Reading In and Around the Bible: Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy

These follow Romans chronologically, written from 60 to 67, along with Philippians, Philemon, and Titus, which I read but about which I don’t seem to have taken any notes. (These epistles by Paul, or his surrogate, are all pretty similar.) See previous post for links to my earlier posts on Biblical commentary and sources referenced.

Colossians: Paul counseling his follows to avoid false prophets (i.e. anyone besides himself).

  • Asimov, 467b, interprets the concern here as about the attraction of Gnostic ideas, which included doctrines concerning a vast hierarchy of angels, all intermediaries between God and man. This would make Jesus just another intermediary. No, says Paul—
  • 1:16, “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created… all things have been created through him and for him.”
  • As always, I’m impressed by the certainty with which Paul makes such claims.
  • 2:4, and so he warns that “no one may deceive you with plausible arguments” – or, in KJV, “enticing words”. The curious vocabulary suggests that the issue is not about argument or debate in any modern sense, but rather rhetoric and sermonizing. (Remember, even the early Greeks hundreds of years earlier, theorizing about the nature of the universe, presented them as interesting concepts to consider, without any notion of looking at the evidence of the world for verification. Those concepts did not arise for another 1500 years.)
  • 2:8, similarly, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” Oxford notes that ‘philosophy’ includes ethical and religious teachings. Word meanings change.
  • And 2:18, “Do not let anyone disqualify you… insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking.” How ironic of Paul to dismiss visions – of others.
  • Asimov, p468, comments on this: “Nevertheless, in the centuries after Paul, mystical thought invaded Christianity and hierarchies of angels were adopted in profusion, although Jesus was recognized as transcending them all. The two highest, seraphim and cherubim, come from the Old Testament, as do the two lowest, archangels and angels. The intermediate levels: thrones, dominions, virtues, power, and principalities are, however, taken from the Gnostic theories that Paul denounces.”
  • 3:22, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything…”, one of many citations throughout the Bible of an ethical standard never questioned therein.
  • 4:1, in which the slave/master relationship is explicitly cited in reference to God: “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”

Next is Ephesians, which Oxford notes, in a table of matching verses, is very similar to Colossians. There is emphasis here about how the followers of Christ are “chosen”; more about masters and slaves – 6:5, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling…” – a practice which Miller defends as not so bad, p415, “Slavery was usually much different in Roman times than it was in the United States…”; and an extended metaphor, 6:13-17, about suiting up for battle, i.e., against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12).

1 Timothy.

These letters, as arranged in the NT, get increasingly short; this one, in NRSV, is five full pages (including footnotes). This is one that scholars think might not have been written by Paul himself. The theme is proper conduct in the household of God.

  • It begins by immediately warning against other doctrines, “meaningless talk” (1:6), and discusses how “the law” is “not for the innocent” (1:9) but rather for “the lawless and disobedient” including “…murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars” and so on. (Curious that slave traders are condemned but slavery itself is fine.) Why doesn’t the “law” (i.e. OT) apply to everyone? [Isn’t everyone a sinner?]
  • 2:7, “For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” Curious protestation! In KJV it’s “I speak the truth of Christ, and lie not”. Why does Paul need to say this?
  • 2:9ff, Paul goes on about how women should properly dress and fix their hair.
  • 2:11, in particular, “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silence.” Because Adam was formed first, and the woman was deceived [Eve, by the serpent]. Needless to say, this advice is today widely ignored.
  • Ch3, and then Paul goes on about proper behavior of bishops, deacons, et al.
  • Ch4, More about false teachings and avoiding useless activities; 4:8, “for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way…” KJV has this as “bodily exercise profiteth little”.
  • 5:3, curious passage that says “Honor widows who are really widows”, with a list of standards a widow should meet (being over 60, with no children or grandchildren, etc.) before they can be honored. ‘Honor’ presumably means support.
  • 5:23, “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Really! Perhaps an example of how, in ancient civilizations, alcohol was safer to drink than the water, from available streams or rivers. (There was no modern sanitation in those days.)
  • 6:5, Paul warns against those who imagine that “godliness is a means of gain”, which would seem to impugn the many wealthy mega-star pastors of our current age.
  • 6:10, More to the point: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”. There are many today who would agree.
  • 6:20, “Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge…” KJV says here, “avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” Don’t think, just believe!

2 Timothy

This is just 3 ½ pages in NRSV. Another book possibly not written by Paul himself.

  • 2:3, the recurring theme that Christians should welcome persecution: “Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
  • The letter goes on to warn against “profane chatter” and “controversies” and generally railing against anyone who teaches differently than Paul.
  • 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God…” A useful premise to discourage any questioning of what Paul is reliant on to justify belief in Jesus; but without any evidence whatsoever.
  • 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
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