Sola Scriptura: 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Sola Scriptura

The first series of Reformation Friday articles dealt with the doctrine of “Justification by Faith” and the principle of Sola Fide (i.e., salvation through faith alone). Our second subject will be the principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)—that is, the Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) as the primary, if not exclusive, source of authority for all matters of theology, teaching, and the Christian life.

This Protestant principle was born out of the early years of the Reformation, but did not develop and coalesce into a distinct article of faith until some years had passed. The historical context of this development, often ignored or unknown by Protestant Christians today, is worth summarizing briefly.

By the onset of the Reformation (usually tied to the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517), the late medieval Roman Catholic Church had established a number of lines of authoritative religious tradition, having grown and developed over many centuries. However, it was the concentration of this authority in the Roman hierarchy that was most problematic for the princes and leaders in the German Empire. Indeed, the Pope (bishop of Rome) was accorded virtually an absolute and infallible religious authority, though one which was an extension of the authority possessed by bishops and archbishops throughout the old (Roman) Imperial system, based on the theological principle of apostolic succession—that is, an authority inherited and continued from the first apostles (the idea of Apostolic Tradition among first-century believers is touched on below). The Pope, in particular, was seen as the spiritual successor of Peter as the head (and foundation-rock) of the Church.

At the same time, a vast corpus of authoritative Church Law (Canon Law) had accumulated, including the decisions of the bishops in the various international Church Councils, as well as many other ecclesiastical rulings. Other customs and traditions had become equally authoritative in practice, even if they had not been specifically spelled out in the Canon Law.

As learned Christians began, under the influence of Renaissance scholarship and education, to study the text of Scripture (esp. the Greek New Testament) in more detail, many people noticed that there was little (if any) clear Scriptural support for these authoritative Roman Catholic beliefs, traditions and customs. Gradually, fueled by the socio-political tensions within the German Empire (as well as in the neighboring countries) over the influence of the Roman government, prominent leaders, ministers, and scholars began to express dissatisfaction and to speak out against the authoritative Roman Catholic traditions.

At first, the conflict between Scripture and Roman Catholic Tradition was only expressed in a marginal way, being implied at key points, for example, in Luther’s 95 Theses or Zwingli’s 67 Articles, the Ten Theses of Berne, etc. Even the foundational Augsburg Confession (1530) deals with the question of the authority of Scripture only in passing or indirectly, though the seminal principle of Sola Scriptura is implied throughout. See, for example, the opening sentence of article 22 (at the close of the first part), where it is stated that the “sum of doctrine” among Protestants contains “nothing which is discrepant with the Scriptures, or with the Church Catholic”. The First Helvetic (Basle) Confession in 1536 is one of the first Protestant creeds or confessions of faith with a clear statement (Article I) regarding the nature and status of the Scriptures. While this statement is quite brief, it was developed considerably in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566)—here, quoting from chapter 1:

“We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God Himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures. And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.”

The later Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) gives, in its first chapter, an even more systematic expression of the Sola Scriptura doctrine, from the Reformed standpoint. The Lutheran Tradition has an equally clear statement in the opening of its Formula of Concord (1576). Many Protestant theologians have defended and expounded the Sola Scriptura principle. One of the earlier treatments of the subject, within the framework of a rudimentary Systematic Theology, is by John Calvin in his famous Institutes (Book I, Chapters 6-10).

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In these articles, we will be examining the Scriptural (New Testament) basis for the Protestant Sola Scriptura doctrine, beginning with the famous declaration in 2 Timothy 3:16 (discussed below). It will be helpful to define first what the earliest Christians understood by the “Scriptures”. It is abundantly clear that, with one possible exception, the “Scriptures” (lit. “Writings,” grafai, grammata) refer to the Old Testament Scriptures, though there is some uncertainty regarding the extent of the Old Testament that is meant. Unquestionably, early Christians, following the view of contemporary Jews, considered the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi), and the Psalms to be uniquely inspired and authoritative Scripture. Moreover, all of these books were authoritative because of their prophetic character. The Prophetic books throughout contain oracles of God’s words, while similarly the Pentateuch is rooted in the revelation of the Torah to Moses; the Psalms tended to be grouped together with the Prophets, its authors (such as David) being understood as functioning as inspired prophets (cf. Mark 12:36 par; Acts 1:16; 2:30; 4:25). It is uncertain whether, or to what extent, the remaining books of the Old Testament were considered authoritative Scripture in the same way. By the second half of the 1st century A.D., it is likely that Jews and early Christians accepted something like the entire canonical Old Testament as authoritative, but we cannot be absolutely certain on this point.

In 2 Tim 3:15, the specific expression ta\ i(era\ gra/mmata (“the sacred Writings”) is used, an expression that had become relatively well-established in reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, though it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (the unprefixed adjective i(ero/$ is itself rare, used only in 1 Cor 9:13). The same expression is found in the writings of Philo of Alexandria (Life of Moses 2.292) and Josephus (Antiquities 10.210), roughly contemporary with the New Testament usage here.

Our studies will take the following course. After an initial examination of 2 Tim 3:16 (below), we will be looking at other representative New Testament passages in relation to the following topics:

    • References reflecting the view of Jesus and first-century Christians on the Old Testament Scriptures
    • The Gospel (and the Gospels) as Scripture, in terms of:
      • The words of Jesus himself
      • The Gospel message
      • The inspired character of the Gospel narratives
    • The authority of the Apostolic Tradition—i.e., the words and writings of the apostles has having authorative/inspired Scriptural status
    • The main challenges to the Sola Scriptura doctrine within the New Testament itself

The last topic will be touched on at a number of points throughout the individual studies (cf. below), but our final article(s) will bring the manner into sharper focus.

2 Timothy 3:15-17

The central New Testament declaration regarding the inspiration of Scripture—and arguably the only reference that is directly on point—is the famous statement in 2 Timothy 3:16:

“Every Writing (is) God-breathed and (is) profitable toward teaching…”

There is, unfortunately, a tendency by Christians—Protestant Christians, in particular—to cite this verse out of context. When so cited out of context, it sounds much more like an absolute declaration regarding the nature of Scripture. When read within the full context of chapters 3-4, however, there is a rather a different emphasis to verses 15-17.

