We would be hard-pressed to find a city in the first century that offered a more fertile soil for false doctrine than Ephesus. Located in modern-day western Turkey, Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and a political, commercial, and religious hub. Home to the temple of Artemis (see Acts 19:21–41), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it would later become a center of caesar worship. A large Jewish community lived in Ephesus, and the heresies plaguing the Ephesian churches when Paul wrote to Timothy appear to have been a strange mixture of Judaism, paganism, and Christianity.
It is notoriously difficult to determine the exact content of the false teaching promulgated in Ephesus. But the “myths and endless genealogies” of today’s passage (1 Tim. 1:4) are probably evidence that Jewish legends were a part of the errors taught in the church there. Many first-century Jews enjoyed “devotional” works full of inventive stories about people in the genealogies of the Old Testament. The book of Jubilees, for example, is a non-canonical writing that was popular with the sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jubilees retells the events from creation to the giving of the Law, incorporating fanciful legends about the patriarchs and “expanding upon” the ancestry lists in Genesis.
Apparently, some of the pastors, elders, and teachers in Ephesus were emphasizing these or other speculations to the detriment of effective church administration — “the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:3–4). Instead of fulfilling their call to equip the saints for ministry and lead the Ephesian believers into Christian maturity (Eph. 4:11–16), they were speculating about information that was of no edifying use to the churches there.
Even Christians in our day can get lost in conjectures that offer no real benefit to the church at large. Speculations about the present identity of Gog and Magog (Ezek. 39:1–6; Rev. 20:7–10), America’s place in biblical prophecy, and the like, while not heretical in themselves, usually contribute little in the way of edification to the bride of Christ. Let us take care that we not get absorbed in uncertainties, let alone break fellowship over secondary issues.
John Calvin writes that those doctrines that “contribute to edification may be approved, and that those which give ground for unprofitable disputes may be rejected as unworthy of the church of God.” Though some find it a lot of fun to argue over minor tenets, causing strife over disputed matters while ignoring the essentials of the Christian faith is no good for anyone. Are your studies focused on the basic, soul-sustaining truths of the Bible?