The First to Timothy 4:1-16

4  However, the inspired word clearly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired statements+ and teachings of demons,  by means of the hypocrisy of men who speak lies,+ whose conscience is seared as with a branding iron.  They forbid marriage+ and command people to abstain from foods+ that God created to be partaken of+ with thanksgiving by those who have faith+ and accurately know the truth.  For every creation of God is fine,+ and nothing is to be rejected+ if it is received with thanksgiving,  for it is sanctified through God’s word and prayer over it.  By giving this counsel to the brothers, you will be a fine minister of Christ Jesus, one nourished with the words of the faith and of the fine teaching that you have followed closely.+  But reject irreverent false stories,+ like those told by old women. On the other hand, train yourself with godly devotion as your aim.  For physical training is beneficial for a little, but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and the life that is to come.+  That statement is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 10  This is why we are working hard and exerting ourselves,+ because we have rested our hope on a living God, who is a Savior+ of all sorts of men,+ especially of faithful ones. 11  Keep on giving these commands and teaching them. 12  Never let anyone look down on your youth. Instead, become an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness. 13  Until I come, continue applying yourself to public reading,+ to exhortation, to teaching. 14  Do not neglect the gift in you that was given you through a prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.+ 15  Ponder over these things;+ be absorbed in them, so that your advancement may be plainly seen by all people. 16  Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching.+ Persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.+


Study Notes

the inspired word: Lit., “the spirit.” The Greek word pneuʹma occurs twice in this verse. It is often translated “spirit,” but it has other meanings as well, depending on the context. (See Glossary, “Spirit.”) Here the term is rendered “the inspired word” because it refers to an expression inspired by God’s holy spirit.​—See study note on misleading inspired statements in this verse.

some will fall away from the faith: Paul foretells that some professing to be Christians will abandon the divine teachings contained in the Scriptures and will leave the true worship of God. The Greek verb here rendered “fall away from” literally means “to stand away from” and can also be rendered “to withdraw; to renounce; to draw away.” (Ac 19:9; 2Ti 2:19; Heb 3:12) It is related to a noun rendered “apostasy.”​—See study note on 2Th 2:3.

misleading inspired statements: Lit., “misleading spirits.” Here the plural form of the Greek word pneuʹma (spirit) refers to statements from people who falsely claim to have knowledge from a divine source or to be inspired by God. Since these statements are described as “misleading” and they are connected with “teachings of demons,” they actually come from Satan and the demons. (Joh 8:44; 1Jo 4:1-6; Re 16:13, 14) Those wicked angels use “men who speak lies” to promote false teachings. (1Ti 4:2; 2Co 11:14, 15) Any Christian who chooses to pay attention to such lies would be in danger of falling away from the faith.​—Compare study note on 2Th 2:2.

conscience is seared as with a branding iron: In Paul’s day, as a sign of a person’s ownership, a branding iron might be used to burn a mark into the skin of livestock. As a result, the burned flesh of the animal would form scar tissue and become insensitive. Paul here uses a form of the Greek word kau·ste·ri·aʹzo·mai (lit., “to be branded with a red-hot iron”), perhaps to show that when a person persistently does what is wrong, his conscience becomes insensitive. He no longer feels reluctant to do what is bad; nor does he feel guilty after he does it. (Compare study note on Eph 4:19.) Some scholars suggest a different meaning, namely, that the consciences of persistent wrongdoers are figuratively branded, or marked, to indicate that the wrongdoers are owned by Satan and the demons.

They forbid marriage: This apostate teaching cleverly distorted and misapplied genuine Christian teachings. Jesus did recommend a life of singleness, calling it a gift. (Mt 19:10-12) And Paul was inspired to discuss the advantages of remaining unmarried so as to serve Jehovah with fewer distractions. (1Co 7:32-35) However, neither Jesus nor Paul forbade marriage. On the contrary, Jesus confirmed Jehovah’s original standard for marriage. (Mt 19:3-6, 8) Paul acknowledged that marriage was sometimes advisable and that it was honorable and worthy of protection. (1Co 7:2, 9, 28, 36; Heb 13:4) He noted that some of the apostles were married. (1Co 9:5 and study note) He also gave inspired counsel to husbands and wives on how to fulfill their God-given roles. (Eph 5:28-33) So Paul here exposes the doctrine of enforced celibacy for what it is​—one of the “teachings of demons.”​—1Ti 4:1.

