Sometimes, however, English translations have subtle differences from the original texts. Take for example a passage from Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.
1 Timothy 1:5 NLT
The Bible presents lists like this passage in 1 Timothy. My question when I read this was which part is “the list?” I see two possibilities and the difference may change what I focus on as I seek to follow Jesus.
My first reading looked like this in my mind:
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with
- love that comes from a pure heart
- a clear conscience
- genuine faith
That’s a fair reading of English; the NLT even includes an Oxford comma.
Upon my second look at this I wondered if love was the purpose and the list explained the love, like this:
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with LOVE that comes from
- a pure heart
- a clear conscience
- genuine faith
I could look to other scripture to address the relative value of the contents of either list to see whether love alone or love, a clear conscience and genuine faith were a better understanding but, thankfully, I could also look at the original Greek text and if that shed any light.
Quick Greek lesson:
Nouns in Greek tell you what role they play in a sentence by how they’re formed.
In this case, αγαπη, the word for love, is formed in the nominative case while καρδιασ (heart), συνειδησεως (conscience) and πιστεως (faith) are in the genitive case. That means the second reading is more accurate. The purpose of Paul’s instruction is for all believers to be filled with love and that loves comes from the items in the list.
This may be academic but it reinforces to me that my goal isn’t just having a pure heart, clear conscience or genuine faith as end goals but as steps in having (demonstrating?) love. Other passages in the Bible may speak directly to the value of each of these items separate from the love to which they lead but Paul’s point was that believers should be filled with love.
These three items obviously are important to Paul and his teaching because he points out in verse 6
But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions.
1 Timothy 1:6 NLT
In Paul’s teaching to Timothy and the church at Ephesus (where Timothy was) Christians were being directed away from the supremacy of Jesus and His love by either Christians who’d fallen away from their faith and sound doctrine.
I think Paul makes an important statement in 1 Timothy chapter 1 when he says
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners“–and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.
All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:15-17 NLT
Paul uses his life as an example of how much God loves us and how He is patient in dealing with us. He overlooks our sin which is so offensive to Him and He loves us. I think Paul makes this point to highlight the purpose of his instruction to Timothy that Christians shouldn’t be distracted by useless discussions but should focus on love. There are some characteristics we should seek to have in our lives (to wit the pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith) but our goal is to have love and the only way to have that is when you demonstrate it.