147. Conceited, Deluded, or Just Foolish — The Meaning of tuphoomai in the Pastoral Epistles

In three different contexts within the Pastoral Epistles Paul employs the verb tuphoomai (1 Timothy 3:6; 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:4). In each context the New International Version renders the meaning as “conceited.” Other popular English translations render it as “puffed up with conceit, arrogant, highminded, or proud.” However, in the major lexicon of New Testament Greek (Bauer, Danker, Arndt and GIngrich, 2000) three different meanings are listed as possible, i.e. “conceited/proud, foolish/blinded, and deluded/mentally ill,”  although the first is favoured.

Etymologically this verb form is related to the noun tuphos “smoke.” The verb is a causal formation (ending in -oō), “to envelop in smoke” and thus to obscure vision. It becomes almost synonymous with the verb tuphl, “to make blind.” Within the New Testament it only occurs in a passive form.

In 1 TImothy 3:6 Paul instructs Timothy concerning qualifications for those who have potential to be an episkopē. He warns Timothy not to select a “recent convert” and Paul selects the participle tuphōtheis (“or he may become conceited” (NIV)) as one part of his explanation. When describing human behaviour “in the last days,” Paul claims that “people will be…tetuphōmenoi (“conceited” (NIV)) (2 TImothy 3:4). Paul also tells Timothy that a person who teaches false doctrines (1 Timothy 6:4) tetuphōtai (“conceited” (NIV)) (1 Timothy 6:4). Whether the sense of this verb in these contexts should be construed as “conceited” or more as “foolishly deluded” is worth exploring. In each case the verb describes behaviour that Paul expects mature believers would not demonstrate. In addition, when this attitude or condition exists, it generates additional harmful, sinful action.

The verb does not occur in the Greek translation of the Old Testament or in the papyri, but Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and contemporary of Paul, does use it in his writings. In one context Philo addresses his reader as ō tetuphōmene (rendered as “O senseless one” in the Loeb translation of Quod Det. 101), because he thinks his typical reader will not be able to control his human senses and in the case of the sense of taste “be like a cormorant and greedily devour all things.” Such a person abuses the senses God has given. In his essay “The Confusion of Tongues, 106” Philo laments the mind of the multitude that is “so erring, so vanity-ridden (ton…tetuphōmenon)…the mind which clings to false opinion….” Such a mind deludes itself to think it has the ability to determine what is sure, when this is something only God can achieve. Philo also used this verb to describe a teacher who thinks he alone is responsible for the success of a gifted pupil. Such a teacher, Philo says, “puffs himself out, perks up his neck and raises high his eyebrows, and in fact is filled with vanity (tetuphōtai)” (De Cong 127). In the following paragraph Philo describes this condition as “‘having in the womb,’ a swollen, vanity-ridden condition (tetuphōsthai), robed in a vesture of inordinate pride,…” (128). Lastly in De Somn. 2.64 Philo laments “the true and simple life” which has “for its parasite the life of falsity and vanity (tetuphōmenos).”

In each case Philo used a perfect tense-form of this verb to describe a current state which the translator of the Loeb volumes links with the idea of vanity. The persons thus described labour under some delusion, some false perception, that in turn leads them to evaluate some situation incorrectly with serious consequences and thus operate under some delusion. Further each usage is passive in voice, suggesting that some agent other than the subject is responsible for this delusional state.Paul similarly uses passive forms of this verb and twice employs perfect tense forms.

The connotation of “lunatic” can also be documented in Classical Greek writers. Plato Hippias Major 290a.5 has one of his characters expostulate: “but he will even jeer at me grossly and will say: “You lunatic, (ō tetuphōmene su) do you think Pheidias is a bad craftsman?” This is the same construction Philo used. Demosthenes Philippica 3.20.8 parallels this verb with lēreō which means “to speak or act foolishly.” Similarly in De Falsa Legatione 219.8 Demosthenes parallels it with the verb mainomai which means “I am mad.” Polybius, the historian, several centuries later links it with the verb agnoei “he is ignorant” (Historiae

It is unclear whether Josephus’ usage of the verb in Vita 53 has the connotation of “being conceited” or “becoming foolish (tuphoumenos).” Agrippa’s administrator Varus conspires to have Agrippa put to death by the Romans so that he could gain power and Josephus attributes his actions to conceit or foolishness. Josephus claims that Apollonius Molon, a Greek who attacked Jewish beliefs and practices is called “one of these thoughtless and foolish people (tetuphōmenōn)” who introduce silly ideas about the deity (Contra Apionem 2.255). Josephus claims that the Greeks are sceptical about the authenticity of their ancient traditions. As a result “it is absurd that the Greeks should be so conceited/foolish (tetuphōsthai) as to think themselves the sole possessors of a knowledge of antiquity and the only accurate reporters of its history” (Contra Apionem 1.15). In two contexts (Bellum 2.442 and 7.80) Josephus describes how an individual and a nation became  deluded by political objectives with the result that they act in foolish and harmful ways.

Spicq in his Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Volume III (388-89) suggests the verb means “deluded foolishness.” The mind becomes befuddled and this results in individuals acting foolishly. In some contexts it is associated with pretensions to power and grandeur that have no basis in reality.

In his article entitled “Medical Imagery in the Pastoral Epistles” (1980), Abraham Malherbe argues that the author of the Pastoral Epistles used medical metaphors to describe heretics “as intellectually inferior, having diseased minds which produce violent preaching and contaminate those who accept their teaching” (23). In footnote 7 he acknowledges that this verb is combined with terms that describe “the cognitive element in man.” He also argues that the verb could “mean to be mentally ill, demented.” He cites Demosthenes, Or 9.20 “where it is contrasted with being in one right’s senses (hugiainein)” (32). He suggests that in 1 Timothy 6:4 this verb “is intended to describe mental illness,” which condition is further described as “understanding nothing, having unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words.”

 We return then to 1 Timothy 6:4 where Paul uses this verb in relation to false teachers. Given the following participial phrase “understanding nothing,” as well as the demonstrated usage of this verb in non-biblical sources, I would argue that Paul’s usage of this verb here has the sense “deluded with foolishness.” Paul offers this as an explanation for their participation in offering teachings that diverge from “the healthy words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:3). When Paul describes the behaviour of people “in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:3-5), the perfect passive participle tetuphōmenoi probably has more the sense of “deluded in foolish ways.” The usage in 1 Timothy 3:6 is more challenging to discern. However, I still think that some idea of delusion or senseless activity is intended. Paul warns Timothy not to select for the role of church leader a new convert because it is possible that such a person might lack spiritual understanding and lead the congregation in foolish and deluded ways regarding the Gospel. Such delusion may be caused by Satan’s influence.


Leave a Reply