1st TIMOTHY CHAPTER 1
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;
1 Paulus apostolus Iesu Christi secundum ordinationem Dei Salvatoris nostri, et Domini Iesu Christi spei nostræ:
2 Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and Jesus Christ our Lord.
2 Timotheo germano filio in fide, gratia, misericordia, pax a Deo Patre nostro, et Christo Iesu Domino nostro.
3 As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine;
3 Quemadmodum rogavi te ut maneres Ephesi, quum proficiscerer in Macedoniam, volo denunties quibusdam, ne aliter doceant;
4 Neither give heed to fables, and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying, which is in faith; so do.
4 Neque attendant fabulis et genealogiis nunquam finiendis, quæ quæstiones præbent magis quam ædificationem Dei, quæ in fide consistit.
Paul an apostle.
If he had written to Timothy alone, it would have been unnecessary to claim this designation, and to maintain it in the manner that he does. Timothy would undoubtedly have been satisfied with having merely the name; for he knew that Paul was an Apostle of Christ, and had no need of proof to convince him of it, being perfectly willing, and having been long accustomed, to acknowledge it. He has his eye, therefore, chiefly on others, who were not so ready to listen to him, or did not so easily believe his words. For the sake of such persons, that they may not treat lightly what he writes, he affirms that he is “an Apostle of Christ.”
According to the appointment of God our Saviour, and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He confirms his apostleship by the appointment or command of God; for no man can make himself to be an apostle, but he whom God hath appointed is a true apostle, and worthy of the honour. Nor does he merely say, that he owes his apostleship to God the Father, but ascribes it to Christ also; and, indeed, in the government of the Church, the Father does nothing but through the Son, and therefore they both act together.
He calls God the Saviour, a title which he is more frequently accustomed to assign to the Son; but it belongs to the Father also, because it is he who gave the Son to us. Justly, therefore, is the glory of our salvation ascribed to him. For how comes it that we are saved? It is because the Father loved us in such a manner that he determined to redeem and save us through the Son. He calls Christ our hope; and this appellation is strictly applicable to him; for then do we begin to have good hope, when we look to Christ, since in him alone dwells all that on which our salvation rests.
To Timothy my own son.
This commendation expresses no small praise. Paul means by it, that he owns Timothy to be a true and not a bastard son, and wishes that others should acknowledge him to be such; and he even applauds Timothy in the same manner as if he were another Paul. But how does this agree with the injunction given by Christ, (Matt. 23:9,) “Call no man your father on the earth?” Or how does it agree with the declaration of the Apostle, “Though ye have many fathers according to the flesh, yet there is but One who is the Father of spirits.” (1 Cor. 4:15; Heb. 12:9.)
I reply, while Paul claims for himself the appellation of father, he does it in such a manner as not to take away or diminish the smallest portion of the honour which is due to God. (Heb. 12:9.) It is a common proverb, “That which is placed below another is not at variance with it.” The name father, applied to Paul, with reference to God, belongs to this class. God alone is the Father of all in faith, because he regenerates us all by his word, and by the power of his Spirit, and because none but he bestows faith. But they whom he is graciously pleased to employ as his ministers for that purpose, are likewise allowed to share with him in his honour, while, at the same time, He parts with nothing that belongs to himself. Thus God, and God alone, strictly speaking, was Timothy’s spiritual Father; but Paul, who was God’s minister in begetting Timothy, lays claim to this title, by what may be called a subordinate right.
Grace, mercy, peace. So far as relates to the word mercy, he has departed from his ordinary custom in introducing it, moved, perhaps, by his extraordinary affection for Timothy. Besides, he does not observe the exact order; for he places first what ought to have been last, namely, the grace which flows from mercy. For the reason why God at first receives us into favour and why he loves us is, that he is merciful. But it is not unusual to mention the cause after the effect, for the sake of explanation. As to the words grace and peace, we have spoken on other occasions.
As I besought thee.
Either the syntax is elliptical, or the particle ἵνα is redundant; and in both cases the meaning will be obvious.
First, he reminds Timothy why he was besought to remain at Ephesus. It was with great reluctance, and through hard necessity, that he parted with a companion so dearly beloved and so faithful, in order that he might laboriously hold the part of his deputy, which no other man would have been competent to fill; and, therefore, Timothy must have been powerfully excited by this consideration, not only not to throw away his time, but to conduct himself in an excellent and distinguished manner.
I wish that thou shouldst forbid any. Thus, by way of inference, he exhorts him to oppose the false teachers who corrupted pure doctrine. In the injunction given to Timothy, to occupy his place at Ephesus, we ought to observe the holy anxiety of the Apostle; for while he laboured so much to collect many churches, he did not leave the former churches destitute of a pastor. And, indeed, as an ancient writer remarks, “To keep what has been gained is not a smaller virtue than to make new acquisitions.” The word forbid denotes power; for Paul wishes to arm him with power to restrain others.
Not to teach differently. The Greek word (ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖν) which Paul employs, is a compound, and, therefore, may either be translated, “to teach differently,” or after a new method, or, “to teach a different doctrine.” The translation given by Erasmus, (sectari,) “to follow,” does not satisfy me; because it might be understood to apply to the hearers. Now Paul means those who, for the sake of ambition, brought forward a new doctrine.
