I Timothy 1:9; What it Really Means

by Peter Salemi


Many "no-law" preachers have proof texts that they pull out of the Bible to try and prove that the law of God is "done away." Every time they do this, the text they use is either misunderstood, misinterpreted or taken out of context. These "no law" preachers are taught in their seminaries and their churches these so-called proof texts to prove the law of God is done away without any of them challenging these claims. They just accept it without question. Shouldn't one examine these claims before accepting it as truth? Doctrines should be established with a solid foundation of facts, proper interpretation of the Bible-the Bible speaking to us, and not adding our ideas into it; which result in contradictions!

This scripture, (1 Timothy 1:9) is just another proof text taken out of context and misinterpreted to try and prove the law of God is done away. The scripture says, "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers," No law preachers say that we who are Christians do not need to keep the law because it is not for Christians but for the unrighteous. Is that the true meaning of this scripture?

Question,  (according to this line of thinking); if the law is for the "unrighteous," to keep and not the Christian, and the unrighteous do not keep it-that is why they are called the "unrighteous" since God's law is righteousness (Psalm 119:172, so breaking it is "unrighteousness;" then what is the point of giving them the law if they do not keep it?

Let's break this down and see the true meaning of this passage.

First, "That νόμος here means the Law of Moses [which is the law of God given to Moses] is further evident from this, that in the following list the apostle clearly follows the general order of the Decalogue, taking first the offences against the first table, and then sins against the fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth commandments" (Pulpit Commentary, emphasis added). Clearly the Old Testament law is the focus in these passages.

If this means that the Christian does not need to keep the law, then why did Paul say to Christians, "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us [Christians], who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (Rom 8:4)?

Why did Paul say, " For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: ...I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God;..." (Rom 7:22, 25)

Finally, Paul says, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:" (Acts 24:14). Is there a contradiction in the Apostle Paul's theology? No! The only problem is in the no-law preachers theology. The theology of the Bible is consistent throughout the Old and the New Testaments!

Context is Key

The Apostle Paul was giving Timothy instruction about ministering in the church, he and others, saying, "As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. " (vv.3,4). The Apostle was instructing Timothy to teach "no other doctrine." What is this doctrine?

First off some say that the "endless genealogies" are the ones found in the law of God like the book of Numbers and Chronicles. Even in the New Testament Gospels we see all the genealogies of the people of Israel, and also the entire world in book of Genesis. But this is not what is meant. What is meant was, what is “...found in Philo, Josephus and the book of Jubilees, by which the Jews traced the descent from the Patriarchs and their families, and perhaps also to Gnostic ‘genealogies’ and orders of aeons and spirits. Amongst the Greeks, as well as other nations, mythological stories gathered around the birth and ‘genealogy’ of their heroes [hence Paul’s reference to ‘fables’]. Probably Jewish ‘genealogical’ tales crept into the Christian communities” (Vines Expository Dictionary, p.262, emphasis added).

Josephus, “appeals to the priestly registers and is proud of the royal descent of his mother; he shows that even the priests residing in Egypt had their sons registered authentically in Jerusalem, so as to safeguard their priestly prerogatives (C. Apion., I, vii).” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, under article “Genealogy”).

Philo, “to the various stories and fables told about Moses and the Patriarchs” (ibid).

As for the Gnostics, “[These were] genealogies of spirits and aeons, as they called them, ‘Lists of Gnostic emanations’ [ALFORD]. So TERTULLIAN [Against Valentinian, c. 3], and IRENĆUS [Preface]... ‘Endless’ refers to the tedious unprofitableness of their lengthy genealogies (compare Titus 3:9). Paul opposes to their ‘aeons,’ the ‘King of the aeons (so the Greek, 1Titus 1:17), whom be glory throughout the aeons of aeons.’ The word ‘aeons’ was probably not used in the technical sense of the latter Gnostics as yet; but ‘the only wise God’ (1Titus 1:17), by anticipation, confutes the subsequently adopted notions in the Gnostics’ own phraseology.” (JFB Commentary). So clearly, the Biblical genealogies are not meant in this passage.

He continues, "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:" (v.5). The word "end is "telos" and it means the aim, or goal of the commandment is "charity" which should read "Love." (see Robertson's Word Pictures). The "aim" of the commandment or the "charge" (see v.3)-it's the same Greek word, he gave Timothy was love, love for the church, so they would not fall into this vanity of fables and genealogies as some did, "From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;" (v.6). This is why Paul "charged" or commanded Timothy and others to teach sound doctrine, so people would not stray from the truth, because Paul loved the church of God, and wanted them to continue in the Salvation God gave them.

Notice what Paul says after about some of these ministers of the church, "Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." (v.7). Interesting, the "Greek, νομοδιδασκαλοι, [nomodidaskalos] a word which, in the evangelists, is rendered doctors of the law, of the same import with the Hebrew word rabbis" (Joseph Benson Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, emphasis his; see also Strong's # 3547). Rabbi's in the church of God. Rabbi means "teacher." A teacher that taught the law of God! These ministers desired to teach the law of God in the church! They knew the law, desired to teach it, but did not understand it!

