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Almsgiving is ‘the Commandment’: A Note on 1 Timothy 6.6–19*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2011

Nathan Eubank
Duke University, 209 Gray Building, Box 90964, Durham, NC 27708, USA. email:


This article argues that ‘the commandment’ in 1 Timothy 6.13–14 refers to almsgiving. This shows that verses 11–16 are not an intrusion into a discussion of the proper use of wealth, but an integral part of the author's argument in 6.6–19.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 Bénétreau, Samuel, ‘La richesse selon 1 Timothée 6, 6–10 et 6, 17–19’, ETR 83 (2008) 50Google Scholar; cf. also Dschulnigg, Peter, ‘Warnung vor Reichtum und Ermahnung der Reichen: 1 Tim 6,6–10.17–19 im Rahmen des Schlußteils 6,3–21’, BZ 37 (1993) 6077Google Scholar. Some have explained the abrupt shift in thought by positing that either vv. 11–16 or 17–19 are interpolations. E.g. von Harnack, A., Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1897) 1.482Google Scholar; Miller, James David, The Pastoral Epistles as Composite Documents (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1997) 8895Google Scholar. More recently Malherbe, A. J., ‘Godliness, Self-Sufficiency, Greed, and the Enjoyment of Wealth: 1 Timothy 6:3–19 Part I’, NovT 52 (2010) 376405, esp. 400–405Google Scholar, argued that 6.11–16 is not an intrusion.

2 Translations are mine unless otherwise noted.

3 George W. Knight III groups previous interpretations of ‘the commandment’ into eight categories: (1) a commandment given at Timothy's baptism, (2) a commandment given at his ordination, (3) the whole of 6.11–12, (4) a command to persevere in his faith and ministry (cf. 4.16), (5) the content of the entire letter, (6) Timothy's entire responsibility to the gospel and the church, (7) everything entrusted to Timothy by Paul, and (8) ‘the gospel viewed as a rule of life’. The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle, England: Paternoster, 1992) 266Google Scholar. None of these solutions is impossible, but they are all rather speculative. Instead of responding directly to each of them I hope to offer the general rebuttal of an alternative solution that is more plausible.

4 E.g. Marshall, I. Howard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999) 664–5Google Scholar; Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 266–8.

5 The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006) 414Google Scholar.

6 Lieberman, Saul, ‘Two Lexicographical Notes’, JBL 65 (1946) 6772Google Scholar. See also Jastrow מצוה II.

7 Leviticus (The Midrash Rabbah 4; London: Soncino, 1961) 34–5Google Scholar, slightly altered here.

8 The Greek text is from de Jonge, M., The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Critical Edition of the Greek Text (PVTG 1/2; Leiden: Brill, 1978)Google Scholar.

9 i.e. the idiom occurs in the plural in Hebrew as well. ‘Two Lexicographical Notes’, 71.

10 Lieberman (‘Two Lexicographical Notes’, 70–1) also shows that the idiom appears in later Christian Greek. E.g. Callinicus' Vita S. Hypatii 9.4 where a paralytic seeks alms: ἐζήτει αὐτοῖς ἐντολήν.

11 Lieberman himself notes this in passing, ‘Two Lexicographical Notes’, 71.

12 Sin: A History (New Haven: Yale University, 2009) 174Google Scholar.

13 Zapff, Burkard M. suggests Deut 15.7–11. Jesus Sirach 25–51 (EB 39; Regensburg: Echter, 2010) 180Google Scholar.

14 Cf. Dan 4.24; Prov 10.2; 11.4; 14.21, 31; 19.17; 28.8.

15 Cf. Matt 6.1–21. This does not stand in tension with Matt 22.34-40 and par., for almsgiving was seen as an act of worship akin to sacrifice, i.e. as a way of loving God and neighbor. E.g. Tob 4.11; Sir 35.1; Sib. Or. 2.78–82. See Anderson, Sin, 164–88. For another possible use of ‘the commandment’ to refer to almsgiving see Did. 1.5.

16 Hom. Jos. 15.6.

17 ‘Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs’, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. Charlesworth, James H.; Garden City: Doubleday, 1983) 1.777–8Google Scholar.

18 de Jonge, M., The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Study of their Text, Composition and Origin (Van Gorcum's Theologische Bibliotheek 25; Assen: Van Gorcum & Comp. N.V., 1953)Google Scholar; Marcus, Joel, ‘The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Didascalia Apostolorum: A Common Jewish Christian Milieu?JTS 61 (2010) 596–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 The First and Second Letters to Timothy (AB 35A; New York: Doubleday, 2001) 5599.Google Scholar

20 E.g. Collins, Raymond F., 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002) 9Google Scholar; Fiore, Benjamin, The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus (SP 12; Collegeville: Liturgical, 1991) 1920Google Scholar.

21 Cf. 2 Tim 4.6–8.

22 This may seem ‘ganz unpaulinisch’, as Merkel, H. put it, Die Pastoralbriefe (NTD 9/1; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1991) 52CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Nevertheless, this is the epistle that says women will be saved through childbearing (2.15).

23 The argument presented here may serve as a corrective to the tendency to read the Pastoral Epistles, as well as other early Christian texts, as emerging from either a Jewish or a Greco-Roman milieu. In a recent magisterial article on wealth in 1 Tim 6, Abraham Malherbe sets out ‘to explore more extensively than has been done the traditions used in [1 Tim 6.17–19]’ (‘Godliness, Self-sufficiency, Greed, and the Enjoyment of Wealth’, 377; see also part II: NovT 53 [2011] 73–96). This article bristles with insights into 1 Timothy's indebtedness to popular philosophy. Nevertheless, one may object that in a 52-page investigation of the traditions used in 1 Tim 6 some mention should be made of Jewish traditions with equal if not greater explanatory power. Of course, one can hardly fault Malherbe for not reading ‘the commandment’ in the way suggested here—though it may not be unfair to say that this explanation has remained elusive because of an assumption on the part of some that Jewish sources are of little relevance to 1 Timothy. Nevertheless, there are other, more obvious examples. For instance, 1 Tim 6.17–19 and Tob 4.7–10, both exhortations to almsgiving, contain remarkably similar language. Those with money are to ‘treasure up’ (ἀπο/θησαυρίζω) for themselves (ἑαυτοῖς/σεαυτῷ) a good foundation or treasure (θεμέλιον καλὸν/θέμα ἀγαθóν) for the future (εἰς τὸ μέλλον/εἰς ἡμέραν ἀνάγκης). 1 Timothy says that this treasuring up will allow the wealthy to ‘take hold of true life’. Similarly, Tobit explains that almsgiving delivers from death. Never in his lengthy investigation of the traditions used in 1 Tim 6.17–19 does Malherbe mention this passage. Regardless of whether the author of 1 Timothy is consciously alluding to Tobit, this passage and others like it illuminate the logic of 1 Tim 6, a text which counsels giving away earthly treasure in order to obtain heavenly treasure and eternal life (e.g. Prov 10.2; 11.4; Dan 4.24; Sib. Or. 2.78–82.)