Heretics in the Latter Days: The Structure of 1 Timothy, Part I
June 4, 2014

The First Epistle to Timothy fits neatly in the context of what King Jesus and the church are doing in the gospels, in Acts, Revelation, and all of the Apostolic Age in between. Paul writes to Timothy to encourage him in his work as a pastor in the “latter days,” to uphold the true Faith as a “legitimate child in the Faith”,[1] and to be firm against the false children, the bastards, who teach contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

In this essay, I analyze the overall chiastic structure of the book. The letter may be outlined as follows:

A. 1:1-2. Paul greets Timothy as a true child of the Faith, and blesses with grace, mercy, and peace.

B. 1:3-7. Timothy is urged to command against heresy.            

C. 1:8-11. The reason the Law is established. List of sins.                  

D. 1:12-17. Jesus came to save sinners. Doxology.                        

E. 1:18-20.  Wage the good war.                              

F. 2:1-8. Pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or quarreling.                                   

G. 2:9-15. Instructions to women.                                          

H. 3:1-7. Concerning bishops.

I. 3:8-13. Concerning deacons and deaconesses.                                                      

J. 3:14-16. Instructions to Timothy as a pastor in the Household of God.

K. 4:1-5. Heresies will arise.                                                            

K’. 4:6-10. Teach against heresies.                                                      

J’. 4:11-5:2. How Timothy should conduct himself as a pastor.                                                

I’. 5:3-16. Concerning widows.                                          

H’. 5:17-25. Concerning elders.                                    

G’. 6:1-2a. Instructions to bondservants.                              

F’. 6:2b-11. Against heresy caused by envy and greed. Quarrelling.                        

E’. 6:12. Fight the good fight.                  

D’. 6:13-16. Keep the commandment. Doxology.            

C’. 6:17-19. Store up treasure with God, so to take hold of true life.      

B’. 6:20-21a. Timothy commanded to guard against heresy.

A’. 6:21b. Grace.

The Epistle opens and closes with “grace”: A (1:1-2), A’ (6:21b). In A, Paul identifies himself, and follows with a string of theological statements – the typical Pauline way. Then we have the address to Timothy: “to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” While Paul doesn’t re-identify himself at the end of the epistle, there is another address to Timothy in 6:20-21, “O Timothy.”; but because of the content of the address, I have placed it in the structure as the corresponding section to B,1:3-7. The link between A and A’, as I have it, is simply Paul’s prayer for “grace”: in 1:2, Paul says, “grace, mercy, peace”; and the very end of 6:21 is “Grace be with you.”

Interestingly, the “you” in 6:21 is plural. The whole Epistle is addressed to Timothy, the pastor, and it begins with a prayer for him to receive grace. At the end of the Epistle, there is a prayer for “y’all” – the whole Church – to receive grace. What does this progression from grace to Timothy to grace to Timothy with the whole church at Ephesus mean? Grace flows out. Timothy receives “grace, mercy, peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” as a minister of that grace to the church in Ephesus, and as he serves that grace, mercy, and peace is administered to the congregation through him. Also, we see by this that the Epistle is also for the congregation. Paul is writing to Timothy that he should remain a true child in the Faith, but that admonition also goes out to the rest of the church that Timothy is the pastor of: they too are to remain faithful. It is the duty of every Christian – ministers and laymen – to guard the Gospel of Jesus Christ against false-children trying to profit from contrary teaching.

There are exhortations against heresy in B (1:3-7)and B’ (6:20-21a). The sections correspond in several ways. In B, Paul charges Timothy to remain behind and deal with the heretics in Ephesus; in B’, Paul charges Timothy to “guard the deposit entrusted to you.” B speaks of myths, endless genealogies, and vain talk; B’ speaks of irreverent babble. B speaks of debates and how the heretics don’t understand the things they teach nor the things they affirm; B’ speaks of contradictions in what is falsely called knowledge. B warns against swerving from love that comes from a clean heart, a good self-witness, and a unfeigned faith; B’ speaks of swerving from the Faith. At the start of the Epistle (B), Paul instructs Timothy to disallow these heretics; at the end of the Epistle (B’), Paul urges Timothy not to become one of them himself. Timothy is to deal with the heretics, but in doing so, he’s not to fall into irreverent babble and speculations. He’s not to become one of these heretics himself, and he’s not to resort to their vain talk.

