Does 1 Timothy 4:14 say that Timothy was given the gift of prophecy by the laying on of hands?

I’m been a bit bloggier this week than I have been for a while, and it’s been sort of a potpourri of different things. Talking about unbiblical calendar ideas on the 23rd (OK, that’s a little more than a week ago), then attacking New Scientist’s ad and the intellectual dishonesty of treating man, apart from God, as something remarkable and unremarkable depending on your whims (or marketing goals) on the 27th, ranting about how some of the most popular multiverse ideas destroy science on the 28th, adding a post about our delightful visit to beautiful, reclaimed Mt. Airy Forest in Cincinnati (now with a handful of pictures from my wife added) in the wee hours of the 29th, passing on a terrible but, sadly, very real tale of one journalist’s imprisonment and torture by Al Qaeda in Syria later the 29th, and, finally, a truly earth-shattering entry concerning the age-old conflict between those who say “pleaded” and those who say “pled” (I can already hear the music from Les Misérables starting: “Do you hear the people sing? Singing of ‘pleaded’ versus ‘pled.’ It is the music of a conflict that just won’t be put to bed…”).

Tonight, to clear my brain before I go to sleep, I thought I would post something quick about a verse I have seen continually misused by someone out there who seems to see it as some sort of validation of his imagined ordination to the office of Prophet.

1 Timothy 4:14 reads, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”

Question: Does anything in this passage say that the “gift” given to Timothy was the gift of prophecy?

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer: Nooooooooo.

Evidence 1: Just read the passage. The English is not confusing. The gift is not prophecy. The gift is given to him by prophecy. If I am given money by my grandma, that doesn’t mean my grandma is money, right? Again: Just read the passage. The plainest evidence against interpreting 1 Timothy 4:14 to mean that the gift is one of prophecy is, well, the actual text of 1 Timothy 4:14.

(If you think that the Greek says any different you are free to check. In fact, here is a link to the same verse in multiple translations, along with commentary entries who say the same thing I’m saying. There is literally not an iota of this verse that says Timothy was given the gift of prophecy. He was, rather, given a gift by prophecy, or prophecies were made that he was to be given a gift.)

Evidence 2: This isn’t the only place that this is mentioned. Look in the same book a little earlier: 1 Timothy 1:18-20, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

This, in the very same letter, matches the accurate, plain reading of 1 Timothy 4:14, that prophecies were made about him–that God may have guided prophets at the time to see that he was to be given an ordination, thus “the gift… which was given to you by prophecy…” — again, not the gift of prophecy.

Evidence 3: This is also a good parallel of how Paul, himself, was commissioned by God in his ordination by prophecy — that is, the prophecy of others about him. Barnabas, too. Acts 13:1-3, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers… As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, they laid hands on them, then they sent them away.”

Note the parallel: God (through His Holy Spirit in the prophets present) speaks and says that Saul and Barnabas are to be set apart for ministry and the ministers lay hands on Saul and Barnabas to ordain them. How perfect a parallel to what Paul says of Timothy! Nowhere does it say that the gift of prophecy was given to Paul and Barnabas. Rather, it was by prophecy that they were given the gifts of ordination for their ministerial calling and sent into their work.

I really can’t understand why 1 Timothy 4:14 would be understood any other way. I could see the mistake being made by not reading carefully, and I’ve certainly made similar mistakes, if not worse ones (actually, I am sure I have definitely made worse ones). But, really, after reading the verse again, one should realize, “Oh! That’s not what that says! I must have read it too fast.”

(For the record, in terms of Church literature the only, single reference I can find published where this verse is misinterpreted is by Mr. William Ellis in an old 1965 Good News, though it should be pointed out that even there Mr. Ellis was careful to explain that he did not mean “prophecy” in the sense that Mr. Armstrong meant when one is an actual Prophet, but merely “inspired speaking,” which is not unique to Prophets and their office, at all. Regardless, this is the only reference I can find in old Church literature where the verse is explained in this mistaken fashion. The article is otherwise excellent. I’ve made worse mistakes, even on the telecast, where I once referred to Hab. 2:6-7 as a prophecy about America. I’d count that as a worse mistake, so I’m willing to give Mr. Ellis some room. 🙂 )

Now, that said, I can understand why some would want to understand it differently. Some want to enhance their life story in such a way that they can read more into happenings than should be read, and such an inaccurate understanding of that verse would help. However, the cost to one’s integrity for “interpreting” the verse that way for one’s own purposes would be just too much. The first time it’s pointed out to others in a “See, this justifies me!” sort of way, chalk it up to a mistaken reading. But constantly offering it up again, and again, and again, and again? That isn’t doing one’s integrity much good.

