The Weekly Roundup – 1.11.19

“What is at stake in that sad progression from Paul to anti-Paul? Why is it of importance that — at least with regard to slavery — radical Christian liberty is being changed back into normal Roman slavery. It means this: Jewish Christianity is becoming Roman Christianity.”

– John Dominic Crossan


  • One of my favorite bloggers, @bibhistctxt, has written another piece in his series on Israelite origins entitled “Israelite Origins: Egyptian Domination of Canaan.” As he shows, Canaan was under Egyptian domination during the periods wherein the Israelites purportedly fled Egypt for the Promised Land. Yet there is no mention of this and related issues in the narratives we find in the book of Joshua. This is problematic for those who believe in an Exodus as described in some narrative texts of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Tavis Bohlinger wrote a piece over on the Logos website on why Paul mentions his “large” hand writing in the epistle to the Galatians. Bohlinger interviewed Steve Reece, a professor Classical Languages at Saint Olaf College, on the background of this comment from Paul. Reece’s proposal is that the ending of the epistle is Paul taking over for his secretary, creating a noticeable difference in handwriting, i.e. Paul’s wrote with larger letters than his secretary did. This also may have served to show that Paul really was associated with the letter and his handwriting was proof. Reece also goes over other manuscripts from antiquity where we see this kind of phenomena.
  • @StudyofChrist recently uploaded a video comparing the Matthean and Lukan genealogies, stressing that these are theological and not historical in nature and therefore do not need to be harmonized. He even quotes from Richard Dawkins!
  • Last week over at The Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta posted a video of exorcist Bob Larson casting out a demon from an atheist. What Larson didn’t know is that the atheist was a plant, someone acting like they were demon-possessed to show just how ridiculous Larson’s work truly is. Larson posted the video to his YouTube channel as proof his ministry works. You can’t make this stuff up!
  • Almost a decade ago New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on “The Search for the Historical Paul: Which Letters Did He Really Write?” There are seven letters which are widely regarded as authentic but others which aren’t. But why? Crossan argues that they exhibit “counter-Pauline and anti-Pauline” tendencies. In effect, “Paul is being deradicalized, sanitized, and Romanized” in those letters. Crossan is frequently the center of controversy and this piece was no exception. But it is a very good read on one scholar’s take on the Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral epistles.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

On SJ Thomason’s Argument for Dating the Gospels Early

By and large the New Testament was written in the decades following the death of Jesus of Nazareth in 30 CE. The earliest writings came from a man by the name of Paul, a Pharisee turned Christian who traveled the Mediterranean spreading his message concerning Jesus Christ, the one who “was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3). Paul was a contemporary of Jesus but there is no evidence that the two ever met. If they had, surely Paul would have been the first to let his readers know. Rather, Paul is adamant that the source of his knowledge of the true gospel came via revelation:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12, NRSV).

Such rhetoric is part of Paul’s apostolic persona. Whereas others like Peter and James knew Jesus and spent time with him prior to the crucifixion, Paul was not afforded that opportunity. Instead, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him “[l]ast of all, as to one untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8; cf. 9:1). But there is no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was chosen by the risen Jesus to preach the gospel: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17a).

Canonical Listings of Pauline Epistles 

Everything we know about Paul is derived from two sources: his letters and the Acts of the Apostles. The former are primary sources, that is to say that they are from Paul himself. The latter is secondary, that is to say that it is not from Paul himself. In the canonical New Testament there are thirteen letters that are attributed to Paul: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Their order in the New Testament reflects not the order in which they were composed but their category and length. The first nine letters are letters to communities of believers (i.e. Christians in Rome, Christians in Corinth, etc.) while the final four are letters to specific individuals (i.e. Timothy, Titus, and Philemon). Within each category the letters are arranged according to length, from longest to shortest.

Pauline Epistles in the  Modern New Testament

To Communities

To Individuals

Romans (longest) 1 Timothy (longest)
1 Corinthians 2 Timothy
2 Corinthians Titus
Galatians Philemon (shortest)
Ephesians *longer than Galatians
Philippians
Colossians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians (shortest)

The ordering that we have today was, of course, not the only ordering known from Christian history. In some iterations, Galatians appears first while in others it is 1 Corinthians.

