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Church and the Bible, I Timothy 3:14-15

Victor M. Eskew


            The Scriptures affirm that there is a solid link between the church and the truth.  In I Timothy 3:14-15, Paul wrote:  “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:  but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”  The church is both the “pillar” and the “ground” of the truth.

            The Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church quote these verses as proof-texts that affirm that they gave the Bible to the world.  In an article entitled, “True Church and Bible,” we read:  “In 397 AD, the Catholic Church gave us a definitive decision as to which writings and books should be admitted into the Bible and which should be rejected, and every book which is in the Protestant New Testament today, was put there by Pope Siricus and the Catholic Bishops in the year 397” (www.marianland.com). 

            It is interesting that Paul wrote in the first century and declared the relationship between the church and the truth.  Truth was completely revealed by the end of the first century.  Jude declared that “the faith,” the system of faith or body of truth, had been “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).  There is also an indication in the New Testament that the church was collecting the inspired books even within the first century.  Peter referenced “all his (Paul’s) epistles” in II Peter 3:16.  He also spoke of them as being “scripture.”  In other words, Paul’s books were recognized in the first century as being authoritative doctrine in the church.

            Another fact that needs to be known is that the “Church Fathers,” that is, the church leaders in the first century, quoted from every book of the New Testament.  This proves two important points.  First, the books found in our New Testament were circulating among the church in the second century.  Second, these books were recognized by the church leaders as being authoritative.  If it were true that the Bible was not given until the year 397, then we have a question that needs to be answered:  “What was the standard of authority for the church during the two hundred year period between the end of the first century and 397 AD?”  How did the churches of the second and third centuries govern the church and live lives of purity and holiness if there was no Bible to guide them?

            Now let’s go back to I Timothy 3:15.  Paul asserts that the church is the “pillar” of the truth.  Thayer defines the word “pillar” as “a column, a support.”  Barnes explains the concept well in his notes on this verse:  “It refers to the church here, it means that the church is the support of the truth, as a pillar is a building….It is intrusted (sic) 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.”  (See Philippians 2:16)

            The church is also “the ground” of the truth.  The word “ground” means a stay, something that is fixed, settled and immoveable.  The description is of a foundation.  God deposited the truth upon the church, the institution that was purchased by the precious blood of Christ (Acts 20:28).  It is a body against which the gates of hell shall not prevail (Matt. 16:18).  As long as the church is on earth, the truth will be here as well.  Truth has a secure foundation in the church of the living God.

            The key to I Timothy 3:15 is to correctly understand the phrase, “the church of the living God.”  The church is not the magistrates of the Roman Catholic Church.  The church is not the conglomeration of all the denominations.  The church is the one body of Christ (Eph. 4:4; 1:22-23) that consists of all baptized believers (Acts 2:47).  God has given this body His truth.  They are to proclaim the truth, protect the truth, and pass it on to following generations.