A declaration of sovereignty, aided by vowels

When in the course of kingdom events it becomes helpful to declare God’s sovereignty, someone like the Jewish-Christian-apostle-formerly-known-as-Saul might just articulate that sovereignty.

And it might just come across rather emphatically!

Today, I’d like to highlight a declaration by Saul-Paul — found in 1Timothy 3:17 — in an uncommon way.  By way of reminder, here’s a standard translation:

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.  (NIV)

And here’s an alternate, paraphrastic translation:

Now to the King of the Ages, indestructible and everlasting, unseen, the Only-God, let there be glory for all time, for evermore . . . amen.  (bc)

The meanings of many of the words and phrases there are emphatic enough.  For instance, the phrase we get as “for ever and ever” in the NIV is an idiomatic one and reads something like “into the ages of the ages.”  Yet if one were to pronounce the original words aloud, one would also hear a great number of sonic connections – assonance or vowel relationships, actually — that tend to add to the emphatic nature.

So, let’s take a Greek peek.  Please read the words below — aloud if at all possible — noticing all the instances of the letter “o.”  (Notice particularly the ones with long accents over them . . . those are the long omega vowel, pronounced “oh,” as opposed to the shorter omicron vowel, which tends to be pronounced something like the “aw” in “Fawlty Towers”).  The second line below is the Greek sounds transliterated into English — presumably easier for most of us to read.

τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, ἀφθάρτῳ, ἀοράτῳ, μόνῳ θεῷ,
tō de basilei' ton aiō'nōn, aphthar't­ō, aora'tō, mo'nō theō',
τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.
time' kai do'xa eis tous aiō'nas tōn aiō'nōn: amen.

Although I attempted a paraphrase above, I really have no idea how to translate into English the kind of syllabic emphasis present in those vowels in 1Tim 1:17.

I can imagine, though, that the word “mono” (μόνῳ), meaning “only,” was something Paul added later, for one last bit of emphasis.  I can see him as he thought through things, after the rest of the letter was written . . . adding the adjective with a twinkle.  “Aphthar’t­ō, aora’tō, theō’,” he might have muttered to himself, continuing to think about how to declare God’s sovereignty emphatically.  And then an extra bit of inspiration hit — the word mono:  “Aphthar’t­ō, aora’tō, mo’nō theō’!”  And he might have smiled, since he quite personally knew this great God to whom he was directing Timothy’s attention. . . .

It might be significant that “only God” is a term not found in any other Pauline writings;¹ in any event, this expression seems especially emphatic here.  The King of the Ages, the immortal One, the invisible One, the only God!

~ ~ ~

And so, yes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humans are created equal,” but that they are not equal to God, being made “just a little lower than the angels” (and higher than the other animals).

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other” that we will not pledge ultimate allegiance to any other than this great God.  He alone is Sovereign.  He alone is God.

So be it.

¹ A variant expression is found in Romans 16:27, with the added adjective “wise.”  Some later, less well-attested manuscripts also have “only wise God” in 1 Timothy . . . leading to the supposition that later scribes might have borrowed the “wise” part from Romans and inserted it inappropriately in 1Timothy.


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