Some Thoughts on 1 Tim 4.4-5

If you’ve followed me around for any amount of time, you might be aware that I’ve got 400+ pages of stuff written on First Timothy in a commentary format. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to do anything with it, though, because it was written over a few years and style, content, writing ability and ability in handling the text changed and grew through the exercise.

Anyway, I saw a question on B-Greek about 1Ti 4.4-5, so I thought I’d take a quick shot to post here what I wrote about that section. Please note that I wrote this at least five years ago, perhaps longer. As you can tell, much of my interest was in how particular words were used in similar contexts, but outside of the NT.

1 Timothy 4.4-5: Freedom from False Requirements

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1Ti 4.4-5)

Verse 4

For everything created by God is good

The word “everything” is a translation of the Greek word πᾶς, a frequently-occurring word that means ‘all, each or every’.1 It modifies “created”, which is a translation of the Greek word κτίσμα. The word κτίσμα is not a verb with the meaning of “to create”; it is a noun indicating ‘something that has been created’ or ‘creature’.2 This combination of words also occurs in Re 5.13:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Re 5.13)

The word κτίσμα is used similarly in the Epistle to Diognetus:

And if any of these teachings was acceptable, then every one of the other things created by God could also appear to be God.3

In Diognetus, the phrase “created by God” is used in much the same way that it is used here in First Timothy, to attribute the creation to God, the creator.

The previous context of First Timothy had to do with practices or items that false teachers forbid. Paul’s response is a realization that all things created by God are “good” and therefore are acceptable to be used by those for whom these things have been created. Paul may be reminding the reader of the creation account in Genesis:

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Ge 1.31)

and nothing is to be rejected

After noting that “everything” created by God is good and therefore acceptable, Paul states that “nothing” is to be rejected. The word “nothing” is a translation of the Greek word οὐδείς, which means ‘no one’ or ‘nothing’.4 The contrast between “everything” and “nothing” is notable. This contrast occurs in the epistle to the Hebrews as well:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12.14)

The LXX has more examples of this type of contrast; one of which occurs in Judith:

And all went away from her presence, and none (from small to great) remained in the bedchamber, and Judith stood next to the bed and said in her heart, “Lord, God of all power, look in this hour to the work of my hands for the raising in exaltation of Jerusalem; now is the time to take hold of your inheritance and start my desired pursuit of destruction of the enemies which have risen against us”. (Jdt 13.4-5, LXX)5

Similar contrast occurs in the Shepherd of Hermas:

As to the believers from the fifth mountain, which has green plants but is rugged: they are faithful, but they are slow to learn and insolent and strive to please themselves, wishing to know everything but knowing nothing at all.6

In First Timothy, πᾶς and οὐδείς provide the same sort of contrast, emphasizing the wrongness of the false teachers in their approach restricting certain items from those who are believers.

According to Paul, everything was created by God so nothing need be rejected out-of-hand. The word translated “rejected” in this verse is the Greek word ἀπόβλητος.7 The word is seldom used in Christian literature. LSJ cites the Iliad, noting that ἀπόβλητος there means ‘to be thrown away or aside, as worthless’.8 Those things previously mentioned by Paul—marriage and certain foods—have been created by God and are good, and therefore should not be dismissed, or put aside as lacking worth or as evil.

if it is received with thanksgiving

There is one qualification, however, to the reception of the provision of God in the area of food. In verse 3, Paul describes these rejected foods as items “ … that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth”. Here, in verse 4, Paul reiterates this qualification to the Ephesians, noting that food should not be rejected “ … if it is received with thanksgiving.”9

Verse 5

for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer

If the status of the food is questionable,10 receiving the food with thanksgiving through prayer to God to purify it is all that is required. The food need not be avoided or disposed of, it is the provision of God and through God’s blessing it can be restored and eaten.11

The phrase “made holy” is a translation of the Greek word ἁγιάζω. In contexts where ἁγιάζω is used in reference to a thing, the sense is usually that of ‘consecrate, dedicate’.12 The word is used in Matthew:

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? (Mt 23.16-19, emphasis mine)

In the above context, as well as in First Timothy, the thing13 is being made holy or sacred. The verb ἁγιάζω is in the passive voice implying that its object is being acted upon; it is not making itself holy or sacred. In First Timothy, this action is prompted “by the word of God and prayer”.14

The Greek word ἔντευξις is translated “prayer”. The word may mean prayer in a general sense, or it could imply some sort of intercession.15 Here the word likely carries the more general sense and could even have to do with thanksgiving. Verses 3 and 4 clearly use the term “thanksgiving” (εὐχαριστία) as describing the attitude with which the provision is received, so the prayer mentioned in verse 5 may therefore be prayer of thanksgiving for the food with the request (intercession) to make it holy and proper for consumption by a believer.16

Pericope Summary

Paul recalls earlier prophecies that tell of some who will depart from the faith. The “later times” he mentions are not in reference to a future date; they reference the here and now experienced by the Ephesian believers.

Paul warns the Ephesians about the dangers they are experiencing. False teaching is prominently warned against. The false teaching manifests itself in ascetic-like teaching; denying marriage and particular foods to Christians. Paul takes issue with this; contending that such things originate with God and were “created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1Ti 4.3).

As all things were created by God, and as God’s creation is good, his people have no reason to reject anything that has been received with thanksgiving. These thanksgivings are prayers offered to God, thanking him for what he has provided. This act of giving thanks to God cleanses any impurity or imperfection in what has been provided, making it acceptable for reception and use.

1 BDAG p. 782. Occurs 1243x in NT, 55x in PE. The word is briefly discussed in notes on 1Ti 2.1 and 2.4.

2 BDAG, p. 573. Occurs 4x in NT: 1Ti 4.4; Jam 1.18; Re 5.13; 8.9.

3 EpDiog 8.3 (Ehrman, emphasis mine)

4 BDAG, p. 735. Occurs 227x in NT.

5 author’s translation.

6 Hermas, Similitudes, IX.xxii.1 (Ehrman)

7 BDAG, p. 107. NT hapax. According to BDAG, this is a verbal adjective from the verb ἀποβάλλω.

8 LSJ, p. 193, citing Iliad 3.65, “οὔ τοι ἀπόβλητ᾽ ἐστὶ θεῶν ἐρικυδέα δῶρα”. [Note: provide translation]

9 On the phrase “received with thanksgiving” see notes on 1Ti 4.3.

10 e.g., perhaps it had been sacrificed or slain in honor of false gods, then sold in the marketplace.

11 [Note: perhaps a parallel to or reminder of how God restores us to be acceptable in his sight?]

12 BDAG, p. 9. Occurs 28x in NT, 2x in PE: 1Ti 4.5; 2Ti 2.21.

13 In these instances: gold, gifts, or food.

14 [Note: Need to insert discussion of “word of God”?]

15 BDAG, p. 339. See comments on 1Ti 2.1.

16 BDAG, p. 340.