command people to abstain from foods: In the Mosaic Law, Jehovah commanded the nation of Israel to abstain from foods that he designated as unclean. (Le 11:4-7) But the death of Christ Jesus was “the end of the Law,” so it was no longer in force when Paul wrote this letter, about 61-64 C.E. (Ro 10:4; Col 2:14) Over a decade earlier, the governing body in Jerusalem had outlined the only remaining restrictions regarding food: It must be properly drained of blood, and it must not be eaten as an offering to idols. (Ac 15:28, 29; compare Ac 10:10-16.) Although Christians were free to fast or to abstain from certain foods (Mt 6:16-18), such actions were not necessary for salvation (Ro 14:5, 6; Heb 13:9). So Paul here forcefully shows that any who commanded Christians “to abstain from foods” had rejected accurate knowledge and were instead promoting “teachings of demons.”​—1Ti 4:1 and study note.

it is sanctified through God’s word: Christians rightly view all food as sanctified, or holy, because they are not under the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law. (See study note on 1Ti 4:3.) When Jehovah declares a thing clean, it is clean. For example, the apostle Peter was told in a vision: “Stop calling defiled the things God has cleansed.”​—Ac 10:10-15.

prayer over it: Food is sanctified not only by God’s “word” but also by prayer. The one praying acknowledges that God is the Provider and accepts food as a gift from Him. So a Christian may eat it, confident that doing so does not defile him in God’s eyes.​—Ge 1:29; 9:3; Mt 14:19; Lu 9:16.

minister of Christ Jesus: See study note on 1Co 3:5.

nourished: Paul uses a Greek word that literally refers to feeding and training a child. “From infancy,” Timothy had figuratively been nourished with “the holy writings.” (2Ti 3:14-17) As a Christian, Timothy was nourished with the words of the faith, or the body of Christian teachings. In this letter, Paul encourages him to continue nourishing himself to build up his own faith. (1Ti 4:16) Timothy, an overseer and a shepherd in the Christian congregation, would thus be able to build up and protect others spiritually.​—1Ti 1:3-7, 18; 4:1.

irreverent false stories: The “false stories” (an expression rendered from the Greek word myʹthos) circulating in Paul’s day were “irreverent,” or profane. They violated God’s holy standards and were contrary to sacred, wholesome truths. (1Ti 6:20; 2Ti 1:13) These false stories were products of the imagination and were contrary to fact; thus, they were worthless.​—See study note on 1Ti 1:4.

like those told by old women: For this phrase, Paul uses a Greek word that apparently became part of a common proverbial expression conveying the idea of “silly; absurd.” However, Paul’s words recorded in the next chapter show that he was not prejudiced toward older ones, including women. There he instructs Timothy to treat them as beloved family members.​—1Ti 5:1, 2.

train yourself: From verse 7 through verse 10, Paul uses several terms from the world of athletics to illustrate his points. (See study notes on 1Ti 4:8, 10.) The Greek word here rendered “train yourself” is gy·mnaʹzo, which was often used of the rigorous training of athletes who competed in various games or contests. Such training required much self-discipline, hard work, and determination. (See the study note on 1Co 9:25.) Using the word in a figurative sense, Paul highlights the effort that is needed to cultivate the quality of godly devotion.

godly devotion: The Greek word (eu·seʹbei·a) conveys the idea of profound reverence and awe for God that a Christian expresses by serving God loyally and obeying him fully. The word is broad in meaning; it also suggests the kind of loyal love for or personal attachment to God that moves a person to seek to do what pleases Him. One lexicon thus summarizes the overall idea as “to live as God would have us live.” Paul also shows that godly devotion is not an inborn trait. Thus, he urges Timothy to work hard, training as an athlete would, to strengthen this quality in himself. Earlier in the letter, Paul reminded Timothy that Jesus Christ set the greatest example of godly devotion.​—See study note on 1Ti 3:16.

training: Or “exercise.” Paul here continues the athletic metaphor he introduced in the preceding verse, where he used the Greek verb gy·mnaʹzo, literally meaning “to train (as an athlete).” (See study note on 1Ti 4:7.) Here he uses the noun gy·mna·siʹa, which refers to the training of the physical body. In Paul’s day, a place where athletes trained was called a gymnasium (Greek, gy·mnaʹsi·on). Such places were well-known, as they were important centers of community life in various cities of the Roman Empire. In that culture, some placed a high value on physical training. Others, however, viewed this type of training as inappropriate or useless. Under inspiration, Paul provides a balanced viewpoint. He acknowledges that physical training is beneficial for a little​—that is, has some temporary value​—but he stresses that training “with godly devotion as [one’s] aim” brings much greater benefits.​—1Ti 4:7.

godly devotion: For a discussion of the expression “godly devotion,” see study note on 1Ti 4:7; see also study note on 1Ti 2:2.

