Introducing my recent book, September 2020.
Last week my book Persuading Shipwrecked Men: The Rhetorical Strategies of 1 Timothy 1 become available (September, 2020). Published with Mohr Siebeck series WUNT (526), I argue for shift in focus from the traditional interpretation that 1 Timothy is a church order manual. The writer of the letter has carefully crafted a work to persuade “certain men (and women)” in his congregation to desist in pursuing and promoting the “other instruction” (1 Tim 1:3; 4:1; 6:3). The “other instruction” turns out to be an ascetic program (more about this can be found in my article in Early Christianity, “Fasting, Bodily Care, and the Widows of 1 Timothy 5:3–15.“) My big proposal is that passage, verses 5 to 20, is an ethical digression. Verse 5 forms the header giving the aim of the command in verse 3 and the aim is love, which is then expounded in the digression. Central to the ethical digression is the example of Paul’s relationship with Jesus Christ,
“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.” (1 Tim 1: 16, NRSV)
This is an application of the gospel of grace in Paul’s life (1 Tim 1:11, 14). It is the engine room that drives the commands and instructions in the whole of the letter. It is a call to turn from the “other instruction” that is causing friction and angry disputes. More than that the other teachers are seeking to undermine their spiritual father, Paul, and replace him as the leading figure in the congregation. This is an insult to Paul’s rightful claim as their apostle and teacher (1 Tim 1:1; 2: 7). This insult is an act of hubris according to Greek culture.
This brings us to the outer frame of the digression verses 6-7 and 19b-20). In verse 6 “some men” have “missed the mark” and turned aside to “meaningless talk” (ie the “other instruction”). And these people in verse 19b are the ones who have “shipwrecked their faith”; in other words, they have missed the port they were aiming at and ran their faith onto the rocks. Two of these men are singled out for mention; they are Hymenaeus and Alexander. These men form the example of those who are promoting the “other instructions” – the would-be usurpers of Paul’s teaching. They are the antithesis of those who are obedient to Paul’s command to be busy with God’s administration; in other words, implementing the sound and good instruction (1 Tim 1:10; 4:6). I conclude that the digression is primarily aimed at stinging the consciences of the men of the congregation, who have been tempted to follow Hymenaeus and Alexander. The object is to call these men back. This call is even to Hymenaeus and Alexander, who have been excluded from the community to learn this very lesson. Paul was once like these men; he was once a blasphemer, a pursuer of his own honour, and a man of hubris (1 Tim 1:13), but was shown mercy and called into the service of Jesus.
And this is the model upon which all the instructions and commands are designed – all believers men, women, widows, virgins, and (male and female) slaves are to fulfil their call to service. Their service will be shaped by the social conditions in which they find themselves, but fundamentally there is an equality between all believers. All owe their call to service to Jesus Christ’s mercy.
Implications (this is not found in the book)
The instructions in this letter are shaped by the 1st century Greco-Roman culture in which these believers found themselves. To insist that women do not teach in the congregation is to miss the point of this instruction in 1 Timothy 2:12. If the writer has spent all of chapter 1 berating the men in order to turn them from “teaching the other instruction” (1 Tim 1:3-4) and behaving in an ignorant and arrogant manner (1 Tim 1: 6-7, 9-10, 13), then, a mere 12 verses later when he writes a command to the women “I do not permit a woman to teach or domineer over a husband,” he is telling them not to do the same thing.1
The question for us contemporary believers is not how do we squeeze 21st century men and women into Greco-Roman ideals of manhood and womanhood. The question for us is how are we to be to people of prayer in an attitude of holiness? How should we demonstrate this as contemporary people? I suggest the avoidance of anger and dissension is universal so perhaps we should start there. Another question is how do we as people who “profess a reverence for God” (NRSV) demonstrate this in good works? What kind of good works would they be in your contemporary context?
And notice the “they” at the end of chapter 2 in verse 15. The “they” refers to the men and women to whom this passage is directed. All of chapter 2 (NB the connecting οὖν at 1 Tim 2:1) forms a contrast to the blasphemous behaviour of Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20). So in our salvation by the great mercy and grace of Jesus Christ how do we continue in faith, love and holiness with self-restraint? What does that look like?
© Lyn M. Kidson, September 2020
*Featured image Gythio Shipwreck from Greeka
- αὐθεντεῖν=domineer, Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 380–394; Cynthia L.Westfall, favours “abuse” of a husband, “The Meaning of Αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12.” JGRChJ 10 (2014): 138-173. On the translation of ἀνδρός as ‘husband’ see Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, vol. 1. ECC (reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 221.