Sorry, but to interpret 1 Timothy 4:14 to mean that Timothy was given the gift of prophecy is just mistaken. Say it once–in an article, blog post, or whatever–it can be written off as a mistake of haste. Say it over and over and over, then we have issues. And to persist in reading it that way, one will have to do battle with (1) the English and Greek languages, (2) the words of Paul elsewhere in the very same book that parallel the matter, and (3) the life of Paul and his own example that paralleled his comments to Timothy.

And our approach, as always, is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. In this case, actually, given how plainly the verse actually reads, we can simply say, “Let your sixth-grade English teacher interpret the verse.” It reads pretty plainly.

So, did Timothy have the gift of prophecy? Not just inspired speaking (which is part of the gifts relating to preaching and not unique to prophets, at all), but the gift of prophecy in the sense of receiving God’s revelations directly apart from Scripture, as Mr. Armstrong explained about those who hold the office of Prophet? I don’t see anywhere where the Bible says one way or the other. And even if I am missing some other passage (I am pretty tired right now), 1 Timothy 4:14 sure doesn’t say one way or the other. It says hands were laid on him and a gift was given to him by prophecy, not that a gift of prophecy was given to him. The gift of ordination and the charge to evangelize was given to Paul and Barnabas by prophecy, as well, in the same manner. It’s all pretty plain. In fact, it’s the plain truth!

So, if someone ever accosts you on the street and says, “Hey, dude — hands were laid on me to make me a Prophet, just like Timothy experienced in 1 Timothy 4:14!” You can say, “Hey, fellow dude (or dudette, I suppose), you clearly need to re-read that verse. I’d rather see actual prophetic fruits, instead, à la Matthew 7:16-20. And none of that ‘wax fruit’ stuff — I want to see the real deal.” (After that, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting. 🙂 )

5 thoughts on “Does 1 Timothy 4:14 say that Timothy was given the gift of prophecy by the laying on of hands?

  1. Robertson’s Word Pictures and Vincent’s Word Studies concur also. Said person may be leaning on something like the alternate opinion mentioned by John Gill:

    which was given thee by prophecy; that is, it was prophesied of before hand, by some of the prophets in the church, that a very extraordinary gift should be bestowed upon this young man, which would make him a very useful person in the church of God; see 1Ti_1:18 and since it was now given, he ought not therefore to neglect it: or it was given him, as some read it, with prophecy, that he should use it, and it should be of great advantage to many souls; or, together with this gift of preaching, he had also a gift of foretelling things to come; or it may be, the words may be better rendered, “for prophecy”: that is, for preaching, for prophesying is frequently used for preaching; see 1Co_13:2 and then the sense is, that this gift was given him to qualify him for the interpreting of the Scriptures, the explaining of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and for the preaching of the Gospel; and therefore he should not neglect it, but use it for this purpose: and he adds, that it was given him

    with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery; or “of the eldership”, or elders. So γερουσια, “eldership”, is used by the Septuagint on Exo_3:16 for the elders of Israel. (…)

    I would think in any case said person’s argument really falls flat in another direction, one which is beyond your discussion but which you probably know about.

  2. Robert Petry

    You mentioned checking the Greek. Well, the Greek is quite clear also. The word translated “by” is “dia” in the Gk. It’s primary meaning is “through.” If one draws a circle, labels it “prophecy” and then draws a line through the circle, that is what the word describes. Although “by” is often used, it makes prophecy the source of Timothy’s gift, when it came through the tool of prophecy. So, it would be quite hard to disagree with your understanding that this does not state Timothy was given the gift of prophecy. As you indicate, the Greek is quite clear, even without your other references.

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