George Booker
Biblical Fellowship

38. “From Such Withdraw Thyself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words... and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words... from such withdraw thyself.”

This passage is quickly quoted to justify separatism, generally with little regard to its context. A close review of that context yields the following observations:

  1. “If any man teach otherwise”: The warning here should be limited to the “teacher”, the active trafficker in some sort of error (the context should tell us what sort). It should not necessarily apply to the passive, ill-informed hearer or receiver of such error. Neither should it apply to the ecclesia established on a sound basis that may number among its members one who teaches a different doctrine. There is absolutely no thought here about the disfellowship of a whole ecclesia for its failure to disfellowship an errorist!
  2. The “doctrine”, in the Scriptural sense “teaching”, against which Paul warns is a moral teaching contrary to godliness. Verses 1-5 should be taken as a whole: if any man counsels slaves to disobey their masters (v. 1) or to shirk their duties (v. 2), or if he proudly refuses righteous instruction, being envious and perverse (v. 4), or if he supposes that “gain is godliness” (v. 5), then this type of man should be marked.
  3. The phrase “From such withdraw thyself” is omitted altogether in most versions, including the Diaglott, RV, RSV, NEB, and NIV! Can we really be sure that these words are valid?
  4. There is little if any Bible precedent for using the word “withdraw” to describe the disfellowship of erring brethren. But to some it is a very attractive word, because it seems to convey an open-mindedness with regard to “judging” one’s brethren. In other words, ‘We do not condemn you nor cut you off. We simply withdraw from you as a matter of conscience.’ But this is really trifling with words. Of course, in the final sense, we cannot cut anyone off from Christ. If, however, we “withdraw” from our brethren, we do cut them off from our personal association, and no amount of careful wording can relieve us of the responsibility of such action — either for good or ill. The possibility of wrongdoing in hasty or improper excommunication (this is the more Biblical term!) is not mitigated by referring to the same act by a milder word. (The same point applies to the use of that euphemistic invention “stand aside”!)
  5. Even if the questionable phrase is allowed to stand, it may signify that Timothy was to withdraw himself from such ideas as the love of gain, and strife and disputings. Paul’s basic thought is continued in vv. 6-10, and summarized by the warning in v. 11: “Flee these things”. This is a far cry from “withdrawing” from the brethren guilty of such things (T. Haltom and G. Booker, Godliness With Contentment, p. 120).
  6. Those things that Paul condemns sound, strangely, very much like the qualities most common among many ecclesial agitators for “pure fellowship”:
    1. “Consenting not to wholesome [or healthful] words”: Often brethren consumed with a passionate hatred for some single “false doctrine” lose sight of the destructive effect their words and actions are having on others. Their constant contention may militate against the growth of the qualities that make for edification and godliness in the body as a whole.
    2. “Proud, knowing nothing”: These are those who pose as Bible students, often without realizing the extent of their own ignorance. Ecclesial life has not infrequently been plagued by such men.
    3. “Doting about questions”: The subject matter of many Christadelphian divisions can be seen, in retrospect, to have consisted of too much speculation in unprofitable questions, and of too long concentration on a very narrow area of interest while failing to appreciate the “big picture”.
    4. “Strifes of words” — logomachia — “word-battles”. Much trouble has come upon the brotherhood during the last century in just this form. Problems have arisen because of carelessness in the use of words, unwillingness to clarify meanings, and the tossing back and forth of slogans and epithets which may unfairly characterize the beliefs of others. Phrases like “clean flesh”, “Adamic condemnation”, “open door”, “enlightened rejector”, and a host of other technical trivia become the touchstones of controversy, with devastating results. Ordinary brethren are swept along and drowned in a sea of uncertainty — wondering who is right and who is wrong.
    5. “Envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings”: “Word-wars” bring all these qualities to the fore. They encourage brethren to deceive, to misrepresent, and to foster suspicions against their “adversaries”. “Word-wars” set battle lines, sides are chosen, cliques are formed. Sadly it reminds us of the world of political intrigue, with which no true believer should have any connection. “From such withdraw thyself.”

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