Sunday, June 25, 2023

An Early Christian Slogan?

There is a pithy statement in 1 Tim 2:5-6, written in terse prose omitting certain verbal forms that would help with the clarity of the piece, were they present. It is a concise statement of a slogan-like character.1 Line 4 has the character of a “tag line,” possibly functioning as a title. Likely for these reasons and the fact that the unit appears formulaic, the editors of the Nestle-Aland critical Greek text of the New Testament (NT) chose to print it in a structured format, a printing not generally followed by English translators of the NT:2

For one God

and one mediator of God and humanity

a human being, Lord Anointed Jesus

the one giving himself a ransom for all

the testimony at the right time

There are six other narrative units in the pastoral letters3 published by the Nestle-Aland Greek text in the same stylized manner.4 English Bible translators print some of these in a formulaic manner.

            The narrative unit 1 Tim 2:5-6 is a traditional piece, likely liturgical. It is tied loosely to the surrounding context and hence was likely not composed by the author of First Timothy. It was inserted at this point to support the author’s statement that God “desires all people to be saved.”5

Line 1: taking the word “one” (εις) as the predicate, the translation should be rendered as “God is one” (Rom 3:30; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-6), rather than “there is one God,” as modern translators generally render it.6

Lines 2-3: These two lines comprise one thought. A mediator is one who mediates or arbitrates between two parties. That is to say the mediator brings about at-one-ment between two parties. There is no description given as to how the mediation occurs. The appellation “Christ” signals not divinity necessarily but rather that Jesus is “the Anointed of God.” (χριστος=Christ/Messiah=Anointed). The slogan uses the general term for human beings, or people (ανθρωπος). The appellation “lord” is a term used in ancient texts of a person who commands respect or exercises authority. In Hebrew Bible it is used as a substitute for the personal name of God, Yahweh. As applied to Jesus, it is not necessarily a term of divinity. “Giving himself” (stated again in Titus 2:14) is not the same thing as “giving his life” (as it appears in Mark 10:45 and Matt 20:28); compare 2 Cor 8:5 where it is said of the Corinthians that “they first gave their own selves” (see similar statements at 2 Tim 2:15; Rom 6:13). The lack of specificity as to how he gave himself is surprising. The word “ransom” (αντιλυτρον) immediately brings to mind the crucifixion (it is λυτρον in Mark 10:45 and Matt 20:28), but that is not the only way in the NT Jesus is said to have offered himself. In Heb 2:10 Jesus was the pioneer of a certain kind of faith. By being perfected through his own suffering, his own faith (Gal 2:16) established the way of faith for others to follow. The “price of their release” (ransom) was his suffering for his own perfecting; that is, it was not “in our behalf.”7 “Ransom” in Heb 2:10 (αντιλυτρον) in the NT appears only in 1 Tim 2:6, and is a word otherwise only attested in the post NT period.8

Line 4: It is unclear whether the “tag line” was composed by the author of First Timothy or if it is part of the liturgical quotation. “At the proper time” (also in Tit 1:3) in 1 Clem 20:4 refers to the processes of nature.

Evaluation: This liturgical statement is interesting for its lack of detail in the language describing Christ’s role in redemption; compare 2 Tim 1:9-10; Titus 3:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Pet 2:21-25. The stripped-down statement in 1 Tim 2:5-6 fails to mention his suffering and death in our behalf on the cross and his resurrection. The oneness of God and Jesus performing the work of redemption as a human being reads today like an anti-trinitarian formula. Compare, for example, the detail in Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15:3-4: I have delivered to you what I also received:

That Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures;

And that he was buried;

And that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures;

And that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

To consider 1 Tim 2:5-6 “Christian orthodoxy,” one must make a lot of assumptions.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


2Out of the fourteen English translations of the New Testament on my shelf, only the following render 1 Tim 2:5-6 in a formulaic manner: Holman, New American, New Revised Standard, and Ehrman. All fourteen, however, with the exception of the King James, render 1 Tim 3:16b in a formulaic way.

3The Pastoral Epistles are 1, 2 Timothy, and Titus.

41 Tim 3:16b, 6:11-12, 6:15b-16; 2 Tim 1:9-10, 2:11b-13; Titus 3:4-7.

5Martin Dibelius, The Pastoral Epistles (Hans Conzelmann, ed. of the German edition; Philip Buttolph and Adela Yarbo, trans.; Helmut Koester, ed. of English edition. Hermeneia: Fortress: Philadelphia), 41-43.

6Dibelius, Pastoral Epistles, 41, note 38. For an adjectival predicate: H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, §910b, 944-48; Blass, Debrunner, Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, §270 (1); 127-28. Dibelius (p. 35) renders the expression “God is one.” Dibelius, Die Pastoral Briefe (Handbuch zum Neuen Testament 13; 2nd.rev. ed.; Tϋbingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 26.

7See Hedrick, “On Calling Jesus my Brother,” March 4, 2021 and “How is Jesus the Son of God,” March 22, 2021:

8F. Bϋchsel, “λυτρον,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 4.349.

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