Before proceeding, a word about the authorship of 2 Timothy. All three of the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus) are presented as genuine letters by Paul to his younger ministerial colleagues (Timothy & Titus). Many scholars, however, including nearly all critical commentators, regard these letters as pseudonymous—and, as such, were likely written considerably later (toward the end of the first century, or even the beginning of the second). There are legitimate arguments for pseudonymity that need to be considered, though, in my view, there is far more evidence (in favor of pseudonymity) in the case of 1 Timothy, compared with 2 Timothy and Titus. Indeed, 2 Timothy appears to have much more in common with the undisputed letters, in terms of content, style, and points of emphasis. For the purpose of this study, I will treat 2 Timothy as a genuine work by Paul, while recognizing the merit of at least some of the arguments that have been posited for pseudonymity.

Chapter 3 begins with an eschatological section (vv. 1-9), warning (Timothy) against wicked and immoral persons who pose a threat to believers within the Church. The danger of ‘false believers’ is part of the end-time period of distress, during which there will be an increase of wickedness and opposition to God. This is central to the eschatological worldview of early Christians, seen clearly in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 13 par); the false prophets and Messianic pretenders predicted by Jesus (Mk 13:6, 21-22 par) came to include the idea of false and deceptive Christians who would corrupt the Church and lead people astray. First John shows perhaps the clearest evidence of this development within early Christian eschatology (see esp. 2:18-27; 4:1-6), but the developing polemic against heresy can also be seen in 2 Peter, Jude, and the Pastoral Letters.

In contrast to the godless ‘false believers’ who oppose the truth and will not accept sound teaching, Paul (or the author) emphasizes the importance of ministers (like Timothy) holding firm to what we may call the “Apostolic Tradition”. By this expression is meant the Gospel message and other authoritative teaching communicated by the apostles—the pioneering missionaries (like Paul) who first proclaimed the Gospel and played a key role in the founding of congregations. Verse 10 clearly expresses the importance of this tradition, as exemplified (for Timothy) in the person of Paul:

“But you (have) followed along (with) me in the teaching, the leading (a way of life), the setting forth (of purpose), the trust (you hold), the long endurance, the love, the remaining under (with patience)…”

The Apostolic Tradition thus entails both teaching and personal example—i.e., character and way of life, etc. This is Paul’s emphasis in verses 10-14, stressing the importance for Christian ministers of holding firm to this inherited tradition:

“But you must remain in the (thing)s which you (have) learned and trusted in, having seen (from) alongside whom you learned it” (v. 14)

It is in this context, that Paul (or the author) makes reference to the Scriptures, in verse 15:

“…and that from infancy you have known [the] sacred Writings, the (writing)s being able [i.e. that are able] to make you wise unto salvation through (the) trust th(at is) in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

They way that verses 15-17 are related to vv. 10-14 makes relatively clear that the “sacred Writings” are understood as supplemental (“and that…”) to the Apostolic Tradition. As a Jewish Christian (cf. Acts 16:1ff), Timothy would have known the Old Testament Scriptures from childhood (spec. since he was an infant). These Scriptures remain important for Christians, for two reasons: (1) they provide the framework for early Christian religious and ethical instruction (“able to make you wise”), and (2) they point to the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah (“the Anointed Yeshua”) and confirm the truth of the Gospel (“…unto salvation through trust in…Yeshua”). We will be discussing these points further in the upcoming studies.

The special character of the (Old Testament) Scriptures is further described in vv. 16-17:

“Every (such) Writing (is) God-breathed and profitable toward teaching, toward rebuke, toward straightening up, toward training a child in justice/righteousness, (so) that the man of God might be fit, having been fitted out toward every good work.”

Two key points (or claims) are made regarding the Scriptures:

    • They are “God-breathed” (qeo/pneusto$)—This adjective, which is found (albeit rarely) in other Hellenistic Jewish and Greco-Roman writings (e.g., Pseudo-Phocylides 129; Plutarch Moralia, p. 904F), more or less accurately captures what most Christians mean by the special inspiration of Scripture. It primarily refers to the idea of prophecy—of a message by God communicated to the prophet (Scripture-writer) through a special (and gifted) revelation. For Jews in the 1st century B.C./A.D., this refers unquestionably to the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) and the Psalms (cf. above); and early Christians inherited this religious view. The inspiration of the Scriptures, in at least a basic and fundamental sense, would have been accepted by virtually all early Christians without reservation.
    • They are “profitable” (w)fe/limo$)—that is, for Christian teaching and all manner of religious-ethical instruction. The underlying denotation for the adjective w)fe/limo$ is of the ‘piling up’ of wealth (i.e., profit, gain); it can be used in a more general sense, for something that is useful or advantageous, but here it is better to hold to the fundamental meaning of “profitable”.

I must emphasize again that, from the standpoint of our passage here, the Scriptures are supplemental to the Apostolic Tradition—the Tradition itself has priority for early Christians (and their pastors/ministers). It is this point, which will be further demonstrated and illustrated through an examination of other key New Testament passages, which runs contrary to the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura. While the Scriptures are immanently valuable for first-century Christians, they are scarcely the sole (or even primary) source of authority for them. Rather, it is the apostolic line of tradition—the Gospel message and other authoritative teaching inherited from the apostles—that holds first place.

November 23: 1 Timothy 3:16b

1 Timothy 3:16

The Hymn

The hymn, as such, is extremely brief, yet the designation (as a hymn) seems appropriate, both in terms of its form and content. The way it is used in the context of 1 Timothy does suggest that an existing work is being quoted. Some commentators believe that this portion represents only a fragment of a larger work.

The hymn itself is made out of 3 short couplets, exhibiting the parallelism common to ancient Near Eastern poetry, though only loosely so. The parallelism of the key terms in each couplet is dualistic, but not necessarily antithetical, with juxtaposed pairs Flesh/Spirit, Angels/Nations, and World/(Heavenly) Splendor.

After designating the introduction to the hymn as v. 16a (cf. the previous note), I will refer to the three couplets as 16b-d, respectively.

First Couplet (verse 16b)

e)fanerw/qh e)n sarki/
e)dikaiw/qh e)n pneu/mati
was made to shine forth in (the) flesh,
(and) was made right in (the) Spirit”

The hymn begins with a relative pronoun (o%$), just like the hymns in Phil 2:6-11 and Col 1:15-20; on this point, cf. the introductory note on the Philippians hymn. The abruptness of this pronoun, without any obvious subject given in context, no doubt explains the textual variant that reads qeo/$ (“God”) instead of the relative pronoun. While qeo/$ is the majority reading, it almost certainly is secondary (and not original), as most commentators (and virtually all critical commentators) recognize. It is easy to see how qeo/$ might derive—whether accidentally or intentionally (as a ‘correction’)—from o%$, but most difficult to explain how the reverse could have occurred. In the Greek (uncial) lettering of the manuscripts, the relative pronoun (os) could be mistaken for the common shorthand for “God” (qs); but a protection against the reverse error was built into the copying tradition by marking the abbreviated “divine names” (nomina sacra) with a horizontal bar (+q+s).

