Saturday, January 17, 2015

1 Tim 1:18-2:15

One of the benefits of a translation that stays close to the original in terms of similar diction for similar diction is notable in this letter.  If we don't know the synonymy of law, instruction, command, and teaching behind the original "Torah" when we hear those words  in chapters 1 and 2 of our letter, we won't see, in the English, some of the point the original author was able to convey to the reader originally.

In order to understand "this command I entrust to you," in 1 Tim 1:18, we'll need to notice both the "I have been entrusted" that Paul says of himself in 1:11, the teaching about "law"and "command"in 1:8,9, and "the goal of our command" in 1:5, and "a trustworthy statement, deserving of full acceptance" in 1:15.

In biblical culture there was a basic unity between teaching and commandment that we have divided up, in the West.  It hampers our understanding of some basic Semitic-type sentences, like 1 Jn 1:8, where John says "a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you."  In English, we don't say that commandments are true or false, but at the most "valid or invalid," perhaps, or"in force or not."

So in our verse, 1:18, "this command I entrust to you," when we ask "which command?"  we don't think it could mean "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."  Paul's turnover to Timothy is the command he was entrusted with, "our instruction."

Paul says "the goal of our instruction" is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1:5), and that certainly is a goal for the reader Timothy, and a goal for "the trustworthy statement" that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."  Let's see if that pans out in the subsequent words.  In 1:19, Paul says "keeping faith and a good conscience."  That certainly fits with the means Paul mentioned to his goal earlier: the same thing!  a good concience and (sincere) faith.  If Timothy will have been entrusted with that "command," that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," then he gets what gives us a good conscience, our salvation from our sins, and a sincere faith, our trust in the one who saved us.

And looking at 1 Tim 1 that way, as the compendium of the teaching Paul wishes to entrust to Timothy, then chapter 2 becomes the beginning of the standard "practical" section, as in Paul's Romans and Ephesians, the "Romans 12" if you will, the Eph 4.

By way of application, now, having reminded Timothy the big picture, Paul gets particular and, as is fitting for personal communication, personal.  "I urge ... therefore I want ... but I do not allow" (2:1,8,12). Just as we would tend to miss the identification of command and teaching in chapter 1, we might tend to not have a category for this kind of ethical exhortation by Paul in chapter 2.

In the West we have tended to treat the Bible like a single textbook of truths plus a single textbook of rules. The underlying assumption behind so many denominational differences is that other people have not figured out what rules are "the ones," surprisingly, what Paul would call "our commandment" in 1:5, "this command I entrust to you," 1:18.   And so we have trouble distinguishing levels of appertainance among rules.  We hear, for example, of turning the other cheek, and assume that's one of "the ones," and this leads some people to conclude that never can a Christian be a soldier, or "lend, expecting no return," and conclude never can a Christian be a banker.  In the same way, we don't allow Paul the latitude to say "I urge ... I want ... I do not allow."  We can't have that!  We have to have a rule be valid for every situation, or not.  And we certainly CAN"T have any humorous aspect intrude on our list-making: we can't have any hint of humor in 2:12-15.  Oops!


Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts about "instruction" and "commandment" and "teaching". How can a commandment be true or false? Or do we understand this (e.g. 'Christ came to save sinners') to be a commandment to spread a true message? (again, I'm distinguishing the two, the former being imperative, the latter declarative.)

Larry said...

Great, in this wide world there's one listener! Thanks Jonathan. Of course we have to distinguish the meaning of declarative and imperative, and yet make connections, as "a commandment to spread the true message" is an example of.

But there are lots of very famous verses that bridge this gap. In college, I heard the linguistic dictum, you can't derive an "ought" from an "is," and the professor challenged us to try. Whenever we started with an assertion, and said "therefore you should xyz," using subjects from the "is" sentence, the professor would point out that the "is" sentence is an assertion about what is true, not what obligations we have. That's why I mentioned the 1 John sentence. There are plenty of Semitic ideas like this, that sound, at least in English, that they don't fit in the declarative versus imperative dichotomy. As we both asked, "how can a command be true or false?" Did you notice I asked the same question in my post?