Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE PASTORAL EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL.
“In the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ Luke relates to Theophilus events of which he was an eye-witness,. . . . but [omits] the journey of Paul from Rome to Spain.
“An Epistle to Titus, and two to Timothy, which, though written only from personal feeling and affection, are still hallowed in the respect of the Catholic Church, and in the arrangement of ecclesiastical discipline.”
(From the Muratorian Fragment on the Canon discovered in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, and supposed to have been written not later than A.D. 170.)
THE PASTORAL EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL.
I. Their Nature.—The two Letters of St. Paul to Timothy and the one Letter to Titus, usually known as the Pastoral Epistles, differ from the other Epistles of the Apostle, being addressed to individuals, and not to churches. [There is another private Epistle of St. Paul, addressed to one Philemon, consisting only of a few lines, exclusively confined to the relations which should subsist between a Christian master and a Christian slave.]
These divinely inspired compositions were written for the guidance of two younger men, disciples and intimate friends of the elder Apostle. To these, Timothy and Titus, St. Paul had entrusted the government and supervision of two important churches—Ephesus and Crete. Of one of these churches, that of Ephesus, St. Paul was probably the founder, and from his long residence in the city, we may reasonably conclude that the Ephesian congregations had been built up mainly under his teaching and influence; the circumstances of the church of Crete will be discussed more particularly in the brief special Introduction to ‘he Epistle to Titus. Over the Ephesian community, especially dear to St. Paul from his close and intimate relation with Ephesus, the Apostle placed the disciple he knew and perhaps loved the best, the pupil whom he had personally trained from early youth. Of all St. Paul’s friends there was none so close to him as the one he had for so many years watched over and educated in the faith as his own adopted son. The two Letters to Timothy contain the master’s last charge, his dying wishes to the son of his love, who knew so well his mind, his every thought and aspiration. We may well conceive that almost every thought in these Letters, every charge, every exhortation, was a reminiscence of some bit of public teaching well known to Timothy, of some solemn conversation between the master and the pupil, of some grave council in which St. Paul and his trusted pupil and friend had shared. The two Letters were the old master’s last words, and as the master wrote, or, more probably, dictated them, he was conscious of this, and strove to compress into the necessary short compass of a brief Epistle a summary of what he had already put forth as his teaching on the question of church doctrine, church order, and church life. This is the reason why the charges concerning the life to be led are so repeated, but at the same time so brief; why the directions respecting church order are so concise; why the doctrinal statements are simply urged, and never, as was his old custom in some Epistles, argued out and discussed. “We see here,” as one has eloquently described it, “rather the succession of brilliant sparks than the steady flame; burning words indeed, and deep pathos, but not the flower of his firmness, as in his discipline of the Galatians—not the noon of his bright warm eloquence, as in the inimitable psalm of love” (1 Corinthians 13).
Many of the more doctrinal statements in these Pastoral Epistles are something more than “memories” of past conversations, past deliberations—more than reminders of former teaching—they are evidently current and well-known sayings among the Christians of the years A.D. 65-67. Now they are a well-loved line or lines of a hymn to the Father, as in the First Epistle, 1Timothy 6:15-16; now a verse from a metrical creed sung by these believers of the first days, as in 1Timothy 3:16 of the same Epistle, where the principal events of the divine and human life of Christ, so far as that life was connected with man, are set forth; or, they are evidently well-known sayings which had become watchwords of the rapidly growing Church of Christ, introduced by the striking formula “faithful is the saying.” There are no less than five of these in the Pastoral Epistles. All these are woven into the tapestry of the writings, and contain many a word, many an expression not found in any other of the known Epistles of St. Paul; and it is to the presence of these evident quotations from hymn, or creed, or sacred utterances of the faith, that these last Letters of St. Paul owe many of those peculiarities of thought and of expression which have suggested to the critical minds of so many scholars of our own thoughtful age the question—were these Epistles really the work of the great Apostle of the Gentiles?
II. Their Authenticity.—For seventeen centuries the Pastoral Epistles were believed to have been written by St. Paul, and in all the churches were received among the divinely inspired Scriptures of the New Testament In the nineteenth century, for certain reasons specified below, their authenticity was first called in question by a school of German criticism.
From the very earliest times we find constant references to these Pastoral Letters of St. Paul. Although there are no exact quotations in those few fragments we possess of the writings of men contemporary with or immediately succeeding the Apostles, still the language of Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Ignatius of Antioch (all three living and writing in the first century), seems to show their familiarity with the language and thought of these Epistles.
Unquestioned references to one or other of these Letters are found in Irenæus (second century), Tertullian (second century), Clement of Alexandria (second century), Theophilus of Antioch (second century). Eusebius (A.D. 320) without question includes the three Epistles in his catalogue, among the universally confessed canonical writings. In addition to this, in the famous Fragment on the Canon of Scripture edited by Muratori, generally ascribed to the latter half of the second century, we find these “three” classed among the Epistles of St. Paul.
They are also contained in the Peschito-Syriac version of the New Testament, which was made in the second century. There never, indeed, seems to have been the slightest doubt in the early Christian Church that the Pastoral Epistles were canonical, and written by St. Paul. The only doubter, in fact, seems to have been the famous Gnostic heretic Marcion (second century), who for doctrinal reasons omitted these writings from his canon. But Marcion arbitrarily made up his own Volume of Scripture, excluding what was distinctly adverse to his peculiar system. He admitted into his “canon” only ten of St. Paul’s Epistles and a mutilated Gospel of St. Luke, omitting all the rest of the New Testament writings.
We possess a continuous chain of historical evidence for the authenticity of these writings from the earliest times. We can, then, aver that from the very days of the Apostles down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the two Epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus were received in all the churches as undoubted writings of St. Paul, and were reverenced as Holy Scripture. The school of critics to which allusion has been made above has sought to undermine this testimony, stretching over one thousand seven hundred years, by arguments drawn from the contents of these three Epistles.
The following are the main points they have endeavoured to establish:—
(1) A number of words and phrases are found in these Letters which never occur in any other of St. Paul’s writings.
(2) An ecclesiastical organisation of a period long subsequent to St. Paul’s time apparently existed when these Pastoral Epistles were written.
(3) Heresies of a date later than the period included in the lifetime of St. Paul are combated in the three Letters.
(4) In the lifetime of the Apostle no period can be found which would suit the circumstances under which it is evident these Letters were composed.
