Biblica 86 (2005) 59-87

“First”, “Only”, “One of a Few”, and “No One Else”:

The Rhetoric of Uniqueness and the Doxologies in 1 Timothy

Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J.

University of Notre Dame


You alone are the Holy One,

You alone are the Lord,

You alone are the Most High ( [1] )

1.0 Introduction

Conversation on Scriptural doxologies includes in particular the work of Eric Werner and Matthew Black ( [2] ), who analyzed the typical forms of doxologies in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Scholarship on the Pastoral Epistles provides specific Greco-Roman or Israelite background of the names and attributes of God found in them ( [3] ). The distinctive contribution of this study, however, brings into discussion two fresh lines of inquiry. First, we examine the rhetoric of praise and its modes of amplification. Particular attention will be paid to the principle of uniqueness, that is, the process of amplifying significant actions into grants of honor because the actor is the “first” or “only” or “one of a few” or “the one who most” performed them. For example, Alcibiades’ chariots won first, second and fourth places in one race: he is the “first” and “only” man ever to do this (Isocrates, Team of Horses 34); or, one might amplify his uniqueness by claiming that “no one” else has ever done thus and such. Second, all doxologies address God in formal terms of great respect, especially rendering to God  δoξα  και τιμη, terms which express honor, worthiness, renown, and the like ( [4] ). “Honor”, moreover, is considered the pivotal value of the ancient world. Hence, one needs to appreciate the social importance of “honor” to understand doxologies. Therefore, doxologies are ideal places to observe the operation of rhetoric and cultural values.  Thus we bring to an analysis of the doxologies in 1 Timothy the rhetorical language of praise, especially the theme of uniqueness, which will be assessed in terms of the cultural model of honor, well known in both classical and biblical studies ( [5] ).

Uniqueness appears in ancient rhetorical handbooks in discussion of the rhetoric of praise and blame. The data base contains Aristotle’s On Rhetoric, Rhetoric to Herennius, Cicero’s De Inventione and De Oratore, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoriae, as well as progymnastic authors such as Aelius Theon and Menander Rhetor ( [6] ).  Next we will examine examples of the theory actually expressed in Greek funeral oratory and prayers, and then in the Old Testament and the LXX. Informed by this material, we are prepared to interpret the doxologies in 1 Timothy 1,17 and 6,15-16 where the language of uniqueness is used in praise of God. The result should be a greater appreciation of the influence of epideictic rhetoric on the way Christians shaped their God-talk. 

2.0 Rhetorical Theory

Aristotle’s On Rhetoric is the earliest extant exposition of rhetorical theory. Although Greek orators before him frequently employ the formulae of uniqueness, we begin with Aristotle simply because he was the first consciously to classify, systematize, and situate uniqueness within a complete theory of rhetoric. In short, in his rhetorical rules he consciously tells us what he and others meant by the criteria of uniqueness. Like Gaul, rhetoric was traditionally divided into three parts, forensic, deliberative and epideictic, each distinguished by its purpose and aim. In Aristotle’s exposition of epideictic rhetoric, he instructs orators how to “amplify” praise, how to elaborate on a praiseworthy deed, what strategies to use to convince us that so-and-so deserves our respect? It is here that Aristotle explains the principle of “uniqueness”:

[In epideictic] one should also use many kinds of amplification, for example if the subject [of praise] is the only (μovoς) one or the first (πρωτoς) or one of a few (μετ’ _λιγωv) or the one who most (μαλιστα) has done something; for all these things are honorable (Rhet. 1.9.38 emphasis added; see also Rhet. 2.7.2).

Four amplifications of praise are mentioned, each of which stresses some form of uniqueness. As we shall see, being the first or only person to achieve something constitutes the most common forms of amplification in the rhetoric of praise.

Centuries later, Cicero provides a Roman witness to the principle of uniqueness. Speaking about what deserves an orator’s praise, he cites virtue, benefaction, endurance, and  unique deeds:

And one must select achievements that are of outstanding importance (magnitudine praestabiles) or unprecedented (novitate primae) or unparalleled in their actual character (genere singulares); for small achievements or those that are not unusual or out of the ordinary are not as a rule felt to be specifically admirable or to deserve praise at all (De Orat. 2.85.347).

“Unprecedented” sounds like “first” in Aristotle’s catalogue; thus an unprecedented deed, which has never before been done, is unique. “Unparalleled” suggests “only”, in the sense that this person is the only one ever to do such-and-such. Although Cicero’s tag “of outstanding importance” does not automatically signal “unique” or “exclusive”, it sets unique actions apart from “small achievements,” from what are “not unusual ... not out of the ordinary”. And so, it might be said that an action, if not done by this man alone, was rare and done by “one of a few” ( [7] ). 

Quintilian’s rhetorical treatise contains remarks on uniqueness similar to Aristotle’s:

... what most pleases an audience is the celebration of deeds which our hero was first (primus) or only (solus) man or at any rate one of the very few (cum paucis) to perform: and to these we must add any other achievements which surpassed hope or expectation (super spem aut expectationem) (Inst. Orat. 3.7.16, emphasis added).

His criteria of uniqueness, moreover, are clear and traditional: “only”, “first”, “one of a few” or “surpassing expectation”.

If Quintilian articulates the criteria for praise among the Roman elite, Aelius Theon represents this same epideictic tradition in regard to the second level of education ( [8] ) His progymnasmata contain formal instructions for writing an encomium, domesticates epideictic rhetoric for school purposes. Theon’s importance consists in two facts: (1) he represents a rhetorical tradition which is ancient and consistent over time; and (2) his rules for an encomium indicate that knowledge and practice of the art of praise was widespread and conventional. His contribution is as follows:

Praiseworthy actions are also those occurring in a timely manner, and if one acted alone (μovoς), or first (πρωτoς) or when no one acted (o_δεις), or more than others (μαλλov τωv _λλωv), or with a few (μετ’ _λιγωv), or beyond one’s age (_περ  _λικιαv), or exceeding expectation (παρα _λπιδα), or with hard work, or what was done most easily and quickly (Theon, 9.35-38, emphasis added) ( [9] ).

The marked terms indicate what Theon understands as grounds for praise, what we call the criterion of uniqueness.. It may refer to what is absolutely unique, such as when “one acted alone or first or with a few”. Great praise is also warranted for those who set new personal standards, such as acting “beyond one’s age” or “exceeding expectations”. Finally, certain deeds were greatly admired such as those performed effortlessly (“done most easily”) and timely (“quickly”).

Finally, in his rhetoric of praise , Menander Rhetor presents a different look at the tradition. His remarks,  not so theoretical as those of other rhetoricians, focus on the particular manner of amplifying  praise for the gods of a city.

... [W]e have to show that the greatest number (πλειστoυς) or the best (_ριστoυς) of the gods have honoured the city with the greatest (μεγισταις) or the first (πρωταις) or the most numerous (πλεισταις) honours. “Most numerous gods” applies to the Athenians: it is said that Dionysus, Apollo, Poseidon, Athena, Hephaestus, and Ares — all of these or most of them — have honoured Athens. “Best gods” applies to Zeus at Olympia and Nemea. “Greatest honours” is applicable to the Athenians because they claim that every provision comes from the gods. “Most necessary honours” are to be found in the case of the Egyptians, who claim that astronomy and geometry came from the gods. “Most ... ”  applies to eloquence and philosophy; these are considered especially the prerogatives of the Athenians ( [10] ).

The traditional marks of uniqueness (“best” and “first”) are clear; but new ones are added, “greatest number” of gods and “best” and “most numerous” benefits. Thus, Athens is unique among the Greek cities: the best god, Zeus, honors her with his benefaction; and the greatest number of gods labor to benefit the city (Dionysus, Apollo, Poseidon, Athena, Hephaestus, and Ares). Athens was the first to be so honored, or to be honored with the best benefactions, or to have received the most numerous honors ( [11] ).

In summary, we should give considerable weight to the way deeds are amplified in rhetoric, because these criteria for praise  represent the conscious, continuous articulation of the rhetorical tradition. Writers such as Aristotle may be primarily codifying the practice of his day; nonetheless he makes formal the general principle which others intuitively grasped or observed occurring in actual literary and forensic practice.

3.0 Rhetorical Practice

3.1 Funeral Speeches. Athenian funeral speeches constitute a distinctive body of  rhetoric of praise, several of which Aristotle actually mentions in his Rhetoric. We visit them to examine their use of amplification by uniqueness. Together with rhetorical theory cited above, these examples attest that the principle of uniqueness was a constant literary tradition from Athens’ golden age down to the age of the progymnasmata.

In his funeral oration, Lysias (459-380 BCE) follows a convention whereby people were praised in terms of geography, generation and gender ( [12] ).  When celebrating Athens as the polis of the deceased, he implies that the dead whom he eulogizes share its virtues. His encomium for the fallen, then, is based on praise of their geographical mother, Athens, and the generational ancestors who ennobled the city.