The lack of any obvious syntactical point of reference (in the preceding verses) for the relative pronoun also facilitated the change from o%$ to qeo/$. The only real possibility of a subject for the (masculine) pronoun is the (masculine) noun qeo/$ (“God”), occurring twice in v. 15. To avoid confusion, copyists may have been inclined to make this identification explicit; such a specific identification had the added advantage of emphasizing the deity of Christ. The clearly documented tendency among copyists was to expand and enhance the Christological aspect or import of a passage, rather than to do anything that would reduce it.

For all these reasons, in additional to the regular use of the relative pronoun to begin such a hymnic passage (cf. above), we must regard the relative pronoun (o%$) as the original reading of the text at this point. Though not clearly stated, it is quite apparent that Jesus Christ is the implied subject. Thus, like the other Christ-hymns, the point of these lines is to declare (and define) who Jesus is.

The parallelism of the first couplet is simple and precise, though conceptually it presents certain difficulties—difficulties that are due largely to the abbreviated phrasing required by these short poetic lines. Let us consider each component together.

e)fanerw/qh / e)dikaiw/qh

The two verbs are both aorist passive indicative forms, of fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) and dikaio/w (“make right”), respectively. While the verb fanero/w specifically denotes something shining (with light), it is often used in the more general sense of an appearance or manifestation. It occurs quite often in the New Testament (49 times, plus in other compound forms). When used of Jesus, it often has the general meaning of his appearance on earth—that is, his earthly life, but also his second appearance (his end-time return). The verb also was handy as a way of referencing the manifestation of Jesus’ person (on earth) as a unique revelation by God—i.e., a “shining forth” of a divine and heavenly reality, a secret uncovered and made known to God’s people in the end-time (on the term musth/rion [“secret”], cf. the previous note, as well as my earlier word-study series). This deeper sense of the verb is especially prominent in the Johannine writings (Jn 1:31; 2:11; 17:6; 1 Jn 1:2, etc), but Paul attests to it as well (e.g., Rom 3:21; 2 Cor 4:10-11); the Christological aspect is emphasized in Col 1:26; 3:4. The use of the verb in 2 Tim 1:10 (along with the related noun e)pifanei/a) is noteworthy, and cf. also the occurrence in Titus 1:3. Depending on one’s view of the authorship of the Pastoral letters, these last two references may inform the use of the verb here in 1 Timothy (to a greater or lesser extent).

The verb dikaio/w, along with the entire dikaio– word group, has a central place in the Pauline letters (and theology), though admittedly it is used in a rather different sense here than it typically is by Paul. The verb essentially means “make right”, in the general sense of making things right, but also in the specific judicial context of “declaring just”, “establishing justice”, etc. Paul tends to use the verb in a distinctive soteriological sense—viz., of humankind (believers) being “made right” in God’s eyes, freed from bondage to the power of sin, and saved from God’s coming judgment upon the world. There is a strong judicial component to this use of the dikaio– word group by Paul, informed by the judgment-setting—i.e., believers will be considered “just” by God and will pass through the Judgment into eternal life.

The Pauline usage of dikaio/w has caused difficulties for readers of the hymn, since it is being applied to Jesus, rather than to sinful human beings. This difficulty can be alleviated if we consider the possibility that the hymn represents an earlier (traditional) Christian composition, and was not necessarily written by Paul (even if Paul is considered the author of 1 Timothy). We must consider the meaning of the verb in its broader, fundamental sense—that is, of “making things right”. This can refer to correcting an injustice, to vindicating the innocent, and so forth. An aspect of Jesus’ death that is sometimes ignored by Christians, but which formed a significant part of the early Gospel message, was an emphasis on his death as an injustice. Jesus was innocent of any crime, and was certainly not deserving of the cruel and shameful punishment inflicted on him (cf. Mk 15:14f par; Matt 27:4, 19, 24; Lk 23:4, 14, 22, 47; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 13:28). The fact that Jesus’ death occurred by crucifixion had an enormous impact on first-century believers, the context of which can no longer be reproduced (or entirely appreciated) today. It was a major barrier to acceptance of Jesus by many at the time (Jews, especially), and required exceptional effort and attention by early missionaries to explain just how and why the Messiah (and Son of God) could have been put to death in that manner.

e)n sarki/ / e)n pneu/mati

In each of the lines, the predicate is a prepositional expression involving the preposition e)n (“in”). This preposition can have a rather wide semantic range, so the force of it in each expression must be considered carefully. The sense of the first line is relatively straightforward: it explains the nature of Jesus’ “shining forth” (vb fanero/w)—namely, that he was manifest as a human being “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). This is the normal, physical-anthropological meaning of the word sa/rc, another term which tends to carry a special theological sense as used by Paul in his letters. There is no reference here whatever to the sinful aspect of human flesh (cp. Rom 8:3), though the implication of human (mortal) weakness and limitation may be inferred. If Paul was indeed the author of 1 Timothy, he may well have had something akin to the first half of the Philippians hymn (2:6-8) in mind here—i.e., the incarnation as a ‘lowering’ and an ’emptying’.

Along these same lines, it would be wrong to understand the juxtaposition of “flesh” vs. “Spirit” in the antagonistic sense that this dualism often carries in Paul’s letters. More appropriate to the context here is the juxtaposition we see in Rom 1:3-4—another passage that is often considered to be a quotation from a ‘Christ hymn’ (and which will be discussed in an upcoming note). If “flesh” represents the physical earthly life of human beings, the “spirit” (pneu=ma) properly indicates the opposite—the divine/heavenly life of God. The only question is whether the word pneu=ma should be understood in a more general sense, or with the specific meaning of the Spirit of God Himself.

As the context here in this line is the resurrection of Jesus (a point to be discussed further in the next note), and as it was the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead, it is fair to assume that “in the Spirit” means essentially “by the power of God’s Spirit”. The idea that Jesus was “in the Spirit” during the time of his ministry on earth goes back to early Gospel tradition—specifically to the tradition of Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10, and cf. especially Luke 4:1ff). Paul certainly emphasized the fact that Jesus’ resurrection took place through the power and presence of God’s Spirit (Rom 8:11ff), and, in the famous discussion on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, the implication is that, upon his resurrection, the exalted Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, sharing the same “life-making Spirit” (15:45; cf. 6:17). Conceivably, the wording in Rom 1:4 reflects earlier Jewish tradition that blends the idea of God’s “holy Spirit” with the power that makes the human spirit holy (on this, cf. my article on the Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls).

