How to Avoid Division Within the Local Church

by Spiros Zodhiates

"Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do."

Paul made it clear that some believers would try to promote their own opinions over the basic teachings of Christianity, thus igniting disagreement and division within the body. It was Paul's desire that these teachers build up the congregation in faith and the salvation of Jesus Christ instead of in beliefs that originated from man's own intellect (cf. Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7).

In this verse, Paul employed the particle me (3366) which literally means "but not." I noted in the exegesis of verse 3 that denotes the apostle's desire for truth alone to be taught among the flock. Fables and genealogies (see below) were not to be taught by anyone, even though they may have already crept into the regimen of instruction within the local congregation.

Interestingly, me is contrasted with the "other doctrine" Paul mentioned at the end of verse 3. These fables and genealogies hardly qualify as "doctrine" or real teaching, being diametrically opposed to the truth of God. While they were teachings of a sort, their basis was really the product of puffed-up minds. Paul was warning Timothy to guard against adding anything to what God had already revealed through Jesus Christ. If he "gave heed" to other doctrines or concepts that did not agree with the Scriptures, then debates would erupt within the church body. These controversies would stem from two primary sources: fables (mthoi, pl. of mthos [3454], myths) and genealogies (genealoga [1076], ancestral records).

Fables were a catalyst in causing division because they inhibited a believer from distinguishing fantasy from reality. In fact, the English words "myth" and "mythology" find their roots in mthos. The myths of ancient Greece-stories of such deities as Zeus, Pan, and Athena-are familiar even in the modern era, despite the fact that they originated thousands of years ago as a pagan religious system.

In the first century, Greek culture so dominated adjacent societies that exchanging myths for reality must have been a common problem within the church, as evidenced by the several admonitions against them in the Epistles. In 2 Timothy 4:4, Paul again warned of the dangers surrounding myths and fables. In addition, he urged Titus also to be on guard against Jewish fables (Titus 1:14) which were just as detrimental as those stemming from ancient Greece. Also Peter, in his second epistle, declared that Jesus' power and glory were not "cunningly devised fables" (2 Pet. 1:16), meaning that the truth of our Lord's incarnation was not a story concocted with the intent to deceive or beguile humanity.

Myths have nothing to do with true logic or the ability God gives man to grasp the truth. On the other hand, ho lgos is the divine intelligence that enables men and women to see the reality of their sin as well as their need for Christ's imputed righteousness (John 12:48).

Moreover, the Lgos Himself, Jesus Christ, was verifiable reality while He walked among men. When Peter refuted the lie that his own testimony was merely a fairy tale, it was in the context of having seen the Lord in His transfigured state (2 Pet. 1:17-18). Not only was Jesus' transfiguration factual, so also was His resurrection. In fact, the Apostle Paul noted that approximately five hundred believers could verify Jesus' presence on earth after the resurrection-and that was several decades after the miracle occurred (1 Cor. 15:4-8, cf. Matt. 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10).

In addition to myths, Paul cautions Timothy against genealogies, which were literally "without end" (apérantos [562], infinite).

There was nothing wrong with a believer keeping track of his ancestral roots-the problem lay in the added significance that teachers began attaching to those genealogies. Some so-called theologians began to presume to find hidden meanings in a person's pedigree instead of treating those names, dates, and places as mere historical documents. They interpreted particular historical records through a grid of understanding that, by the late first century, had degenerated into a system of esoteric doctrines. Therefore, those propounding the genealogical teachings had turned mere information into mythological nonsense and succeeded in diverting some of the believers' hearts into self-glorification and falsehood.

Essentially, pride and personal boasting were at the core of the whole matter. Proponents of this esoteric theology pompously venerated the traditions of the past, based on allusions to historic details that blurred the line between truth and legend. For instance, if a person came from a certain blood line he was somehow entitled to greater blessing than someone whose ancestry was mean or obscure. Therefore, those from illustrious family backgrounds could pride themselves in their ancestry-an aspect of existence over which they had no jurisdiction or responsibility.

James pointed out that these expressions of self-glory were simply "boastings" (James 4:16). Furthermore, those who display such self-aggrandizement are called alazn ([213], a pretender, braggart) because they fail to realize that their supposed significance is really inconsequential and diabolical (Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2).

Boasting about temporal objects or even about one's lineage focuses on the earthly life because this emphasizes trivial matters of little eternal value. On the other hand, Timothy needed to stress faith in the invisible Lord who took on human flesh (Col. 2:9) and the immeasurable riches that accompany salvation and eternal life.

Paul noted that myths and genealogies only "minister questions." It is regrettable that the King James Version translators rendered the Greek verb parécho, from par [3844], denoting close proximity; and écho [2192], meaning "to hold") as "minister," because this is not the same connotation as "ministering" as a servant of God who lays down his life for others. Myths and genealogies only engender or stimulate interminable debates that do no good whatsoever.

If the discussions which Paul advised against had anything to do with the truth, they would have resulted in fellowship (koinona [2842], communion; 1 John 1:3,7)-not divisions and controversy. While fantasy may allude to the truth allegorically and lies may contain parts of the truth, it was no use discussing the veracity of doctrines associated with genealogies and fables because they did not contain the slightest element of truth. Therefore, Paul's challenge to Timothy was that he discern which teachings were of no consequence to believers and which doctrines were foundational to their faith.

Furthermore, fables and genealogies were incapable of producing order (oikonoma [3620], structuring) within the church body. Sadly, the King James Version has truncated the meaning of "God's economy" (oikonoma Theo, in the Greek) by rendering the phrase "godly edifying." The Greek noun oikonoma is actually a compound word consisting of the noun okos ([3624], house) and a combination of the verb mo ([n.f.], to distribute) and the noun nomé ([n.f.], a distribution).

This "economy," which comes directly from God, is important because it denotes the set of rules and guidelines by which believers must carry out their lives.

The apostle also noted that God's economy must affect those "in the faith." This is the same phrase Paul employed in verse 2 when he called Timothy his genuine son "in the faith." Considering again the certainty that myths and genealogies focus on man's outward manner of living as opposed to the spiritual focus of eternal life, faith stands on the side of Christ and true life in Him. Faith is the invisible reality that God's economy must direct man's life or he is doomed to eternal judgment.

Since the definite article n (the) does not occur directly before the noun "faith" (pstis), it brings up an important grammatical note. In biblical linguistics such a noun is called "anarthrous" because either the modifying article does not immediately precede the noun or it does not appear at all. There is a nuance regarding the anarthrous pstis in this epistle to Timothy which sheds light on a more precise exegesis of the entire book.

Pstis occurs many times in 1 Timothy, both with and without the article. Its anarthrous occurrences-where the article does not appear immediately in front of the noun (1 Tim. 1:2, 4, 5, 14, 19; 2:7, 15; 3:13; 4:12; 5:12; 6:11)-signal that Paul is speaking of the initial step of faith every person must make in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. On the other hand, when Paul connected pstis directly with the article, he was referring to faith that had matured over time (1 Tim. 3:9; 4:1, 6, 12; 5:8; 6:10, 12, 21). We will later consider these many incidences of "faith" in the exegesis of the passages in which they occur.

Here in verse 4, however, Paul's message is clarified because pstis is anarthrous. Therefore, he must be referring to the very basics of Christian doctrine, the fundamentals of the first step of faith. These were major themes Timothy needed to stress, disregarding the myths and genealogies that only caused division within the church congregation.

Dr. Zodhiates is chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees and president emeritus of AMG International. He serves as publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps

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