It was natural to our ancestors ... to fight the battles of justice, for the very beginning of their life was just.... They were the first and only (πρωτoι και μovoι) people in that time to drive out the ruling classes ... and establish a democracy (Funeral Oration 17-18, emphasis added).

Ancestors of these dead fought for Athens’ freedom, just as their descendants now have; but these recently fallen are uniquely honorable: they were the first and only to fight (Funeral Oration 23) in these circumstances.  No Greeks elsewhere (o_δεις) would dare to attempt the deliverance of others. Nowhere else in Greece could one find a government such as Athens had; no other peoples enjoyed such freedom; no one else lived in a democracy. About the fallen,  Lysias continued, “it was one thing for them to share their death with many, but prowess with a few” (Funeral Oration 24). Thus men of Athens past and present are honored as the “first and only” or “one of a few”.

Thucydides (455-400) praises Athens as the geographical source of nobility of those commemorated in his funeral oration (2.35).  In praising those who fell in the Peloponnesian War, he amplifies their greatness by extolling that of Athens, who is the mother of heroes because she is a uniquely noble city:  “Athenians alone regard the man who takes no part in public affairs, not as one who minds his own business, but as good for nothing” (2.40.2). He continues, “we alone confer benefits without fear of consequences, not upon a calculation of the advantage we shall gain, but with confidence in the spirit of liberality which activates us” (2.40.5). And finally, he states:

For Athens alone (μovη) among her contemporaries ... is superior (κρεισσωv) to the report of her, and she alone (μovη) neither affords to the enemy who comes against her cause for irritation at the character of the foe by whom he is defeated, nor to her subjects cause for complaint that his masters are unworthy (2.41.3, emphasis added).

Whereas we have been examining the amplification of uniqueness expressed as “the first and only”, clearly we have a variant form of it in the praise heaped on Athens as the “only” one to act nobly in civic life and military campaigns.

Finally, Plato’s (429-347) Menexenus witnesses to amplification by uniqueness. Socrates delivers to Menexenus a funeral oration embodying all of the rhetorical conventions of the day. Not surprisingly, a person’s geography provides a major source of honor, which of course is Athens. Socrates lists a host of reasons for Athens’ honor, especially its uniqueness: “[Our country] was the only and first (μovη ... πρωτη) in that time to produce human nourishment” (Menex. 237e; see Demosthenes, Funeral Oration LX. 5). Athens’ soldiers, moreover, “by the victory which they gained over the barbarians first taught other men that the power of the Persians was not invincible” (Menex. 240d). Noble soldiers then died in the battle of Oenophyta, thus becoming “the first to be buried by the city in this tomb” (Menex. 242b). Uniqueness, then, rests in being the “first” and “only” to do something ( [13] ). Thus, we conclude that the criteria of uniqueness became a regular part of the rhetoric of funeral orations.

3.2 Greek Hymns and Prayers. Greek hymns and prayers also embody amplification by uniqueness in regard to praise of the gods. Greek prayers tend to have a tripartite structure: (1) invocation (the deity is addressed by means of name, surname, epithets and descriptive predicates); (2) discourse (pray-ers explain why they call on this particular god, what their relationship to the deity is, and why they think they can count on the god’s assistance); and (3) petition (content of the address) ( [14] ). Not surprisingly, we find uniqueness primarily in the prayer’s invocation. For example, Cleanthes’ “Hymn to Zeus”:

Most glorious of immortals                    κυδιστ’ _θαvατωv

honored under many names                   πoλυωvυμε

O Zeus, first cause of nature                  φυσεως  _ρχηγε

guiding all things through law     voμoυ μετα  παvτα  κυβερvωv ( [15] ).

Zeus is unique, for he is “most glorious” even among the immortals, hence the apex of an already elite group. Concerning Zeus being “many named”, Dio Chrysostom provides an apt illustration of this ( [16] ).

Consider whether you will not find that the statue is in keeping with all the titles by which Zeus is known. For he alone of the gods is entitled “Father and King,” “Protector of Cities,” “God of Friendship,” “God of Comradeship,” and also “Protector of Suppliants,”  “God of Hospitality,” “Giver of Increase” (Or. 12.75).

Being “many named”, then, Zeus is honored as the distinctive and exclusive deity of Cleanthes and the Stoics. By addressing Zeus as “first cause of nature”, the hymn honors Zeus as the unique giver of reason and rationality which makes the world accessible to human minds. And finally Zeus serves as master and guide over “all things”, indicating his unique sovereignty and power. Thus Zeus’ honor is expressed in his unique status even among the gods, his many names and his exclusive role in making and governing the universe.

In a different mode, an aretalogy of Isis claims uniqueness. Although spoken by the goddess, the hymn invites its audience to honor Isis for the items listed.

I am Isis, queen of every land (πασης  χωρας),

who was taught by Hermes,

and whatever laws I have ordained,

these no one can abrogate (o_δεις α_τα δυvαται λυσαι).

I am the oldest daughter of the youngest god, Kronos.

I am wife and sister of king Osiris.

I am the first one (πρωτη) to discover corn for humans.

I am mother of the king Horus ( [17] ).

Elite roles of very high status belong to Isis: queen, oldest daughter, wife-sister and mother. One or two might warrant praise, but the variety of kinship roles and their connection to the important Egyptian gods constitute the exclusive and unique honor of Isis. Her sovereignty extends over “every land”; she is not a mere local goddess. She was taught by the best of teachers, Hermes. Her law — in a world where male, not female, rulers were the norm — is unique, and “no one” can abrogate it. Moreover she is the “first” to discover corn, which sets her above all others in this category.

The Orphic Hymns provide a third example of Greek hymns and amplification by uniqueness ( [18] ). The following summary of them was made with an eye to the rhetoric of uniqueness, both the familiar items and other materials in the hymns which function in the same way. While “first” is rarely used (38.6; 40.8) ( [19] ), “only/alone” occurs quite frequently ( [20] ). Use of superlatives to emphasize a god’s uniqueness is present, but not common ( [21] ). More frequent are the titles and epithets not found in rhetoric: rare is the deity who is not king of this or queen of that ( [22] ); some deities are acclaimed as sovereign over all, such as “father of all” (4.1; 6.3; 13.1; 20.5), “mother of all” (9.5; 10.1),  “lord of all” (12.4) and “master of all” (45.2). Often one finds mention of the extent of the domain of this or that god: Helios begets both dawn and night (8.4); Zeus presides over earth, sea and sky (15.4-5). Thus the gods are honored in terms of their unique roles and statuses as well as the geographical domain of their sovereignty. As befits only gods, their eternity ( [23] ) and deathlessness are proclaimed: Ouranos, eternal cosmic element, is primeval as well as “beginning of all and end of all” (4.1-2); Zeus, too, is “father of all and beginning and end of all” (15.7). The deities are often called “blessed” (μακαρ, μακαριoς) which distinguishes their blissful lot from the turmoil of mortals ( [24] ).

The epithets of the deities are easily grouped into two categories: those using negative predicates to distinguish gods from mortals and those using some form of παv. Examples of the former include: “un-conquerable” (_δαμαστε, 4.7; 12.2; 65.2), “in-effable” (_ρρητoς, 12.4; 19.11); “un-tiring” (_καμας, 8.4); “un-conquerable” (_φθιτoς, 15.1); “un-breakable” (_ρρηκτoς, 65.1) and “in-vincible” (_vικητov, 19.9). These distinguish the deities from mortals who are subject to the very things from which the gods are immune. Thus the gods belong to an exclusive group of persons, “one of a few”. Epithets employing some form of παv include: “all-seeing” (παvδερκες, 4.8; 9.7); “all-conquering” (παvδαματωρ, 11.3); and “all-mighty” (παvτoκρατειρα, 10.4). Hephaistos at one point is called “highest of all, all-eating and all hunting” (66.5).

Therefore, while labels such as “first”, “only” and “one of a few” occur, the hymns declare the uniqueness of the gods in terms of role (king, queen), status (mistress of all), domain under their unique control (earth, sea, sky) and benefactions tied exclusively to them. Negative predication immediately distinguishes the gods from mortals. Thus each god has his or her exclusive niche in the cosmos, with unique territory and function.

4.0 Uniqueness in the Hebrew Bible 

In 1966 a classic study on the incomparability of Israel’s  God appeared ( [25] ), which identified diverse ways of praising God’s uniqueness. The most common expression of incomparability is embodied in declarative statements such as “There is none like X”. For example, Hannah prays: “There is none like the Lord, there is none beside thee, there is no rock like our God” (1 Sam 2,2; see also Exod 8,6; Ps 86,6). Biblical authors used this same formula to praise mortals as well as God, i.e., Solomon (1 Kgs 3,12.13; Neh 13,26); Hezekiah (2 Kgs 18,5); Josiah (2 Kgs 23,25); and Job (Job 1,8; 2,3). Incomparability, moreover, was also expressed by rhetorical questions: “Who is like X?  No One!”  For example,

Ps 35,10          Yahweh, who is like you?

