The ruins of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the classical world … Paul writes to Timothy, perhaps in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Last week we agreed to look at the Pastoral Letters – I Timothy, II Timothy and Titus – and discussed their content, those they were addressed to, and their relevance for pastoral studies today.
This morning we continue our studies by looking in detail at I Timothy 1.
I Timothy 1
1 Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ κατ' ἐπιταγὴν θεοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν καὶ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τῆς ἐλπίδος ἡμῶν
2 Τιμοθέῳ γνησίῳ τέκνῳ ἐν πίστει:
χάρις, ἔλεος, εἰρήνη ἀπὸθεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.
3 Καθὼς παρεκάλεσά σεπροσμεῖναι ἐν Ἐφέσῳ πορευόμενος εἰς Μακεδονίαν, ἵνα παραγγείλῃς τισὶν μὴἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖν 4 μηδὲ προσέχειν μύθοις καὶ γενεαλογίαις ἀπεράντοις, αἵτινεςἐκζητήσεις παρέχουσιν μᾶλλον ἢ οἰκονομίαν θεοῦ τὴν ἐν πίστει: 5 τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆςπαραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη ἐκ καθαρᾶς καρδίας καὶ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς καὶπίστεως ἀνυποκρίτου, 6 ὧν τινες ἀστοχήσαντες ἐξετράπησαν εἰς ματαιολογίαν,7 θέλοντες εἶναι νομοδιδάσκαλοι, μὴ νοοῦντες μήτε ἃ λέγουσιν μήτε περὶ τίνωνδιαβεβαιοῦνται.
8 Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι καλὸς ὁ νόμος ἐάν τις αὐτῷ νομίμως χρῆται,9 εἰδὼς τοῦτο, ὅτι δικαίῳ νόμος οὐ κεῖται, ἀνόμοις δὲ καὶ ἀνυποτάκτοις, ἀσεβέσι καὶἁμαρτωλοῖς, ἀνοσίοις καὶ βεβήλοις, πατρολῴαις καὶ μητρολῴαις, ἀνδροφόνοις,10 πόρνοις, ἀρσενοκοίταις, ἀνδραποδισταῖς, ψεύσταις, ἐπιόρκοις, καὶ εἴ τι ἕτερον τῇὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ ἀντίκειται, 11 κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς δόξης τοῦ μακαρίουθεοῦ, ὃ ἐπιστεύθην ἐγώ.
12 Χάριν ἔχω τῷ ἐνδυναμώσαντί με Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳἡμῶν, ὅτι πιστόν με ἡγήσατο θέμενος εἰς διακονίαν, 13 τὸ πρότερον ὄνταβλάσφημον καὶ διώκτην καὶ ὑβριστήν: ἀλλὰ ἠλεήθην, ὅτι ἀγνοῶν ἐποίησα ἐνἀπιστίᾳ, 14 ὑπερεπλεόνασεν δὲ ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν μετὰ πίστεως καὶ ἀγάπηςτῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. 15 πιστὸς ὁ λόγος καὶ πάσης ἀποδοχῆς ἄξιος, ὅτι ΧριστὸςἸησοῦς ἦλθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἁμαρτωλοὺς σῶσαι: ὧν πρῶτός εἰμι ἐγώ, 16 ἀλλὰ διὰτοῦτο ἠλεήθην, ἵνα ἐν ἐμοὶ πρώτῳ ἐνδείξηται Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς τὴν ἅπασανμακροθυμίαν, πρὸς ὑποτύπωσιν τῶν μελλόντων πιστεύειν ἐπ' αὐτῷ εἰς ζωὴναἰώνιον. 17 τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, ἀφθάρτῳ, ἀοράτῳ, μόνῳ θεῷ, τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων: ἀμήν.