We may fairly summarize the juxtaposition of the lines in this couplet as follows:

    • “made to shine forth in the flesh” —Jesus’ earthly life which ended in the injustice of a cruel and shameful death (which he did not deserve)
    • “made right in the Spirit” —this injustice was corrected, and things were “made right” again through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, which took place through the power of God’s Spirit (“in the Spirit”)

In the next daily note, we will proceed to examine the next two couplets (16cd).



November 22: 1 Timothy 3:16a

1 Timothy 3:16


The recent daily notes have focused on the “Christ hymns” in Philippians (2:6-11) and Colossians (1:15-20), the largest and most prominent of the poetic/hymnic confessional statements, regarding the person of Jesus Christ, that occur in the New Testament. As I have discussed, many commentators believe that these ‘hymns’ represent pre-existing works that were adapted and included by the New Testament authors (i.e., Paul in Philippians and Colossians). The evidence for such adaptation is far from certain, though I would say it is more likely in the case of the Philippians hymn than for the Colossians hymn, which more clearly reflects key Pauline concepts and phrasing.

In 1 Timothy 3:16, we have another “Christ hymn”. It has the common attributes: an initial relative pronoun, poetic phrasing, utilization of traditional vocabulary and terminology, and is rooted in the early kerygma with an emphasis on the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus (exaltation-Christology). The brevity and peculiar wording of 1 Tim 3:16 make it all the more likely that, in this instance, the author is indeed quoting or making use of an existing hymnic statement on the person of Christ.

Complicating the picture are the critical questions regarding the authorship of the letter. Many commentators consider the Pastoral letters to be pseudonymous, written by someone other than Paul. Differences in vocabulary and style, along with other factors, have led scholars to this conclusion. I believe that a distinction needs to be made between 2 Timothy, which (in my view) demonstrates many authentic features of Pauline style and emphasis, and 1 Timothy, for which I find considerably more evidence of unusual vocabulary and manner of expression that may be deemed atypical of Paul. In any case, the matter continues to be debated, and the issues can scarcely be resolved in a short set of notes. For the purpose of this study, I treat the authorship of 1 Timothy as an open question, allowing for the strong possibility that the work is pseudonymous, while at the same time not ruling out the evidence of the text itself (i.e., that it was written by Paul).

Actually, the initial words of 1 Tim 3:16 provide a significant piece of evidence against Pauline authorship—the use of the word eu)se/beia. The eu)seb– word group occurs rather frequently in the Pastoral letters (especially 1 Timothy), but not once in any of the (other) letters of Paul. Given the significance of the word-group for the instruction of Christian congregations, if Paul were the author of the Pastorals, it is indeed strange that he never once uses it in his (other) letters to churches (and their leaders). In point of fact, the word-group is rare in the New Testament as a whole; apart from the Pastoral letters, the words occur only in the book of Acts and 2 Peter. The noun eu)se/beia is used 8 times in 1 Timothy, and once in 2 Timothy (3:5) and Titus (1:1), respectively. The related verb eu)sebe/w is used once in 1 Timothy (5:4), and the adverb eu)sebw=$ in 2 Tim 3:12 and Titus 2:12. Thus, of the word-group, the noun eu)se/beia is most prominent in 1 Timothy, and is distinctive of the vocabulary of the letter.

The noun eu)se/beia signifies the good (i.e. proper) reverence that one should show, especially to God, or to anything regarded as divine and holy. It is thus more or less synonymous with a pious religious mind-set, or with religion generally, though it draws upon the specific idea, common to ancient religion, but noted particularly in Old Testament tradition, of the “fear of God”; in older English parlance, we might render eu)se/beia as “god(ly) fear”. The author’s use of this word is especially significant for our study, since the “Christ hymn” follows as an explanation of what true eu)se/beia is for believers in Christ. Here is how the matter is stated in verse 16:

“and (it) being counted as one (by us all), (how) great is (the) secret of (our) good reverence [eu)se/beia]…”

The adverb o(mologoume/nw$ is formed from a passive participle of the verb o(mologe/w (“give account as one”). This verb is used relatively frequently in the New Testament, emphasizing what believers acknowledge and confess together (i.e., “as one”), and/or what they should acknowledge; Paul uses it only rarely (cf. Rom 10:9-10), but it occurs twice in the Pastorals (1 Tim 6:12; Tit 1:16). The adverb here essentially means “what is acknowledged by all of us (i.e., all believers)”, and represents one of the very first Christian creedal statements—i.e., a definitive declaration of what “we believe”. It is the hymn that defines what all true believers should acknowledge, though doubtless the author assumes that common consent would also be given to the exclamation “(how) great is (the) secret of (our) eu)se/beia” as well. Yet, what he is really saying here is that the heart of our religion—i.e., what we as believers hold in faith—is a great and wonderful secret (musth/rion), something hidden from people at large and revealed only to believers in Christ. For more on this idea, cf. my earlier study on the word musth/rion in the New Testament.

Since the Christ-hymn follows, it is clear that the secret is Christological—that is, a revelation regarding the person of Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done. However, before proceeding to a study on the hymn itself, let us give further consideration to the context of 3:16 within the letter of 1 Timothy.

The main body of the letter is comprised of three sections (2:1-3:16; 4:1-5:2; 5:3-6:2), in which the author (indicated as Paul) gives practical instruction on how the Christian congregations should be governed. Our verse is part of a short transitional passage (3:14-16), between the first and second sections. The first section deals primarily with the role of individual believers (men and women) in the congregations, including the qualifications and duties of ministers. At 3:14, the author (‘Paul’) gives a personal encouragement to the minister (‘Timothy’) whom he is addressing, in which he makes an important ecclesiological statement. That is to say, in vv. 14-16 we have a statement that reveals the author’s understanding of the place and nature of “the Church” (h( e)kklhsi/a). Let us see how this declaration in vv. 14-15 leads into the hymn of v. 16:

“I write these (thing)s to you, hoping to come toward you in short (order), but, if I should be slow (in coming), (I write so) that you might have seen [i.e., might know] how it is necessary to turn (oneself) about in (the) house of God, which is the gathered out (assembly) [e)kklhsi/a] of the living God, (the) pillar and support of the truth.” (vv. 14-15)

The verb a)nastre/fw means “turn up, turn over, turn around”, which can be used in reference to a person’s regular behavior; in English, we might say “go about (one’s business)”. The verbal particle dei=, indicates what “is necessary”, i.e., how one must behave in the “house [oi@ko$] of God”. This reflects the traditional idiom of believers as the “house” (i.e. the Temple) of God, using the imagery of a building (with pillars and a foundation holding up the structure). Paul certainly makes good use of this motif (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1; 6:16; also Eph 2:21), though it is hardly unique to his letters (Rev 3:12, etc).

