Saturday, March 10, 2012

Not Like Us (a Greek exposition by an orthodox rebel)

"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." I Tim. 1 (vs. 17)

This praise of God gives flesh and bones to the concept of His holiness and unpacks the notion that holiness means "other than," i.e., that God is "holy" means that he is not like us. Because God's "otherness" sounds too abstract, verses like this one in Timothy help make it concrete. God is described three different ways in this verse, each one applying not simply a mere attribute to Him but rather an attribute that exemplifies exactly how not like us God is.


The Greek word is "aphtharto," which means "incorruptible" or "impossible to decay". Our God does not fade away or bleed out or wash out. His substance is not lessened by the passing of time nor damaged by any action of His or ours. He does not burn out like a star nor collapse in like an abandoned building, and above all He does not die. Death has no hold on Him at all, which is the complete opposite of us. We fade. We dry out and burn out. We decay; with every breath we are decaying. Our energies are burning up and our materials are breaking down. We cannot hold ourselves together at all. We will disperse, and God alone can pull us back together again, because He is not like us. He is incorruptible. He is holy.


The Greek word is "aorato," which means "invisible" in the sense that He cannot be seen. God's "invisibility" does not speak to His non-presence but rather to our inability to see Him. He is too big to be seen, and His light inaccessible is too glorious. This is what the ancient creeds meant when they called God "incomprehensible": not that He is gibberish, but that He is beyond our summation. Our sight cannot apprehend His wholeness, because He is too great for us, like the sun at noonday. The wealth of his being and glory of His brightness are treasure troves too vast to be plundered by any hand our mind. We cannot fathom such a thing because we are not like Him. We are comprehensible. We are limited and finite. We are small, and we only know in part. Much foolishness has been done in the name of the "part" that we know, but it serves to speak to our smallness, to our comprehensibility. We are each but a single word spoken from the mouth of God: unique, but singular, with limits and edges known to God alone, because He is not like us. He alone is incomprehensible. He is invisible. He is holy.

Only Wise God

The Greek phrase is "mono sopho Theo," which means that God alone is wise. In Him only is all truth and knowledge and wisdom. All reason and logic and every epistemological certitude find their ground in Him alone. Outside of Him there is only nonsense and insanity. Outside of Him there is only wailing and gnashing of teeth. In Him alone is all understanding and comprehension. Without Him, without his "logos" and "cosmos," there is only gibberish and disarray. We do not understand this, because we do not have understanding. As said before, we know in part: our understanding is incomplete; our knowledge is seen through a glass darkly. We cannot ascertain like God can ascertain. We cannot reason like God can reason. We cannot have thoughts like He has thoughts, for His thoughts are past finding out. He is not like us. He alone is wise. He is holy.

One final thought: the Textus Receptus alone contains the "sopho" in "mono sopho Theo" (thus, "only wise God" appears in KJV, NKJV, and KJ21). All modern Greek versions, however, simply have "mono Theo," i.e., the only God (as in NIV and ESV). This difference is unfortunate, as there is much to say about God being the "only wise"; but the difference is also apt because "mono Theo" sums up the entire point: God alone is God. There is none like Him. There is no other God beside Him. We are not like Him. We are not God. That is the point. That is the truth. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

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