Question, Why teach the law of God in the church if it is not for Christians? If It was only for the unrighteous?

This is the "doctrine" Paul was speaking of! Preaching and teaching out of the law of God to keep people from going astray into fables and genealogies and all other kinds of myths and legends! People who do this as history has shown, their religion becomes something that is the exact opposite of the true religion of God. Eventually this takes on a life of its own and becomes a religion with God's name to it, but that is it! It is in name only. The substance is anything but Christian.

Then Paul says, "But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; " (v.8). Paul says "we," we Christians know that the law is Good "if a man use it lawfully." Used correctly, as opposed to the so-called ministers who desire to be "teachers of the law," who did not understand it, as a result of their errors, the law was not used correctly the way God intended. This is also found in the Old Testament as well. The Levites who were ministers and teachers of the law, used God's law in the wrong way and caused people to stumble because of their misinterpretation and misapplication of the Law of God. Notice,  "And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. 

"My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. 

"The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. 

"For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. 

"But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. 

"Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law." (Malachi 2:4-9). They left things out of the law, or applied only certain things in the law left other things out. Or added things to the law which God forbids (see Deuteronomy 12: 32) like these fables and genealogies. Jesus dealt with these things with the teachers of the law in his day, (see Matthew 23:23).

So clearly the law of God was taught in the church of God. There were teachers or Rabbis in the church teaching the law of God. So why does Paul say in verses 9 and 10, "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 

"For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;"? 

The Penalty of the Law does Not Apply

Is it really the keeping of the Law that Paul is speaking of ? Or is it something else?

Notice the context, "...the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;" Who are these people? These are they who break the law of God! Those that break the law of God receive the penalty that the law requires for those who are disobedient!

In the beginning of the verse it says, "that the law is not made for" in the literal Greek it should read, "ου κειται, does not lie against, a righteous man" (Joseph Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments).

The source writes, "The term lies does not express a penal effect upon the just man, though the severe strain of the following verses indicates that such is the implication. Legal penalty is not for the good, but for the criminal." (Whedon Commentary, emphasis added). Clearly the Apostle Paul was speaking of the penalty for breaking the law of God for the sinner who does not repent, not for the righteous. The law is "against" them and requires a penalty to be paid. The righteous keep the law of God therefore the penalty does not apply. Paul said, ""Because the law worketh wrath [wrath comes upon people who disobey see Col 3:6]: for where no law is [broken], there is no transgression." (Rom 4:15).

This source rightly states, "...what is says, therefore, chiefly relates to crimes, and their punishments" (Thomas Coke Commentary on the Whole Bible, emphasis added).

Clarkes Commentary makes an interesting historical connection to this, "The word κειται, lies, refers to the custom of writing laws on boards, and hanging them up in public places within reach of every man, that they might be read by all; thus all would see against whom the law lay." Therefore, "This seems to be the mind of the apostle; he does not say that the law was not Made for a righteous man, but ου κειται, it does not Lie against a righteous man; because he does not transgress it: but it lies against the wicked; for such as the apostle mentions have broken it, and grievously too, and are condemned by it." (emphasis added).

The source correctly observes that, "The law is not made for a righteous man. 1Peter 2:14 says that, governors are not only for the punishment of evildoers, but also for the praise of them who do well. Also in Rom 13:3-4 it is clearly shown that the same ruler who is to punish them who do evil is also expected to praise the righteous. Hence we know that Paul is here speaking only of the penal section of law. Lawless and disobedient refers to the members of society who are disturbers of the peace. Ungodly and sinners could well be used interchangeably if taken separately, but when combined in one phrase there is some distinction." (Zerr Combined Bible commentary, emphasis added).

So this verse should really say, "...the [penalty of the] law does not lie against a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners"

The penalty does not a apply to the righteous person. The righteous follow the law of God. As the Bible says, "All thy commandments are righteousness." (Psalm 119:172); and that "...the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom 8:4).

The curse of the law which is the death penalty has been lifted from the Christian because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins, and the sins of the entire world if the whole world accepts Jesus and repents and follows him.

Paul says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:" (Gal 3:13). Jesus removed the penalty for our sins, and save us from them. Now it is the Christians duty to "continue in them" (Isaiah 64:5)-that's God's law to receive eternal life. The Christian must continue in God's way of Salvation, and receive the "reward every man according to his works" (Matthew 16:27). God's works done in a persons life, the reward of eternal life shall be given. Paul said, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good [God's works see Ephesians 2:10] or bad [our works see Ephesians 2:8-9]." (2 Corinth 5:10).

Jesus said, "And he that overcometh, and keepeth MY works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: ...But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (Rev 2:26; Matthew 24:13).

God's law will always be in place, and it is for all to follow!