We will reply to these arguments very briefly:—
(1) As regards the unusual words and phrases, it must be borne in mind that the Epistles or groups of Epistles of St. Paul were composed under very different circumstances, and for varied purposes, and with long intervals of time between the several writings. To a certain extent, in each Epistle or group of Epistles we should expect to find its own peculiar vocabulary: and this we find, for the number of verbal peculiarities in the group of Letters we are now considering does not appear to be greater than that existing in other undoubted Letters of the Apostle. Prof. Van Oosterzee, of Utrecht (Die Pastoralbriefe, 3rd edit. 1874), computes the number of these peculiar words in the three Epistles at one hundred and eighty-eight, while in the Epistles to the Philippians, Ephesians, and Colossians he reckons one hundred and ninety-four of these verbal peculiarities not elsewhere found.
But while verbal peculiarities in this group of Epistles do not appear more numerous than in other special groups of writings by the same hand, there are peculiar circumstances connected with these Letters to Timothy and Titus, which would of themselves fairly have explained a much greater divergence from the customary style and usual expressions than we actually find.
Here, and here only—with the exception of the little Letter to Philemon—is he writing to dear friends, not to churches. The official character of the communication is in great measure here lost sight of. The chief pastor is addressed, rather than the flock; and the chief pastor in each case is the pupil and intimate associate of the writer. Surely different expressions might be reasonably looked for in such Letters as these.
Again, we might fairly expect that in this last period of the Apostle’s long life his theological vocabulary would have become materially enlarged. This would account for his use of certain new words when he wished to express or reiterate perhaps old thoughts.
It should be remembered, too, that he was in these Epistles combating new forms of heresy which were rapidly developing themselves in the various growing Christian communities. What more likely than that the old master, the wise and divinely inspired teacher, should have appropriated some of the favourite sayings of his opponents, the false teachers of Ephesus and the Asian cities—should have “borrowed” from these unhappy men their own words, thus rescuing them from the perversions which false philosophy had begun to make of them?
We have already, in the first section of this short Introduction, suggested a probable explanation of the repeated use of the formulary “faithful is the saying,” and of other divine sayings which had apparently grown into customary use in the Church.
On the other hand, would not a forger who was desirous to introduce for a particular purpose a writing, or writings, into the Church, under the venerated name of St. Paul, have been specially careful not to introduce into his composition any word or expression foreign to the Apostle’s most common and best known terminology?
(2) The ecclesiastical organisation to which reference is made in these Pastoral Epistles is, after all, of the simplest description. The forms of the government or the Jewish synagogue, only slightly modified to suit the exigencies of the mixed Jewish and Gentile congregations of Christians, are evidently all that existed at the time when St. Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus.
The only marked innovation is that provision which was being made in all the churches for women’s work—a provision rendered necessary from the new position which women, under the teaching of our Lord and His disciples, were henceforth to occupy in the work and life of the world. (This great and important question is treated of at some length in the commentary on the Pastoral Epistles which follows.) And even of this female organisation we see the germs in such notices as in Acts 6:1; Acts 9:36-41; Acts 21:9; and in the life and work of one like Lydia (Acts 16:14), or Priscilla (Acts 18:2; Acts 18:26), &c.
The presbyterate, not merely in name, but also in the matter of the functions assigned to the office, was clearly adopted from the synagogue, of course with such changes and modifications as the new and growing society required.
The diaconate also, in some way, appears to have been derived from Jewish precedents. The very name, “Levites,” by which these inferior ministers of the Church were often called, points to the origin of the “order.” Thus Jerome (Ep. 27) distinguishes them from the presbyters, speaking of the deacons as “the countless number of Levites.” So, too, Salvian, A.D. 450, writes of the deacons, calling them “Levites.” Frequently in the Councils the term “Levite” is used as the peculiar title of the deacon.
But the diaconate—which, although probably originally a copy of a Jewish order of ministers in the public services connected with worship and religious instruction, still may be looked on as an order especially belonging to the Christian Church—existed long before “the last days” of St. Paul. Indeed, it is traceable back to the very first years of the existence of the little Jerusalem community of believers in Jesus of Nazareth. See Acts 6:2-6, where the famous Seven are appointed by the Twelve Apostles—diaeonein trapezais, “to serve tables.”
The functions of the “deacons of Ephesus” alluded to by St. Paul were certainly not very different from the duties apparently performed by the “Seven” of Acts 6. See, especially 2Thessalonians 3:3; 2Thessalonians 3:8-10, where these solemnly ordained ones assisted the Apostle in almsgiving, in the general regulation of the Church’s charities, and also appear to have preached and taught publicly.
But there is one argument for the extreme antiquity of these Epistles derived exclusively from internal evidence supplied by the Epistles themselves.
At the very commencement of the second century it is an acknowledged fact that the episcopal office was firmly and widely established. But these Letters were written before any sign of episcopal government had appeared in Gentile Christendom. In the Pastoral Epistles the Greek words rendered “bishop” and “presbyter” or elder (episcopos, presbyteros), are applied indifferently to the same person. (See Note on 1Timothy 3:1.)
Too great stress can hardly be laid on the vast difference which existed between the ecclesiastical organisation presented in the Pastoral Epistles and that revealed to us in the Letters of Ignatius, written at the very commencement of the second century, even if we only admit as genuine the shorter form of the version of the Ignatian Epistles, or the still briefer recension of the three Syriac Letters edited by Dr. Cureton.
No candid critic would surely suggest for so vast a development in ecclesiastical organisation a less period than thirty to forty years, placing the Ignatian Epistles in the early part of the second century. This would give as the date of the so-called Pastoral Letters, the last year of St. Paul’s life.
(3) Heresies of a later date appear to be combated in these writings. But the false teachers referred to here were evidently Judaistic in their teaching (see for instance 1Timothy 1:7; 1Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:10-14; Titus 3:9), while the Gnostic teachers of the next century were strongly anti-Judaistic. This state of things was no doubt brought about by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the total ruin of the Jewish national system, in the year of our Lord 70.
In these Epistles we have allusion to schools of heresies widely differing from those which opposed the Catholic Church in the second century. Here we find the seeds, but only the seeds, of the famous Gnostic teaching. Dean Alford (Prolegomena to the Pastoral Epistles) has well, though roughly, painted the development of heresy in the early days of Christianity. In the first years, the principal enemies within the church were “Judaising Christians,” these are alluded to in St. Paul’s earlier Epistles. “The false teachers against whom Timothy and Titus were warned seemed to hold a position intermediate to the Apostle’s former Judaising adversaries and the subsequent Gnostic heretics.”
The general characteristics of the heresies spoken of in the Pastoral Epistles would certainly not appear to belong to a period subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70).