If we read it, “to teach differently,” the meaning will be more extensive; for by this expression he will forbid Timothy to permit any new forms of teaching to be introduced, which do not agree with the true and pure doctrine which he had taught. Thus, in the Second Epistle, he recommends ὑποτύπωσις, that is, a lively picture of his doctrine. (2 Tim. 1:13.) For, as the truth of God is one, so is there but one plain manner of teaching it, which is free from false ornament, and which partakes more of the majesty of the Spirit than of the parade of human eloquence. Whoever departs from that, disfigures and corrupts the doctrine itself; and, therefore, “to teach differently,” must relate to the form.
If we read it, “to teach something different,” it will relate to the matter. Yet it is worthy of observation, that we give the name of another doctrine not only to that which is openly at variance with the pure doctrine of the gospel, but to everything that either corrupts the pure gospel by new and borrowed inventions, or obscures it by ungodly speculations. For all the inventions of men are so many corruptions of the gospel; and they who make sport of the Scriptures, as ungodly people are accustomed to do, so as to turn Christianity into an act of display, darken the gospel. His manner of teaching, therefore, is entirely opposed to the word of God, and to that purity of doctrine in which Paul enjoins the Ephesians to continue.
And not to give heed to fables.
He applies the term “fables,” in my opinion, not only to contrived falsehoods, but to trifles or fooleries which have no solidity; for it is possible that something which is not false may yet be fabulous. In this sense, Suetonius speaks of fabulous history, and Livy employs the word fabulari, “to relate fables,” as denoting useless and foolish talk. And, undoubtedly, the word μῦθος, (which Paul here employs,) is equivalent to the Greek word φλυαρία, that is, “trifles.” Moreover, by bringing forward one class by way of example, he has removed all doubt; for disputes about genealogies are enumerated by him amongst fables, not because everything that can be said about them is fictitious, but because it is useless and unprofitable.
This passage, therefore, may thus be explained:—“Let them not give heed to fables of that character and description to which genealogies belong.” And that is actually the fabulous history of which Suetonius speaks, and which, even among grammarians, has always been justly ridiculed by persons of sound judgment; for it was impossible not to regard as ridiculous that curiosity which, neglecting useful knowledge, spent the whole life in examining the genealogy of Achilles and Ajax, and wasted its powers in reckoning up the sons of Priam. If this be not endured in childish knowledge, in which there is room for that which affords pleasure, how much more intolerable is it in heavenly wisdom?
And to genealogies that have no end. He calls them endless, because vain curiosity has no limit, but continually falls from labyrinth to labyrinth.
Which produce questions. He judges of doctrine by the fruit; for everything that does not edify ought to be rejected, although it has no other fault; and everything that is of no avail but for raising contentions, ought to be doubly condemned. And such are all the subtle questions on which ambitious men exercise their faculties. Let us, therefore, remember, that all doctrines must be tried by this rule, that those which contribute to edification may be approved, and that those which give ground for unprofitable disputes may be rejected as unworthy of the Church of God.
If this test had been applied during several centuries, although religion had been stained by many errors, at least that diabolical art of disputing, which has obtained the appellation of Scholastic Theology, would not have prevailed to so great an extent. For what does that theology contain but contentions or idle speculations, from which no advantage is derived? Accordingly, the more learned a man is in it, we ought to account him the more wretched. I am aware of the plausible excuses by which it is defended, but they will never make out that Paul has spoken falsely in condemning everything of the sort.
Rather than the edification of God. Subtleties of this description edify in pride, and edify in vanity, but not in God. He calls it “the edification of God,” either because God approves of it, or because it is agreeable to the nature of God.
Which consist in faith. He next shews that this edificatation consists in faith; and by this term he does not exclude the love of our neighbour, or the fear of God, or repentance; for what are all these but fruits of “faith,” which always produces the fear of God? Knowing that all the worship of God is founded on faith alone, he therefore reckoned it enough to mention “faith,” on which all the rest depend.
5 Now, the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
5 Porro finis præcepti est charitas, ex puro corde, et conscientia bona, et fide non simulata.
6 From which some having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling;
6 A quibus postquam nonnulli aberrarunt, deflexerunt ad vaniloquium,
7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
7 Volentes esse legis doctores, non intelligentes quæ loquuntur, neque de quibus affirmant.
8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;
8 Scimus autem quòd lex bona sit, si quis ea legitimè utatur:
9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for man-slayers,
9 Sciens illud, quòd justo non sit lex posita, sed injustis et inobsequentibus, impiis et peccatoribus, irreligiosis et profanis, parricidis et matricidis, homicidis,
10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men-stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
10 Scortatoribus, masculorum concubitoribus, plagiariis, mendacibus, perjuris, et si quid aliud est, quod sanæ doctrinæ adversatur;
11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.
11 Secundum Evangelium gloriæ beati Dei, quod concreditum est mihi.
Those unprincipled men with whom Timothy had to deal boasted of having the law on their side, in consequence of which Paul anticipates, and shews that the law not only gave them no support, but was even opposed to them, and that it agreed perfectly with the gospel which he had taught. The defense set up by them was not unlike that which is pleaded by those who, in the present day, subject the word of God to torture. They tell us that we aim at nothing else than to destroy sacred theology, as if they alone nourished it in their bosom. They spoke of the law in such a manner as to exhibit Paul in an odious light. And what is his reply? In order to scatter those clouds of smoke, he comes frankly forward, by way of anticipation, and proves that his doctrine is in perfect harmony with the law, and that the law is utterly abused by those who employ it for any other purpose. In like manner, when we now define what is meant by true theology, it is clearly evident that we desire the restoration of that which had been wretchedly torn and disfigured by those triflers who, puffed up by the empty title of theologians, are acquainted with nothing but vapid and unmeaning trifles. Commandment is here put for the law, by taking a part for the whole.
