be aiming at. Turning away from the basics of Christian faith, they ignored their consciences and become more concerned about themselves than others. They were eager to discuss their ideas, but their discourses made no sense. For instance, by overemphasizing the Law of Moses, these teachers were essentially taking "Christ" out of "Christianity." The same kind of thing still happens in modern churches. For instance, some pastors will dismiss anywhere from some to the entire Bible, and yet, this is the only document upon which Christianity is based. It is nonsensical to claim to hold to a certain faith but reject the writings on which it is founded. In this section, Paul is referring to those who have rejected "salvation by faith" and replaced it with legalism while knowing that the latter has already proven ineffective for spiritual insight and growth.
7 Paul, having been trained as a Rabbi as well as instruction from the Holy Spirit, had the background necessary to determine if someone was teaching the Scriptures incorrectly. Being a teacher of the Law was a high honor in Jewish society, but these men that Paul was speaking of were "wannabes," knowing just enough about the Law of Moses to be dangerous. It is likely that these people merely parroted phrases they had heard in synagogue without any understanding of what the words meant. Rabbis were held in high esteem for being able to think through difficult problems, but it is likely these men were using faulty logic when coming to their own grand conclusions. They were incapable of teaching about these things correctly, but their egos drove them to speak confidently about the flawed conclusions they had drawn. Such discourses undoubtedly sounded impressive to both Jew and Gentile who were not familiar with the details of Jewish teachings and traditions or the ways of God, but Paul was obviously displeased that these people were being allowed, under the guise of Christianity, to dupe truth-seekers into believing in a theology that could not save them.
8 The Law of Moses has its proper place in Christianity, but one must be careful how he uses it. Properly applied, Christians derive several benefits from it, but when it is abused, people can be spiritual damaged. Paul honored the Law (Rom 7:12), but he held Christ's work of salvation with the highest reverence (Rom 8:3-4). As he explains in Romans, the Law is good, but human nature makes it impossible to follow precisely, and thus one cannot become righteous in God's eyes by his own effort. Jesus became our salvation by taking the responsibility of following the Law perfectly away from us. Now, we are saved by faith in Him, even though we are still incapable of complete obedience to the Law.

The crux of the matter is that both moral and ceremonial laws were written to restrain wicked people and protect society. In contrast, the righteous person always tries to do what is right, and therefore the Law is not against them. The ways these teachers were using the Law was to "enslave" those who did not need it. The Law still applies to Christians, but Jesus has fulfilled them completely for us.

Paul gives several examples of the kinds of evil the Law is meant to restrain. These cover the first 9 of the 10 commandments (Exo 20:3-16), and a few additional ones given at the same time.

