Published: 25 April 2022

What 1 Timothy 1 Tells Us About False Teaching

False Teaching

False teaching always has consequences. We can’t be taught wrong and live right. False teaching was taking place in Ephesus resulting in extremely poor conduct in the Ephesian church. Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy to teach the Christians in Ephesus how they should conduct themselves as members of God’s family

Paul never details for us exactly what the false teachings in Ephesus were. Nevertheless, we can learn a few things about false teaching in general in the first chapter of 1 Timothy.

False teaching results in a “different doctrine”

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3 ESV)

One of the jobs Paul assigned Timothy was to charge the false teachers “not to teach any different doctrine.” “Different doctrine” comes from the Greek word heterodidaskaleō and means “to teach contrary to standard instruction, give divergent, i.e. divisive, instruction.”1 What was Paul’s definition of standard doctrine? He answers this question later in the letter:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ… (1 Tim. 6:3 ESV)

Undermining the Good News

A “different doctrine” would be anything other than what Paul was teaching, which by extension, was something other than what Jesus taught. Jesus’s mission, as He described it, was, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43 ESV). This good news (gospel) is  about Jesus and what He did to bring about salvation. Jesus was the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12. Namely, through Abraham’s offspring God would bless all the world.

In 1 Timothy 2, there is a hint that the Ephesian false teachers might have been professing that the gospel was not for all people. If this is true, they were undermining and contradicting the good news of Jesus. Anyone who says Jesus’s sacrifice did not make a way for all people to come to God, Jews and Gentiles alike (Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Tim 2:6), teaches a “different doctrine.” The gospel is the hub which all other Christian doctrine connects to like spokes. Sound teaching is consistent with the gospel’s basic message. Any teaching which undermines or contradicts the good news is not sound.

False teaching results in useless obsessions

In addition to being assigned the job of commanding certain people to stop teaching another doctrine, Timothy was also to persuade them to abandon their devotion to the useless teachings. 

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

Whatever sorts of questionable opinions they were teaching resulted in speculations that were harmful to the church. In fact, Paul says that the speculation came at the expense of good stewardship! One of Timothy’s jobs was to get the Ephesians to end their unhealthy fascination with questionable ideas.

In addition to corrupting our behavior, false teachings serve to distract us from what is truly important. If the devil can distract us with some engaging (yet useless) philosophy, he has succeeded in diverting us from our real mission. We won’t have time to share the gospel with a world that is committing spiritual suicide if we are consumed by trivial matters.

Vain discussion

I wonder if the problem in Ephesus was akin to the obsession that some today have with end times prophecy. Some people are absolutely obsessed with it and engage in endless speculation. According to these people, every current event is the fulfillment of some sort of prophecy about the end of days. To borrow an observation from a friend of mine, if you ask them what the latest news from the Middle East means, the one thing they’ll never say is “it doesn’t mean anything.” Certainly this is an example of “vain discussion” Paul warned Timothy about in 1 Tim 1:4.

People obsess over the strangest things that are at best tangential to the church’s mission. In the end they have nothing to show for their preoccupation with trivial matters. If taken to the extreme, it leads to ignoring practical matters of Scripture. It can lead to splits and divisions over matters of opinion concerning issues which have nothing to do with the gospel.

False teaching does not produce love

Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:5 CSB17)

Paul’s goal in stopping the false teaching is to produce love. Evidently the devotion to myths and endless genealogies came at the expense of love within the church. Teaching opinions as facts has a way of polarizing people into different camps. A spiritual leader cannot maintain unity while pushing a divisive doctrine.

Valid biblical instruction will produce in us a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. When we possess these things, the result is love. This is the same as saying that false teaching produces division and hate and comes from an impure heart, a bad conscience, and an insincere faith!

Endure sound doctrine

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he warned about people who love false teaching and hate sound teaching!

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, (2 Tim. 4:3 ESV)

It is interesting that the Bible says that we must endure sound teaching. That seems an odd word to use in connection with the truth. However, it is more difficult to be right than wrong. Many truths are unpopular. Those who embrace the truth are sometimes ridiculed or worse. Yes, sometimes we must endure sound doctrine. 


  1. Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000: BDAG, s.v. “ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω,” 399.