Love out of a pure heart.
If the law must be directed to this object, that we may be instructed in love, which proceeds from faith and a good conscience, it follows, on the other hand, that they who turn the teaching of it into curious questions are wicked expounders of the law. Besides, it is of no great importance whether the word love be regarded in this passage as relating to both tables of the law, or only to the second table. We are commanded to love God with our whole heart, and our neighbours as ourselves; but when love is spoken of in Scripture, it is more frequently limited to the second part. On the present occasion I should not hesitate to understand by it the love both of God and of our neighbour, if Paul had employed the word love alone; but when he adds, “faith, and a good conscience, and a pure heart,” the interpretation which I am now to give will not be at variance with his intention, and will agree well with the scope of the passage. The sum of the law is this, that we may worship God with true faith and a pure conscience, and that we may love one another. Whosoever turns aside from this corrupts the law of God by twisting it to a different purpose.
But here arises a doubt, that Paul appears to prefer “love” to “faith.” I reply, they who are of that opinion reason in an excessively childish manner; for, if love is first mentioned, it does not therefore hold the first rank of honour, since Paul shews also that it springs from faith. Now the cause undoubtedly goes before its effect. And if we carefully weigh the whole context, what Paul says is of the same import as if he had said, “The law was given to us for this purpose, that it might instruct us in faith, which is the mother of a good conscience and of love.” Thus we must begin with faith, and not with love.
“A pure heart” and “a good conscience” do not greatly differ from each other. Both proceed from faith; for, as to a pure heart, it is said that “God purifieth hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9.) As to a good conscience, Peter declares that it is founded on the resurrection of Christ. (1 Pet. 3:21.) From this passage we also learn that there is no true love where there is not fear of God and uprightness of conscience.
Nor is it unworthy of observation that to each of them he adds an epithet; for, as nothing is more common, so nothing is more easy, than to boast of faith and a good conscience. But how few are there who prove by their actions that they are free from all hypocrisy! Especially it is proper to observe the epithet which he bestows on “faith,” when he calls it faith unfeigned; by which he means that the profession of it is insincere, when we do not perceive a good conscience, and when love is not manifested. Now since the salvation of men rests on faith, and since the perfect worship of God rests on faith and a good conscience and love, we need not wonder if Paul makes the sum of the law to consist of them.
From which some having gone astray.
He continues to pursue the metaphor of an object or end; for the verb ἀστοχεῖν, the participle of which is here given, signifies to err or go aside from a mark.
Have turned aside to idle talking. This is a remarkable passage, in which he condemns for “idle talking” all the doctrines which do not aim at this single end, and at the same time points out that the views and thoughts of all who aim at any other object vanish away. It is, indeed, possible that useless trifles may be regarded by many persons with admiration; but the statement of Paul remains unshaken, that everything that does not edify in godliness is ματαιολογία, “idle talking.” We ought, therefore, to take the greatest possible care not to seek anything in the holy and sacred word of God but solid edification, lest otherwise he inflict on us severe punishment for abusing it.
Wishing to be teachers of the law.
He does not reprove those who openly attack the instruction of the law, but those who boast of belonging to the rank of teachers of it. He affirms that such persons have no understanding, because they harass their faculties to no purpose by curious questions. And, at the same time, he rebukes their pride by adding,—
Of what things they affirm; for none will be found more bold in pronouncing rashly on matters unknown to them than the teachers of such fables. We see in the present day with what pride and haughtiness the schools of the Sorbonne pronounce their authoritative decisions. And on what subjects? On those which are altogether hidden from the minds of men—which no word of Scripture, and no revelation has ever made known to us. With greater boldness do they affirm their purgatory than the resurrection of the dead. As to their contrivances about the intercession of the saints, if we do not hold them to be an undoubted oracle, they cry out that the whole of religion is overturned. What shall I say as to their vast labyrinths about the hierarchies of heaven, relationships, and similar contrivances? It is a matter that has no end. The Apostle declares that in all these is fulfilled what is said in a well-known ancient proverb, “Ignorance is rash;” as he says that, “puffed up by their carnal mind, they intrude into things which they know not.” (Col. 2:18.)
Now we know that the law is good.
He again anticipates the calumny with which they loaded him; for, whenever he resisted their empty display, they seized on this shield for their defence: “What then? Do you wish to have the law buried, and blotted out of the remembrance of men?” In order to repel this calumny, Paul acknowledges that “the law is good,” but contends that we are required to make a lawful use of it. Here he argues from the use of cognate terms; for the word lawful (legitimus) is derived from the word law (lex). But he goes still further, and shews that the law agrees excellently with the doctrine which it teaches; and he even directs it against them.
That the law is not made for a righteous man.
The apostle did not intend to argue about the whole office of the law, but views it in reference to men. It frequently happens that they who wish to be regarded as the greatest zealots for the law, give evidence by their whole life that they are the greatest despisers of it. A remarkable and striking instance of this is found in those who maintain the righteousness of works and defend free-will. They have continually in their mouth these words, “Perfect holiness, merits, satisfactions;” but their whole life cries out against them, that they are outrageously wicked and ungodly, that they provoke in every possible way the wrath of God, and fearlessly set his judgment at nought. They extol in lofty terms the free choice of good and evil; but they openly shew, by their actions, that they are the slaves of Satan, and are most firmly held by him in the chains of slavery.
