Paul told Timothy, “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:4-8). He admonishes Timothy to ensure that he is keeping his focus on what is important and not swerving into contentions of no value.
The term translated in the KJV “vain jangling” comes from the Greek word mataiologia meaning “empty talking.” Paul talks about these empty talkers in verse seven when he writes that they want to be teachers of the law, but do not know what they are talking about. These are individuals who want to speak with authority in giving the interpretation of the Scriptures, but they have not studied them and do not know what they mean. Unfortunately, there are many “empty talkers” in the world today, and more than a few in the church. Individuals who want to be the authority on principles and lessons pertaining to the Scriptures, but have never put in the effort to study them and understand what they mean. Instead, they simply interpret them however they feel sounds good, or however someone else told them it should be interpreted. Some preachers fall into this pitfall when they simply recount what someone else wrote or said about a passage instead of studying it for themselves. They state it as a matter of authority when oftentimes it is nothing more than empty talking because they don’t know whether their words are true or not, but they profess them because someone they trust said it.
Paul does not ridicule the empty talker’s intelligence or say that they are too simple to understand the Scriptures. He does, however, put a stipulation on an individual’s ability to understand the Scriptures. He says that the law must be handled lawfully (properly). It is much the same as the admonition in 2 Timothy 2:15 to rightly divide the word of truth.
Anyone can understand the Scriptures; they were given for that very purpose. But in order to do so, one must use them correctly. The approach of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) in searching the Scriptures daily is necessary to using it lawfully. It is also necessary that an individual approach the Scriptures with the desire to learn and understand, not to simply find controversies or areas that we can use to look and sound knowledgeable; but with a desire to know what God has said that we may do it. The Bible is its own best interpreter. If one wants to know what God said and what he meant by it, one must first go to the source itself for the answer.
We must discourage the practice of “empty talking” in the church. Preachers and teachers need to study the things that they teach with such authority for themselves out of the Scriptures, not relying on what Brother So-and-so said about it. Because as scholarly as Brother So-and-so was, he could be wrong, seeing he is but a fallible man. Preachers and teachers then need to be adamant about the necessity of listeners not taking their word for things, but studying them for themselves that they may understand them fully. Many of the problems with understanding the Scriptures in congregations could be alleviated if we would simply get rid of empty talking. Nevertheless, may we work diligently to present God’s Word with knowledge and conviction, studying and meditating upon it daily “that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).