What is especially distinctive of the house/temple image here in 1 Timothy is how it relates to the idea of the Church as a kind of holy repository where the truth is entrusted, to be guarded zealously by the ministers. This truth encompasses the entirety of the authoritative Christian tradition, handed down from the apostles (like Paul), to be preserved carefully within the local congregations. At the heart of this truth, located in the innermost shrine of the ‘Temple’, is the Christological statement, the revelation of the person and work of Christ, such as is expressed (in summary form) in the hymn of v. 16. This is called “the secret of (our) good reverence [eu)se/beia]”, an expression parallel (and largely synonymous) with “the secret of (our) trust [i.e. faith]” in verse 9. The term eu)se/beia, however, more properly summarizes the whole Christian religion, both our belief (pi/sti$) and our actions (pra/ci$) in the Community. Again the participial adverb o(mologoume/nw$ emphasizes what is acknowledged (and confessed) by all believers (together), with the implication that the dutiful minister will faithfully guard this belief. The central Christological character and substance of this belief is what the hymn (or hymn-fragment) in v. 16 expresses, and we will begin examining it in the next daily note.


Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Pauline Letters (Conclusion)

The Remaining Pauline Letters

Having examined the key passages in the five Pauline letters where eschatology features most prominently—1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans—it now remains to survey the eschatological references in the remaining letters. I begin with the two letters where Paul’s authorship is undisputed—Galatians and Philippians (Philemon contains no relevant references).


Galatians is not so replete with eschatological passages as are the other major Pauline letters. The primary reason for this surely is the single-minded attention Paul gives to the theological and religious-cultural questions surrounding the relationship of believers to the Torah and the Old Covenant. Even so, there is certainly an eschatological aspect to this area of Paul’s thought, as can be glimpsed by a brief survey of the most relevant passages.

Galatians 1:4

The central tenet of Paul’s soteriology was that the sacrificial death of Jesus freed humankind from bondage under the enslaving power of sin. According to this basic view, the world, in the present Age, is under the control of sin and evil. Paul expresses this clearly here when he states that Jesus gave himself “over our sins, so that he might take us out of th(is) evil Age”. Traditional Jewish eschatology drew a dividing line (conceptually) between “this Age” (o( ai)w\n ou!to$) and “the Age (that is) coming” (o( ai)w\n me/llwn). Paul frequently uses the expression “this Age” (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6, 8; 3:18-19; 2 Cor 4:4; also Eph 2:1-2), with the implication that this current Age is especially corrupt and dominated by evil. The Johannine writings express much the same idea, though with different terminology (1 John 5:19, etc). It is a fundamental tenet in eschatological thought that the time in which people are living, being close to the end of the Age (or cycle of Ages), is more widely corrupt and wicked than the times past—indeed, such wickedness is a sign that the end is near.

Galatians 3:22ff; 4:5ff

In parallel with the idea that humankind, in the present Age, is in bondage to sin, Paul also teaches that people are also in bondage under the Law. This juxtaposition of the Law and sin is one of the most controversial aspects of Paul’s thought (discussed at length in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”); and yet he expresses the association clearly enough both in Romans and here throughout Galatians. It is stated most precisely as part of the line of argument in chapter 3 (vv. 22ff). The binding power of the Torah is part of the Old Covenant, which is rooted in the present Age, dominated as it is by sin and evil. The coming of Jesus, with his sacrificial, atoning work, ushers in a New Covenant and the beginning of a New Age (i.e. the “Age to come”). But this is a “realized” eschatology—the New Age is experienced now, in the present, only by believers in Christ, and only through the presence of the Spirit, as Paul describes, especially, in 4:5-6ff. The bondage under the “Law” is not limited to Israelites and Jews, but applies universally to all humankind (cf. how Paul presents this in 4:8-11).

Other References

Several other references with eschatological significance may be noted:


We may note first the references to the “day of (Jesus) Christ” in Phil 1:6, 10, and 2:16; this is a Christian development of the Old Testament motif of the “day of YHWH”, when He will appear to bring Judgment on a particular nation or people. By the first-century A.D., the idea was thoroughly and profoundly eschatological—i.e. the end-time Judgment on the nations—with God’s presence in the Judgment filled by his Anointed (Messianic) representative. Thus, for early Christians, it was Jesus Christ who will act as Judge, overseeing the Judgment (Acts 17:31, etc); this will take place upon his return to earth at the end-time. For Paul’s use of this idiom (“the day [of Christ]”) elsewhere, cf. 1 Thess 5:2-5; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:2-3; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:13; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; Rom 2:16, etc. It is typically coupled with the idea of believers being able to present themselves with confidence before Christ at his coming, and so here in the three references in Philippians. The climactic lines of the “Christ-hymn” (2:10-11) similarly allude to the role of the exalted Christ as ruler and judge over all.

The Judgment itself (i.e. the judgment on the wicked) is alluded to in 1:28 and 3:19, emphasizing again how the idea of salvation, for early Christians, was primarily eschatological—that is, we are saved from the coming Judgment. Moreover, for believers, salvation also involves entering (and inheriting) the Kingdom of God (cf. above), which entails the idea of receiving a heavenly reward. Paul’s repeated references to this reward that awaits the faithful believer, is very much reflective of the early Christian eschatology—cf. 3:8ff, 14. A more direct promise and eschatological declaration is found in 2:15 (with echoes of Dan 12:3):

“…that you should come to be without fault and without ‘horns’, offspring [i.e. children] of God without (any) flaw, in the middle of a twisted (Age) of coming-to-be and (those) having been turned throughout, among whom you will shine forth as lights in the world!”

