NIV 1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

WH ἐὰν δὲ βραδύνω, ἵνα εἰδῇς πῶς δεῖ ἐν οἴκῳ θεοῦ ἀναστρέφεσθαι, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἐκκλησία θεοῦ ζῶντος, στύλος καὶ ἑδραίωμα τῆς ἀληθείας·

I see this is usually translated "pillar and foundation" or similar implying that the truth is supported (held up) by the assembly. The word "foundation" seems to suggest that the truth "rests on" the assembly. But to my mind this is entirely backward since the assembly rests on the truth. As Paul said:

NIV Romans 3:4

Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."

Might the "pillar and foundation" be "the pillar and base"? In other words, the base rests on the ground (which is the foundation) and the pillar rests on the base and the truth is thus lifted up and put on display in the assembly. In other words, would one speak of the display of a bust resting on a "pillar and base" to enhance its beauty rather than to in some way be responsible for maintaining truth?

The question is, what was Paul referring to when he used this metaphor, the pillar and ground (foundation) of the truth, as the household of God?

I take a somewhat unique approach to this passage, placing its meaning in the context of the place where Timothy was serving as pastor. Timothy was a struggling pastor in Ephesus and 1 Timothy was intended to inform Timothy and the church. If you recall the most dominant feature both physically and culturally within Ephesus was the temple of Diana, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was famous for its 127 pillars, some of which were covered in gold and jewels; and also for the foundations. Pliny, an ancient source speaks of the wonders of both the columns and the foundations of that temple.

Serving in Ephesus had to be a difficult thing since this pagan temple literally dominated everything you did and saw in that city. It was with that in mind that Paul made reference to those two metaphors in reference to the church. the pillar and ground of the truth. In the context Paul also makes it clear that it is in the church, the people, that is the house of God. Again I think Paul was contrasting this with the wicked temple on the hill.

If it is to be taken metaphorically as a comparison with the temple of Diana then it would be wrong to look to much into the details of the words and instead focus on what they assert, namely, that the Church as the house of God is the source of truth and not some pagan temple.

When Paul says 1 Tim 3:14 that "I write these things," I think he was referring to the whole letter and not just to the preceding context of the qualifications of bishop.

It is very helpful to compare this to Acts 19 where Paul first comes to Ephesus.

  • I would probably see it more that Paul is using an image of the temple but that the Diana temple would inevitably loom large in the imagination as the "other" temple but yes, good observation. +1 – Ruminator Sep 13 at 15:00

First, the meaning of "base" and "foundation" are almost the same. The ANLEX suggest "foundation, mainstay, support". The NRSV has "bulwark"; the NIV has "foundation"; the NASB has "support"; the ESV has "buttress". All (in my judgement) are valid but not necessarily optimal here.

However, I understand the significance of the question. In this case, I might prefer to translate ἑδραίωμα as "bulwark" or "buttress" in the sense that the assembly is the organisation that represents the truth of Jesus to the outside world; "the keepers of the flame" to coin a phrase from elsewhere. I agree that truth is the foundation or base of the church but equally, the church is the repository of truth of Jesus and each member has a responsibility to show the world and make it a better place. In this sense, the church is a "bulwark".

  • I quoted the source - ANLEX about which I have previously advised – Dr Peter McGowan Sep 9 at 10:16
  • How do you know στύλος καὶ ἑδραίωμα refers to ἐκκλησία and not θεοῦ ζῶντος? – Perry Webb Sep 11 at 8:51
  • Robertson also says they refer to ἐκκλησία but writes, "Probably it means stay or support rather than foundation or ground. See Col. 1:23; 2 Tim. 2:19 for similar idea. See also Matt. 16:18f." Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (1 Ti 3:15). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press. – Perry Webb Sep 11 at 8:56
  • The grammar makes it clear that the correct antecedent is ekklesia. – Dr Peter McGowan Sep 11 at 11:30
  • I don't see how you get from the lexicon entry to "bulwark". a bulwark is a wall not a pillar and foundation/base. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bulwark – Ruminator Sep 14 at 10:22

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