“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work–which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4 NIV).
While modern-day genealogical research often represents a fun and interesting study of one’s family origin, the genealogies referenced here in 1 Timothy 1:3-4 probably refer to something else. These genealogies were likely produced by those who sought to dramatize, embellish, and re-imagine the lives of various Old Testament personalities and their descendants.
These genealogies presumably began with an actual historic figure and built upon the account of his or her life with speculations, theories, and conjectures that were impossible to prove or disprove. One source comments on this view by observing, “…extrabiblical elaborations of biblical accounts were common, and Paul probably has them in view here.” (1) Another commentary addresses these “…never-ending genealogies” (CJB) with the following insight…
“These ‘fables and endless genealogies’ are generally thought to be rabbinical traditions, since the Ephesian church where Timothy was pastoring (I Timothy 1:3) had been plagued from the start by Jewish opponents of Paul (Acts 19:8-9).
However, Gentile converts were also numerous (Acts 19:10), and these had come from a background of pagan evolutionary philosophy, featuring the worship of the nature goddess Diana (Acts 19:35). Like other forms of evolutionism, Greek paganism was a nest of fables and a great chain of genealogical relationships extending back into eternity. All such compromises with either legalism or evolutionism, ancient or modern, are utterly bereft of spiritual edification.” (2)
While this subject may seem to offer little practical benefit for modern-day readers, it might be said that “controversial speculations” still continue today. The difference is that they have largely moved from the realm of the past into the realm of the future.
For instance, it is not unusual to encounter those whose spiritual lives are largely devoted to the pursuit of speculations and conjectures involving prophetic theories and opinions about the future that are impossible to prove or disprove. These conjectures often devolve into arguments, debates, and online “flame wars” that “…don’t help people live a life of faith in God” (NLT).
A person who can articulate and critique the nuances of various eschatological viewpoints but struggles to define foundational Biblical doctrines like salvation, holiness, righteousness, grace, the nature of God, and the Person and work of Christ may wish to consider if he or she is making the right kind of spiritual investment.
(1) Craig S. Keener The IVP Bible Background Commentary [1 Timothy 1:4]
(2) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes, 1 Timothy 1:4 https://www.icr.org/bible/1Tim/1/4/