A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 1:3-11. 1). The false teachers and the law.
Paul’s prediction some five years previously that ‘savage wolves’ would enter and devastate Christ’s flock in Ephesus (Acts 20:29ff.) had come true. But who were they? And what were they teaching?
Paul writes that they *want to be teachers of the law* (7). Thus the *heterodidaskaloi* (false teachers) are now identified as *nomodidaskaloi* (law-teachers). This latter word can denote a perfectly legitimate activity, however. Luke uses it of the scribes who taught the Mosaic law (Lk.5:17) and even of illustrious Gamaliel (Acts 5:34). So what is wrong with teaching the law? There is actually a great need in our day for Christian teachers of the moral law (the Ten Commandments as expounded by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount), for it is through the teaching of the law that we both come to a consciousness of our sin and learn the implications of loving our neighbour (Rom.3:20; 13:8ff.). Indeed, *we know that the law is good if one uses it properly* (8) (Cf. Rom.7:12, 16). Evidently, then, there is both a right and a wrong, a legitimate and an illegitimate, use of the law. First, we ask what were the false teachers doing with the law which was wrong?
a). The wrong use of the law.
Timothy is to command the false teachers not to *devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies* (4). *Mythoi* meant legends or fables, which Paul later categorized as ‘godless myths and old wives’ tales’ (4:7), as ‘Jewish myths’ (Tit.1:14), and as an alternative to ‘the truth’ (2 Tim.4:4). The word *genealogies*, on the other hand, most naturally refers to those in Genesis, which trace the descent and so the pedigree of the patriarchs. Lock may well be right to urge that these two words ‘be taken closely together, *muthoi* being identified by *genealogiai*, legendary stories about genealogies’, which were handed down in the Haggada or rabbinical tradition.
Two ancient Jewish documents may throw light on what Paul is referring to. The first is *The Book of Jubilees*, which is dated between 135 and 105 BC, and which retells from a Pharisaic perspective the Old Testament story from the creation of the world to the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. It divides this history into ‘jubilees’ (periods of forty-nine years) and asserts the uniqueness of Israel among the nations. The second book is *The Biblical Antiquities of Philo*, although M.R.James calls its attribution to Philo ‘wholly unfounded and quite ridiculous’. Dating from soon after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, it retells even more of the Old Testament story, from the creation of Adam to the death of Saul. Its chief objective is to maintain the eternal validity of the law against the encroachments of Hellenism.
So both books are tendentious rewrites of a section of Old Testament history. Both stress the indestructibility of Israel and of the law. And both embellish their story with fanciful additions. The author of *The Biblical Antiquities* supplements the biblical narrative ‘by means of his fabulous genealogies’, which occupy chapters 1, 2, 4 and 8. Similarly (The Book of Jubilees* supplies us with the names of all the children of Adam and Eve, of Enoch’s family, of Noah’s predecessors and descendants, and of the seventy people who went down into Egypt.
It may be, then, that it is to this kind of fanciful literature that Paul is referring when he writes of law, myths and genealogies. It certainly seems that the false teaching was primarily a Jewish aberration, which is confirmed by the naming of ‘the circumcision group’ (Tit.1:10). At the same time, the law-teachers were not the ‘Judaizers’ whom Paul had opposed in Galatians, and who taught salvation by law-obedience, for there is no hint in the Pastorals of a recurrence of this controversy. They may have been allegorizers. They were certainly speculators. They treated the law (that is, the Old Testament) as a happy hunting-ground for their conjectures. To Paul their whole approach was frivolous; God had given his law to his people for a much more serious purpose.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 1:3-11. a) The wrong use of the law (continued).
|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.|