1 Timothy

Good morning! Today we read all the first letter to Timothy, a younger protégé of Paul. The book takes the form of advice about being a Christian leader from the elder to the younger, but scholars disagree again about whether Paul genuinely wrote this or if it’s put in his name. The controversy about its authorship emanates from the fact that, unlike Paul’s writings, these chapters focus almost exclusively inward, on the structure and conduct of Christian communities, while barely mentioning those outside the fold. This follows a pattern I’ve noticed: the church that fails to consider the outsider first, but puts its own interests first, quickly gets lost in the minutia of who’s better than whom.

Early in this letter, “Paul” gives testimony about the mercy he himself received from God because he didn’t know any better when he was persecuting Christians. However, now that the law is given as a check against unrighteousness, those who disobey have no excuse. “Paul” extends no mercy to those who disagree with the codes of conduct given here. They are textually castigated and prejudged as the source of every bad thing.

There’s much to write concerning the instructions of First Timothy, since most of them are reprehensible. “Household of God” theology emerges again as the “church of the living God” orders the home as well as the gathered community. Women and children are commanded to observe modesty, submission and silence before men. Slaves likewise must “regard their masters as worthy of all honor”, especially if their masters are Christians! So many of these instructions are wretched, including the suggestion that women bear a special burden for sin, but will be “saved through childbearing” and the virtuous behavior of their children. Such instructions enacted by Christians throughout the centuries have created misogynist communities every bit as repressive as those decried in Muslim societies like Saudi Arabia or the Islamic State. Even in the first century these instructions were unholy and contrary to the example of Christ we have from the gospels; how much more so after twenty centuries of Christian liberation movements for women, slaves and children? This is NOT the word of the Lord.

After behavioral prerequisites are given for bishops and deacons, 1 Timothy lurches into skepticism about widows. Only widows who express sole devotion to their faith are “real”, evidenced by “supplications and prayers night and day”. Widows who do otherwise “live for pleasure” because they might want to remarry, and so are divided in their loyalties. Widows are registered in this arrangement—they must be at least sixty (extreme old age in this time), married only once, and well-attested for their tireless service and acts of mercy. Only then will women be listed as widows and thereby given community support in their final days. We detect here the same presumption of the poor as “freeloaders” on the community which later gave us the misogynist caricature of the poor as “welfare queens”. This whole section seems designed (like tightening governmental restrictions on welfare eligibility in our own day) to reduce the number of people who might be supported by the community’s compassion. I find this even more disturbing because it’s followed by a passage about how elders and rulers in the community (all men, presumably) ought to be doubly rewarded!

1 Timothy closes with a few words against the pursuit of wealth, including the famous line that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. Those who are rich are not to be enthralled by their wealth, but are “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” At last, something that sounds a bit closer to the Christ of the gospels. “Happy” reading!

Read 1 Timothy. (Note that the link here is only to 1 Timothy 1-3. For copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read further chapters.)

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Timothy. Thanks for reading!

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