John Calvin Complete Commentary - 1 Timothy 5:4 - 5:4

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John Calvin Complete Commentary - 1 Timothy 5:4 - 5:4


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4If any widow There are various ways of explaining this passage; and the ambiguity arises from this circumstance, that the latter clause may refer either to widows or to their children. Nor is this consistent with the verb (let them learn) being plural, while Paul spoke of a widow in the singular number; for a change of number is very customary in a general discourse, that is, when the writer speaks of a whole class, and not of an individual. They who think that it relates to widows, are of the opinion that the meaning is, “ them learn, by the pious government of their family, to repay to their successors the education that they received from their ancestors.” This is the explanation given by Chrysostom and some others. But others think that it is more natural to interpret it as relating to children and grandchildren. Accordingly, in their opinion, the Apostle teaches that the mother or grandmother is the person towards whom they should exercise their piety; for nothing is more natural than ( ἀντιπελαργία) the return of filial for parental affection; and it is very unreasonable that it should be excluded from the Church. Before the Church is burdened with them, let them do their duty.

Hereto I have related the opinion of others. But I wish my readers to consider if it would not agree better with the context in this manner: “ them learn to conduct themselves in a godly manner at home.” As if he had said, that it would be valuable as a preparatory instruction, that they should train themselves to the worship of God, by performing godly offices at home towards their relatives; for nature commands us to love our parents next to God; that this secondary piety leads to the highest piety. And as Paul saw that the very rights of nature were violated under the pretense of religion, (87) in order to correct this fault, he commanded that widows should be trained by domestic apprenticeship to the worship of God.

To shew piety towards their own house Almost all the commentators take the verb εὐσεβεῖν in an active sense, because it is followed by an accusative; but that is not a conclusive argument, for it is customary with the Greek authors to have a preposition understood. And this exposition agrees well with the context, that, by cultivating human piety, they should train themselves in the worship of God; lest a foolish and silly devotion should divest them of human feelings. Again, let widows learn to repay what they owe to their ancestors by educating their own offspring.

For this is good and acceptable before God Not to shew gratitude to our ancestors is universally acknowledged to be monstrous; for that is a lesson taught us by natural reason. And not only is this conviction natural to all, that affection towards our parents is the second degree of piety; but the very storks teach us gratitude by their example; and that is the etymology of the word ἀνιπελαργία (88) But Paul, not satisfied with this, declares that God hath sanctioned it; as if he had said, “ is no reason why any one should think that it has its origin in the opinion of men; but God hath so ordained.”

(87) “C’ a dire, qu’ oublivit l’ que nature enseigne.” — “ is, that they forgot the love which nature teaches.”

(88) “ word is compounded of ἀντὶ, (‘ of,’ or, ‘ return for,’ and πελαργὸς, ‘ stork.’ The stork is a bird of passage, and is mentioned, along with the crane and the swallow, as knowing the appointed time, (Jer_8:7.) Its name, in the Hebrew, means Mercy, or Piety; and its English name, taken (indirectly at least) from the Greek στοργὴ, signifying natural affection. This accords with our knowledge of its character, which is remarkable for tenderness, especially in the young towards the old birds. It is not uncommon to see several of the old birds, which are tired and feeble with the long flight, supported at times on the backs of the young; and the peasants (of Jutland) speak of it as well know that such are carefully laid in their old nests, and cherished by the young ones whom they reared the spring before. The stork has long been a peculiar emblem of filial duty.” — Eadie’ Cyclopoedia.

“ stork’ an emblem of true piety,

Because when age has seized and made its dame

Unfit for flight, the grateful young one takes

His mother on his back, provides her food,

Repaying thus her tender care of him

Ere he was fit to
fly.” — Beaumont.