1 Timothy 1:4

Friday, 3 November 2017

…nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. 1 Timothy 1:4

Paul had just told Timothy that he was to charge certain members of the church at Ephesus to “teach no other doctrine.” Now building on that, he said, “nor give heed to fables.” This is certainly a word of warning concerning the oral traditions of the Jewish schools of learning. It was held that there was the written instruction which guided the people, meaning the words of Scripture, but that there also existed an oral tradition, or a “law upon the lip,” which was passed down concerning rites and rules of conduct for the people.

The rabbinical schools supposedly maintained these authoritative oral doctrines, and surely they were expanded on any time someone felt the need to further codify some part of Jewish life. Eventually, many of these oral traditions were put into writing by Rabbi Jehuda, becoming the Mishna. This was combined with another document, the Gemara. Together they form the Talmud. The Talmud is the codification of Jewish law which is adhered to by observant Jews to this day.

Paul was a trained rabbi, and he was fully aware of these traditions. He was also aware of the fact that Jesus did not hold them as authoritative. For example, we see His words to those who held to them in Mark 7 –

He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
as doctrines the commandments of men.’
For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” Mark 7:6-8

Understanding that these things were nonsense, Paul held to Scripture alone as the rule and guide of the faith. With the addition of apostolic inspiration for proper church-age conduct, the intent of the Lord was clearly laid out, and fully sufficient, for sound doctrine.

Paul next refers to “endless genealogies.” The Bible, particularly Genesis and Chronicles, is full of genealogies. They are scattered throughout other books as well. These genealogies inevitably would be twisted, and spiritually manipulated to show a Jewish line which was superior to all others. Being a rabbi himself, Paul knew that this was the intent of constantly referring to these genealogies. By allowing the Judaizers to teach these things, it would effectually end any idea of a church of both Jews and Gentiles who were unified as one. Instead, two distinct classes – one supposedly superior over the other – would develop and flourish. All things Jewish would be considered as the ideal. All things Gentile would be considered as base and contemptible.

Paul knew that this would only “cause disputes.” Such fables and endless genealogies have no positive bearing on Christian life and the proper conduct of our faith. They are simply divisive issues intended to subjugate Gentile life and culture. Their introduction into Christian life would make it a walk of works, striving to be more Jewish and thus “more acceptable” to God. This is contrary to “godly edification which is in faith.” The entire plan of salvation, which is found in Christ Jesus, is one of faith in what He has done. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile when it comes to faith in Him. But to introduce these Jewish traditions and genealogies would then inevitably nullify this precept. The ground would no longer be level. Instead, the Gentiles would ever be striving to become more Jewish, and thus somehow more acceptable.

Paul clearly stated to the Gentiles, in Athens in Acts 17, that all people are God’s offspring, being descended from one man. The Jewish people were chosen for a specific purpose, and the law was introduced for a set period of time. In Christ, the law was ended. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is set aside. Paul’s words throughout his epistles confirm this precept time and time again. All people are favorable to God by faith in Christ’s work alone, nothing else comes into the equation.

Life application: The Judaizers of today – some Messianic synagogues, and the Hebrew Roots movement – teach the exact poison that Paul warns against in this verse. All things “Jewish” are held in high esteem. Even certain translations of the Bible are supposedly “the best” because they have a Jewish perspective, using Hebrew terms almost as talismans of spiritual insight. Law observance (always in a pick and choose manner) has become fashionable once again. Gentiles are being swept up into this nonsense, and it will only lead to one sad end. If they are attempting to merit God’s favor through these works, then faith is excluded. Only condemnation can result. Keep far away from this heretical nonsense.

Lord God! We are so grateful that at the foot of the cross, the ground is level. There is no superior culture, and there is no need to turn back to an already-fulfilled law in order to please You. Instead, all people, Jew and Gentile alike, are one in Christ Jesus. We can openly and happily display our cultural differences to glorify you, showing that we are accepted by simple faith in the finished work of Christ. Marvelous things You have done! Thank You for our Lord Jesus. Amen.

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