The Order of the Pauline Epistles in Canonical Lists1

Marcion

(2nd century)

Muratorian Fragment (2nd century)

Papyrus 46

(2nd century)

Galatians 1 Corinthians Romans
1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Hebrews
2 Corinthians Ephesians 1 Corinthians
Romans Philippians 2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians Colossians Ephesians
2 Thessalonians Galatians Galatians
Ephesians 1 Thessalonians Philippians
Colossians 2 Thessalonians Colossians
Philippians Romans 1 Thessalonians
Philemon Philemon
Titus
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

Noticeably absent from Marcion’s listing are the Pastoral Epistles, i.e. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. The same is true of the Pauline codex P46 where seven missing folios at the end likely contained 2 Thessalonians and perhaps Philemon but not the Pastoral Epistles.2  This has led to some speculation that certain communities did not utilize the Pastoral Epistles or consider them canonical. Yet even supposing that to be the case, it is clear that many communities did utilize the Pastoral Epistles and they are included in one of our most significant early witnesses to the New Testament: Codex Sinaiticus (א). The order of the Pauline epistles in א is what we find in our modern New Testaments.3

Pauline Authorship 

Canonical lists are useful for telling us what books were frequently in use by Christian communities and were therefore considered sacred to some degree. But this doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of the epistles themselves. What was believed about them is not indicative of the truth about them.

Without exception, each of the so-called Pauline epistles in the New Testament are attributed to the work of the apostle Paul. But we cannot take it for granted that because Paul’s name is attached to those letters that he must have written them. After all, the practice of pseudepigraphy was not uncommon even among Jewish and Christian authors. For example, the book of Daniel was almost certainly not written by a sixth century Jewish exile by that name and likely originated in the second century BCE.4 The same is true of works like the Epistle of Barnabas, a second century CE letter purportedly written by Paul’s missionary companion Barnabas. The Pauline epistles are no exception to this and scholars have divided the thirteen letters into two general categories: undisputed epistles and disputed epistles. The disputed epistles can be further divided into the Deutero-Pauline epistles and Pastoral Epistles.

The Pauline Epistles

Undisputed Epistles

Deutero-Pauline Epistles

Pastoral Epistles

Romans Ephesians 1 Timothy
1 Corinthians Colossians 2 Timothy
2 Corinthians 2 Thessalonians Titus
Galatians
Philippians
1 Thessalonians
Philemon

The undisputed epistles are generally regarded as authentic by New Testament scholars. Paul almost certainly wrote them. There is less certainty about the Deutero-Pauline Epistles since internal evidence suggests they were likely written after the death of Paul.5 The Pastoral Epistles were almost certainly not composed by Paul.6 

But if the Pastoral Epistles were not written by Paul, then who wrote them and when?

The Origin of the Pastoral Epistles

That the Pastoral Epistles depended on some kind of Pauline corpus seems certain. The author(s) of the Pastoral Epistles seems to have some level of acquaintance with the epistles of Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians.7 The author(s) wanted to sound like Paul but internal evidence makes it relatively clear that they weren’t Paul.8

  • Roughly thirty percent of the vocabulary in the Pastoral Epistles does not appear anywhere else in Paul’s undisputed letters.9 For example, the only place in the entire Pauline corpus where we find the word eusebeia (i.e. “godliness”) is in the Pastoral Epistles.10
  • Vocabulary that is featured in the undisputed letters is either omitted or appears with less frequency or with a different theological meaning in the Pastoral Epistles. For example, nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles do we find any usage of euangelizō  (“to proclaim the gospel”), a verb Paul uses nineteen times in the undisputed letters.
  • In the undisputed letters, Paul seems to look favorably upon women in ministerial roles (Romans 16:1, 3, 6, 7) and affirms that in Christ “there is no longer male and female” (Galatians 3:28). However, in the Pastoral Epistles the structure of the church is almost exclusively male and women are instructed to “learn in silence” and are not permitted to teach men (1 Timothy 2:11).

But if not Paul, then who? The answer to that question may forever be out of our reach as we have virtually no clue as to who the author could have been. Undoubtedly, the author was part of a community that was favorable toward Paul and his ministry or else they would not have tried to imitate him in their writings. Beyond that we cannot be certain.

Determining when the Pastoral Epistles were written fairs a little better. When we read Paul’s undisputed letters we see virtually nothing about how churches were to be structured. It seems that those communities were far more egalitarian and that there was no set authority structure. But this is not the situation we find in the Pastoral Epistles. In fact, it is assumed that authority structures exist and “Paul” writes to address the qualifications for those who are seated in positions of power. What does this tell us? It tells us that while the undisputed letters derive from an early era of Christianity, the Pastoral Epistles are probably from a time closer to the second century.11 And since Paul died sometime in the 60s CE, he could not possibly have been their author.

Enter Pop-Apologetics

Such views are not in line with many of the standard takes in evangelical circles. This is especially true among pop-apologists for whom early dating is essential to their views on inerrancy and inspiration. For example, I was recently alerted to a tweet put out by pop-apologist SJ Thomason concerning Paul and the dating of the Gospels. She wrote,

The consensus in dating the Pauline NT books is they pre-dated his beheading in 64. Paul referenced Luke’s books in Tim. & Cor. (& Luke omitted the martyrdoms of Peter, James & Paul & the fall of the temple), so Luke pre-dated Paul. Luke referenced Mark’s book, so Mark is earlier.12

It should go without saying that people who have been beheaded cannot compose literature of any kind and so the “consensus” is simply common sense. But there is a hidden assumption in what Thomason has written, namely that all of the canonical Pauline epistles were written by Paul. As I briefly discussed above, this is not the consensus view and of the two Pauline epistles Thomason mentions only 1 Corinthians is deemed authentic by virtually all New Testament scholars.

