on 1-timothy 1 :4
Neither give heed to fables - Idle fancies; things of no moment; doctrines and opinions unauthenticated; silly legends, of which no people ever possessed a greater stock than the Jews. Their Talmud abounds with them; and the English reader may find them in abundance in Stehlin's Jewish Traditions, 2 vols. 8vo.
Endless genealogies - I suppose the apostle to mean those genealogies which were uncertain - that never could be made out, either in the ascending or descending line; and, principally, such as referred to the great promise of the Messiah, and to the priesthood. The Jews had scrupulously preserved their genealogical tables till the advent of Christ and the evangelists had recourse to them, and appealed to them in reference to our Lord's descent from the house of David; Matthew taking this genealogy in the descending, Luke in the ascending, line. And whatever difficulties we may now find in these genealogies, they were certainly clear to the Jews; nor did the most determined enemies of the Gospel attempt to raise one objection to it from the appeal which the evangelists had made to their own public and accredited tables. All was then certain; but we are told that Herod destroyed the public registers; he, being an Idumean, was jealous of the noble origin of the Jews; and, that none might be able to reproach him with his descent, be ordered the genealogical tables, which were kept among the archives in the temple, to be burnt. See Euseb. H. E., lib. i. cap. 8. From this time the Jews could refer to their genealogies only from memory, or from those imperfect tables which had been preserved in private hands; and to make out any regular line from these must have been endless and uncertain. It is probably to this that the apostle refers; I mean the endless and useless labor which the attempts to make out these genealogies must produce, the authentic tables being destroyed. This, were all other proofs wanting, would be an irresistible argument against the Jews that the Messiah is come; for their own prophets had distinctly marked out the line by which he was to come; the genealogies are now all lost; nor is there a Jew in the universe that can show from what tribe he is descended. There can, therefore, be no Messiah to come, as none could show, let him have what other pretensions he might, that he sprang from the house of David. The Jews do not, at present, pretend to have any such tables; and, far from being able to prove the Messiah from his descent, they are now obliged to say that, when, the Messiah comes, he will restore the genealogies by the Holy Spirit that shall rest upon him. "For," says Maimonides, "in the days of the Messiah, when his kingdom shall be established, all the Israelites shall be gathered together unto him; and all shall be classed in their genealogies by his mouth, through the Holy Spirit that shall rest upon him; as it is written, Malachi 3:3 : He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi. First he will purify the Levites, and shall say: 'This man is a descendant from the priests; and this, of the stock of the Levites;' and he shall cast out those who are not of the stock of Israel; for behold it is said, Ezra 2:63 : And the Tirshatha said-they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim. Thus, by the Holy Spirit, the genealogies are to be revised." See Schoettgen.
Some learned men suppose that the apostle alludes here to the Aeons, among the Gnostics and Valentinians, of whom there were endless numbers to make up what was called their pleroma; or to the sephiroth, or splendours of the Cabalists. But it is certain that these heresies had not arrived to any formidable head in the apostle's time; and it has long been a doubt with me whether they even existed at that time: and I think it the most simple way, and most likely to be the intention of the apostle, to refer all to the Jewish genealogies, which he calls Jewish fables, Titus 1:14, to which we know they were strongly and even conscientiously attached and which, at this time, it must have been extremely difficult to make out.
Instead of γενεαλογιαις, genealogies, some learned men have conjectured that the original word was κενολογιαις, empty words, vain speeches; but this conjecture is not supported by any MS. or version.
Which minister questions - They are the foundation of endless altercations and disputes; for, being uncertain and not consecutive, every person had a right to call them in question; as we may naturally suppose, from the state in which the genealogical tables of the Jews then were, that many chasms must be supplied in different lines, and consequently much must be done by conjecture.
Rather than godly edifying - Such discussions as these had no tendency to promote piety. Many, no doubt, employed much of that time in inquiring who were their ancestors, which they should have spent in obtaining that grace by which, being born from above, they might have become the sons and daughters of God Almighty.