We also see that the love which comes from a clean heart, a good self-witness, and an unfeigned faith is corresponds to “the Faith”: Just as Paul says these heretics have swerved from the love of 1:5, so in 6:21 does he say they have swerved form the Faith. The love which flows out form a clean heart, a good self-witness, and an unfeigned faithfulness is central to the Christian Faith. This is confirmed by the two greatest commandments, which are “Love God” and “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:36-40), and by Paul elsewhere saying “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Section C (1:8-11) speaks of the reason for the institution of the Law and contains a list of the sinful. In 6:17-19, section C’, Paul instructs Timothy to charge those who are rich during the Apostolic Age to be rich in good works, trusting in God to provide and thus storing up reward for themselves in the future age, taking hold of true life. The easiest connection to see is that in C Paul deals with the Law; and in C’ he refers to good works. To do good works is to do the Law; that is, the heart of the Law is charity, the good works of sharing with those in need.[2] C mentions the Gospel; in C’ Timothy is told that the rich are not “to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches” so they “may take hold of that which is truly life.” Paul refers to Jesus as the Glory of God in C; in C’ he says the rich ought not to be haughty. On the one hand, the faithful boast in Christ, the Glory of God; on the other, the faithless boast in their riches. In C Paul blesses God; in C’ Paul says that by being generous and ready to share, those rich with God are storing up treasure – or shall we say “blessing” – for themselves in Heaven. This is reminiscent of Jesus’s words in Luke 12:32-34, where He says to give to those in need, and thereby store up treasure for yourself in Heaven. Jesus’s reasoning being that your heart will be inclined towards your treasure.[3]

These correspondences teach us some significant things. First, we can conclude that those who have set their hopes on things other than God tend towards lawlessness, rebellion, irreverence, sinfulness, unholiness, profanity, patricide, matricide, murder, deceit, and false-oaths. In other words, we can conclude that those who love the world hate God (James 4:4). Second, we see that the Law is true life. Paul says the Law was laid down for sinners. That means, I think, that God had to go through the trouble of thundering His Law from Mount Sinai not because man was righteous, that is, living in accordance with creational ordinance. God gave the Law because man was unrighteous, that is, dying in discord with the creational ordinance. God commanded “You shall have no other gods besides me” (Deuteronomy 5:7) because man had fallen from the intrinsic quality of existence that all the universe was made to worship God alone; but man, living—or should we say dying—in contradiction to his creation, “worshiped the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). God had to lay down the Law because man wasn’t living, but dying. There wouldn’t have ever been a need to say “You shall have no other gods besides me” unless man already worshiped other things besides God.

And so the Law is true life indeed, for in the Law we see what we were made to be and in the law we are directed to the God who is the only source of true life. In the Law we see what life, true life, abundant life, life as it was created to be. In the Law we see what life really is. Because of that, we know that conformity to the Law leads to true life. The Law, as James says, is truly a Law of Liberty (James 2:12), for when we, in gratitude, work out our faith and love through obedience and faithfulness to the whole Law of God, which is His Word, we are set free indeed from sin and the sting of death, and resurrected to new and abundant life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Colossians 1:12).

To be continued.

Joseph Norris is a pastoral intern at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

[1] 1:2, not ESV. The Greek does not include “my”. Thanks to Pastor Jimmy Gill for pointing out the absence of the possessive (genitive) pronoun in the Greek, and the fact that in context Timothy, a true child, is contrasted with the heretics.

[2] Thanks to Dr. Peter Leithart and Matt Carpenter for pushing me to make this connection more expressly.

[3] Thanks to Dr. Peter Leithart for pointing out this connection.

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