• Dr. Timothy X. Merritt

Scripture vs. False Teachings - Part 1


Image of Christ leading sinners from the mouth of hell. Illustrates Spiritual Warfare, Evil Spirits, and Demons.
Evil may be dealt with according through the supernaturally given insights of Christian Ethics

Abstract

A social and cultural texture analysis of a pericope of 1 Timothy (6: 11-21), to address the question; what does it mean to be a “good leader”? The quadrilateral model for reflecting on theological matters emphasizes Scripture as the foundation for ethical thought. The social and cultural texture analysis of first-century Ephesus demonstrates that the Bible treats the historical context of first-century Ephesus as normative for all time, and also that the concept of Scripture as the foundation for ethical thought is not limited to the cultural context of that era. Christian leaders who choose to accept Scripture as their foundation for ethical thought engage in a profound "confession" or act that can transform their very character, resulting in ethical decisions based on Christian virtue.

Introduction

There is a constant call for ethical leadership in business, in politics, at work, at places of worship, and in the family; however, in a world comprised of competing worldviews, many find a basic definition of ethical behavior elusive. This is not a new dilemma, in the 18th-century theologian John Wesley proposed a four-fold approach when reflecting on theological matters: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, in that order. This model remains a useful even today as a model for theological reflection if one understands that Wesley did not place equal authority on each of the four elements. Scripture for him was fundamental, with the other approaches functioning in supportive roles, not as coequals (Cosby, 2001). Saint Paul even raised the issue of the primacy of Scripture as the foundation for ethical thought as he charged his protégé in 1 Timothy to understand and preserve the Scripture in the face of false teachings by those who had wandered from the faith.

Exegesis

First Timothy is a letter written by Paul sometime after his first imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28: 16-31) around A.D. 64 or 65. By this time Paul had been out of prison for many years and visited many churches in Macedonia and Asia. Paul sent Timothy to lead the church at Ephesus and wrote this letter of encouragement and instruction to deal with the problematic situation Timothy found there. Paul advised Timothy on practical matters such as confronting false teachers, church leadership and administration, and the ethical behavior of those who would serve in the church. In his final charge (1 Tim 6:11-21) Paul exhorts Timothy to “guard what has been entrusted to your care” (1 Tim 6:20) meaning the correct teachings contained in the Holy Scriptures. To better understand the relevance in modern times of this ancient dilemma, Robbins (1996) advises an exploration of the social and cultural texture of the first-century church to take the interpreter to a deeper level and more precise understanding of the implications of living a committed religious life in the modern world.


Specific Social Topics

The Pastoral Epistles covered ethical issues such as appropriate clothing, money, drunkenness, violence, and family life. These emerge from Paul's reflection on moral principles, codes, and norms for the church as a particular society. Paul's ethical writing was concerned that the church had “settled into the world” (de Villiers, 2006, p. 358). Paul’s letter in 1 Timothy specifically describes the reformist view of the world as corrupt because its social structures are corrupt (Robbins, 1996). After warning Timothy about the dangers of those teaching false doctrines and the love of money (the corrupt social structures) he charges his protégé to “flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11) until the return of Jesus Christ. “This response, then, assumes that evil may be dealt with according to supernaturally given insights about the ways social organization should be amended” (Robbins, 1996, p. 73). More evidence to support the reformist worldview can be found in O'Donnell (2017) who argues that 1 Timothy has a coherent rhetorical strategy which evokes a general atmosphere of social crisis that may only be resolved by a response rooted in faith through Jesus Christ.


Central to the discussion is the concept of the world-altering truth of Jesus as represented by the crucifixion (Dickerson, 2016). Paul reminds Timothy of his confession in front of many witnesses that echoed Christ's own "good confession" (1 Tim 6:12-14) before Pontius Pilate. The Greek word for "confession" is homologeo, or “to speak the same thing (as)”; therefore, when Jesus replied to Pilate’s question about whether he was the King of the Jews with “Yes, it is as you say" (Matt 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3) Jesus declares the substance of Pilate's words to be true. Paul is reminding Peter to continue to preach the truth of Jesus as recorded in Scripture.

Common Social and Cultural Topics

The predominantly male perspective of the Honor, Guilt, and Rights Culture dominated the first-century Mediterranean culture at Ephesus (Robbins, 1996). Indeed, "First Timothy 2:12 has played a defining role in the Christian debate about the role of women in ministry” (Hubner, 2016. P. 99). In this type of society, honor (and its counterpoint, shame) account for the person’s rightful place in society, and one’s social standing was considered to be of particular importance.


A second commonly held social construct of this era is the focus on Dyadic and Legal Contracts and Agreements (Robbins, 1996) whereby a patron-client contract is initiated by means of a positive challenge, a positive gift. “1 Timothy appears to be a set of instructions from a mentor, Paul, to a protégé, Timothy, in letter form” (Perry, 2006, p.49). These concepts of mentor to protégé between Paul and Timothy, and a similar patron-client relationship between Timothy and the followers at Ephesus manifest in the positive challenge, or gift, that Paul directs Timothy to communicate; “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age" (1 Tim 6:18-19). The relationship between Paul and Timothy is asymmetrical, and the text makes it clear that they are not social equals despite clear evidence of deep affection.

A final cultural topic revolves around the economic perspectives of the church at Ephesus during the first century. Although in many ways Ephesus was considered a wealthy city, in the first letter to Timothy there are several indicators of socio-economic undertones with a clear preferential option towards the poor, or a moderate lifestyle (Wessles, 2016). This would include exhorting elders not to be lovers of money (1 Tim 3:3), warning against idle activities of widows, and caring for them (1 Tim 5:1–15), as well as clear instructions about contentment and the behavior of the rich (1 Tim 6:1–17). Paul argues that people should not forever desire more and more goods. Rather, that they should perceive all goods as limited (Robbins, 1996) and he advocated the virtue of “wantlessness” by keeping earthly desires to an absolute minimum.


Final Cultural Categories

Although it was initially a Greek city, the Romans acquired Ephesus in 129 B.C. and so during the time 1 Timothy was written, the Roman culture was dominant. A densely populated and cosmopolitan city, Ephesus also contained numerous subcultures. Among these was the influential subculture of the Jewish religion. “Josephus stresses the severity of the Jewish Law as compared to that of other nations… Death is the penalty for most offenses against the Law, including adultery, rape, abortion, the slightest failure in duty towards parents, the intention itself of wrongdoing parents, the acceptance of a bribe by judge, male homosexual acts and acting impiously towards God” (Porter, 1998, p. 141). When Paul, a Roman citizen, ran afoul of the Jewish subculture he appealed to Caesar during a trial brought to him by the authorities of Judaism. Paul's Christian philosophy represented something radically different that Roman cultural norms; “almost every other verse in Romans suggests that Christian believers have a new identity and therefore share a new existence” (Malan & Van der Watt, 2006, p.167). Therefore the Church, as Paul understood it, was a counter-culture (Robbins, 1996) that “was a radically different concept from either, involving personal communion, community, particular churches and the universal church” (Breton, 2011). Early Christianity provided a “relatively self-sufficient system of action by grounding its views in a well-developed, supporting ideology” (Roberts, 1978, 121) and was therefore able to express a radically different and positive alternative to either the dominant Roman culture or the powerful Jewish subculture that held the promise of a better way of life.


Continue to Scripture vs. False Teachings - Part 2

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