THE BIBLE AND RELIGIOUS CULTS

Almost every book in the NT has something to say about false beliefs and those who advocate them. We are warned, e.g., about false prophets (Matt. 7:15–16; 24:11), false christs (Matt. 24:5, 24; Mark 13:22), a different Jesus and a different spirit (2 Cor. 11:4), false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13–15), and “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8). With so many warnings, it is clear God knew that many false teachers would come, and that he did not want his people to be deceived (cf. Eph. 4:14; 2 John 7). In what follows, notable deceptions of prominent cults will be summarized, along with a brief biblical response.
From the viewpoint of those who hold to historic, evangelical Christianity, a “cult” is any religious movement that claims to be derived from the Bible and/or the Christian faith, and that advocates beliefs that differ so significantly with major Christian doctrines that two consequences follow: (1) The movement cannot legitimately be considered a valid “Christian” denomination because of its serious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy. (2) Believing the doctrines of the movement is incompatible with trusting in the Jesus Christ of the Bible for the salvation that comes by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:8–9). By this traditional understanding of the word “cult,” the following groups described are “cults,” though this does not imply that they share the extremely oppressive, authoritarian, life-controlling, and often immoral practices that are found in what the secular world calls “cults,” using the term in a more extreme sense.

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS (MORMONISM)

Apostasy and restoration. Mormons claim that “total” apostasy overcame the church following apostolic times, and that the Mormon Church (founded in 1830) is the “restored church.” If the Mormon Church were truly a “restored church,” however, one would expect to find first-century historical evidence for Mormon doctrines like the plurality of gods and God the Father having once been a man. Such evidence is completely lacking. Besides, the Bible disallows a total apostasy of the church (e.g., Matt. 16:18; 28:20; Eph. 3:21; 4:11–16), warning instead of partial apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1).

God. Mormons claim that God the Father was once a man and that he then progressed to godhood (that is, he is a now-exalted, immortal man with a flesh-and-bone body). However, based on the Bible, God is not and has never been a man (Num. 23:19; Hos. 11:9). He is a spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Furthermore, God is eternal (Ps. 90:2; 102:27; Isa. 57:15; 1 Tim. 1:17) and immutable (or unchangeable in his being and perfections; see Ps. 102:25–27; Mal. 3:6). He did not “progress” toward godhood, but has always been God.

Polytheism. Mormons believe that the Trinity consists not of three persons in one God but rather of three distinct gods. According to Mormonism, there are potentially many thousands of gods besides these. However, trusting in or worshiping more than one god is explicitly condemned throughout the Bible (e.g., Ex. 20:3). There is only one true God (Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:18; 46:9; 1 Cor. 8:4; James 2:19), who exists eternally in three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). (See the discussion of the Trinity in the section on Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

Exaltation of humans. Mormons believe that humans, like God the Father, can go through a process of exaltation to godhood. But the Bible teaches that the yearning to be godlike led to the fall of mankind (Gen. 3:4ff.). God does not look kindly on humans who pretend to attain to deity (Acts 12:21–23; contrast Acts 14:11–15). God desires humans to humbly recognize that they are his creatures (Gen. 2:7; 5:2; Ps. 95:6–7; 100:3). The state of the redeemed in eternity will be one of glorious immortality, but they will forever remain God’s creatures, adopted as his children (Rom. 8:14–30; 1 Cor. 15:42–57; Rev. 21:3–7). Believers will never become gods.

Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was the firstborn spirit-child of the heavenly Father and a heavenly Mother. Jesus then progressed to deity in the spirit world. He was later physically conceived in Mary’s womb, as the literal “only begotten” Son of God the Father in the flesh (though many present-day Mormons remain somewhat vague as to how this occurred). Biblically, however, the description of Jesus as the “only begotten” refers to his being the Father’s unique, one-of-a-kind Son for all eternity, with the same divine nature as the Father (see note on John 1:14; cf. John 1:18; 3:16, 18; see also John 5:18; 10:30). Moreover, he is eternal deity (John 1:1; 8:58) and is immutable (Heb. 1:10–12; 13:8), meaning he did not progress to deity but has always been God. And Mary’s conception of Jesus in his humanity was through a miracle of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20).