18 Ταύτην τὴν παραγγελίαν παρατίθεμαί σοι,τέκνον Τιμόθεε, κατὰ τὰς προαγούσας ἐπὶ σὲ προφητείας, ἵνα στρατεύῃ ἐν αὐταῖςτὴν καλὴν στρατείαν, 19 ἔχων πίστιν καὶ ἀγαθὴν συνείδησιν, ἥν τινες ἀπωσάμενοιπερὶ τὴν πίστιν ἐναυάγησαν: 20 ὧν ἐστιν Ὑμέναιος καὶ Ἀλέξανδρος, οὓς παρέδωκα τῷ Σατανᾷ ἵναπαιδευθῶσιν μὴ βλασφημεῖν.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope,
2 To Timothy, my loyal child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, 4 and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. 5 But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. 6 Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. 9 This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers,10 fornicators, sodomites, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
18 I am giving you these instructions, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 having faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; 20 among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Notes on Chapter 1
Two letters are addressed to Timothy: I Timothy and II Timothy, but Timothy is also named by Paul as the co-author of II Corinthians, Philippians 1: 1, Colossians and Philemon (see II Corinthians 1: 1; Philippians 1: 1; Colossians 1: 1; Philemon 1) and with Silvanus as the co-author of I Thessalonians and II Thessalonians (see I Thessalonians 1: 1; II Thessalonians 1: 1).
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope.”
The term ἀπόστολος (apostolos, apostle) means someone sent from one person to another. But Saint Paul claims this title as a witness to the Risen Christ. But Paul also uses it of Timothy and Silvanus.
Paul addresses Timothy affectionately as “my loyal child in the faith.” The word faith here is πίστις (pístis), implying the whole package of Christianity.
Note the use of the now-popular phrase, “Grace, mercy, and peace” (χάρις, ἔλεος, εἰρήνη). Grace (χάρις, cháris) and peace (εἰρήνη , eiríne) combine the conventional Greek and Hebrew greetings. But here Paul adds “mercy” (ἔλεος, eleos) to “grace” and “peace” (see II Timothy 1: 2; II Thessalonians 1: 2).
Paul is addressing the situation in Ephesus. Although he does not name any individuals, perhaps Judaising teachers in the Church in Ephesus are the presenting problem.
The “endless genealogies” (compare with Titus 1: 14; 3: 9) may mean those definitions that separate those born with a Jewish inheritance and those who are born Greeks or gentiles. Jews had scrupulously kept their genealogical tables, and even Saint Matthew and Saint Luke draw on them in their references in their Gospels to Christ’s descent from the House of David. Herod, as an Idumean, was jealous of the noble origin of the Jews and destroyed the public registers and ordered the genealogical tables kept in the archives in the Temple to be burnt.
In any case, what have genealogies to do with the Gospel? We are not to be saved by birth-right, or by the privileges or piety of our ancestors.
The term translated as “divine training” (οἰκονομίαν θεοῦ, oikonomían Theou) may also be translated as the divine plan of salvation or God’s domestic or household stewardship.
“But the aim of such instruction is love.” These genealogical questions lead to strife and debate, but true teaching leads to love both for God and for humanity, which is not romantic sentiment but is sharing God’s generosity with others.
Meaningless talk or vain jangling: the original term (ματαιολογία, matailogía) may have been linked to genealogy because it sounds like mythology. The word signifies empty or vain talking; arguments that turn to no profit; a great many words that make little sense; and chatter that not worth taking the pain to hear. The neglect of love leads to empty talk.
Compare the law of the teachers in this verse with the law that is good in the next verse.
The law, as given by God, is both good in itself and has a good tendency.
There is a moral law as well as a ceremonial law. The object of the ceremonial law is to lead us to Christ; the object of the moral law is to restrain crimes and to punish those who commit them.
The lawless (ἄνομος, anomos) are those who will not be bound by a law, who acknowledge no law, and who have no rule of moral conduct.
The rebellious (ἀνυπότακτος, anupótaktos) are those who cannot be made subject to the law.
The ungodly (ἀσεβής, asevís) could also be translated as the unholy or impious.
The sinners (ἁμαρτωλός, amartolós), those not free from sin, may seem obvious, but this word is also used in the new Testament for heathens and for tax collectors.
