Note of the Day – July 30

The next two occurrences of the word musth/rion (“secret”) to be discussed are found in 1 Timothy 3:9 and 16. The Pastoral Epistles (especially 1 Timothy), like Ephesians, are considered by many critical commentators to be pseudonymous. This issue is complex and much debated, and I will not attempt to address it here. However, it certainly may be argued that 1 Timothy evinces a more developed sense of what we would call Christian tradition—a distinct, and relatively fixed, body of (‘orthodox’) beliefs and teachings which is to be preserved and carefully guarded against false teachers and other ‘heterodox’ outsiders. This, at least, suggests a relatively late date (sometime after 60 A.D.); those who regard 1 Timothy as pseudonymous would probably date it c. 90 A.D. It is not possible in the space here to offer a complete list of relevant passages, but a couple will be mentioned in passing.

1 Timothy 3:9, 16

These two references come from the end of the first half of the letter (cf. my outline of 1 Timothy below). The first is part of the instruction regarding ministers (lit. “servants”, diakonoi) in the congregation (3:8-13). The main criteria given for persons to serve in this ministerial role are outlined in two parts: (a) ethical/moral qualifications (vv. 8-10), and (b) head of a proper and well-run household (vv. 11-12).

NOTE: The possibility that verse 11 refers to female ministers, rather than simply to the wives of (male) ministers, will be dealt with in an upcoming article in the series Women in the Church.

The following phrase is included within the moral qualifications of vv. 8-10:

“…holding the secret of the faith in a clean/pure sunei/dhsi$” (v. 9)

Normally, in early Christian language, pi/sti$ is to be rendered “trust”, i.e. trust in Christ, as also throughout the Pauline letters. However, gradually, the term came to have the semi-technical meaning “the (Christian) Faith”—Christianity itself as a religious designation. Something of this latter sense appears here in 1 Tim 3:9. As is clear from what follows in 3:14-16 and 4:1-5ff, the “secret of the faith” (to\ musth/rion th=$ pi/stew$) involves all of the core traditions and teachings which the minister must pass along and preserve/protect from corrupting influences. The word sunei/dhsi$ literally means “seeing (things) together”, i.e. a complete perception and understanding, often with a moral aspect, such as would correspond generally to the English word “conscience”. The moral/ethical sense is clear from vv. 8, 10, but it certainly also relates to a proper understanding of the Christian faith.

The first half concludes with vv. 14-16, and a Christological declaration (v. 16) that is the central point of the letter. It runs parallel to the exhortation to preserve correct teaching in 4:1-5 (and 6-10). Verses 14-15 relate to the (apparent) context of the letter—Paul is writing to Timothy, the written instruction serving an apostolic role in place of Paul’s appearance in person. The purpose of the writing is summed up with these words: “so that you might see [i.e. know] how it is necessary to turn (yourself) up (again) in the house of God”. The subjunctive perfect form ei)dh=|$ (eid¢¡s, “you might/should have seen”) could relate back to sunei/dhsi$ (suneíd¢sis, “see [things] together”) in v. 9 (cf. above). Also, in 3:11-12, it is said that the minister should be able to manage his own household, as a kind of prerequisite to serving in the house(hold) of God (i.e. the congregation), as stated here in v. 15. The verb a)nastre/fw (“turn up [again]”) in this context has the basic meaning of “return, go back (again)”, i.e. to show up repeatedly and work continually in “God’s house”. This “house of God” (originally used of the Temple) is specifically defined as the “congregation/assembly [e)kklhsi/a] of the living God”, and further characterized as “the pillar [stu=lo$] and base/ground [e)drai/wma] of the truth”. Again this truth relates back to the expression “secret of the faith” in v. 9, and, in verse 16, is centered in the core truth of the Gospel (regarding the person of Christ).

1 Timothy 3:16

This is one of the principal early Christian statements summarizing the Gospel message. In all likelihood, Paul (or the author) is drawing upon an earlier hymn or creedal formula. It is introduced this way:

“And being counted as one [i.e. we can acknowledge/confess together] (that) great (indeed) is the secret of good reverence [eu)se/beia]…”

The word eu)se/beia has no good translation in English; often it is rendered “religion, piety, godliness”, or something similar, but none of these are especially accurate. The related root verb se/bomai has to do with showing fear or reverence, esp. before God; and the compound verb eu)sebe/w essentially means showing good (that is, proper) reverence toward God. The eu)seb- word group is not used at all in the undisputed letters of Paul, but occurs more than a dozen times in the three Pastoral letters (1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 5:4; 6:3, 5-6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5, 12; Tit 1:1; 2:12)—one of the differences in vocabulary which leads many commentators to doubt Pauline authorship. Apart from the Pastorals, the word group is found only in 2 Peter (1:3, 6-7; 2:9; 3:11) and the book of Acts (3:12; 10:2, 7; and 17:23 [spoken by Paul in the narrative]). It suggests the beginning of an understanding which regards (early) Christianity as a distinct religion. Here in 1 Timothy, the expression “secret of good reverence” (musth/rion th=$ eu)sebei/a$) is generally synonymous with the “secret of the faith” (musth/rion th=$ pi/stew$) from 3:9. The fundamental declaration of this “secret” in v. 16 is expressed in a hymnic statement, beginning with a relative pronoun (o%$, “who”) and consisting of six parallel lines:

