Numerical Patterns in 1 Timothy (Part 4) – Doxologies

Previously in Part 3 of this series I looked at two different lists of three aspects of being the chief or head of something, the numerical theme of twenty, combining again to sixty. This time I will look more in depth at the other two lists.

They are part of the sixth and seventh of sixteen doxologies in the New Testament. For more on doxologies, including a full list of those sixteen passages, please see the article called “The Dynamics of the Doxology” on the Christian Courier site. Doxologies are direct expressions of praise to God and often end with “Amen,” like these two in 1 Timothy. These in particular are celebrating the Messiah as the eternal head of the church and King of all of God’s people, and the various permanent aspects of God that make Him head and ruler over all things.

The first doxology focuses on permanent aspects of God, which the Messiah shares, while the second focuses on titles of the Messiah. Actually, the second one contains another list of three descriptions which echo the aspects given in the first one, but not in the same order. And the first one starts by referring to the “King,” foreshadowing the titles in the second one. Here is another look at the passages with the second split out into two lists, and the last arranged to parallel the first.

Ref Intro 1 2 3
1:17 Now unto the King eternal immortal invisible the only wise God, [be] honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
6:15 [our Lord Jesus Christ] which in his times, he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate the King of Kings Lord of Lords
6:16 dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto Who only hath immortality whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom [be] honour and power everlasting. Amen.

These two doxologies are very parallel in their structure, being placed near but not at the end of both the first and the last chapters of the book. The first immediately precedes Paul’s first charge directly to Timothy in this book: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy…” (1 Timothy 1:18-20), while the second immediately follows Paul’s last charge: “I give thee charge in the sight of God…” (1 Timothy 6:13-14). More on charges later.

The first aspect, “eternal,” focuses on the un-temporal nature of God without beginning or end. It can also be translated “ever”, as in the end of the first doxology with “for ever and ever,” or “world” or “age,” as four times in the book of Matthew we can find “the end of the world” with that same word. God exists outside our mortal conception of time and space; we cannot approach him where he is currently. The parallel in the second doxology says, “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto”. Society’s common perception of God, if they think of him at all, often puts him “out there somewhere,” and while Scripture does describe God as dwelling in the heavens (such as in 2 Chron 6:39), that does not necessarily mean a particular place in physical space beyond the Earth, because God is not physical.

The second aspect, “immortal,” focuses on the incorruptible nature of God without death or decay. In fact, the word is usually translated “incorruptible”. The parallel is “Who only hath immortality…” Only God has incorruptible life now, but the Father chooses to potentially share that nature, first in raising the Son to the same incorruptible glorified spiritual existence that will be available to all those who follow God fully. The inheritance of God’s people is also incorruptible, as in 1 Peter 1:4 (there are also two other occurrences of the word in 1 Peter).

The third aspect, “invisible,” focuses on the spiritual nature of God, which cannot be seen by mortal eyes. The parallel in the second doxology says, “whom no man hath seen, nor can see”. 1 Peter 1 has a comment on this as well in verse 8, but more interestingly, there is Colossians 1:15, speaking of the Son: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature…” There might seem to be a contradiction here between the visible image of God that revealed himself on earth to the disciples, and the invisible glorified being who has never been seen. 1 John 3:2 can clarify this: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” What the Messiah is now is what the children of God will be, but what that is exactly has not yet been revealed, but it will be at the Second Coming, at the first resurrection. Those who are resurrected to be like the Messiah will then be able to see him.

Both doxologies end with a similar construction: “honour and [power/glory] [for ever and ever/everlasting]. Amen”. The “glory” here is “doxa,” the root of “doxology”. The word for “honour” is also sometimes translated “price,” so like the “pearl of great worth,” these doxologies give great worth and praise to God.

Next time, I’ll focus on a different structural pattern, that of the various charges and commandments to Timothy.


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