James Patrick’s Blog

March 22, 2010

Winds of Doctrine in the Early Church (#1 of 12)

A friend recently mentioned to me his uncertainty about the significance of “fall away from the faith” in 1 Timothy 4:1 for the Christian doctrine of salvation, particularly in light of verses such as Ephesians 2:8 – “by grace you have been saved through faith”.  Is it possible to walk away from one’s salvation?

In response to this, I decided not to jump straight in with the standard verses used to defend the sovereignty of God in salvation, but rather first to consider the meanings of ‘faith’ in 1 and 2 Timothy, and then also what the particular expression of ‘falling away’ was that is mentioned in 1 Timothy.  To do so, I began to explore the evidence for when 1 Timothy was written, what other books were written around the same time, and what ‘winds of doctrine’ were blowing across the church in that particular period.  The study has expanded beyond what I had initially expected, so I have converted it into several blog posts to help others understand what I came to see about Early Church history and theology.

The second post (the first being this introduction) is therefore an analysis of Paul’s conception of ‘faith’ in 1 and 2 Timothy, to better understand how one might be considered to have ‘fallen away’ from it.  The third post looks at the date of 1 Timothy, and gives a brief explanation of the situation in the church in Ephesus into which Paul wrote.  [It will be clear, therefore, that I am assuming Pauline authorship of all the letters attributed to him, though not necessarily of the epistle to the Hebrews.  Only if the picture drawn from such an assumption lacks cohesion or persuasiveness would we possibly be justified in doubting the explicit claims of the texts.  Even then, though, the Christian insistence on truthful communication, and the evident belief of the Early Church that pseudonymous letters were deceptive (1Thes 2:1-3), make it extremely implausible that these letters would have been accepted by the Church if it was known they had not been written by Paul.]

After this I broaden out my scope in the fourth post to consider the primary doctrinal issues in each of the first three decades of the Early Church.  This is followed by the fifth post in which I assemble the various bits of evidence about ‘winds of doctrine’ in the decade of the 60’s AD.  In the sixth post I focus in again on Paul’s opponents in 1 Timothy, in light of the common doctrinal issues witnessed by other books.  This assessment is confirmed by a brief look at the letter to Titus which was written around the same time as 1 Timothy.  The seventh post is a reconstruction of Paul’s fourth missionary journey, after being released from his first imprisonment in Rome.  The eighth post then looks at the background of 2 Timothy, which was written just after the battle against false teaching had been won in Ephesus.  In the ninth post I move on to look at the context of John’s first epistle, which I interpret as having been written to the church in Ephesus shortly after 2 Timothy.  The tenth post then focuses in on the situation in Ephesus as revealed in 1 John.  Having thus finished looking at the historical background behind the ‘falling away’ mentioned in 1 Timothy, I return in the eleventh post to the question of apostasy, focusing especially on the centrality of faith and grace to the Christian message.  Then in the final, twelfth post, I consider the question of permanent apostasy, and whether it is possible to ‘lose one’s salvation’.

I would encourage people to read all the way through the historical background posts (three through ten), because they not only explain the background of 1 Timothy, but also set in context many other books including Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude, 1-3 John and Revelation.  Please feel free to make comments – my thought about Early Church history and theology is a work in progress.

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