Malherbe on sophrosyne

I recently read Abraham Malherbe’s essay, “The Virtus Feminarum in 1 Timothy 2:9-15” in Renewing Tradition and appreciated it.  He argues for a high degree of literary coherence in this passage and provides significant background for the passage in Greco-Roman philosophical writings.


Given my previous work on the coherence of the Pastorals I was particularly interested in his discussion of coherence.  Malherbe traces the train of thought briefly and concludes that “structurally, the text coheres” (50).  Then the bulk of the essay considers the various ethical ideas in this text arguing that the moral advice contained in it also coheres.  Malherbe also counters Roloff stating, “The two most extended Christological formulations in the Pastoral Epistles … are not mere appendages providing a theological sheen to rather prosaic moralizing” 52).


The bulk of the essay though is a discussion of sophrosyne and related terms in the context of Greco-Roman moral philosophy.  In this Malherbe interacts significantly with Helen North’s $amz(B000CJ3KKQ Sophrosyne: Self-Knowledge and Restraint in Greek Literature), which Malherbe calls a “magisterial study” (53)- no small praise from one of the preeminent scholars on Greco-Roman backgrounds!.  The parallels Malherbe cites here are very helpful and will be important for anyone work on the Pastorals (as these terms occur often in these letters beyond the text in the essay title). 


Malherbe does not in this essay get to the question of how this impacts one’s reading of 1 Timothy 2:9-15.  This essay he says is spade work preliminary to exegesis, which he will do in his forthcoming commentary on the Pastorals in the Hermeneia series.

Thinking about 2Ti 1.8-12

Our pastor has commenced working through Second Timothy (one of the reasons for my recent jaunt through Second Timothy) and today’s text was 2Ti 1.9-10 (he’d discussed the larger section, 2Ti 1.8-12, last week). But I really don’t see the rationale for splitting this out from the larger unit because it is all one sentence (in the Greek) with components building one upon the other to the crescendo of v. 12. Below is my translation of these verses:

And so do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner, but suffer together with me for the gospel according to the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace, which has been granted to us in Christ Jesus from times eternal, and now has been revealed through the appearance of our Savior Christ Jesus, who indeed abolished death and brought to light life and immortality through the gospel into which I was appointed herald and apostle and teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is quite capable to guard my deposit until that day. (2Ti 1.8-12)

On my reading, Paul’s first bit about not being ashamed of the testimony or being ashamed of Paul is an attention-getter that is then immediately trumped. This isn’t about Timothy being ashamed, it is about Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “suffer together” with him for the gospel. In the underlying Greek, the portion after this initial “but” corrects. Timothy is not to be ashamed of Paul’s suffering (or the gospel for that matter), he is instead to join with Paul in his suffering for the gospel.

From here, Paul gives further information on how Timothy can in his right mind sign up for such suffering: the power of God is what will enable him.

As if that’s not enough, Paul then describes what God has already done: he’s saved them (the start of v. 9). In addition to that, he has called them with a “holy calling”.

But what is the holy calling? Paul explains that too. The holy calling is not one given because they are worthy based on the merit of their own works, they are worthy because God has called them to it. God has his own purpose and his grace will enable him to meet that purpose to which he has called Timothy (and Paul).

But Paul isn’t done; he next has to get in some explanation of how this grace works to enable for the holy calling. The grace has been in place since the foundation of time, only recently revealed in Jesus Christ.

And again, Paul isn’t done.

Note how Paul doesn’t just refer to “Jesus Christ”, but to “our Savior Jesus Christ”. This as well is for a reason, it is so Paul can remind Timothy once again of what Christ did. He abolished death (by his grace saving from eternal death) and brought life. He is the life-bringer. And this was done “through the gospel” (remember that thing Paul initially exhorted Timothy to not be ashamed of?). (this is the end of v. 10)

Still, Paul has more.

This gospel, the accounting of how our Savior provided for our deliverance, is what Paul has been called to proclaim. He is a “herald” (a proclaimer), an apostle and a teacher of the gospel. He proclaims it, he advocates it, he practices it and he teaches it.

Paul continues, “For this reason …”. This is Paul’s justification of his suffering. Paul doesn’t hide his suffering, he embraces it. And he wants Timothy to embrace it too. Again, as when the section started, there is a contrastive “but”: “I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed …”. This as the same contrast as the beginning of the section, between suffering and being ashamed of the suffering. Paul offers himself as an example to Timothy: “I’m embracing the suffering, you should too.” (an aside: recall 2Ti 1.7, immediately previous to this whole section, where Paul reminds Timothy that “God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power and love and self-discipline”.)

Paul then gives reason for his embracing of the suffering he finds himself in: He knows that the one who saved him will bring him through it until “that day” (which is, in my opinion, an eschatological reference).

The whole section progresses, each clause or phrase expanding some portion of the previous one, making Paul’s case. And it ends up right where it started, advocating the embrace of suffering for the gospel over against being ashamed of the gospel.

From here, Paul will begin to contrast the gospel against the false teaching prevalent in Ephesus, holding up the standard of the gospel. But before then, Paul needs to make the reader aware that there is a choice between the hard way (holding to the gospel and undergoing the suffering which will come) and the easy way (letting go of the gospel and not challenging the false teachers). Paul makes Timothy aware of this choice, encouraging his embrace of the gospel and related suffering, before getting into the ramifications of it.

Also interesting (at least to me) is that throughout this section, Paul is exhorting Timothy to join together with him in this suffering for the gospel; he is not exhorting Timothy to take his place in this suffering. So many times Second Timothy is read as “Paul’s last will and testament” but, at least here, we see that Paul has no hint of wanting to let go of the reins. Timothy is joining together with Paul, he isn’t taking Paul’s place.