A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 5:22-23. d) Caution.
It is a common human tendency to make premature and ill- considered decisions, to be hasty when we should rather be cautious. Although the opposite fault is to be indecisive, yet in leaders it is better to take time to form judgments and make decisions than to be precipitate and live to regret it. So Paul bids Timothy: *Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands* (22a). Or, in the familiar AV, ‘Lay hands suddenly on no man.’ To what is Paul referring? To ‘lay hands suddenly’ on somebody may sound at first hearing like the arrest of a criminal. But Christian leaders are not policemen! Nor is the reference to episcopal confirmation, since the imposition of hands after baptism, which occurs two or three times in the Acts, belong to particular and unusual contexts; it had not become the norm. Some commentators think Paul is alluding to the public absolution of a penitent offender, leading to his restoration to the Christian community after the public rebuke of verse 20. So NEB mg. Newport White detects in these verses the outline of a ‘whole procedure’, namely accusation (19), conviction and sentence (20), repentance and reconciliation (21). Certainly Eusebius mentions the re-admission of penitents by the laying on of hands as an ‘old custom’ of the church, but there is no evidence for it in New Testament times. Gordon Fee, who sees the whole paragraph as referring to the disciplining of the false teachers, understands verse 22 as giving ‘some guidelines…for their replacement’.
It is much more likely, however, that Paul is referring to ordination, since the pastorals contain two clear statements that this took place through the laying on of hands (1 Tim.4:14; 2 Tim.1:6; cf. Acts 6:1ff). The imposition of hands both identifies the person being prayed for and publicly commissions them to the ministry to which God has called them. This makes sense in the context. In verse 20 Paul has mentioned the possible need to rebuke a presbyter publicly. The best way to avoid such a scandal is to ensure the thorough screening of candidates before they are ordained. In chapter 3 the apostle has elaborated the conditions of eligibility, including the provision that a candidate ‘must not be a recent convert’ (6); now he urges Timothy to take time to apply these criteria, and not to be in a hurry. Otherwise, if through excessive haste a mistake is made, and a scandal arises, Timothy will *share in the sins of others*, or find himself ‘implicated in other people’s misdeeds’ (REB). Instead, Paul continues, *keep yourself pure* (22).
Verse 23 in which the apostle exhorts Timothy to *stop drinking only water*, and to *use a little wine* on account of his *stomach and… frequent illnesses*, ‘has fairly nonplussed the commentators’ for it has no obvious connection with what either precedes or follows. Some think that Paul’s injunction ‘keep yourself pure’ reminded him to add ‘keep yourself fit’ as well. He was perhaps anxious that Timothy was not looking after himself properly, and that his delicate constitution would ‘interfere with the efficient discharge of his high office’.
Others guess that verse 23 is intended as a deliberate modification of verse 22: ‘Keep yourself pure. But in order to do so, don’t adopt the extreme asceticism of the false teachers’ (4:3). Not of course that Timothy would go to the opposite extreme and become ‘given to drunkenness’ (3:3). But wine was widely recognized in the ancient world as having medicinal properties. Spicq refers to several medical authorities who ‘prescribed wine as tonic, prophylactic and remedy’, especially in relation to indigestion.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 5:24-25. e). Discernment.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.