Sunday, March 15, 2009

Explanatory Notes: 1 Timothy 1:8-11

1:8-11 Now we know that the [Jewish] Law is good, if someone uses it lawfully, knowing this, that the Law is not intended for the righteous, but for the lawless and un-submissive, for the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane, for those who murder their fathers and mothers, for murders, the sexually immoral, practitioners of homosexual sex, human traffickers, liars, those who swear falsely, and if there is something else in opposition to sound teaching in accordance with the good news of the glory of the blessed God, with which I was entrusted.

This is a fascinating list of vices and at the same time a quite different approach to the Law than is found in the Pauline writings elsewhere. First, it agrees with Paul's sentiment in Romans 7:12 that the Jewish Law is holy and the commandment holy, righteous, and good. In Romans 7:14 Paul indicates that the Law is spiritual. Another point of agreement is that Paul uses the tenth commandment not to covet as his example of a commandment in Romans 7:7. Here in 1 Timothy, the examples of law-breaking seem to relate fairly directly to the Ten Commandments.

For example, the first six vices or so relate fairly well to matters relating to the proper worship of God, as do the initial commandments. The mention of murderers of fathers and mothers relate to the commandment to honor one's parents. The mention of murderers proper, various forms of sexual immorality, and slave trading relate to the commands not to kill, commit adultery, or steal. Finally, the comment on liars and perjurers relates directly to bearing false witness.

The sentiment of these verses seems to be that the Law is intended to restrain the practice of sin. Those who do not sin or violate these laws are thus not people for whom the Law need be a concern. The false teachers, on the other hand, emphasized stories relating to the stories of the Pentateuch and something relating to genealogies somehow connected to the Pentateuch. These spin offs on the Law were of no concern, Paul/1 Timothy says. If you are living righteously, the Law is not something you should be troubled by.

The contrast between this approach to the Jewish Law and Paul's approach in letters like Galatians and Romans is striking. Some who affirm a close relationship between 1 Timothy and Paul have even suggested one of Paul's coworkers might have had a greater hand in the writing than Paul gave to his coworkers in other instances. The key differences are 1) that Paul elsewhere seems to affirm that all are sinners, 2) that the Law functions to point this fact out to both Jew and Gentile, and 3) that the Law pertains to the epoch prior to Christ so that Christ's coming now signals the end of the Law's function.

By contrast, on the one hand, 1 Timothy has the more typical Jewish division between the righteous and sinners as those who do good and those who break the Law. On the other hand, the way in which 1 Timothy defines the Law is very de-ethnicized. In other words, a Jew would typically have defined righteousness with at least some mention of what we now think of as the ethnic particulars of the Law, things like circumcision, Sabbath observance, and the food laws. Paul's discussions of the Law elsewhere reflect this fact in a negative sense--he defines righteousness as not being based on these things and thus not based on Law. The Jewish definition thus underlies Paul's new sense of the Law's significance.

The list of vices in 1 Timothy is thus at the same time more and less Jewish than Paul elsewhere. It is like Paul elsewhere in that the Law is largely considered irrelevant for believers. But it is considered irrelevant for different reasons. In Paul's other writings it is irrelevant because it applies to a past epoch. In 1 Timothy it is irrelevant because believers do not break it. None of these shifts in language contradict the substance of Paul's writings elsewhere. It is only the differences in the conceptual framework, imagery, and language that is strikingly different.

The mention of "sound teaching" signals another of the major shifts between the other writings of the Pauline corpus and the pastoral epistles. Paul does use the word teaching elsewhere, but nowhere with the significance it has in the pastorals. We should think of the pastoral epistles as a deposit of Paul's teaching which he is bequeathing to his heirs.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Do you think the epistles are teh development of the "tradition of Paul"? And Paul was the development of the Jesus tradition? Christian faith became Christianity, a religion?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And Jesus life was the development of the Jewish tradition?

Therefore, the question is how/what is the development of the Jewish tradition?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It seems that whenver there is a "new understanding" which brings about a reformation, "revival", or revolution, humans tend to bring about a stablization to the 'new" so that there is security, norms, which define traditions.

Religious reformation whether purity parties, or moral reform bring about change...but purity parites divide over the minutae, while reformers divide over essential issues of personal conviction.

I just read about Mark's leaving and Paul and Barnabas's parting. When we hold to a universal "right", we limit another's understanding, conviction, commitment or gift. We must not do this. But, tradition loves to maintain control of areas of human influence, whether that be social, or political. And when the "purity party" wins the power, we are in for oppression.

True moral reform addresses the heart issues of motivation, as well as the resulting behavior, and not just the behavior, or outside "frivolities". And sometimes, what has been understood to be the "correct" view, needs readjustment. Such is social change.