I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; (2 Timothy 1:3, KJV) (Emphasis added)

What does "whom I serve from my forefathers" mean?

I want to also know:

  1. Is Paul taking credit for how his forefathers worshipped God?
  2. Should not the reverse be true? I mean parents taking credit for child's success seems logical to me instead of children taking credit for parent's success
  • 1
    Welcome to BH.SE, I made a slight edit to remove a portion of the question that is off topic here (searching for a text). We stick to specific texts and explaining them in their original historical, linguistic, and literary setting(s). This is an interesting question, glad to have you!
    – Dan
    Jan 21, 2015 at 16:09
  • Children constantly base their identity and worth on their parents through heredity and inheritance, especially in the Bible! Jun 14, 2018 at 10:58

3 Answers 3


The Greek text of 2 Tim. 1:3 according to Robert Estienne’s Textus Receptus (1550) states,

2 Timothy 1:3 in Robert Estienne's Textus Receptus, 1550

Χάριν ἔχω τῷ θεῷ ᾧ λατρεύω ἀπὸ προγόνων ἐν καθαρᾷ συνειδήσει ὡς ἀδιάλειπτον ἔχω τὴν περὶ σοῦ μνείαν ἐν ταῖς δεήσεσίν μου νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας

On the Greek word πρόγονος, Christian Gottlob Wilke (translated by Joseph Henry Thayer) wrote,1

πρό-γονος, -ου, ὁ, (προγίνομαι), born before, older: Hom. Od. 9, 221; plur. ancestors, Lat. majores, (often so by Grk. writ. fr. Pind. down): ἀπὸ προγόνων, in the spirit and after the manner received from (my) forefathers [cf. ἀπό, II. 2 d. aa. p. 59 bot.], 2 Tim. 1:3; used of a mother, grandparents, and (if such survive) great-grandparents, 1 Tim. 5:4 [A. V. parents] (of surviving ancestors also in Plato, legg. 11 p. 932 init.).*

Wilke references his entry on the preposition ἀπό (II. 2 d. aa.):2

II. of Origin; whether of local origin, the place whence; or of causa origin, the cause from which.

2 of causal origin, or the Cause; and

d. of the efficient cause, viz. of things from the force of which anything proceeds, and of persons from whose will, power, authority, command, favor, order, influence, direction, anything is to be sought;

aa. in general: ...λατρεύω τῷ θεῷ ἀπὸ προγόνων after the manner of the λατρεία received from my forefathers [cf. W. 372 (349); B. 322 (277)], 2 Tim. 1:3.

Thayer cites other authorities, including Winer and Buttman.

Winer writes,3 4

Winer, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, ἀπό, p. 372

Buttman wrote,5

Buttman, A Grammar of the New Testament Greek, p. 322

Who are the πρόγονοι to whom the apostle Paul refers? Some might believe that he is speaking of the patriarchs, such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as he calls Abraham “our father” (ὁ πατήρ ἡμῶν cp. Rom. 4:12). While πατήρ is not identical to πρόγονος, it's not out of the realm of possibility. Another possibility, however, is that the apostle Paul would be referring to his immediate ancestors in the same way that he mentions Timothy”s immediate ancestors, his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (2 Tim. 1:5).

1.Is Paul taking credit for how his forefathers worshipped God?

2.Should not the reverse be true (i.e., parents taking credit for child’s success seems logical to me instead of children taking credit for parent’s success)?

The apostle Paul is not taking credit for their worship, after all, how could he who was born after them have influenced their worship? Rather, the apostle Paul is simply saying that his ancestors also worshipped God in the same manner as himself. That is, they too were Jews. The apostle Paul did not see himself as an adherent of a new religion, but one who continued in “the way” (ἡ ὁδός) of his ancestors (Acts 24:14). Judaism (ὁ Ἰουδαϊσμός cp. Gal. 1:13) was not a human contrivance but the true form of worship in the apostle Paul’s eyes. He confessed, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee...” (Acts 23:6) and “I am a man, a Jew...brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the paternal law (τοῦ πατρῴου νόμου), being zealous toward God, just as you all are today” (Acts 22:3).


1 p. 538
2 p. 59
3 p. 372, §4
4 The Latin word modo means “manner,” and the word instar means “resemblance.”
5 p. 322


Buttmann, Alexander. A Grammar of the New Testament Greek. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Andover: Draper, 1873.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry.Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

Winer, George Benedikt. A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament. 7th ed. Andover: Draper, 1892.


If we can use one of the more modern translations, such as NIV, the meaning becomes clearer:

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

Although a majority of scholars state that this epistle was written in Paul's name, not by Paul, the author is crediting Paul with acknowledging his ancestors. [Burton L. Mack says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 206, that its attribution to Paul is clearly fictional, for its language, style and thought are thoroughly un-Pauline; Bart D. Ehrman cites linguistic evidence of this in "Forged: Writing in the Name of God*,page 98.]

The original Greek text can be read at http://biblehub.com/interlinear/study/2_timothy/1.htm

  • 4
    "Although we now know that this epistle was written in Paul's name, not by Paul" There's lots of disagreement about that.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 21, 2015 at 6:40
  • 1
    @curiousdannii Nevertheless, it is my understanding that comments are reserved for requests for clarification or for identifying problems that can not be summarised by "I do not agree." In this and other cases, that seems to be the theme of your comments. Jan 21, 2015 at 6:52
  • 4
    Do you deny the existence of conservative scholars? To say "there is little disagreement among scholars" is inaccurate, but at least it acknowledges the disagreement, unlike the answer itself. I'm not saying that I disagree, I'm requesting that you edit your answer to change "Although we know ..." to "Many, perhaps even a majority, of scholars believe ..." because as it is now, it is stating as fact something that can never be definitively known and which is currently strongly debated. Thank you for editing it :)
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 21, 2015 at 6:57
  • 1
    That's a very condescending statement. And just for example, my NIGTC commentary on the pastorals comes down on the side of pro-Paul, and that's a very scholarly series. But I'd say that the debate over authorship is actually primarily theologically motivated, with Paul's authorship denied by those who want to distance the apostle from the polity of the pastorals. We know Paul often, perhaps usually, used scribes and wrote with coauthors, so vocab has to be the least significant factor for considering authorship.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 21, 2015 at 7:25
  • 1
    Please cite actual scholars rather than saying 'a majority of scholars' (I can name several myself, but this is part of showing your work). It looks like you have some good data in comments, please integrate it into the answer.
    – Dan
    Jan 21, 2015 at 16:10

Paul is linking his righteous law keeping as being a continuation of their Jewish religion. This righteousness is not a sinless perfectionism but through the use of the God ordained means of repentance confession washing and sin offering. After using these means the worshipper walks away with a clear conscience because his sin is covered.

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