Three kingdoms. Mormons believe that most people will end up in one of three kingdoms of glory, depending on one’s level of faithfulness. Belief in Christ, or even in God, is not necessary to obtain immortality in one of these three kingdoms, and therefore only the most spiritually perverse will go to hell. But the Bible teaches that people have just two possibilities for their eternal futures: the saved will enjoy eternal life with God in the new heavens and new earth (Phil. 3:20; Rev. 21:1–4; 22:1–5), while the unsaved will spend eternity in hell (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:13–15).

Sin and atonement. Mormons believe that Adam’s transgression was a noble act that made it possible for humans to become mortal, a necessary step on the path to exaltation to godhood. They think that Christ’s atonement secures immortality for virtually all people, whether they repent and believe or not. Biblically, however, there was nothing noble about Adam’s sin, which was not a stepping-stone to godhood but rather brought nothing but sin, misery, and death to mankind (Gen. 3:16–19; Rom. 5:12–14). Jesus atoned for the sins of all who would trust him for salvation (Isa. 53:6; John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21;1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

Salvation. Mormons believe that God gives to (virtually) everyone a general salvation to immortal life in one of the heavenly kingdoms, which is how they understand salvation by grace. Belief in Christ is necessary only to obtain passage to the highest, celestial kingdom—for which not only faith but participation in Mormon temple rituals and obedience to its “laws of the gospel” are also prerequisites. Biblically, however, salvation by grace must be received through faith in Christ (John 3:15–16; 11:25; 12:46; Acts 16:31; Rom. 3:22–24; Eph. 2:8–9), and all true believers are promised eternal life in God’s presence (Matt. 5:3–8; John 14:1–3; Rev. 21:3–7).

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

The divine name. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s one true name—the name by which he must be identified—is Jehovah. Biblically, however, God is identified by many names, including: God (Hb.’elohim; Gen. 1:1), God Almighty (Hb. ’El Shadday; Gen. 17:1), Lord (Hb. ’Adonay; Ps. 8:1), and Lord of hosts (Hb. yhwh tseba’ot; 1 Sam. 1:3). In NT times, Jesus referred to God as “Father” (Gk. Patēr; Matt. 6:9), as did the apostles (1 Cor. 1:3).

The Trinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Trinity is unbiblical because the word is not in the Bible and because the Bible emphasizes that there is one God. Biblically, while it is true that there is only one God (Isa. 44:6; 45:18; 46:9; John 5:44; 1 Cor. 8:4; James 2:19), it is also true that three persons are called God in Scripture: the Father (1 Pet. 1:2), Jesus (John 20:28; Heb. 1:8), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3–4). Each of these three possesses the attributes of deity—including omnipresence (Ps. 139:7; Jer. 23:23–24; Matt. 28:20), omniscience (Ps. 147:5; John 16:30; 1 Cor. 2:10–11), omnipotence (Jer. 32:17; John 2:1–11; Rom. 15:19), and eternality (Ps. 90:2; Heb. 9:14; Rev. 22:13). Still further, each of the three is involved in doing the works of deity—such as creating the universe: the Father (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 102:25), the Son (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30). The Bible indicates that there is three-in-oneness in the godhead (Matt. 28:19; cf. 2 Cor. 13:14). Thus doctrinal support for the Trinity is compellingly strong.

Jesus Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was created by Jehovah as the archangel Michael before the physical world existed, and is a lesser, though mighty, god. Biblically, however, Jesus is eternally God (John 1:1; 8:58; cf. Ex. 3:14) and has the exact same divine nature as the Father (John 5:18; 10:30; Heb. 1:3). Indeed, a comparison of the OT and NT equates Jesus with Jehovah (compareIsa. 43:11 with Titus 2:13; Isa. 44:24 with Col. 1:16; Isa. 6:1–5 with John 12:41). Jesus himself created the angels (Col. 1:16; cf. John 1:3; Heb. 1:2, 10) and is worshiped by them (Heb. 1:6).

The incarnation. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when Jesus was born on earth, he was a mere human and not God in human flesh. This violates the biblical teaching that in the incarnate Jesus, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9; cf. Phil. 2:6–7). The word for “fullness” (Gk. plērōma) carries the idea of the sum total. “Deity” (Gk. theotēs) refers to the nature, being, and attributes of God. Therefore, the incarnate Jesus was the sum total of the nature, being, and attributes of God in bodily form. Indeed, Jesus was Immanuel, or “God with us” (Matt. 1:23; cf. Isa. 7:14; John 1:1, 14, 18; 10:30; 14:9–10).

