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Eusebeia in the Pastoral Epistles
Eusebeia as Social Respectability
One term in the Pastoral Epistles [=PEs] will be the focal point of this paper: eusebeia and its cognates (eusebeō, eusebēs, eusebōs, asebeia, asebēs). The NRSV translates this word group with the term “godliness” almost every time but with “religion” or “religious life” twice (1 Tim. 3:16; 5:4). The NIV 2011 knocks out “religion” in 1 Timothy 3:16 and uses “godliness” in all other instances. The CEB uses godliness as well but has “holy living” at 1 Timothy 4:8, 6:11, 2 Timothy 3:12 and “respect” at 5:4 and “religious” in 2 Timothy 3:5. In Ben Witherington’s brief excursus on this term, a kaleidoscope of its nuances becomes visible as he offers a comprehensive, balanced discussion that shows the term points us to both belief and behavior, with special emphasis on reverence. Others, like Luke Timothy Johnson, translate it as “piety.” The most extensive study of the term, in a Baylor monograph by Christopher Hoklotubbe, renders it in a way that parts company with the translation “godliness” and lands on “civilized piety.”
This term matters in the Pastorals, occurring in its various forms sixteen times. Marshall states that the term eusebeia “is of major significance … because of its importance for an understanding of the author’s view of the Christian life and ethics.” He’s right about that. Marshall’s brief Forschungsbericht on the term in scholarship on the PEs excavates other translations and meanings: from God-honoring behaviors to churchly morality to good Christian citizenship to the more Greco-Roman senses of piety, that is, a respect for social orders, and finally into a combination of religious knowledge and moral conduct. Marshall’s conclusion is that term points to “the whole of Christian behaviour” since it is rooted in Christ’s redemption. In spite of Marshall’s erudition on the term, his final observation in his excursus that the term may have been chosen to connect with the Roman sense of pietas opens the door to more than he allows. Hoklotubbe walks through that door.
The translation “godliness” concerns me. There was a time when godliness pointed to a full-blown Christian life and, in particular, the Wesleyans at times have used godliness for social acts of charity and justice. However, for most today the term “godliness” is narrowly individualistic in one’s relation with God, one’s personal sanctification, and one’s refusals to participate in sin. A godly person is holy, and holiness for most is defined as separation from sin. I don’t believe eusebeia moves in that register. Not that godliness is a bad translation.
Eusebeia and Pietas
A recent study of the PEs explored multiple connotations of the rhetorical use of eusebeia in its imperial context and sheds light on the term and what the Apostle is doing with this term. The recent study I am referring to is by Hoklotubbe, mentioned above and called Civilized Piety. I will simply record some of his observations with light commentary.
I agree with his conclusion that the PEs fit into a “number of attempts to navigate the dicey waters of imperial prejudices toward the Christian movement and to institutionalize a particular ecclesial structure, complete with behavioral norms that pertain to women and slaves”(2). Particular behaviors in the early Christian movement were at least at times provocative if not subversive of imperial culture. The Roman approbation of “piety,” which neatly transcribes the Latin pietas, does not have the singularly private sensibility that the term “godliness” or “piety” have in much of Christendom. Here we encounter a turn off the common path of “godliness,” and I quote from Hoklotubbe.
“Piety” was a particularly important virtue within the ancient Mediterranean world… According to Cicero, pietas is “the feeling which renders kind offices and loving service to one’s kin and country” [citing Inv. 2.53.161; LCL/Hubbell] and arises from “the knowledge of the gods” [citing Nat. d. 2.61. 153; LCL/Rackham]. Whereas in the Roman period the Greek eusebeia tended to signify both a reverent attitude toward and proper ritual conduct before the gods, the Latin pietas encompassed an affectionate dutifulness directed also to one’s parents, homeland, and emperor. Pietas was the fulfillment of one’s filial, religious, civic, and imperial obligations that sustained reciprocal relationships between kin, neighbors, allies, and contracting parties as well as demonstrated reverent loyalty toward country, divinity, and ruler (5-6).
Disputes can arise, of course, in the transfer of a Greek term into Latin or of the implicitness of a Latin meaning in a Greek use of a term, but we can pause long enough here to recognize that both the Latin and the Greek term transcend what is often meant today by “godliness.” The Latin and Greek terms, which were not identical but overlapping, suggested one’s duty to family, to one’s civic responsibilities, as well as to one’s religious rituals. To be eusebeia or pietas was to be a good citizen in the Roman world, and to be a good citizen meant respectable participation in the network of the Roman way of life, including its religious rituals. Piety, as Hoklotubbe observes, was as political as it was religious.
