A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 1:3-11. b). The right use of the law (continued).
The fundamental principle that the law is for the lawless applies to every kind of law. For example, the reason we need speed limits is that there are so many reckless drivers on the roads. The reason we need boundaries and fences is that it is the only way to prevent unlawful trespass. And the reason we need civil rights and race relations legislation is in order to protect citizens from insult, discrimination and exploitation. If everybody could be trusted to respect everybody else’s rights, laws to safeguard them would not be necessary.
The same is true of God’s law. Its prohibitions and sanctions relate to the lawless. And Paul proceeds at once to illustrate the principle of ‘law for the lawless’ with eleven examples of law-breaking. The first six words, which he sets in pairs, appear to be more general than specific. *The law is made*, he writes, …*for lawbreakers and rebels* (JBP ‘who have neither principles nor self-control’), *the ungodly and sinful* (who dishonour God and depart from righteousness), and *the unholy and irreligious* (who are devoid of all piety and reverence). These clearly refer to our duty to God, at least in general. But because the next five words are extremely specific in relation to our duty to our neighbour, it is natural to ask whether the first six may be meant to be specific in relation to our duty to God. George W.Knight suggests that they are. Working backwards from the allusion to our father and mother, he proposes that *irreligious (bebelos*) means profane in the sense of sabbath-breaking (the fourth commandment), that *unholy (anosios*) designates those who take God’s name in vain (the third commandment), that *sinful (hamartolos*) alludes to idolaters (the second commandment), and that *ungodly (asebes*) denotes those who flout the first commandment to love God exclusively. This leaves the words *lawbreakers (anomos*) and *rebels (anypotaktos*), which seem to be introductory and to describe those who reject all law and discipline. This reconstruction is certainly ingenious, and may be correct, although it has to be declared unproved.
The next five words, however, do evidently allude to commandments five to nine. *Those who kill their fathers and mothers* of course break the fifth commandment to honour our parents; the expression is so extreme that Simpson is probably correct in understanding the reference to ‘smiters of fathers or mothers, adjudged a capital crime in Ex.21:15’. *Murderers* break the sixth commandment, ‘You shall not kill’, while *adulterers and perverts* (heterosexual and homosexual offenders) break the seventh. At least the former certainly do (‘You shall not commit adultery’), and the latter may be said to do so also if we understand the prohibition as intended to restrict sexual intercourse to the context of heterosexual marriage. ‘Perverts’ (NIV, REB) is not the best translation, nor is ‘sodomites’ (NRSV), for both terms nowadays carry assumptions and overtones which could express the kind of ‘homophobia’ which Christians should avoid. The Greek word *arsenokoites*, which occurs only here and in 1 Corinthians 6:9, is a combination of *arsen* (male) and either *koite* (bed) or *keimai* (to lie). It probably refers back to the Leviticus texts which prohibit ‘lying with a man as one lies with a woman’; (Lev.18:22; 20:13, LXX); it denotes practicing male homosexuals. *Slave traders* (NIV) or ‘kidnappers’ (RSV) are guilty of the most heinous kind of stealing, and both *liars and perjurers* break the ninth commandment not to bear false witness against our neighbour. The tenth commandment prohibiting covetousness is not included in Paul’s catalogue, perhaps because it is a sin of thought and desire, not of word or deed. But in order to make his list comprehensive he concludes that the law is also made for *whatsoever else is contrary to the sound doctrine* (10). What is this? It is doctrine which *conforms to the glorious gospel (literally, ‘the gospel of the glory’) of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me* (11).
It is particularly noteworthy that sins which contravene the law (as breaches of the Ten Commandments) are also contrary to the sound doctrine of the gospel. So the moral standards of the gospel do not differ from the moral standards of the law. We must not therefore imagine that, because we have embraced the gospel, we may now repudiate the law! To be sure, the law is impotent to save us (Rom.8:3), and we have been released from the law’s condemnation, so that we are no longer ‘under’ it in that sense. (Rom.6:15; 7:6; 8:1-2). But God sent his Son to die for us, and now puts his Spirit within us, in order that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us (Rom.8:3-4). There is no antithesis between law and gospel in the moral standards which they teach; the antithesis is in the way of salvation, since the law condemns while the gospel justifies.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 1:12-17. 2). The apostle Paul and the gospel.
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.