Having such adversaries, in order to restrain their haughty insolence, Paul remonstrates that the law is, as it were, the sword of God to slay them; and that neither he nor any like him have reason for viewing the law with dread or aversion; for it is not opposed to righteous persons, that is, to the godly and to those who willingly obey God. I am well aware that some learned men draw an ingenious sense out of these words; as if Paul were treating theologically about the nature of “the law.” They argue that the law has nothing to do with the sons of God, who have been regenerated by the Spirit; because it was not given for righteous persons. But the connexion in which these words occur shuts me up to the necessity of giving a more simple interpretation to this statement. He takes for granted the well-known sentiment, that “from bad manners have sprung good laws,” and maintains that the law of God was given in order to restrain the licentiousness of wicked men; because they who are good of their own accord do not need the authoritative injunction of the law.
A question now arises, “Is there any mortal man who does not belong to this class?”
I reply, in this passage Paul gives the appellation “righteous” to those who are not absolutely perfect, (for no such person will be found,) but who, with the strongest desire of their heart, aim at what is good; so that godly desire is to them a kind of voluntary law, without any motive or restraint from another quarter. He therefore wished to repress the impudence of adversaries, who armed themselves with the name of “the law” against godly men, whose whole life exhibits the actual rule of the law, since they had very great need of the law, and yet did not care much about it; which is more clearly expressed by the opposite clause. If there be any who refuse to admit that Paul brings an implied or indirect charge against his adversaries as guilty of those wicked acts which he enumerates, still it will be acknowledged to be a simple repelling of the slander; and if they were animated by a sincere and unfeigned zeal for the law, they ought rather to have made use of their armour for carrying on war with offences and crimes, instead of employing it as a pretext for their own ambition and silly talking.
For the unrighteous and disobedient.
Instead of “unrighteous,” it would have been better if translators had made use of the word “lawless;” for the Greek word is ἀνόμους, which does not differ much from the second word in the clause, “disobedient.” By sinners he means wicked persons, or those who lead a base and immoral life.
For the ungodly and profane.
These words might have been fitly rendered “profane and impure;” but I did not wish to be fastidious in matters of little importance.
The Latin word plagium was employed by ancient writers to denote the carrying off or enticing the slave of another man, or the false sale of a freeman. Those who wish to obtain more full information on this subject may consult authors on the civil law, and especially on the Flavian Law.
Here Paul glances at several classes, which include briefly every kind of transgressions. The root is obstinacy and rebellion; which he describes by the first two words. Ungodly and sinners appear to denote transgressors of the first and second table. To these he adds the profane and impure, or those who lead a base and dissolute life. There being chiefly three ways in which men injure their neighbours, namely, violence, dishonesty, and lust, he reproves successively those three ways, as may be easily seen. First, he speaks of violence as manifested by man-slayers and murderers of parents; secondly, he describes shameful uncleanness; and thirdly, he comes down to dishonesty and other crimes.
If there is anything else that is contrary to sound doctrine.
In this clause he maintains that his gospel is so far from being opposed to the law, that it is a powerful confirmation of it. He declares that by his preaching, he supports that very sentence which the Lord pronounced in his law, against “everything that is contrary to sound doctrine.” Hence it follows, that they who depart from the gospel, do not adhere to the spirit of the law, but merely pursue its shadow.
Sound doctrine is contrasted with frivolous questions about which he says (1 Tim. 6:3) that foolish teachers are in an unhealthy condition, and which, on account of the effect produced by them, are called diseased.1
According to the gospel of glory.
By calling it “the gospel of glory,” that is, “the glorious gospel,” he sharply rebukes those who laboured to degrade the gospel, in which God displays his glory. He expressly says that it hath been intrusted to him, that all may know that there is no other gospel of God than that which he preaches; and consequently, that all the fables which he formerly rebuked are at variance both with the law and with the gospel of God.
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
12 Et gratiam habeo, qui me potentem reddidit, Christo Iesu Domino nostro, quòd fidelem me judicavit, ponendo in ministerium,
13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
13 Qui prius eram blasphemus et persequutor, et violentus, sed et misericordiam adeptus sum, quòd ignorans feci in incredulitate.
I give thanks.
Great is the dignity of the apostleship, which Paul has claimed for himself; and he could not, looking at his former life, be accounted at all worthy of so high an honour. Accordingly, that he may not be accused of presumption, he comes unavoidably to make mention of his own person, and at once frankly acknowledges his own unworthiness, but nevertheless affirms that he is an Apostle by the grace of God. But he goes further, and turns to his own advantage what appeared to lessen his authority, declaring that the grace of God shines in him so much the more brightly.
To our Lord Jesus Christ.
When he gives thanks to Christ, he removes that dislike towards him which might have been entertained, and cuts off all ground for putting this question, “Does he deserve, or does he not deserve, so honourable an office?” for, although in himself he has no excellence, yet it is enough that he was chosen by Christ. There are, indeed, many who, under the same form of words, make a show of humility, but are widely different from the uprightness of Paul, whose intention was, not only to boast courageously in the Lord, but to give up all the glory that was his own.
By putting me into the ministry.
