1 Timothy 4:1-5A Commentary on 1 Timothy 4:1-5
Archive of Comments and Discussions - Questions and Answers From All-Creatures.org

By A. J. Fecko

Scripture References:

I Timothy 2:1-3
1 Timothy 4:1-5
Jude 1:12-13
Revelation 8:9

The one text of Scripture used by some to teach the compulsory eating of flesh is 1 Timothy 4:1-5:

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, [and commanding] to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God [is] good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (NKJV)

According to the common view this refers to Encratites that are said to have considered matter evil and so considered abstinence from flesh, wine, and sex absolutely necessary for salvation. So, this doesn't refer to vegetarianism for reasons of compassion or health. Yet, an historical scenario developed by scholars to explain a biblical passage is just that, a scenario. Because an interpretation is common doesn't automatically make it correct. It's unnecessary to assume this refers to any group of vegetarians, heretical or otherwise. There are many strong reasons to conclude that these verses refer to a sect that denied either Agape fellowship, or the Eucharist, to people who marry.

Some of the older translations have the phrase "of meats" in this passage. The word rendered "of meats" in the King James Version is "brwmatwn" that is "of victuals." Actually, in the 17th century when KJV was written "meat" basically meant solid food. If the author were concerned about abstinence from animal flesh he would certainly have used a word like "kreas" instead. There is nothing in 1 Timothy 4 that links the "bromatwn" (victuals) with animal flesh.

There were many forms of food abstinence among early Christians (both orthodox and heretical). For example, the Montanists often practiced xerophagy (the eating of only dry food). It's unnecessary to follow the common assumptions about what kind of abstinence this passage is referring to since there are indications within the passage itself. The definition that is given for this food is "a participation with thanksgiving for those believing and knowing Truth."

Also, the word rendered "creature" is "ktisma" which means anything created or made. It is not a synonym for animals. In Rev. 8:9, for example, it says: "and a third of the creatures in the sea, which have a soul, died, and a third of the ships decayed." CLNT. You'll notice that it says "which have a soul" which qualifies the word "ktisma." Therefore the author of Revelations does not seem to consider the word "ktisma" to automatically imply an ensouled being or animal. The word "ktisma" can even refer to a city. The English word "creature" was also used in this way. We can see this usage in the old Anglican service where the bread and wine are referred to as "thy creatures." The word for thanksgiving "eucharistias" is used twice in this passage and the word rendered "received" is "metalêpsin" (or metalêmpsin in the Critical text). This is the only place in the NT where this word is used. Metalêpsis is a common synonym for Communion in Greek.

The common assumption that these verses were aimed at the Encratites of the late second century is first advanced in some anti-heresy patristic writings. Abstinence from eating flesh was extremely common among both orthodox and heretical Christians of the early centuries. The only known case of a sect that were said to have forbidden abstinence from flesh are the 4th century Borborites referred to by Epiphanius. Because many heretical sects considered abstinence from flesh a requirement for salvation, it seemed necessary to have a proof text against such sects. This was especially so since adopting excessively strict views would have restricted the Christian faith to a small few. We see these concerns in a couple of canons of the 4th century Synod of Gangra:

Canon 2. If any one shall condemn him who eats flesh, which is without blood and has not been offered to idols nor strangled, and is faithful and devout, as though the man were without hope [of salvation] because of his eating, let him be anathema.

Canon 3. If any one shall teach a slave, under pretext of piety, to despise his master and to run away from his service, and not to serve his own master with good-will and all honour, let him be anathema.

It was for this reason that 1 Tim. 4:1-5 was called into use against Encratites, though it completely lacks any reference to eating flesh.

Yet, it's certainly possible that the sect mentioned in this verse might have been of the sort that is commonly called by scholars "Encratic" or "Gnostic." Many Gnostic sects had "higher sacraments" for those they considered more spiritually advanced. It's easy to picture a Gnostic group holding that eucharistic participation is too holy for married people. But it could also simply be an overzealous sect. Even today, the Orthodox abstain from sexual relations for a certain amount of time before receiving Holy Communion. Likewise some Orthodox priests abstain from relations with their wives for a period before performing the Liturgy.