So to what is Thomason referring when she claims that “Paul referenced Luke’s books in Tim. & Cor.”? Paul refers to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, a passage that shares many similarities with the Lukan version of the event (Luke 22:14-23). It is possible that Paul was using Luke’s Gospel as his source for his words but he asserts that he received the instructions “from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23) and not from a written source. Furthermore, it appears that Paul had already handed these instructions down to the Corinthians and was simply reiterating them in his epistle. It is more likely that the Lukan text was influenced by Paul rather than vice versa.

But what about her reference to Timothy? Well, in 1 Timothy 5:18 we read of two sayings. The first is from the Torah: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (cf. Deuteronomy 25:4). The second is found nowhere else but the Gospel of Luke: “The laborer deserves his to be paid” (cf. Luke 10:7). This tells us that whoever wrote 1 Timothy had the Gospel of Luke in his mind. And since Thomason’s assumption is that 1 Timothy was written by Paul then it must be the case that Luke’s Gospel was written before Paul wrote 1 Timothy. And since Luke’s Gospel was dependent upon Mark’s Gospel then Mark’s Gospel was written before that. And since Thomason believes in Matthean priority,13 then Matthew’s Gospel would have come before Mark’s Gospel. Therefore, these writings are all attested to be very early.

However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, the saying of Deuteronomy 25:4 that we find in 1 Timothy 5:18 is not the only place where Paul cites that specific saying. In 1 Corinthians 9:9 we find it as well: “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” In context, Paul is explaining that he and his fellow laborers like Barnabas have the right to expect compensation for their work for the gospel. Paul wrote,

Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?

Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law of Moses say the same. For it is written in the law of Moses, You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more? (1 Corinthians 9:7-12a)

Of course, Paul refuses such compensation on the grounds that he does not want to “put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12b). Regardless, it is odd that Paul, having employed the passage of Deuteronomy both here and in 1 Timothy 5:18, fails to employ the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. The rhetorical effect of adding the Lukan Jesus’ saying here in the context of 1 Corinthians would have served to emphasize all the more Paul’s desire to keep obstacles out of the way of the gospel. For if even Jesus himself stated that those who labor deserve to be paid then Paul would be demonstrating how much he cares for his integrity of his gospel ministry that he would be willing to not enjoy such compensation.

Second, Thomason speaks of the “consensus” view of the dating of the Pauline epistles but flatly ignores the consensus view concerning the origin of the Gospels themselves. Far-and-away the consensus position is that of Markan priority: Mark composed his Gospel first and both Matthew and Luke relied on Mark’s Gospel when composing their own.

Slide1

And the consensus view of New Testament scholars concerning when the Gospel of Mark was written is sometime during the Jewish War (66-73 CE), likely after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This means that both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written after 70 CE, perhaps in the 80s or as late the early second century.14

But what about the lack of any mention of the death of Peter or Paul or of the destruction of the Temple? Aren’t these indicative of a date before 70 CE? In reality, this is a red herring as we would not expect an author, writing about a specific period, to write explicitly about events not in his purview. Thomason has indicated in another tweet that she accepts a date of 90 CE for the writing of the Gospel of John yet it never mentions Peter’s or Paul’s death or the destruction of the temple in explicit terms.15 If the lack of such elements is a sign of pre-70 authorship, then surely the Gospel of John was written before 70 CE. Yet few New Testament scholars – evangelical or otherwise – accept such reasoning. Apparently, neither does Thomason.

Conclusion

It seems Thomason’s attempt at dating the Gospels early based upon Pauline literature fails. The epistle of 1 Timothy was likely composed after Paul had already been killed and thus cannot be used as evidence that Paul knew of the Gospel of Luke. Nor is the reference to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 evidence of dependence upon Luke as it is more likely that the Lukan text knew of the Pauline rather than vice versa. The consensus view among New Testament scholars is that of Markan priority and the consensus view of the date of the Markan Gospel is that it was likely composed sometime just before or just after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Acknowledgment: Twitter user @towerofbabull first alerted me to Thomason’s tweet and requested I write an article in response. That they would ask me to do so is very humbling and I appreciate the confidence that they place in my work.

NOTES

1 Adapted from Arthur G. Patzia, The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon, second edition (IVP Academic, 2011), 251.

2 Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek Palaeography (OUP, 1981), 64.