Why does he give thanks? Because he has been placed in the ministry; for thence he concludes that he hath been accounted faithful. Christ does not receive any in the manner that is done by ambitious people, but selects those only who are well qualified; and therefore all on whom he bestows honour are acknowledged by us to be worthy. Nor is it inconsistent with this, that Judas, according to the prediction, (Ps. 109:8,) was elevated for a short time, that he might quickly fall. It was otherwise with Paul, who obtained the honour for a different purpose, and on a different condition, when Christ declared that he should be “a chosen vessel to him.” (Acts 9:15.)
But in this manner Paul seems to say that faithfulness, by which he had been previously distinguished, was the cause of his calling. If it were so, the thanksgiving would be hypocritical and contradictory; for he would owe his apostleship not only to God, but to his own merit. I deny, therefore, that the meaning is, that he was admitted to the rank of an apostle, because God had foreseen his faith; for Christ could not foresee in him anything good but what the Father had bestowed on him. Still, therefore, it continues to be true, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” (John 15:16.) On the contrary, he draws from it a proof of his fidelity, that Christ had made him an Apostle; for he declares that they whom Christ makes Apostles must be held to be pronounced faithful by his decree. In a word, this judicial act is not traced by him to foreknowledge, but rather denotes the testimony which is given to men; as if he had said, “I give thanks to Christ, who, by calling me into the ministry, has openly declared that he approves of my faithfulness.”
Who hath made me powerful.
He now introduces the mention of another act of the kindness of Christ, that he strengthened him, or “made him powerful.” By this expression he does not only mean that he was at first formed by the hand of God, so as to be well qualified for his office, but he likewise includes the continued bestowal of grace. For it would not have been enough that he was once declared to be faithful, if Christ had not strengthened him by the uninterrupted communication of aid. He acknowledges, therefore, that he is indebted to the grace of Christ on two accounts, because he was once elevated, and because he continues in his office.
Who was formerly a blasphemer and persecutor; a blasphemer against God, a persecutor and oppressor against the Church.
We see how candidly he acknowledges that it might be brought against him as a reproach, and how far he is from extenuating his sins, and how, by willingly acknowledging his unworthiness, he magnifies the greatness of the grace of God. Not satisfied with having called himself a “persecutor,” he intended to express more fully his rage and cruelty by an additional term, an oppressor.
Because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
“I obtained pardon,” said he, “for my unbelief; because it proceeded from ignorance;” for persecution and oppression were nothing else than the fruits of unbelief.
But he appears to insinuate that there is no room for pardon, unless when ignorance can be pleaded in excuse. What then? Will God never pardon any one who has sinned knowingly? I reply, we must observe the word unbelief; for this term limits Paul’s statement to the first table of the law. Transgressions of the second table, although they are voluntary, are forgiven; but he who knowingly and willingly breaks the first table sins against the Holy Spirit, because he is in direct opposition to God. He does not err through weakness, but, by rushing wickedly against God, gives a sure proof of his reprobation.
And hence may be obtained a definition of the sin against the Holy Ghost; first, that it is open rebellion against God in the transgression of the first table; secondly, that it is a malicious rejection of the truth; for, when the truth of God is not rejected through deliberate malice, the Holy Spirit is not resisted. Lastly, unbelief is here employed as a general term; and malicious design, which is contrasted with ignorance, may be regarded as the point of difference.
Accordingly, they are mistaken who make the sin against the Holy Ghost to consist in the transgression of the second table; and they are also mistaken, who pronounce blind and thoughtless violence to be a crime so heinous. For men commit the sin against the Holy Spirit, when they undertake a voluntary war against God, in order to extinguish that light of the Spirit which has been offered to them. This is shocking wickedness and monstrous hardihood. Nor is there room for doubting that, by an implied threatening, he intended to terrify all who had been once enlightened, not to stumble against truth which they knew; because such a fall is destructive and fatal; for if, on account of ignorance, God forgave Paul his blasphemies, they who knowingly and intentionally blaspheme ought not to expect any pardon.
But it may be thought that what he now says is to no purpose; for unbelief, which is always blind, can never be unaccompanied by ignorance. I reply, among unbelievers some are so blind that they are deceived by a false imagination of the truth; and in others, while they are blinded, yet malice prevails. Paul was not altogether free from a wicked disposition; but he was hurried along by thoughtless zeal, so as to think that what he did was right. Thus he was an adversary of Christ, not from deliberate intention, but through mistake and ignorance. The Pharisees, who through a bad conscience slandered Christ, were not entirely free from mistake and ignorance; but they were instigated by ambition, and a base hatred of sound doctrine, and even by furious rebellion against God, so that maliciously and intentionally, and not in ignorance, they set themselves in opposition to Christ.
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
14 Exuberavit autem supra modum gratia Domini nostri, cum fide et dilectione, quæ est in Christo Iesu.
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
15 Fidelis sermo, et dignus omnino qui accipiatur, quòd Christus Iesus venit in mundum, ut peccatores salvos faceret, quorum primus sum ego.
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
16 Verum ideo misericordiam sum adeptus, ut in me primo ostenderet Iesus Christus omnem clementiam, in exemplar iis, qui credituri essent in ipso in vitam æternam.
17 Now, unto the King eternal immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
17 Regi autem sæculorum immortali, invisibili, soli sapienti Deo, honor et gloria in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.
And the grace of our Lord.
