Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 14, 2008

Church Discipline in 1 and 2 Timothy

First, exegetical notes on 1 Tim 1:3-7, 18-20; 5:19-21; 2 Tim 2:24-26.  Second, application of these passages to Paul’s theology of church discipline.

First Timothy 1:3-7, 18-20

False teaching was being propagated in Ephesus by those within the church, and Paul is instructing Timothy as to the proper disciplinary response. As Paul opens the letter, he dispenses with the typical thanksgiving, thus indicating the urgency of the situation he hastens to address. Timothy is immediately charged to “command” (paraggevllw) certain people in the church not to continue teaching false doctrine; indeed, it was for this very reason that Paul left him in Ephesus. These certain people were not to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies – apparently hallmarks of the false teaching they embraced – because these promoted controversy rather than the stewardship these false teachers had received from God.The goal (tevloV) of this command not to teach false doctrine (1:5) is to promote love among the church, as opposed to the controversy just mentioned. This love comes from “a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith which is authentic and sincere.” Some at Ephesus, however, had turned aside from these sources of love, and instead were engaged in meaningless talk and preoccupied with teaching the Law, of which they had an improper understanding (1:6-7).

After discussing the proper role of the Law (1:8-11) and the power of the true gospel as exemplified in his own life (1:12-17), Paul speaks again to the problem of the false teachers. With solemn words, he commits to Timothy the responsibility of confronting the errorists (1:18). This commanded confrontation is in accordance with prophecies made previously regarding Timothy, likely those made by the Ephesian elders, either indicating or confirming his divine giftedness for ministry (1 Tim 4:14). His appointment to ministry involved the preservation of the true apostolic doctrine and the confrontation of those who would pervert it, a duty only possible as Timothy maintained his faith and good conscience (1:19).

Paul had already been involved in this sort of disciplinary confrontation in Ephesus. Among the false teachers, who had set aside the requisite faith and good conscience, were Hymenaeus and Alexander. Each of these men is likely mentioned elsewhere by Paul. Paul will later say that Hymenaeus has “gone astray from the truth” and has upset the faith of certain people by teaching that the resurrection had already occurred (2 Tim 2:17-18). Paul will also speak of Alexander as a coppersmith who had done him much harm and stood against his teaching (2 Tim 4:14-15).

Paul specifies that he had “delivered” these two “to Satan” (1:20). With reference to 1 Cor 5:5, it may be surmised that Paul here has in mind action which formally excluded these men from the Ephesian congregation, thereby placing them in the realm of Satan. Paul does not here speak directly to the methodology of such an act, nor to steps of confrontation which might have preceded it.The purpose for delivering Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan, Paul notes, was that they might be taught through discipline not to continue in their practice of blasphemy. The two offenders appear to have been “blaspheming” by “speak[ing] evil of God by distorting his message for ulterior reasons and personal gain.” How does Paul envision excommunication as teaching his opponents not to blaspheme? Knight’s suggestion is helpful: “Apparently this happens when the person realizes that such false belief and activity is so displeasing to God . . . that it separates him from God, as is made evident by being separated from God’s people and by being delivered unto Satan.” Paul’s purpose is remedial, not vindictive.

First Timothy 5:19-21

In instructing Timothy in the second half of 1 Tim 5 regarding elders in the Ephesian church, Paul speaks first of remunerating elders who serve well (17-18), then addresses accusations of elders and ensuing rebuke (19-21), and finally speaks to proper caution in appointing elders (22-25). 1 Tim 5:19-21 will provide insight into Pauline disciplinary practices.

Timothy, as an apostolic delegate charged with leading the Ephesian church in “cleaning house” (1 Tim 1:3-4), is not to entertain an unsubstantiated accusation against an elder. Instead, only accusations made on the basis of two or three witnesses are to be received, a guideline which ultimately is grounded in the Mosaic Law. The term “accusation” (kathgoriva) is a technical legal term, suggesting that Paul was thinking of charges being brought formally against an elder.

Paul does not specify what charges he has in mind, and may intend his instruction to be general in nature. It is more probable, however, that his instructions vis-B-vis sinning elders are prompted by their involvement in false teaching (and related ethical lapses) within the church.Are the “two or three witnesses” required to have seen firsthand the sin of which the elder is being accused? This is quite possible but perhaps not the best understanding of the text, based on the use of Deut 19:15 in Matt 18:16. There, arguably, the “one or two more” witnesses who are part of the second step of Jesus’ process for dealing with a brother who sins, do not seem to have been privy to the original sin. If that is the case, they are brought into the second stage of the confrontation not as eyewitnesses of the original offense but presumably to note any refusal to repent on the part of the erring member and to substantiate the evidence of the original sin. “The process [of 1 Tim 5:19-21] may consist of two or three witnesses bringing an accusation, but normally it would consist of two or three witnesses verifying an accusation that may come from only one individual before it is considered further” (Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 235). The verification, whether by firsthand observation or by examination of sufficient evidence, seems to be the point of having witnesses. The requirement of witnesses serves to avoid public, unsubstantiated charges which are damaging both to the accused elder and the church as a whole. Necessitating witnesses is not a unique provision for elders, but a reminder to follow the guidelines applicable to anyone in the case of accusation, elder or not.Should a legitimate accusation be lodged, however, action should be taken regarding the sinning elders. They are to be “rebuked” by Timothy in the presence of “all,” likely a reference to the entire congregation. The purpose of this exercise is that the other elders – and the congregation at large – may gain a fear of sinning against God and of the resultant consequences. Paul follows his instructions on the discipline of sinning elders with a solemn charge, instructing Timothy to keep his directives without partiality or favoritism.

