Uncovering The “Mystery” In 1 Timothy 3 -- By: Gregory S. MaGee

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 29:2 (Fall 2008)
Article: Uncovering The “Mystery” In 1 Timothy 3
Author: Gregory S. MaGee


Uncovering The “Mystery” In 1 Timothy 3

Gregory S. Magee*

I. Introduction

In recent decades scholars have arrived at the general consensus that Paul, building upon Jewish notions of mystery and revelation, typically uses the term μυστήριον (“mystery”) to highlight the past obscurity of God’s newly disclosed salvation in Christ.1 But the specific nuance of the term in 1 Tim 3:9 and 16 in particular has remained somewhat of a mystery.2 In these two verses μυστήριον surfaces in a verbal environment that lacks close parallel in Paul’s other writings.3 This observation has led some scholars to conclude

that μυστήριον is functioning in a way that is distinct from the typical Pauline usage.4 Others argue that the continuity in the use of the term between Paul’s earlier writings and in 1 Timothy 3 is discernible upon closer investigation.5 In this article it will be proposed that the term μυστήριον in 1 Timothy reflects the meaning of the term in Paul’s earlier works. Paul draws on the rich significance of the familiar concept of mystery to both accentuate the divine roots of Christian teaching and distinguish the authentic conception of the faith from illegitimate substitutes. Incorporated into an immediate context devoted to Christian practice, the doctrinally-rich μυστήριον contributes to Paul’s goal of fostering exceptional standards for Christian practice. An exploration of relevant connections to other sections in the Pastoral Epistles will accompany a close study of 1 Tim 3:9 and 1 Tim 3:14-16 in the hopes of demonstrating the precise nuance, referent, and purpose of the mystery in these verses.6

II. Pauline Perspectives On Mystery And Revelation

Prior references to μυστήριον in the Pauline corpus yield three predominant characteristics about the concept. First, the content of the mystery was previously hidden in the eternal plans of God. The myster...

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