Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Thoughts from 1 Timothy

I’ve been discussing elsewhere the fascinating passage from Paul’s first letter to Timothy:

8Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Tim 1:8-11)
This is juicy stuff. It talks about law—which is always fun. It mentions homosexual sex—the word actually used is ἀρσενοκοίτης, (sodomite) which always inflames rhetorical passions. And it condemns slave traders—there the word is ἀνδραποδιστής, which is enslaver or man-stealer.

First we deal with the law. Wasn’t the law abolished? I think it was—I think the New Testament in whole makes this clear. And I think two passages in particular make it explicit:
14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2:14-16)
For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. (Heb 7:12)
But what does it mean that the law was abolished? It means that the laws that governed religious and civil life for an ancient nation under the old covenant were abolished along with that nation. They did not carry over into the new “nation” which is the entire world (Jews and Gentiles) and without borders—we are aliens and pilgrims in whatever country we find ourselves. However this does not mean what was sin is no longer sin—blasphemy is still blasphemy—but the demanded civil penalty of stoning is gone. We no longer live in a theocracy. And of course the laws—what is sin—have been upgraded. It is not merely actions that Jesus condemns, but thoughts.

Those who claim to live by the Ten Commandments as their moral code are Christian sissies. Their code is inadequate. The Ten Commandments are trivial when compared with Jesus’ teaching that lust = adultery and hate = murder.

In fact, I think it is fair to say the whole notion of sin changed following the cross. The bracelets capture the old view: What would Jesus Do? The new view is Not just WWJD, but WWJT (Think)?

The passage then describes ways in which we might trespass and here we have the politically incorrect and dreaded mention of sodomy. There is no way to avoid it—it is right there. Right along with a list that contains something for everyone. Not a homosexual?—well do you ever lie? Never? Well Paul still gets you with the whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine which would include those pesky just-as-bad thought sins Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount.

So is sodomy a sin? Yes, it inescapably so designated. Should we send homosexuals to reorientation camps to train them to be straight? No. Besides the fact that they don’t work, that is not how sin is supposed to be dealt with. If we sent every man who lusted (remember, just as bad as one of the biggies, adultery!) to camp—well you can form the mental image.

Finally it is worth mentioning that the passage condemns enslavers, or slave traders, or men-stealers. It is easy to deduce an implicit New Testament teaching against the practice of slavery—but often it is useful to remember this one explicit condemnation.


  1. So, anyone who would seek to justify themselves by saying "even though I lie/perjure/beat people/am profane/murder/am sexually immoral/am homosexual/enslave people etc. God made me this way so it must be okay. It's not sinful or God wouldn't have made me this way" is disavowing and disobeying Scripture. And if we intentionally ignore our sins, maybe there hasn't [really, there is no "maybe"] been a new creation made. Maybe we're still an old, dead thing.

    I agree all these things are sin, but there aren't many churches being formed for liars to gather together and affirm each other in their lying. And while there might be churches with many adulterers, they certainly are quiet about justifying their proclivity for philandering.

  2. Bill,

    That's a fair point. The response to the sin of homosexual activity has been too extreme on both sides. One side treats often treats it as some special nearly unpardonable sin, one that must be exorcised. The other side often treats it as no sin at all.

    To be fair, I have participated in discussions where we joked about certain sins--say covetousness. That's one that we all (I'm projecting) are guilty of and one that we all (I'm projecting again) often shrug off with a wink, a nod, and a chuckle. In some ways the same thing, don't you think?

  3. As we say down here in the South, "Now you've gone to meddlin'."

    Covetousness (an often subtle form of pride) gets me quite often, and I have to keep reminding myself that it's a sin that affects my relationships. My particular brand is, "I would spend that money for much better purposes than they do." Yeah, I'm so "wise" that God didn't give me stewardship of that money.

    I try not to shrug it off, and I hope that my friends will challenge me so I can repent and not get bogged down in my conceit.

    As we stuggle, let's struggle forward toward Christ.

  4. David, welcome back. We've missed you--especially thoughtful posts like this one!