A Strange Admission
Skip Moen, D. Phil.Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope; 1 Timothy 1:1 NASB
God our savior – In the Greek text (Nestle-Arland 27th Edition), this verse reads kat’ epitagen theos soteros hemon. That is properly translated “according to the command of God our savior.” Does this seem at all strange to you? I thought it was supposed to be “Jesus saves.”
Why would anyone have a problem with “God our savior”? Perhaps it’s because the evangelical emphasis on personal salvation always directs attention to Christ. He is the means of salvation. He is the ransom for our sin. He is the one that we must ask for forgiveness. He is the object of our faith. The evangelical world had a soteriological fixation on Jesus. A suggestion by Paul that God is our savior seems incompatible with this focus on Jesus. Maybe we can reconcile this by saying that the Trinity solves the problem. Yeshua is God and therefore Paul can address either one as savior. But then why doesn’t he? Why does he seem to distinguish between these roles?
“Why would Paul call God our savior when he knew perfectly well the role of Yeshua?” This suggests something we may not be ready to embrace. Paul knew Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah, but that doesn’t mean he thought of the Messiah as the one who saves. Paul’s orientation is thoroughly based in the Tanakh, and in the Tanakh God saves. The role of the Messiah is different. The Messiah comes to usher in a new age, to guarantee the eternal presence of the Kingdom, to finish the work of overthrowing the enemy. But God saves.
Paul is not an evangelical Christian. He is a Jewish rabbi who knows that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah. What does the Messiah do? The Messiah brings the solution to the problem of death. God saves. Yeshua delivers. There is a difference, isn’t there? If Paul is a man of the Tanakh, he sees Yeshua in the light of the Tanakh.
I don’t think the “Trinity” is an answer to this dilemma. It might be an answer three hundred years later, but I don’t think it is an answer for Paul. Paul doesn’t seem to employ Trinitarian concepts to meld Yeshua and the Father. In fact, he does just the opposite. He often writes differentiating the two. This drives us back to the Tanakh, Paul’s “Bible.” If we are going to understand the role of the Messiah, we must find the foundation of that role in the Tanakh, not in the works of the early Church fathers some two hundred or more years later. I wonder how much of our Messianic understanding really comes from the sacred Scriptures of Paul rather than the theological musing of Augustine. Perhaps we should investigate.