Ps 89,9            O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord?

Exod 15,11      Who is like you among the gods, Yahweh, who is like you ( [26] )?

No one, of course, because God is unique in what God does.

A later study incomparability focused on the praise accorded select monarchs who found favor in the eyes of the writer ( [27] ). Of Solomon, it says: “I give you also what you have not asked. . .so that no other king shall compare with you” (1 Kgs 3,13; 10,23). Of Hezekiah we read: “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel, so that there were none like him among the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kgs 18,5; see Josiah in 2 Kgs 23,25). The uniqueness expressed in this formula claims that these monarchs are the best of David’s line. They are not praiseworthy because they were the “first” or “only” ones, but because they are “one of a few”.

Labuschagne and Knoppers provide clear examples of what uniqueness looks like in the Hebrew bible, namely, “incomparability”. Yet Morton Smith argued long ago that there was a “common theology” in the ancient near east, which applies to God in Israel’s literature. He noted that “prayer and praise are usually directed to one god at a time” ( [28] ), with the result that the god is made unique, at least for the moment. He labels this as “flattery”:

Though he [a god] may occupy a minor position in the preserved mythological works, yet in worship addressed to him he is regularly represented as greater than all other gods. It is often said that he not only created the world, but also the other gods. He is the only true god ( [29] ).

Smith argued that Israel’s religious language was itself not unique, but belonged to a larger cultural area which can be said to have a “common” theology. Smith’s study took no note of divine “incomparability”, a lacuna which Labuschagne filled in with his study of the motif, not only in the Hebrew bible, but also in Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian, Ugaritic religion ( [30] ).

5.0 Uniqueness in the LXX 

To what extent was Israelite praise of God influenced by Greek idiom? Most aspects of incomparability just observed were simply translated into Greek and contain none of the Greek rhetorical buzz words for uniqueness.  (1) Commonly we read negations that God has any peer or rival, such as “ ... that you may know that there is not another such as I (o_χ  _στιv  _ς _γ_ _λλoς) in all the earth” (Exod 9,14).  (2) We find rhetorical questions, such as: “O Lord, who is like you (τις  _μoιoς  συ)?” (Ps 35,10) or “What God is there in heaven or on earth, who will do as you have done?” (Deut 3,23).  (3) Other expressions of incomparability contain the frequently appearing formula “no other besides you”, such as: “To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him (o_χ  _τι πληv  α_τoυ)” (Deut 4,35) ( [31] ).

Although 2 Maccabees was not part of the LXX, it contains some striking amplifications of God’s uniqueness It claims that God “alone” (μovoς) is Lord (or virtuous, mighty, etc.). In some cases, “alone” or “only” (μovoς) are part of a monotheistic confession, as in Hezekiah’s prayer: “You are the only God (θεoς  μovoς) in all the kingdoms of the earth” (2 Kgs 19,15) ( [32] ). But occasionally it qualifies God’s virtues, such as we find in this prayer:

O Lord, Lord God, creator of all things,

Who art awe-inspiring and strong and just and merciful,

Who alone (μovoς) art King and art kind,

Who alone (μovoς) art bountiful,

Who alone (μovoς) art just and almighty and eternal (2 Macc 1,24-25).

Repeated labeling of God as “only” (μovoς) is a Greek, not Israelite,  rhetoric of praise. Similarly, titles such as “almighty” (παvτoκρατωρ) and abstract predicates such as “eternal” (α_ωvιoς) are appropriations of Hellenistic god-talk. Thus, except for 2 Maccabees, the LXX gives little evidence of the influence of Greek rhetoric of uniqueness; rather, the idioms in most cases are Hebrew thought patterns put into passable Greek.

6.0 Miscellaneous Instances of Uniqueness in the New Testament

6.1 Only (μovoς). Christian authors generally declare God’s uniqueness with some form of “only” or “alone” (μovoς). In his temptations, Jesus affirms exclusive loyalty to God: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone (μovoς) you shall serve” (Matt 4,10/Luke 4,8; Deut 6,13).Similarly, Jesus rebukes his audience for seeking the approval of its peers and “not seeking the glory that comes from the only God (μovoυ θεoυ)” (John 5,44; see 17,3). Jesus makes a striking confession about the unknowability of the coming of the end time: “But of that day and hour, no one (o_δεις) knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only (μovoς)” (Matt 24:36). Thus God alone enjoys unique knowledge and does not share it with heavenly messengers or earthly messiahs ( [33] ).

We find expressions of God’s exclusivity in doxologies such as the one that ends the letter to the Romans:  “ ... to the only wise (μov_  σoφ_) God be glory for evermore! Amen” (Rom 16,27) ( [34] ).  This unique wisdom of God summarizes the thrust of the whole doxology: “revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed” (16,25-26). Thus to “the only wise God” is glory due for the uniqueness of “wisdom” now revealed.

Mark and Luke record the controversy between some Scribes and Jesus over his declaration of forgiveness of sins. In their eyes Jesus “blasphemes” or dishonors God by encroaching upon God’s unique prerogative: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (ε_ μη _ις  _ θεoς, Mark 2,7) or “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (ε_ μη μovoς _ θεoς, Luke 5,21). But God gave Jesus this power, so he in no way diminishes God’s uniqueness.

6.2 One (ε_ς). Another traditional term, “one” (ε_ς), expresses God’s exclusivity. Mark narrates a remark by Jesus about the “first” law, in which Jesus himself endorses Israel’s the monotheistic faith (Mark 12,29-30), which is a confession of God’s uniqueness.  Jesus cites the Shema (Deut 6,4-5): “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one _ς θεoς)”. His questioner agrees with him by repeating Jesus’ words, confessing that “He [God] is one _ς) and that there is no other (o_κ  _στιv  _λλoς  πληv  α_τoυ)” (12,32).

Mark records that  a man asked Jesus what to do to gain eternal life, addressing Jesus as “Good Teacher”. Jesus defers this to God: “No one is ‘good’ but God alone _ς)” (Mark 10,18). Mark expresses uniqueness both positively (God “alone” is good) and negatively (“no one” (o_δεις) else is).

6.3  No One (o_δεις).  But it is in relation to Jesus that this rhetorical form of uniqueness is used most frequently. For example, Jesus informs his disciples:

All things have been given to me by my Father; and no one (o_δεις) knows the Son except the Father, and no one (o_δε τις) knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the son chooses to reveal him (Matt 11,17//Luke 10,22).

Jesus claims uniqueness: (1) “all things” have been given him by his Father-God; (2) knowledge of him rests exclusively with God; and (3) knowledge of God belongs exclusively to Jesus. Both Father and son enjoy unique knowledge shared only by the two of them.

We find in several early Christian writings honor claims made by Jesus and on his behalf which rest upon his uniqueness, which “no one” else has. For example:

No one (o_δεις) has ever seen God; the only (μovoγεvης) ( [35] ) son ...

has made him known (John 1,18).

No one (o_δεις) has ascended into heaven but (ε_ μη) he who descended

from heaven (John 3,13).

No one (o_δεις) comes to the Father except (ε_ μη) by me (John 14,6) ( [36] ).

John 1,18 and 3,13 declare Jesus’ uniqueness by claiming that he is the only one who has seen the invisible God or who has descended from heaven. No mortal on earth could make such claims. In John 14,6 the evangelist declares Jesus’ uniqueness as the only way to come to the Father, positioning him as the exclusive mediator or broker of God ( [37] ), which uniqueness warrants great honor and respect for him. These examples are rhetorically crafted to exclude all other claimants while affirming the uniqueness and exclusivity of Jesus’ mediation.

This survey of the principle of uniqueness identifies in the gospels the same rhetorical terms found in Greek rhetoric, funeral oratory, and prayers to amplify the honor of god. As we turn to the doxologies in 1 Timothy, the language of praise and honor becomes quite formal and standardized; but the principle of uniqueness continues to have a special place in the shape and aim of the doxology, namely, the honor of God.

7.0 God’s Uniqueness in the Doxologies of 1 Timothy

7.1 The Doxology in 1 Tim 1,17. Doxologies ( [38] ) appear irregularly within letters, as in the case of 1 Tim 1,17 and 6,15-16, as well as part of a letter’s ending ( [39] ). Matthew Black revived a tradition which distinguished two types of biblical doxologies ( [40] ). In 1 Chr 29,10-11 LXX Black finds both a Hebraic form beginning with “Blessed (ε_λoγητoς) are you, O Lord God of Israel ... (29,10)” ( [41] ) and then another type commencing with “To you (τ_ θε_), O Lord, is greatness, power and glory ... (29,11).”  The second type occurs in 1 Tim 1,17 and 6,15-16. Most NT doxologies consists of four elements: (1) addressee, in the dative case; (2) honor ascribed, either “glory” or “honor” or comparable terms; (3) duration of praise, usually “forever”; and (4) “Amen”, an invitation to affirm the praise ( [42] ). This urges us to focus on the first two elements as the likely places to observe the rhetoric of uniqueness. As regards the form of the doxology mentioned in 1 Chr 29,11 LXX (τ_ μov_ θε_), previous studies have convincingly argued that it is exclusively Hellenistic; but the same judgment cannot be made in regard to the names and epithets of God in it. And it is precisely here where we focus our attention.

