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In 1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV), Paul states, "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Does the contrast between such a person and an "unbeliever" imply that Paul still considers the person who has effectively denied the faith to be still a believer?

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In English the concepts of faith and belief are almost indistinguisable. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines faith:

1 complete trust or confidence

2 strong belief in a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof

and defines belief:

1 an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof

2 (belief in) trust or confidence in

There is no distinction in Greek whatsoever: there is only a single word, πίστις (pistis). Where one sees faith in a New Testament translation, one could (assuming pistis is being translated) probably substitute belief, and vice versa.


One who believes or has faith is πιστος (pistos). The word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 5:8 is ἄπιστος (apistos) - πιστος prefixed with the negation ἄ- (a-).

Thus, in the Greek it would be logically impossible for someone who has "denied the faith" (τὴν πίστιν ἤρνηται) to be still a "believer" (πιστος). It is like asking whether it is possible for someone who no longer believes to still be a believer.

Paul's language is very stern here. Not only is someone who has denied the faith (pistis) obviously an unbeliever (apistos); they are ἀπίστου χείρων - worse than an unbeliever.

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The immediate context of the remark is in the middle of a series of instructions about everyday troubles:

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. —1 Timothy 5:3-8 (ESV)

My reading of this section is that Paul has gotten on the topic of taking care of people who don't have family to take care of them and when he thinks of men who can take care of family, but don't, he reacts strongly. To him, such behavior is unacceptable for a believer. Since they think they are believers and yet do not practice very ordinary responsibility required both by human decency and by the faith, they are worse off than if they weren't believers in the first place. (Perhaps this is related to the concept of "sin that leads to death" in 1 John 5.)

Paul may also be talking about similar men in his second letter to Timothy:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be ... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.—2 Timothy 3:1-2a;4b-9 (ESV)

My eye is drawn to the phrase, "having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power." In this case, the men seem like believers, but are actually subverting the faith from the inside. These men would be "worse than an unbeliever" because they are tricksters and lead people astray. An ordinary unbeliever might lead people astray too, but they wouldn't have the appearance of godliness.

Summary

Paul is likely talking about people living within the community of the faith (i.e., the church), but who are not truly believers.

For (much) more information, see The City of God by Augustine of Hippo.

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    Good points. It seems like I once heard that the early church (pre-1-Timothy letter) were having trouble because they thought that Jesus was saying that we should ignore our parents. (Matt 10:37 and Matt 12:48-50, for examples)
    – Richard
    Nov 16 '11 at 21:13
  • @Richard: That seems all-to likely. I wonder if we could find a source for that...
    – Jon Ericson
    Nov 16 '11 at 21:16
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Just see an analogy, if it may be helpful:

a professional scholar is a person, who dedicated his life to a grace of curiosity he had conceived at a certain moment of his life, due to some great impression, that had ignited in him this curiosity. Henceforth, all his life is regulated through this curiosity and research, for per definition, a scholar means a cultivator through an ongoing research of a specific curiosity of which he became an expert.

But now imagine a scholar who through laziness, or through satisfaction with the honors he has received as a scholar for just bearing this name, will betray the essence of what a scholar should mean and loses his curiosity, does not cultivate it any more, just repeats as a CD his previous findings an gets salary for that. Cannot one rebuke such a guy: "a scholar who does not cultivate curiosity and does not engage in research accordingly, has denied the essence of his vacation and is worse than a non-scholar, an ordinary man, who just keeps a common non-expert curiosities about things, even if not making those curiosities a life vacation".

Now, to put a question, similar to yours: does such an apostate scholar still remain a scholar? I would say, NO! in essence he does not! He remains a "scholar" only by name, whereas in essence, taken from the perspective of curiosity that ignites soul, is worse than a non-expert common man, for the latter at least did not murder through sloth that, which is such a wonderful and noble feature - curiosity as to the mysteries of reality.

The same stands, I guess, for those Christians who started practicing the commandments of the Lord, started to grow in Christ and cultivate His word, cultivate faith (for faith is not a static givenness, but a dynamic thing that one can increase or decrease depending on one's free efforts), but then "the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, made it unfruitful" (Matt 13:22), such ones will be in a worse spiritual condition than non-Chrsitians to be sure; why? Because, the cultivation of the word of God implies cultivation of love not only towards one's household members, but also towards strangers and even towards enemies, but the one who makes one's love wither even towards his household members is worse than a guy who has not started cultivation of the higher, sublime and, one may say, even supra-natural Christian commandments, but at least loves his own household members through a natural human love. Thus, such deniers, of which Paul speaks about, should not be called "believers" any more for how can one be a believer when the word of God bears no fruit in him, if the very term "believer" means to be engaged in cultivation and nurturing of the word of God?

And we know from the Scriptures that "believers" who are such only by name will not be considered as such in the Last Judgment by Him who gave the salvific faith to humans (Matt 7:21-23).

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Yes, using this mathematics factoid:

3 > 1 ergo 3 <> 1

Paul is not suggesting that if a man fails to provide for his family that he's in danger of losing the gift of righteousness or that the holy spirit would abandon him. He's simply saying that that behavior is not even acceptable among unbelievers.

This is another example of this idea:

NLT 1 Corinthians 5:1 "I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother."

Under the Jewish covenants the spirit would be taken from those who transgressed in certain ways. However God made a covenant with David to only chastise, not punish him and his sons and to always show mercy:

[Isa 55:3 KJV] 3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, [even] the sure mercies of David.

As 144,000 Jews were marked in their foreheads so they would not be killed in the day of visitation on Jerusalem (70ad) so the "saints" are inviolably "sealed" with holy spirit:

[Isa 55:3 KJV] 3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, [even] the sure mercies of David.

[Eph 1:13-14 CSB] 13 In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. 14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.

Notice that he says "If he does not provide for his household (IE: the workers) especially those of his own house (family). So the family is just the most important group with whom the man has "a deal" (which is what a "covenant" is):

[Mal 2:14 CSB] 14 And you ask, "Why? " Because even though the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, you have acted treacherously against her. She was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant.

Note: Most of this answer was originally posted on a duplicate of this question.

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