Under Octavian (Caesar Augustus) the term pietas took on major significance in the attempt to restore some kind of tradition. The lack of the virtue among Romans was used to explain the cause of the civil wars that preceded him. Hoklotubbe’s summary: “Within imperial ideology, pietas signified a loyal devotion to the gods, the nation, and family, which coalesced with Augustus’ vision of restoring Rome’s ancestral traditions and values (mos maiorum) and its moral grounding. Rome’s citizens and provincial subjects were conceptualized as an enlarged familia that owed due pietas to Augustus, the ‘father of the nation’ (pater patriae)” (15). What is more, this virtue of pietas was deemed to mark Romans out from the rest of the world as it offered to the world Virgil’s Aeneid as Rome’s official narrative. Pietas is what made Romans good Romans. Hoklotubbe again:
… many elite Romans understood pietas to be the distinctive quality of the Roman nation that set Romans apart from all other nations and explained why the gods sustained Rome’s imperial dominion. Within this elite discourse, non-Roman foreigners or barbarians were suspected of practicing an excessive pietas or superstition (superstitio), which was often perceived as posing a threat to Rome’s own ancestral traditions (16).
He continues in a way that immediately connects us to Judaism and the nascent Christian movement underway in western Asia Minor. Neither Judaism nor the way of Christ fit silently into the system.
The beliefs and practices of both Jews and Christians were susceptible to such racially charged prejudice and … such stigmatism could lead to social ostracism and sometimes physical violence (16).
Now the heat: “Rome’s esteem for pietas and concern against superstitio frame the imperial situation of the Pastoral Epistles’ own appropriation of piety and its negotiation of imperial authority and culture” (16). One way of shielding the house churches of Ephesus from Roman and Ephesian scrutiny was for the believers to form into a civilized piety. Eusebeia does that work.
Christians (Jewish or not) were often on the defensive because they were accused of lacking pietas. One need only think of the language about Christians from the pens (and lips) of Tacitus (Ann. 15.44), Suetonius (Nero 16.2), and Pliny the Younger (Ep. 10.96.8). Josephus, using eusebeō, passed on the same barb from a critic of Jews, saying that “we [Jews] do not employ just laws or eusebein God as we should” [mēte ton theon eusebein hōs prosēken; Ag. Ap. 2.125; Barclay], but Josephus counters that “we possess laws that are extremely well designed with a view to eusebeia [eusebeia; Ag. Ap. 2.146; Barclay]. I recently read straight through Josephus’s Jewish War and was impressed by the number of instances where eusebeia pointed at a public, religious way of life. In his works eusebeia occurs 100x. I cherry pick but one example. Antipater, power-hungry son of Herod the Great, accused before Varus of Syrian of plotting parricide, pleaded for mercy to his father in these words:
But my undoing was that fatal time abroad [in Rome]. How I regret it – the wide opening I gave to malice, the long interval for plots to be laid! Yet it was for your sake, father, that I made that journey, to fight your battles and stop Syllaeus from exploiting your old age. Rome is my witness to my eusebeia [Hammond: “filial piety”], And so is Caesar, the ruler of the whole world, who often called me “Philopator” [Lover of the Father]. Here, father – look at this letter from him. This has more substance than the smear campaign at home; This is all the defense I need; this is the evidence I submit of my affection for you” (Hammond, War 1.633).
His eusebeia did him no good. Herod had him executed. He had plotted to assassinate his father. For Antipater, for Josephus too, eusebeia is not genuine personal godliness. It points to publicly respectable religious observances tied into political allegiances.
The Apostle’s choice of the term eusebeia then is rhetorically-charged. “The problem, then, that the Pastoral deployment of piety sets out to solve is, How could Christians show themselves to be loyal and obedient subjects to the Roman Empire and good neighbors to their peers without compromising the integrity of their exclusive devotion to a countercultural Jewish messiah who had been crucified by the Romans?” (11). At the rhetorical level, then, the use of this Greek term in the PEs “appropriates contemporary ideas about piety in order to construct a culturally dignified and civilized Christian identity for his audience to embody so that the ekklēsia might better navigate the treacherous waters of popular prejudices among their neighbors” (7). To comprehend the Apostle’s use of the term eusebeia, then, one must set the expressions of the PEs in the Greco-Roman world of what makes for piety. Hoklotubbe sallies forth with a similar point: the use of this term is “not simply … some banal description of Christian devotion to God but … [is] a much more contested and politically charged claim that played an important part in inventing a civilized Christian subject” (12).
My conclusion: it was impossible, or close enough to it, for the term eusebeia to take on such importance in the PEs and not have one eye, if not with a complete shoulder turn, looking at the Roman sensibilities about pietas. The PEs advocate a Christian civic respectability. To offer a tantalizing and undeveloped suggestion, Augustus wanted the nobles of Rome to marry and to have children, and one wonders if the Apostle’s instruction that women “will be saved through childbearing” (1 Tim 2:15) might at least tip its cap toward this newly-minted Roman sensibility. I erase even a hint of that suggestion and cede the conversation on that verse to Emily Gathergood and Sandra Glahn.
