Chapter 6. The Mystery of Pastoral Piety
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179 6 THE MYSTERY OF PASTORAL PIETY A n interpretation of the rhetorical aims and effects of the author of 1 Timothy’s description of the ekklēsia’s truth as the “mystery of piety” (1 Tim 3:16) depends upon an understanding of the kinds of cultural meanings that were possibly activated by appeals to “mystery” and “piety” for ancient audiences. In general, the immediate literary context of 1 Timothy and, more broadly, the writings of the New Testament and Hellenistic Judaism have served as the principal contexts for determining the possible meaning and significance of the author’s use of “the mystery of piety.” Often this methodology has been used to emphasize the distinctive Judeo-­ Christian meaning that such terms acquired once appropriated by biblical authors in contrast to their pagan or secular signification.1 This is especially true for μυστήριον.2 Accordingly, “the mystery of piety” has been explained as 1 For example, see John J. Wainwright, “Eusebeia: Syncretism or Conservative Contextualization,” EvQ 65 (1993): 211–­ 24; Stephen C. Mott, “Greek Ethics and Christian Conversion: The Philonic Background of Titus II 10–­ 14 and III 3–­ 7,” NovT 20 (1978): 22–­ 48; Philip H. Towner, Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 171–­ 74. Towner has even gone so far as to contend that the Hellenistic Jewish use of εὐσέβεια, over against its use in other Greek and Roman social and literary contexts, was determinative for its use and meaning within the Pastoral Epistles (173). 2 For an enlightening examination on the theological commitments latent among biblical scholars’ drive to differentiate Christianity from the so-­ called mystery religions, see Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago 180 Civilized Piety encapsulating a belief and practice informed by Christ’s incarnation and vindication, which is celebrated within the hymn (1 Tim 3:16). However, this interpretation fails to appreciate the broader sociopolitical implications of claiming to possess a “mystery” within 1 Timothy ’s cultural milieu. The philosophical discourse on piety, located within both pagan and Hellenistic Jewish literature, provides an essential context for understanding the Pastoral Epistles’ definition of piety as entailing a correct knowledge of the divine.3 The Greek philosophical definition of εὐσέβεια as the knowledge about how to serve the gods (ἐπιστήμη θεῶν θεραπείας) is an informative analogue to the Pastoral Epistles’ association of εὐσέβεια with true knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις ἀληθείας; Titus 1:1; see also 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 3:7) and correct teaching (ὑγιαίνοντες λόγοι; 1 Tim 6:3).4 However, scholarly treatments of εὐσέβεια in Greek philosophy are often largely confined to references listed in the footnotes .5 It has been suggested that the author of the Pastorals was influenced by the Septuagint’s depiction of the pious as possessing wisdom (e.g. Isa 32:8; Sir 27:11, 43:33; Prov 1:7).6 It has also been posited that the author’s description of the “knowledge of the truth in accordance with piety” (ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας τῆς κατ’ εὐσέβειαν) in Titus 1:1 recalls Isaiah Press, 1990); see esp. his chapter “On Comparing Words,” 54–­ 84. See also D. H. Wiens, “Mystery Concepts in Primitive Christianity and Its Environment,” ANRW 23.2:1248–­84. 3 The connection between piety and knowledge or doctrine was not lost upon Werner Foerster, who suggested that the term was deployed to counter claims of “an ecstatic Gnosticizing movement in the churches” (TDNT 7:183). However, Foerster did not suggest that there exists any significant relationship between the Pastoral Epistles and the philosophical or Jewish deployment of piety that he had introduced prior (171–­81). 4 See Ceslas Spicq, Saint Paul: Les épîtres pastorales (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1969), 1.487–­ 88; Hermann von Lips, Glaube, Gemeinde, Amt. Zum Verständnis der Ordination in den Pastoralbriefen, FRLANT 122 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck, 1979), 76–­ 87. 5 Spicq (Épîtres pastorales, 1.487n4) cites the following references as evidence for piety being defined as a knowledge (ἐπιστήμη): Diogenes Laertius, Vit. phil. 7.119; Philo, Mut. 76; 4 Macc 11:21; Corp. herm. 6.5, 10.9; Cicero, Nat. d. 2.153. To these, von Lips (Glaube, Gemeinde, Amt., 82n195) adds: Sextus Empiricus, Math. 9.123; cf. Plutarch, Aem. 3.3; Stobaeus, Ecl. 2.68. See also Foerster, TDNT 7:175–­78. 6 Spicq, Épîtres pastorales, 1.487. For the presence of εὐσέβεια in Hellenistic Jewish literature, see the introduction and chap. 5. The Mystery of Pastoral Piety 181 11:2’s pairing together of “a spirit of knowledge and...