(4) As regards the last objection,—to the critics who seriously propose to throw doubt on the authenticity of these Epistles, alleging that it is impossible to assign during the lifetime of St. Paul, as related in the Acts, a period which would suit the peculiar circumstances under which it was evident that these writings were composed, we reply that St. Paul lived and worked after the captivity related in the last chapter of the Acts; for the unanimous testimony of the primitive Church tells us that the appeal of St. Paul to Cæsar (Acts 25:11) terminated successfully, that after the imprisonment related in the last chapter of the Acts, he was liberated A.D. 63, and that he spent some time (A.D. 63 to A.D. 65-66) in freedom before he was again arrested and condemned.
The principal evidences for this are found in the Epistle of Clement, Bishop of Rome, the disciple of St. Paul (Philippians 4:3), to the Romans, written in the last year of the first century. “He, Paul, had gone to the extremity of the west before his martyrdom.” In a Roman writer the “extremity of the west” could only signify “Spain,” and we know in that portion of his life related in the Acts he had never journeyed further west than Italy. In the fragments of the Canon called Muratori’s, written about A.D. 170, we read in the account of the Acts of the Apostles, “Luke relates to Theophilus events of which he was an eye-witness, as also in a separate place [Luke 22:31-33] he evidently declares the martyrdom of Peter, but [omits] the journey of St. Paul to Spain.” Eusebius (H.E 2:22—A.D. 320) writes, “After defending himself successfully it is currently reported that the Apostle again went forth to proclaim the gospel, and afterwards came to Rome a second time, and was martyred under Nero.”
St. Chrysostom (A.D. 398) mentions as an undoubted historical fact, “that St. Paul after his residence in Rome departed to Spain.” St. Jerome (A.D. 390) also relates, “that St. Paul was dismissed by Nero that he might preach Christ’s gospel in the West.”
Thus in the Catholic Church in the East and West during the three hundred years which succeeded the death of St. Paul, a unanimous tradition was current that the great Apostle’s labours were continued for a period extending over two or three years after his liberation from that Roman imprisonment related in Acts 28. During this renewed season of activity, probably in the last year or fifteen months, the Epistles to Timothy and Titus were written.
The last of the three Letters, the Second Epistle to Timothy, was no doubt written within a few weeks at most of the glorious end. We see, then, that internal evidence, when carefully sifted, instead of contradicting, supports, with a weighty mass of independent testimony, the unanimous tradition of the ancient Church which, with one voice, proceeding from the East as well as from the West, pronounced the Pastoral Epistles canonical, receiving them as the word of the Holy Spirit communicated through the Apostle Paul.
The Epistles to Timothy and Titus. BY THE VERY REV. H. D. M. SPENCE, D.D.,
THE VERY REV. H. D. M. SPENCE, D.D.,
Dean of Gloucester.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO TIMOTHY. I. Timothy.
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO TIMOTHY.
I. Timothy.—Timothy was a native of the province of Lycaonia in Asia Minor—most probably of Lystra, a small town some thirty miles to the south of Iconium, the modern Konieh. His father was a pagan, but his mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, were Jewesses, evidently devout and earnest in the practice of the religion of their forefathers. They became Christians, apparently, at the time of St. Paul’s first visit to Asia Minor in company with Barnabas (A.D. 46), (Acts 14; 2Timothy 1:5; 2Timothy 3:15).
From Lois and Eunice Timothy no doubt learned the rudiments of the faith of the Lord Jesus. Some five years later, in company with Silas (A.D. 51), St. Paul paid a second visit to Asia Minor. Moved probably by the devotion and earnestness of the young son of Eunice, and seeing in him the promise of a loving and heroic life, St. Paul took Timothy in the place of Mark, whose heart had failed him in the presence of so many difficulties and dangers. From this time (A.D. 51) Timothy’s life was closely associated with that of his master.
He was with the Gentile Apostle in Macedonia and Corinth (A.D. 52-53), (Acts 17:14; Acts 18:5; 1Thessalonians 1:1); with him at Ephesus, whence he was sent on a special mission to Corinth (A.D. 55-56), (1Corinthians 4:17; 1Corinthians 16:10); with him when he wrote from Macedonia the Second Corinthian Letter (2Corinthians 1:1); with him at Corinth when he wrote to the Roman Church (A.D. 57), (Romans 16:21); with him when he was returning to Asia, where he was arrested prior to the long captivity at Cæsarea and Rome (A.D. 57-58), (Acts 20:4). We find him again specially mentioned as the Apostle’s companion during that long Roman imprisonment (A.D. 61-63). (See the Epistles written at that period—Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1; Philippians 1:1.)
After the Apostle’s release from his first great captivity (A.D. 63), (see General Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles), Timothy, still St. Paul’s companion (1Timothy 1:3), was left in charge of the Ephesian Church (probably about A.D. 64). While fulfilling this work he received the two Epistles of St. Paul (A.D. 64-65) which bear his name. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 13:23) Timothy is alluded to as having been imprisoned and again liberated. This solitary notice, however, throws but little light on the life of the Apostle’s famous disciple, except that it seems to tell us that the pupil’s life was full of hardship and danger, as was the master’s, and that the younger man had well learned the lesson of St. Paul, who bade him with his dying breath (2Timothy 2:3) “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Nicephorus and the ancient martyrologies tell us that Timothy died by martyrdom under the Emperor Domitian some time before A.D. 96. Baronius, however, puts his martyr death a little later—A.D. 109—when the Emperor Trajan was reigning.
The accompanying table will assist the reader in following the life of Timothy:—
First meeting between Paul and Timothy, still a child, at Lystra—probably in the house of Eunice and Lois.
Paul and Silas take Timothy with them from Lystra.
Timothy accompanies Paul in his journey through Macedonia.
Timothy is with Paul at Corinth.
Timothy is with Paul at Ephesus.
Timothy is with Paul at Corinth. Paul writes Epistle to Romans.
Timothy is with Paul in the journey from Corinth to Asia.
Timothy is with Paul during the Roman imprisonment.
Paul leaves Timothy at Ephesus.
Timothy receives the two Epistles from Paul.
Not later than
Alleged martyrdom of Timothy.
Or, according to Baronius,
II. Date of the Epistle.—The First Epistle to Timothy was written apparently in the year 65-66, while the Apostle was passing through Macedonia, after a probable journey into Spain and a return to Ephesus, at which city he had left Timothy in charge of the church.
III. General Contents of the Epistle.—No systematic arrangement is followed in this Epistle. Its contents may be roughly divided into six general divisions, coinciding with the six chapters:—
1.—St. Paul reminds Timothy of his especial commission at Ephesus—the repression of a school of false teachers which threatened to subvert the church.
This leads to a brief review of the Apostle’s own past history (1 Timothy 1).
2.—The second division is occupied with directions respecting the public worship of Christians, and the parts which each sex should take in public prayer (1 Timothy 2).
3.—Treats of the office-bearers in the church—bishops (or, elders), deacons, and deaconesses (1 Timothy 3).