The profane, from the word βέβηλος (bébelos), refers to those who not to be fit to attend any public worship. The word comes from a phrase meaning far from the temple, and refers to people who were told to keep beyond the threshold or pavement in front of a temple, or at a distance from the performance of sacred rites or from a temple.
“Those who kill their father or mother”: the murderer of a father or a mother was a rare individual whose crime so totally opposite to nature that few civilised societies found it necessary to make laws against them. Yet, Saint Paul may be referring simply to beating or striking a father or mother. They are referred to separately from those who are “murderers” without qualification.
The words translated here as “fornicators” (πόρνοις, pórnois) and “sodomoites” (ἀρσενοκοίταις arsenokoítas) are referred to in a separate introductory note below.
Slave traders, men stealers or slave dealers are those who traffic in human flesh, who steal a person in order to sell him or her into bondage, or who buy stolen men or women, no matter what their ethic or national origin is.
Liars are those who pretend that what they speak is the truth when they know it is, or those who tell the truth in a way that leads others to draw a different meaning.
Perjurers are those who do or leave undone anything contrary to an oath or moral engagement.
Perhaps the list could go on and on, so Paul concludes with “whatever is contrary to … sound teaching.”
The “glorious gospel of the blessed God” is obviously not yet a reference to the four canonical Gospels. What do you think the Good News means here?
“I am grateful to,” or I thank Christ .
A blasphemer speaks wrongly about Christ; a persecutor seeks to bring sufferings on all who believe in Christ.
The “grace of our Lord overflowed for me.” The original is very emphatic, that grace of our Lord, super-abounded ... it manifested itself in a way of extraordinary mercy.
With “the faith and love” ... note how the two go together, how they are paired and inseparable.
“The saying is sure”: this formula is characteristic of the letters to Timothy and Titus (see I Timothy 3: 1; 4: 9; II Timothy 2: 11; Titus 3: 8).
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”: Paul does not say that Christ came to save the elect, the chosen or the few. All are sinners. All men are sinners; and as such condemned, justly condemned, to eternal death.
“Of whom I am the foremost” or “of whom I am chief.” When we bring together the stories of Paul the Apostle, in the fullness of his faith and love, with that of Saul the Persecutor, in his ignorance, unbelief, and persecuting rage, we may still be in danger of dismissing this self-description on his part as hyperbole, or false modesty and humility.
But he says not that he was one among sinners, but that he was the chief sinner. The Pharisee who he took in the martyrdom of Stephen became a preacher of that very Gospel he had persecuted (see Acts 9: 4; I Corinthians 15: 9; Galatians 1: 13; Philemon 3: 6).
“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Here we have a burst of thanksgiving and gratitude to God.
Immortal: The original word, ἄφθαρτος (aphthartos), means incorruptible, not liable to decay or corruption, incapable of decomposition, permanent and eternal. Some ancient manuscripts and some the Latin fathers read “immortal,” but this is not the original reading.
Invisible: (ἀόρατος, aóratos), one who fills all things, works everywhere, and yet is invisible to angels and men; the perfect reverse of false gods and idols, who are confined to one spot, work nowhere, and, being sticks and stones, are seen by everybody.
“The only [wise] God: the word “wise” is omitted in most ancient manuscripts and in the NRSV. Some of the Greek Fathers quote it, but others omit it. It is an unsettled reading, probably borrowed from Romans 16: 27. Without it, the reading is very strong and appropriate: “To the only God; nothing visible or invisible being worthy of adoration but himself.”
“Be honour and glory”: all the respect and reverence that can be paid by intelligent beings, ascribing to him at the same time all the glory, excellences, and perfections that can be possessed by an intelligent, independent and eternal being without origin.
“forever and ever”: in Greek εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, “into the ages of the ages,” in other words, throughout all eternity.
“These instructions”: it was a charge that the Judaising teachers should not teach differently from the doctrine the Apostle Paul had delivered to Timothy.