3 With the exception of the epistle to the Hebrews which in א appears after Romans and before 1 Corinthians. This was due to an early belief that Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul, despite its anonymous nature. In modern New Testaments it appears at the end of the Pauline collection as the first of the Catholic Epistles.

4 See Amateur Exegete, “Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 1” (12.2.18),  amateurexegete.com.

5 See Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 438-448.

6 See Ehrman, 449-452.

7 Gerd Theissen, The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012), 96-97.

8 Calvin J. Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context, fifth edition (WJK, 2009), 159-162.

9 Roetzel, 160.

10 See Amateur Exegete, “The Mystery τῆς εὐσεβείας” (4.8.18), amateurexegete.com

11 Ehrman writes, “The clerical structure of [the Pastoral Epistles] appears far removed from what we find in the letters of Paul, but it is closely aligned with what we find in proto-orthodox authors [i.e. Ignatius, Irenaeus, etc.] of the second century.” Ehrman, 456.

12

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14 SJ Thomason, “Was Mark or Matthew the First to Write the Gospel?” (3.3.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 28 December 2018.

15 See Marcus J. Borg, Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written (HarperOne, 2012), 424-426.

16

Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 2.18.05 PM

It should be noted that it is not the case that “[m]ost Bible experts agree apostle John” wrote the Gospel that bears his name. Scholars aren’t sure who wrote it but it seems very unlikely that it was a disciple of Jesus.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Mystery τῆς εὐ­σεβείας

A few weeks ago I sent out the following tweet.

I had posted this in response to an apparently now deleted tweet from the “Ponytail Preacher” which claimed that Christianity wasn’t about religion but about a relationship with Jesus Christ. This idea that “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship” is a bit of a canard. By any reasonable definition of the word, Christianity is most assuredly a religion. Without a doubt, it is a religion where one of its main features is the idea that humans can have a personal relationship with the divine. But that doesn’t make it any less a religion.

Furthermore, the New Testament makes it clear that Christianity is a religion, as my tweet pointed out. In the epistle of James we read,

If any think they are religious [θρησκὸς], and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion [θρησκεία] is worthless. Religion [θρησκεία] that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27, NRSV)

The word that stands behinds the word “religion” is θρησκεία. It appears only four times in the entire New Testament: Acts 26:5 (“the strictest sect of our religion [θρησκίας]”), Colossians 2:18 (“worship [θρησκίᾳ] of angels”), and here in James 1:26 and 1:27. Because it is a word used so infrequently in the New Testament, it is necessary to look at how the word was used in other ancient Greek literature. 

θρησκεία and James 1:26-27

First, θρησκεία is a substantive which is derived from the verb θρησκεύω, a term which meant the observation of religious practices. [1] θρησκεύω itself was used in a few different ways in Greek literature. [2] It could be used in a liturgical sense [3], to describe a ritual deed or action that is “an expression of an internal piety or a truly religious sentiment,” [4] to express the basic idea of a cult that worships God, or communicate the ethical obligations associated with religious feelings. It is this final sense that is intended in James 1:26-27. Just before 1:19-25 we read these words.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak [βραδὺς εἰς τὸ λαλῆσαι], slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves [παραλογιζόμενοι ἑαυτούς]. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing. (1:19-25, NRSV)

What James is saying is that if you do not do as “the word” instructs and you just merely “hear” it, you are deceiving yourself. But deceived concerning what? This is where 1:26-27 come into play.

James says that those who think that they are θρησκὸς [5] have a worthless θρησκεία if they do two things: 1) fail to bridle their tongues and 2) deceive their hearts. He has already told them that they should be slow to speak, a bridling of the tongue. And he has warned them that if they are merely hearers of the word and not doers they are deceiving themselves. So worthless θρησκεία for James is essentially a failure to act upon “the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” (1:19)

But he doesn’t just describe worthless θρησκεία . He explains what worthwhile θρησκεία is: it is “pure” and “undefiled.” And what does it do? It is a doer of the word: it cares for orphans and widows and it keeps the one who is θρησκὸς unstained by the world. That is, there are ethical obligations associated with worthwhile θρησκεία both to others and to oneself. “Genuine religion,” James Adamson writes, “must always be practical” and “must always be pure.” [6] 

“Religion” or “Godliness”? 

So it is quite clear that θρησκεία is rightly translated as “religion” and we can appreciate its usage in James 1:26-27 by examining the context in which it was employed. But what about 1 Timothy 3:16? In my tweet I had used it as evidence that the New Testament itself considers Christianity a religion.

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion [τῆς εὐσεβείας] is great… (NRSV)

Most translations do not render τῆς εὐσεβείας as “our religion” but usually translate it as “godliness” (ESV, KJV, etc.). [7] This makes the reading “our religion” unique to say the least. 

After I sent the tweet and had received a number of “likes” by various atheists, my friend Doug Carpenter, a pastor and teacher, offered some of his thoughts on both εὐσέβεια and θρησκεία.

