Lurking in the background of most Pauline letters is some person, group, or philosophy that threatens the orthodox beliefs and practices of the Christianity that Paul was spreading. This is very much true in the letters to Timothy.
As we start our two weeks with these letters, let’s look at a profile of these “false teachers.”
- They teach “false doctrines” (1:3; 6:3)
- They want to be “teachers of the law” (1:7)
- They base their teachings on myths not facts and genealogies not stories (1:4; 4:7)
- They come off as conceited (1:7; 6:4)
- They are argumentative, produce controversy, and disrupt the peace in the church (1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
- They were full of meaningless and foolish talk, showing that they don’t really know what he are talking about (1:6-7; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
- They encouraged asceticism (4:3)
- They used their authority for financial gain (6:5)
When you put this all together, this sketch does not produce a definitive identity. Clearly, like many of Paul’s opponents, they were tying the Jewish law to the way of Christ. The asceticism and emphasis on myth and genealogy could come from Judaism or from an early version of Gnosticism that was becoming popular in Asia Minor especially.
Maybe the most important point about these false teachers is what Paul says today:
That sort of thing breeds disputes rather than the instruction in faith that comes from God. The goal of such instruction is love — the love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. (1:4-5)
This was a false teaching that emphasized the obscure and ineffectual while neglecting the most important elements of the way of Christ: faith, love, and purity.