The phrase “the man of God” (ho tou theou anthrōpos) occurs only twice in the New Testament, both times in Paul’s correspondence with Timothy (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:17). Alternatively the phrase ho tou theou anēr is never found in the New Testament (anēr may have the sense of male, husband, and man). The infrequent occurrence of such expressions may come as a surprise since the concept of “the man of God” often is used in Evangelical circles to describe a mature Christian.
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament the phrase “man of God” does describe Moses (Joshua 14:6). It also occurs in Judges 13:6,8 to describe the angel who appeared to Manoah and his wife. A prophet, “a man of God,” delivers a message to Eli in 1 Samuel 2:27. Saul seeks help from “a man of God”, a prophet, in order to locate his father’s lost donkeys (1 Samuel 9:7-10). In 1 Kings 12:22 Shemaiah, Rehoboam’s advisor, is defined as “the man of God.”1 David is given this epithet in 2 Chronicles 8:14 (cf. Nehemiah 12:24,36). The phrase in terms of Old Testament usage describes a person, normally a male, who has received a special mandate from God to represent Him as leader or prophet, able to express in life and deed the way of the Lord. Occasionally it describes an angelic messenger. This is a Jewish expression and not a phrase found in Greco-Roman literature.
In Jewish writers of the Second Temple period, this phrase comes to apply to all Jews. For example, in the Letter to Aristeas (c. 150 B.C.) Eleazar, the Jewish High Priest explains the Jewish law to the ambassadors from Ptolemy’s court. In the course of his response he claims that “the priests who are the guides of the Egyptians, have looked closely into many things and are conversant with affairs” and “ have named us ‘men of God’ (anthrōpous theou), a title applicable to none others but only to him who reveres the true God.”2 Philo, when commenting on the accounts in Genesis of “Giants” states that there are three classes of human beings: earth-born, heaven-born, and God-born.3 And then he indicates that “the men of God (theou de anthrōpoi) are priests and prophets…”4 who reject worldly passions. In another context Philo argues that a peaceful person is “God’s man (anthrōpon theou), who being the Word of the Eternal must needs himself be immortal.”5 We discern the gradual extension of this phrase in Hellenistic Judaism from describing only key leaders and spokespersons for God, to its application to every Jewish person who is living in covenant obedience. As Marshall observes “for Philo the phrase has become a description of those who are truly the people of God.”6
In the context of 1 Timothy Paul is encouraging his protégé, Timothy, to attend to his spiritual life and ministry leadership responsibilities well. Yet in the midst of these personal instructions, there are also many admonitions addressed to diverse groups of Christians – widows, slaves, elders, false teachers, the wealthy, etc. He intersperses this spiritual advice with specific instruction for Timothy. This is the pattern we discover in 1 Timothy 6:6-19. He urges believers to be content and not lust for wealth (6:8-10). This is particularly important for Timothy as a ministry leader, “man of God (anthrōpe theou)” (6:11-16). He then shifts again to addressing wealthy Christians and the attitude they must cultivate towards their wealth so that they truly serve God. When we compare Paul’s instructions to Timothy, “the man of God” in 6:11-16 with his instructions to rich Christians in 6:17-19, we discover that he repeats most of his advice, but emphasizes in the case of Timothy the importance of a good witness and perseverance in the truth – qualities important for a Christian leader. So while the phrase “man of God” may be used by Paul to identify a Christian leader, the piety and ethics of that leader are the same essentially as that expected from all Christians.
Further in this context there may be reference to Timothy’s baptism – “when you made your good confession before many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12). Paul advises Timothy to continue to “flee” from sin and “pursue” spirituality. These spiritual experiences and responsibilities are necessary for every sincere believer.
With respect to 2 Timothy 3:10-17 Paul rehearses for Timothy the nature of his piety and what ministry has meant for him (vv.10-11). A general statement follows reminding us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (v.12). Paul then shifts focus to Timothy, whom he regards as one of these godly people and urges him to hold fast to the faith commitments he has learned from his family, Paul and the Scriptures. “The man of God”, i.e. the one who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, will have constant recourse to the Scriptures because in them he will find everything he needs to serve God well. Again what Paul says specifically about Timothy, he also applies in general terms to all believers. As Marshall writes with reference to 1 Timothy 6:11, “Timothy is being addressed as a typical believer (2 Tim 3.12) rather than as a church leader.”7
Christian leaders must be “men of God” in every sense of the word. However, every believer in the New Testament because the Holy Spirit is resident within, is similarly representing God in this world. The other metaphors that Paul, for instance, used to identify believers, i.e. temple of the Holy Spirit, instrument of righteousness, servant of God, all point to this same reality. This phrase “man of God” used in the Old Testament to describe prophets, priests and kings, is applied to an emerging Christian leader such as Timothy. But in doing so Paul is not creating two classes of Christians. Rather, he emphasizes the standard of holy living that Christian leaders must commit to, if they are to serve God and Christ well. But at the same time, the same spirituality and ethics expected of Christian leaders are also urged for every believer. The Scriptures are beneficial for every believer and their preparation to serve God, not just church leaders. There are not two standards of spirituality in the Kingdom. We confess one faith; we serve One Christ; we possess One Spirit; we pursue one mission. We are all together “the holy ones of God.”
- are you conscious of your role as “man of God” today? What are you doing intentionally to equip yourself for this role?
- if you serve in a specific capacity of ministry leadership, are you modeling the holy living that God desires?
- the second part of this phrase, i.e. “of God”, can mean possession and/or representation. When you think about being God’s representative, God’s servant, how does this shape your identity, your decisions, your priorities?
- 1Many other examples of this usage occur in 1 Kings 13,14,17; 2 Kings 1,4,8,23
- 2Aristeas to Philocrates (Letter of Aristeas), section 140. In the Wisdom of Solomon 18:13 the writer says that the Egyptians, when God destroyed their firstborn, acknowledged “your people to be God’s son (theou huion laon),” a commentary on Exodus 12:31.
- 3Philo, De Gigantibus, 60.
- 4Ibid., 61.
- 5Philo, De Confusione Linguarum, 41-43.
- 6I.Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (London: T & T Clark, 1999), 656.
- 7I.H.Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 657.