Part 1 on εὐσέβεια:

Part 2 on θρησκεία: 

Generally, Doug agrees with my original sentiment. But Doug does not care for the NRSV’s rendering of τὸ τῆς εὐ­σεβείας μυστήριον – “the mystery of our religion.” Doug prefers the reading of other major translations like the NASB or ESV – “the mystery of godliness.”

When I originally began working on this post, I had my mind set to defend the NRSV’s reading of “our religion” for τῆς εὐσεβείας. It seemed to me that what followed the colon was a description of the content of the Christian religion. In fact, the note in the Harper Collins Study Bible reads about that description, “A hymnic fragment summarizes the content of the faith, here called the mystery of our religion.” [8] But in setting out to defend this rendering I had committed a cardinal exegetical sin: the failure to examine how the word was used in its overall context. 

The σεβ Root

Let’s start with the basics. εὐσέβεια is a noun that comes from the verb εὐσεβέω. εὐσεβέω is a compound word that combines the Greek word εὖ meaning “well” or “good” with the root σεβ which expresses the ideas of “awe” or “reverence.” The verb σέβομαι is used throughout ancient Greek literature (including the LXX), as are various nouns, adjectives, and adverbs with the σεβ root. For example, in the Wisdom of Solomon we read, 

People are mortal, and what they make with lawless hands is dead;
for they are better than the objects they worship [τῶν σεβασμάτων],
since they have life, but the idols never had.
(Wisdom of Solomon 11:15, NRSV)

Words containing the σεβ root appear throughout the New Testament as well. For example, the Greek verb σέβω (usually in participial form) appears eight times in the book of Acts! Other terms with the σεβ root that occur in the New Testament include σεβάζομαι (“to worship”), σέβασμα (an object of worship), and σεβαστός (“to be revered”). 

So what do we get when we combine the σεβ root with εὖ? Well, we end up with words like εὐσέβεια. And if εὖ means “well” and the σεβ root means “reverence” or “awe” then we end up with a word that “literally means well-directed worship, but does not imply an inward, inherent holiness. It is actually an externalized piety.” [9] This “externalized piety” can be directed towards deities and parents and can even express the idea of loyalty. In the New Testament, there are a number of words that feature the εὐσέβ root including the noun εὐσέβεια, the verb εὐσεβέω, the adjective εὐσεβής, and the adverb εὐσεβῶς

In what follows we will briefly examine the noun εὐσέβεια in New Testament passages outside of 1 Timothy. Following that, we will look at how εὐσέβεια is used specifically in 1 Timothy. Before we do that, I’d like to make a couple of comments on how εὐσέβεια is sometimes translated in English Bibles. 

My Problem with “Godliness”

As we will see, most of the major translations – the NRSV, ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV – render εὐσέβεια as “godliness.” I can understand why they choose to use that word. “Godliness” comes from “godly” which is itself an adverbial form of “God.” In essence, it means “to be like God” and “godliness” would mean that one has those God-like qualities. But what does it mean to have “God-like qualities”? There are clearly some qualities God has that humans cannot possess: eternality, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immutability. “Godliness” becomes too vague a word to stand in for εὐσέβεια. 

Futhermore, the Greek word for “God” is θεός, a word used over a thousand times in the New Testament. No part of θεός is found in εὐσέβεια as our breakdown of the term has already revealed. Interestingly enough, there is a term related to εὐσέβεια that drops the ευ prefix and replaces it with θεό from θεός: θεοσέβεια. It is used only once in the New Testament and there it means “reverance for God.” [10]  Therefore, there is no lexical reason for translating εὐσέβεια as “godliness.” 

For these reasons, I prefer terms like “piety” or “devotion” to “godliness.” Since εὐσέβεια fundamentally means to “reverence well,” the word “piety” seems like an excellent fit. “Devotion” is a related idea to “piety” and would also fit in certain contexts. So as we examine the texts containing εὐσέβεια you will see me render εὐσέβεια as “piety” or “devotion.” 

Let’s move on to those texts apart from 1 Timothy that contain εὐσέβεια. 

εὐσέβεια in the New Testament

Outside of the first epistle to Timothy, εὐσέβεια is used seven times. It appears in the book of Acts, the two Pastoral epistles of 2 Timothy and Titus, and in 2 Peter. Let’s briefly look at those passages.

