Last year in New Testament Studies Nathan Eubank provided what is, I believe, a new interpretation of “the commandment” (η εντολη) in 1 Timothy 6:14. His article is titled “Almsgiving is ‘the Commandment’: A Note on 1 Timothy 6.6–19.”
Eubank argues that “the commandment” was a common idiom in Rabbinic Judaism for almsgiving. He provides several supportive texts, though the dates of some are uncertain. This, it is suggested, solves the problem of 1 Timothy 6:11-16 (an exhortation to Timothy) protruding between two paragraphs which deal with money issues (6:6-10 & 6:17-19). On this reading the exhortation to Timothy is also about money. 6:6-10 urges contentment and warns against the love of money. In 6:11-16 Timothy is told to flee this love of money, pursue righteousness and to give alms (v. 14). Then, those who already have money are warned not to look to wealth as their security.
This is a well-argued article and worthy of attention from anyone working on 1 Timothy. I appreciate Eubank’s interest in finding cohesion in the argument and flow of thought in the letter. However, I am not yet convinced. I am not concerned here to give a full rebuttal but simply to note a few things.
Eubank notes some possible difficulties with some of his rabbinic examples if you have an early date for 1 Timothy (which is my position). Beyond that, I am not sure that a reference to almsgiving in 6:14 solves the perceived problem with 6:11-16. Those who see disunity are likely still to wonder about these six verses “interrupting” the flow. If we recognize the regular movement back and forth from focus on Timothy to focus on opponents and/or the congregation in the letter, then we are not surprised to see it in chapter 6 as well. 6:11-16, then, does not need to address wealth in order to cohere. The flow of thought would then be something like this: Timothy is to teach truth (6:2-3) unlike the opponents who are caught up in greed (6:4-10). In contrast to these opponents Timothy is to pursue righteousness as he awaits Christ’s return (6:11-16). Then Timothy is to warn the rich in the congregation not to follow the ways of the opponents but to pursue eternal things as they also await the “future” (6:17-19).
Eubank is to be thanked for raising this possibility, pointing out this rabbinic background and making a plausible argument. His argument is more involved than what would be summarized here. I commend the article to you and welcome your thoughts in the comments.