Resurrection. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was resurrected spiritually from the dead, but not physically. Biblically, however, the resurrected Jesus asserted that he was not merely a spirit but had a flesh-and-bone body (Luke 24:39; cf. John 2:19–21). He ate food on several occasions, thereby proving that he had a genuine physical body after the resurrection (Luke 24:30, 42–43; John 21:12–13). This was confirmed by his followers who physically touched him (Matt. 28:9; John 20:17).

The second coming. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the second coming was an invisible, spiritual event that occurred in the year 1914. Biblically, however, the yet-future second coming will be physical,visible (Acts 1:9–11; cf. Titus 2:13), and will be accompanied by visible cosmic disturbances (Matt. 24:29–30). Every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7).

The Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force of God and not a distinct person. Biblically, however, the Holy Spirit has a mind (Rom. 8:27), emotions (Eph. 4:30), and will (1 Cor. 12:11)—the three primary attributes of personality. Moreover, personal pronouns are used of him (Acts 13:2). Also, he does things that only a person can do, including: teaching (John 14:26), testifying (John 15:26), commissioning (Acts 13:4), issuing commands (Acts 8:29), and interceding (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity (Matt. 28:19).

Salvation. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that salvation requires faith in Christ, association with God’s organization (i.e., their religion), and obedience to its rules. Biblically, however, viewing obedience to rules as a requirement for salvation nullifies the gospel (Gal. 2:16–21; Col. 2:20–23). Salvation is based wholly on God’s unmerited favor (grace), not on the believer’s performance. Good works are the fruit or result, not the basis, of salvation (Eph. 2:8–10; Titus 3:4–8).

Two redeemed peoples. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there are two peoples of God: (1) the Anointed Class (144,000) will live in heaven and rule with Christ; and (2) the “other sheep” (all other believers) will live forever on a paradise earth. Biblically, however, a heavenly destiny awaits all who believe in Christ (John 14:1–3; 17:24; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:5; 1 Thess. 4:17; Heb. 3:1), and these same people will also dwell on the new earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1–4).

No immaterial soul. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that humans have an immaterial nature. The “soul” is simply the life-force within a person. At death, that life-force leaves the body. Biblically, however, the word “soul” is multifaceted. One key meaning of the term is man’s immaterial self that consciously survives death (Gen. 35:18; Rev. 6:9–10). Unbelievers are in conscious woe (Matt. 13:42; 25:41, 46; Luke 16:22–24; Rev. 14:11) while believers are in conscious bliss in heaven (1 Cor. 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:6–8; Phil. 1:21–23; Rev. 7:17; 21:4).

Hell. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe hell is not a place of eternal suffering but is rather the common grave of humankind. The wicked are annihilated—snuffed out of conscious existence forever. Biblically, however, hell is a real place of conscious, eternal suffering (Matt. 5:22; 25:41, 46; Jude 7; Rev. 14:11; 20:10, 14).

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE

Sin, sickness, and death. Christian Science teaches that sin, sickness, and death are illusions that can be conquered by correct thinking. The rationale for this unusual idea is that all things in the universe are ultimately God. Since everything is God, there can be no sin and no matter. Since matter does not exist, neither can sickness, pain, or death exist.

If everything is God, however, one must wonder where this widespread, universal delusion about the material nature of the world emerged. Is delusion a part of God? Further, the Christian Science worldview seems utterly unlivable. Why lock the front door at night if there is no sin? Why go to the dentist if there is no pain? Why buckle seatbelts in the car if there is no death? According to the Bible, God created the material universe (Genesis 1; Ps. 102:25; Isa. 44:24) and pronounced it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The emergence of sin (Genesis 3), however, brought ruin to the creation (Rom. 8:20; cf.Gen. 3:17) and introduced the realities of sickness and death (Gen. 2:17; 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31; cf.Rom. 5:12).

