In a previous post, I made the point that the parathēkē (παραθήκη), the beautiful thing that God has entrusted to us (in the parlance of the epistles of to Timothy), is not necessarily the Gospel, but really a certain kind of doctrine or orthodoxy — right teaching.1
First, in order to understand this, we must understand the difference between Gospel and Orthodoxy or Gospel and Teaching.
While the Gospel itself is conveyed to us by words (or the Word, if you will) in the New Testament, the word itself goes beyond this. Gospel, of course, is an Anglo-Saxon term that simply means “good news” — a direct translation of the Greek euaggelion (εὐαγγέλιον) from which we get the word “evangelism.” While we can literally think of the Gospel as this good news (e.g., the report that has been conveyed to us by Luke or someone like that), I would argue that the Gospel really goes beyond this and encompasses not only the message, but also its meaning — hope of salvation in Christ. Ultimately, Paul’s gospel is a gospel of hope, of release from bondage to this world into the bondage of the perfect master: Jesus Christ.
Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is less about the news report, and less about the meaning, and more about the teaching that is associated with it. In light of the Gospel, in light of this message of hope and redemption, what do we do? How do we go about understanding all of this? How do we appropriate it into our lives? Orthodoxy, right teaching, gives us a direction to go for these questions. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.
So, on the one hand, we have the Holy Spirit that has been entrusted to us; on the other hand, we have what the Holy Spirit is meant to guard in us (2 Tim 1.14) — and I’m taking this to mean the instruction that Paul is passing on because this instruction allows us to live out the Gospel.
In this sense, Paul is not unlike ancient Jewish wisdom teachers (the authors of Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and, as I would argue, the Epistle of James). Paul is passing down the wisdom he has acquired during his struggle and striving. In 2 Timothy we can see kernels of this sprinkled throughout. Here is one of my favorites:
2 Tim 2.11–13 (Hebert Translation)
This word is trustworthy:
For if we died with [Christ], we also will live with him.
If we endure, we also will reign with him.
If we will deny [him], he also will deny us.
If we are faithless, he will remain faithful,
for he is not able to deny himself.
2 Tim 2.11–13 (Nestle-Aland 27)
πιστὸς ὁ λόγος·
εἰ γὰρ συναπεθάνομεν, καὶ συζήσομεν·
εἰ ὑπομένομεν, καὶ συμβασιλεύσομεν·
εἰ ἀρνησόμεθα, κἀκεῖνος ἀρνήσεται ἡμᾶς·
εἰ ἀπιστοῦμεν, ἐκεῖνος πιστὸς μένει, ἀρνήσασθαι γὰρ ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται.
This series of statements conveys meaning to us not only by some very nice parallelism, but also by sound theology that leads us into general orthopraxy. Namely, because we have this hope in Christ that we will live in him, we know that we must endure. This endurance, this dying with Christ, is characterized by remaining faithful and not denying him. Beyond this, we know that God will remain faithful because Christ is not able to deny himself. To imitate Christ means to remain faithful to him, to endure whatever comes our way, and never to deny him. The pastoral epistles are full of these little nuggets of wisdom; such wisdom usually ends with a call to response on the part of the hearer. In this example, we are called to remain faithful.
While the Holy Spirit brings the Gospel from person-to-person, dwelling within each, it is our job to transmit this beautiful teaching from person-to-person. As Paul says: “…[W]hat you have heard from me by many witnesses, pass it down to faithful persons, whoever will be capable of teaching others as well.”2