Acts 3:12

After healing a crippled man (Acts 3:1-10), Peter addresses a crowd who are astonished at what had just transpired. He says to them,

You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety [εὐσεβείᾳ] we had made him walk? (Acts 3:12, NRSV)

The NRSV, ESV, NASB and others render εὐσεβείᾳ as “piety.” This is a good fit as Peter is emphasizing that it was not of their own ability (ἰδίᾳ δυνάμει) or through their pious devotion (εὐσεβείᾳ) to Jesus that he was able to cause the crippled man to walk. Rather, it was the name of Jesus, exercised in faith, that caused the miracle. (Acts 3:16) 

2 Timothy 3:5

The author of 2 Timothy begins in chapter three a discussion of “the last days” by describing the character of the people of that time:

For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness [εὐσεβείας] but denying its power. Avoid them! (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

The NRSV and other major translations render εὐσεβείας as “godliness” but “piety” or “devotion” would be a better fit. The author is stating that during the last days there will be those who may have an outer shell of pious behavior but it is effectively impotent. These false professors are to be avoided.

Titus 1:1

In the opening of the epistle to Titus we read these words:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness  [εὐσέβειαν]. (Titus 1:1)

Again, the NRSV and others have chosen “godliness” as their preferred translation. And again, “piety” or “devotion” would be a better fit. We should note that the phrase “knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness” is very similiar to what we read in 1 Timothy 6:3 where we read of “the teaching that is in accordance with godliness.”

2 Peter 1:3, 1:6-7, 3:11

In the opening chapter of the second epistle of Peter we read this:

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness [εὐσέβειαν], through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness [τὴν εὐσέβειαν], and godliness [τῇ εὐσεβείᾳ] with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. (2 Peter 1:3-7)

Here the NRSV and other translations render the three εὐσέβειαs as “godliness.” I think in each instance, “piety” is a better fit. The author of 2 Peter claims that God’s “divine power” (τῆς θείας δυνάμεως) has supplied the faithful with all that they need “for life and for piety” or “pious living.” In 1:5-7 he commands believers to “support” their faith with a host of virtues which include piety because “if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:8) 

εὐσέβεια in 1 Timothy

There seems to be a consistent usage of εὐσέβεια in the New Testament, no matter its context. As we will see, this trend continues even in 1 Timothy but with one important caveat. 

εὐσέβεια appears eight times throughout the epistle of 1 Timothy. Of those eight occurences, half appear in the final chapter alone and three of those take place in the span of four verses which we will examine shortly. More important for our discussion is that of the eight appearances of εὐσέβεια in 1 Timothy, four of which occur with the definite article ἡ. Why is this important? 

Let’s compare two sentences in English:

John ate a pizza by himself.

John ate the pizza by himself.

The first sentence doesn’t tell us what kind of pizza it was that John ate or even what size it was. It is just pizza – generic, unspecified. But look at the second sentence. There it seems that there is a very specific pizza in mind: the large pizza. And while we don’t know what kind of pizza it was or what size it was we can deduce that John ate a specific pizza of some unknown variety.

As a general rule in Greek, when a noun has the definite article it is emphasizing identity whereas the lack of the definite article is emphasizing quality. [11] Nouns with the article are considered articular and nouns without the article are considered anarthrous. [12] Because Greek does not have its own indefinite article, you often read an anathrous noun as having the English indefinite article “a” or “an.” For example, in Romans 1:1 we read, Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ – “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” As you can see, the word translated as “a servant” is δοῦλος and there is no article attached to it. So translating it with the indefinite article makes sense. Paul is a servant, one of many.

But not all anarthrous nouns need to be translated with an indefinite article. In some instances, anathrous nouns should be translated with the definite article. For example, in John 1:1 we read, Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος – “In the beginning was the Word.” The word ἀρχῇ lacks the definite article but we would not translate it as “a beginning.” The author of John’s Gospel had something specific in mind: the beginning of everything (cf. John 1:3).

In other places, one does not need either an indefinite or definite article for an anarthrous noun. For example, in John 4:24 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, πνεῦμα ὁ θεός – “God is spirit.” In the KJV this phrase is translated, “God is spirit” whereas most modern translations drop the indefinite article and for good reason. First, note that there is no verb in that phrase. While translations supply the verb for being (i.e. “is”), the Greek verb ειμί isn’t present. Second, both πνεῦμα and ὁ θεός are in the nominative case with πνεῦμα serving as the predicate nominative. What is being emphasized in John 4:24 is the essence of God, namely that he is spiritual and not physical. The KJV emphasizes his identity as a class of being, but this is not what the author intended by it.

But what about articular nouns? Do we always need to translate them with the definite article? Of course not. For example, in the Gospel of Mark we read, Καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἀνεχώρησεν πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν – “And Jesus with his disciples withdrew to the sea” (Mark 3:7). You’ll note that “Jesus” is actually ὁ Ἰησοῦς which if we translated literally would read “the Jesus.” But that makes no sense in English; I don’t say of my son, “The Elijah went into his bedroom.” Since Elijah is a proper noun, using it in a particular context renders the need for a definite article obsolete. The same is true in translating ὁ Ἰησοῦς in Mark 3:7. We’ve already come across this Jesus in chapters 1 and 2 so when the text mentions him later on we are not curious about whom it is speaking.