beneficial for all things: Paul here shows that godly devotion brings far greater benefits than does physical training. (See study note on training in this verse.) He knew from experience that his godly devotion was “beneficial for all things” in “the life now.” For instance, because of his godly devotion, Paul held firmly to “the accurate knowledge of the truth.” (Tit 1:1, 2) So he never fell victim to the lies, misleading inspired statements, and irreverent false stories that he warns Timothy about in this passage. (1Ti 4:1, 2, 7) Further, Jehovah helped Paul to remain strong despite weakness, joyful despite hardships, and loving despite mistreatment. (2Co 6:12; 12:10, 15; Php 4:13; Col 1:24) And because Paul maintained his godly devotion, his hope for “the life that is to come” remained sure. He rejoiced in his hope of reigning in heaven with Christ. Even when he later faced death by execution, he found delight in his hope for the eternal life ahead of him.​—2Ti 2:12; 4:6-8.

working hard and exerting ourselves: Doubly emphasizing his point, Paul brings together two Greek words that are similar in meaning. (Compare Col 1:29.) The first, rendered “working hard,” may refer to labor or toil that is wearying or exhausting. (Lu 5:5; 2Ti 2:6) The second, rendered “exerting ourselves,” may focus more on the intensity of the effort, the striving and straining involved.​—See study note on Lu 13:24.

we have rested our hope on a living God: Paul calls Jehovah “a living God,” one who is infinitely superior to lifeless idol gods worshipped in his day. (Ac 14:15; 1Co 12:2; 1Th 1:9; see study note on 1Ti 3:15.) As a living God, Jehovah has the power to reward his faithful ones for their earnest efforts in his service. (2Ch 16:9; Jer 32:19; 1Pe 3:12; 1Jo 3:22) He promises to grant them salvation and endless life. (Ro 2:6, 7; 1Ti 1:16; Tit 1:2) Paul and other Christians felt motivated to work hard and exert themselves because they knew that their hope was anchored in such a living and powerful God.

a Savior: See study note on 1Ti 1:1.

all sorts of men: See study note on 1Ti 2:4.

especially of faithful ones: In this context, the expression “faithful ones” refers to those who have acquired faith in the living God and who stick to him. (Ac 14:22; 1Th 3:5 and study note, 7) God is “a Savior of all sorts of men” in that he provided the ransom, opening to all humans the way to salvation. However, only those who keep exercising faith in Jesus and serving God loyally will be saved.​—Joh 3:16, 36; 1Ti 6:12.

your youth: At this time, Timothy may have been in his 30’s, and he had received training from the apostle Paul for over a decade. Paul himself was probably of a similar age when he first appeared in the Bible record. At Ac 7:58, Luke calls Saul (Paul) “a young man,” using a Greek word related to the word for “youth” that occurs here at 1Ti 4:12. Also, in the Septuagint, the Greek term rendered “youth” was sometimes used of married adults. (Pr 5:18; Mal 2:14, 15; LXX) In Greco-Roman society, even men in their 30’s were sometimes considered relatively young and lacking maturity. Timothy was likely younger than some of the men he had to counsel or to appoint as elders, so he may have been somewhat hesitant to assert his authority. (1Ti 1:3; 4:3-6, 11; 5:1, 19-22) Paul’s words “never let anyone look down on your youth” surely bolstered Timothy’s confidence.

become an example to the faithful ones: Paul here clarifies just how Timothy was to apply the counsel “never let anyone look down on your youth.” Timothy was not to dominate the brothers, wielding his God-given authority with a heavy hand; nor was he to insist that others respect him. Paul himself did not act that way. (See study note on 2Co 1:24.) Rather, Paul urges Timothy to continue developing a more effective tool, that of setting a good example. Paul next mentions five areas in which Timothy could serve as an example to “the faithful ones”: by his speech, his conduct, his chasteness and by showing such qualities as love and faith. Faithful ones who observed his example would be moved to become better Christians themselves.​—Heb 13:7, 17.

in chasteness: Or “in purity.”​—See study note on 1Ti 5:2.

continue applying yourself: Or “give your full attention.” Timothy was an experienced minister and overseer. (Php 2:20-22; 1Th 3:2) Even so, Paul here encourages him to give special attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching. To do this, Timothy would no doubt have to study carefully and prepare thoroughly. The Greek verb is in the present tense, which suggests that Timothy would need to keep on, or continue, putting thought and effort into these aspects of his ministry.

public reading: The practice of reading the Scriptures out loud was an important part of worship in Jewish synagogues, and the same practice became a feature of Christian meetings. (Lu 4:16 and study note; Ac 13:15 and study note) When Christians gathered, they read passages from the Hebrew Scriptures and, in time, from writings that came to be part of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Also, responsible brothers sent letters that were to be read to the congregations. (Ac 15:22, 23, 30, 31; 16:4, 5; Col 4:16; 1Th 5:27; Re 1:3) Someone had to read this material out loud because few people in the audience would have had written copies; some may even have been illiterate. Those who read publicly had to prepare well in order to read skillfully, putting meaning into the text. (Compare Ne 8:8.) These readers faced an additional challenge because the Greek manuscripts then in use did not have spaces between the words and contained little or no punctuation. For such reasons, Timothy surely valued Paul’s counsel about public reading and shared it with others.

exhortation: Or “encouragement.” While exhortation involves stirring others to action, the Greek word used here also includes the idea of giving encouragement and comfort. Just as Timothy needed to prepare carefully for public reading and teaching, he needed to devote thought and effort to consoling and encouraging his brothers.​—See study notes on Ro 12:8; Php 2:1.

