In his first letter to Timothy Paul begins by identifying the significant issue that his representative faces within the Ephesian church context. According to the writer some people considered themselves teachers of the Jewish law, but had no idea about its true meaning from within a Christian perspective. The result is that some people “because they deviated (astochēsantes), have turned themselves aside from such things [a pure heart, good conscience and genuine faith] to meaningless discussion” (1 Timothy 1:6 my translation) and so are missing “the goal of the command.”
Paul also used this verb astochein in 1 Timothy 6:21 to describe those who proclaim false ideas and in this demonstrate they “have missed the mark (ēstoxēsan) about (peri + accusative) the faith.” Again at 2 Timothy 2:18 he characterizes Hymenaeus and Philetus as ones “who have missed the mark (ēstoxēsan) about (peri +accusative) the truth” because they proclaim that resurrection has already occurred. Only Paul used this verb in the New Testament.
This verb is formed from the cognate verb stochazesthai meaning to aim at, to endeavour, or to survey, explore (with the accusative case) but has the letter alpha prefixed which reverses the sense so that the resultant verb (astochein) means to miss, deviate from, fail, wander, i.e. not to hit what you aim for. Forms of stochazesthai (with the sense of survey, investigate) occur in the Septuagint. For example, at Deut. 19:3 Moses instructs Israel to establish three cities of refuge in the midst of the land and “calculate (stochasai) for yourself the distance.” Or we find in Wisdom of Solomon 13:9 that humans are not to be pardoned if they think that created things are divine, rather than seek the Creator himself. “For if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate (stochasasthai) the world, how is it that they did not more quickly find the Sovereign Lord of these things.”
The adjective form cognate with astochein occurs as early as Plato. However, the verb does not seem to have much use until the late second century B.C. This is when we find usage of astochein in the translation of Sirach, the only usages in the Septuagint. The translator warns his readers “do not depart from (astochei) a wise and good woman” (7:19) and “do not miss out (astochei) on the discourse of the aged” (8:9). The genitive case defines what is missed or departed from. Moulton and Geden note an occurrence in Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum (239) which they date to 214 B.C. and which used the verb followed by the genitive case (which may be the construction in 1 Timothy 1:5 with the genitive form of the relative pronoun initiating the clause). As well they note an occurrence in P. Par. 35(26), a papyrus dated to 163 B.C. and reading astochēsantes, followed by the genitive (with the sense “departing from one who is well”).
The verb is not used by Philo. However, Josephus employed it in his description of the Essenes (Jewish Wars II.159) to describe the ability of some Essenes to foretell the future and “seldom, if ever, do they err (astochousin) in their predictions.” Plutarch used this verb variously in his writings. For example, in his life of Marius (26.5) he describes a battle in which at attack “missed (astochēsai) the enemy” and “passed by their lines.” Plutarch also write a life of the emperor Galba, successor to Nero. Plutarch writes that “in his desire to display a great change from Nero’s immoderate and extravagant manner of giving, he was thought to fall short of (astochein) what was fitting” (Galba 16.1).
So the general sense of the verb is to miss the mark, and thus to fail, deviate from, wander from or miss. In all three cases in the Pastoral Epistles Paul used this verb to describe the actions of heretical teachers and their deviations from a pure heart, good conscience, genuine faith (1:5), faith (6:21) and the truth (2 Timothy 2:18). As its use in the translation of Sirach indicates, Paul did not create this word. Rather we discover it used quite widely in the late first and early second centuries A.D., particularly in the writings of Plutarch.
Calvin connects Paul’s of this word with the prior phrase “the goal (telos) of the command” (1 Timothy 1:4). Paul argues that their aim is wide of this mark, i.e. the teaching and practice of love (agapē) and so they fail in their attempts to hit the goal (telos), i.e. to teach God’s will. Paul was concerned that the Gospel message preserve its true configuration and enables Timothy both to discern when people were threatening to rend its fabric and what action to take to oppose such actions. In many cases these efforts originated within the Christian community, rather than without.
i. How do we calibrate our teaching as pastoral leaders and elders within a congregation so that we do not deviate from a correct understanding of God’s purposes as revealed in his Word? Who keeps us on track? How does our understanding of and commitment of agapēhelp us keep on track?
ii. When another elder or pastoral leader within the congregation approaches and suggests that perhaps our interpretation of a particular passage was incomplete or misguided, do we accept such correction humbly or do we get upset and defensive?