What does 1 Timothy 4:3 mean?
ESV: who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
NIV: 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.
NASB: who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.
CSB: They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.
NLT: They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks by faithful people who know the truth.
KJV: Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
NKJV: 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.
Verse Commentary:
Paul mentions two specific points in which the false teachers of his day were mistaken. These are both consistent with the heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostics believe that all physical matter is evil; therefore, the human body, all forms of sexuality, and pleasant food were labelled as evil. As a result, the Gnostics rejected marriage and taught people not to eat certain foods.

While Paul was unmarried (1 Corinthians 9:5–6), Christianity has never prohibited marriage. Nor has it upheld celibacy as a "holier" approach than married sexuality. This ascetic practice was a false teaching arising from those at Ephesus who held to early versions of Gnostic teachings (Colossians 2:20–23).

A focus on Jewish law would have promoted kosher dietary restrictions upon Gentile Christians, even though the early church had rejected this (Acts 15). According to Paul, the physical things God created for our benefit should not be rejected. Paul's reference here is not to the early church, but goes all the way back to God's creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. No food is to be rejected out-of-hand (1 Timothy 4:4), but should be embraced with a grateful attitude. The ability to thank God for good things, instead of rejecting them, is credited to those with correct understanding of God's Word and His will.
Verse Context:
First Timothy 4:1–5 transitions Paul's letter towards a discussion of false teachings. In this passage, Paul is especially concerned with teachers who encourage a practice known as asceticism. This is the rejection of worldly comforts in an effort to become more spiritual. In Paul's day, groups such as the Gnostics taught that sexuality and food were physical, and therefore corrupted. On the contrary, as Paul explains, everything God created can be more than just ''good.'' It can actually be ''holy,'' when used as God intended.
Chapter Summary:
First Timothy 4 provides an important perspective in advance of Paul's upcoming instructions. After giving Timothy details on how to choose church leaders, and the proper conduct of church members, this chapter is mostly focused on Timothy's own personal spiritual choices. In particular, Paul instructs him to be diligent, faithful, and prepared. The stakes are high—both for Timothy and those he is called to lead. This chapter emphasizes the importance of good spiritual practice, which is key when considering Paul's advice in the passages both before and after these words.
Chapter Context:
First Timothy chapter 4 serves as a bridge from Paul's introduction into the later part of his letter. Prior chapters indicated the qualifications for church leaders, and some instructions on the proper way for church members to conduct themselves. Here, in chapter 4, Paul reminds Timothy not to be swayed by the false teachings of others. This combination of encouragement and warning sets the stage for the rest of Paul's message. The final two chapters will provide a means for Timothy to identify and avoid errors in his spiritual life.
Book Summary:
First Timothy is one of Paul's three ''Pastoral Epistles.'' Paul's other letters, such as Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians, are meant for a broader audience. First Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are written to specific people whom Paul is advising on how to best lead their local churches. These three letters present a close look at the form and function of church leadership. First Timothy, like 2 Timothy and Titus, is less formal and systematic, and more personal. This gives great insight into the way pastors, deacons, and elders ought to prioritize their time and energy.
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