Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Titus: "God our Saviour", some hazy light...

In my christological studies, I have frequently noted that Titus has been a little book that is a bit... well, different. The reason for that was that in the epistles accredited to Paul, I found strong evidence (approx. 90% "green", see my paper Chapter 5 for methodological classification) for distinction in his thinking between between "God", the Almighty, the one Jesus called "Father" and "my God", Yahweh, etc., and Jesus Christ, His Son. For Paul that distinction is not one he was purposeful in stressing, it simply flows out of his exhortations from the very opening verses of greeting.

Titus struck me as different because on several occasions it seemed that Jesus was simply understood as God our Saviour, or that the title was used indiscriminately between the Father and the Son. Today I was struck by what may well be a theological assumption on the part of those translating the Greek in the opening verses of Titus, which contain a translation problem. Why is it problematic? It's to do with possessives (genitive).



Let's take an example of a local member of parliament. In British English we talk all the time of "my MP". Ben Bradshaw has been Exeter's Labour MP since 1997. As a citizen of Exeter, Bradshaw was "my" MP. For the first 10 years, Bradshaw was Tony Blair's MP for Exeter too, but the possessive construction here means something quite different. I was just one of thousands of constituents of Bradshaw, my sole MP. For Blair, Bradshaw was just one of dozens of MPs across the country. So how might you express grammatically and using both possessives the relationship between an Exeter citizen and the Prime Minister, via the intermediary Member of Parliament? We might say: "A constituent of Tony Blair's MP for Exeter". More woodenly, the "of" pattern goes:

The constituent of the Member of Parliament of the Prime Minister (please ignore the middle "of" for now!) = the PM's MP's constituent.

That's not too bad is it? Now what if Ben Bradshaw required something of us, his constituents? Let's call it the MP's edict. I also want to remind you in the same breath that Bradshaw is Blair's MP. As the PM's MP and also as our MP, we can understand that this edict comes under the authority of our MP-who-is-Blair's-MP. It is an edict from our Member of Parliament, that is to say from his (the Prime Minister's) Member of Parliament. It is a really awkward combination of things to try to express in one sentence, but I think it is precisely this combination that the Pauline author is condensing in Titus 1:3-4, and I think we can demonstrate it.

Verse 3 concludes: according to the command of the saviour of us of God.
Of the Saviour of us: tou [OF THE] Sōtēros [SAVIOUR] hēmōn [OF US]
Of God: Theou [OF GOD]

Verse 4 continues immediately to state:
to Titus,N-DMS
1103 [e]gnēsiōγνησίῳ[my] trueAdj-DNS
5043 [e]teknōτέκνῳchild,N-DNS
2596 [e]kataκατὰaccording toPrep
2839 [e]koinēnκοινὴν[our] commonAdj-AFS
4102 [e]pistinπίστιν·faith:N-AFS
5485 [e]charisχάριςGraceN-NFS
2532 [e]kaiκαὶandConj
1515 [e]eirēnēεἰρήνηpeaceN-NFS
575 [e]apoἀπὸfromPrep
2316 [e]TheouΘεοῦGodN-GMS
3962 [e]PatrosΠατρὸς[the] Father,N-GMS
2532 [e]kaiκαὶandConj
5547 [e]ChristouΧριστοῦChristN-GMS
2424 [e]IēsouἸησοῦJesus,N-GMS
3588 [e]touτοῦtheArt-GMS
4990 [e]SōtērosΣωτῆροςSaviorN-GMS
1473 [e]hēmōnἡμῶν.of us.

The Saviour of us is there again, although this time much more clearly distinguished from the one who is called God, the Father.

Now a Trinitarian translation might favour the more simple removal of the second "of" in verse three to state "according to the command of God our Saviour", that is to say something like Theou is simply re-stating that the command is OF the saviour of us, which is to say OF God = Jesus is God. I have heard it argued that whenever the Father is in view, any title of Theos is reserved for him, and Jesus' title can be Saviour or Lord right next to him (literally ruling at the Father's right hand). I am sceptical of that interpretation here precisely because of such obvious proximity of the word Theos in verse 3. If Christ is our Saviour as verse 4 clearly and most explicitly specifies, then verse 3 being simply too close and the Greek wording between the two verses being absolutely identical to permit this permutation of idea. In other words, in verse 4 there are three parties grammatically present: God the Father (1), Jesus Christ the Saviour (2) of us (3).

But what alternatives are there? There is the alternative of the constituents/MP/PM triple-show I spelt out earlier. This means that we can insist that it is not an accident that the word in Greek used for God is in the genitive case, theou, and that the object over which God has possession is not his commandment that he is entrusting to Paul, but that the object is in fact the Saviour of us, Jesus Christ. This is quite an awkward Greek construction to translate, but what it achieves is a much more consistent reading of Titus, whereby the Saviour is consistently Christ. Christ is God's saviour, not that he saved God, but that he is the saviour through whom God mediates salvation for man. Jesus is God's saviour and God's Messiah elsewhere in Scripture too:

Acts 13:23 reads:
From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.

Revelation 11:15 reads:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.

This is not an anti-trinitarian argument, it is a non-trinitarian argument over which various interpretations should be able to find agreement, since Trinitarians do not hold that "Jesus is of God" to be unorthodox, since they believe that the Scriptures teach the eternal generation by the Father of the Son, who was sent by the Father into the world.

I also concede that in 2 Timothy 1:10 the genitive following "saviour of us" states "Christ Jesus" but I stress that this is a secondary consideration from a separate context and document.

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