He again magnifies the grace of God towards himself, not only for the purpose of removing the dislike of it and testifying his gratitude, but also to employ it as a shield against the slanders of wicked men, whose whole design was to bring down his apostleship to a lower level. When he says that it abounded, and that, too, beyond measure, the statement implies that the remembrance of past transactions was effaced, and so completely swallowed up, that it was no disadvantage to him that God had formerly been gracious to good men.
With faith and love.
Both may be viewed as referring to God, in this sense, that God showed himself to be true, and gave a manifestation of his love in Christ, when he bestowed his grace upon him. But I prefer a more simple interpretation, that “faith and love” are indications and proofs of that grace which he had mentioned, that it might not be supposed that he boasted needlessly or without good grounds. And, indeed, “faith” is contrasted with unbelief, and “love in Christ” is contrasted with the cruelty which he had exercised towards believers; as if he had said, that God had so completely changed him, that he had become a totally different and new man. Thus from the signs and effects he celebrates in lofty terms the excellence of that grace which must obliterate the remembrance of his former life.
It is a faithful saying.
After having defended his ministry from slander and unjust accusations, not satisfied with this, he turns to his own advantage what might have been brought against him by his adversaries as a reproach. He shews that it was profitable to the Church that he had been such a person as he actually was before he was called to the apostleship, because Christ, by giving him as a pledge, invited all sinners to the sure hope of obtaining pardon. For when he, who had been a fierce and savage beast, was changed into a Pastor, Christ gave a remarkable display of his grace, from which all might be led to entertain a firm belief that no sinner, how heinous and aggravated soever might have been his transgressions, had the gate of salvation shut against him.
That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
He first brings forward this general statement, and adorns it with a preface, as he is wont to do in matters of vast importance. In the doctrine of religion, indeed, the main point is, to come to Christ, that, being lost in ourselves, we may obtain salvation from him. Let this preface be to our ears like the sound of a trumpet to proclaim the praises of the grace of Christ, in order that we may believe it with a stronger faith. Let it be to us as a seal to impress on our hearts a firm belief of the forgiveness of sins, which otherwise with difficulty finds entrance into the hearts of men.
A faithful saying.
What was the reason why Paul aroused attention by these words, but because men are always disputing with themselves about their salvation? For, although God the Father a thousand times offer to us salvation, and although Christ himself preach about his own office, yet we do not on that account cease to tremble, or at least to debate with ourselves if it be actually so. Wherefore, whenever any doubt shall arise in our mind about the forgiveness of sins, let us learn to repel it courageously with this shield, that it is an undoubted truth, and deserves to be received without controversy.
To save sinners.
The word sinners is emphatic; for they who acknowledge that it is the office of Christ to save, have difficulty in admitting this thought, that such a salvation belongs to “sinners.” Our mind is always impelled to look at our worthiness; and as soon as our unworthiness is seen, our confidence sinks. Accordingly, the more any one is oppressed by his sins, let him the more courageously betake himself to Christ, relying on this doctrine, that he came to bring salvation not to the righteous, but to “sinners.” It deserves attention, also, that Paul draws an argument from the general office of Christ, in order that what he had lately testified about his own person might not appear to be absurd on account of its novelty.
Of whom I am the first.
Beware of thinking that the Apostle, under a pretence of modesty, spoke falsely, for he intended to make a confession not less true than humble, and drawn from the very bottom of his heart.
But some will ask, “Why does he, who only erred through ignorance of sound doctrine, and whose whole life, in every other respect, was blameless before men, pronounce himself to be the chief of sinners? I reply, these words inform us how heinous and dreadful a crime unbelief is before God, especially when it is attended by obstinacy and a rage for persecution. (Philip. 3:6.) With men, indeed, it is easy to extenuate, under the pretence of heedless zeal, all that Paul has acknowledged about himself; but God values more highly the obedience of faith than to reckon unbelief, accompanied by obstinacy, to be a small crime.
We ought carefully to observe this passage, which teaches us, that a man who, before the world, is not only innocent, but eminent for distinguished virtues, and most praiseworthy for his life, yet because he is opposed to the doctrine of the gospel, and on account of the obstinacy of his unbelief, is reckoned one of the most heinous sinners; for hence we may easily conclude of what value before God are all the pompous displays of hypocrites, while they obstinately resist Christ.
That in me the first Jesus Christ might shew.
When he calls himself the first, he alludes to what he had said a little before, that he was the first among sinners; and, therefore, this word means “chiefly,” or, “above all.” The Apostle’s meaning is, that, from the very beginning, God held out such a pattern as might be visible from a conspicuous and lofty platform, that no one might doubt that he would obtain pardon, provided that he approached to Christ by faith. And, indeed, the distrust entertained by all of us is counteracted, when we thus behold in Paul a visible model of that grace which we desire to see.
Now to the King eternal.
His amazing vehemence at length breaks out into this exclamation; because he could not find words to express his gratitude; for those sudden bursts occur chiefly when we are constrained to break off the discourse, in consequence of being overpowered by the vastness of the subject. And is there anything more astonishing than Paul’s conversion? Yet, at the same time, by his example he reminds us all that we ought never to think of the grace manifested in God’s calling without being carried to lofty admiration.
Eternal, invisible, only wise.