The future resurrection of believers is specifically emphasized in 3:10-11, drawing upon the familiar Pauline motif of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (‘dying and rising with Christ’). The eschatological orientation continues in verses 17-21, warning again of the impending Judgment (v. 19) and the heavenly reward that awaits for those believers who remain faithful (vv. 20-21). This promise of final/future reward is expressed primarily in terms of the resurrection, along with the motif of the ‘heavenly city’ (cf. on Gal 4:26, above):

“For our citizenship [poli/teuma] begins under [i.e. has its existence] in the heavenly (place)s, out of which also we look to receive from (God) a savior—(our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed—who will change the shape of the body of our lowliness, (to be) formed together in the body of his honor/splendor [do/ca], according to the (power) working in (him) th(at makes) him to be able even to set all (thing)s in order under him.” (vv. 20-21)

The end-time appearance, or return, of Jesus is clearly indicated here, which will coincide with the resurrection/transformation of our bodies (1 Thess 4:4-17; 1 Cor 15:23ff); it is also alluded to in the short declaration in 4:5b: “The Lord is near [e)ggu/$]”. To be sure, this is another reference to the imminent eschatology of Paul, which he shared with most believers of the time, as I have noted repeatedly; on the use of adverb e)ggu/$ (“near”) to signify this, cf. the earlier article in this series on the imminent eschatology of early Christians.

Colossians and Ephesians

Many critical commentators view both Colossians and Ephesians as pseudonymous. For my part, I accept Colossians as authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), with no real reservations. However, the situation with Ephesians is a bit more complicated, with more questions that could legitimately be raised in terms of the vocabulary, style, etc, of the letter. Even so, the eschatology of Ephesians does not appear to differ markedly from either Colossians or the other undisputed letters. Therefore, all other critical questions (regarding authorship) aside, it is proper to examine the eschatological passages of Ephesians here together with those of Colossians.

The exordium and opening section(s) of Colossians (1:3-29) are full of eschatological references and allusions which reflect other key passages (already discussed) elsewhere in Paul’s letters. As we have seen, the thanksgiving aspect of the exordium allows Paul the opportunity to encourage believers to remain faithful, in light of the promise of the heavenly reward that awaits them. This is emphasized here in 1:5, 12:

“…through the hope th(at is) being stretched out (waiting) for you in the heavenly (place)s” (v. 5)
“…giving (thanks) to the Father for (His) good favor, to the (One) (hav)ing made us fit unto the portion of the lot [klh=ro$, i.e. inheritance] of the holy (one)s in the light” (v. 12)

The end-time (and afterlife) Judgment scene, along with the role of the Anointed Jesus as Judge (cf. above), is likewise alluded to in 1:18, 22:

“…and he [i.e. Jesus] is the head of the body of the (ones) called out [e)kklhsi/a], the (one) who is (himself the) beginning, (the one) produced first [prwto/toko$] out of the dead, (so) that he should come to be (the one) being [i.e. who is] first in all (things).” (v. 18)
“…and now he (has) made (things) different (for you) from (what they were before) [vb a)pokatalla/ssw], in the body of his flesh, through (his) death, to make you (to) stand alongside (him) in his sight, holy and without fault and without (any reason) to call (you) in (to judgment) [a)ne/gklhto$].” (v. 22)

Even though Colossians 1-2 indicates a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, here his position as (heavenly) ruler and judge is expressed more traditionally, in terms of his resurrection and exaltation. Moreover, it is his sacrificial death which enables believers to stand before him in holiness (at the Judgment). These are familiar Pauline themes, as is the idea in 1:26f, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a secret (musth/rion) that has been kept hidden throughout the Ages, until the present time—cf. Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:1, 7; and, similarly, with special emphasis, in Eph 3:3-6, 9. This idea is strongly eschatological, i.e. that believers are living at the onset of a New Age, with the implication that the current Age, with all that has gone before, is coming to an end.

Colossians 3:1-4

The most prominent eschatological passage in Colossians is 3:1-4. As in the exordium, Paul ties his exhortation for believers—that they should live in holiness and faithful devotion—to the promise of Jesus’ end-time return. He makes use of the traditional concept of believers being gathered to Jesus, at his return (1 Thess 4:14-18; cp. Mark 13:26-27 par, etc), but deepens the imagery through the theological (and Christological) motif of beliefs being united with Jesus (“in Christ”). Note how this added dimension gives to the traditional eschatology a profound new meaning:

“So, if you were raised together with Yeshua, you must seek the (thing)s above, the (place at) which the Anointed (One) is sitting on (the) giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God—you must set (your) mind (on) the (thing)s above, not (on) the (thing)s upon the earth. For you died away, and your life has been hidden with the Anointed, in God; (and) when the Anointed should shine forth, (he who is) our life, then you also will shine forth with him in honor/splendor.”

It is beautiful indeed how Paul weaves into the idea of Jesus’ return the (baptismal) imagery of believers participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom 6:3-4 etc, and earlier here in Col 2:11-13, 20). To use the familiar Pauline language, believers are “in Christ”, which means that, in a real sense, we are with him where he is now—at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. So, too, we will be with him when he appears on earth at the end-time. We might even say that we will be meeting ourselves, not in a concrete metaphysical sense, but in terms of a full realization, and fulfillment, of what we are in Christ (for a similar idea, expressed rather differently, cf. 1 John 2:28-3:3).

Additional References in Ephesians

As noted above, Ephesians restates many of the same ideas and points of emphasis in Colossians, and this is also true in terms of the eschatology of the letters. For example, Eph 1:8 more or less says the same as Col 1:5, 12 (cf. above), bringing together the idea of the “hope” (e)lpi/$) that waits for believers in heaven, along with the heavenly reward that we will inherit (as our “lot”, klh=ro$, klhronomi/a). This also is part of the exordium (and thanksgiving) in Ephesians, which resembles that of Colossians in some of its wording and theological expression, such as the emphasis on Christ’s position as ruler and head over all things (1:20-23), including his role in the Judgment at the end of this Age (v. 21, cp. Col 1:18, 22, above). A different sort of emphasis is found in 1:10-12ff, which blends together “realized” and future eschatology, drawing upon the (baptismal) imagery of being “sealed” with the Spirit; this is expressed in unquestionably Pauline terms:

    • In Christ (“in him”) we have already (i.e. now, in the present) obtained our inheritance (vb klhro/w)—v. 11, “realized” eschatology
    • Yet in Christ (“in him”) we still hope for what is to come (v. 12), our “seal” of the Spirit being a promise (and guarantee) of our full inheritance (klhronomi/a)—v. 14, future eschatology
      (cf. also 4:30 where the Spirit-seal is said to be specifically for “the day of loosing from [bondage]”, i.e. the day of Christ and his return)

We may also see an echo of Col 3:1-4 (cf. above) in Eph 2:6-7, where we find the same basic idea of believers being present (now) with Jesus in the heavenly places, with the promise that we will experience this more fully “in the coming Ages”. Admittedly, the eschatological sense of this is not as strong in Ephesians as in Colossians, but it is still clearly discernable. A different way of expressing the (future) realization of our identity in Christ is found in Eph 4:13, with wording that is more distinctive of Ephesians:

“…until we all should meet down (together) into the unity of the trust and the knowledge (we have) about the Son of God, (and so) into (being) a complete man—into the measure of (the) stature of the fullness of the Anointed”

Another image of this completeness of believers in Christ, only to be realized at the end-time, and in the Ages to come, is that of the bride presented to her husband in perfect holiness and purity (5:27, cf. 2 Cor 11:2, and compare Rev 19:7ff).

