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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Reading through 1 Timothy

The Address and Thanksgiving ( 1, 1–2.12–17 )

The address consists of a brief greeting in Pauline form ( 1, 1–2 ) with the thanksgiving delayed until 1, 12–17 . A warning against false doctrines ( 1, 3–11 ) appears between these two parts of the address. This intrusion breaks the usual structure of a letter but manifests the gravity of the author's concern. The thanksgiving ( 1, 12–17 ) recalls Paul's former blasphemy and persecution of the church, evidence that his call was unmerited and unsolicited ( 1, 12–17 ). Paul's example is a primary instance of the transforming power of grace. Because he sinned grievously (though in ignorance), the grace bestowed upon Paul had to be abundant. Notice that the author does not dwell on guilt or remorse. His allusion to Paul's sinful past only serves to illustrate the gratuity of God's mercy. These reflections prompt him to praise God in a short doxology or blessing ( 1, 17 ).

The Body of the Letter ( 1, 3–11; 1, 18–6, 19 )

The message of 1 Timothy is primarily a warning against the dangers of false teaching. The writer reminds Timothy about the qualities he should look for in assistants who are true ministers of the gospel, and he discusses Christians' duties toward others.

Paul's Message to Timothy ( 1, 3–11; 1, 18–4, 16 )

The Warning Against False Teaching ( 1, 3–11.18–20 ). The teaching attacked in 1 Timothy is a form of gnosis (knowledge) that involved “myths and…genealogies [and]…speculations” ( 1, 4 ). All three Pastorals, but especially 1 Timothy, are aimed at secure knowledge of the truth and secure ways of acting it out. These are reflections on the genuine applications of a teaching or knowledge that Timothy knows well.

The threat Paul combats in 1 Timothy is the pursuit of gnosis without any ethical or practical applications for living (1 Tm 1, 4; see 2 Tm 2, 14; 3, 7; Ti 3, 9 ). Thus the practicalities of Christian living and church life together are emphasized, along with a pastorally oriented theology. This letter attacks those who would reduce Christianity to a mere doctrine or intellectual exercise, to the neglect of the ethical implications. The letter presumes a common fund of knowledge and emphasizes that authentic Christianity should work itself out in everyday life.

Life and Leadership in the Community ( 2, 1–4, 16 ). The primary example of authentic Christian living is the minister of the gospel message. Timothy has a great responsibility entrusted to him by God and verified in the church ( 1, 3.18–20; 4, 6–16; 6, 11–16.20–21 ). The writer impresses on Timothy the importance of his role as example for the church.

The advice to Timothy in this letter proceeds from the admonition to draw strength from the “prophetic words once spoken about you” ( 1, 18 ) and the suggestion to “attend to yourself and to your teaching” ( 4, 16 ). Timothy should concentrate on “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness” ( 6, 11 ). He should ignore the seduction of “profane babbling and the absurdities of so‐called knowledge” ( 6, 20 ). Constancy and perseverance in the faith are required in order to attract and encourage other believers. Timothy is urged to demonstrate to all his reliance on God.

The discussion of how each group of persons should act toward others is an adaptation of the “household codes” used in Eph 5, 21–6, 9 and Col 3, 18–4, 1 . Here men and women, young and old, male and female should treat each other with the respect due them in traditional society (also 5, 1–2; 6, 1–2 ). The duties of bishop and deacons ( 3, 1–13 ) are drawn from typical descriptions of virtue. The text speaks of a single bishop and a number of deacons, both male and female (or, possibly, of male deacons and their wives, 3, 11 ). We know from Phil 1, 1 that these titles were used very early on. Presbyters are not mentioned in this passage ( 3, 1–7 ), but only in 5, 17–19 . It does not seem, therefore, that there is as yet a triple‐tiered ministry of bishop, presbyters, and deacons, which will come in the next years.

In one way, 1 Timothy may be read as a list of rules for people in various offices and positions within the community. There is, however, a common theme in all of Paul's advice. Members of the Christian community should distinguish themselves by their love for and service to one another. Even the dress and decorum of men and women at the liturgy, for example, should contribute to the building up of the community ( 2, 8–10 ).

The particular advice to women, which has been controversial throughout Christian history, should be understood in the context of charity and the importance of good example. False teachers advocating asceticism, especially in the form of renunciation of marriage or restrictions on certain foods ( 4, 1–3 ), were particularly successful with women whom the author of 1 Timothy perceives as especially susceptible. The prevailing male wisdom taught that women were gullible and subject to error, as symbolized in the story of Eve who was seduced by the serpent. Contrary to the false teachers, Paul supports marriage and sees the family as conducive to holiness. He therefore advocates the “submission” of women, which was part of traditional views about the well‐run family. This, he insists, is not a lifestyle unworthy of Christian women but a way in which women may, like Timothy, “persevere in faith and love and holiness” ( 2, 15 ). The same thinking drives the advice to slaves in a later passage to honor and respect their owners ( 6, 1–2 ), with the warning that believing slaves are not to think of themselves as equal to their owners but to be even more respectful. This kind of thinking, as can be imagined, has caused mayhem in later centuries when those who appeal to the authority of the Bible resist social change. In his own context, however, Paul is simply trying to uphold human dignity within a social structure that he cannot change.

Duties toward Others ( 5, 1–6, 19 )

This is really a rather artificial division, since the whole letter is preoccupied with community relationships. There is ambiguity in the discussion about widows ( 5, 3–16 ), perhaps indication of uneven editing. First, widows who have no other means of support are to be supported by the church ( 5, 3–8.16 ). Then, there is some kind of enrollment of widows who are at least sixty years old, distinguished for practicing virtue, and resolved to remain unmarried—hardly issues to consider if a widow is starving. Some kind of service organization is envisioned in 5, 9–15 , returning again in verse 16 to the assistance of needy widows. Given lower life expectancy, few women would live beyond sixty, and younger widows are to remarry, so they could not hope to qualify later to be enrolled as those married only once ( 5, 9 ).

The concrete advice regarding bishops and deacons and other ministers to the community stresses the power of example. This is especially important in those offices that have visibility in the community and represent a community trust. Many interpreters assume that the degree of development of the offices mentioned suggests a late composition of 1 Timothy. It would seem to have taken some years for the church to develop such a variety of roles and recognized ministries. On the other hand, we know that these ministries were beginning to develop already in Paul's day. They pertain to basic needs that arose as the church struggled to respond to its mission in the world. The office of bishop or overseer developed out of the custom of holding all things in common so that the surplus of the rich would supply the needs of the poor in the Christian community (see 2 Cor 8 and 9 ). The ministry of deacons reflected the priority of preaching the word, while not neglecting the physical and material needs of the church's members (Rom 16, 2; Acts 6, 1–6 ). The earliest writings of Paul, and in fact all of the New Testament, stress the social dimension of the Christian message. Therefore, the stewardships that would assure this dimension were created as soon as the priority was recognized.

Conclusion ( 6, 20–21 )

The conclusion ( 6, 20–21 ) is in the form of a final recommendation and warning. First Timothy ends by restating the main message of the letter: “Guard the trust” (see 1, 3–10; 4, 7; 6, 3–5 ). Authority is stewardship. Many have been deceived by gnosis or false knowledge. Timothy is urged to hold firm to what he knows and to live it quietly.

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