The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, an Exposition


     The expression that serves as our title, the pillar and ground of the truth, I Timothy 3: 15, is indicative of great strength, noble cause, and serious responsibility. The Greek word for "pillar" is stulos. Regarding this particular Greek word, W. E. Vine wrote: "…a column supporting the weight of a building…indicating a firm and permanent position in the spiritual…" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 184). The word "ground" is from the Greek, hedraioma. "Ground" is defined as, "…a support, bulwark, stay…" (Ibid., p. 181). "Truth" is from the Greek noun, aletheia. Vine provides a comment from the Greek scholar Cremer regarding "truth," "…the manifested, veritable essence of a matter…" (Ibid., p. 159). Hence, the expression, "the pillar and ground of the truth" is at once a description that provides strong support that is permanent and enduring ("pillar"); it is a bulwark and stay ("ground"); and that which it upholds, "truth," is not simply surface or what might appear to be truth, but on higher levels of dialectic treatments crumbles, it is the real, absolute, and everything contrary to it is false truth (see addendum 1).

     The question is of what or whom is Paul writing that has such a grand role as being the "pillar and ground of the truth"? Perhaps he is referring to one of the more illustrious universities that have been associated with brethren through the years, to a civil/spiritual entity that powerfully works such as the Guardian of Truth Foundation, etc. or to some other foundational working? We do not have to wonder, Paul answers the question for us. The full reading is, "15: 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." (I Tim. 3).  (For a study of privately supported church like institutions, click on "The Guardian of Truth Foundation and Florida College"  Scroll down for a number of related articles.)

     It is the "house of God," the "church of the living God" that is the "pillar and ground of the truth." Our next goal is to determine what is meant by "house of God" and "church of the living God." Such support and architectural grandeur that we have seen deserves something sublime and vastly important to support.

     Let us briefly examine "house of God" and "church of the living God." The expression "house of God" is from the Greek oiko theou. One of the most intimate designations of God’s people is that of being His family (2 Cor. 6: 18). "Church of the living God" is from the Greek, "ekklesia theou zontos." Please appreciate that this entity that is so important to the truth is said to be not only "of God" but also the church of "the living God." Hence, both that which supports the truth and the truth itself (by way of association) is vibrant and alive. "Church" is generally defined as, "In the Sept. it is used to designate the gathering of Israel, summoned for any definite purpose…" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 84). Vine continues to mention that in the New Testament, "church" means, (1) "the whole company of believers…" and "…in the singular number to a company consisting of professed believers…."

     Worded a little differently, "church" (ekklesia) when used in a spiritual setting, denotes either the church universal (God’s people of the whole earth) or to a group such as the "church of God at Corinth" who had banded themselves together to constitute the local church at Corinth (Matt. 16: 18, I Cor. 1: 2, see addendum 2). How do we determine the application of "church" in I Timothy 3: 15? The first and final word in definition is always how the particular word is used in a given situation. First, we consider the syntactical contribution (the words grammatically linked) and then we consider the immediate context (words just above and below the study word) and finally, we must consider the remote context (any teaching or use of the word located elsewhere in scripture).

     In the case of the word "church" in I Timothy 3: 15 it is apparent that Paul is discussing the local church. I say this because in verses one through seven, Paul presents to Timothy the qualifications of elders. In verses eight through thirteen, Paul instructed Timothy relative to deacons. The church with its members, bishops, and deacons constitute the organized local church (Phili. 1: 1). Paul’s statement in verse fifteen that, "…thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God…" seems to contextually refer to Timothy’s responsibility in providing the correct teaching about elders and deacons. "Church," then, would refer to the local church since the church universal is not an organization and, as such, has no organizational structure (see addendum 3).

     As one considers the New Testament, one sees organized efforts (local churches) to preach the gospel. The church in Antioch sent out men to preach the gospel (Acts 13: 1-4). The Antioch church sent out men to retrace their steps and offer edification for the churches the first trip was responsible for starting (Acts 15: 40, 41, 16: 1-5). The local church at Philippi on more than one occasion financially helped support Paul while he preached for others (Phili. 4: 14, 15). Such constitute the only examples of organized efforts in the First Century, see addendum 4).

     There appears to be a growing tendency in churches of Christ today to differently view "pillar and ground of the truth" in I Timothy 3: 15. Some who are motivated to deny the Catholic position that the church provides the truth in the sense of origin, etc. and perhaps some also wanting to defend privately supported organizations through which Christians may work through corporate means to do the work of the local church are providing the following "translation" of I Timothy 3: 15:

     "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 (and without controversy great) is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (Patrick Morrison).