Second Timothy 2:24-26

In 2 Timothy, Paul rehearses many of the same concerns of 1 Timothy, although he finds himself in significantly different circumstances, having been arrested again. The body of 2 Timothy finds Paul seeking to encourage his young protégé toward perseverance in his ministry, and he does this through a variety of means – direct appeal, personal example, and the language of metaphor (1:6 – 2:13). The problem of false teaching is not as dominant in 2 Timothy as in 1 Timothy, but Paul still speaks to Timothy’s responsibilities in regard to false teachers (2:14-26).

In 2:24-26, Paul details what a minister of the gospel ought to be like, in relation to and as opposed to his opponents. Having just spoken against foolish and ignorant controversies which lead to quarrels (mavch), Paul notes that it is necessary that “the servant of the Lord” not be “quarrelsome” (mavcomai). Instead (ajllav), the minister of the gospel must be kind (h[pioV) toward all, skillful in teaching (didaktikovV), and bearing evil without resentment (ajnexikakoV).In addition, the servant of the Lord must be “teaching his opponents with gentleness”; Paul here uses two key words already seen in other discipline contexts. First, the participle here is based on the same verb Paul used to describe his purpose in “delivering to Satan” Hymenaeus and Alexander: paideuvw. Given the context, it seems best to understand this verb to have the same nuance as in 1 Tim 1:20: teaching through discipline. Second, the manner with which Timothy is to provide “teaching through discipline” is indicated with the noun “gentleness” (prau<thV), a characteristic of proper restoration through confrontation as already noted in Gal 6:1. Given these two lexical clues, it seems reasonable to surmise that Paul is speaking of exercising some level of church discipline in relation to those who stand in opposition (ajntidiativqhmi) to the servants of the Lord and what they teach.What is the outcome for which Paul hopes? It may be that God will give to them repentance resulting in the acknowledgment of the truth, and they might return to soberness out of the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. The contingency of this hoped-for outcome is indicated by the subjunctive mood of the verb divdwmi. As well, the particle mhvpote, used only here in Paul, indicates contingency or possibility, not certainty. Assuming that Paul refers to the same Hymenaeus in 1 Tim 1:20 and 2 Tim 2:17, it seems evident that the excommunication of 1 Timothy had not yet had its desired outcome, for Hymenaeus still was engaged in false teaching when 2 Timothy was written.


What can we learn about Paul’s practice of church discipline from this passage?

(1) The problem addressed in Ephesus appears to be primarily, though not entirely, a doctrinal problem (1 Tim 1:3-4). Although heterodoxy and heteropraxy go hand in hand, the nature of the problem indicates Paul’s understanding that at least a certain level of doctrinal error requires disciplinary action.

(2) In Paul’s view, disciplinary action is meant to be remedial. This purpose is indicated by his understanding of the “deliverance to Satan” in 1 Tim 1:20 to be for teaching the offenders not to blaspheme. That discipline is meant to be remedial is seen even more clearly in 2 Tim 2:25-26, where it is hoped that disciplinary correction will bring about repentance.

(3) Paul would no doubt generally enjoin the proper characteristics of the “servant of the Lord” in 2 Tim 2:24-25 as a model for all believers as they engage in disciplinary confrontation. Those who seek to restore sinning believers ought to do so with gentleness and patience in the face of any opposition they face.(4) Repentance as a result of disciplinary confrontation is for Paul a possibility, not a certainty. It may be inferred from 2 Tim 2:25 that while God may be pleased to grant repentance to an offender, it is also possible that he will allow the offender to continue in his sin. As a corollary, it may be observed that a lack of repentance on the part of the offender does not necessarily indicate failure on the part of the one confronting.

(5) Paul visualizes a strong supernatural element in the process of disciplinary action. On the one hand, Timothy’s opponents have been taken captive by the devil (2 Tim 2:26). On the other hand, if Timothy’s opponents do turn from their false teaching, it will be a result of God granting them repentance (2 Tim 2:25).

(6) While Paul views a sinning believer as morally culpable for his sin, and therefore required to repent as a condition of restoration, he recognizes at the same time that an infernal influence cannot be ignored. He indicates this in 2 Tim 2:25 by his reference to the “snare of the devil” and to those held captive by the devil.

(7) Certain precautions normally are to be taken in the process of church discipline. More than one person ought to be involved in confronting an offender before the stage of public rebuke occurs, as indicated in 1 Tim 5:19. Those involved in the formal steps of the disciplinary process should be careful to avoid partiality or favoritism (1 Tim 5:21).

(8 ) One of the purposes of church discipline and the public nature of its later steps, directly indicated in 1 Tim 5:20, is that others would take warning from the example of the offender.


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