It's easy to see how this pious practice could have become exaggerated by overzealous people to exclude all married folk from Agape (or Eucharistic) participation. Also, the less than spiritual quality of Agapes in some regions may have encouraged others to restrict it to virgins

"These are the reefs in your love feasts, carousing with you fearlessly, shepherding themselves; waterless clouds carried aside by winds; trees that are sear, unfruitful, twice dying, uprooted; wild billows of the sea, frothing forth their own shame; straying stars, for whom the gloom of darkness has been kept for an eon." Jude 1:12-13.

We also see in a couple of other canons of the Synod of Gangra the continued tendency of some people to treat the married as unworthy of sacramental participation and the agape as something common:

Canon 4. If any one shall maintain, concerning a married presbyter, that is not lawful to partake of the oblation when he offers it, let him be anathema.

Canon 11. If anyone shall despise those who out of faith make love-feasts and invite the brethren in honour of the Lord, and is not willing to accept these invitations because he despises what is done, let him be anathema.

The common view of western church scholars that the term "Eucharist" is never used as a title of the Liturgy in the New Testament is not the view of many Eastern Orthodox. For example, here's a quote from an article (THE ASCETIC IDEAL AND THE NEW TESTAMENT
Reflections on the Critique of the Theology of the Reformation) by
Father George Florovsky:

I Timothy 2:1-3 has the same intensity of spiritual activity found in monastic and ascetical literature:

"I exhort, therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and eucharists be made on behalf of all men, on behalf of kings and all those in high positions, in order that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life in all piety and seriousness. This is good and acceptable before God our Savior, who wishes all men to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth."

The same emphasis continues in 4:7-10, especially the expressions "exercise yourself" and "for unto this we labor and struggle."

1 Timothy 2:1 was also understood by Augustine to refer to the liturgy. Calvin dismissed these terms as only being applied to the liturgy at a much later date. However, these terms are applied in very early Christian writings to the liturgy. The assumption that they are later than the apostolic era is a very shaky assumption, especially considering their widespread usage.

In "The Life and Writings of Gregory of Nyssa" it has:

There is a locus classicus in the Oratio Catechetica, c. 37.

"Therefore from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread and was in a manner itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, `is sanctified by the word of God and prayer:' not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it at once is changed into the Body, by the Word, as the Word Himself said, `This is My Body;'"

and just above he had said:

"Rightly do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the word of God is changed into the body of God the Word."

Origen wrote in his "Commentary of Matthew" XI:

...as nothing is pure to him who is defiled and unbelieving, not in itself, but because of his defilement and unbelief, so that which is sanctified through the word of God and prayer does not, in its own nature, sanctify him who uses it, for, if this were so, it would sanctify even him who eats unworthily of the bread of the Lord, and no one on account of this food would become weak or sickly or asleep for something of this kind Paul represented in saying, "For this cause many among you are weak and sickly and not a few sleep...And so neither by not eating, I mean by the very fact that we do not eat of the bread which has been sanctified by the word of God and prayer, are we deprived of any good thing, nor by eating are we the better by any good thing; for the cause of our lacking is wickedness and sins, and the cause of our abounding is righteousness and right actions...Now, if "everything that entereth into the mouth goes into the belly and is cast out into the drought," even the meat which has been sanctified through the word of God and prayer, in accordance with the fact that it is material, goes into the belly and is cast out into the draught, but in respect of the prayer which comes upon it, according to the proportion of the faith, becomes a benefit and is a means of clear vision to the mind which looks to that which is beneficial, and it is not the material of the bread but the word which is said over it which is of advantage to him who eats it not unworthily of the Lord. And these things indeed are said of the typical and symbolical body. But many things might be said about the Word Himself who became flesh, and true meat of which he that eateth shall assuredly live for ever, no worthless person being able to eat it; for if it were possible for one who continues worthless to eat of Him who became flesh. who was the Word and the living bread, it would not have been written, that "every one who eats of this bread shall live forever."

Thomas Aquinas' in "Summa Theologica" mentions that Metalêpsis is a name for the Eucharist. He wrote:

In Greek, moreover, it is called Metalepsis, i.e.

"Assumption," because, as Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv), "we thereby assume the Godhead of the Son."