Two other passages in Ephesians have an eschatological emphasis; both are part of a traditional mode of ethical instruction and exhortation, urging believers to continued faithfulness:

    • 5:5, 8-14—The use of light vs. darkness imagery, along with much of the wording, is quite similar to Paul’s instruction in 1 Thess 5:1-11 (cf. the earlier article on this passage), though perhaps with somewhat less eschatological urgency
    • 6:12-13ff—The characterization of the present Age as evil and wicked, and that it is all the more so as the end draws closer, is common theme in Jewish and Christian eschatology of the period; the urgency of the instruction here implies that believers are about to enter into an especially intense period of distress and persecution (cf. Mark 13:5-13ff par, and throughout the book of Revelation, etc)

2 Timothy (and the Pastoral Letters)

As with Colossians and Ephesians, there are many questions (and doubts) among scholars regarding the authorship of the Pastoral Letters; many critical commentators consider all three letters to be pseudonymous. I am inclined (on entirely objective grounds) to accept 2 Timothy as authentically Pauline; in my view, the style, wording, points of emphasis, not to mention the personal details, all seem to conform fairly closely with what we find in the other (undisputed) letters. By contrast, 1 Timothy contains many words and phrases, etc, which are atypical of Paul, and so the questions regarding authorship are considerably more significant; the situation with the letter to Titus is harder to judge, due to its relative brevity. As it happens, there are many more eschatological references and allusions in 2 Timothy than there are in 1 Timothy or Titus—a fact which would tend to confirm the authenticity of 2 Timothy, and, perhaps, support the idea that 1 Timothy (and Titus) were written later, and/or by someone other than Paul.

Indeed, as I read 2 Timothy closely, I can find little (if anything) to distinguish the eschatology of the letter as being in any way different from that of Paul’s other letters. The language is generally similar, including the expression “that day”, referring to “the day of Christ”, when the exalted Jesus will appear and God will judge the world through him (cf. above). The specific expression “that day”, also found in 2 Thess 1:10 (cp. “the day” in 1 Thess 5:4; Rom 2:16), occurs here in 2 Tim 1:12, 18 and 4:8.

Also thoroughly Pauline is the idea of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a secret hidden away throughout the Ages, but only revealed (to believers) in the present time—2 Tim 1:9-10, and cf. on Col 1:26f above. The language and wording is quite consistent with Paul’s usage elsewhere, as are the references to the future resurrection and the heavenly reward that awaits believers (2 Tim 2:10, 18). The eschatological dimension to the idea of salvation (2:10) is typical of the earliest Christian period, and tends not to be as prominent in later writings. As for the reference to the resurrection in 2:18, the fact that some might say that it “had already come to be” —that is, it had, somehow, already taken place—demonstrates the prevalence of the same imminent eschatology we see elsewhere in Paul’s letters (and throughout most the New Testament); by contrast, toward the end of the first century A.D. (and thereafter), this sort of imminent expectation begins to disappear from early Christianity (cf. below).

The most extensive eschatological passages in 2 Timothy are the sections of (ethical) instruction in 3:1-9ff and 4:1-5. This parallels similar paraenetic passages in the other letters of Paul, only here the instruction is aimed at the minister (Timothy, in the letter), warning him that, as bad as things might be (in the world) at the moment, they will become even worse as the end draws closer (cf. above on Eph 6:12-13ff). Here is how the instruction begins in 3:1:

“And you must know this: that in (the) last days, moments (when things sink) lower will (soon) stand in (on us)…”

The increasing wickedness and lack of faith in the population at large—including among those claiming to be believers—serves as a clear sign that these are the “last days” and that the end-time is near. The description in vv. 2-5 echoes traditional Jewish and early Christian eschatological narratives (cf. Mark 13:5-13 par), which include the presence of divisions and incursions of false teaching among believers. As an instruction for ministers, this warning against false prophets and teachers is especially appropriate (vv. 6-9). So intense will this be, in the time that is soon coming (4:3f), that many in the congregations may no longer wish to listen to sound and reliable teaching, instead turning away to more superficially attractive or exciting words. In these sorts of warnings, with their eschatological context, the idea of the coming Judgment is never far away (4:1).

By comparison with 2 Timothy, there are few eschatological references in 1 Timothy and Titus, and, in those which do occur, there does not seem to be the same sense of urgency or imminence surrounding them. Compare, for example, 1 Timothy 4:1ff, which, on the surface, resembles 2 Tim 3:1ff—describing a time of increasing corruption and wickedness in the world. 2 Tim 3:1 begins “in the last days…”, implying that believers currently are living in the “last days”; in 1 Tim 4:1 the wording is different, referring to things that will happen “in (the) following moments”, i.e. later, sometime after the present moment. This gives to the instruction a somewhat different context; it is more generalized, relating to things the minister must deal with (false/deceptive teaching, etc), but without a specific eschatological context.

There are references to the end-time return of Jesus, in 1 Tim 6:14-15 and Titus 2:13; however, one may detect in both these passages a greater emphasis on believers living in the present Age, with a corresponding lack of emphasis on an imminent expectation of the end. Consider the way this is phrased in Tit 2:12-13:

“…(how) we should live in th(is) Age now, (while) (look)ing toward receiving the happy hope and the shining forth upon (earth) of the splendor of our great God and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed”

Even more pronounced is the apparent lack of imminence in 1 Tim 6:14-15ff, especially in verses 17-19, which could be taken as implying that our life in the current Age will likely continue for some time. Even the specific reference to Jesus’ return seems to be located more generally at some unspecified future time:

“…you are to keep watch (over) th(is) duty placed on (you) to complete…until the shining forth upon (earth) of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, which (God) will show in (his) own moments/times (to come)…”

As in Titus 2:12-13, verse 17 has the same emphasis on “th(is) Age now”, i.e. present Age (and how we live in it), rather than on the Age to come. The promise of future reward (in heaven) is preserved (v. 19), but without the eschatological immediacy and urgency we find in similar passages elsewhere in the Pauline letters.

