By Charles H. Welch
The Fathers. While every man and woman living must have had a father, the term "the fathers" is peculiarly reserved to refer to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, and in a wider sense to the house of Israel, and it is one of the unique blessings of Israel, that "the fathers" belong to them. If any reader of these lines should maintain that God made promises to his "fathers" is he in a position to prove who his "fathers" were? The writer of these lines is named "Welch", his forefathers for several generations were men of Devon, but beyond that he knows nothing. Israel, however, were in an entirely different position. Their genealogies were scrupulously kept and it was an essential part of their religion to maintain the integrity of each tribe. So, when Paul spoke of his brethren according to the flesh he included "the fathers" among their privileges.
When God spoke in times past, He spoke "to the fathers" (Heb. 1: 1). When Peter addressed Israel he spoke to them of the covenant which God had made with "our fathers" (Acts 3:25). When Paul stood before his judges he declared that he lived in hope of the promise made unto "our fathers" (Acts 26:6). The place that "the fathers" occupy in the purpose of God can be assessed by reading Romans 11:26-29:
In studying dispensational truth, therefore, the presence or absence of "the fathers" as a factor will be an index that must not be neglected. While the word "forefathers" found in 2 Timothy 1:3 translates an entirely different Greek word, namely progonoi, Paul's reference to it provides an illustration of this dispensational fact.
It will be observed that Paul places his reference to his "forefathers" in correspondence with that to Timothy's "grandmother and mother" , and his own "pure conscience" with the "unfeigned faith that was in Timothy, Lois and Eunice". What is the significance of this? Is it conformity or contrast? We learn that Timothy's mother and grandmother were Christians, for the same faith that dwelt in Timothy at the time of Paul's writing to him had dwelt also in his mother and his grandmother. Could Paul say the same of his progenitors? He could not. Were they not Israelites, Hebrews, Pharisees? Did not Paul's parents send him to the school of Gamaliel? Was he not trained after the "straitest sect" of his religion? What therefore does Paul intend by this double reference to his forefathers and to Timothy's parents?
Among other things in this hour of their trial he would remind Timothy of any and every advantage and encouragement that would stand him in good stead; of the careful training in the Scriptures he had received from infancy (2 Tim. 3:15); of the example that had been before him all the intervening years since he first received the call to follow the Apostle (Acts 16, 2 Tim. 3:10,11); and of the gift that was in him (2 Tim. 1:6); even as he had reminded him of the prophecies that went before the bestowal of that gift (I Tim. 4:14).
But he would not only remind Timothy of all these things, he would also help him if possible by contrast. The word which the A.V. translated "forefathers" is progonoi, and is used but once only elsewhere in the N.T., namely in I Timothy 5:4. To the intelligent and submissive student this fact is enough to settle the Apostle's meaning in the second passage. Timothy could have no idea that Paul spoke of distant and long-dead "ancestors" where he exhorts: "Let them learn first to show piety at home and to requite their parents" (I Tim. 5:4), and there is no necessity to depart from the same meaning in 2 Timothy 1:3. How could Paul say that he served God "from" his parents, or even "from" his forefathers, with a pure conscience? On the contrary, his conversion made the most severe and decisive rupture with his upbringing and former manner of life. In 1 Timothy 1:13 he recounts that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious, acting in ignorance and unbelief. In Galatians 1:13,14 he says:
Did Paul continue in this "Jews' religion"? Was he still an exceeding zealot for the "tradition of his fathers"? We know he was not. Philippians 3:1-9provides a most complete refutation of such an idea. Before Agrippa, the Apostle in answering for himself the charges laid against him, said:
A little earlier, before Felix, he had said:
Lastly, in Acts 23:1 Paul opened his defence with the words:
It is evident that Paul's point of view was not that of the Pharisee or of the traditionalists of his nation. He had most certainly left the religion of his parents, but his contention was that he had not left the God of his fathers; that he still believed all that the law and prophets taught, and that though it was now in a way that his contemporaries called "heresy" it was "so" that he worshipped the God of his fathers.
We must look more closely therefore at 2 Timothy 1:3 for, on the surface, this fact does not appear. We note that the Apostle uses the word apo, "from" , when he says "from my forefathers". This preposition which is usually translated "from" carries with it the idea of (a) source or (b) severance, that is, either "from" or "away from". In 2 Timothy 1: 1 we have the word in composition, "apostle" meaning one sent from another and combining the idea of "source" with "severance", the apostolic commission having been derived entirely from the Lord, though exercised during the period of the Lord's absence from the earth. In the second verse apo is used in the benediction, "Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father." Here "source" is most evidently the meaning of the preposition.
We find apo in combination in 2 Timothy 1 :15, where severance is uppermost; "All in Asia be turned away from me." So also in 2:19 and 21, "depart from" and "purge from". In 3:15 the expression "from a child" uses the idea of "distance" , transferred to time, as we would say "ever since you were a child". In 4:4 and 18, we have once more the idea of severance uppermost: "They shall turn away their ears from the truth"; "The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work."
It is therefore c1ear from the usage of the word that while "from" may sometimes refer to source, yet its primary meaning is severance, "away from". We, accordingly, understand the Apostle to say, that although he now worshipped and served God away from his parents and all their traditions, and even though such worship was called by his own people "heresy", he nevertheless had a pure conscience in so doing. We too could echo the Apostle's sentiments, saying: "The way they call 'Ultra-dispensationalism', so we worship and so we believe."