4.—Again St. Paul refers to Timothy’s commission in respect to false teachers. He dwells upon’ the deceptive teaching of asceticism, showing the dangers which accompanied such doctrine. The practical godly life of Timothy and his staff would, after all, be the best antidote to the poison disseminated by these unreal, untrue men (1 Timothy 4).
5.—Treats (a) of the behaviour of the church officials to the flock of Christ; (b) of the public charities of the Church in connection with destitute and helpless women; (c) of a certain order of presbyteral or elder widows, which, in connection with these charities, might be developed in such a Christian community as Ephesus; (d) rules for Timothy, as chief presbyter, respecting ordination and selection of colleagues in the ministry, &c. (1 Timothy 5).
6.—A few plain comments on the great social question of slavery. How Christian slaves were to behave in their condition. The false teachers must be sternly combated in their teaching on this point. Timothy is warned with solemn earnestness against covetousness. This, St. Paul argues, was the root of all false teaching (1 Timothy 6).
One golden thread seems to run through this, and, it may be said, through the other two Pastoral Letters. St. Paul’s earnestness in these last days of his life seems rather to expend itself in exhortations to Christian men and women to live a good, pure, self-denying life. Doctrine, in these last words of the noble, generous toiler for the Lord, retreats a little into the background. It is true that he reiterates in several places the grounds of a Christian’s belief—that he rehearses in plain and evidently well-known phrases the great articles of the Christian faith; but his last words dwell rather on life than on theology. The errors of the false teachers whose deadly influence Timothy was to counteract belonged rather to an evil life than to a false belief. The pure and saintly conduct, the pattern home life—these things, Timothy and his colleagues must remember, were the surest antidote against the poisonous teaching and the selfish practice of the enemies of the Lord Jesus.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;(1) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.—The letter to Timothy, though addressed to a very dear and intimate friend, was sent with a two-fold purpose. It was an affectionate reminder from his old master, “Paul the Aged,” to his disciple to be steadfast in the midst of the many perils to which one in the position of Timothy would be exposed in the city of Ephesus; but it was also an official command to resist a powerful school of false teaching which had arisen in the midst of that Ephesian Church over which Timothy was then presiding. So St. Paul prefaces his letter by designating himself an Apostle according to the commandment of God. The commandment especially referred to is to be found in Acts 13:2 : Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
God our Saviour.—This, designation is peculiar to the Pastoral Epistles, but frequently occurs in the Septuagint. It is fitly ascribed to the first Person of the blessed Trinity in reference to His redeeming love in Christ.
Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.—The words “which is,” printed in italics in the English version, are better left out: Jesus Christ, our hope. As St. Paul felt the end of his course approaching, he loved to dwell on the thought of Jesus—to whom, during so many weary years, he had longed to depart and be with—as his hope, his one glorious hope. The same expression is found in the Epistles of Ignatius.
Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.(2) My own son in the faith.—Timothy was St. Paul’s very own son. No fleshly relationship existed between the two, but a closer and far dearer connection. St. Paul had taken him while yet a very young man to be his companion and fellow-labourer (Acts 16:3). He told the Philippian Church he had no one like-minded (with Timothy) who would care for their affairs. He wrote to the Corinthians how Timothy was his beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who would put them in remembrance of his ways in Christ.
Mercy.—Between the usual salutation “grace and peace,” in these Pastoral Epistles, he introduces “mercy.” The nearness of death, the weakness of old age, the dangers, ever increasing, which crowded round Paul, seem to have called forth from him deeper expressions of love and tender pity. Jesus Christ, his “hope,” burned before him, a guiding star her brighter and clearer; and the “mercy” of God, which the old man felt he had obtained, he longed to share with others.
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,(3) That thou mightest charge some.—Some time after the first imprisonment at Rome, and consequently beyond the period included by St. Luke in the Acts, St. Paul must have left Timothy behind at Ephesus while he pursued his journey towards Macedonia, and given him the solemn charge here referred to. The false teachers who are disturbing the Church at Ephesus are not named. There is, perhaps, a ring of contempt in the expression “some,” but it seems more probable that the names were designedly omitted in this letter, which was intended to be a public document. The chief superintendent of the Ephesian community, doubtless, knew too well who were the mistaken men referred to.
That they teach no other doctrine.—“Other”—i.e., other than the truth. When the Apostle and his disciple Timothy re-visited Ephesus, after the long Cæsarean and Roman imprisonment, they found the Church there distracted with questions raised by Jewish teachers. The curious and hair-splitting interpretation of the Mosaic law, the teaching concerning the tithing of mint and anise and cummin, which in the days of Jesus of Nazareth had paralysed all real spiritual life in Jerusalem, had found its way during the Apostle’s long enforced absence into the restless, ever-changing congregations at Ephesus.
Dangerous controversies, disputings concerning old prophecies, mingled with modern traditions, occupied the attention of many of the Christian teachers. They preferred to talk about theology rather than try to live the life which men like St. Paul had told them that followers of Jesus must live if they would be His servants indeed.
Unless these deadening influences were removed, the faith of the Ephesian Church threatened to become utterly impractical. The doctrine these restless men were teaching, and which St. Paul so bitterly condemns, seems to have been no settled form of heresy, but a profitless teaching, arising mainly, if not entirely, from Jewish sources.
Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.(4) Neither give heed to fables.—These fables ware, no doubt, purely Rabbinical. It was said in the Jewish schools that an oral Law had been given on Sinai, and that this Law, a succession of teachers, from the time of Moses, had handed down. This “Law that is upon the lip,” as it was termed, was further illustrated and enlarged by the sayings and comments of the more famous Jewish Rabbis, and in the time of our Lord constituted a supplement to the written Law in the Pentateuch. For centuries this supplementary code was preserved by memory or in secret rolls, and doubtless was constantly receiving additions. It contained, along with many wild and improbable legendary histories, some wise teachings. This strange collection of tradition and comment was committed to writing in the second century by Rabbi Jehuda, under the general name of the Mishna, or repetition (of the Law). Round this compilation a complement of discussions (the Gemara) was gradually formed, and was completed at Babylon somewhere about the end of the fifth century of our era. These works—the Mishna and the Gemara, together with a second Gemara, formed somewhat earlier in Palestine—are generally known as the Talmud. The influence of some of these traditions is alluded to by our Lord (Matthew 15:3).
Endless genealogies.—Genealogies in their proper sense, as found in the Book of the Pentateuch, and to which wild allegorical interpretations had been assigned. Such purely fanciful meanings had been already developed by Philo, whose religious writings were becoming at this time known and popular in many of the Jewish schools. Such teaching, if allowed in the Christian churches, St. Paul saw would effectually put a stop to the growth of Gentile Christendom. It would inculcate an undue and exaggerated, and, for the ordinary Gentile convert, an impossible reverence for Jewish forms and ceremonies; it would separate the Jewish and Gentile converts into two classes—placing the favoured Jew in an altogether different position from the outcast Gentile.
