Understanding I Timothy 4:1-6
In I Timothy 4:1-6, Paul wrote: “1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 6 If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.”
Paul, speaking about the last days, mentions those who will depart from the faith and follow the teachings of demons. These ‘hypocritical liars’ will teach men to abstain from marriage and “from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” Some people have tried to apply these verses to the dietary laws in Leviticus 11 on clean and unclean animals. This interpretation runs into some problems. First of all, Paul says that this false teaching comes from demons. Did a demon speak the dietary laws in Leviticus 11? Absolutely not! The Bible says that the LORD spoke them. This eliminates the possibility that this hypocritical teaching refers to the dietary laws! The teaching Paul refers to came from demons, not God. What foods did God create to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth? Interestingly enough, Paul uses the Greek word broma in verse 3. It is translated as ‘certain foods’. This is a direct reference to the clean animals of Leviticus 11, which are called food for God’s people. Thus, this false teaching prohibits people from eating clean animals. The truth Paul refers to in verse 3 is the truth of God’s word and His Law. In Paul’s time, no New Testament existed. The only text that believers had to call truth is the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Jesus said that the Word is Truth (John 17:17). There is no other truth for Paul to reference and there are no other foods other than broma that God created to be eaten (brosis is another Greek word that means the same thing).
Paul then says that everything we eat should be consecrated (or made holy) by two things: the word of God and prayer. In the word of God, pigs, shellfish, and other unclean animals were never set apart for humans to eat. From the beginning, unclean animals were made for certain purposes, but never for human consumption! Prayer will not make a pig chew the cud or a shrimp grow fins and scales because God did not make those animals that way. These false teachers will teach people to abstain from the clean animals that God’s word clearly says are permissible to eat and to abstain from marriage. The word ‘and’ in verse 3 is critical in understanding these verses. Only one church, the Catholic Church, teaches that certain people (their priests) should not marry and that believers should not eat any meat on Friday (other than fish). I know many Catholic people who are very good moral people. They did not start these teachings. I am simply pointing out that these two teachings are not Biblical. God never said to abstain from meat on Fridays in the Bible, and the Bible does not prohibit marriage for ministers. If you do not know God’s truth that some animals were made to eat and cannot be forbidden by man, then you will be deceived by this teaching. In verse 6, Paul commends Timothy for exposing this false doctrine. He also points out that we will be good ministers of Christ Jesus if we teach others that God made some animals to eat. We will be upholding a truth of the faith.
For more on this topic and a complete view of the New Testament on the dietary Laws, please order our book “Clean and Unclean: A Guide to Living the Holy Life”. Order information is located in the “Store section”.