“In accordance with the prophecies”: this may refer to some predictions by inspired men about what Timothy should be. Paul wishes Timothy to act in all things in a way that conforms to those predictions, and so he exhorts him to fight the good fight.
“Having faith” or holding faith: again, we could read this as referring to all the truths of Christianity, firmly believing them.
“And a good conscience”: but some people have thrown this away; casting aside the compass, they have been shipwrecked, losing their faith and the great Christian truths.
“Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander” … they had the faith but threw it away. It appears Hymenaeus denied the resurrection (see II Timothy 2: 17, 18). Alexander is perhaps the same as Alexander the coppersmith (II Timothy 4: 14) or the Alexander in Acts (see Acts 19: 33), but we do not know. Nor do we know whether these two were ever brought back to acknowledge the truth.
The lone remaining column of the Temple of Artemis, seen from the streets below the hill of Aysoluk in Selçuk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
An extra, introductory note on I Timothy 1: 9-10
Some of the phrases in this chapter are at the hearts of some of the debates we are having in the Church of Ireland at present, and so wrestling with their meanings and derivation helps us to understand and contribute to this debate, no matter what are perspectives may be at the moment, and helps us to understand one another as well as some of the agenda.
The word πόρνοις (pórnois) is translated as “fornicators” (NRSV). “immoral persons” (RSV), “adulterers” (NIV) and as “whoremongers” (KJV). The word πόρνος (pórnos) usually refers to a man who prostitutes his body to another’s lust for hire, to a male prostitute, to a man who indulges in unlawful sexual intercourse, to a fornicator.
The word ἀρσενοκοίταις (arsenokoítais) is translated variously as “sodomites” (NRSV and RSV), “homosexuals” (NASB), “homosexual perversion” (NEB), “homosexual offenders” or “perverts” (NIV), and “them that define themselves with mankind” (KJV). No word derived from the name of the city Sodom appears in either I Timothy 1: 10, or in I Corinthians 6: 9.
In 1958, a translator for the New Amplified Bible set precedent by translating this Greek word into English as “homosexuals,” although no such word exists in either Greek or Hebrew.
The other word that is a keyword in this debate is μαλακοὶ (malakoí), which we find in I Corinthians 6: 9).
If the word “homosexual” appears in your translation, then that version dates after 1946. Before the 1946 edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the words that are rendered as “homosexual” in many modern versions to replace words that could be translated too as “boy prostitutes,” “effeminate,” “those who make women of themselves,” “sissies,” “the self-indulgent,” “sodomites,” “lewd persons,” “male prostitutes,” “the unchaste” and so on.
Until the 16th century Reformations, and in Roman Catholic tradition until the 20th century, the word malakoi was thought to mean “masturbators” – which in crude bar-room Greek is the way it is still used colloquially today.
However, among early Greek-speaking theologians who condemn homosexuality, the words malakoi and arsenokoitai are never used.
When Saint John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) and his contemporaries preach against homosexuality, they are not recorded as referring to this passage (or to I Corinthians 6: 9). Similarly, when Clement of Alexandra preaches on these passages, he never mentions homosexuality.
So, the tradition of the Early Church does not appear to support recent translations that have placed the words “homosexuals” or “practicing homosexuals” within the context of these passages.
If so, what have been the understandings of these verses in the past, and has their meaning been changed over the generations? Certainly, these two separate words have been collapsed into one to mean “homosexual.” Are we in danger of imposing our own culture, perhaps even its prejudices, into the way we interpret these verses?
The first instance of the word arsenokoitai in any Greek text is found in I Corinthians 6: 9. It has been argued that it may have been a word common in Saint Paul’s time, but if so it has not been found in any other writings or works predating or contemporary to Saint Paul’s use of it in these two passages (I Corinthians 6: 9; I Timothy 1: 9-10).
The Septuagint translates the Hebrew quadesh in I Kings 14: 24, 15: 12 and 22: 46 into a Greek word that is somewhat similar to arsenokoitai to refer to “male temple prostitutes” or people who engaged in ritual sex in pagan temples. Some early Christian leaders also thought 1 Corinthians was referring to temple prostitutes. Other authorities believe that it simply means male prostitutes with female customers, a practice that appears to have been common in the Roman Empire.