(1) Βασιλευς.  The title “King” is commonly applied to God in the Hebrew Bible, although rarely in the New Testament ( [43] ), and infrequently in the Greek Orphic hymns ( [44] ). But a name such as the “King of ages” seems to be a distinctively Israelite formulation of God’s eternity ( [45] ). Thus God is acclaimed unique both in terms of the power God exercises and the endless duration of his sovereignty. Even if the precise term here is Israelite in background, it gives glory and honor because it claims uniqueness for God. It is, moreover, commonplace among commentators on the Pastorals to claim that the Christian author wishes to counter the claims of the divinized Roman emperor ( [46] ) by acclaiming God as “king” and “eternally reigning”. If we could be more certain of this, the comparison itself would deserve to be taken as an instance of uniqueness in the sense that God is the first God and the only God. No mere mortal man, emperor or not, can match God.

(2) _Αφθαρτoς. Next the author ascribes to God three predicates which merit close  consideration: _φθαρτ_ ... _oρατ_ ... μov_ θε_. In regard to _φθαρτoς, Greco-Roman authors articulated a topos for a true deity, which claimed that a genuine god has no beginning in the past and is imperishable in the future ( [47] ). For example, when Diodor of Sicily contrasts true gods with mortals made gods after death, he claims as the distinguishing characteristic of a true god eternity of existence, both in the past and in the future:

As regards the gods, men of ancient times have handed down to later generations two different conceptions: Certain of the gods, they say, are eternal and imperishable (_ιδιoυς και _φθαρτoυς) ... for each of these genesis and duration are from everlasting to everlasting (6.1.2, emphasis added).

Similarly Sextus Empiricus declared: “ ... God is eternal (_ιδιov) and imperishable (_φθαρτov) and perfect in happiness” (Adv. Phy. 1.45), a unique distinction which Plutarch repeats: “Now we hear the theologians affirming and reciting ... that the god is deathless (_φθαρτoς) and eternal (_ιδιoς) in his nature” (E Delphi 388F) ( [48] ).  Thus true deities are distinguished from heroic mortals by virtue of their temporal uniqueness ( [49] ).  This Greco-Roman expression, insofar as it compares true gods with heroized mortals, asserts something which is rare and in the possession of very few, hence unique. It acknowledges god as uniquely superior to all creatures who are born and die, as well as mortals made gods after death.

(3)  _Αoρατoς.  Although the thought expressed here can be found in the Hebrew bible, where it is claimed that God cannot be seen even by Israel’s most celebrated prophet Moses (Exod 33,20), the precise term “un-seen” comes from the Greco-Roman world. When Philo ( [50] ) and Josephus ( [51] ) use _oρατoς, their usage reflects Greek god-talk, as does Paul’s claim that God is un-seeable (_oρατoς, Rom 1,20; Col 1,15; Heb 11,27) ( [52] ).

Both _φθαρτoς and _oρατoς require us to enter the world of negative-predication of god in the Greco-Roman world ( [53] ). In reaction to crass anthropomorphisms in Greek piety, some philosophers developed a special god-talk that avoided such excesses and produced a refined way to celebrate the uniqueness and excellence of god. Negative predication about god resulted from this process (e.g., some form of _-). Epithets prefaced by a negative deny imperfection in god and acclaim him superior to all things of this material world, mortals included. Theophilus provides a particularly excellent example:

The appearance of God is ineffable (_ρρητov) and indescribable (_vεκφραστov) and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. In glory God is incomprehensible (_χωρητoς), in greatness unfathomable (_καταληπτoς), in height inconceivable (_περιvoητoς), in  power incomparable (_συγκριτoς), in wisdom unrivaled (_συμβιβαστoς), in goodness inimitable (_μιμητoς), in kindness unutterable (_vεκδιηγητoς) (To Autolycus 1.3) ( [54] ).

This statement begins by claiming that God cannot be described or seen; hence God belongs not to our material world, but to a higher one. In terms of virtues which warrant praise and glory, God surpasses all mortal standards. Although tags such as “first”, “only” and “one who has done X the most” are not here, negative predicates attest God’s uniqueness in the universe. To God alone belongs glory, greatness, height, eternity, wisdom, etc.

A second example argues more strongly that negative predication is a form of uniqueness. The following is a piece of a synagogal prayer in which God’s uniqueness is first acclaimed (“the only Mighty One”; “there is no God beside you alone, there is no Holy One beside you”), after which follows a cascade of negative predicates declaring how God is “honored and exalted exceedingly”:

Glorious and exceedingly exalted, invisible (_oρατoς) by nature, inscrutable (_vεξιχvιαστoς) in judgments, whose life is in want of nothing (_vεvδεης), whose continuity is unchangeable (_τρεπτoς) and unceasing (_vελλιπης), whose activity is untiring (_καματoς), whose majesty is not circumscribed (_περιγραφoς), whose beauty is everflowing (_εvαoς), whose habitation is inaccessible (_πρoσιτoς), whose encamping is unmoving (_μεταvαστευτoς), whose knowledge is without beginning (_χαρχoς), whose truth is unchangeable (_vαλλoιωτoς), whose work is without mediation (_μεσιτευτov), whose might is not liable to attack (_vεπιβoυλευτov), whose monarchy is without successor (_διαδoχoς), whose kingdom is without end (_τελευτητoς), whose strength is irresistible (_vαvταγωvιστoς) (7.35.9) ( [55] ).

Again, the negative predicates deny that God has any weakness or limitation, such as all earthly creatures have. Hence God is not merely the “only” Mighty One nor is there any god “beside him”, but God’s uniqueness especially lies in his unique perfection, which is expressed in the flood of negative predicates removing from him the physical and temporal weaknesses to which all other beings are subject.

(4) Μovoς.  Delling’s study of μovoς ( [56] ) distinguishes three usages of the term: (1) the superlative expression of polytheistic piety, (2) the statement of philosophers, and (3) the predication of monotheistic religion. In the exposition of god-talk in the Orphic Hymns above, we observed that various gods were credited with unique tasks, an example of Delling’s first category:

Nike: she alone (μoυvη) frees man from the eagerness for contest (33.2).

Eros: you alone (μoυvoς) govern the course of all these (aether, land, and Tartarus, 58.8).

Nomos: he alone (μoυvoς) steers the course of everything that breathes (64.8).

Leukothea: you alone (μoυvη) save men from wretched death at sea (74.6).

Palaimon: you alone (μoυvoς) appear incarnate to save men (75.7).

Sleep: you alone (μoυvoς) are master of us all (85.3).

In this polytheistic context it is possible for one or another deity to be unique in one function, situation, or domain. As regards Delling’s second use of “only”, scholars generally ascribe it to the purification of the notion of god by the philosophers, a liberation from anthropomorphism to apophatic theology ( [57] ). Nothing more needs be said about it, as it is adequately illustrated above. Finally, Israelite and Christian monotheism constitutes Delling’s third use of “only”. We recall the examples of this in the New Testament discussion of “only” and “one”, to which we add two important verses from Deuteronomy, 4,35 and 6,4 (see also Isa 44-45) ( [58] ). The “only” God is unique because there is only one Deity, and so there cannot be any other beside him (61). Thus, returning to 1 Tim 1,17, we recognize here Delling’s third classification of “only”, Christian monotheism. In itself it identifies God as unique, the “one” and “only” Deity (62). Yet commentators have long argued that the use of “only” in regard to God is a polemical denial of the same role and status to the deified Roman emperor (63).

(5) Δoξα και Τιμη.  The doxology in 1 Tim 1,17 contains other traditional parts of the doxological form:  the giving of glory, its duration, usually “forever”, and the people’s response, “Amen”. One would expect that in a doxology God is given glory, but in this case God is ascribed δoξα και τιμη. We argue that in this context they are synonyms, both of which denote esteem, reputation, praise, worth and honor. We remember Kittel’s argument that the Greek understanding of δoξα expresses the sense of “opinion”, that is, “good opinion”, “reputation”, “worth” and “repute” (64). The other term, τιμη, expresses the value or worth of something or someone; thus it may express praise and admiration for a person’s achievement, role and status, and reputation (65). Looking solely at doxologies in the New Testament, we observe that most of them give only “glory” to God (Rom 11,36; 16,27; Gal 1,5; Eph 3,21; 2 Tim 4,18; Heb 13,21); several give “glory” and “dominion” (1 Tim 6,16; 1 Pet 4,11; Rev 1,6); still others declare “glory” and “honor” (1 Tim 1,17; Rev 4,11 and 5,13) (66). However, other doxologies are quite expansive, ascribing to God “glory, majesty, dominion, and authority” (Jude 25). This indicates the rhetorical function of ascribing titles and epithets to God, namely “honor”, the aim of epideictic rhetoric. We have here, then, an excellent native sense of what anthropologists call “honor”.

