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Useful to the Master: Household Utensils in the Ancient World

Earthenware vessels
Earthenware vessels

(Another Tuesday Time Travel…)

In 2 Timothy 2:20-21, Paul supports his argument that Timothy should avoid false teachers (and their ‘chatter’) with an illustration from a wealthy first century household.

The setting is a ‘large house’ (μεγάλῃ οἰκίᾳ) which would indeed contain a variety of household vessels varying in value. Such a house would have expensive gold and silver vessels useful for the honorable purposes of a master, as well as inexpensive wood or earthenware vessels for everyday use. The ‘dishonorable’ vessels could be used for the discharge of common tasks, during or after which the vessels might be discarded.

Paul explains the point of his illustration in 2 Tim. 2:21: To be a vessel for honor, set apart, useful to the master, and prepared for every good task, one must cleanse himself from all “these.” To what does the demonstrative ‘these’ refer? Either specifically to the ‘dishonorable vessels’ (i.e., false teachers in the context) or more generally to the wrangling over words (2 Tim. 2:14) and empty chatter (2 Tim. 2:16) which will fan the flame of false teaching.

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