  • Lawless - Those who have no moral constraints. They do not care if their actions harm others.
  • Rebels - Those who do not recognize civil authorities. Anarchists can be dangerous to society, and threatens to destroy civilizations from the inside out.
  • Ungodly - In general terms, those who know and love God are far less likely to cause problems in society than those who either do not believe in Him, or those who have incorrect religious beliefs. The concern about Atheism rising in societies is that people tend to see themselves as the dictators of morals and actions rather than God. Given our fallen nature, this tends to make people act as lawless and rebellious, as described above.
  • Sinners - This is the general word for sin - "to miss the mark." Those who know what is right, but do not do it.
  • Unholy - Those contaminated by sin and wickedness.
  • Profane - The Greek word means "to walk away from the threshold." The English word means "far from the temple." The idea is that these are people who stayed away from the Temple either because they were spiritually unfit to go there or because they despised and mocked the worship of God.
  • Patricide, Matricide - Those who would beat or murder their own parents. In most ancient civilizations there were no laws prescribing punishment for this crime because it was thought to be so heinous that no one would ever do such a thing.
  • murderers - Those who intentionally kill a human being without a legal order to do so.
  • Immoral men - The Greek word used here, "pornos," is the masculine version of the word meaning to sell sex. It is often translated as "male prostitute," but in the New Testament is used as a more general word for sexual immorality. Many translate this word as "whoremongers," that is, one who frequents prostitutes.
  • Perverts - This verse tends to cause a lot of controversy because this Greek word, "arsenokoites," is interpreted as "homosexuals" by some Bible translators. The literal translation is "man-bed" or "man-sex." It is a rare word that Paul may have used to allude to Lev 20:13 in the official Jewish translation of the Hebrew to Greek (the Septuagint), which has the two parts of this word juxtapositioned. Some note that because of the prominence of homosexuality in Greek society, Paul could have used many other words that were more commonly used to refer to homosexuals. The word's use in ancient Greek is difficult to determine since, as here, it was used most often in lists of sins. It is clear that the word refers to sexual exploitation, but it does not appear to be exclusively homosexual.
  • Kidnappers - This list consists of pairs of related words, except for this one that appears unpaired. The fact that some translations render this as "slave traders" gives a clue to the larger meaning of the Greek word used here. In ancient times, children were kidnapped with some frequency and were sold as slaves into brothels. Some have thus grouped this word with the previous two, indicating that it condemns prostitutes, those who use prostitutes, and those who make people become prostitutes. Exo 21:16 covers this in general terms while Deu 24:7 speaks specifically about Israelites committing similar crimes against one another.
  • Liars - Those who know the truth, but deliberately say things contrary to it, or who speak in a way that misleads people to believing something else.
  • Perjurers - Literally, "against an oath," meaning that a person has left undone something he promised to do, or speaks a lie when he has sworn to speak the truth.
  • Whatever Else - Indicating that this list is not complete. The 10th commandment concerning greed, for example, is a little more complicated to sum up in a single word. Throughout the books of Exodus and Leviticus, several other laws are listed that are meant to restrain evil people from harming others. Paul, however, wants to indict more than the overt acts of sin. The teachings of these "rabbi wannabes" were contrary to sound teachings as much as committing any of the sins listed here. The Law should be used to combat physical acts of sin as well as spiritually harmful teachings.
11 Sound teaching is that which agrees with the Gospel God had entrusted Paul to preach. While the Gospel of mercy and love supercedes the Law of sin and punishment, the Law is still useful for illustrating what Christian behaviors should be like. Yet, the balance is difficult to achieve. Too far one way and one is practicing a legalism without faith, which cannot save them. Diametrically opposed to this is "irresponsible freedom" which can, in reality, be blasphemous, bring spiritual harm to others, and sully Christianity in the eyes of the world. Sound teaching involves encouraging others to avoid sin by following the spirit of the Law while recognizing that we are already saved because of our faith in what Christ has done for us. This includes recognizing that some regulations in the Law no longer apply to Christians, while others are universal. Knowing the difference takes both faith and discernment.
12 The mere mention of the Gospel in the previous verse seems to cause Paul to digress into a powerful rhapsody of thanks. Jesus had foreseen that, once converted, Paul would be faithful to Him and the mission to preach the Gospel. He empowered Paul with the knowledge and strength necessary to carry out this ministry, and assigned this great responsibility to him.
13 Paul does not pretend to have been fit for service all his life. In many of his writings he recounts how at one time he was against Christianity. Even though he was a zealous Jew, his actions were a blasphemy against God. He proudly persecuted righteous people, aggressively arresting and imprisoning those who believed in Jesus, and cast his vote against them when it was being decided whether they should be executed or not. Although he was well versed in the Scriptures and trained under the best religious teachers, he acted ignorantly, thinking that he was doing God's will by persecuting Christians, when in reality, God's new covenant favored them. Through his actions, Paul seemingly deserved greater condemnation, but God showed mercy on him by revealing Jesus to Paul so that he would believe and instructing him so that he would be knowledgeable.

In this verse, Paul contrasted his old life with the teachers he was speaking against here, in that they knew the truth, yet they taught others to believe in something false. Paul had opposed the truth in his earlier days, not knowing it was so, but these false teachers were willfully disobedient to the truth they had been taught.

14 The grace of God was greater than Paul's sin, and he replaced unbelief with faith, and violence with love. Paul was unknowingly lacking in these things, but God gave him an abundance.
15 Paul could state with all confidence that Jesus came to save sinners, citing this as one of the undeniable tenants of the Faith. In fact, this is why the Gospel is "Good News," since we all started out as sinners. Paul himself was a prime example. Objectively, Paul felt that he was among the worst offenders because he had tried to abolish Christianity, had voted to kill Christians, and had hindered others from finding the only path to eternal safety with God. All these actions amounted to blasphemy against God, which would have, of course, guaranteed eternal separation from Him if he had continued in that manner.