We now dip into two uses of eusebeia in 1 Timothy to harvest the fruit of Hoklotubbe’s study, with one eye on the importance of pastors today nurturing a character that is socially respectable, and with some added suggestion to Hoklotubbe’s work.
1 Timothy 2:2
The first occurrence of eusebeia is 1 Timothy 2:1-2 where we read “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all eusebeia and dignity.” The opening act for the Christians of Ephesus is to pray for everyone, beginning with the emperor! The reason given is nothing less than a peaceful existence, which makes prayer a strategy for living -- “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all eusebeia and dignity” – but seemingly also for evangelism (2:3-7). As with Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, one of the earliest Christian strategies to cope with Roman power and suspicion about superstitious people was to turn their worship toward Rome in prayer and sacrifice. Josephus tells us that Jews had been sacrificing to the emperor since the days of Augustus: “The Jews replied [to Petronius] that they offered sacrifice twice daily for Caesar and the Roman people” (B.J. 2.197). The words of 1 Timothy 2 then emerge from the Jewish strategy and become for the Apostle the rhetoric of acceptable, socially-respectable eusebeia.
There is here something that can been construed as subversive, even if quietly so. There is an evangelistic undertone to the wording that follows. Also, “in the sight of God our Savior” may well counter the use of the same honorific (Savior) for such persons as Julius Caesar and Augustus and later for Hadrian (cf. 1:10; 4:10; Titus 1:4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6). And not only does the Apostle call God the Savior, but he stands with the one-God conviction of Judaism modified by Christian belief about Jesus in “there is one God; there is also one mediator [emperors were priests, too] between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:5-6).
2 Timothy 3:12
All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12) has been the witness of countless Christians through the ages, even if at times persecution was all but eliminated in specific countries. What the Apostle says here deserves our attention: he combines godly life, eusebōs, that is “civilized piety” in the sense of a public profession, with in Christ Jesus, which means that publicly acceptable profession is not syncretistic but located in the Lord of lords. Ephesus had its own history but one can say from its inception into the second century one of the biggest temptations – seen in Acts, in the Pastorals, in Revelation and into Ignatius – was compromise at the cultural level in economics, politics, status, and religious customs like eating foods offered to idols. The decision to be an allegiant witness in Ephesus, then, brought forth opposition and persecution so the Apostle generalizes that all will encounter this kind of persecution. Daily all the followers of Jesus in Western Asia Minor faced public scrutiny, status diminishment, economic hardship, and at times physical persecution for allegiance to Christ Jesus.
Eusebeia treads turbulent waters in the PEs and serves to emphasize the importance of Christians in western Asia Minor to practice their faith in the public sector in a manner that can be seen as Roman pietas. Yet at the same time they are to live out a Christian eusebeia that stands in contrast to Roman cultic ideals and imperial adoration, tied as they both into the network of the Roman way of life. To be a respectable citizen in Ephesus required conformity to some Augustan ideals that connected family, land, emperor and a worship that honored Rome and its gods. For the Apostle to summarize a new kind of Christian existence as eusebeia was not sleight of hand but fully conformable as well to how Jews at times lived in the diaspora and how the early Christians were learning to live in the empire (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17).
Such eusebeia conformed to Rome’s “strategy” but it has been seen above that for the Christians the summing up of Christian existence as eusebeia was at times a “tactic” of subversion. To use the Greek equivalent of the Latin pietas for the gospel and for a way of life that mapped onto the way of Christ was to subvert Roman pietas with a Roman-sounding but Christ-affirming eusebeia. Hoklotubbe’s monograph steers toward an accommodating and acculturating system of navigation but his “sly civility” suggestion makes the waters slightly more turbulent than acculturation. If he has in his grip the lion’s share of the argument, there is something hanging out his grip that suggests that the lion didn’t get it all. Subversion of Roman pietas through Christian eusebeia leads toward evangelism and a new group, the household of God or the ekklēsia that cannot but be an alternative way of life.
A sly civility remains civil and that means the Apostle expected Timothy to exhort the believers, and especially their leaders, to a responsible and socially-respectable manner of life that both avoided trouble with the authorities and gained their approval for the characters forming in this new social group.
From my long essay in the Ben Witherington FS
 Ben W. Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John (IVP Academic, 2006), 99–102.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, AB 35A (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 3–10; T. Christopher Hoklotubbe, Civilized Piety: The Rhetoric of Pietas in the Pastoral Epistles and the Roman Empire (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017). This essay is an interaction with the exceptional study of Hoklotubbe who points toward the evidence of the ancient world.
 I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, ICC (London: T & T Clark, 1999), 135.
 Marshall, 136–38.
 Marshall, 142–44. Quoting p. 143.
 Marshall, 144.
 Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), 169. Not all agree; cf. Hoklotubbe, Civilized Piety, 74–76.
 For some inscription evidence, see one who thinks it is evidence of “acculturation” in Trebilco, The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius, 360.
 Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008).
 A full study can be found in Paul Trebilco, The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007).