Context affects Bible interpretation. Once, people placed 1 Timothy in a Gnostic context. 1 Timothy 6:20 warns Timothy against so-called knowledge, perhaps referring to Gnostic wisdom. However, Ben Witherington warns against reading later gnostic elements into 1 Timothy. According to Mounce, knowledge doesn't have Gnostic overtones.
Mounce sets 1 Timothy in a Jewish background, identifying 12 others, including Hort, Spicq, and Gordon Fee sharing his view. Paul ordered people to disregard myths and genealogies in 1 Tim. 1:4. This could reference Jewish writings mentioning such things, like Philo and Jubilees. Both works stress Israel and the law’s indestructibility according to John Stott. Titus 1:14 commands Titus not to listen to Jewish myths; Titus 3:9 warned Timothy to avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, and arguments and quarrels about the law.
The adversaries in Timothy wanted to be teachers of the law (1 Tim. 1:7). This verse uses an expression referring to the Mosaic Law. Luke uses the same phrase to describe the scribes and the Pharisee Gamaliel (Luke 5:17 and Acts 5:34). J. Quinn and W. Wacker explained the erroneous teachers probably imposed “various cultic aspects of Jewish life” derived from the Torah on Christians. An example may have included 1 Timothy 4:3-5 which prohibited marriage and food.
Marriage and Meats
Jewish purity issues connect well to food. In the old Covenant, God barred Jews from eating profane animals. Philip Towner, Paul Jeon, and Paul Trebilco understand this restriction to pertain to these abrogated dietary rules. Mounce suggested the term ἀπόβλητος for refuse, means to reject as unclean. He said that Moffatt’s translation for that word suggested ‘tabooed,’ which emphasized the cultic context.
One might wonder how matrimony relates to Judaism. B. J. Oropeza argued abstinence from marriage couldn’t come from the Torah. God told Adam and Noah to multiply; Moses charges Hebrew men to carry out levirate duties for deceased brothers.
Quinn and Wacker connected the prohibition to the Jewish Qumran community. In that group, someone married for children and then left to prepare for the holy war. The authors mentioned 1 Timothy didn't reference Jesus' teaching on marriage. This “probably [indicated] a Jewish Christian congregation whose ‘Bible’ more or less coincided with what Jews then read as sacred and authoritative... One infers that they [false teachers] appealed to further OT regulations on ritual cleanliness… and on diet to justify their own directives….”
Jubilees (written around 200 B.C.) maybe hints at a different purity issue. This book considered a Jew marrying a gentile fornication. Jennifer Knust’s said the author used a “creative reworking of biblical genealogy designed to demonstrate that successful patriarchs always married within the group.” Jubilees accused that all a gentile’s ways are pollution and uncleanness. A man who gave his daughter or sister in a mixed union should be stoned for shaming Israel. The false teachers perhaps used Jubilees to form their doctrine. Of note, genealogies and Jubilees perhaps link with 1 Timothy.
Sean Charles Martin proposed the opponents didn’t forbid marriage per se. Instead, he suggested, they forbade exogamous marriage. He cited someone who said that according to the Pharisees, ordinary Jews had to keep the laws of priestly purity. This included the prohibition on endogamous marriage.
According to Archibald McLean, the Mosaic Law gave Christians reason to doubt living in an interfaith marriage. Heathen Gentiles in the that dispensation were considered unclean. Therefore, Paul reassured the believing that the unbeliever is sanctified. Sanctification didn’t imply a moral change in the unbeliever, but a change in the law that once prohibited such. He then said, “What the apostle says about the sanctification of the meats prohibited under the law, serves much to illustrate this point; accordingly he classes them together who forbade marriage and commanded to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving. See 1 Tim. iv. 3, 4, 5.”
Others, including David Macallan, Finlator Cameron, and an anonymous writer in the Northern Witness, also noticed the parallel. Although the Israelite law considered certain meat unclean, it no longer was. If God externally cleansed everyone, Paul just possibly meant to put an analogy between once unclean unbelievers and once unclean meat in the verse. John Reed said many things and persons were legally unclean to Israelites. This uncleanness prohibited them from certain things, including various foods and intermarrying with unconverted Gentiles. However, “as those meats which were anciently prohibited as unclean, are now said to be cleansed and sanctified; so the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified by or to the use of the believer.”
Every Creation of God
Even if Paul didn’t address intermarriage, the verse may still apply. We can eat once unclean meat because everything God created was good and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. According to Ben Witherington, Lewis Donelson suggested the verse uses a syllogism like this:
- [Because] everything that God created was good and meant for human beings to use
- [And since] food is one of the things God created,
- Food ought to be received and used, but with prayer, for the act of eating is made a sacred one through God’s word and prayer.
Although some scholars believe what Paul says about creation only applies to food, others say he was saying something much broader. Everything created by God, including meat, is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. In Genesis, God pronounced everything He created good. According to Philip Towner, 1 Timothy 4:4, which states everything God created is good, echoes the Septuagint’s translation of this divine assessment. According to George Knight, “[Pan] with a singular anarthrous [anarthrous meaning used without the article] noun, as here, emphasizes the individual members of the class denoted by the noun, i.e. every.... Since the class denoted by ktisma, is that which is created, [Pan: everything] [Ktisma: created] designates everything existing.” (NIGTC 190,191).” Paul Trebilco said in 1 Timothy 4:4, the pastor broadens this statement beyond food. The author affirms everything God created is good. The statement about sanctification applies to everything God created, including the Earth community.
In a later book, Paul Trebilco said 1 Timothy’s author applies this principle to people. He said, “[W]e can see a strong correlation between his robust affirmation of the goodness of creation, and his attitude of openness to and engagement with the wider society, including the way he at times constructs low boundaries with the wider world.” Trebilco gives several examples. He noted the author commanded people to pray for everyone, both believers and unbelievers. Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:6) 1 Timothy 4:10 said that God is the Savior of all people. This means He is the potential Savior of everyone, even contemporary outsiders. He wants people to believe in Him and be saved.
If 1 Timothy 4 speaks of all creation, then it applies to an unbelieving spouse. Any created thing “becomes as it were holy—the grateful spirit in which it is used acknowledging, and combined with ‘the word of God’ which destined it for our use, makes its use not merely innocent, but acceptable before God… all persons, all things, in short every creature of God is consecrated to us by the holy mind with which we receive and use them.” (The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle). According to John Hensley Godwin, every object, including an unbelieving spouse, becomes holy to a Christian if used in a right spirit. Moses Hemmenway mentioned that elsewhere, the Apostle taught everything was pure to the pure, and every creature is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. “Thus the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified to the believer, as every creature of God is which we may have occasion to use. Formerly, all that were out of the pale of the church were accounted unclean, and a Jew would have been defiled by living with a heathen consort. But now there is no defilement in the lawful use [of] God’s creatures. They are all sanctified to a believer.”
Unfortunately, the connection between these two things, marriage and meat, isn't clear. However, it may just be that Paul taught that God sanctified an unbeliever to a believer. Therefore, a believer should be able to marry an unbeliever under certain conditions. Just like eating once unclean meat is allowed, marrying once unclean unbelievers is also allowed.
Even if Paul didn't speak directly of intermarriage, the verse still could have implications. If everything created by God includes literally everything, it includes an unbelieving spouse. Paul allowed a believer to stay with an unbeliever in 1 Corinthians 7:14 because the unbelieving spouse was sanctified in the believing one. So, perhaps, an unbelieving spouse can be sanctified to the believing one, therefore making permissible the union.