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Warning Against False Teachers of the Law July 25, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 1:3-11.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding Timothy why he had asked him to remain in Ephesus – he had furnished him with authority to resist false teachers who were polluting pure teaching. These false teachers are devoting themselves to:

  • trifles
  • arguments about genealogies that lead nowhere

which merely fuel arguments instead of helping to build up the church on the basis of faith. The church can be built up by focusing on the law, which essentially states that people should:

  • worship God
  • love each other

and these actions stem from faith and its fruits, including a clear conscience. Yet these false teachers have missed this target by focusing on vain trifles. They arrogantly claim to be teachers of the law, yet they do not understand it.

Now Paul anticipates that these false teachers will respond by asserting that he wants to bury the law, so he affirms the goodness of the law while showing that it supports his teaching. In particular, he attacks them by asserting that the law is an enemy to those who:

  • are obstinate and rebellious
  • are immoral
  • break any of the Ten Commandments
  • commit acts of violence
  • indulge in lust
  • are dishonest
  • focus on frivolous arguments instead of embracing the Gospel.

Paul concludes by stating that:

  • God demonstrates His glory in the Gospel
  • the myths that he has spoken against are at odds with the law and the Gospel.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul has given Timothy the task of combating the false teachers in Ephesus. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 7:

Today we see how the theologians of the Sorbonne babble about their ideas. But about what? About things that are not revealed to human beings and have never been clearly taught in the Bible. They place more confidence in purgatory than in the resurrection of the dead. If we do not accept, as gospel, their false notions about the prayers of the saints, they complain that religion itself is undermined. And what can we say about fictitious doctrines such as the endless mazes they have made concerning heaven and its hierarchies? This list goes on forever!

As I am not well-versed in the history of the Reformation, I was rather confused by Calvin’s harsh denunciation of “the theologians of the Sorbonne.” After some Googling I came across the following account of Calvin’s 1544 work that refuted several anti-Reformation articles that had been written by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne. Thus, I suspect that Calvin identified quite strongly with Paul as he carried out his leading role in the Reformation. Just as Paul sought to refute the false teachers in Ephesus who were focusing on trivial matters, Calvin sought to refute the French theologians who espoused the principles of Catholicism. I also suspect that Calvin’s life would be an appropriate subject for an epic film.

Here, Paul asserts that the false teachers in Ephesus have wandered away from the purpose of God’s law. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

The law can be summed up as saying that we should worship God with a pure heart and a good conscience, and that we should love each other. Anyone who moves away from this pollutes God’s law and perverts it to serve some other strange purpose.

On a personal note, I find that delving into God’s Word can be quite enriching from an intellectual standpoint. Since I am a history buff, I have enjoyed learning about ancient Near Eastern/Middle Eastern history from the Bible. I have also acquired many insights into God’s Word through my various strolls through Paul’s epistles. Yet this passage serves as a bracing reminder that as Christians, we should never let our study of the Bible devolve into a mere intellectual pursuit. Instead, our Bible studies should lead us closer to its Author; in the process we will find new strength to live out the law by obeying its two greatest commandments.

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1. Love of Money | Ringing In - August 28, 2013

[…] I learned about Calvin’s disputes with the theologians of the Sorbonne when writing a previous post. I do wonder if the theologians of the Sorbonne were aware of Calvin’s commentary on 1 […]


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