1 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness

I mean how to differ between "this one is not silly myth" —versus— "that one is silly myth" while it's possible that (for example) a stick turned into a snake is a silly myth?

  • Do you have an ESV Study Bible? If so, the answer is given in the notes for 1 Timothy 1:4 which says "The Greek word 'mythos' is a negative term characterizing beliefs as fanciful, untrue, and even deceptive. Such myths were often used to excuse immoral behaviour."
    – Lesley
    Jul 21, 2018 at 17:20
  • Possible duplicate of Why there is a different translation in 1 Timothy 4:7?
    – JBH
    Jul 21, 2018 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


The pertinent Greek phrase here is "graodeis mythous paraitou" which is (literally), "old-womanish myths rubbish". Idiomatically, the ESV is correct, or in more modern (politically incorrect) jargon, "old wives tales". The distinction between the truth of God's Word and these old-wives tales is two-fold.

  • First, the above phrase is prefixed by "bebelous" which is "godless and worldly" (ANLEX)
  • It is followed by the instruction for Timothy to train himself in godliness

That is, "old-wives tales" are set in opposition to truth (2 Tim 4:4) and godliness. Further, these "myths" or fables, are also set in opposition to the truth about Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:16).

  • @Mac's Musings old women sit around and talk, things change, even if the story sort of kind of sounds the same. And that is the same difference between biblical exegesis vs. hearsay logic concerning the Bible. .. which is what a truth seeker is looking through concerning the Word... Good thoughts
    – Lowther
    Jun 29, 2019 at 0:08

This one is a few weeks old and it may not get much attention, but I am convinced that Paul was referring to a method of interpretation that was common in the first century. In the first century, Jewish interpreters would employ a method known as midrash.

The term midrash has been used in a variety of ways, but the essential element in midrash was the creation of fictional fables that were added to the interpretation of Biblical texts in the hopes of explaining the text.

In 1996 Charles Quarles wrote an excellent article entitled Midrash as Creative Historiography: Portrait of a Misnomer. It is available online, but it is somewhat technical: https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/39/39-3/39-3-pp457-464_JETS.pdf

The article is mostly dealing with the concept that the gospels were written as midrash as an attempt to undermine the historical accuracy of the gospels.

Note the conclusion that Quarles makes regarding Midrash despite its current popularity:

While a rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, when the genre midrash is given the more historically accurate label “Jewish myth” a definite stench suddenly arises. When one moves beyond the slippery term “midrash,” the genre that midrash critics portray as a “recognized and acceptable form of communication” to Matthew and his early Christian readers becomes unacceptable.

This idea of midrash as Jewish Myth or Jewish fables is important when looking at Paul's reference in 1 Tim. 4:7 and elsewhere. William Mounce, in his commentary on the General Epistles mentions a number of passages that Paul was referring to the Jewish practice of creating fables as a way to interpret Scripture.

Mounce declares the following:

Repeatedly Paul calls the teaching “myths” (1 Tim 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4; Titus 1:14). “Myths and genealogies” (1 Tim 1:4; Titus 3:9) are probably haggadic midrash: allegorical reinterpretations of the OT, perhaps as fanciful interpretations of the OT genealogies (Roloff, 64), especially of the patriarchs and their families. [bold added]

William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2000), lxix–lxx.

It is important to recognize that Paul was referring to fictional additions to the Biblical text and not a questioning of the actual text. In the question there appears to be an attempt to make an actual Biblical text (Exodus 7:10 ) into a myth. That is not the same as midrash and it is certainly not what Paul had in mind by the use of the phrase. He was referring to additions that were made outside the actual text of Scripture. To call Exodus 7:10 a silly myth is to reject the historicity of the Bible, which is a different category altogether.

As a practical matter this passage (1 Tim. 4:7) and the other Paul uses are a warning to those of us who preach and teach. It is a warning against the notion of allegorizing the Bible. It is also a warning when it comes to some of the illustrations we use as well. The illustrations can't be seen as additions that change the meaning of the original text, which can happen.

  • I didn't realize that midrash went so far astray from exegesis. Thanks for the info. +1
    – Ruminator
    Sep 27, 2018 at 15:00

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