161. Conceited, Blinded or Deranged? What does tuphoomai mean in 1 Timothy 3:6; 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:4?

The Greek verb tuphoomai only occurs three times in the New Testament and all are concentrated in:

1 Timothy 3:6 (NIV) or he (potential superintendent of a congregation) may become conceited.

1 Timothy 6:4 (NIV) they are conceited and understand nothing.

2 Timothy 3:4 (NIV) treacherous, rash, conceited,…

Given such a consistent rendering in the NIV, one might correctly ask “what is the issue with this verb?” The problem is this: in relation to 1 Timothy 6:4 the primary Greek New Testament Dictionary (Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich) indicates that this verb in this particular context might mean “be puffed up, conceited,” or “be blinded, become foolish,” or “be mentally ill.” It does not specify which meaning, in its opinion, should be adopted. And if this is the case at 6:4, what about the intended meaning at 1 Timothy 3:6 or 2 Timothy 3:4? The tense form of the verb is either aorist passive (1 TImothy 3:6) or perfect passive (1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:4). Given these options, we have to rely on what might be the most frequent usage in contemporary or previous literature, and what direction the respective contexts might provide.

Robert Beekes in The Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Vol. 2 (p.1522) indicates that tuphoomai (mostly perfect tense forms) means “to be befogged, foolish, bloated.” He connects it with the noun tuphos which in medical treatises describes a kind of fever, but generally indicates “conceit, stupidity, fallacy, folly.” Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon (p.1838) indicates for tuphos the meanings “fever, delusion, nonsense, vanity/arrogance.” Similarly for the cognate verb it lists “to be crazy, demented; be filled with insane arrogance.” So the meaning “conceited” in these resources is not listed as necessarily the primary sense.

The contexts for the uses in 1 Timothy 6:4 and 2 Timothy 3:4 concern false teachers and the verb occurs in connection with lists of characteristics that Paul uses to describe such people. In 1 Timothy 6:4 we encounter a conditional clause structure. In the first part of the clause that describes  the condition, the focus is on “someone who teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ,…” The main clause then concludes that such a person tetuphōtai mēden epistamenos. We have the main verb tetuphōtai which is defined by an adverbial participle epistamenos and which describes the manner in which the action of the main verb is demonstrated. In this case the participial phrase means “understanding nothing.” Paul then continues to describe how this kind of person is obsessed with controversy, from which arise strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between people of corrupt minds. Note the emphasis on cognitive activity which is flawed in some way. Nothing is said about pride or boasting or personal ambition. So when we consider what sense Paul intended the main verb tetuphōtai to convey in this context, it would seem that the idea of mental delusion, blindness, foolishness, might be more in line with the subject matter. Their delusion leads them to think that they can gain material benefit from such activities (v. 5).

The usage in 2 Timothy 3:4 occurs in a list of descriptors which Paul uses to define the kind of people who will arise in “the last days” and who “have a form of godliness but deny its power” (verse 5). This list has about eighteen items — one of the longest in the New Testament. It is certainly the case that adjectives describing “boastful, proud” occur as items three and four. However, tetuphōmenoi, a perfect passive participle functioning as an adjective, is number seventeen, somewhat removed from the earlier references to boasting and pride. Rather the terms surrounding this participle refer to traitorous (describes Judas in Luke 6:16) and thoughtless or impulsive (see Acts 19:36 where the city leader implores the crowd to do nothing rash) behaviour, actions motivated by the desire for selfish pleasure. The focus seems to be on actions that one might construe as befogged, deluded, blind, or foolish because of improper motivation, but not necessarily conceited.

So this brings us back to 1 Timothy 3:6. Here the verb occurs in a clause of fear, i.e., describing something that should be avoided because of its unfortunate consequences. Paul advises Timothy to warn the assembly in Ephesus not to appoint new believers as leaders “lest, tuphōtheis, he [the novice] should fall into judgment of Satan.” I have rendered the Greek text literally here. Exactly what this judgment is and how it is related to Satan are interpreted variously in the literature. First, the aorist passive participle tuphōtheis describes something that happens to this person probably through the agency of some other being. However, it is also possible that it may have a middle sense, i.e., the person acts in such a way to produce this effect in himself. So it could be rendered either “having been deluded (by someone)” or “deluding himself.” If it truly is passive, then who potentially brings this delusion? We know Satan is described this way in 2:13-14, where Paul has recounted how Adam and Eve are deceived, with the presumption that Satan is the agent involved. Second, it is difficult to know whether this “judgment” is something that Satan contrives (subjective genitive) or something that Satan experiences himself.

We might pause here and ask how Satan is characterized in the New Testament? In the Temptation of Jesus he tries to seduce Jesus into using his power and position for his own ends. Is he seeking to deceive Jesus or  provoke him into a conceited behaviour? According to Mark 4:15 and 8:33 Satan acts to deceive people with the result that they disobey God. In Acts 5:3 Satan prompts Ananias and Sapphire to lie. Twice in 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 7:5 he tempts people through lust. Satan uses his schemes to try and outwit God’s people (2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14). According to Revelation 12:9 he “deceives the whole world.” When we trace the title “Slanderer” (diabolos) as a descriptor of Satan, again a primary characteristic is his deception (e.g., John 8:44-45; Acts 13:10-11; Ephesians 6:11; Revelation 20:10). So is Satan condemned by God for his deceptive ways or his pride? Does Satan seek to contrive judgment for these novice believers by deceiving them or by generating conceit within them? I would suggest that the overwhelming testimony of the New Testament is that Satan acts to deceive humans, whether believers or not. By this deception (which may manifest itself in various ways) he seeks to frustrate God’s purposes.

Returning to 1 Timothy 3:6, we might conclude that the judgment which Satan either experiences or contrives for humans relates to his deceitful ways. If this is the case, then here again the appropriate sense in the context for tuphōtheis would more likely be “having been deceived/deluded” or “having deceived/deluded themselves.”

There is another semantic component to the term tuphos which Spicq (Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Vol. 3 (pages 388-89)) describes as “smoke, vapor that goes to the head,” with the result that a person behaves blindly (tuphloō, “to make blind”). He states that when used metaphorically, it refers to “an intellectual vice, the vice of the rhetor who is at the same time unable to see the intellectual light…and ‘unteachable and rebellious’.” The adjective tuphos is used as an insult meaning “deluded old man.” The connection with vanity and pretension arises because this mental delusion causes people to think and act in “puffed up” ways. So the compound expression “foolish and deluded” (Josephus, Against Apion 2.25 “Apollonius Molon was one of the deluded fools (anoētōn…kai tetuphōmenōn).”

I would conclude that Paul’s intends the verb tuphoō to communicate this idea of delusion which causes a person to act with foolish pretension. In the case the church of Ephesus it describes people who think they know what God’s word teaches and who because of this foolish pretension think they live in a godly way or have the capacity to teach the gospel. In the case of 1 Timothy 3:6 Paul considers it inadvisable to appoint new believers as church leaders because this might lead them to think they know more than they really do and thus act with foolish pretensions which will harm the congregation.