Biblical Interpretation

March 8th, 2010 § 0

Interpretation and Teaching of Christian Scripture is a class that focused primarily on the theological interpretation of Scripture. The capstone of the class was an exegetical paper on an assigned passage from either First or Second Timothy. Under the tutelage of Dr. Rob Wall, I began a journey through 2 Timothy 2:20-26. The main obstacle of my text (as well as anyone else’s text for that matter) was to keep the interpretation within the boundary of what the text actually says. Too often, bad Theology flows from reading too much into a text or refusing to look at the context for and by which a text is produced.

In my particular text, Paul encourages Timothy through the use of a house analogy which states, ‘Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.’  It is interesting to note that Paul’s language of honorable objects mirrors Romans 9:21 which says, ‘Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?’  In Greek, this passage mimics 2 Timothy 2:20.  Both passages use τιμή for ‘honor’ and ατιμία for ‘ordinary, common, or less honorable’. The context of each passage clearly indicate that ατιμία ought not be translated as ‘dishonorable’ which is the usual translation of antiquity because in Romans a potter would not desire to make a dishonorable object and in 2 Timothy, a great household would not wish to make use of a dishonorable object. Therefore, it makes sense to translate ατιμία as ‘ordinary, common or less honorable’ because it fits the context in which the word is used. Paul also likely has the Wisdom of Solomon in the back of his mind when he is composing the letter. The passage states, ‘For the potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yeas, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise also all such as serve to the contrary: but what is the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge.’  It is interesting to note that the Septuagint Greek for ‘clean uses’ and ‘contrary uses’ is different than the New Testament honor/dishonor words. Why would Paul decide to change the words for ‘clean’ and ‘contrary uses’ to ‘honorable’ and ‘ordinary uses’? The answer may possibly be in the meaning of Timothy’s name. In Greek, the name ‘Timothy’ means ‘God’s honor.’  It is entirely possible that Paul is using τιμή and ατιμία as word play with Timothy’s name. Since Timothy has been called to a special role in the succession of Pauline doctrine, Paul could be using this word play to say that Timothy ought to act in special ways which guard the honor of maintaining the gospel of Christ as presented by Paul.

-Donovan Richards

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