God. Christian Science holds to a pantheistic view of God (i.e., God and the universe are the same reality). Biblically, however, God is distinct from his creatures and is a personal loving Father unto whom believers may cry, “Abba” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). This personal God is a conscious being who thinks, feels, plans (Jer. 9:23–24; cf. Isa. 46:10), and engages in personal relationships with others (e.g., Gen. 5:22, 24; 6:9). This personal God created all things out of absolute nothingness (Heb. 11:3; cf. Gen. 1:1; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 33:8–9; 148:5). While he is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–9), he is not “one with” the universe; he remains eternally distinct from the creation that he made and from humankind (Num. 23:19; Eccles. 5:2; Heb. 11:3).

Jesus Christ. Christian Science teaches that Jesus was a mere human who, as an adult, embodied “the Christ” (i.e., a manifestation of divinity), as other humans also can. Biblically, however, Jesus did not become the Christ as an adult, but rather was the one and only Christ from the very beginning (Luke 2:11; cf. 1 John 2:22). The precise NT counterpart of the OT word “Messiah” is “Christ” (John 1:41). The OT presents numerous prophecies regarding the coming of a single Messiah (e.g., Isa. 7:14; 53:3–5;Mic. 5:2; Zech. 12:10). Jesus alone fulfilled these prophecies, and hence he alone is the Christ (Luke 9:20). He is also absolute deity (John 1:1; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28).

Humanity. In keeping with its pantheistic views, Christian Science teaches that human beings, too, are God. Biblically, however, human beings are creatures (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:7) who remain eternally distinct from God (Eccles. 5:2) and are intrinsically weak and dependent upon God (Ps. 95:6–7; 100:3; Mic. 6:8;John 15:5; 2 Cor. 3:5; James 4:6). Christian Science proponents would do well to consider: if the essence of human beings is God, and if God is an infinite, changeless being, then how is it possible for man (if he is a manifestation of divinity) to go through a changing process of enlightenment, by which he discovers his divinity? Biblically, God does not “blossom” or grow to maturity; he has always been in “full bloom” as the perfect and unchanging God (Ps. 90:2).

Salvation. Christian Science teaches that when one ceases believing in sin, sickness, and death, one becomes “saved.” Theologically, a weak view of sin blinds one to the need for a savior. Such is the case with Christian Science. A biblical view of sin (e.g., Rom. 5:12), however, points to a dire need for salvation—especially dire in view of the hard biblical realities of death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23) and hell (Rev. 20:14–15) as the wages of sin. Biblical salvation is based wholly on the sacrificial death of Jesus (Rom. 5:8; cf. Isa. 53:6) and is received as a grace-gift (Rom. 5:1–11; Eph. 2:8–9) by faith in him (John 3:15–16; 5:24; 11:25; 12:46; 20:31).

Heaven and hell. Christian Science teaches that people make their own hell by thinking wrongly and their own heaven by thinking rightly. Biblically, however, heaven is the splendor-filled eternal abode of the saved (1 Cor. 2:9; 2 Cor. 12:4; Col. 1:12; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1–2), while hell is the horrific eternal abode of the unsaved (Matt. 13:42; 25:41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:8–9; Rev. 19:20; 20:14–15).

NEW AGE MOVEMENT

Unlike the preceding movements, the New Age Movement has no one organizational headquarters or leadership, but consists of hundreds of informally associated small organizations and groups. Nevertheless, it continues to gain followers in the twenty-first century.

Revelation. New Agers believe divine revelation has been expressed not only in Christianity but also in other religions including: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. These religions allegedly teach the same “core truths.” Such a claim contradicts the facts. Consider the doctrine of God. The Bible teaches the Trinity, the Qur’an (Islam’s scripture) denies the Trinity, the Hindu Vedas teach pantheism and polytheism, Zoroastrianism teaches religious dualism, and Buddhist writings teach that God is essentially irrelevant. Since God is the most fundamental doctrine of any religious system, the claim that these religions teach the same “core truths” is flatly false.

Christianity is exclusivistic at its core. Jesus said he is uniquely and exclusively humanity’s only means of coming into a relationship with God (John 14:6; cf. Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5). His exclusivity caused him to warn against false religious leaders who contradict his teachings (Matt. 24:4–5, 23–24).

