1 Timothy 6

Slaves and Masters, Rich and Poor

Commentaries by Eric C. Smith

Works of art by Banksy, Diego Rivera and Unknown artist

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Steve Jobs, with later additions by unknown person, 15 Feburary, 2016, Mural, 'The Jungle' refugee camp near the ferry port in Calais, France; PRISMA ARCHIVO / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Because Worthless’

Commentary by Eric C. Smith

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Like the identity of the author of 1 Timothy, the identity of Banksy is disputed and contested. And like the literary corpus attributed to Paul, this work from Banksy is palimpsestuous, having been annotated and overwritten and reinscribed several times over. In its first iteration, it was an image of Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, carrying only a knapsack and an early Macintosh computer. Later artists added words to the original artwork. In large letters, ‘London Calling’ quoted the title of an album by British rock band The Clashitself a quotation from BBC radio broadcasts during World War 2. Here, perhaps, it served as a reference to London as a particular centre of economic wealth and one of the preferred destinations of migrants. And, over the centre of the image, were scrawled the words ‘because worthless’.

This work appeared in 2015, as a humanitarian crisis consumed Europe. Refugees from North Africa, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East desperately made their way toward Europe, seeking both political and economic safety. In response, debates exploded across the continent, sometimes centring on economy, sometimes on national, religious, and ethnic identity, and sometimes on the threat of terrorism.

Banksy created this work on a wall in the Calais migrant camp in France, and the meaning seems straightforward. Pointing to Jobs’s own roots as the child of immigrants to the United States, the artist is making the common observation that immigrants contribute much more to our societies than they require in resources. After all, there is a good chance that the device you are reading this on owes something to this son of migrants.

But the ‘because worthless’ of a later anonymous artist provokes a question: what is worth, and where does it come from? The implication of an image of Steve Jobs as a refugee is that refugees’ worth is tied to their utility as economic subjects and objects. Immigration fuels growth, and innovation comes from the mixing of a diversity of cultures. No prophet of postliberalism could disagree. But the later addition, ‘because worthless’, complicates things.

Likewise, this part of 1 Timothy is complicated, and even confused, about what makes human beings worth something. Is it being a docile and obedient slave? Is it contentment with one’s lot in life? Or a life of devotion to God?



Ellis-Peterson, Hannah. 2015. ‘Banksy Uses Steve Jobs Artwork to Highlight Refugee Crisis, 11 December 2015’, www.theguardian.com, [accessed 20 June 2019]

Ibrahim, Yasmin, and Anita Howarth. 2018. Calais and its Border Politics: From Control to Demolition (Abingdon and New York: Routledge)

Diego Rivera

Frozen Assets, 1931–32, Fresco on reinforced cement in a galvanized-steel framework, 239 x 188.5 cm, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico; Credit: © 2019 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico City / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Schalkwijk / Art Resource, NY

‘The Root of All Kinds of Evil’

Commentary by Eric C. Smith

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Diego Rivera arrived in New York as the Great Depression lengthened and deepened, and what he encountered there informed and inflamed the leftist political leanings he had already developed in his native Mexico. In this mural, painted during his time in the city, Rivera captures and comments upon the instrumentalization of humanity, as the grandeur and built environment of the city is undergirded by the suffering of its inhabitants—suffering which itself rests on a bank vault, guarded and minded by the beneficiaries of capitalism.

As is common in the later writings of the New Testament, this part of 1 Timothy is keen to offer advice for the living of life. Especially prominent here is a warning against wealth and the desire for it, both as a personal principle (it plunges people into ruin and destruction) and as a force that works on an almost-cosmic scale (it is the root of all kinds of evil). Framed as advice to a young believer, from a beloved pastor–mentor to a protégé in the faith, the warning is clear: wealth has sundered many from their faith.

While Rivera’s painting is oriented vertically, with one scene atop another, it editorializes the horizontal—the relationships between persons, which are conditioned and severed by the vertical disparities of wealth. At the top, the city rises with its skyscrapers, and cranes imply that more are on the way. But in that urban landscape there are no persons; only in the bottom two-thirds of the image do we find any human beings, and they are diminutive ones.

In the middle register, in a scene that almost evokes a morgue, the anonymous sleeping bodies of the homeless are packed into a shelter as a policeman looks on. And at the bottom, the bankers and their customers are the only people with faces. Their features are indistinct, but they exude calm and self-satisfaction.

1 Timothy’s warning is more intelligible to the masses in the middle frame than it is to the wealthy at the bottom, but Rivera puts the root beneath the ground just as the epistle does—the root of evil sending up both the triumph of the city and the misery of its labourers.



Dickerman, Leah, Diego Rivera, and Anna Indych-López. 2011. Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art)

Unknown artist

Slave pen, Alexandria, Virgina, Taken 1861–65; printed 1880–89, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC; Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C., LC-DIG-ppmsca-34798

The Pen is Mighty

Commentary by Eric C. Smith

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Few parts of the Bible have had direr consequences in human suffering than the ones that urge enslaved persons to respect and obey their masters. The costs of these verses are on display in this photograph from the period of the American Civil War, taken near the capital city of Washington. This image is haunted by the shades of Scripture in the practice of chattel slavery, and with the protests of enslaved persons who bore the weight of biblical interpretation that fastened them in chains.