But there are instances where the definite article is pointing us to something in particular. And this is what is going on with the articular uses of εὐσέβεια in 1 Timothy. Let’s briefly look at each time εὐσέβεια occurs. 

Anarthrous Uses

1 Timothy 2:2

Greek text: ὑπὲρ βασιλέων καὶ πάντων τῶν ἐν ὑπεροχῇ ὄντων, ἵνα ἤρεμον καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάγωμεν ἐν πάσῃ εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ σεμνότητι.

My translation: “…for kings and all those in authority, so that a peaceful and quiet life you may lead in all piety [εὐσεβείᾳ] and dignity.”

1 Timothy 4:7

Greek text: τοὺς δὲ βεβήλους καὶ γραώδεις μύθους παραιτοῦ. γύμναζε δὲ σεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν·

My translation: “…but the profane and silly myths have nothing to do with! But train yourself in piety [εὐσέβειαν]….”

1 Timothy 6:3

Greek text: εἴ τις ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖ καὶ μὴ προσέρχεται ὑγιαίνουσιν λόγοις τοῖς τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ τῇ κατ᾽ εὐσέβειαν διδασκαλίᾳ,

My translation: “Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching in accordance with piety [εὐσέβειαν].”

1 Timothy 6:11

Greek text: Σὺ δέ, ὦ ἄνθρωπε θεοῦ, ταῦτα φεῦγε· δίωκε δὲ δικαιοσύνην εὐσέβειαν πίστιν, ἀγάπην ὑπομονὴν πραϋπαθίαν.

My translation: “But you, O man of God, run away from these things; but seek righteousness, piety [εὐσέβειαν], faith, love, endurance, gentleness.”

Thoughts on the Anarthrous εὐσέβεια

You’ll notice that I have chosen to render each anarthrous occurence of εὐσέβεια as “piety.” (See my section “My Problem with ‘Godliness'” above.) What the author is emphasizing in each verse is that a life of piety and devotion is what the believer is called to. They are to pray so that they can have a life of piety and dignity (2:2); they are to train in piety the way one would train physically (4:7-8); they are to be wary of those who teach something that doesn’t line up with pious teaching from Jesus and his disciples (6:3); and they are to pursue piety along with other Christian traits (6:11). 

But these uses of εὐσέβεια seem somewhat different than the articular uses found in 1 Timothy. Let’s look at those. 

Articular Uses

1 Timothy 3:16

Greek text: καὶ ὁμολογουμένως μέγα ἐστὶν τὸ τῆς εὐ­σεβείας μυστήριον

 Ὃς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί,
ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι,
ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις,
ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν,
ἐπιστεύθη ἐν κόσμῳ,
ἀνελήμφθη ἐν δόξῃ.

My translation: “And confessedly great is the mystery of our devotion [τῆς εὐ­σεβείας]:

He appeared in flesh,
was justified in spirit,
was seen of angels,
was preached among the peoples,
was believed in the world,
was taken up in glory.”

1 Timothy 4:8

Greek text: ἡ γὰρ σωματικὴ γυμνασία πρὸς ὀλίγον ἐστὶν ὠφέλιμος, δὲ εὐσέβεια πρὸς πάντα ὠφέλιμός ἐστιν ἐπαγγελίαν ἔχουσα ζωῆς τῆς νῦν καὶ τῆς μελλούσης.

My translation: “…for bodily training is of some value, but piety [ἡ εὐσέβεια] is of value in every way, having a promise for this life now and the one to come.”

1 Timothy 6:5

Greek text: διαπαρατριβαὶ διεφθαρμένων ἀνθρώπων τὸν νοῦν καὶ ἀπεστερημένων τῆς ἀληθείας, νομιζόντων πορισμὸν εἶναι τὴν εὐσέβειαν.

My translation: “…friction from those men of the depraved mind and robbed of the truth, supposing that the devotion [τὴν εὐσέβειαν] is a means of gain.”

1 Timothy 6:6

Greek text: ἔστιν δὲ πορισμὸς μέγας ἡ εὐσέβεια μετὰ αὐταρκείας

My translation: “But the devotion [ἡ εὐσέβεια] is of great gain with contentment.”

Some Thoughts on the Articular εὐσέβεια

The author of 1 Timothy, by employing the definite article in these four instances, seems to be communicating something about εὐσέβεια. He is, it appears, particularizing it. And he does this by setting the stage with the first articular use of it in 3:16. 