God. New Agers hold to a pantheistic, impersonal view of God. Biblically, however, God is a personal being who hears (Ex. 2:24), sees (Gen. 1:4), knows (Jer. 29:11; 2 Tim. 2:19), has a will (1 John 2:17), communicates (Ex. 3:13–14), plans (Eph. 1:11), expresses emotion (Gen. 6:6), and demonstrates character (2 Pet. 3:9). He also engages in personal relationships with others (e.g., Gen. 5:22, 24; 6:9).

Jesus Christ. New Agers claim that Jesus was a “human vessel” who, as an adult, embodied “the Christ” (variously defined, but always divine). Jesus is viewed as a prototype for the rest of humanity, since all people can embody the Christ. As noted previously in response to Christian Science, however, Jesus did not become the Christ as an adult but rather was the one and only Christ from the very beginning. Jesus even made his identity as the Christ the primary issue of faith on at least two different occasions (Matt. 16:13–20; John 11:25–27). When Jesus was acknowledged as the Christ, he did not say to people, “You, too, have the Christ within.” Instead he warned that others would come falsely claiming to be the Christ (Matt. 24:4–5, 23–24).

Humankind. New Agers hold that human beings are God and therefore have unlimited potential. If this were true, however, one would expect humans to have the same attributes as God. Biblically, though, God is all-knowing (Ps. 147:5; Heb. 4:13), while man is limited in knowledge (Job 38:4). God is all-powerful (Rev. 19:6), while man is weak (Heb. 4:15). God is holy (1 John 1:5), while fallen man’s “righteous” deeds are as filthy garments before God (Isa. 64:6). Such scriptural facts illustrate the apostle Paul’s affirmation that all humans “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Humans are mere finite creatures (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:7), now fallen in sin (Rom. 5:12).

Sin and salvation. New Agers say humans do not have a “sin problem” but an “ignorance problem.” All they need is enlightenment regarding their divinity. Then, through reincarnation, the human soul can eventually reach a state of perfection and merge back with its source (pantheistic God).

Biblically, Christian morality begins with a personal God (see above) who makes moral requirements of his creatures (Ex. 15:26; 20:1–17; Deut. 8:6; John 14:15). While moral terms like “right” and “wrong” may not have any relevance to an impersonal, pantheistic God, they do have relevance to the God of the Bible, who calls us to obey his moral commandments (Ex. 19:5; Deut. 12:28; John 14:21). Because humans have failed to do this, they stand guilty before God (Genesis 3; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:23).

Jesus did not teach that humans have a mere ignorance problem but a grave sin problem that is altogether beyond their means to solve (Mark 7:20–23; cf. Ps. 53:2–3; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). He also taught that salvation is found not by enlightenment but by placing faith in him (John 3:16; Acts 16:31) who is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Trusting in reincarnation will not suffice, for Scripture affirms that each person lives once, dies once, and then faces judgment (Heb. 9:27; cf. Rev. 20:11–15). There are no second chances following death (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2).

AUTHOR AND TITLE

The first verse of 1 Timothy clearly states that Paul is the author, and this was universally affirmed until the nineteenth century. In the last 200 years a significant shift has occurred in biblical scholarship so that many today deny that Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, or Titus. Critics point to ways in which these three letters (the “Pastoral Epistles”) differ from Paul’s other letters in style, vocabulary, theology, church order, and the way in which Paul is portrayed. However, the differences in theology and church order, for example, are typically overstated based on a particular reading of Paul’s earlier letters, and based on the effect of reading these three letters as a unit rather than individually (as the rest of Paul’s letters are read). For example, some claim that the Pastoral Epistles picture a much more structured church with an emphasis on church officers (esp. elders and deacons) rather than the dynamic, Spirit-directed church in Paul’s other letters. This overstates the evidence of both groups of letters in opposite directions. Elders are mentioned as early as Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 14:21–23), and Philippians is addressed to the “overseers and deacons” of the church in Philippi (Phil. 1:1). Furthermore, difference in style and vocabulary is not unusual for a creative mind, especially considering that these letters differ from the other letters in purpose, subject matter, and audience, these being the only ones written to coworkers.

