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?

Update

Ellicott uses "display" terminology: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/1_timothy/3.htm

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
  • Ellicott mentions the Ephesian temple: biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/1_timothy/3.htm – Ruminator Nov 5 at 13:41

Okay, in my pursuit for a better understanding of Paul's metaphor of a "pillar and base of the truth" I found Clarke particularly satisfying:

...To do this, he reminded him that the truth of God - that revealed truth which he had given to save the world - was entrusted to the church; that it was designed to preserve it pure, to defend it, and to transmit it to future times; and that, therefore, every one to whom the administration of the affairs of the church was entrusted, should engage in this duty with a deep conviction of his responsibility. On the construction of the passage, Bloomfield Rosenmuller, and Clarke, may be consulted. The word "pillar" means a column, such as that by which a building is supported, and then any firm prop or support; Galatians 2:9; Revelation 3:12. If it refers to the church here, it means that that is the support of the truth, as a pillar is of a building. It sustains it amidst the war of elements, the natural tendency to fall, and the assaults which may be made on it, and preserves it when it would otherwise tumble into ruin.

Thus it is with the church. It is entrusted with the business of maintaining the truth, of defending it from the assaults of error, and of transmitting it to future times. The truth is, in fact, upheld in the world by the church. The people of the world feel no interest in defending it, and it is to the church of Christ that it is owing that it is preserved and transmitted from age to age. The word rendered "ground" - ἑδραίωμα hedraiōma - means, properly, a basis, or foundation. The figure here is evidently taken from architecture, as the use of the word pillar is. The proper meaning of the one expression would be, that truth is supported by the church. as an edifice is by a pillar; of the other, that the truth rests "on" the church, as a house does on its foundation. It is that which makes it fixed, stable, permanent; that on which it securely stands amidst storms and tempests; that which renders it firm when systems of error are swept away as a house that is built on the sand; compare notes on Matthew 7:24-27.

The meaning then is, that the stability of the truth on earth is dependent on the church. It is owing to the fact that the church is itself founded on a rock, that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, that no storms of persecution can overthrow it, that the truth is preserved from age to age. Other systems of religion are swept away; other opinions change; other forms of doctrine vanish; but the knowledge of the great system of redemption is preserved on earth unshaken, because the church is preserved, and because its foundations cannot be moved. This does not refer, I suppose, to creeds and confessions, or to the decisions of synods and councils; but to the living spirit of truth and piety "in" the church itself. As certainly as the church continues to live, so certain it will be that the truth of God will be perpetuated among people.

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
  • 1
    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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