the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
- 1 Timothy
by John Calvin
THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY
This Epistle appears to me to have been written more for the sake of others than for the sake of Timothy, and that opinion will receive the assent of those who shall carefully consider the whole matter. I do not, indeed, deny that Paul intended also to teach and admonish him; but my view of the Epistle is, that it contains many things which it would have been superfluous to write, if he had had to deal with Timothy alone. He was a young man, not yet clothed with that authority which would have been sufficient for restraining the headstrong men that rose up against him. It is manifest, from the words used by Paul, that there were at that time some who were prodigiously inclined to ostentation, and for that reason would not willingly yield to any person, and who likewise burned with such ardent ambition, that they would never have ceased to disturb the Church, had not a greater than Timothy interposed. It is likewise manifest, that there were many things to be adjusted at Ephesus, and that needed the approbation of Paul, and the sanction of his name. Having therefore intended to give advice to Timothy on many subjects, he resolved at the same time to advise others under the name of Timothy.
In the first chapter, he attacks some ambitious persons who made their boast of discussing idle questions. It may readily be concluded that they were Jews, who, while they pretended to have zeal for the law, disregarded edification, and attended only to frivolous disputes. It is an intolerable profanation of the law of God, to draw out of it nothing that is profitable, but merely to pick up materials for talking and to abuse the pretense of it for the purpose of burdening the Church with contemptible trifles.
Longer shall enough have such corruptions prevailed in Popery; for what else was the scholastic theology than a huge chaos of empty and useless speculations? And in our own day there are many who in order to display their acuteness in handling the word of God, allow themselves to sport with it in the same manner as if it were profane philosophy. Paul undertakes to support Timothy in the correction of this vice, and points out what is the principal instruction to be derived from the Law; that it may be evident that they who use the Law in a different manner are corrupters of it.
Next, that his authority may not be despised, after having acknowledged his unworthiness he, at the same time, asserts in lofty terms what he became through the grace of God. At length he concludes the chapter by a solemn threatening, by means of which he both confirms Timothy in sound doctrine and a good conscience, and fills others with terror and alarm, by holding out to them the example of Hymenaeus and Alexander.
In the second chapter, he enjoins that public prayers be offered to God for all men, and especially for princes and magistrates; and here, in passing, he likewise makes a remark on the advantage which the world derives from civil government. He then mentions the reason why we ought to pray for all men; namely, that God, by exhibiting to all the gospel and Christ the Mediator, shews that he wishes all men to be saved; and he likewise confirms this statement by his own apostleship, which was specially appointed to the Gentiles. Next, he invites all men, whatever may be their country or place of abode, to pray to God; and takes occasion for inculcating that modesty and subjection which females ought to maintain in the holy assembly.
In the third chapter, after having declared the excellence of the bishop’s office, he delineates a true bishop, and enumerates the qualifications required in him. Next, he describes the qualifications of deacons, and of the wives both of deacons and of bishops. And in order that Timothy may be more diligent and conscientious in observing all things, he reminds him what it is to be employed in the government of “the Church, which is the house of God, and the pillar of truth.” Finally, he mentions the chief and fundamental point of all heavenly doctrine — that which relates to the Son of God manifested in the flesh; in comparison of which all things else, to which he perceived that ambitious men were wholly devoted, should be reckoned of no value.
As to what follows, in the beginning of the fourth chapter, the false doctrines about forbidding marriage and various kinds of food, and the absurd fables which are at variance with this doctrine, are severely condemned by him. Next, he adds, that he and all good men, who hold this doctrine, have none for their adversaries but those who cannot endure that men shall place their trust in the living God. At the close of the chapter, he again fortifies Timothy by a new exhortation.
In the fifth chapter, after having recommended modesty and gentleness in reproofs, he reasons about widows, who at that time were admitted into the service of the Church. He enjoins that they shall not be received indiscriminately, but only those who, having been approved throughout their whole life, are arrived at sixty years of age, and have no domestic tie. Hence he passes on to the elder’s, and explains how they ought to conduct themselves, both in their manner of life and in the exercise of discipline. This doctrine the Apostle seals by a solemn oath, and again forbids him to admit any one heedlessly into the office of the eldership. (1) He exhorts him to drink wine, instead of water, for the preservation of his health. At the close of the chapter, he exhorts him to defer pronouncing judgment on concealed transgressions.
In the sixth chapter, he gives instruction concerning the duty of servants, and takes occasion to make a vehement attack on false teachers, who, by disputing about unprofitable speculations, are more eager for gain than for edification, and shews that covetousness is a most deadly plague. He then returns to a solemn charge similar to the former, that the exhortations which he now gives to Timothy may not be ineffectual. Lastly, after having taken a passing notice of riches, he again forbids Timothy to entangle himself with useless doctrines.
As to the ordinary Greek inscription, which states that this Epistle was written from Laodicea, I do not agree with it; for since Paul, writing to the Colossians while he was a prisoner, affirms that he had never seen the Laodiceans, those who hold the opinion, which I reject, are constrained to make two Laodiceas in Asia Minor, though only one is mentioned by historians. Besides, when Paul went into Macedonia, he left Timothy at Ephesus, as he expressly declares. He wrote this Epistle either on the road, before he arrived there, or after having returned from the journey. Now Laodicea is evidently at a greater distance from Macedonia than Ephesus is; and it is not probable that Paul, on his return, went to Laodicea, passing by Ephesus, especially since there were many reasons that urged him to visit it; and therefore I rather think that he wrote it from some other place. But this is not a matter of so much importance that I should wish to debate it with those who are of an opposite opinion. Let every person follow his own judgment. I only point out what — at least in my opinion — is more probable.