Additionally, it is problematic to argue that these works were written under a false name since the early church clearly excluded from the apostolic canon any works they thought to be pseudonymous. While critics point to the common practice of pseudonymous writing in the ancient world, they usually fail to point out that this practice, though common in the culture, was not common in personal letters, and was categorically rejected by the early church (cf. 2 Thess. 2:2; 3:17; also Muratorian Canon 64–67; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.12.3). Tertullian (c. a.d. 160–225) wrote that when it was discovered that a church elder had composed a pseudonymous work, The Acts of Paul (which included a purported Pauline letter, 3 Corinthians), the offending elder “was removed from his office” (On Baptism 17). Accepting as Scripture letters that lie about their origin is also a significant ethical problem. Thus, there is a good basis for affirming the straightforward claim of these letters as authentically written by Paul.

The title indicates that this letter was sent to Timothy (1:2), and its contents confirm that, chronologically, it precedes 2 Timothy.

DATE

Some critics have suggested that 1 Timothy does not seem to fit into the narrative of Acts. Others have responded that it could fit into the events in Acts 20. However, the traditional position has been that Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment (the one mentioned at the close of Acts; see Acts 28:16, 30–31), did further mission work, and was then imprisoned a second time, leading to his execution. This reconstruction is supported by statements from 1 Clement 5.7 and Eusebius,Ecclesiastical History 2.22.2–8. First Timothy then would fit well during Paul’s work between the two imprisonments. If Paul’s arrival in Rome, as narrated in Acts, is dated about a.d. 59–61, then, allowing a couple of years for the imprisonment, he would have been released in about 62. If Paul was executed under Nero (d. a.d. 68), 1 Timothy would have been written somewhere in the mid-60s (cf. note on Acts 28:30–31).

THEME

The theme of 1 Timothy is that the gospel leads to practical, visible change in the lives of those who believe it. It is often thought that the theme is church order, but the discussion of church offices is simply a piece of the larger argument that the true gospel, in contrast to false teaching, will always lead to godliness in its adherents.

PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND BACKGROUND

Paul wrote 1 Timothy in order to advise his young coworker Timothy concerning issues that were arising at the church in Ephesus. When Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, he had specifically charged him to deal with some false teachers in the church (1:3). Since Paul was then separated from Timothy and the church, he wrote back to him with further instructions. He hoped to return for a visit but wrote in the meantime to address the way in which Christians should behave (3:14–15). Throughout the letter Paul grounds Christian behavior in the gospel.

The false teachers are the primary occasion for the letter. The letter as a whole is bracketed by discussion of the false teaching (see Outline), and the positive instruction is crafted in direct contrast to the false teachers. The exact nature of the false teaching is unclear. It apparently involved speculation about the law (1:7–11) and asceticism (4:1–5). Paul’s real concern is with the results of the false teaching—for example, promoting speculations (1:4; 6:4), arrogance (6:4), and greed (6:5–10). Paul addresses the content of the false teaching only in passing but focuses on the fact that true Christianity is evidenced by lifestyles shaped by the gospel. Those whose lives are not shaped by the gospel show that they have turned away from the faith (1:6, 19–20; 4:1; 5:6, 8, 11–12, 15; 6:9–10).

First Timothy is a clear call for the church to live out in tangible ways the ethical implications of the gospel.

KEY THEMES

1. The gospel produces holiness in the lives of believers, and there is no legitimate separation between belief and behavior. Thus, those who profess faith but do not demonstrate any progress in godliness should question their spiritual state.1:5; 2:8–15; 3:1–16; 4:6–16; 5:4–6, 8; 6:3–5, 11–14, 18–19
2. Worldwide evangelization is essential and is rooted in God’s own evangelistic desire.1:15; 2:1–7; 3:16; 4:10
3. One key evidence of reception of the gospel is proper behavior in corporate worship (evangelistic prayer, unity, modesty, and submission).2:1–15
4. Church leaders should be people whose lives are shaped by the gospel.3:1–13; 4:6–16
5. Appropriate honor is a key element in how Christians should relate to one another in the church.5:1–6:2
6. The created order (e.g., wealth) is good and is to be appreciated, though not worshiped.4:4–5; 6:17–19
7. It is important to labor for the purity and preservation of the gospel.1:3–7, 18–20; 4:6–16; 6:2b–3, 12, 20–21

HISTORY OF SALVATION SUMMARY

God’s plan brings the blessings of Christ’s salvation to people partly by means of the church and its ministries. (For an explanation of the “History of Salvation,” see the Overview of the Bible.)