“…[i.e. Jesus Christ] who
e)fanerw/qh e)n sarki/
was made to shine (forth) in (the) flesh
e)dikaiw/qh e)n pneu/mati
was made right/just in (the) Spirit
w&fqh a&gge/loi$
was seen (among the) Messengers
e)khru/xqh e)n e&qnesin
was proclaimed among (the) nations
e)pisteu/qh e)n ko/smw|
was trusted in (the) world
a)nelh/mfqh e)n do/ch|
was taken up in honor/glory

Each line contains an aorist passive verb followed by the preposition e)n (“in, among”) + dative; the preposition is missing in the third line, but probably should be assumed there as well. This simple, rhythmic structure would allow for easy memorization and use as a hymn or confessional formula. It consists of a set of three related pairs:

  • In the Flesh / Spirit
  • Among the Messengers (Angels) / Nations
  • In the World / Glory

It is also possible to read it as a chiasm:

Clearly these lines narrate the basic facts and elements of the Gospel, but not according to a chronological arrangement, as we might expect.

Perhaps most difficult is the use of the verb dikai/ow in the first line. It literally means “make right/just”, and is often used in the sense of a person being made (or declared) right/just before God, a sense which would not seem entirely appropriate applied to the person of Jesus. However, the verb may also be understood in the more general sense of “making (things) right”. An important aspect of the early Christian view of Jesus was that his death on the cross took place even though he was righteous and innocent of any crime; as such, on a basic level, his death was a terrible miscarriage of justice, one which God “made right” through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to His right hand in heaven. This working-out of justice was done through the Spirit of God—the same (Holy) Spirit which makes believers right before God through trust in Christ.

Mention should be made of the important textual variant in 1 Tim 3:16. At the start of the hymn-formula, the majority of manuscripts read qeo/$ (“God”) instead of the relative pronoun o%$ (“who”). In spite of some opposition, most commentators (correctly) recognize that the relative pronoun is almost certainly original. It is appropriate to the hymnic/confessional form, and transcriptional probability overwhelming supports the alteration from o%$ to qeo/$, rather than the other way around. In the uncial Greek letters, o%$ would appear as os, which was then mistaken for qs, an abbreviated form of qeo$ (qeos). This “sacred name” abbreviation would be marked by an overline (+q+s), making it extremely unlikely that it would have been mistaken for the relative pronoun os. The change is probably also to be explained by the difficulty of syntax with the relative pronoun: “the secret of good reverence…who was…”; this difficulty is alleviated somewhat if we read the remainer of v. 16 essentially as a quotation: “…the secret of good reverence: (of Jesus Christ) ‘who was etc etc…'” On the other hand, if the majority reading turned out to be correct, then the “secret” would be localized specifically (primarily) in the incarnation of Christ (“God manifest in the flesh”).

Outline of 1 Timothy
  • Greeting (1:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (1:3-20), regarding
    —Preservation of correct teaching and tradition (vv. 3-11)
    —Paul’s own example as minister of the Gospel (vv. 12-20)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (2:1-3:13)
    —General instruction on Prayer and Worship (2:1-8)
    —continuation, emphasizing the role and position of Women (2:9-15)
    —Regarding “Overseers” (3:1-7)
    —Regarding “Servants/Ministers” (3:8-13)
  • Central declaration (3:14-16)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (4:1-16), regarding
    —False teaching (4:1-5)
    —Preservation of correct teaching and (ethical) conduct (4:6-10)
    —Example of Timothy as minister and apostolic representative (4:11-16)
  • Guidelines for the Churches (5:1-6:2)
    —General instruction related to the handling of men and women (5:1-2)
    —Regarding (female) “Widows” (5:3-16)
    —Regarding (male) “Elders” (5:17-20)
    —[Miscellaneous/personal instruction] (5:21-25)
    —Regarding those in the churches who are Slaves (6:1-2)
  • Exhortation to Timothy (6:1-19), regarding
    —False teaching and ethical conduct (vv. 1-10)
    —Example/encouragement for Timothy as minister of the Gospel (vv. 11-16)
    —The use of riches (vv. 17-19)
  • Conclusion (final instruction) and benediction (6:20-21)

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