1 Timothy 3. 14 to 16
W. E. Vine, Bath
Verse 14. These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly;—This introduces us to the special object of the instructions given to Timothy concerning the assembly at Ephesus; at the same time, what follows includes an explanation of the reasons why the Apostle attached so much importance to the directions already given.
Verse 15. but if I tarry long, —with all the spiritual gifts with which he was endowed, Paul could order his steps only in the light of the Lord’s guidance and by a glad subjection to His will. Our future on earth is kindly veiled from our eyes. This brings faith into exercise and that calm dependence upon God which frees the soul from anxiety; we know that guidance will be given for each occasion when we are walking in the fear of God and finding our resources in Him and not in ourselves. How fully, too, the Apostle’s aim was directed towards the welfare of the churches and the furthering of the interests of God’s kingdom.
that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves —the literal rendering is “how it is necessary to behave.” The Authorized Version has interpreted this as if the Apostle was instructing Timothy how he ought to behave, a misconception of the purport of the Epistle, There is nothing to justify the idea that instruction was merely being given to Timothy as to his conduct. Indeed, the Apostle’s testimony concerning his devoted younger fellow-missionary was all along so favourable that, on this ground alone, the A.V. rendering must be ruled out. There is nothing, again, in the original to represent the R.V. “men,” What is intended is the persona who constitute the assembly. Instruction has already been given in the Epistle as to the necessary conduct of men, women, overseers and deacons and their wives, and further injunctions are to be given in the latter part of the Epistle concerning various other members of the church. The meaning might be well expressed, therefore, as follows: ” what sort of conduct is necessary.”
In the house of God,—this and what follows are descriptive of a local assembly. The terms used are expressive of the holy character and solemn dignity of such. Those who constitute it, with the spiritual honour and privileges attaching to it are under an obligation to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of God. As “the house of God,” an assembly is God’s dwelling-place, just as it is described as “a temple of God” in 1 Cor. 3. 16. There is no article before the word “house” and this serves to lay stress upon its character as such. Moreover, every local assembly is “a house of God.”
which is the church of the living God,—for the phrase “church of God” see Notes on 3. 5.
The word “living” is set in contrast to the lifeless idols of the heathen; it may contain, too, a suggestion of God’s continuous care of, and providential dealings with, His people.
the pillar and ground of the truth,—The word stulos, a pillar, denotes a column supporting the weight of a building. It is used metaphorically in Gal. 2. 9, of those who bear responsibility as elders in the churches. Here it is used of a local church in respect of its responsibility, in a collective capacity, to maintain the doctrines of the faith by teaching and practice. It is used figuratively in Rev. 3. 12 to indicate a firm and permanent position in the spiritual, heavenly and eternal Temple of God; in Rev. 10. 1 it is used illustratively, of the feet of the angel seen in the vision, as flames rising like clouds of fire, indicative of holiness, and power to consume.
Some would attach this and the following phrase to the statement in verse 16. The connection given in the English Versions is to be preferred.
The word hedraioma, translated “ground,” denotes a support, bulwark, or stay (the R.V. margin “stay” is the preferable rendering). The word is akin to hedraios, steadfast, firm. The two expressions, then, “pillar” and “stay,” represent the character of an assembly as that which is designed to maintain the truth in its integrity in the face of all forms of opposition.
There is again no definite article in the original before the words “pillar” and “ground,” and what was said in regard to its absence before “house” above applies here. The terms are descriptive of every Scripturally-formed assembly.
Verse 16. And without controversy great—having mentioned the responsibility of a local assembly with regard to the truth, the Apostle proceeds to set forth in a special manner some of the great facts of the faith which it is the supreme function of every assembly to hold and make known. The adverb rendered “without controversy,” which is found here only in the N.T., is to be taken in close connection with the word “great”; a suitable rendering is “confessedly (or incontrovertibly) great.”
is the mystery of godliness;—for the subject of a mystery in the N.T., see Note on 3. 9. Here it is called “the mystery of godliness” because it does not represent a mere abstract doctrine but centres the subject of godliness as embodied in Christ, exhibited in His life on earth, in the testimony concerning Him, and in His ascension. In giving the details of this mystery, Paul is not formulating a creed. He is not even declaring the Deity of Christ as an article of the faith. His thoughts turn at once from the subject he has been handling to the Person Himself, to whom his whole life is devoted.
