There are a lot of strange ideas that float about concerning the Bible.
Some people try to cast doubt on the authorship of Paul’s epistles. There are many today that strongly doubt I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus were written by Paul. Never mind that their “evidence” is hardly conclusive.
Others argue that we can’t know what the original writings of the New Testament were because we don’t have the originals, only copies. No, we don’t have the original New Testament writings. But evidence shows that the differences in the copies we do have affect no major doctrine of scripture, and that we can get pretty close to the original.
Yet other people think there are secret “codes” found in the Bible and that we have to ferret them out.
The thing is, we can argue about all these things ad infinitum ad nauseum. Ultimately, what it comes down to is, you can make arguments both ways. Which will you believe?
And to argue endlessly about these things will not only fail to convince those who don’t want to believe, but you waste a lot of time that could be spent reaching those who are open to the gospel.
That, I think, is one of the main issues that Timothy faced as he led the Ephesian church. They didn’t argue about the things we do today. But people were trying to spread myths, possibly expanding the stories of the Old Testament characters and arguing about their genealogies, ultimately leading to false teachings. What exactly these things were, we don’t know. But the result is similar to what we see today. A lot of time wasted trying to argue these things down and a neglect of the gospel as a result.
Most of the neglect came from those who taught those vain things, but some also came from those trying to defend them.
So Paul told Timothy,
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. (3-6)
In short, Timothy was to warn any who were teaching false things or engaging in these worthless speculations, and ultimately kick them out if they failed to repent. Paul already had done this with two men Hymaenaeus and Alexander (1:20) but there were still many others to deal with.
And the reason he was to do this was because it failed to promote the true work of God, namely the spread of the gospel, and the salvation that comes by faith. It failed to do so because the true gospel wasn’t preached by these teachers, and it caused all sorts of vain controversies that people like Timothy had to deal with rather than preaching the true gospel.
So what do we get from this? First, we need to deal with people in the church who get away from the gospel and start teaching things that are ultimately vain speculations. “What does the secret code in the Bible say?” “Who really wrote the book of I Timothy?” “Can we really know what the original New Testament documents say?”
Am I saying that we ignore them? No. Address them. Give answers. But if these “teachers” continue to stir up these things, rid the church of them.
And if you’re in a church where the pastor is doing this and you can’t vote him out, leave the church.
But second, don’t waste too much time arguing with people who believe these things. Because ultimately, it does come down to faith. Not blind faith. But faith based on evidence. For some people, though, they feel the evidence isn’t enough. For some people almost no evidence is enough. And no amount of argument will ever convince them. So don’t waste your time with them.
Instead, focus on preaching the gospel and on those whose hearts are open to it. Time is precious. Let’s not waste it.