“How Firm A Foundation”: The Ecclesiology Of 2 Timothy 2:19-21 -- By: Gregory A. Couser

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 173:692 (Oct 2016)
Article: “How Firm A Foundation”: The Ecclesiology Of 2 Timothy 2:19-21
Author: Gregory A. Couser

“How Firm A Foundation”:
The Ecclesiology Of 2 Timothy 2:19-21

Gregory A. Couser

Gregory A. Couser is Senior Professor of New Testament and Greek, Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio.


Ecclesiology is front and center in 2 Timothy 2:19-21, but the complex imagery has led to varying conclusions about the kind of church being presented. A thorough examination of the context, the referent of “God’s solid foundation,” the Old Testament allusions in verse 19, and the house/vessel metaphor in verses 20-21 reveals a picture of the church as a family constituted, maintained, protected, ordered, and directed by God. God’s saving work is manifested in the church’s tenacious loyalty to the “Master of the house,” whether through positive pursuit of his saving purposes or sustained resistance to everything and anyone who detracts from or opposes those purposes.

Commentators have long discussed 2 Timothy 2:19-21 in terms of its ecclesiology. In particular, the complex imagery and the precise nature of the relationship between verses 20 and 21 have led to varying conceptions of Paul’s vision of the church in this passage.

For example, Norbert Brox detects an ecclesiological vision that sees the church as a mixed congregation necessarily made up of believers and unbelievers.1 Both the NIV (“from the latter”) and ESV (“from what is dishonorable”; also HCSB) could be read in support of this vision as they both take the ambiguous “from these” in verse 21 (ἀπὸ τούτων) to refer to the dishonorable vessels that

share the same house as the honorable vessels in verse 20.

In contrast, I. Howard Marshall sees a picture where heretical incursions are unfortunately normal but not the essence of the church.2 Along this line, like the NASB “from these things,” the NET simply translates ἀπὸ τούτων as “from these” with a footnote explaining this as a reference to “the errors and deeds of the false teachers described in vv.

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