He who was manifested in the flesh,—or, more literally, “who was manifested.” In our use of the R.V., in these notes, and with special reference to this passage, we wish to make it clear that there is no thought of any each thing as a denial of the Deity of Christ. Nay, verily, that Christ ever was and is truly God is a fundamental and essential fact of the Christian faith—and he who denies it has no place as a member of the Church but stands excluded from it and from the fellowship of believers.
It will be well to point out the reason for this R.V. rendering. In the ancient Greek MSS. the relative pronoun “who” was written thus os. Again the word Theos, God, was frequently abbreviated to ths. The most important of the earliest, or uncial, MSS. and all the Versions older than the 7th century are distinctly in favour of the relative pronoun. The latter would readily arise from the former, and confusion of the two would be easy. The stroke of the pen by which a relative pronoun was made into the abbreviated way of writing the word for “god” has been proved to be an innovation of a later scribe, doubtless eager to contend for the truth as to the Deity of Christ in a day when a controversy on that subject was keen. One named Macedonius is said to have been expelled for making the change.
What the Apostle clearly had in mind was, as we have said, not the statement of a creed; he was contemplating the mystery of godliness as exemplified and embodied in Christ. Writing to his younger fellow-worker (who had long ago learned these truths) he does not elaborate his statement in a long passage, but, tacitly identifying Christ with this mystery, he begins at once to mention some of the historic details of the way in which Christ had manifested the Divine purposes.
was manifested in the flesh,—this refers both to the birth of Christ and His life on earth in the days of His flesh (all of which is really included in the term Incarnation). It should be noted that the verb phaneroo, to manifest (not an adjective as in the A.V.), is used in the Passive Voice, and when this is so it implies the pre-existence of the Person who is the subject of the sentence; here, therefore, the statement involves the superhuman nature of Christ.
Justified in the spirit,—opinions differ as to whether the reference is to Christ’s owe spirit or to the Holy Spirit. In regard to the former we may compare Rom, 1. 4, that Christ was raised from the dead “according to the spirit of holiness,” that is, consistently with His life of perfect holiness. It was impossible for Him to be withholder of death. Resurrection was His prerogative, since He had completely fulfilled the will of God. In raising Him from the dead the Father declared both the unique glory of His Divine Sonship and the moral perfections of His character. Again, the two statements are strictly parallel in the original, lit., “was manifested in flesh, was justified in spirit,” In His spiritual nature, in all its activities and manifestations, His own claims were vindicated, and as the counterpart of this the leather expressed His approbation in His resurrection, itself the entire vindication of His sinlessness and perfection.
Some have advanced the view that inasmuch as the flesh stands for the whole being—spirit, soul and body—the contrast could not be between this and Christ’s own spirit. But the word “flesh” can scarcely be taken here in this sense. It refers to His body, with special reference to His incarnation. As Ellicott says, “The flesh may perhaps sometimes include the soul, but never, in such passages of obvious antithesis, the spirit as well.”
The other view that the spirit is here the Holy Spirit, regards the justification as the witness conveyed to Him and to His people by the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Him, a witness given, for example, both at His baptism and His transfiguration.
seen of angels,—this may refer to what is recorded of the angels, both in the wilderness, Matt. 4. 11, and in the garden of Gethsemane, Luke 22. 43, and at the time of His resurrection, to which they bore witness. This seems more probable than a connection with what is mentioned in Eph. 3. 10 and 1 Pet. 1. 12.
preached among the nations,—it was the Person who was preached, not a mere system of religion, nor a formal creed, not godliness as a religious idea but godliness Incarnate, with the purpose of the redemption of man, which had been accomplished at the Cross.
believed on in the world,—the connection with the preceding clause is obvious. The object of preaching is to bring men to faith in Christ. The Apostle could say to the Thessalonian converts, “our testimony among you was believed.”
received up in glory,—This was the assured climax of His life of perfect godliness on earth and His work of redeeming grace on the Cross. “Received” is the word used of the ascension in Mark 16. 19 and Acts 1. 2.
It seems clear that the order of statements is not chronological. The Apostle has selected certain characteristic and suggestive facts regarding the Lord’s humiliation and exaltation. Attempts to make the clauses parallel or antithetic in three groups of two, scarcely seem justified. The six lines actually form a stanza, whether already known to Paul and others or written freshly in the course of his letter to Timothy.