Do not neglect the gift in you: Paul refers to a gift that Jehovah gave to Timothy by means of holy spirit. Apparently, this gift involved Timothy’s special role or responsibility among God’s people. He likely received the gift when Paul visited Lystra during his second missionary journey. At the time, “a prophecy” was made about Timothy’s future assignments. Timothy later became a traveling overseer. He was also assigned to remain for some time in Ephesus as an overseer. (1Ti 1:3) Paul knew, though, that a gift unused is a gift wasted. So in urging Timothy not to neglect, or be unconcerned about, the gift he had been given, Paul reminded him that it was truly precious. He wanted Timothy to keep cherishing his gift by carrying out his work with energy and zeal.​—See also 2Ti 1:6 and study note.

through a prophecy: This may refer to one of the prophecies made about Timothy when Paul visited Lystra during his second missionary journey. These prophecies apparently focused on Timothy’s future role in the Christian congregation. (See study note on 1Ti 1:18.) Thus it was made clear that Jehovah’s spirit was directing the course that Timothy would take in his ministry. In response, the elders in Lystra readily agreed to set Timothy apart for special service and send him along with Paul.​—Ac 16:1-5.

the body of elders: Paul here uses the Greek word pre·sby·teʹri·on to refer to a group of elders. It is related to the word often rendered “elder.” (See Glossary, “Elder; Older man.”) At Lu 22:66 (see study note) and Ac 22:5 (see study note), the term pre·sby·teʹri·on is rendered “assembly of elders,” likely referring to the Jewish Sanhedrin. Apparently, this Greek term was also used to refer to those taking the lead in individual Jewish communities scattered throughout the Roman Empire. This verse shows that Christians were using the same term when referring to the group of responsible men, or “elders,” in each congregation. Other scriptures confirm that the congregations commonly had more than one elder.​—See study notes on Ac 14:23; 20:17; Php 1:1.

laid their hands on you: See study note on Ac 6:6.

Ponder over: Or “Meditate on.” Paul here emphasizes the importance of meditation. These things may refer to Paul’s counsel in the preceding verses about Timothy’s conduct, ministry, and teaching (1Ti 4:12-14), or they may refer to the letter as a whole. The Hebrew Scriptures likewise highlight how important it is for servants of Jehovah to think deeply about their actions and their relationship with God. (Ps 1:2 and ftn.; 63:6; 77:12; 143:5) For example, at Jos 1:8, Jehovah tells Joshua regarding the “book of the Law”: “You must read it in an undertone [or, “meditate on it,” ftn.] day and night.” The Hebrew verb used in that verse includes the idea of reading at a pace that allows for deep reflection. In that verse, the Greek Septuagint uses the same verb that Paul uses here at 1Ti 4:15. Like Joshua, Timothy needed to continue to meditate on the Scriptures daily in order to keep growing spiritually and become more effective in his assignment.

be absorbed in them: Lit., “be in them.” This expression conveys the idea of being immersed in an activity. Regarding this, one reference work says: “The mind is to be as immersed in these pursuits as the body in the air it breathes.”

so that your advancement may be plainly seen by all people: Paul wants Timothy to continue to make spiritual progress in the ways he has just described. Those who saw Timothy’s advancement would be motivated by his example, and their confidence in him would increase. (1Ti 4:12-16) His motive would be, not to promote himself or to impress others, but to help the congregation.​—Ro 12:3; 1Co 4:7; 13:4.

Pay constant attention to yourself: Paul cares deeply about Timothy’s spiritual welfare and wants him to be on guard against anything that could cause him to lose out on everlasting life. Similarly, when Paul met with the elders from Ephesus some years earlier, he exhorted them: “Pay attention to yourselves.” He thus emphasized the need for overseers to keep themselves spiritually strong and to avoid self-reliance.​—Ac 20:17, 28 and study note.

Persevere in these things: In a powerful way, Paul concludes his counsel to Timothy on being “a fine minister of Christ Jesus.” (1Ti 4:6-16) In verses 15 and 16, Paul points out four specific actions he wants Timothy to continue to take: “Ponder over . . . be absorbed . . . pay constant attention . . . persevere.” One reference work comments on Paul’s fatherly advice to Timothy: “These two verses . . . express perhaps the most intensely personal note in the epistle [or, letter].”