The Mystery τῆς εὐ­σεβείας

One of the major themes of the Pastor Epistles in general and the epistle of 1 Timothy in particular is the contrast between true and false teaching and teachers. [13] False teaching will lead to false worship, and so the author of 1 Timothy employs εὐσέβεια, a term which we have already stated expresses the idea of “well-directed worship” and is, in the words of Spiros Zodhiates, “an externalized piety.” [14] This has led some to conclude that εὐσέβεια “is almost a technical term for the Christian religion as expressed in daily life.[15] 

What sets the stage for this understanding of this usage of εὐσέβεια stems, in my estimation, from 3:16 where we read of the τὸ τῆς εὐ­σεβείας μυστήριον – “the mystery of our devotion.” The construction in 3:16 is similiar to one just a few verses earlier in 3:9 where we read of the τὸ μυστήριον τῆς πίστεως – “the mystery of our faith.” I suspect that these two phrases are meant to be read as being similar. In other words, “the mystery of our faith” is the same as “the mystery of our devotion.” William Hendricksen writes,

“The mystery of our devotion” is “the mystery of our faith” (verse 9), meaning that it pertains to our faith, to our devotion. By faith we embrace him. By means of our devotion we glorify him. The word used in the original (εὐσέβεια, -ας) occurs here in a sense slightly different from piety or godlinesswhen this is viewed as a quality or condition of the soul. It is here used in a more active sense. It is piety in action.., godly living (as in 4:7) the conscientious devotion of our lives to God in Christ, the fear of God…. [16]

 

Recall that the NRSV translates τῆς εὐ­σεβείας as “our religion.” While one of the meanings of εὐσέβεια is certainly “religion,” [17] its context here conveys the sense of pious living or devotion. “Religion,” then, becomes too easily conflated with θρησκεία. Therefore, rendering τῆς εὐ­σεβείας as “our devotion” demonstrates the difference between the two.

The use of the articular εὐσέβεια in the other passages in 1 Timothy then become more clear. In 4:7 we read that believers should “train themselves in piety,” employing an anarthrous εὐσέβεια. But then in 4:8, the author is clear that it is a specific piety (ἡ εὐσέβεια) that is “of value in every way.” In light of 3:16, it is the piety that is truly “our devotion,” the “mystery of faith” (3:9) with which believers lead their lives. And again in 6:5-6, the author castigates those who think that this devotion (τὴν εὐσέβειαν) is a means of personal gain. Rather, ἡ εὐσέβεια is a means of gain but only with contentment. In other words, the devoted life, the faith that believers hold to, is a means of the kind of gain that is only possible when accompanied by contentment in life.

CONCLUSION

While it is important to acknowledge both the anarthrous and articular uses of εὐσέβεια, it should not go without saying that the author of 1 Timothy is using both in the same vein. That is to say, when he uses εὐσέβεια with the article he isn’t saying something contrary to what he what he was saying when he was using it without the article. The uses are intertwined. My point is simply that the articular use of εὐσέβεια in 1 Timothy 3:16 sets the tone for the other articular uses in the epistle. In fact, it may even shed light on on the anarthrous uses throughout it. 

This was by no means an exhaustive study and I plan to read more on the topic. My mind may change! And there is nothing wrong with that. 

 

ENDNOTES

[1] H. G. Liddell, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1889), 369.

[2] Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 200-204.

[3] Spicq writes that the liturgical is θρησκεύω’s “basic and most often attested sense.” Spicq, 201.

[4] Spicq, 202. Spicq notes that sometimes that θρησκεύω is connected with εὐσέβεια to denote a pious sentiment. 

[5] θρησκὸς (“religious”), an adjective, is a hapax legomenon and is unattested in any Greek literature before its usage here in the book of James.

[6] James Adamson, The Epistle of James, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 86, 87.

[7] The New International Version reads, “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great.” This is a terrible translation as it forces an interpretation upon the text, namely that the mystery is the source of godliness. This is a possible understanding but rendering τῆς εὐσεβείας as such is dishonest and interpretive. 

[8] Wayne A. Meeks, general editor, The HarperCollins Study Bible, fully revised and updated (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 2,109.

[9] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chatanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993), 683.

[10] A related Greek word, θεοσεβής – an adjective – appears in the Gospel of John: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships [θεοσεβής] him and obeys his will.” (John 9:31, NRSV)

[11] James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 73.

[12] For more on the Greek definite article and its myriad uses, see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI: 1996), 206-290. Wallace notes that the article “was originally derived from the demonstrative pronoun” and that it’s original usage “was to point out something.” He writes, “It has largely kept the force of drawing attention to something.” (208)

[13] Andreas Kostenberger, 1 Timothy, in Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, editors, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 12, revised edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 491.

[14] Zodhiates, 683.

[15] Newport J.D. White, The First and Second Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus, in W. Robertson Nicoll, editor, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 4 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.), 103.

[16] William Hendricksen, Commentary on 1 Timothy, in William Hendricksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews, NTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1957), 137.

[17] Liddell, 332.

Featured Image: By Wingchi Poon – Own work, photo taken in Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37039070