“Saying What They Should Not Say”: Reassessing The Gravity Of The Problem Of The Younger Widows (1 Tim 5:11–15) -- By: Dillon T. Thornton

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 59:1 (Mar 2016)
Article: “Saying What They Should Not Say”: Reassessing The Gravity Of The Problem Of The Younger Widows (1 Tim 5:11–15)
Author: Dillon T. Thornton


“Saying What They Should Not Say”:
Reassessing The Gravity Of The Problem
Of The Younger Widows (1 Tim 5:11–15)

Dillon T. Thornton*

* Dillon Thornton is senior pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, 1321 9th Ave., Greeley, CO 80631.

Abstract: The prolonged discussion of “widows” in 1 Timothy is puzzling. Why is roughly ten percent of the letter’s total content devoted to limiting the church’s charity toward the χήρα? In this paper, I provide a fresh analysis of 1 Tim 5:11–15, arguing that the most probable conclusion is that these younger widows had been deceived by the opponents in Ephesus and were promoting their deviant doctrine. Because the younger widows were included in the circle of the opponents, and because the faithful Christian community in Ephesus was most likely supporting these widows financially, it seems that the church was unwittingly contributing to the opponents’ operation; they were funding false teaching. It is this very serious situation, I suggest, that best accounts for the unusual amount of attention widows receive in 1 Timothy.

Key Words: false teaching; opponents, Pastoral Epistles, widows, 1 Timothy.

I. Introduction

First Timothy 5:11–15 is part of the larger unit, 5:3–16. The passage contains an early attestation to a special group within the church known as “widows” (χήρα; see also Ign. Pol. 4.1; Pol. Phil. 4.3). While many interpreters claim that Paul1 here refers to an ecclesiastical office, “widows of the congregation,”2 it is more likely

that he has in mind a group of saints worthy of special provision.3 It does not seem that the concern of this passage is “to limit a particular leadership ministry for women in the church.”4 The author’s concern, rather, is to outline both the widow who is eligible for community economic support and the widow who is not eligible for such support. The question I wish to explore here is: What prompts such a prolonged discussion of widows?5 Over ten percent of the letter’s total content is devoted to limiting the church’s charity toward the χήρα...

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