Hostility in the House of God: An "Interested" Investigation of the Opponents in 1 and 2 Timothy

Author: Thornton, Dillon T.

Date: 2015

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

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University of Otago


To my knowledge, Pietersen’s study (2004) is the only monograph published in the last twenty years that has focused on the opponents in the Pastoral Epistles, but his work is not exegetical. In this thesis, I concentrate on 1 and 2 Timothy, the two letters purportedly dispatched to Ephesus. I assemble the relevant pericopae of the letters and offer an exegetical analysis of them, with the intention of providing, first, a composite sketch of the ideology of the opposing group and, second, an in-depth account of the way the faithful Pauline community was to engage these opponents. The first chapter of the thesis is devoted to preliminary issues and methodology. I argue that 1 and 2 Timothy constitute two types of letter, both dispatched in the late first century to the Christian community in Ephesus, each addressing a stage of the conflict in which the community was engaged. I further argue that the polemical portions of the letters reveal specific information about this conflict. I then formulate a stringent method for the study of Paul’s opponents. I summarize and critique historical-critical methodologies and bring the most recent work on theological interpretation of Scripture into dialogue with these methodologies. The result is a new approach to the study of opponents, one that remains rigorously tethered to the primary text and that is characterized by ecclesial concern. In chapters two to six, I apply this method to 1 and 2 Timothy. In chapter two, I offer an exegetical analysis of the explicit units of 1 Timothy, those units where we have clear and certain reference to the opponents (1:3-7, 18-20; 4:1-5; 6:2b-5, 20-21a). Chapters three and four focus on the implicit units in 1 Timothy, those units where we have highly probable reference to the opponents (1:8-11; 2:9-15; 4:6-10; 5:9-16; 6:6-10). In chapter five, I turn to 2 Timothy, analyzing the three explicit units (2:14-26; 3:1-9; 4:1-5) and the one implicit unit of the letter (2:8-13). In chapter six, I bring together the full gamut of data uncovered in the exegetical chapters, offering overall conclusions about the opponents in 1 and 2 Timothy. As a follow-up to this, I enumerate what I perceive to be the most important implications of the findings for the house of God today. My findings may be summarized as follows. I conclude that the opponents came from within the Christian community in Ephesus and that their teaching is best described as an erroneous eschatological position that derived from the complexity of Paul’s views. Each doctrinal and ethical issue raised in the explicit and implicit units of the letters can be explained as a distortion of Pauline doctrine. Additionally, I contend that the opponents had an active “didactic/evangelistic ministry” in Ephesus, for which they received remuneration. They likely set out to recruit as large a following, and as large an income, as possible, but found a particularly fruitful field among the women in Ephesus. As I formulate my view of the opponents, I critique a number of the extant theories, including “Gnostic,” Jewish, and Proto-Montanist identifications. I also conclude that the author engages with the false teachers in significant ways throughout the letters. I draw attention to a number of literary and theological maneuvers that are intended to counteract the opponents’ influence and/or to bolster the faithful community’s confidence as they struggle against the opponents. These include the way the author turns features of the opponents against them, his use of the faithful saying formula, the way he relates the Triune God and the principal adversary, Satan, to the opponents, and the way the author portrays the gospel as an unstoppable force in his own ministry. Though the author pictures the opponents as enemies of God, he also highlights the fact that the opponents are not beyond the reach of God’s grace; thus, Timothy is called to minister the saving word to them. In the explicit and implicit units, the author instructs Timothy to occupy himself with five specific activities: reflection on his commissioning and on the apostolic gospel, rejection of the opponents’ claims, proclamation of the healthy teaching, demonstration of the gospel in actions that are pleasing to God, and correction of the false teachers themselves. The wider faithful community is at least implicitly included in the activities of rejection, demonstration, and correction.

Subjects: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Pastoral Epistles, Paul's Opponents

Citation: ["Thornton, D. T. (2015). Hostility in the House of God: An ‘Interested’ Investigation of the Opponents in 1 and 2 Timothy (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from"]

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