Chapter 5. The Mystery of Philosophical Piety
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149 5 THE MYSTERY OF PHILOSOPHICAL PIETY I n First Timothy 3:14-­ 16, piety is juxtaposed to the author’s claim to possess a distinctive understanding about the true nature of the divine. After confidently describing the ekklēsia as the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), he then elaborates: 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. And most certainly, great is the mystery of piety: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among nations, believed in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim 3:16)1 1 My arrangement highlights the text’s alternating emphases upon earthly and spiritual realms: flesh/spirit, angels/Gentiles, and world/(heavenly) glory. For a concise summary of the different ways that commentators have arranged this text, see William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC 46 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 214–­18. 150 Civilized Piety The author of 1 Timothy introduces what appears to be a hymn or simply a christological summary2 celebrating the manifestation and glorification of Christ as a “mystery of piety” (τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον)—­ an ambiguous phrase with potentially significant cultural appeal not yet appreciated by most modern scholars. New Testament scholars have produced a wide spectrum of interpretations surrounding the meaning of the phrase “the mystery of piety.”3 For example, “the mystery of piety” has been interpreted as a technical term for the Eucharist, where piety connotes the real presence of Christ within the meal.4 It has also been taken as a reference to the proclamation (kerygma) about Christ, where piety denotes the content.5 Among most modern commentators, “The mystery of piety” is understood to signify the “Christian life” (εὐσέβεια) that “flows from the Christ-­ event” (μυστήριον).6 “Mystery” (μυστήριον) references God’s plan of salvation, which was previously hidden but now has 2 According to Mounce (Pastoral Epistles, 215), this passage “is almost universally recognized as a fragment of a hymn,” because of its strong hymnic structure. On the structure and the method for identifying this passage as a performed tradition , see Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Walker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, ECC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 322–­ 25; Mark M. Yarbrough, Paul’s Utilization of Preformed Tradition in 1 Timothy: An Evaluation of the Apostle’s Literary, Rhetorical, and Theological Traces (New York: T&T Clark, 2009), esp. 95–­ 102. Cf. Michael Peppard, “  ‘Poetry,’ ‘Hymns,’ and ‘Traditional Material’ in New Testament Epistles or How to Do Things with Indentations,” JSNT 30 (2008): 319–­ 42. Peppard critiques methodologies often used to identify New Testament passages as hymns as tenuous and unrepeatable. The precise generic classification of this passage is not necessary for my thesis—­ thus my designation “christological summary.” 3 For a detailed overview, see Angela Standhartinger, “Eusebeia in den Pastoralbriefen . Ein Beitrag zum Einfluss römischen Denkens auf das Entstehende Christentum ,” NovT 48 (2006): 52–­ 54. 4 Gottfried Holtz, Die Pastoralbriefe, THKNT 13 (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt , 1965), 90. 5 Hermann von Lips, Glaube, Gemeinde, Amt. Zum Verständnis der Ordination in den Pastoralbriefen, FRLANT 122 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck, 1979), 84. 6 Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 83. Cf. Jürgen Roloff, Der Erste Brief an Timotheus, EKKNT 15 (Zürich: Benzinger, 1988), 201–­ 3, who emphasized that piety constitutes the comprehensive belief-­and life-­ praxis that follows from the content of the proclamation (i.e., the “mystery”). Cf. Brice L. Martin, “1 Timothy 3:16—­ A New Perspective ,” EvQ 85 (2013): 105–­ 20, who interprets “piety” in 1 Tim 3:16 as referencing the exemplary piety of Jesus Christ (not that of the ekklēsia), which is then recounted in the following christological summary. The Mystery of Philosophical Piety 151 been revealed in Christ Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.7 “The mystery of piety” also parallels “the mystery of faith” in 1 Timothy 3:9, which may signal that the author of the Pastorals understands “doctrine and praxis as two fundamentals of Christian existence.”8 Within the context of the epistle as a whole, “the mystery of piety” is situated within “the heart of the Pastoral corpus.”9 The instructions of 1 Timothy, grounded in tradition as evidenced by the christological summary (1 Tim 3:16), are to serve as a present and lasting testament to the proper ordering and behavior of “the household of God” (1 Tim 3:15) in the absence of the apostle himself.10 Following this passage, the doctrine and praxis of the true ekklēsia are sharply contrasted with the opponents’ demonic-­ inspired teachings and ascetic abstention from marriage and foods (1 Tim...