In the Gentile churches founded by the Apostles, for some years a life and death struggle went on between the pupils of St. Paul and his fellow Apostles and the disciples of the Rabbinical schools. In these earnest warnings of his Pastoral Epistles the great Apostle of Gentile Christianity shows us, how clearly he foresaw that if these Jewish fables and the comments of the older Jewish teachers were allowed to enter into the training of the new-formed congregations, the Church of Christ would shrink, in no long space of time, into the narrow and exclusive limits of a Jewish sect. “Judaism,” writes the anonymous author of Paul of Tarsus, “was the cradle of Christianity, and Judaism very nearly became its grave.”
Which minister questions.—Disputings, questions of mere controversy, inquiries, which could not possibly have any bearing on practical life.
Rather than godly edifying which is in faith.—The rendering of the reading in the more ancient authorities would be: rather than the dispensation of God which is in faith; or, in other words, the introduction into Church teaching of these Jewish myths—these traditions of the elders, these fanciful genealogies—would be much more likely to produce bitter and profitless controversy than to minister to God’s scheme of salvation, designed by God, and proclaimed by His Apostles.
So do.—The Apostle, in 1Timothy 1:3, begins this sentence of earnest exhortation, but in his fervour forgets to conclude it. The closing words would naturally come in here: “For remember how I besought thee when I left thee behind at Ephesus, when I went on to Macedonia, to discourage and firmly repress all vain teaching, which only leads to useless controversy, so I do now;” or, so I repeat to you now. (This is better and more forcible than the words supplied in the English version: “so do.”)
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:(5) Now the end.—The Greek word should be translated But the end. Though Timothy must resist and oppose these false teachers with all courage and firmness, still he must not forget what was the real end, the aim, the purpose of all Christian teaching, which, the Apostle reminds him, is Love.
Of the commandment.—There is no reference here to the famous commandments of the Law of Moses. “Commandment” may be paraphrased in this place by “practical teaching.”
With the false teachers’ sickly “fables,” which only led to disputing, St. Paul contrasts that “healthy practical teaching,” the end and aim of which was love, or charity.
Charity.—That love, or broad, comprehensive charity, towards men, so nobly described in 1 Corinthians 13.
Out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.—This broad all-embracing love, or charity, emanates only from “a pure heart:” i.e., a heart free from selfish desires and evil passions. The “pure in heart” alone, said the Lord, in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:8), shall enjoy the beatific vision of God.
And of a good conscience.—This “charity” must also spring from a conscience unburthened of its load of guilt, from a conscience sprinkled with the precious blood, and so reconciled to God.
And of faith unfeigned.—And, lastly, the root of this “charity”—the end and aim of the practical teaching of the gospel preached by the Apostles—must be sought in “a faith unfeigned,” in a faith that consists in something more than in a few high-sounding words, which lay claim to a sure confidence that is not felt. The “unfeigned faith” of St. Paul is a faith rich in works rather than in words.
Without this faith, so real that its fruits are ever manifest, there can be no good conscience; without this conscience, washed by the precious blood, there can be no pure heart.
The error of the teachers of whom Timothy was warned, we see from the next verse, consisted not so much in false doctrines as in an utter neglect of inculcating the necessity of a pure, self-denying life. They preferred curious questions and speculative inquiries to the grave, simple gospel teaching which led men to live an earnest, loving life.
From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;(6) From which some having swerved have turned aside.—This sentence is rendered more accurately: From which some, having gone wide in aim, have turned themselves aside. These words seem to tell us that these teachers had once been in the right direction, but had not kept in it; indeed, from the whole tenor of St. Paul’s directions to Timothy it is clear that these persons not only had been, but were still, reckoned among the Christian congregations of the Ephesian Church. The presiding presbyter appointed by St. Paul could have exercised no possible authority over any not reckoned in the Church’s pale.
Unto vain jangling.—These men, having missed the true aim of the commandment, have now turned themselves to vain, empty talking, which could lead to nothing except wranglings and angry disputations.
Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.(7) Desiring to be teachers of the law.—“Desiring,” though they really were not. They coveted the respect and influence which was ever paid to the acknowledged teachers of the Law of Moses; but these men utterly failed to understand the real spiritual meaning of that Law which they pretended to teach. Similar pretenders in a neighbouring Church, some years later, received from another Apostle—St. John—a stern rebuke for such pretensions. “I know,” wrote St. John to the Christians of Smyrna, “the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9).
Understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.—A wise teacher must understand what he teaches, and must, at the same time, be clear in his own mind that what he teaches is true.
The false teachers are here charged (1) with not understanding the wild fables and traditions upon which their teaching was based, and (2) with not comprehending the things whereof they make their assertions: that is, they had no real belief in those great truths which really underlie that Law with which they were meddling.
But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;(8) But we know.—Better, Now we know: a strong expression of his knowledge, learned in the school of the Holy Ghost. He spoke with the conscious authority of an Apostle, confident of the truth of what he preached and taught.
That the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.—“The Law is good,” St. Paul declared with apostolic authoritative knowledge, “should a man—i.e., a teacher of the Law—make use of it lawfully; if he should use it so as to make men conscious of their sins, conscious that of themselves they deserve no mercy, only punishment.” To press this sorrowful knowledge was the Law’s true work upon men. It was never intended to supply materials for casuistry and idle, profitless arguments. It was never meant as a system out of which man might draw material for self-deception. It was never meant as a system through which a man might imagine that by a compliance, more or less rigid, with its outer ritual he was satisfying all the higher requirements of justice and truth.
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,(9) Knowing this.—The teacher of the Law, being aware of this great truth, now to be detailed—viz.:—
That the law is not made for a righteous man.—The stern Mosaic Law was enacted centuries before the Messiah Jesus had given to men His new Law. The Law of Moses was not, then, enacted for a “righteous man”—that is, for a Christian in the true sense of the word, who has sought and found justification by faith in Jesus, and who, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, is living a new life. In other words, the “teacher,” Paul says, must teach the flock of Ephesus (1) the true use of the prohibitions of the Law, viz., that they served to convince a man of his hopeless condition; they showed him he was a slave to sin, from which wretched bondage, the Law, which made him bitterly conscious of his condition, gave him no assistance to free himself; (2) the “teacher” was to press home to the people that the Law, good though it was, if used as a means to open men’s eyes to see their true condition, was not made for them if they were reckoned among the righteous—that is, if they had found acceptance in the Redeemer. In the case of these justified and sanctified ones the moral law was written in their hearts and was embodied in their lives.
