Study Guide

The Opponents in The Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus)

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The Opponents

God is one guy who you want on your side. So who are these folks who would oppose God's chosen ambassadors on Earth? And how fast do you think they went to Hell in that handbasket?

Haters Gonna Hate

The Pastor characterizes anyone who disagrees with him as an opponent. He's got harsh words for these guys all throughout his letters:

  • "Certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith [… and] have turned over to Satan." (1 Timothy 1:9)
  • "Some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons." (1 Timothy 4:1) 
  • "[They teach] profane myths and old wives' tales." (1 Timothy 4:7) 
  • "[They are] conceited, understanding nothing, and ha[ve] a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words." (1 Timothy 6:4)
  • "Such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned." (Titus 3:11)

Things are not looking good for these guys. Basically, the only hope for them is that they'll eventually see the error of their ways and "escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:26).

What did these guys believe that was so awful? Well, the truth is, we don't really know. Obviously the Pastor and his community would have known exactly who these guys were and what they were saying, but today, we don't really have any way of knowing what was causing such an uproar.

The only thing we can do is guess with the help of some clues in the letters. And guess we will: based on the hints the Pastor drops, he's probably taking issue with two specific groups: Gnostics and Judaizers.

The More You Gnosis

Gnosticism was an early off-shoot of Christianity. It's kind of an umbrella terms for lots of different beliefs, but the basic idea is that the Gnostic Christians believed that they had a special "knowledge" of Jesus. The Greek word gnosis means knowing, hence the name. Basically, these guys thought they were the only ones who had a clue.

The Pastor gives a couple hints that he might be talking about these guys in his first two letters:

  • "[They] occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith." (1 Timothy 1:4)
  • "Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions." (1 Timothy 1:6-7) 
  • "Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." (1 Timothy 6:20) 
  • "Among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:6-7)
  • "The time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Overall, he'll pretty critical of these guys thinking they know anything (when, in his view, they most certainly don't).

To Gnosis Them Is the Hate Them

In addition to these general you-don't-know-jack critiques, the Pastor goes after some specific ideas. He says that some of these guys "have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place" (2 Timothy 2:17). This was actually a Gnostic line of thinking that tied in with what Paul said about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. See, Gnostics believed that the body and the physical world were nasty things we needed to escape from…and they kind of think Paul agrees with them.

The Pastor also criticizes the Gnostics because they "forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods" (1 Timothy 4:3). Gnostics tended to be ascetic, meaning they fasted or denied themselves certain things (like food or sexytimes) as part of their spiritual life. This sort of agrees with Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 7 when he encourages Christians not to get married.

Hmmm…so was Paul kind of Gnostic?

Not really.

Just like people today, lots of people read Paul's writing and put their own spin on them. These Christians looked to Paul's ideas to reinforce what they were claiming about Jesus. The Pastor isn't down with this, though, and that's why he drafts these little letters to rebuke these guys with Paul's own words.

Oh, snap.

Not So Nice Jewish Boys

The other group that the Pastor tangles with is a bunch of guys sometimes known as the Judaizers. These are folks that Paul also did battle with. Basically, they think that because Jesus was Jewish, all his followers also have to be Jewish. That means following Jewish law, eating kosher foods, and (for Gentile guys) being circumcised.

There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what it is not right to teach […] For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. (Titus 1:10-11, 13-16)

The Pastor thinks these guys spend a whole lot of time fighting and arguing about "stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law" (Titus 3:9). Ain't nobody got time for that, especially the early followers of Jesus.

Biblical Losers

What else do we know about these guys? Not much. Even though they were probably small groups, they had enough influence to shake things up in the early Christian community. The Pastor is worried enough about their teachings to write these letters taking them down, so you know they've got some pull.

For their part, these unorthodox Christians thought they were doing the right thing. They probably genuinely thought they were following the will of God and interpreting what Paul had to say about Jesus exactly right. If you asked them, they'd say the Pastor and his friends were the ones who had it all wrong.

But like the Pastor, history hasn't been kind. In the end, these guys lost out and the letters calling them out wound up in the most widely read religious text in the world.

How's that for a thumping?

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