There are similarities between an interesting eucharistic passage in Didache (commonly attributed to the 1st century) and 1 Timothy 4:

We GIVE THEE THANKS, Holy Father, for thy holy Name which thou hast caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the KNOWLEDGE and FAITH and immortality which thou hast made known to us through Jesus the Servant. To thee be glory for ever. Thou, Sovereign almighty, hast CREATED all things for the sake of thy Name, ad hast given food and drink to men for their ENJOYMENT that they may GIVE THANKS to thee; and to us thou hast granted spiritual food and drink and life eternal through thy Servant.

DIDACHE 10: 2-3

God CREATED them to be ENJOYED with THANKSGIVING be BELIEVERS who have inward KNOWLEDGE of the truth. For everything that God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected when it is taken with THANKSGIVING, since it is hallowed by God's own word and by prayer.

1 Tim. 4:3-5 N.E.B.

Identical or similar word in the Greek are printed in Capital

It has often been held that the phrase "hallowed by the word of God and prayer" refers to the grace before meals. Yet, this doesn't fit well at all. First, the word for "prayer" in this passage "enteuxis" is an awfully solemn Greek term for a prayer before meals. It means especially prayers of intercession, which makes a lot more sense as part of a community church service than praying over daily food. Also, the common assumption "the word of God" here is being used as a synonym for Scripture, or else the grace before meals, seems forced. Again, this seems much more like a sacred service. In fact, "the word of God" was specifically invoked during early Christian communion services.

Anthony Tyrrell Hanson noted the eucharistic significance of 1 Timothy 4:1-5:

"I suggest therefore that Justin's phrase thn di euxhj logou tou par autou euxaristhqeisan trofhn affords an adequate explanation for the phrase in I Timothy 4:5 which has puzzled commentators so much: dia logou theou kai enteuzewj....The enteuzij is the eucharistic prayer itself. The author of the Pastorals is therefore making the point in I Timothy 4:1-5 that we have no right to reject bread or wine as unfitted for our use, because God himself in Christ has sanctified these elements for our special use in the eucharist,"
~A. T. Hanson, Studies in the Pastoral Epistles.

In the 2nd century middle rescission of the Ignatian epistles it has:

"They abstain from eucharist (thanksgiving) and prayer, because they allow not that the thanksgiving is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of His goodness raised up".
~The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6:8-9.

There are at least three possible kinds of Agape (or Eucharistic) abstinence to which 1 Tim. 4:1-5 could be referring:

One, it could be a group that rejected Agape (or Eucharistic) table fellowship similar to the one mentioned in the Epistle to the Smyrnaens attributed to Ignatius of Antioch. But that doesn't seem to fit the context of 1 Tim. 4:3-5. This group seems to be one that considers sexual relations sinful in and of itself.

A second possibility is like that suggested by A. T. Hanson. The sect may have rejected the eating of common bread and wine. Perhaps, they objected to the eating of anything fermented, as leavened bread or alcoholic beverages. But, what fits the passage best is a sect denying table fellowship to those who marry.

IV. To de pneuma rhêtôs legei hoti en husterois kairois apostêsontai tines tês pisteôs prosechontes pneumasi planois kai didaskaliais daimoniôn en hupokrisei pseudologôn [2] kekaustêriasmenôn tên idian suneidêsin [3] kôluontôn gamein apechesthai brômatôn ha ho theos ektisen eis metalêmpsin meta eucharistias tois pistois kai epegnôkosi tên alêtheian [4] hoti pan ktisma theou kalon kai ouden apoblêton meta eucharistias lambanomenon [5] hagiazetai gar dia logou theou kai enteuxeôs

A possible translation might be:

The Spirit states expressly that in subsequent seasons some people will fall from the faith and will obey mendacious spirits, and follow the teachings of demons. Being seared in their own conscience in hypocrisy of lies by hindering to marry;* namely, to abstain from food that God made** into a participation with the Eucharist for those who believe and who know the truth. For every creation of God is beautiful, and is nothing ejected*** from being received with the Eucharist since this is sanctified through the word of God and intercession.****

* The common interpretation of this passage has half a sentence defending the wedded state and with the rest of the passage being about food. My view is that the entire passage is about marriage.
** "Ektisen" means made or created; and is used in the NT, in among other ways, for the Lord's creative work in the church. e.g, Eph. 2:15.
*** "Ejected" [apoblhton]. In ecclesiastical writings, excommunicated.
**** Rather than the Eucharist or Agape being defiled by married folk, couples and their marriages are blessed in their participation in Christian fellowship.

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