LITERARY FEATURES

The general form of 1 Timothy is that of a NT epistle, and 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus have been called more specifically “Pastoral Epistles” because each one is a letter written to someone who has pastoral leadership responsibilities. The letter gives advice on the issues of church life on which the recipient needs guidance and encouragement—though Timothy was not actually one of the pastors of a church but was Paul’s liaison who implemented Paul’s instructions to the churches. The resulting letter is occasional, meaning that the author of the letter addresses the specific situations in the recipient’s church that need attention. The Pastoral Epistles are not theological treatises in which Paul systematically explores topics of his choice. Paul takes up the topics in this letter because they are the topics that have been raised. Finally, near the end of the opening chapter, Paul labels his remarks up to that point as “this charge” that he has committed to Timothy. It is helpful to regard the entire letter as a formal, authoritative charge—a list of duties that Paul is challenging and directing Timothy to perform.

The stance of the author is that of a friend and father in the faith expressing personal concern over the well-being of a younger church leader and the church in which he ministers. The overarching concern of the letter is to combat false teaching and false teachers. Accordingly, there are detailed contrasts between good and bad spiritual leadership in the church.

Additionally, this letter provides the most complete summary in the Bible of a pastor’s ministry and spirituality. There are also lists of spiritual qualifications for officers in the church, as well as advice about caring for people with special needs, such as widows and servants. Three times Paul says that a statement he makes is “trustworthy” (1:15; 3:1; 4:9).

TIMELINE

Timeline

THE SETTING OF 1 TIMOTHY

c. a.d. 62–64

Paul likely wrote 1 Timothy during a fourth missionary journey not recorded in the book of Acts. Writing from an unknown location, Paul wrote to Timothy at Ephesus to instruct him on how to lead the church there. Ephesus was a wealthy and highly influential port city in the Roman province of Asia, renowned for its temple of Artemis (Diana).

The Setting of 1 Timothy

OUTLINE

  1. Salutation (1:1–2)
  2. Confronting the False Teaching (1:3–20)
  3. The charge to deal with false teachers (1:3–7)
  4. Proper use of the law (1:8–11)
  5. Paul: an example of the effect of the true gospel (1:12–17)
  6. Restatement of the charge to deal with false teachers (1:18–20)
  7. Descriptions of Gospel-Shaped Living (2:1–3:13)
  8. Corporate prayer and issues arising from it (2:1–15)
  9. Qualifications for overseers (3:1–7)
  10. Qualifications for deacons (3:8–13)
  11. Purpose of Writing: Behavior in the Church (3:14–16)
  12. Identifying the False Teaching (4:1–5)
  13. How Timothy Should Be Shaped by the Gospel (4:6–16)
  14. How Specific Groups in the Church Should Be Shaped by the Gospel (5:1–6:2a)
  15. Respectful dealing with church members by age and gender (5:1–2)
  16. Honoring widows (5:3–16)
  17. Honoring elders (5:17–25)
  18. Honoring masters (6:1–2a)
  19. Confronting the False Teaching Again (6:2b–21)
  20. False teachers and greed (6:2b–10)
  21. Timothy’s behavior in contrast (6:11–16)
  22. Charge to the rich (6:17–19)
  23. Closing exhortation to Timothy (6:20–21)

THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO TIMOTHY

CHAPTER 1

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;

2 Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.

3 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,

4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:

6 From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;

7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.

8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;

9 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,

10 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;

11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;

13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

15 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.

16 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.

17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

18 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;

19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:

20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

CHAPTER 2

1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.

8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

CHAPTER 3

1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.

11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:

15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

CHAPTER 4

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

7 But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

9 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.

10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

11 These things command and teach.

12 Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.

16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

CHAPTER 5

1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;

2 The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.

3 Honour widows that are widows indeed.

4 But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.

5 Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.

6 But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.

7 And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.

8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man,

10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.

11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;

12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.

13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.

14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

15 For some are already turned aside after Satan.

16 If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.

17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

21 I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.

22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.

23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

24 Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.

25 Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.

CHAPTER 6

1 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

2 And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,

5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.

7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;

14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:

15 Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;

16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;

18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;

19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:

21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.

¶ The first to Timothy was written from Laodicea, which is the chiefest city of Phrygia Pacatiana.

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