What fables, genealogies and other gospels were Paul talking about?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: Paul told his readers not to give heed to fables and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4-5). Also in Galatians 1:6, he said “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” What were the fables and endless genealogies that Paul was referring to and who was preaching other gospels with false doctrine than what Paul preached during his time? Were these different than the genealogies mentioned in Matthew and Luke?

Answer: Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to share the answer to your questions today. I say “share” because this question has already been answered in the Got Questions Ministries’ BibleRef tool that is available online and free.

BibleRef.com is Got Questions Ministries’ version of a Bible commentary. But it is optimized for the internet — the same way their website is optimized to answer questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture. In everything they publish, they are direct and concise, but they also give links to other sources.

A typical BibleRef page has six translations of the verse in question, a context summary, the main content and a chapter context section.

Now, traditional commentaries usually offer more information than they do at BibleRef, but they are rarely concise. And while BibleRef does not yet have a commentary for every book in the Bible, they have completed 1 Timothy and Galatians. So, I’ll copy the entire web page for the verses in question. Look these sections over, and you’ll see how these web pages answer your questions.

(Follow this link to the BibleRef page for the content below: https://www.bibleref.com/1-Timothy/1/1-Timothy-1-4.html)

1 Timothy 1:4 Parallel Verses 

1 Timothy 1:4, NIV: "or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God's work--which is by faith."

1 Timothy 1:4, ESV: "nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith."

1 Timothy 1:4, KJV: "Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do."

1 Timothy 1:4, NASB: "nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to useless speculation rather than advance the plan of God, which is by faith, so I urge you now."

1 Timothy 1:4, NLT: "Don't let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don't help people live a life of faith in God."

1 Timothy 1:4, CSB: "or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God's plan, which operates by faith."

Context Summary

First Timothy 1:3–11 explains the difference between a correct application of the law versus an ''illegal'' use of it. Paul's point is that the law is meant to make us aware of our sin, not to drive us into legalism. The false teachers of Ephesus are bickering over the law and missing the point. This is driven by their desire for prestige, even though they lack knowledge. Paul gives a list of sins parallel to the Ten Commandments showing how the law is meant to convict such people of sin as a means to explain the gospel of Christ.

What does 1 Timothy 1:4 mean? (Main commentary)

Paul has specifically asked Timothy to remain in Ephesus in order to combat inaccurate doctrines. Two serious problems with the false teachers in Ephesus are myths and genealogies.

In this context, "myths" are traditions not found in the Scriptures, which add to or contradict biblical teaching. Not all traditions are bad, but those which conflict with God's Word certainly are. Discussing these myths is one thing, but far worse is to be devoted to them.

The idea of genealogies connects with Pharisaical tradition. Jewish religious leaders prided themselves on having a family heritage connected to Abraham or some other important Jewish forefather. Genealogies are important in Scripture, but are not part of making a person more holy in the eyes of God. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles who believed became one family based on the work of Jesus rather than works of the law. This was why Paul could write he was, "a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Timothy 2:7).

Peter had dealt with the controversy of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ much earlier (Acts 10). In Acts 15, approximately AD 50, the Jerusalem church and its leaders decided not to impose the Jewish laws upon Gentile Christians, urging them to follow a few areas of practice while acknowledging the importance of the Torah.

Chapter Context

Paul introduces himself and emphasizes the positive relationship he has with Timothy. The specific mission Timothy has in Ephesus is to oppose false teaching. Some of the Ephesians have rejected the importance of conscience and attempt to teach without having the required knowledge. As a result, they bicker over pointless issues and misuse the law given by God. Paul recognizes his own need for forgiveness and salvation, and encourages Timothy with a reminder that they share a common savior.

To clarify what Paul meant by “another gospel” I’ll copy in the data from Galatians 1:6 below.

(Follow this link to the BibleRef page for the content below: https://www.bibleref.com/Galatians/1/Galatians-1-6.html)

Galatians 1:6 Parallel Verses

Galatians 1:6, NIV: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--"

Galatians 1:6, ESV: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—"

Galatians 1:6, KJV: "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:"

Galatians 1:6, NASB: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel,"

Galatians 1:6, NLT: "I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News"

Galatians 1:6, CSB: "I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--"

Context Summary

Galatians 1:6–10 is unusual; Paul's letters usually open with some kind of praise or thanksgiving for his readers. Not Galatians. He immediately expresses how baffled he is that these people who received the good news about salvation by God's grace and through faith in Christ have so quickly deserted Christ. Anyone who teaches any other gospel than the one Paul taught to them is cursed and/or will be eternally condemned. Paul points to that harsh statement as evidence that he is not trying to please any men. He serves and lives for the approval of God.

What does Galatians 1:6 mean? (Main Commentary)

Paul began his letter with a brief, beautiful explanation of what the gospel message—the "good news"—about Jesus truly is. Jesus gave His life to pay for human sin before being returned to life by God the Father. Scholars call this "substitutionary atonement," meaning Jesus took our place and paid the full penalty for our sin. Without that, we would be trapped and doomed to death instead of delivered from "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).

Now Paul turns fully to the reason for this letter. He speaks directly to people who believed the gospel of Jesus when Paul told them about it on his first missionary journey to their region. They heard the simple truth that through faith in Christ, they could be saved from their sin. No extra works were required to assure their place in God's family. Jesus had paid in full with His life.

As will become clear, Paul is frustrated with his readers, if not angry. He is, in fact, "astonished" that they are so quickly turning away from the simple truth. More specifically, Paul writes that they are deserting or abandoning Christ Himself by believing a different idea, a different "gospel," than the one he showed them.

What's going on? As the following verses will make clear, a group of religious people had moved in among the Galatian Christians after Paul left, distorting what Paul had taught. They said, in short, specific works or actions were necessary to truly be saved. Simple faith in Christ alone was not enough. Paul writes here that to reject his faith-alone gospel was to reject Christ Himself.

Chapter Summary

Paul begins his letter to the Galatian churches abruptly, compared to his other writings. He has heard they are deserting the gospel which he preached and they believed: the good news that Jesus died to fully pay for all our sins on the cross. The Judaizers taught that these Gentiles must also follow the law of Moses to be saved and openly questioned Paul's authority. Paul makes the case that he has been made an apostle by Christ, who appeared to him and revealed the truth to him apart from the other apostles.

As you can see, the issues that were troubling you have already been addressed through direct commentary on the verses. Feel free to use Got Questions Ministries’ BibleRef resource in the future — and tell your friends!

God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210517 What fables, genealogies and other gospels were Paul talking about?).

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