In her old age, Nancy Ambrose, grandmother of theologian and philosopher Howard Thurman, refused to hear any writings attributed to the apostle Paul, because of passages like 1 Timothy 6:1–2 (Thurman 1949: 30). She had been enslaved as a girl on a plantation in Florida, and had heard the preachers brought in by the slaveholder to preach biblical obedience to earthly masters. It is not difficult to imagine similar voices interpreting Scripture in this ‘slave pen’, where biblical discourses of captivity and servitude would have been whispered by captives and proclaimed by captors.

Pictures from the early days of photography, like this one, often receive attention for their documentary quality. But even as this image documents, it also functions as art that troubles and vexes the viewer’s perspective, and provokes pathos. This image is a profound commentary on and indictment of the practice of slavery, obliterating any myths about happy slaves or kindly masters. An iron-barred and double-latched door frames an inner yard, where more doors lead to cells where enslaved persons were kept. The most meagre of windows provide the only access to the world outside.

The photograph also evokes other spaces of subjection and violence, authorized and undergirded by biblical interpretation: the Inquisition, the colonial barracks, the Middle Passage, the concentration camp, the prison. It reminds us that not all readings of the Bible are life-giving, and indeed many come at great human cost.



Powery, Emerson B., and Rodney S. Sadler. 2016. The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved (Louisville: Westminster John Knox)

Thurman, Howard. 1949. Jesus and the Disinherited (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury)

Banksy :

Steve Jobs, with later additions by unknown person, 15 Feburary, 2016 , Mural

Diego Rivera :

Frozen Assets, 1931–32 , Fresco on reinforced cement in a galvanized-steel framework

Unknown artist :

Slave pen, Alexandria, Virgina, Taken 1861–65; printed 1880–89 , Photograph

Human Worth and Dignity

Comparative commentary by Eric C. Smith

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1 Timothy 6:1–21 is a work of exhortation. At the close of the letter, the author is offering up wisdom for living—some of it practical, some of it spiritual, and some of it both. The conceit of the letter and therefore this chapter is that it is advice to young Timothy, the protégé and the fellow worker of Paul. But the wisdom offered here is not only to Timothy, but to the reader also, who stands in for the faithful at large, whom the author also imagines as an audience for the letter. This is personal exhortation, but it is also a general one.

It is striking then that the author lingers so long on advice about the economic life of human beings. There are other pieces here too—a standard Pauline virtue list makes its appearance (see v.11), as in Galatians 5:16–26, Ephesians 5:1–10, 1 Thessalonians 5:12–22, and Romans 12:9–21; 13:8–14, among others—but the centre of this discourse is the value of human life as reflected and refracted through economy and social constructions. The Pastoral Epistles are known as reservoirs of conservative theology and ecclesiology, working to push the Pauline tradition toward acceptability and sustainability as the movement spread into the broader Roman world. But here at the end of 1 Timothy we find these conservative, stabilizing sentiments alongside ones that would be at home in much more revolutionary settings.

Scholars debate the demographics of earliest Christianity. Was it a movement of the lowest classes, slaves, and women, or did it comprise a much broader cross-section of the Roman world? Did its adherents practice a form of socialized life, or was the church an extension of normative Roman patronage systems, with wealthier and higher-class members underwriting the life of the community in an expression of the honour/shame system? There is enough in this chapter of 1 Timothy to support several different possibilities. Admonitions to social order (slaves should regard their masters with honour) and a rejection of wealth co-exist here, and it seems that the author of 1 Timothy expected to have readers and hearers from multiple locations on the social landscape.

In this regard, 1 Timothy is like Diego Rivera’s Frozen Assets, which sees the city in multiple ways at once. Rivera’s mural takes account of the soaring skyscrapers and the titans of finance that they imply, but it also focuses on the experience of the homeless poor, who are packed into a shelter like sardines into a can. The author of 1 Timothy understood that the audience of the letter would be reading or hearing it from a number of different perspectives.

Perspective also matters in the photograph of the ‘slave pen’ from Alexandria. While it is a sympathetic image that provokes solidarity with and compassion for the persons enslaved and confined there, the view is from the outside—from freedom—looking inward. This might be something like the view of the community from the perspective of ‘those who in the present age are rich’ in 1 Timothy 6:17–19. If it is true that they are patrons of the gathered Jesus-followers, then the author of the letter might be urging them toward more solidarity with the poor and dispossessed among them.

The overwritten, annotated, and reworked work of Banksy in Calais might be our best analogue for what we find in 1 Timothy 6. It is a commentary on status, wealth, inclusion, and difference, but it is a multidirectional one, with indistinct authorship and overlapping messages. It gestures at the inherent worth of persons even as it links that worth to economic value, and appeals to the possibility of wealth as an argument for human dignity. Like 1 Timothy 6, the Banksy in Calais speaks across class and status toward multiple locations, and like 1 Timothy, the image leaves us with as many questions as answers.



Dickerman, Leah, Diego Rivera, and Anna Indych-López. 2011. Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art)

Ibrahim, Yasmin, and Anita Howarth. 2018. Calais and its Border Politics: From Control to Demolition (Abingdon and New York: Routledge)

Longenecker, Bruce W. 2010. Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans)

Next exhibition: 2 Timothy 2

1 Timothy 6

Revised Standard Version

6 Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. 2Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.

Teach and urge these duties. 3If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, 4he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6There is great gain in godliness with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; 8but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.

11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, 19thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, 21for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith.

Grace be with you.