Calvin: 2 Timothy the most Profitable Book of Scripture

John_CalvinI am working through Calvin’s sermons on the Pastoral Epistles in preparation for the Reformation Commentary on Scripture volume on the PE and editing a new edition of the English translation of these sermons. Today I came across this strong statement in Calvin’s first sermon on 2 Timothy.

As no doubt, if a man reads this epistle diligently he shall find the spirit of God shown to him in this way, and in such majesty and virtue, that whether he wants to or not, he will be as it were ravished with it. As for me, I know I have profited and do daily profit more by this epistle than by any book of the scripture, and if every man will look into it diligently, I doubt not but that he will find the same.

And if we desire to have witness of God’s truth pierce through our hearts, we may well keep ourselves here.  For a man must be very heavy on sleep, and more than a block if God does not work in him when he hears the doctrine that is drawn out from here.

Luther seems almost to say that whatever book of the Bible he is working on is the most important. Calvin though is typically more careful and deliberate with such praise, so this is quite striking.

“Almsgiving and ‘the Commandment’ in 1 Timothy 6:14”

Last year in New Testament Studies Nathan Eubank provided what is, I believe, a new interpretation of “the commandment” (η εντολη) in 1 Timothy 6:14. His article is titled “Almsgiving is ‘the Commandment’: A Note on 1 Timothy 6.6–19.”

Eubank argues that “the commandment” was a common idiom in Rabbinic Judaism for almsgiving. He provides several supportive texts, though the dates of some are uncertain. This, it is suggested, solves the problem of 1 Timothy 6:11-16 (an exhortation to Timothy) protruding between two paragraphs which deal with money issues (6:6-10 & 6:17-19). On this reading the exhortation to Timothy is also about money. 6:6-10 urges contentment and warns against the love of money. In 6:11-16 Timothy is told to flee this love of money, pursue righteousness and to give alms (v. 14). Then, those who already have money are warned not to look to wealth as their security.

This is a well-argued article and worthy of attention from anyone working on 1 Timothy. I appreciate Eubank’s interest in finding cohesion in the argument and flow of thought in the letter. However, I am not yet convinced. I am not concerned here to give a full rebuttal but simply to note a few things.

Eubank notes some possible difficulties with some of his rabbinic examples if you have an early date for 1 Timothy (which is my position). Beyond that, I am not sure that a reference to almsgiving in 6:14 solves the perceived problem with 6:11-16. Those who see disunity are likely still to wonder about these six verses “interrupting” the flow. If we recognize the regular movement back and forth from focus on Timothy to focus on opponents and/or the congregation in the letter, then we are not surprised to see it in chapter 6 as well. 6:11-16, then, does not need to address wealth in order to cohere. The flow of thought would then be something like this: Timothy is to teach truth (6:2-3) unlike the opponents who are caught up in greed (6:4-10). In contrast to these opponents Timothy is to pursue righteousness as he awaits Christ’s return (6:11-16). Then Timothy is to warn the rich in the congregation not to follow the ways of the opponents but to pursue eternal things as they also await the “future” (6:17-19).

Eubank is to be thanked for raising this possibility, pointing out this rabbinic background and making a plausible argument. His argument is more involved than what would be summarized here. I commend the article to you and welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Pauline Scholar, Meet Homeric Scholar

I regularly encourage my biblical studies students that one aspect of training ourselves to interpret the Bible well is to read good literature. Good literature helps to round us out as human beings, and it simply trains us to read well. C. S. Lewis illustrates this well in his classic essay, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism.”

This point is powerfully made by Anthony Esolen in his article, “Pauline Scholar, Meet Homeric Scholar: How Textual Analysis Misses Authorial Genius & Literary Inspiration,” in the July/August 2013 issue of Touchstone Magazine. Esolen is a professor of English and widely published author- someone who is on my “read whatever he writes list.” In this brief article Esolen draws from his years of working with classic literature to question some of the literary criticism often used on New Testament studies. He notes that though for a long time scholars insisted that Homer’s poems, Beowulf, and other works were not actually the work of one man, the tide has turned and the skepticism has been shown to be unfounded. He describes the skeptical scholarship as working with “all the wrong assumptions,” typically requiring authors to write the way we would or in the ways we expect.

Here is a key paragraph:

“Linguistic analysis alone is pretty good at telling us, within a century, when something was written, and at confirming that the man who wrote Richard III also wrote Macbeth. It’s not very good for establishing chronological order within a century, not for confirming that the man who wrote one thing did not also write another. On linguistic analysis, apart from authorial affirmation, we can determine that the author of the Gospel of Luke is also the author of Acts. But beyond such conclusion we dare not go with confidence. We cannot say that one author could not have written Romans and Ephesians, which are a foot or two apart, as compared with the furlong that separates the author of the first part of The Dream of the Rood from the same man when he’s writing the second part, the mile that separates Milton’s satirical sonnets from the sweet Il Penseroso, and the light year that separates The Merry Wives of Windsor from King Lear.”

This literary perspective is important for various discussions in New Testament studies including the authorship of the Pastorals. Given the wide range of style and vocabulary used by other prominent writers in history we should be cautious about what can be determined concerning authorship by variations in vocabulary and style. Can we really say with such self-assurance, as I have heard scholars do, what Paul could not have written?

The full piece by Esolen is well worth reading. It is not available online, but Jim Kushiner, Executive Editor of Touchstone, has graciously offered to send a complimentary hard copy of the issue containing this article to any of our readers who ask. If you’d like a copy, email noting that you are responding to this column and ask for a copy of the July/August 2013 issue.

UPDATE: The article is now available online and I have linked it above. Thanks to Jim Kushiner for his gracious offer during the time the article was not online.