In the middle of the 1 Timothy, we find the following verses in Chapter 3:
14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. (NRSV)
Many refer to 1 Timothy as a household code. Clearly it is not of the variety we see in Ephesians, Colossians, Titus, and 1 Peter. There isn’t a section that models the idea of giving instruction to the paterfamilias in relation to his wife, children, and slaves. Here the church is viewed as a fictive household and the epistle presents instruction on how to live as church community.
We will turn to that instruction shortly but we must first place the instruction within a broader context. The motivation for the letter does not appear to be a desire to present a “household” operations manual. The two letters to Timothy at Ephesus (and to Titus) strongly suggest that false teaching has becomes a problem of crisis proportions. Substantial portions of these letters are devoted false teaching and the prescribed antidote of orthodox teaching in an orderly environment. We read at the opening of 1 Timothy 1:3-4:
3 I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, 4 and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. 5 But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. 6 Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions. (1 Timothy 1:3-7, NRSV)
So here we have the primary reason for writing the letter.
The NIV study bible notes concerning “myths and endless genealogies” verse 4:
“Probably mythical stories built on OT history (genealogies) that later developed into intricate Gnostic philosophical systems.”
Our knowledge about the emergence of Gnostic religion is imprecise, as is our ability to identify the precise date and the authorship of 1 Timothy. We do know that a common element of Gnostic cults was belief in a primal feminine source. This was certainly true of the Isis cult that was widespread by the mid-first century. Ephesus was home to the temple of Artemus who became closely connected with Isis worship. As we saw in our discussion of 1 Corinthians 11, origin was very important to identity. Therefore, tracing your genealogical linage back to the primal feminine source using myths based on Old Testament sources became a way for goddess worshipers to establish their “true” origin. (More about the influence of goddess worship and Gnosticism later.)
Gnostic-like worship does not appear to have been the only problem.
18 I am giving you these instructions, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 having faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; 20 among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
The Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible points out that “fight the good fight” was a traditional phrase in Hellenistic moral philosophy, given a slightly new connotation as an exhortation to prevail against false teachers. In this case, we learn from 2 Timothy that the nature of false teaching is related to Hymenaeus and Philetus' teaching about the resurrection.
2 Tim 2:16-18
16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. (NRSV)
Later we read:
1 Tim 4:1-7
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. 3 They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by God's word and by prayer.
6 If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives' tales. (NRSV)
Notice in verse 3 that we garner more information about the nature of the false teaching. Forbidding marriage and abstinence was a common expression of ascetic Gnosticism. These activities led to undo entanglement with the material world and potentially childbirth, which the goddesses frowned upon.
1 Timothy 5:13-15
13 Besides that, they [younger widows] learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. 15 For some have already turned away to follow Satan.
Notice here we have instruction to these young widows to do those things counter to ascetic Gnosticism we saw in 4:3. We also see clear indication in 2:9 that there were wealthy women in the church and wealthy women were among the most enthusiastic participants in the Isis cults and goddess worship. It is impossible to put all the pieces together with certainty but it appears that there was a very significant problem with women (young wealthy widows?) spreading false teaching and Gnosticism (or proto-Gnosticism).
Then as the book closes:
1 Tim 6:20-21
20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; 21 by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith.
Grace be with you.
Of course, the most controversial passage in 1 Timothy is 2:8-15. What should we make of its controversial instruction and how does it fit within the idea of fictive family?