Biblical Studies

True Knowledge Leads to Godly Living: In Pursuit of a NT Theology of Godliness

This paper was originally published in Inservimus in 2016 (link to full journal below)

The concept of “godliness” in the New Testament has been a subject of considerable debate. Much of this debate centers upon the nature of the conceptual background and usage of εὐσέβεια, a virtue commonly valued in the Greco-Roman world.1 The term appears prominently in several late writings of the NT (the Pastoral Epistles and 2 Peter) but is
nearly non-existent in the early writings of the NT. When the problem of εὐσέβεια and related Greco-Roman virtues is applied to the Pauline corpus, its prominence in the later Pastoral Epistles has been noted as a perceived shift of thought in the NT based ultimately on a transformed eschatological outlook.2 Together with other arguments, it is used as a considerable plank in support of a non-Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.3

Much of this trend in critical scholarship can be traced back to the work of Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann who in their critical commentary on the Pastoral Epistles proposed the term christliche Bürgerlichkeit to explain the goal of ethical instruction in the Pastoral Epistles.4 Towner notes: “By definition christliche Bürgerlichkeit, sometimes translated ‘Christian Good-Citizenship’ (Dibelius and Conzelmann; H. Koester), and sometimes ‘bourgeois Christianity’ (i.e. E. Kümmel and M. Hengel), refers to a concept of Christian existence in which the primary goal is to achieve peaceful coexistence with the various orders of the world.”5 The bulk of the foundation for this concept rests upon Dibelius and Conzelmann’s interpretation of εὐσέβεια and its complementary pairing σεμνότης as “clearly referring to that behavior which is well-pleasing to God and men” in 1 Tim 2:2.6 This interpretation of εὐσέβεια as a virtue at least equally oriented in its relationship to the world as its object as to God is then read into the usage of εὐσέβεια throughout the Pastorals. In the end, reading Dibelius and Conzelmann’s interpretation of εὐσέβεια in 1 Tim 2:2 into the other usages of εὐσέβεια insufficiently considers the varying contexts of many other occurrences in the Pastorals, something that will be displayed through the contextual analysis to come.

In line with the trailblazing work of Philip Towner in the monograph already cited and his more recent commentary on the Letters to Timothy and Titus,7 this paper will seek to develop a NT theology of godliness based upon both Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds of the term and a contextual interpretation of its usages as they occur in the NT texts.

Methodologically, this paper will first examine the Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds of εὐσέβεια. Though centrally focused on the term εὐσέβεια itself, attention at the outset will be given to other Greek terms in its semantic domain, followed by a brief overview of the proposed Greco-Roman and Jewish conceptual backgrounds for the term. We will then move to survey the usage of εὐσέβεια in the NT texts, focusing in three parts on its usage in Acts, the
Pastoral Epistles, and 2 Peter. The final section of the paper will then seek to do the work of synthesis in pulling together the contextual usages of εὐσέβεια across the NT canon together to develop a NT theology of “godliness.”

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