This sublime praise of the grace which God had bestowed on him swallows up the remembrance of his former life. For how great a deep is the glory of God! Those attributes which he ascribes to God, though they belong to him always, yet are admirably adapted to the present occasion. The Apostle calls him the King eternal, not liable to any change; Invisible, because (1 Tim. 6:16) he dwells in light that is inaccessible; and, lastly, the Only Wise, because he renders foolish, and condemns as vanity, all the wisdom of men. The whole agrees with that conclusion at which he arrives: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his designs! How unsearchable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33.) He means that the infinite and incomprehensible wisdom of God should be beheld by us with such reverence that, if his works surpass our senses, still we may be restrained by admiration.
Yet as to the last epithet Only, it is doubtful whether he means to claim all glory for God alone, or calls him the only wise, or says that he only is God.
The second of these meanings is that which I prefer; for it was in fine harmony with his present subject to say, that the understanding of men, whatever it may be, must bend to the secret purpose of God. And yet I do not deny that he affirms that God alone is worthy of all glory; for, while he scatters on his creatures, in every direction, the sparks of his glory, still all glory belongs truly and perfectly to him alone. But either of these meanings implies that there is no glory but that which belongs to God.
18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;
18 Hoc præceptum commendo tibi, fili Timothee, secundum præcedentes super te prophetias, ut milites in illis bonam militiam;
19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck:
19 Habens fidem et bonam conscientiam; a qua aversi quidam circa fidem naufragium fecerunt:
20 Of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
20 Ex quibus sunt Hymenæus et Alexander, quos tradidi Satanæ, ut discant non maledicere.
I recommend to thee this commandment.
All that he had introduced about his own person may be viewed as a digression from his subject. Having intended to arm Timothy with authority, it became necessary for himself to be clothed with the highest authority; and, therefore, he took an early opportunity of refuting an opinion which might have stood in his way. And now, after having proved that his apostleship ought not to be less esteemed by good men, because at one time he fought against the kingdom of Christ, this obstacle being removed, he returns to the course of his exhortation. The commandment, therefore, is the same as he mentioned at the beginning.
By calling him his son, he not only expresses his own warm regard towards him, but also recommends him to others under that name.
According to the prophecies which went before concerning thee.
In order to encourage him still more, he reminds him what kind of testimony he had obtained from the Spirit of God; for it was no small excitement, that his ministry was approved by God, and that he had been called by divine revelation before he was called by the votes of men. “It is disgraceful not to come up to the expectations which men have been led to form; and how much more disgraceful will it be to make void, as far as lies in thy power, the judgment of God?”
But we must first ascertain what are the prophecies of which he speaks. Some think that Paul was instructed by revelation to confer the office on Timothy. That I acknowledge to be true, but I add that others made revelations; for it was not without reason that Paul made use of the plural number. Accordingly, we conclude from these words that several prophecies were uttered concerning Timothy, in order to recommend him to the Church. Being still a young man, he might have been despised on account of his age; and Paul might also have been exposed to calumnies, on account of having ordained youths, before the proper time, to the elder’s office. Besides, God had appointed him to great and difficult undertakings; for he was not one of the ordinary rank of ministers, but approached very closely to that of the apostles, and frequently occupied the place of Paul during his absence. It was, therefore, necessary that he should receive an extraordinary testimony, in order to make it manifest that it was not conferred on him at random by men, but that he was chosen by God himself.
To be adorned with the applauses of the prophets was not an ordinary occurrence, or one which was common to him along with many persons; but because there were some circumstances peculiar to Timothy, it was the will of God that he should not be received by men until he had been previously approved by his own voice; it was the will of God that he should not enter into the exercise of his office until he had been called by the revelations of the prophets. The same thing happened to Paul and Barnabas, (Acts 13:2,) when they were ordained to be teachers of the Gentiles; for it was a new and uncommon occurrence, and they could not otherwise have escaped the charge of rashness.
It will now be objected by some, “If God had formerly declared, by his prophets, what kind of minister Timothy should be, what purpose did it serve to admonish him, to show that he was actually such a person? Could he falsify prophecies which had been uttered by divine revelation? I reply, it could not happen differently from what God had promised; but at the same time it was the duty of Timothy, not to give himself up to sloth and inactivity, but to render a cheerful compliance with the providence of God. It is therefore not without good reason, that Paul, wishing to stimulate him still more, mentions the “prophecies,” by which God might be said to have pledged himself on behalf of Timothy; for he was thus reminded of the purpose for which he was called.
That thou by them mayest war a good warfare.
By this he means that Timothy, relying on such approbation of God, ought to fight more courageously. What is there that either ought to give, or can give us greater cheerfulness than to know that God has appointed us to do what we are doing? These are our arms, these are our weapons of defence, by the aid of which we shall never fail.
By the word warfare, he states indirectly, that we must maintain a contest; and this applies universally to all believers, but especially to Christian teachers, who may be said to be standard-bearers and leaders. It is as if he had said, “O Timothy, if thou canst not fulfil thy office without a contest, remember that thou art armed by divine prophecies for cherishing assured hope of victory, and arouse thyself by calling them to remembrance. That warfare which we maintain, having God for our leader, is a good warfare; that is, it is glorious and successful.”
Having faith and a good conscience.
I understand the word faith to be a general term, denoting sound doctrine. In the same sense he afterwards speaks of “the mystery of faith.” (1 Tim. 3:9.) And, indeed, the chief things demanded from a teacher are these two:—that he shall hold by the pure truth of the gospel; and next, that he shall administer it with a good conscience and honest zeal. Where these are found, all the others will follow of their own accord.
From which some having turned aside concerning faith.