But the word arsenokoitai only begins to appear in Greek literature after Saint Paul’s time (e.g., the Sibylline Oracles 2: 70-77, the Acts of John, and Theophilus of Antioch’s Ad Autolycum, the term refers to some kind of economic exploitation by means of sex, but not necessarily homosexual sex. Probably “pimp” or “man living off of the profits of prostitution” might be the closest English translations in these contexts.
In I Corinthians and I Timothy, the word is used independently within a long list that offers no insight into its meaning.
In the Latin Vulgate, 500 years after Saint Paul is writing, Saint Jerome translates this word to mean a male concubine, although nothing in the word specifies whether the concubine was involved with a male or female partner. When Saint Paul is writing, there are common terms for persons involved in homoeroticism, but he chooses to not use them. Instead, he uses a word that remains mysterious, so that Greek scholars and theologians trying to explain arsenokoitai do so without any previous context for understanding its meaning. No matter what your views on sexuality may be, all you can do is to make a guess.
The word arsenokoitai is derived from two Greek words: arseno (men) and koitai (bed). Is the literal meaning ofarsenokoitai “male bed”? And how do we move from that to our own present understandings. The problem is that any interpretations we offer may parallel a non-English-speaker’s efforts to translate English terms like “lady-killer,” “manhole” or “butterfly.” I cannot explain the meaning of the word “butterfly” by defining and then combining the words “butter” and “fly” any more than I can provide an accurate meaning of arsenokoitai by combining and defining “male” and “bed.” Again, the best I can do is to offer a guess, but a guess that is fragile and that is conditioned by my upbringing, the present debates in the Church, and the way I express my own values and priorities today.
On the other hand, malakoi was a common word in the Greek language and there is a long history of its use before and after Saint Paul uses it in I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1. For example, Christ uses the word malakoi when he speaks of “a man dressed in soft (malakoi) raiment” (μαλακοῖς ἠμφιεσμένον, Matthew 11: 8).
Church tradition has often understood malakoi to imply a moral weakness, but it was repeatedly used in classical Greece to define those who were considered effeminate. It was occasionally used as a descriptive word for eromenos, eromenos being the passive partner in a relationship between an older man and a younger boy. But malakoi was also used in Rome for men who had too much sex with women, with an effeminate-looking man presenting himself in that way to attract women.
In the classical world, being effeminate included other behaviour such as bathing frequently, shaving, frequent dancing or laughing, wearing aftershave, eating too much or wearing fine undergarments.
These verses (I Timothy 1: 9-10) contain a list of vices. Compare this list with similar lists in other Pauline writings: see I Corinthians 6: 9-10; Romans 1: 29-31; Galatians 5: 19-23; Colossians 3: 18-4: 1; Ephesians 5: 21-6:9; and II Timothy 3:15.
Lists such as these were a common literary style in both Greco-Roman and Jewish literature. Rather than being a random listing together of sins, vice lists often appear to be in a categorical order, as appears here and in I Corinthians 6.
I Corinthians 6 lists the order of vices as: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, malakoi, arsenokoitai, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and robbers. I Timothy 1 orders the vices as: the murderers parents, murderers, pórnois, arsenokoitai, slave traders, liars, perjurers and “whatever else is contrary to sound teaching …”
Most vice lists at the time separate vices into three categories: sexual sins, sins of violence and sins of economic or injustice sins. In these lists, if arsenokoitai refers to homosexuality, we have to ask why it does not normally appear in the category of sexual sins but is in on the edge of the economic category.
In this context, it appears therefore that arskenokoitein refers to money earned through sexual behaviour, which would explain why it follows prostitution or whoremongers (πόρνοις (pórnois) in I Timothy. But then, perhaps, it has nothing to do with sex at all. Perhaps we have to remain uncertain, or do we?
Next: I Timothy 2
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on Wednesday 10 October 2012