February 7: 1 Peter 1:12, 25, etc

Having discussed Paul’s use of the eu)aggel- word group in the previous notes, it is necessary to supplement that discussion with a brief survey of occurrences in the letters where authorship is disputed. After this, we will survey the remainder of the New Testament evidence.

Usage in the disputed Pauline Letters

Colossians and Ephesians are often regarded as pseudonymous by many critical commentators. For my part, I consider Colossians to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), without any real reservation; however, I must admit to a little doubt in the case of Ephesians, where there appears to be more evidence for unusual wording and the development of (Pauline) thought and expression. In any case, the noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in Colossians, in expanded expressions:

  • Col 1:5—”the account of the truth of the good message” (o( lo/go$ th=$ a)lhqei/a$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…through the hope th(at is) being laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the account of the truth of the good message th(at is com)ing to be alongside unto you, even as it also is bearing fruit in all the world…” (vv. 5-6)
  • Col 1:23—”the hope of the good message” (h( e)lpi\$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…if (indeed) you remain (well-)founded upon the trust and settled (down), and not being stirred over (away) from the hope of the good message which you heard, th(at) is being proclaimed among every (creature) formed (by God) under the heaven…”

It is possible that this reflects a development of the Pauline mode of expression. Certainly it is a more expansive kind of statement than we typically see in Paul’s letters, though rooted in his own style and vocabulary. For the expression “truth of the Gospel”, see Gal 2:5, 14; “hope of the Gospel” does not occur elsewhere in the letters, but cf. Rom 5:2ff; 8:24-25; Gal 5:5; 1 Thess 1:3, etc. The phrasing in Col 1:5 is quite close to Eph 1:13, and involves the critical questions of authorship and the relationship between the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion itself occurs four times in Ephesians (1:13; 3:6; 6:15, 19), and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai twice (2:17; 3:8). Even scholars who believe Ephesians is pseudonymous must admit that it is derived and inspired by authentic Pauline tradition and expression:

  • Eph 1:13: “the account of the truth, the good message of your salvation”; cf. Col 1:5 (above). Vv. 13-14 represents a more systematic theological formulation.
  • Eph 2:17: “he [i.e. Jesus] brought the good message (of) peace to you the (one)s far (off), and (also) peace to the (one)s (who are) near”. This statement utilizes traditional language (cf. Acts 10:36 and the prior note), and does not reflect the technical Christian meaning of eu)aggeli/zomai as “preach the Gospel”.
  • Eph 3:6 and 8. The first half of chapter 3 (vv. 1-13) presents a detailed summary of Paul’s view regarding his role as minister of the Gospel (to the Gentiles), fully in keeping with what is expressed in his other letters, though not in such a clear and systematic manner as we find here. Verse 6 states concisely the Pauline doctrine that Gentile believers are heirs together (and equally so) to the promises God made to Israel, which are fulfilled for believers in Christ. This takes place “through the good message” (dia\ tou= eu)aggeli/ou). In verse 8, Paul declares once again that he was appointed by God “to bring the good message”.
  • Eph 6:15 and 19, where we find two developed Pauline expressions: “the good message of peace” (v. 15) and “the secret [musth/rion] of the good message” (v. 19, cf. Rom 16:25; Col 1:26-27, and earlier in Eph 3:6.

The Pastoral letters are also generally considered to be pseudonymous by critical scholars (and even some traditional-conservative commentators). The greatest doubt surrounds 1 Timothy (which has the largest concentration of unusual vocabulary and expression), while, in my view, 2 Timothy appears to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds). The noun eu)agge/lion occurs 3 times in 2 Timothy (1:8, 10; 2:8) and corresponds entirely with Paul’s usage of the word. The expanded expression in 1 Timothy 1:11 is more unusual: “…the good message of the splendor of the blessed God”.

1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group occurs 12 more times in the New Testament: the noun eu)agge/lion twice (1 Pet 4:17; Rev 14:6), the verb eu)aggelizomai seven times (Heb 4:2, 6; 1 Pet 1:12, 25; 4:6; Rev 10:7; 14:6), and the derived noun eu)aggelisth/$ three times (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5). The largest concentration (4) occur in two passages of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 1:12, 25

1 Peter 1:3-12 is essentially a single long introductory sentence, climaxing in verse 12, with the key declaration that the death and resurrection of Jesus (and its saving effect) was first revealed to the Prophets, and then subsequently made known to people (believers) through the Gospel:

“…the(se thing)s which now were given up as a message to you through the (one)s bringing the good message to you [in] the holy Spirit…”

The parallel between Prophets and Apostles (i.e. preachers of the good message) was traditional in early Christianity, with both groups seen as uniquely inspired, moved by the Spirit. There is similar traditional language used in the next section of the letter, the exhortation in vv. 13-25, which concludes with an important expository sequence:

  • The declaration in verse 23:
    “your trust and hope (is) to be unto God {v. 21}…having come to be (born) again, not out of decaying seed, but (out of seed) without decay, through the living word [lo/go$] of God (that is) also remaining (in you)”
  • The paraphrased quotation from Isa 40:6-8 in vv. 24-25a, which ends with a similar statement:
    “…but the utterance [r(h=ma] of the Lord remains into the Age” (cf. Isa 40:8b)
  • The statement in verse 25b identifying the eternal “word of the Lord” with the “good message” proclaimed by the apostles:
    “and this is the utterance being brought as a good message unto you”

In the previous note, I argued that the words lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were more primitive, earlier terms for the Gospel message than eu)agge/lion. In Acts 10:36-37a, where the early message (kerygma) is proclaimed during Peter’s sermon-speech to the household of Cornelius, both of these words are used in tandem, along with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, just as we see here; indeed, the declaration in vv. 36-37a introduces the Gospel. The use of eu)aggeli/zomai there does not refer to the preaching of the Gospel in the technical sense used by early Christians. We are, perhaps, closer to that here; certainly, there is distinct theological (interpretive) development at work. We may be able to trace this development by working backward in the syntax of this passage:

    • the eternal, undecaying seed which brings new life for the believer; this “seed”, which dwells and grows in the believer is elsewhere identified with the Spirit (of God and Christ)
      • this seed is identified as the living “word” [lo/go$] of God
        • it is part of the eternal creative power associated with the spoken word (“utterance”, r(h=ma) of God
          • lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were both terms used by the first Christians to refer to the proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma)
            • the early/first preaching of the message of Jesus by the apostles, bringing “good news” (vb. eu)aggeli/zomai)

The occurrences in 1 Peter 4:6, 17, and the rest of the New Testament, will be discussed in the next daily note.