But for the lawless.—Now the Law was not made for the holy and humble men of heart, whom St. Paul trusted formed the main body of the congregation of believers in Ephesus, and in every city where men and women were found who called on the name of the Lord Jesus, and who struggled to follow their dear Master’s footsteps. It was made centuries before Jesus of Nazareth walked on earth, as a great protest against the every-day vices which dishonoured Israel in common with the rest of mankind. The terrible enumeration of sins and sinners in these 9th and 10th verses, while following the order of the ancient Tables of Sinai, seems to allude pointedly to the vices especially prevalent in that day in the great centres of the Roman empire.
And disobedient.—More accurately rendered, unruly, or insubordinate.
For the ungodly and for sinners.—These four terms with which the Apostle opens his sad list of those for whom the Law was enacted, generally denote those who care nothing for human law, and who despise all obedience; who to their careless neglect for all constituted authorities, unite irreligion and contempt for all sacred things.
For unholy and profane.—The persons designated in these terms are those wanting in inner purity—men who scoff at holiness of life and character in its deepest sense. These six classes may be assumed in general terms to include the prohibitions of the first four Commandments (the First Table, as it is termed), where sins against God are especially dwelt upon. The sins against man, which form the subject of the prohibitions of the Second Table (Commandments Five to Ten), are included in the following enumeration of wrong-doers.
For murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers.—The original Greek expressions here require the milder rendering, smiters of fathers and smiters of mothers, and refer to persons of various ages who refuse all reverence, even all kindly treatment, to their parents. The words of the Fifth Commandment exactly explain this unnatural conduct.
For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;(10) For menstealers.—After enumerating the transgressors of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments against murder and adultery, St. Paul speaks of a class well known in the Roman world of his day—perhaps the worst class of offenders against the Eighth Commandment—the “slave-dealers.”
For liars, for perjured persons.—In these inclusive terms St. Paul apparently reckons all who break the solemn Ninth charge given on Sinai, which forbade false witness against a neighbour. Among the sins which especially excite the hot wrath of the first inspired teachers of Christianity, “want of truth” appears singularly prominent. One after the other of the Apostles, in different language, express their deep abhorrence of this too common sin, which, in St. John’s fervid words, will suffice to exclude from the city of the blessed (Revelation 22:15).
And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.—In this broad and general summary, with which St. Paul concludes his dreadful catalogue, the prohibition of the Tenth Commandment against “covetousness” is doubtless included. In the words “sound doctrine”—an expression peculiar to this group of Epistles—a sharp contrast is suggested to the “sickly and unhealthy” teaching of the false teachers, with their foolish legends and allegories—a teaching which suggested controversy and useless disputes, and had no practical influence at all upon life.
According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.(11) According to the glorious gospel.—All that St. Paul had been saying concerning the Law—its true work and its only work—was no mere arbitrary conception of his own; it was simply a repetition of the teaching of the gospel which his Master had intrusted to him, the gospel which taught so clearly that the Law was for the condemnation of sinners—that it was for those alone who do not accept the easy yoke and the light burden of the Lord Jesus.
Of the blessed God.—The whole sentence is more accurately translated, according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. (Comp. 2Corinthians 4:4.) “The glory of the blessed God,” whether as shown in the sufferings of Christ or in the riches of His great mercy, is that which is contained in and revealed by the gospel; in other words, the “contents” of the gospel is the glory and majesty of God. God is called here “blessed,” not only on account of His eternal and changeless perfection, but also on account of His blessed gift of forgiveness, offered to all sinners who accept His gospel of love.
Which was committed to my trust.—This precious deposit, this “trust,” the gospel of the glory of God, was perhaps, in St. Paul’s eyes, his truest title to honour. When we inquire more closely what was exactly meant by “the gospel committed to his trust,” something more definite seems to be required than the general answer that he was a minister of the Church, intrusted with the proclamation of his Master’s blessed message. If this were all, St. Paul’s loved title to honour would have been by no means peculiar to him, but would have been shared by many another in that great company of prophets, teachers, and evangelists of the Church of the first days. St. Paul rather seems to have gloried in some peculiar and most precious trust. Was it not possibly in that Gospel of “Luke,” which some of the most venerated of the fathers tell us St. Paul was accustomed to mention as the Gospel written by him? (Irenæus, Origen, Jerome.) It was, perhaps, this blessed privilege of having been judged worthy to compile, under the direction of the Holy Ghost—or, at all events, largely to furnish materials for—one of the precious records of his adorable Master’s earthly lite and work and suffering which St. Paul loved to tell of as his proudest title to honour.
To his own disciples—as well as to those who disputed his apostolic authority—he would now and again refer to this, the highest of all honours bestowed on him by his Master; but there the boasting of the holy and humble man of God ended. Though the blessed evangelist St. Paul knew his work was for all the ages, the true humility of the noble servant of Jesus appears in the substitution of “Luke” for “St. Paul”—the scribe’s name in place of that of the real author.
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;(12) And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me.—Better rendered, who hath given me strength within. The ancient authorities here are divided; the majority omit the first word of the verse, the connecting “and.” With or without this word, the sense is much the same; for on the words, “the gospel . . . committed to my trust,” the Apostle pauses, overwhelmed with the flood of grateful memories which such a thought let loose. “How I thank God,” wrote St. Paul, “who hath strengthened me within, with this power to bear witness to my Master!—me of all persons, who was once a blasphemer of His royal name! What an example I—your teacher, the founder of this Church of Ephesus—am of the transforming grace of the gospel—of its sweet, mighty power to forgive sins.” It was the thought of the great love, passing understanding, of the tender, pitiful mercy which suffered so wondrous a trust to be committed to the charge of such a sinner, that called forth the ejaculation of deep thankfulness we read in the twelfth and following verses.
If we ask more particularly respecting the exact way in which Jesus Christ “enabled,” or “strengthened St. Paul within,” we must think of his strange power of winning men to his Master’s side; we must remember his miraculous gifts over disease and even death; and last, but not least, that strength of endurance, that brave, sweet patience which made his life of suffering borne for Christ so beautiful, so touching, an example for men.
For that he counted me faithful.—The All. seeing, knowing from the beginning that St. Paul would continue steadfast and true, selected him as “His chosen vessel” to bear His name and the glad news of His salvation into many lands.
It is observable, however, that this very faithfulness, this unflinching steadfastness, which seems to have been the reason why the Lord chose him for his great work, St. Paul, in a well-known and remarkable passage, refers to as a gift of grace which he had obtained in mercy of the Lord (1Corinthians 7:25).
Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.(13) Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.—In these words of bitter I self-accusation, St. Paul sums up. the characteristic features of his brilliant career as a young Pharisee leader, as a popular Jewish patriot. The object of his intense hatred and of his burning antagonism during these never-to-be-forgotten days was that very Lord, from whom later he had received such unspeakable gifts. He knew he had been “a blasphemer” of that dear Master in the truest sense of the terrible word, since, as it has been well said, that: “He who had seen Stephen die for Christ, and after this did not cease to pant like a wild beast for the blood of the Church, must have known that he had not been guilty of simply reviling men but of blaspheming God.” And “a persecutor,” for, to quote his own words at Jerusalem (Acts 22:4): “I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.” (Comp., too, Acts 25:11 : “I compelled them to blaspheme.”) And “injurious” (or, more accurately rendered, a doer of outrage), as he must well have remembered the events referred to in the history of the Acts (Acts 9:1) in the words: “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.”
But I obtained mercy.—The Apostle, his heart overflowing with love and gratitude, contrasts his Master’s mercy with his own want of it; the “mercy” shown to him consisting in something very different to simple forgiveness of a great wrong. In St. Paul’s case the pardon was crowned by many a noble gift bestowed by that pitiful King whom he had so cruelly wronged.
Because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.—This is one of the passages which throws a gleam of light on some of the hard questions which perplex us when we meditate on the principles of the final judgment. Very little is told us as to the doom of those who have not heard, or else have failed to understand, the message of Christ. Still, from even such scanty teaching as is contained in the words we are now considering, and in such passages as Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 23:34, we gather that there is an ignorance which at least greatly modifies the guilt of unbelief; we learn at least this much—such a sinner is not out of the pale of the operation of divine mercy But in spite of these hints—for they are little more—of the almost limitless area of the divine mercy, great care must be taken not to press overmuch these blessed intimations of the possibility of a mercy far more extended than the usual interpretation of the inspired utterances would lead us to expect; for, after all, the words and teaching of the merciful Redeemer Himself (Luke 12:48) seem to point to a mitigation of punishment, rather than to a complete forgiveness, of sins committed under circumstances of perhaps partial ignorance. “He that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.”
And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.(14) And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant.—The thought of his Master’s great love to one who once reviled Him so bitterly, and who had spent his strength in trying to undo His servants’ work, seems to have pressed with overwhelming force on St. Paul, who struggled to find words which should express how deeply he felt the loving tenderness which had transformed the cruel persecutor into the favoured Apostle. The Greek word translated “was exceeding abundant” is very rare, and possesses a superlative force.
With faith and love.—He sums up the divine mercy showed to him in the three words: grace, faith, and love. Grace, the unspeakable gift of God to him; faith and love, the results of the exceeding abundant gift of grace.
Faith: not merely a childlike trust in Christ, but a belief which accepted Christ as the hope of an otherwise hopeless world; and love, which includes love to man as well as love to God, a strange contrast to his former cruelty and hatred; for, instead of blaspheming, now he believed on Him whom he once reviled, and instead of persecuting the followers of Jesus, now, in his great love for them, he spent himself. Then, overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness that he, the enemy of God, had obtained the mercy and love of God, and conscious, from his own sweet and bitter experiences, what that mercy of God bestowed on a sinner signified, he gave utterance to one of those bright watchwords of the faith, with which the Christians of the first days used to comfort and encourage one another, and which, perhaps, better than any other words, gave expression to the burning thoughts which rose up from his grateful heart.
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.(15) This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.—This striking formula in the New Testament, found only in the Pastoral Epistles, here and in 1Timothy 3:1; 1Timothy 4:9; 2Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8; and the somewhat similar expression, “these sayings [words’] are faithful and true,” Revelation 21:5; Revelation 22:6, were formulas expressing weighty and memorable truths, well known and often repeated by the brotherhood of Christians in the first ages of the faith. They were, no doubt, rehearsed constantly in the assemblies, till they became well-known watchwords in the various churches scattered over the Mediterranean-washed provinces of the Roman empire; and in these “sayings” we see, perhaps, the germs of the great creeds of Christianity. [1Timothy 3:1, perhaps, as usually understood, hardly falls under this category of “watchwords of the faith,” unless St. Chrysostom’s interpretation of the text be followed, which refers “the faithful saying” to the solemn truths which immediately preceded it in 1 Timothy 2]
That Christ Jesus came into the world.—This is an unmistakable allusion to the pre-existence of Christ. He came into the world, leaving the glory which he had with the Father before the world was (see John 16:28; John 17:5; Ephesians 1:3-4). And the purpose for which he came into the world is stated distinctly in the next sentence.
To save sinners.—There are no details given respecting this salvation. The “sinners” here mentioned is a broad, inclusive term. It includes, besides Jews, the outcasts of the Gentiles without hope and without God—all the lost, irrespective of race or time. In the Lord’s own blessed words: “The Son of Man was come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Of whom I am chief.—The intense humility of the strange, beautiful character of the Gentile Apostle prompted this bitter expression. St. Paul, it has been well said, knew his own sins by experience, and every other man’s per speculationem. In another place a similar feeling leads him to style himself as “less than the least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8). He had been in time past so bitter an enemy of the Lord that no preaching of the disciples was effectual to work his conversion. In his case, to overcome his intense hatred of the Name, it needed a special appearance of the Risen One.
Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.(16)Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy.—In spite of this deep consciousness of his guilt, faith and confidence in his own salvation seem never to have wavered. He speaks of this with all certainty, and proceeds to tell us with great clearness why Christ saved him, the chief of sinners.
That in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering.—If Christ could show mercy to him, surely in after times the greatest of sinners need never doubt the Redeemer’s power and will to save. St. Paul’s conversion foretold many a patient waiting on the part of the Lord, much long-suffering, which would never hurry to punish His enemies, but which would tarry long, in the hope of the sinner repenting while it was yet time.
For a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him.—Men were to learn that such conversions as his were to be looked forward to as no uncommon occurrences—conversion of blasphemers, of persecutors, whom the Lord would tarry long for, till they, too, coming to the knowledge of the truth, should acknowledge Him. Thus to all sinners was St. Paul a pattern—an example of the Lord’s long-suffering, of His patient waiting. His gracious Master had dealt with him like a king, who, when judging the case of a rebel city, pardons the chief rebel. If God would redeem Saul the persecutor, none need despair of finding mercy.
To life everlasting.—And the goal—which lay before these poor redeemed sinners, who, like St. Paul, in faith and loving trust in Jesus had found peace and acceptance—was eternal life.
