James Patrick’s Blog

March 22, 2010

‘Faith’ in 1 and 2 Timothy (Winds of Doctrine #2)

Filed under: Exegesis,Theology — alabastertheology @ 4:41 pm
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When considering the significance of ‘fall away from the faith’ in 1 Timothy 4:1, the best place to start is to consider Paul’s use of the phrase “the faith”.  Even in Paul’s earliest letters he uses “the faith” as a summary term for the belief and practice of following Jesus as Messiah (Gal 1:23; 6:10; 1Cor 15:17; 16:13; cf. 1Thes 3:1-10; Acts 6:7; 16:5?), perhaps alongside other terms such as “the way” (Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; compare 5:14; 16:17; contrast 3:26), or “the life” (Acts 5:20; John 1:4).  Paul and others seemed to dislike the word ‘sect’ for their variety of Judaism (Acts 24:14; 28:22; compare 5:17 and 15:5), and used a variety of alternative terms.  Terms or phrases describing the new ‘religion’ of ‘Christianity’ are distinct from those that refer to the assembly of believers, “the church” (Acts 5:11; 8:1-3; 11:22-26; 12:1; Gal 1:13) or “the brethren” (Acts 1:15; 11:29; 12:17; John 21:23).

Paul used a variety of terms for the message he preached, including ‘teaching’, ‘gospel’, ‘word’, ‘truth’, ‘traditions’, etc. (see e.g. 2Thes 2:13-15), but also referred to it by summarising the whole teaching with reference to a central doctrine or response, such as ‘repentance’, ‘faith’, grace’, ‘kingdom’, ‘whole purpose of God’, ‘righteousness’, etc. (see e.g. Acts 20:21-32).  Thus there were both abstract and definitive terms for Paul’s message, and there doesn’t seem to be any one term he uses more than another; it probably depends mostly on the context, whether that be the particular emphasis he is trying to make, or the most relevant aspect for the culture of his hearers.

Of the various terms, though, ‘faith’ was a particularly useful one, since it could refer either to ‘faith’ or ‘the faith’ (the definite article is used for abstract nouns in Greek, so the distinction between the two is often unclear).  There is a debate in Pauline studies over the significance of the term ‘pistis Xristou’, because it could be translated ‘faith[fulness] of Christ’ or ‘faith [i.e. trust] in Christ’.  Perhaps this was precisely Paul’s intention – ‘faith’ is the only appropriate response to God’s ‘grace’, and just as Jesus Himself was justified [i.e. vindicated] on account of His faith [i.e. trust in resurrection], just as Abraham had been also, so we too are justified on account of our faith in His resurrection (Rom 3:24-26; 4:17-25; 5:18-19; Heb 3:1-2; 5:7-9).  In this way, ‘[the] faith’ can refer not only to the doctrinal content, but also to the practical initiation into and outworking of this relationship with the God of grace.  Paul summarised the desired response to his gospel about Jesus Christ as “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26).

As for particular uses of the word ‘faith’, it is best to view each occurrence of the word in its context.  Regarding 1 and 2 Timothy, therefore, we have 27 separate occurrences of ‘faith’ as a noun [in my count] – 1Tim 1:2, 4, 5, 14, 19 [x2]; 2:7, 15; 3:9, 13; 4:1, 6, 12; 5:8, 12; 6:10, 11, 12, 21; 2Tim 1:5, 13; 2:18, 22; 3:8, 10, 15; 4:7.  These can be grouped together according to their use – sometimes it is helpful to see what word or words could be substituted for the word ‘faith’ and still give the same meaning.

(1)     ‘Faith’ is used in line with other letters of Paul as a reference to the initial ‘action’ of the believer that constitutes entrance into the community of the redeemed:

–          1T 1:14 – Paul himself received unmerited mercy, grace, faith and love in Jesus.
–          2T 3:15 – Salvation results when biblical wisdom is combined with faith in Jesus.

This may be the equivalent of the ‘pledge’ of celibacy made by Christian widows:

–          1T 5:12 – Wanting to get married incurs condemnation for rejecting one’s ‘faith’.

(2)     ‘Faith’ (i.e. trusting God and His message) is one among many practical effects of salvation in the believer, something to actively develop:

–          1T 1:5 – One goal of Christian instruction is [love from] a sincere faith.
–          1T 2:15 – Wives will survive childbearing if they continue in faith, love, etc.
–          1T 4:12 – Timothy should set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, etc.
–          1T 6:11 – The ‘man of God’ should pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, etc.
–          2T 1:5 – Timothy shares the ‘sincere faith’ of his grandmother and mother.
–          2T 2:18 – Teaching a present resurrection has upset the ‘faith’ of some believers.
–          2T 2:22 – Timothy ought to flee lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, etc.
–          2T 3:10 – Timothy has followed Paul’s teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, etc.