Instead of οικοδομιαν Θεου, godly edifying, or the edification of God, οικονομιαν Θεου, the economy or dispensation of God, is the reading of almost every MS. in which this part of the epistle is extant, (for some MSS. are here mutilated), and of almost all the versions, and the chief of the Greek fathers. Of the genuineness of this reading scarcely a doubt can be formed; and though the old reading, which is supported by the Latin fathers and the Vulgate, gives a good sense, yet the connection and spirit of the place show that the latter must be the true reading. Griesbach has received this reading into the text.
What had Jewish genealogies to do with the Gospel? Men were not to be saved by virtue of the privileges or piety of their ancestors. The Jews depended much on this. We have Abraham to our father imposed silence on every check of conscience, and every godly reproof which they received for their profligacy and unbelief. In the dispensation of God, Faith in Christ Jesus was the only means and way of salvation. These endless and uncertain genealogies produced no faith; indeed they were intended as a substitute for it; for those who were intent on making out their genealogical descent paid little attention to faith in Christ. They ministered questions rather than that economy of God which is by faith. This dispensation, says the apostle, is by faith, οικονομιαν Θεου την εν πιστει· It was not by natural descent, nor by works, but by faith in Christ; therefore it was necessary that the people who were seeking salvation in any other way should be strictly informed that all their toil and labor would be vain.
on 1-timothy 1 :4
Neither give heed to fables - That is, that they should not bestow their attention on fables, or regard such trifles as of importance. The "fables" here referred to were probably the idle and puerile superstitions and conceits of the Jewish rabbies. The word rendered "fable" (μῦθος muthos) means properly "speech" or "discourse," and then fable or fiction, or a mystic discourse. Such things abounded among the Greeks as well as the Jews, but it is probable that the latter here are particularly intended. These were composed of frivolous and unfounded stories, which they regarded as of great importance, and which they seem to have desired to incorporate with the teachings of Christianity. Paul, who had been brought up amidst these superstitions, saw at once how they would tend to draw off the mind from the truth, and would corrupt the true religion. One of the most successful arts of the adversary of souls has been to mingle fable with truth; and when he cannot overthrow the truth by direct opposition, to neutralize it by mingling with it much that is false and frivolous.
And endless genealogies - This also refers to Jewish teaching. The Hebrews kept careful genealogical records, for this was necessary in order that the distinction of their tribes might be kept up. Of course, in the lapse of centuries these tables would become very numerous, complicated, and extended - so that they might without much exaggeration be called "endless." The Jews attached great importance to them, and insisted on their being carefully preserved. As the Messiah, however, had now come - as the Jewish polity was to cease - as the separation between them and the pagan was no longer necessary, and the distinction of tribes was now useless, there was no propriety that these distinctions should be regarded by Christians. The whole system was, moreover, contrary to the genius of Christianity, for it served to keep up the pride of blood and of birth.
Which minister questions - Which afford matter for troublesome and angry debates. It was often difficult to settle or understand them. They became complicated and perplexing. Nothing is more difficult than to unravel an extensive genealogical table. To do this, therefore, would often give rise to contentions, and when settled, would give rise still further to questions about rank and precedence.
Rather than godly edifying which is in faith - These inquiries do nothing to promote true religion in the soul. They settle no permanent principle of truth; they determine nothing that is really concerned in the salvation of people. They might be pursued through life, and not one soul be converted by them; they might be settled with the greatest accuracy, and yet not one heart be made better. Is not this still true of many controversies and logomachies in the church? No point of controversy is worth much trouble, which, if it were settled one way or the other, would not tend to convert the soul from sin, or to establish some important principle in promoting true religion. "So do." These words are supplied by our translators, but they are necessary to the sense. The meaning is, that Timothy was to remain at Ephesus, and faithfully perform the duty which he had been left there to discharge.
on 1-timothy 1 :4
1:4 Neither give heed - So as either to teach or regard them. To fables - Fabulous Jewish traditions. And endless genealogies - Nor those delivered in scripture, but the long intricate pedigrees whereby they strove to prove their descent from such or such a person. Which afford questions - Which lead only to useless and endless controversies.