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.(17) Now unto the King.—The wonderful chain of thoughts (1Timothy 1:12-16) which so well illustrate the great assertion of 1Timothy 1:15—“that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners”—St. Paul closes with a noble ascription of praise and thankfulness to the great God.
This doxology is addressed to no one Person of the ever blessed Trinity, but is—as has been said with great truth—“a grand testimony to the monotheism of St. Paul: the Godhead, the Trinity of his worship, is a sublime unity. To this Eternal, Incorruptible One be glory and honour unto the ages of the ages. Amen.”
Eternal.—More accurately rendered, (to the King) of the ages. The King of the Ages is the sovereign dispenser and disposer of the ages of the world. There is no reference at all here to the Gnostic æons.
Immortal (or incorruptible).—This epithet and the following one—“invisible”—are connected with “God,” not, with the preceding clause, “to the King of the Ages.” God is immortal, in contrast with the beings of earth, and—
Invisible, in contrast with the visible creation.
The only wise God.—The only God, the most ancient authorities omitting “wise.” “Only,” as in 1Timothy 6:15 : “the blessed and only potentate.” “The only God,” a contrast to the multitude of created spirits, angels, principalities, powers, &c. (See 1Corinthians 8:5-6.)
For ever and ever.—Literally, to the ages of the ages, to all eternity—a Hebraistic expression for a duration of time superlatively (infinitely) long.
This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;(18) This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy.—The nature of the charge which he committed to Timothy must be gathered from the solemn words and thoughts of the foregoing passage—1Timothy 1:15-16. The sum of it was that men should put their whole trust in Him who came into the world to save sinners, and who alone was able to lead them into everlasting life. There is something very solemn in St. Paul’s pressing home this charge to Timothy, and invoking the memory of the prophecies which went before on him. The charge was the last precious heritage, the priceless treasure which the old master, feeling that for him the end was not far distant, would leave to his favourite disciple—his own dear son in the faith. Anxious above measure for the loved group of Asian churches, of which Ephesus was the centre, foreseeing that the present perils and dangers from within and without would rapidly close round the congregations, and placing his greatest earthly hope on the steadfastness and knowledge of his own dear disciple whom he had left there as a shepherd to the sheep, he charges his son Timothy, by the memory of those strange prophetic utterances which, years before, had been made over him (Acts 17:1-2) in Lystra or Derbe, and which, perhaps, had first induced him to choose the young son of Eunice as his friend and companion, to hold fast the blessed doctrine which taught men to put their whole trust in Jesus Christ.
According to the prophecies which went before on thee.—These prophetic utterances seem to have been not unfrequent in the days of the Apostles, and were among the precious gifts which enriched and encouraged the Church of the first days. We read of them at Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-28), at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14), at Cæsarea (Acts 21:8-10).
In the case of Timothy they appear to have been farseeing glances into the life and the work and the teaching of the future Christian leader; here the last named—the doctrine and teaching—is especially referred to. The prophecies in question were uttered, no doubt, over him at his ordination, and, possibly, some of them at his baptism.
That thou by them mightest war a good warfare.—Better rendered, that thou in them, &c. St. Paul committed the sacred charge to Timothy concerning the faith in full confidence that, in accordance with those well-remembered glorious predictions which had been made foretelling his future zeal and success in the promulgation of the gospel, that in these—accoutred in these as his spiritual protection and armour—Timothy would wage his warfare against sin and evil.
St. Paul’s words in this verse may be thus paraphrased: I give this charge to you, son Timothy, in accordance with those well-remembered predictions respecting your future steadfastness in doctrine and in life. I remind you now of them, Do not disappoint these grand hopes—these prophecies of your future—but bear them ever in your mind. Equip yourself in them as your spiritual armour, and so armed, fight your Master’s fight against sin and evil—eine gute Ritterschaft, according to Luther.
The war imagery here used St. Paul employs again and again: the good warfare. (Comp. 1Timothy 6:12.) To the old, tried Apostle a Christian’s life is a warfare in the truest sense of the word: to every believer it is a weary, painful campaign. In the case of the professed teachers a sleepless vigilance was especially demanded.
Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:(19) Holding faith, and a good conscience.—Again, as in 1Timothy 1:5, the Apostle joins “faith” and “the conscience undefiled.” In the mind of St. Paul, “want of faith” was no mere refusal to accept a definite religions dogma, but was ever closely connected with impurity and the love of sin. If a man dares to do wilful violence to his better nature he must not presume to dream of faith saving him. The thought expressed by another inspired teacher seems to run constantly in the mind of St. Paul: “The devils also believe and tremble.”
Which some.—“Some.” A quiet reference here is made to those false teachers who seem to have been doing such evil work at Ephesus among the Christian believers, and against whom Timothy is so urgently warned to be on his guard in the 6th and following verses of the chapter.
Having put away.—The simile in St. Paul’s mind is a nautical one. The “good conscience” represents the ballast, or cargo, of the ship. When this is put away—tossed overboard—the vessel becomes unmanageable and is tossed about, the plaything of the waves, and in the end is wrecked.
Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.(20) Of whom is Hymenæus and Alexander.—Here the Apostle names two, as examples of the utter shipwreck of all true faith—persons evidently well known to Timothy and the members of the Church at Ephesus. Hymenæus is probably identical with the heretic of that name, charged, in the Second Epistle to Timothy, with teaching that the resurrection was already passed, thus undermining the great hope which Christian faith so firmly laid hold of. In the second letter to the Presbyter presiding over the Ephesian congregations the fundamental error was specified on account of which this Hymenæus was excommunicated.
Alexander.—It would be unsafe positively to identify this person with the personal adversary of St. Paul alluded to in the Second Epistle, 2Timothy 4:14, there spoken of as “Alexander the coppersmith,” or with the Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33. The name was a very common one. Of the Alexander of Acts 19:33 we know nothing; from the circumstances in connection with which he is there mentioned, which took place some ten years before this Epistle was written, he seems to have been a Jew.
Whom I have delivered unto Satan.—In this fearful formula the offender is delivered over to Satan, the evil one. It is a solemn excommunication or expulsion from the Church, accompanied with the infliction of bodily disease or death. In ordinary cases, the offender was quietly expelled from the Christian society. But an Apostle, and only an Apostle, seems to have possessed the awful powers of inflicting bodily suffering in the forms of disease and death. Certain special instances of the exercise of these tremendous powers are recorded in the cases of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas, the incestuous person at Corinth, and the men here alluded to. The fear of Simon Magus, related in Acts 8:24, seems to have been aroused by his evident expectation that this well-known apostolic power would be put in force in his case. It is, however, noticeable that this punishment was not necessarily, in the case of disease, an irrevocable sentence. The true end and purpose of this, as of all divine punishments, was not revenge for the sin, but the ultimate recovery of the sinner.