(3)     ‘Faith’ is the necessary approach to receiving all the teaching about Jesus:

–          1T 1:4 – Doctrine is not speculation, but rather having faith in God’s provision.
–          1T 6:21 – Some go astray from ‘faith’ by preferring arguments over ‘knowledge’.
–          2T 1:13 – One should retain sound teaching by faith and love in Christ Jesus.
–          2T 3:15 – Biblical wisdom combined with faith results in salvation [see (1) above].

(4)     ‘The faith’ can actually be used as a substitute for ‘the truth’, which is the object of faith.

–          1T 1:19 – Rejecting upright living leads to ‘shipwreck’ in regard to ‘the faith’.
–          1T 2:7 – Paul was appointed a teacher of faith and truth to the Gentiles.
–          1T 3:9 – Deacons should be holding to the mystery of the faith with clear conscience.
–          1T 3:16 – Deacons serving well obtain great confidence in ‘the faith’ in Christ Jesus.
–          1T 4:1 – Some fall away from ‘the faith’ by turning instead to doctrines of demons.
–          1T 4:6 – Preaching truth nourishes us on the words of faith and sound doctrine.
–          1T 6:21 – Professing ‘knowledge’ leads one astray from ‘the faith’ [see (3) above].
–          2T 3:8 – False teachers who oppose the truth are ‘rejected in regard to the faith’.

It is significant also that Hymenaeus, whom Paul described as having suffered ‘shipwreck’ in regard to ‘the faith’ in 1Tim 1:19-20, is similarly described in 2Tim 2:18‑19 as having ‘gone astray from the truth’.

(5)     Finally, ‘the faith’ can be used as a generic term for effective Christian living, particularly with a view to consistent trust in God and His truth to the end of one’s life [which explains why some of these references may also be understood in terms of (4)]:

–          1T 1:2 – Timothy is Paul’s ‘true child in [the] faith’ [this could be (1) or (2) also].
–          1T 1:18-19 – Timothy is instructed to ‘fight the good fight, keeping faith…’
–          1T 1:19 – Rejecting the faithful life causes shipwreck regarding ‘the faith’.
–          1T 4:1 – Falling away from ‘the faith’ results also in ‘seared consciences’.
–          1T 5:8 – Not providing for one’s own family is equivalent to ‘denying the faith’.
–          1T 6:10 – Love of money leads to wandering away from the faith into ‘many griefs’.
–          1T 6:12 – Timothy is urged to ‘fight the good fight of faith’, fulfilling his calling.
–          1T 6:21 – Those who profess ‘knowledge’ tend to go astray from ‘the faith’.
–          2T 2:18 – Some who are taught of a present resurrection have their ‘faith’ disturbed.
–          2T 3:8 – The false teachers have ‘depraved minds’, rejected in regard to ‘the faith’.
–          2T 4:7 – Paul himself has ‘fought the good fight’, ‘finished’, and ‘kept the faith’.

It seems, therefore, that Paul is using ‘faith’ as reference to both ‘trusting God’s truth’ and ‘living a faithful life’, and would see these as inextricably linked.  In Romans and Galatians Paul was trying to demonstrate to his Jewish hearers that neither Jew nor Gentile can gain any good standing with God by simply observing the Law of Moses; the way of entering the newly constructed ‘community / church of God’ is the same for both, and involves nothing else apart from trusting that God raised Jesus from the dead.  1Tim 1:14 shows that Paul has not shifted from this conviction by the time he writes his epistles to Timothy.  However, in these letters, he is writing nearer the end of his life, and has unfortunately witnessed the doctrinal and moral failure of some who had apparently been members of his churches in Ephesus and Asia Minor.  His focus here is therefore not so much on the way in which one enters the life of faith, but how one can endure faithfully to the end, and he is concerned that Timothy remain strong and set the example for other believers in Paul’s absence.

This theme of ‘falling away’, or ‘apostasy’ (this word may carry unhelpful connotations of permanence, which must instead be shown or otherwise with reference to these Scriptures), is the clear background that significantly shapes both epistles to Timothy, and was even the direct motivation behind the writing of one of them.  Although on a superficial reading one may miss the references, it is remarkable how often Paul speaks of ‘falling away’ (e.g. 1Tim 1:6, 19; 2:14; 3:6-7; 4:1; 5:8, 11-15, 19-22; 6:10, 20-21; 2Tim 1:15; 2:14-18, 26; 3:6-9; 4:3-4, 10, 16; and often implied elsewhere).  On the basis of these passages it is possible to assemble a general picture of the situation into which Paul was writing, as we will see in the following posts.

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