(6) ε_ς τoυς α_ωvας τωv α_ωvωv.  In his article on the doxology in synagogue and early church, Eric Werner seems embarrassed that this form contains only two elements, (1) proclamation of God’s praise, (2) coupled with an affirmation of His infinity in time (emphasis his) (67). It is easily observable that New Testament doxologies contain such affirmations of God’s infinity, although in a wide variety of expressions: (1) the simple formula: ε_ς τoυς α_ωvας (Rom 11,36; 16,27); (2) a more elaborate statement, such as we see in 1 Tim 1,17:  ε_ς τoυς α_ωvας τωv  α_ωvωv (Gal 1,5; Phil 4,20; 2 Tim 4,18; 1 Pet 4,11); and (3) a very elaborate form: πρo παvτoς τoυ α_ωvoς και vυv και ε_ς παvτας τoυς α_ωvας (Jude 25). This represents a Judean mode of expression, although there are Greco-Roman parallels. Some Greco-Roman deities were acclaimed as “beginning of all and end of all” (Orphic Hymns 4.2; 15.7); others were said to have no beginning (10.10) and no end (10.8) (68). Still others were declared incorruptible (_φθαρτoς) or deathless (_θαvατoς). And as was noted in the topos for true deities, they are “without beginning and without end” (69). The Hellenistic expression, we have seen, emerges in the philosophical refinement of the concept of god. But there is no question that the infinity of God expressed by the doxologies speaks to God’s uniqueness, for no one else can boast of such timelessness. God is the only one who by virtue of God’s person will continue to exist forever.

7.2 The Doxology in 1 Tim 6,15-16.  This second doxology contains an elaborate structure and a rich series of names, titles and predicates, which deserve extended comment.

(1) Μακαριoς. Kelly argues that this attribute of God is “common in Hellenistic Judaism” (70); Hauck rightly notes that “God is not called μακαριoς in the Bible”, with the exception of 1 Tim 1,11 and 6,15, the texts under discussion here (71). Moreover since we saw in the Greek Orphic hymns that most of the gods there were acclaimed “blessed”, we find considerable evidence which indicates that μακαριoς was a common attribute of Greco-Roman gods and now of the Christian God . “Blessedness” constitutes a recurring theme in Philo’s discussion of God. For example, “But the nature of God is without grief (_λυπoς) or fear (_φoβoς), and wholly exempt (_μετoχoς) from passion of any kind, and alone (μovης) partakes of perfect happiness (μακαριoτητoς παvτελoυς) and bliss” (Abr. 202).  This and many more statements found in Philo derive from a philosophical tradition which talked about God in negative predicates and acclaimed God’s unique blessedness (72). Moreover, Epicureans argued that god must be both μακαριoς and _φθαρτoς: “A blessed (μακαριov) and eternal (_φθαρτov) being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon other beings” (73). Uniqueness is contained in the attribute “blessed”, in that it distinguishes god from mortals who labor, suffer and die, implying that god alone knows blessedness and is not subject to changing fortunes. It represents, then, a quality unique to a deity.

(2) Μovoς δυvαστης. This term is used of god both in Greek and Jewish literature. It comes from the term used to describe “any official in government, as, for example, a prince or king” (74), and thus it speaks to the role and status of someone with power, especially supreme power, a most honorable quality in antiquity. Once more, commentators suggest that μovoς δυvαστηs rhetorically serves to assert the Christian deity’s superiority to all other deities, especially Roman imperial claims (75). Yet, we add, that in the study of the rhetoric of praise, μovoς served as a successful claim for uniqueness by labeling the one being honored as the “first” or “only” or “one of a few”. Here God alone is sovereign of all.

(3) Bασιλευς τωv βασιλευovτωv. Spicq argues that, although it is correct to identify this predicate as part of  Israelite traditions, it was also used extensively to describe “assyro-babyloniens, perses, parthes, egyptiens” rulers (76). In these, the ruler was uniquely sovereign over  his empire and made vassals of conquered kings. This common way of addressing God was on occasion linked with “God of gods” (Deut 10,17; Ps 136,2; 3 Macc 5,35) (77).

(4) Κυριoς τωv κυριευovτωv.  The three expressions, “King of Kings”, “Lord of Lords” and “God of gods”, belong to the vocabulary of praise and honor for several reasons. First, “king”, “lord” and “god” indicate roles of the highest status in both earthly and heavenly realms, and thus by this very fact warrant respect and praise (78). Moreover, all three expressions claim uniqueness for God simply by being cast in the superlative mode.  As we saw in the list of grounds for praise, those who “only” or “most” do something deserve respect and glory. Here God “most” acts like king, lord and god; or God is the ultimate or unique sovereign (79). Finally, it was part of the ancient grammar of honor to exalt the name of someone, just as it was shameful to have one’s name slandered. In a study of the doxologies and benedictions in Paul’s letters, L. G. Champion pointed out how praise of the name of God was a significant feature in the Old Testament and synagogue Judaism (80). In comparison with synagogal and other Jewish prayers, New Testament doxologies are quite modest in celebrating the name of God and attributing to God many titles and functions. 1 Tim 6,15-16 is unusual among NT doxologies precisely for its expansiveness in regard to the names of God (81).

(5) Μovoς _χωv _θαvασιαv.  In 1,17, the author praised God as “immortal” (_φθαρτoς), whereas in 6,16 God is said to “have immortality”. Since we consider “immortal” and “to have immortality” to be virtually the same predication of God, we ask readers to return to the comments on _φθαρτoς. As we saw, Epicurean theology regularly paired _φθαρτoς and μακαριoς as the defining qualities of the philosopher’s god, thus distinguishing deathless deities from mortals. Hence we assess God’s immortality in 1,17 and 6,16 as a singular uniqueness, because God alone (μovoς) enjoys this extraordinary quality (82).

(6) Φως o_κωv _πρoσιτov.  We focus here on the sense of exclusivity contained in the term  _πρoσιτov. Ancient monarchs were notorious for limiting and denying access to themselves as a mark of their worth and high status; hence, the more inaccessible, the more honorable. To the body of negative predicates used to speak of the deity (83),  we now add  _πρoσιτoς. These predicates indicate uniqueness in very different ways: (1) _φθαρτoς maximizes the essential superiority of god over mortals: god is un-originated (_γεvητov), impassible (_πειρov), unchanging (_vαλλιoτov), and without end (_τελευτητov). (2) But predicates such as _oρατoς and _πρoσιτoς have to do with god’s unknowability, indicating that the most noble faculty of humans cannot approach, much less comprehend the deity. If mortals cannot obtain access to god, much less can they see or know god.

(7) _Οv  ε_δεv  o_δεις  _vθρωπωv. This last amplification of  God’s praise reflects the negative predication of God as invisible or beyond mortal sight (84). Thus God’s “inaccessibility” (_πρoσιτoς) and “invisibility” (_oρατoς, 1 Tim 1,17; 6,16) speak to the superiority of God to humans, especially in terms of mortals’ greatest power.  The rhetorical way of expressing this superiority is familiar to us in the formula “no one (o_δεις) has ever ... ” This expression praises someone because he alone achieved something, and “no one else” has or can.. Thus in theory and in practice the formula “no one ... ” claims praise and honor for some unique quality or achievement. The doxology in 6,16 employs the same rhetorical formula to underscore God is the uniquely superior to mortals, for not only is God inaccessible (_πρoσιτoς), but in fact, “no one” can see God. God, then, is unique because God is completely other.

In conclusion, we have observed the traditional doxological form in 1,17 and 6,15-16. Although we have researched the background of names, titles and predicates ascribed to God as have commentators, our investigation did not merely present parallels, but tried to assess their meanings in terms of the rhetorical principle of uniqueness. This focus, then, highlights fresh aspects of the terminology in the doxology. First, we find two of the rhetorical tags for uniqueness in evidence: the term “only” or “alone” (μovoς) qualifying God and his attributes, and “no one” (o_δεις) who is able to see the invisible God. Since the doxologies are monotheistic, it is not surprising that other tags of uniqueness are absent. For, if God is the “only” deity, then it makes no sense to claim that God is “first” or “most” (in comparison with other gods) or “one of a few”. In addition to the rhetoric of uniqueness, we gave attention to the philosophers’ defense of god which purified god-talk of anthropomorphisms. This resulted in emphasis on god’s eternity, no beginning and no end; also, god could only be talked about in ways which assert that god is utterly different from mortals, hence the cascade of negative predication. But this development likewise honors god because it sets god apart from us, celebrates his superiority over us, and testifies to the inability of the human mind to grasp or circumscribe him. God, then, is one of a kind, unique, exclusive, superior, etc.