He shows how necessary it is that faith be accompanied by a good conscience; because, on the other hand, the punishment of a bad conscience is turning aside from the path of duty. They who do not serve God with a sincere and a perfect heart, but give a loose rein to wicked dispositions, even though at first they had a sound understanding, come to lose it altogether.
This passage ought to be carefully observed. We know that the treasure of sound doctrine is invaluable, and therefore there is nothing that we ought to dread more than to have it taken from us. But Paul here informs us, that there is only one way of keeping it safe; and that is, to secure it by the locks and bars of a good conscience. This is what we experience every day; for how comes it that there are so many who, laying aside the gospel, rush into wicked sects, or become involved in monstrous errors? It is because, by this kind of blindness, God punishes hypocrisy; as, on the other hand, a genuine fear of God gives strength for perseverance.
Hence we may learn two lessons.
First, Teachers and ministers of the gospel, and, through them, all the churches are taught with what horror they ought to regard a hypocritical and deceitful profession of true doctrine, when they learn that it is so severely punished.
Secondly, this passage removes the offence by which so many persons are greatly distressed, when they perceive that some, who formerly professed their attachment to Christ and to the gospel, not only fall back into their former superstitions, but (which is far worse) are bewildered and captivated by monstrous errors. For by such examples, God openly supports the majesty of the gospel, and openly shews that he cannot at all endure the profanation of it.
And this is what experience has taught us in every age. All the errors that have existed in the Christian Church from the beginning, proceeded from this source, that in some persons, ambition, and in others, covetousness, extinguished the true fear of God. A bad conscience is, therefore, the mother of all heresies; and we see that a vast number of persons, who had not sincerely and honestly embraced the faith, are hurried along, like brute beasts, into the reveries of the Epicureans, so that their hypocrisy is exposed. And not only so, but contempt of God is universally prevalent, and the licentious and disgraceful lives of almost all ranks show that there is either none at all, or the smallest possible portion of integrity in the world; so that there is very great reason to fear lest the light which had been kindled may be speedily extinguished, and God may leave the pure understanding of the gospel to be possessed by very few.
Have made shipwreck.
The metaphor taken from shipwreck is highly appropriate; for it suggests to us, that, if we wish to arrive safely at the harbour, our course must be guided by a good conscience, otherwise there is danger of “shipwreck;” that is, there is danger lest faith be sunk by a bad conscience, as by a whirlpool in a stormy sea.
Of whom are Hymenæus and Alexander.
The former will be again mentioned in the Second Epistle, in which the kind of “shipwreck” which he made is likewise described; for he said that the resurrection was past. (2 Tim. 2:17, 18.) There is reason to believe that Alexander also was bewitched by an error so absurd. And shall we wonder at the present day, if any are deceived by the various enchantments of Satan, when we see that one of Paul’s companions perished by so dreadful a fall?
He mentions both of them to Timothy as persons whom he knew. For my own part, I have no doubt that this is the same Alexander that is mentioned by Luke, and who attempted, but without success, to quell the commotion. Now he was an Ephesian, and we have said that this Epistle was chiefly written for the sake of the Ephesians. We now learn what was his end; and hearing it, let us keep possession of our faith by a good conscience, that we may hold it safe to the last.
Whom I have delivered to Satan.
As I mentioned in the exposition of another passage, (1 Cor. 5:5,) there are some who interpret this to mean that extraordinary chastisement was inflicted on those persons; and they view this as referring to δυνάμεις, “the powers” mentioned by Paul in the same Epistle. (1 Cor. 12:28.) For, as the apostles were endowed with the gift of healing, in order to testify the favour and kindness of God towards the godly, so against wicked and rebellious persons they were armed with power, either to deliver them to the devil to be tormented, or to inflict on them other chastisements. Of this “power,” Peter gave a display in Ananias and Sapphira, (Acts 5:1,) and Paul in the magician Bar-jesus. (Acts 13:6.) But, for my own part, I choose rather to explain it as relating to excommunication; for the opinion that the incestuous Corinthian received any other chastisement than excommunication is not supported by any probable conjecture. And, if by excommunicating him, Paul delivered him to Satan, why should not the same mode of expression have a similar import in this passage?
Besides, it explains very well the force of excommunication; for, since in the Church Christ holds the seat of his kingdom, out of the Church there is nothing but the dominion of Satan. Accordingly, he who is cast out of the Church must be placed, for a time, under the tyranny of Satan, until, being reconciled to the Church, he return to Christ. I make one exception, that, on account of the enormity of the offence, he might have pronounced a sentence of perpetual excommunication against them; but on that point I would not venture to make a positive assertion.
That they may learn not to blaspheme.
What is the meaning of this last clause? For one who has been cast out of the Church takes upon himself greater freedom of acting, because, being freed from the yoke of ordinary discipline, he breaks out into louder insolence. I reply, to whatever extent they may indulge in their wickedness, yet the gate will be shut against them, so that they shall not contaminate the flock; for the greatest injury done by wicked men is, when they mingle with others under the pretence of holding the same faith. The power of doing injury is taken from them, when they are branded with public infamy, so that none are so simple as not to know that these are irreligious and detestable men, and therefore their society is shunned by all. Sometimes, too, it happens that—being struck down by this mark of disgrace which has been put upon them—they become less daring and obstinate; and therefore, although this remedy sometimes renders them more wicked, yet it is not always ineffectual for subduing their fierceness.
John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon