Saturday, February 22, 2014

How to Guard the Gospel

In his second epistle to his protégé Timothy, Paul tells the young pastor, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything" (2 Tim. 2:7). It is precisely in dependently pondering God's speech that the light of understanding often breaks into the darkness of our lack of understanding (see also Ps. 119:130).

Well, I'm not a pastor. I'm no Timothy. But I do often lack understanding. And thinking over God's Word is how that lack is supplied. Recently, as I was pondering a portion of 2 Timothy while walking on the treadmill in my dimly lit study, light poured into my mind. Understanding was given. Light shone where formerly there was darkness. 

And what I saw was as invigorating as it was illuminating. I learned how we are to guard the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. "Guard through the Holy Spirit the good deposit" (2 Tim. 1:14). But how do we do that? How do we do anything by the Holy Spirit? How do we act through the agency of another person? On the treadmill, light came in considering the relation of v. 13 to v. 14 in 2 Tim. 1:13-14. What one sees (do ponder long and hard with me, if need be) are the parallel elements of vv. 13–14, and how they are mutually interpreting. 

I'll lay them out so you can see what I'm seeing, and then I'll explain what I am seeing. I'm providing my own translation here, but you can see this in virtually any English translation. Here vv. 13–14 are in block diagram form and then side-by-side in columns so you can see the parallels more readily. 

v. 13—Hold fast the pattern of sound words, 
                                       which you heard from me,
                  with the faith and love 
                                           that are in Christ Jesus.

v. 14—Guard the good deposit 
                  through the Holy Spirit
                                           who dwells in us.

v. 13
v. 14
Hold fastGuard
the pattern of sound words
the good deposit
with the faith and love 
through the Holy Spirit
that are in Christ Jesus
who dwells in us

You can now see the corresponding elements. The phrase "which you heard from me" is the only element in v. 13 that doesn't have a corresponding element in v. 14 (at least not in the Greek, though some English translations supply it). And that's okay. Paul is not trying to be poetic like that.

The "pattern of sound words" and "the good deposit" correspond to each other and refer to the Gospel of Christ. "Hold fast" and "guard" are saying essentially the same thing. These commands tell Timothy what he is to do. He is to hold fast and guard the Gospel, which Gospel is here described as a "pattern of sound words" and as "the good deposit." This should be clear enough.

What then is illuminating and invigorating is seeing the parallel between "with the faith and love" and "through the Holy Spirit." Both of these phrases tell Timothy the means or manner by which the holding fast and guarding are to be carried out. So "with the faith and love" is the manner or way or means that Timothy is to "hold fast the pattern of sound words." And "through the Holy Spirit" is the manner or way or means that Timothy is to "guard the good deposit."

If you're tracking with me, perhaps you see where this is going, perhaps you're beginning to see in the light of this parallel as you ponder what Paul has penned. By seeing the corresponding elements, we can see that we avail ourselves of the Holy Spirit's provision to guard the Gospel, to hold fast to the Gospel, by the means of faith and love. Do you see that in the parallel? Look. Ponder. Long and hard. The Lord will give you understanding in everything.

So how do we guard the good deposit through the Spirit? How do we do this in his power? We do it with faith and love. Without faith and love, Timothy cannot, and we cannot, hold fast to the Gospel, we cannot guard the Gospel through the Holy Spirit. However, as we walk in faith and love, the Holy Spirit is at work to keep us keeping the faith.

The other parallel elements speak of the metaphysical or supernatural sphere where the task of holding fast and guarding the Gospel plays out. I use local language ("sphere") because Paul does ("that are in Christ Jesus" and "who dwells in us"). But we are speaking here of almost unspeakable glories: being in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Faith and love come by being in Christ. And the Holy Spirit dwelling in us comes also by being in Christ. And there—in Christ—the Holy Spirit moves in faith and love. And he moves with faith and love in us in Christ Jesus to enable Timothy and to enable us to hold fast and guard the Gospel of God. Which holding fast and guarding gets at a central theme of this second epistle to Timothy, Paul's last letter, written with his life-blood as he waits in prison for his execution as a criminal (2 Tim. 2:9; 4:6).

So there you have it: pondering what Paul has penned, and God giving understanding. In this new light, then, in this new understanding given by God, let us guard the Gospel through the Spirit's power, that is to say, "with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."

For those with Greek, here are the color-coordinated elements in diagram form and then side-by-side in columns. For those without Greek, please pardon the mess on this page.

13    ἔχε   Ὑποτύπωσιν ὑγιαινόντων λόγων
                                                      ὧν παρ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἤκουσας
           ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ
                         τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·

14  φύλαξον   τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην
            διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου
                           τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν.

v. 13
v. 14
Ὑποτύπωσιν ὑγιαινόντων λόγων
τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην
ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ
διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου
τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν


Jeff Wencel said...

I'll answer some quesitons here I got from friends. Jon, Thanks for the feedback and good questions. I translated “with the faith and love” because that seems to be the sense of the Greek and what is required in English. That’s what the Greek means, it seems to me. I wrestled with translating without the article, but I think what the Greek means comes across more clearly in English using the article. And, quite honestly, I don’t think the meaning would change were one to insist on translating without the article. Though saying something like “Hold fast to the pattern . . . in faith and love that are in Christ Jesus could work, I suppose. But in any case, going from Greek to English oftentimes requires including the English article when there is not one in Greek. The use or nonuse of articles in Greek still remains in many cases among Greek scholars “an enigma,” as one good Greek scholar has put it. Context is oftentimes what is determinative. And abstract nouns (e.g., faith and love), in any case, are often anarthrous in Greek even though the sense is definite. I believe it’s fair to say that just about any Greek grammar will cover the basics on why we cannot always simply translate the articular noun definitely, and why we cannot always simply translate the anarthrous noun indefinitely. Greek just doesn’t work like that. I wish it were that easy, but it’s not. So I think without hard and fast rules governing these things, oftentimes context and flow of thought are going to be determinative. And here Paul seems to want to emphasis the quality of the faith and love, a particular kind of faith and love, the kind that are found in Christ Jesus. About taking “with the faith and love” to modify “which you heard from me.” That’s possible grammatically. But two reasons come to mind why it ought not to be taken that way. First, it is more natural that the phrase “with the faith and love” modifies the main verb, the imperative. Second, it fits the parallel structure with v. 14 better, where “through the Holy Spirit” modifies the main verb there also.

Jeff Wencel said...

Jen, thanks for your kind words and question. I think “which you heard from me” simply stresses continuity with Paul’s ministry. The context is one of calling Timothy to be unashamed of the Gospel and of Paul in the face of persecution and false teaching. The Gospel to be guarded by Timothy is the same one he had heard from Paul. In the letter, Paul takes pains to stress that the Gospel Timothy is to guard once Paul is off the scene is one that is continuous with Lois’s and Eunice’s faith (1:5; 3:15), with the Scriptures (3:15), with Paul’s ministry (1:8-12; 2:8-9), and with what ought to be passed on to the next generation (2:2). So I think he’s calling Timothy to align with his Gospel and to shun anything newfangled or deviant. After all, there were false teachers in Ephesus (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).

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