     Hence, they attempt to force the interpretation of "pillar and ground of the truth" to refer to Jesus’ incarnation and glorious resurrection, this being the support of truth. If Paul had wanted to say that Jesus is the support, he certainly could have (cp. Matt. 16: 18, 19, I Cor. 3: 11). After considering some grammatical problems associated with attempting to not having the church being the "pillar and ground of the truth," the Pulpit Commentary and W. E. Vine say the following:

     "…It is therefore better to understand this clause as descriptive of the Church of God. The Church is the pillar of the truth…" (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21, p. 55). "…hedraioma ‘a support, bulwark, stay’ (from hedraios, ‘steadfast, firm;’ from hedra, ‘a seat’), is translated ‘ground’ in 1 Tim 3:15 (said of a local church); the RV marg., ‘stay’ is preferable."

     Out of all my readily available translations in my library, I did not find one that gave any support whatsoever to the foregoing explanation and translation offered by Morrison and others in the church. It is a fact that the Catholic claim that "the church" (Catholic Church) is the source of the truth is seriously flawed, but we must not mutilate a verse that they have misused to teach their claim. The truth certainly did not initially emulate from the church as an official truth producing, on its own, body. However, it was local churches (entities) that spread the gospel.

     Expositor Albert Barnes in discussing whether "...the pillar and ground of the truth" refers to the church (vs. 15) or to God being in the flesh (vs. 16) wrote the following:

"The more natural interpretation certainly is, to refer it to the former; and this is supported by the consideration that it would then fall in with the object of the apostle. His design here seems to be, to impress Timothy with a deep sense of the importance of correct conduct in relation to the church; of the responsibility of those who presided over it; and of the necessity of care and caution in the selection of proper officers. To do this, he reminded him that the truth of God that revealed truth which he had given to save the world--was entrusted to the church; that it was designed to preserve it pure, to defend it, and to transmit it to future times; and that, therefore, every one to whom the administration of the affairs of the church was entrusted, should engage in this duty with a deep conviction of his responsibility" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 8, pg. 150, 151).

     Addendum 1: The expression, "…pillar and ground of the truth" is a descriptive and substantive statement that is taken from Greek architecture. The Greeks were famous for their architecture. Many  years ago, I did some studies in architecture and structural engineering and I was amazed at how indebted we are to the Greeks for structural soundness and weight transference. The full expression in the Greek text reads, "stulos kai edraioma tes aletheias." Notice that in the original, the definite article "the" is lacking preceding "pillar" and "ground." Such does not weaken the strong truth of the statement, but perhaps even makes the statement more emphatic. The role of that which is being discussed by Paul is so lofty and singular that it is in its very essence the pillar and ground of the truth.

     Addendum 2: The word "church" upon closer semantical examination is seen as having a number of application nuances, if you will. However, these nuances are not pertinent to our study and would only needlessly introduce excessive, tedious, and extraneous matters to herein treat. None of these nuances can in any way alter or effect what we are presenting in this material.

     Addendum 3: The church universal is simply a relationship of the saved and their God. The Lord adds to this "church" and it is He who removes (cp. Acts 2: 47, KJV; Ex. 32: 32, 33). This "church" as far as the aggregate is concerned has no provision for function. The idea that Christians may in the universal church sense organize themselves and corporately function is totally without biblical sanction. Furthermore, the flawed view that is now once again being promoted, this time by the Guardian of Truth Foundation members that Christians may organize themselves outside of local churches and in their organize and foundation state (GOT), individually teach the gospel is totally ludicrous. Such an organized effort is just that, the work of an organization (its own treasury, President, etc.). Some view the Guardian of Truth (notice the meaning of the foundation title) as the "…pillar and ground of the truth…." However, Paul said it is the "church" that is the "pillar and ground of the truth," the local church. Foundations, entities, and various societies among brethren that offer them an organization in which to corporately function other than the local church are all aberrant as far as the simple teaching of the scriptures is concerned (cp. I Tim. 3: 15) and such orders also serve as a source and prolific defense system for politicians and power struggles among brethren. When the scriptures specify, man must respect the silence of the scriptures as to any other different means of accomplishing the action (Heb. 7: 14).

     Addendum 4: I am not saying that the New Testament does not contain examples of individuals working together and that they "were organized" as opposed to disjunctive. What we call concurrent action involving two or more people is certainly observed. We see this kind of action relative to Aquila and Priscilla in their efforts to teach Apollos (Acts 18: 24-28). Some of the foundation preachers are attempting to justify their corporate efforts based on concurrent action. Such argumentation and rationale not only makes them appear foolish, but is also dangerous reasoning. What they need to find is an example of Aquila and Priscilla working through a human institution having its own treasury, structure, etc. in order to teach Apollos.