“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
– 1 Timothy 4: 1 – 5, KJV
The Difficulty in v3:
- Forbidding to marry – Is this speaking about celibacy of priests in certain denominations?
- Prohibiting certain foods – Is this speaking about clean and unclean meats?
- Who are these people who teach the doctrines of demons?
- What kinds of meats are they forbidding?
The Principle: Let Scripture interpret itself:
Paul is addressing Timothy, a young Pastor taking care of the church at Ephesus (v 1:3). He offers warning and advice against false teachers who had come in and were sowing the seeds of bad doctrinex (v. 6:20-21). Decades later a philosophical movement called Gnosticism was to develop and strongly influence some church leaders and members. It is very likely that some of the early ideas in gnosticism were already at play in Paul’s day.
For example, some people taught that the true Christian must live a life of asceticism and self-deprivation. This also included practices such as self-flagellating (lashing oneself with a whip) and other forms of harsh treatments to instill and demonstrate penitence. They also included abstaining from sources of pleasure that others could freely enjoy, and which were not forbidden in Scripture. They taught that abstaining from marriage and marital sex, as well as certain foods, was the due of one who wanted to live the true Christian experience. Another of their teachings included shunning society entirely so as to remain free form temptation and unspotted.
Within the Text:
Forbidding to marry
Paul explained that under the conditions that prevailed in his time he preferred singleness (1 Cor 7:26). But he also recognized that many are called to marriage and there is nothing wrong with it (1 Cor 7:2, 36 – 38). Some false teachers however said that singleness was a means to greater holiness and that marriage was sinful in itself. Others taught that the resurrection had already occurred, and so marriage was on longer valid since they were in angelic state, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:30 “neither marry nor are given in marriage… like the angels”.
In his second letter to Timothy Paul mentions two of them by name:
2 Timothy 2:17, 18 – Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.
Clearly, the resurrection has not yet happened, and so Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:30 have not yet been fulfilled.
Prohibiting certain “meats”
Some people think about the unclean meats of Lev 11. But the Greek word “broma” for “meats” in 1Tim 4:3 simply means “solid food”. So these false teachers were not insisting on the so called clean meats in Lev 11, but rather insisting that as part of asceticism, people should not indulge the enjoyment of certain foods because pleasure was sinful.
We also need to apply common sense, in v 4. The text cannot be talking about:
- Poisonous foods. Plants like Hemlock can kill instantly. It is the plant that killed Socrates. Clearly we should abstain from eating Hemlock though it resembles a carrot. Certain mushrooms are poisonous as well.
- Also, if the statement “every creature of God is good for food” is taken literally, then we can eat our children, and our spouses, because they are also creatures of God.
To understand the verse better, let’s look in the text itself. Paul himself stresses that we should receive food that has been created by God to be received with thanksgiving. God did not create every creature to be received as food. To know the truth is to know what God allows and forbids us to eat. Passages like Lev 11 become very useful in that regard.
So in summary, the passage simply means that we should not listen to people who teach that marriage is a sin or is no longer valid because Jesus has already come. Also we should not listen to people who prohibit certain foods, not on the basis of God’s word, but on their own ideas about how to become more holy by works of self-denial or deprivation. So this is not about Catholics, for they do not teach that marriage is sinful or invalid, and it is not about Adventists either, for they do not teach that food is a path to holiness or salvation.
For explanations to other Bible passages please visit www.provingallthings.org/thebible
Until next time, keep studying. Prove all things, and hold fast what is good!