8.0 Summary, Conclusions, and Further Questions

Our survey of the principle of uniqueness surfaced many forms of it. First and foremost we note the formula “first, only, one of a few ... ” celebrated in epideictic rhetoric as the ideal way to amplify praise. In Greek hymns, the most frequent element of this formula was “alone/only”; but we found in abundance negative predicates which exalted a god with prefixes such as “all-” (all-powerful) and suffixes of “-all” (“master-of-all”). Before documents such as 2 Maccabees, Israelite formulae of uniqueness generally celebrate incomparability: “there is no one like you”; “who is like you?” and “no one can compare with you”. Finally, Greek philosophical discourse refined a language of uniqueness characterized by negative predication, which emphatically insisted on the incomparable distance between immortals and mortals. Within this discovery of the principle of uniqueness, we have focused on a conscious and consistent rhetorical tradition from Aristotle down to Theon and Menander Rhetor about uniqueness as expressed in the formula “first, only, one of a few”, the chief amplification of praise.

In regard to 1 Timothy, we saw that most of the modes of proclaiming uniqueness in epideictic rhetoric are used in its two doxologies.  God is the “only” (μovoς) Deity (1,17) and the “only” (μovoς) sovereign (6,15), who “alone” (μovoς) has immortality (6,16), whom “no one” (o_δεις) can see.  In addition, God’s uniqueness is also articulated in two other ways: (1) by the use of superlatives such as “King of kings, Lord of lords” (6,15) which exalt God above all other rulers and (2) by the use of negative predicates such as im-mortal, in-visible, and un-approachable and the like. Shall we call this “one of a kind”? Although the names confessed of God are not strictly shaped by the principle of uniqueness, the piling up of names, titles and predicates points to the exclusive sense that God “most of all” rules the cosmos: “God of the ages”, “Sovereign”, “King”, “Lord”, and “God”. We recall, moreover, that in the Orphic hymns, gods were often called “many-named” (πoλυωvυμoς) (85).

Second, commentators rightly claim that the New Testament doxology is not a Greco-Roman, but Israelite form, evident in the archetype found in 1 Chr 29,11 LXX. Doxologies, however, are “distinct from a benediction, or berakah, which is typically introduced by the term ____ or ε_λoγητoς” (86). But in the case of 1 Tim 1,17 and 6,15-16, while the form derives from Israelite/synagogue practice, the bulk of their contents are distinctively Greco-Roman modes of god-talk. Thus, the hands are the hands of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob.         Third, although doxologies normally contain some form of “glory”/δoξα, they need not. Eric Werner remarked that “not every passage where there is an affirmation of God’s glory can be termed a doxology” (87). Thus 2 Cor 1,20 is not a doxology, although it contains δoξα and is in praise of God. Yet 1 Tim 6,16, which does not contain δoξα, is a true doxology (88). We find τιμη instead of δoξα, which terms we argued earlier are virtual synonyms. Doxologies may ascribe to God glory and honor, as well as “eternal dominion” (1 Tim 6,16), “majesty, dominion and authority” (Jude 25), and  “glory, honor, power and greatness and eternal dominion” (1 Clem 65.2), all of which express various aspects of honor. Thus praise, honor and glory are given to God, which helps us situate doxologies under the umbrella of epideictic rhetoric, the rhetoric of praise.

Fourth, several other avenues for observing the principle of uniqueness are opened by this investigation. Other names of God might be traced, names with some form of “all”/παvτ-, such as “all-creating (παvτoκτιστης) God” (Diog. 7.1), “all-seeing (παvεπoπτης) God” (1 Clem 64.1), and “Father of all” (παγγεvετωρ) (Orphic Hymns 4.1) (89). Similarly, the name παvτoκρατωρ, which became quite common in the LXX as the translation for __À__ (90), is a regular name of praise for God in Rev 1,8; 4,8 and 11,17, where it is linked with profession of God’s uncreated and imperishable character. Moreover, Greek gods were often praised with some form of “much or many”/πoλυ- such as “Physis, resourceful (πoλυ-μηχαvε ) mother of all (παμ-μητειρα) ... rich (πoλυ-κτιτε) divinity” (Orphic Hymns 10.1-2), “Aphrodite, praised in many hymns (πoλυ-υμvη)” (Orphic Hymns 55.1), and “(Physis) many named (πoλυωvυμε)” (Orphic Hymns 10.13).  Finally, other superlative nouns might be traced, such as “Most High”, for which there is now Greco-Roman as well as Israelite evidence (91). These express uniqueness by claiming that god or God has absolute sway or power, or “most of all”, or as “one of a few”. In Christian doxologies, the monotheistic core would claim for God total and complete sovereignty.

Fifth, we found no negative predication in any of the classical rhetorical materials studied, simply because they deal with the praise of men, and do not reflect philosophical discussions of god. Nevertheless, this sort of predication is prevalent in Greco-Roman philosophy, and was evidently taken up by New Testament and second-century Christian writers. In addition to the negative predicates we examined in the doxologies of 1 Timothy, more attention should be given to a tradition which contains both positive and negative predication of God at the same time.  For example:

Recognize now that there is one God

... the Invisible (_oρατoς) who sees (_ρ_) all things;

the Incomprehensible (_χωρητoς) who comprehends (χωρει) all things;

the One who needs nothing (_vεπιδεης),

of whom all things stand in need (_πιδεεται),

the Uncreated (_πoιητoς) who made (_πoιησεv) all things by the word of his power (92).

Finally, throughout this examination of epideictic rhetoric and the principle of uniqueness, we have been studying the cultural value of honor, so prevalent and so prized in both Israelite and Greco-Roman antiquity. Honor, which refers to the worthiness of persons, their reputation and the respect due to them, is contained in the names and titles of the gods or God, their achievements, their benefactions, and the δoξα και τιμη ascribed to them at the end of the prayers. But the honor of God is expressed most eloquently when God’s uniqueness is noted, that God is the “only” deity or the “most” or has some role or attribute or is distinguished entirely from mortals by negative predicates. Nothing is more honorable than being glorified and praised.

                                                            Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J.

                                                           University of Notre Dame


The distinctive way of honoring gods or God was to celebrate what is unique about them, that is, praise of persons who were the “first,” “only,” or “one of a few” to do something. Rhetoric from Aristotle to Quintilian expounded the theory of “uniqueness,” which the authors of Greek hymns and prayers employed. One finds a Semitic counterpart in the “principle of incomparability” describing Israelite kings. “Uniqueness” pervades the New Testament, especially its doxologies. In them, “uniqueness” was richly  expressed  in rhetorical mode, as well as by predicates of negative theology which elevated the deity above those praising.

( [1] ) There are two doxologies in the early church, the Great Doxology (“Glory to God in the highest ... ”) and the Lesser Doxology (“Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit ... ”); see J. A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (New York 1951) I, 346-359.

( [2] ) E. Werner, “The Doxology in Synagogue and Church. A Liturgico-Musical Study”, HUCA 19 (1945-46) 275-351; M. Black, “The Doxology to the Pater Noster with a Note on Matthew 6:13B”, A Tribute to Geza Vermes (ed. P.R. DaviesR. T. White) (Sheffield 1990) 327-338.

( [3] ) For example, M. Dibelius, The Pastoral Epistles (Philadelphia 1972) 30-31.

( [4] ) It is well known that in the New Testament δoξα is used synonymously with τιμη, with the meaning esteem, honor. So G. Kittle (“δoξα”, TDNT II, 232-237) said of glory, “ ... with the Homeric  κλεoς and later τιμη,  [glory] achieves central significance for the Greeks. Supreme and ideal worth is summed up in the term. A man’s worth is measured by his repute” (II, 235).

( [5] )See B.J. Malina, The New Testament World. Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Louisville, KY 1993) 28-62; B.J. Malina and J. H. Neyrey, “Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts: Pivotal Values of the Mediterranean World”, The Social World of Luke-Acts. Models for Interpretation (ed. J. H. Neyrey) (Peabody, MA 1991) 25-66; and J. H. Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY 1998).

( [6] ) All texts and translations are taken from the Loeb Classical Library, except those specifically identified.

( [7] ) Augustus Caesar claimed maximum honor because of unique benefactions to the army:  “I was the first and only one (primus atque solus omnium) to do this of all those who up to my time settled colonies of soldiers in Italy or in the provinces” (Res Gestae 16). Plutarch states: “ ... in public life one must escape. . .from love of fame, the desire to be first or greatest (πρωτov  και μεγιστov)” (Old Men in Public Affairs 788E).

( [8] ) Robert A. Kaster, “Notes on ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ Schools in Late Antiquity,” TAPA 113 [1983] 323-46; Martin Bloomer, “Schooling in Persona: Imagination and Subordination in Roman Education,” Classical Antiquity 16 [1997] 57-78).

