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Monday with Mounce 2: Prepositions and Christology by William D. Mounce

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Passage: 1 Timothy 1:2

Key terms: Prepositions, Christology, deity

“Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim 1:2). Paul begins his letter to Timothy with a somewhat normal greeting, and yet sometimes familiarity can hide significant truths from English eyes.

One of the joys of Greek is in seeing the nuances of grammatical constructions. Albeit, it can take some time in the language to develop this level of sensitivity, but that’s the joy of the journey.

In this verse, there is one preposition (“from,” apo) that governs two objects (“God” and “Christ Jesus”). Grammatically, this means that Paul is in some way thinking of the two objects as acting in unison, as one. If “God” and “Jesus” were two distinctly different entities, normal Greek grammar would require the preposition to be repeated (“from God and from Jesus”). But the single preposition means that the two objects are to be seen as a single entity.

But what is the precise nature of that single entity?

As always, grammar gives us a range of possibilities but it is context that makes the final decision. At a minimum, we can say that Paul thinks of God and Jesus as working in such unity that together they pronounce “grace, mercy, and peace.” In my commentary I refer to this as a “christologically sensitive grammatical structure” (page 8). It is the same construction that one verse earlier says Paul’s apostleship is issued “according to” the single command coming from God and Jesus. God and Jesus, acting as one, called Paul to his apostolic ministry.

Proof of the deity of Christ does not hinge on this type of statement. It is primarily based on biblical assertions that Jesus is “the object of worship, the agent of salvation, the creator, the forgiver of sins, the final judge, the one to whom prayer is offered, the one who possess the attributes of God, and the one who shares the OT names for God” (my commentary, page 426), as well as overt statements like John 10:30 and Titus 2:13.

And yet these more subtle statements are important as they indirectly show the way in which the biblical authors naturally think about Jesus. We see it in the use of “Savior” applied in the Pastorals to both God and Jesus. We see it in comments like those in Luke 8:39. Jesus says, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much "Jesus had done for him.”

It is therefore natural to see the biblical writers move into more explicit statements of Jesus’ divinity such as later in the Pastorals in Titus 2:13 where we are waiting for the “appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” a statement that says nothing more than what Jesus had already said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

It is interesting to watch the biblical writers dance around the Trinity. They assert the full divinity of Christ but never in a way as to promote Modalism, the belief that there is only one God who functions in different ways. Jesus is fully God, but there is more to God than Jesus.

Jesus and his Father are one, such that they pronounce their grace, mercy, and peace on Timothy and all their true followers. But for me, the astounding thing is how this unity among the Godhead is related to the unity of believers in the church — or at least the unity that should exist. Jesus prays, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

The unity of the Father and the Son is to be reflected in the unity among believers. When this is the case, people will see our love for one another and believe that God the Father sent God the Son. Is this what people see when they look at us in our churches and classrooms?

Mounce
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Visit www.billmounce.com for more info or read his blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.supportministry.com.

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