Dr Paul M Elliott
Did Paul Always Name Names?
Paul frequently singled out individuals for correction, condemnation, or commendation. But in many other cases made powerful points about sound doctrine and godly living without naming names.
In response to our previous article, Is It Wrong to Name Names?, readers have mentioned a significant related point: While the Apostle Paul did name names in many cases, both for correction and commendation, there were also many other cases when he did not – but dealt with the issues at hand just as vigorously.
The Un-Named Galatian Heretics
Perhaps the most weighty example of this is Paul’s approach to the Galatian heresy. In his strongly-worded epistle designed to rescue the Galatians from the evil of legalism, Paul never identified even one of the legalizers by name. But under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he condemned them in no uncertain terms:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:6-12)
As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:12-17)
Paul dealt with the legalistic Judaizers who troubled the Colossian church in similar terms – focusing not on individuals by name, but on the person and work of Christ, and the believer’s standing in Christ:
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind… (Colossians 2:11-18)
The “Let No One” Imperative
In addition to the passage above, we find many other cases in which Paul dealt with error without naming names by using the imperative phrase, “Let no one”.
He used it to correct those in the Corinthian church who wanted to rely on, or had been taken in by, worldly wisdom:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness¡±; and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours… (1 Corinthians 3:18-21)
He used the same phrase to encourage careful behavior toward weaker brethren:
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
Paul used the same phrase to warn the church at Corinth concerning false teachers. His language is no less direct than in cases in which he identified individuals by name:
But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. I say again, let no one think me a fool. (2 Corinthians 11:12-16)
We find Paul speaking in similar terms to the church at Ephesus, where remnants of the old pagan ways remained as besetting sins, and some even tried to excuse such behavior:
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Ephesians 5:3-7)
We also find Paul speaking in the same way – not naming individuals but making it clear that such individuals must be noted and avoided – when he condemned those who were bringing un-Biblical eschatologies into the church:
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)
Paul also used the same phrase to correct those who would despise a younger man whom God had clearly called to the ministry of the Word merely because of his relative youth, and to encourage boldness on the part of the young preachers Timothy and Titus in the face of such opposition:
And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren. (1 Corinthians 16:10-11)
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. (Titus 2:11-15)
The Proper Focus
A further important point, which we see in the passages above and in so many others, is this: In the cases where Paul does not name names – as well as those in which he does – the focus is not on persons or personalities, but upon the issues of sound doctrine and godly living that are at stake. We see this demonstrated at the end of his epistle to the Romans. In chapter sixteen, Paul names no fewer than twenty-seven individuals and households, expressing love and commendation to them. But then he adds this:
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple [literally, un-mixed] concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (Romans 16:17-20)
There are times to name names, and times not to. We must seek wisdom from God for each case. But always, the focus must be not on earthly persons or personalities, but on the person, work, and authority of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and His inspired, infallible, inerrant Word.
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