( [9] ) J. R. Butts, The “Progymnasmata”of Theon. A New Text with Translation and Commentary (unpublished dissertation; Claremont Graduate School, 1987) 470-471.

( [10] ) D.A. Russell and N.G. Wilson, Menander Rhetor (Oxford 1981) 1.362.4-20. See also Plutarch, On the Fame of the Athenians 345F-346A.

( [11] ) Certain crimes and misdeeds were considered  unique in wickedness; for example  Rhetoric to Herennius: “We show that it is not a common but a unique (singular) crime, base, nefarious, and unheard-of (in-usitatum), and therefore must be the more promptly and drastically avenged (2.30.49, emphasis added; see also Cicero, de Inventione 1.54.103).

( [12] ) See B.J. Malina and J. H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul. An Archeology of Ancient Personality (Louisville, KY 1996) 3-4, 113-125; see also Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, 78-80 and 94-97.

( [13] ) Isocrates (436-388) says to a relative of the deceased:  “ ... you, Nicocles, are the first and the only (πρωτoς και μovoς) one of those who possess royal power, wealth, and luxury who has undertaken to pursue the study of philosophy” (Evag. 78).

( [14] ) H.S. Versnel, “Religious Mentality in Ancient Prayer”, Faith, Hope and Worship. Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World (ed. H.S. Versnel) (Leiden 1981) 2. See also L. Alderink and L. Martin, “Prayer in Greco-Roman Religions”, Prayer from Alexander to Constantine. A Critical Anthology (ed. M. Kiley) (London 1997) 123-127.

( [15] ) The text is that of A.C. Pearson, The Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes (New York 1973) 274-275; see also von Arnim, SVF I, 121-122, frag. 537.

( [16] ) Young Artemis asked her father for a  gift that would put her on a par with her brother: “Give me many-namedness” (πoλυωvυμιηv) cited by J.M. Bremer, “Greek Hymns”, Faith, Hope and Worship, 194-195. See also the cultural study of names by D. Eickelman, The Middle East. An Anthropological Approach (Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1989) 55-59; and Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, 55-60.

( [17] ) For Greek text see Diodor of Sicily, 1.27.4; the translation is by M. Gustafson, “The Isis Hymn of Diodorus of Sicily (1.27.3)”in ed., Mark Kiley, Prayer from Alexander to Constantine,  155-158.

( [18] ) The text and translation used here is that of A.N. Athanassakis, The Orphic Hymns. Text, Translation and Notes (Missoula, MT 1977). See also M.L. West, The Orphic Poems (Oxford 1983).

( [19] ) Variations of “first” include “oldest of all” (10.2) and “first born” (10.5).

( [20] ) Hymns 33.2; 58.8; 61.1; 64.8; 68.11; 74.6; 75.7; 85.3; 87.8. Persephone and Athena are the “only-begotten” (μovoγεvης) offspring of Demeter and Zeus respectively (29.2; 32.1).

( [21] ) Adonis is called “best god” (_ριστε, 56.1); Okeanos, “highest divine purifier” (μεγιστov, 83.6); Dream, “greatest prophet to mortals” (μεγιστε, 86.2).

( [22] ) For example, moon is “divine queen” (9.1); Pan is “queen of all” (11.2); Zeus, of course, is “king” (15.2) in one place and “begetter of all and great king” (20.5); Hera, “queen of all” and consort of Zeus (16.2).

( [23] ) Variations of “eternity” include “self-born” (8.3) or “self-fathered” (10.10); “end that has no end” (10.8); as well as note of a god’s “everlasting life” (10.27; 11.3).

( [24] ) For example, Orphic Hymns 4.4, 8; 6.3, 10; 8.1; 9.11; 12.14; 13.1; 16.2; 22.10; 28.6; 32.3; 33.9; 34.1; 45.1; 52.1.

( [25] ) C.J. Labuschagne, The Incomparability of Yahweh in the Old Testament (Leiden 1966).

( [26] ) See also Pss 71,19 and 113,5; see Labuschagne, Incomparability of Yahweh, 16-22.

( [27] ) G. N. Knoppers, “‘There Was None Like Him’: Incomparability in the Books of Kings”, CBQ 54 (1992) 411-431.

( [28] ) M. Smith, “The Common Theology of the Ancient Near East”, JBL 71 (1952) 137.

( [29] ) Smith, “Common Theology”, 139. The truth of the predication of uniqueness is not the point, but rather the rhetorical manner in which it is expressed.

( [30] ) Labuschagne, Incomparability of Yahweh, 33-63.

( [31] ) For example, Deut 4,39; 1 Sam 2,2; 1 Kgs 8,23; 2 Kgs 5,15; Isa 43,10-13; 45,5-6 LXX.

( [32] ) See also: Deut 6,13; 10,20; Judg 10,16; 1 Sam 7,3; 1 Kgs 18,37;  Pss 71,16;  Isa 37,16.

( [33] )For example: “the only High One (μovoς _ψιστoς) ... the only finder (μovov ε_ρετηv) ... the only God (_ θεoς μovoς)” (1 Clement 59.3).

( [34] ) See J. Dupont, “Μov_ Σoφ_ Θε_”, EThL 22 (1964) 362-375; E. Norden, Agnostos Theos (Darmstadt 1956), 240-251.

( [35] ) Many translate μovoγεvης as “only” or “single”; see P. Winter, “Μovoγεvης Παρα Πατρoς”, ZRGG 5 (1953) 335-365. G. Pendrick, “Μovoγεvες”, NTS 5 (1995) 587-600, provides data urging that the proper translation be “the only one of its kind” or “unique”. But see J. V. Dahms, “The Johannine Use of Monogenes Reconsidered”, NTS 29 (1983) 222-232.

( [36] ) Also: “There is salvation in one else (_v _λλ_ o_δεvι), for there is no (o_δε) other name under heaven ... by which we must be saved” (Acts 4,12).

( [37] )B. J. Malina and R. L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis 1998) 230-231.

( [38] ) See note 2 above. See G. Delling, Worship in the New Testament (London 1962) 62-69; R. Deichgräber, Gotteshymnus and Christushymnus in der Frühen Christenheit (Göttingen 1967) 24-107.

( [39] ) Doxologies appear irregularly in Rom 11,36; Gal 1,5; Phil 4,20; Eph 3,20-21 and 2 Tim 4,18; yet others serve as part of the end of letters: Rom 16,25-27; Jude 24-25; 2 Pet 3,18; 1 Clem 65.2.

( [40] ) Black, “Doxology to the Pater Noster”, 327-338.

( [41] ) New Testament addresses to God beginning with ε_λoγητoς include: Luke 1,68; 2 Cor 1,3; 11,31; Rom 1,25; Eph 1,3; 1 Pet 1,3.

( [42] ) Deichgräber, Gotteshymnus und Christushymnus, 25-40, 97-102. See also D.E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Dallas 1997) 43-46.

( [43] ) In fact, only 1 Tim 6,15; Rev 15,3, but see: Isa 6,5; Jer 10,10; Ps 74,12; and Sir 51,1.

( [44] ) For example, Zeus is “king” (15.3) and Korybas too (39.1);  many female gods are “queens”: Moon (9.1), Artemis (36.1), Semele (44.1), Nemesis (61.1).

( [45] ) See C. Spicq, Les Épitres Pastorales (Paris 1969) I, 346-347. See also Tob 13,7.11; Sir 36,17; I.H. Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh 1999) 404.

( [46] ) See Spicq, Épitres Pastorales , I, 346 and 547; Y. Redalié, Paul après Paul (Geneva 1994) 91.

( [47] ) See C.H. Talbert, What Is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels (Philadelphia 1977); and J.H. Neyrey, “‘Without Beginning of Days or End of Life’ (Hebrews 7:3): Topos for a True Deity”, CBQ 53 (1991) 441-444.

( [48] ) See also Diogenes Laertius, 7.137; Philo, Cher. 86; Justin, Dial. 5.

( [49] ) This material is intended to qualify Marshall’s remark that _φθαρτoς was used by the Stoics and was taken into Judaism (Wis 12,1; Philo, Mos. 2.171; Immut. 26; Sac. 101) (Pastoral Epistles, 405).

( [50] ) Although Philo uses _oρατoς to dismiss the idols of pagans (Leg. Gaium 290, 310, 318), he argues that this unseen God is unique in that he alone sees even the most secret of things (Spec. Leg. 4.30) and that he is the “un-seen seer” (Op. 69); see also Spec. Leg. 1.20; Abr. 75; Moses 2.171.

( [51] ) Josephus uses most of the unique epithets to describe the soul: “... it enjoys a blessed (μακαριας) energy and a power untrammeled (_κωλυτov) on every side, remaining, like God Himself, invisible (_oρατoς) to human eyes ... itself of a nature one and incorruptible (_φθαρτov)” (War 7.346-47; see also War 7.446). On the Greek character of this passage, see A.T. Hanson, The Pastoral Epistles (Cambridge 1966) 29; G. Holtz, Die Pastoralbriefe (Berlin 1966) 48.