Note that the phrasing that Jesus came into the world asserts His preexistence. Jesus was not merely a man who developed a god complex. He was indeed the eternal Son of God who came into human history as a man at the planned time. In His own words, Jesus came to save people, not to destroy them (John 3:16-18).

As a church seeks to minister in a community, it must remember that seeking out sinners to be saved is of primary importance. Often it seems that a church will try to grow by attracting Christians away from other churches, but this is contrary to how Jesus went about His ministry (Mat 9:13). It may prove very difficult for those well entrenched in Christianity to reach out to those who may not be as moral, peaceful, or soft-spoken as oneself. It is difficult to help those understand who have never attended a church or read Bible passages, and yet, one never knows how God can use our lives or the lives of those who hear the Gospel. Would we dare approach one who openly hates Christians and blasphemes God? Who knows? They might become another Paul.

16 It was precisely because Paul was among the worst offenders that Jesus chose to have mercy on him. If God had enough patience to forgive Paul when he came to believe, He would obviously extend grace to those who had sinned less.
17 After reflecting on his past and God's mercy, Paul is so filled with joy and gratitude that he cannot contain his praise. In this doxology, Paul calls God the "King of Ages," indicating that He has ruled all times past and future. While earthly kings perish, God's reign lasts. Of course, this implies God's immortality. He will not die. For all his workings, He remains invisible to people. Only those who believe in Him notice many of His works. Paul affirms that He is the only God. No other being or thing can compare to Him. Note that the word "wise" was not in the earliest texts. It is our God who deserves to be honored and glorified by people and all creation for all eternity. "Amen" means, "so be it."
18 Returning from his digression, Paul encourages Timothy, as if he was his own son, to carry through with the command he gave in verse 3. He reminds Timothy that it was prophesied that he would do this kind of ministry. Some consider this phrase more along the line of human prediction, but 1 Tim 4:14 makes it reasonable to believe that a divine utterance was made about Timothy's work during his ordination. These prophecies were to encourage Timothy in the struggles he would face in his ministry. Timothy was to continue to fight and overcome as an athlete did when he would train, compete, and find victory. The words used in the last phrase were used for athletic competition, not military warfare.
19 The Faith and one's conscience are two tools that help a person navigate through life. Here, "faith" most likely refers to the doctrines in the Gospel. The "conscience" is the mind's built-in mechanism through which the Holy Spirit communicates guilt or innocence. When people begin "thrusting away" principles of Christianity and ignoring their consciences when they sin, then they are in danger of destroying their spiritual accomplishments, similar to how a captain would certainly wreck his ship if he were to refuse to consult his maps, charts, and compass while sailing his vessel.
20 Paul gives two examples of people who had shipwrecked their faith. Though their exact identity and the extent of their offenses are unknown to us, Timothy would have been very familiar with them. Hymenaeus is mentioned again in 2 Tim 2:17-18, where we find that he taught that the Resurrection had already past. Alexander the metalsmith is mentioned in 2 Tim 4:14-15, where it is told that he harmed Paul, but no details are given. It is not known if this is the same Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33 as one who would have defended the faith during the riot of Demetrius.

Paul tells us that he had handed these men "over to Satan." We are not exactly sure what this means, but we can be fairly certain that, at a minimum, they were excommunicated from the Church and placed back under the authority of Satan, who is the "prince" of worldly systems. The purpose of excommunication is to help one realize the benefits of Christian fellowship and cause him to want to repent of whatever sin was committed so that he might rejoin the congregation. Others suggest that this "handing over" meant that Satan was allowed to physically harm the men through sickness or other means, similar, perhaps, to the plight of Job, although obviously for a different purpose. Perhaps the apostles had the authority to pronounce the latter case. However, it would be unwise to make too many assertions concerning this matter since we are given no details either here or in 1 Cor 5:4-5, which is the only other place this phrase is used.

One thing that is not said is whether these men "lost" their salvation. Although there is much debate on that topic, this verse does not speak one way or the other.