( [52] ) See W. Michaelis, “_ρατoς, _oρατoς”, TDNT  V, 368-370. See also 2 Clem 20.5; Diognetus 7.2; Ignatius, Mag. 3.2 and Poly. 3.2.

( [53] ) Useful studies on this topic include: H.A. Wolfson, “Albinus and Plotinus on Divine Attributes”, HThR 45 (1952) 115-130 and “Negative Attributes in the Church Fathers and the Gnostic Basilides”, HThR 50 (1957) 145-156; F.M. Young, “The God of the Greeks and the Nature of Religious Language”, Early Church Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition (ed. W.R. Schoedel – R.L. Wilken) (Paris 1979) 45-73; W.R. Schoedel, “Enclosing, Not Enclosed: The Early Christian Doctrine of God”, Early Christian Literature, 75-86..

( [54] ) The text of Theophilus is that of M. Markovich, Theophili Antiocheni ad Autolycum (Berlin 1995) 18.

( [55] ) Apos. Const. 7.35.9; text and translation are by D.A. Fiensy, Prayers Alleged to be Jewish. An Examination of the Constitutiones Apostolorum (Chico, CA 1985) 70-71; see also D.A. Fiensy and D.R. Darnell, “Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers,” OTP II, 681-682.

( [56] ) G. Delling, “Μovoς Θεoς”, Studien zum Neuen Testament und zum hellenistischen Judentum (Göttingen 1970) 391-400, reprinted from ThLZ 77 (1952) 470-475.

( [57] ) Young, “God of the Greeks”, 48-53. See R.M. Grant, Gods and the One God (Philadelphia 1986) 75-83.

( [58] ) On Christian proclamations about God, see Grant, Gods and the One God, 84-94; J. Bassler, “God in the New Testament,” AncBD II, 1048-1055.

(61) The  LXX contains several patterns expressing  monotheism: 1. “who is like you? [No one]” (τις _μoιoς σoι, Exod 15:11; 1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam 22:32); 2. “there is no other besides you” (o_κ _στιv _τι πληv α_τoυ); Deut 4:35, 39; 6:4; 32:39; 2 Sam 7:22; 1 Kgs 8:23; 2 Kgs 5:15); 3. “you are the only God in all the kingdoms” (συ ε_ _ θεoς μovoς; 2 Kgs 19:15; Neh 9:6). Evidently μovoς was hardly the sole way of expressing God’s uniqueness.

(62) For comparison’s sake, we note the use of μovoς in other doxologies: “the only (μovoς) unbegotten and unruled ... the only (μovoς) true, the only (μovoς) wise, the one who alone (μovoς) is most high ... the only (μovoς) good and incomparable” (Apos. Const. 8.5.1 in Fiensy, Prayers Alleged to be Jewish, 90-91).

(63) W. Lock, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh 1924) 72; J. Roloff, Der Erste Brief an Timotheus (Neukirchen 1988) 355; Redalié, Paul après Paul, 90.

(64) Kittle, “δoξα”, II, 233-237.

(65) J. Schneider “τιμη”, TDNT VIII, 169-180.

(66) In Rom 2,7.10 δoξα and τιμη are used synonymously, similarly  δoξα and _παιvoς in Phil 1,11 and 1 Pet 1,7. Marshall (The Pastoral Epistles, 405-406) considers δoξα and τιμη as synonyms, but claims that they “go back to the LXX translation of the Hebrew kabod”, which seems excessively narrow in the light of Greek rhetoric of praise.

(67) Werner, “Doxology in Synagogue and Church”, 275-351.

(68) About “fate” Philo says: “Fate (ε_μαρμεvη) has no beginning (_vαρχoς) or end (_τελεθτητoς)” (Aet. 75); see Cicero, Nature of the Gods 1.24.68. Tertullian reflects traditional god-talk when he speaks of God’s  eternity:“I give that definition (of God) which all men’s common sense will accept, that God is supremely great, firmly established in eternity, unbegotten, uncreated, without beginning and without end (sine initio, sine fine)” (Adv. Marc. 1.3); finally Theophilus say that the deity is “without beginning (_vαρχoς) because He is unbegotten (_γεvvητoς); and he is unchangeable, because he is immortal” (ad Autol. 1.4).

(69) Neyrey, “‘Without Beginning of Days or End of Life’”, 440-447, esp. 444.

(70) J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (New York 1963) 46.

(71) F. Hauck, “μακαριoς”, TDNT  IV, 363.

(72) For example, “Separate, my soul, all that is created, mortal, mutable, profane from thy conception of God the uncreated (_γεvητoυ), unchangeable (_τρεπτoυ), the immortal (_φθαρτoυ), the holy and solely blessed (μovoυ μακαριoυ)” (Sacr. 101); see also Sacr. 95; Somn. 1.95; Sp. Leg. 1.329.

(73)See also Cicero, Nature of the Gods 1.45-49, 68, 85, 106-107; 3.3. Yet P.H. Towner (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus [Downers Grove, IL 1994] 146) asserts that “blessed ... only” comes out of intertestamental Judaism. 

(74) D. Arichea and H. Hatton, A Handbook on Paul’s Letters to Timothy and to Titus (New York 1995) 158.

(75) See, Roloff, Der Erste Brief on Timotheus, 355; Redalié, Paul après Paul, 90.

(76) Spicq, Épitres Pastorales , I, 573. Diodor of Sicily relates the following inscription: “This land the King of Kings (βασιλευς βασιλευωv) and Lord of Lords (δεσπoτης  δεσπoτωv), Sesoöris, subdued with his own arms” (1.55.7); see also  Dio Cassius,  Rom. Hist. 49.41.1; and  37.6.1-2. See also G.K. Beale, “The Origin of the Title ‘King of King and Lord of Lords’ in Rev. 17.14”, NTS 31 (1985) 618-620.

(77) For a complete list of this in the Hebrew bible,  see Beale, “Origin of the Title ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’”, 619, n. 1.

(78) Arichea and Hatton state: “Alternative ways to translate these two phrases are ‘The Greatest Ruler, the Mightiest King,’ ‘The Lord and King of All,’ or ‘The Most Powerful Ruler and Highest Chief of All.’” (Paul’s Letters to Timothy and to Titus, 158).

(79) G.W. Knight (The Pastoral Epistles. A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids, MI 1992] 269) comments “He [God] is sovereign over every other kind of rulership.... The statement in its entirety says that God is the possessor of the highest power over all who possess power and has full control over all who exercise control.”

(80) L.G. Champion, Benedictions and Doxologies in the Epistle of Paul (unpublished dissertation; Heidelberg, 1934).

(81) Compare 1 Timothy 6:15-16 with this: “Blessed is the Lord of the Spirits — the Lord of kings, the Lord of rulers, and the Master of the rich — the Lord of glory and the Lord of wisdom” (1 Enoch 63:2).

(82) It is generally conceded by the commentators to reflect Greco-Roman god-talk; see Spicq, Épitres Pastorales , I, 547; Redalié, Paul après Paul, 91.

(83)  See H.A. Wolfson, “The Knowability and Describability of God in Plato and Aristotle”, HSCP (1947) 233-247.

(84) See Young, “God of the Greeks”, 50-54.

(85) An inscription concerning Klarian Apollo reads: “self-existent, untaught, without a mother, undisturbed, of many names (πoλυωvυμoς) although not spreading abroad his name, dwelling in fire ... ” in G.H.R. Horsley, NDIEC 2 (1982) 39.

(86) Aune, Revelation, I, 43.

(87) Werner, “Doxology in Synagogue and Church”, 277.

(88) Werner, “Doxology in Synagogue and Church”, 277; see also Aune, Revelation, I, 43-44.

(89) For example in the Orphic Hymns:  “Divine Earth. . .you nourish all (παvτρoφη), you give all (παvδωτειρα) ... you destroy all (παvτoλετειρα)” (26.1-2); and “highest of all (παvυπερτατε), all eating (παμφαγε), all taming (παvδαματωρ), and all consuming (παvτoδιαιτε)” (66.5).

(90) See W. Michaelis, “παvτoκρατωρ”, TDNT III, 914-915; H.W. Pleket, “Religious History as the History of Mentality: The Believer as Servant of the Deity in the Greek World”, Faith, Hope and Worship, 171-173.

(91) Common in the Old Testament, it is  found also in Luke 1,32.35.76; 6,35; Acts 7,48; Heb 7,1; see also S. Llewlyn, “Dedications to ‘The Most High God’”, NDIEC 1 (1981) 25-29 and A.D. Nock, “The Guild of Zeus Hypsistos”, Essays on Religion and the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA 1972) I, 414-443.

(92) See E. von Dobschütz, Das Kerygma Petri (TU 11; Leipzig 1893) 18-19; the translation used here is taken from Hennecke’s NTA II, 99. See Plutarch’s Dinner of the Seven Wise Men 155A.

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