Addressing the Misuse of 1 Timothy 2:5 by Protestant Apologists
Deriving Right Doctrines from Wrong Texts
Whenever Roman Catholics speak of Mary being a co-mediatrix or mention their belief that God allows Christians on earth to ask the saints in heaven to pray and intercede for them, Protestant apologists will often respond by citing the following passage:
“For there is one (heis) God. There is also one (heis) mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6
Since Paul says that the risen Lord is the only mediator between God and human beings, Protestants take this to mean that God does not allow believers to look to any other human figure (specifically in heaven) to mediate and intercede for them. This is why they insist that believers are to turn to Christ alone for help, and only seek his intercession.
Catholics reply by saying that Jesus’ being the one mediator doesn’t refute the fact that believers are called to participate in Christ’s unique mediation by interceding and praying for others, whether for fellow Christians or unbelievers. They claim that the Greek word for one, heis, doesn’t necessarily mean only one, but can also refer to the one who is first or primary. Thus, Christ isn’t the only mediator but the chief and primary one, whose mediatorial work makes the mediation and intercession of the members of his spiritual Body efficacious and acceptable to God.
Protestants are quick to respond to these arguments. Note, for example, Dr. James R. White’s objection to the manner in which Roman Catholicism explains the blessed Apostle’s claim that Christ is our one and only mediator:
The Second Vatican Council put it this way in section 62:
No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.
From this statement have arisen further attempts to make the exaltation of Mary as Advocate and Mediatrix biblically defensible. Here is how Dr. Mark Miraville puts it:
But the unique mediation of Jesus Christ, precisely in its divine and human perfection, allows for others to participate and share in this one source of mediation to the Father.
At this point a footnote is attached:
The Greek word used for “one” in the Pauline text of 1 Tim. 2:5 is “heis,” which means “one”, “first”, or “primary.” There is another Greek word that St. Paul could have used if he wanted to refer to Christ’s mediation as completely exclusive, namely, “monos,” which means “sole”, “only”, or “exclusively one.” As O’Carroll, C.S. Sp notes, “The practice of addressing Mary as Mediatrix was not and need not be impeded by the Pauline text. The use of ‘one’ (heis not monos) emphasizes Christ’s transcendence as a mediator, through the unique value of his redemptive death,” cf. Theotokos, A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Dublin, 1982), 238.
The fundamental argument here is that the term used by Paul should not be thought to exclude any other mediators. But look closely at the passage:
For there is one (heis) God, and one (heis) mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. …
Are we to really think that Paul’s point is that there is only one main God (first, primary, etc.) but not one sole, only or exclusive God? Surely that is not what Paul is communicating. Instead, just as Paul is insisting that there is exclusively only one God (absolute monotheism), too he is insisting that Jesus Christ alone is the unique and only mediator between that one unique god and man. He is so, Paul says, because He is the God-man, the “man Christ Jesus.”
In response to the claim that the term used here does not mean “alone,” the term does carry that meaning in many places, and major lexical sources indicate this. In the context of 1 Timothy 2, the only possible meaning in the phrase “one God” is “one God to the exclusion of all other Gods.”
Instead, in light of the pagan religions that surrounded the early church, both phrases are to be understood absolutely: one God, to the exclusion of all others, one mediator between that one God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. The Christian faith cannot add more mediators, more ways of salvation. It is Christ, or it is nothing.
So the passage does speak to the issue of Mary as a “mediator.” But what of the argument that the high dignity of Christ is not impinged by saying Mary is a Mediatrix as long as we say that she is so only in a subordinate fashion? Aren’t we all, in some way, intercessors and mediators?
The problem here is that Rome is not saying that Mary is an intercessor as we are when we pray for each other or pray for others. Anyone who has read the hundreds of quotes in this work knows that what is claimed for Mary is a unique position as Queen of heaven and Mediatrix of all graces. She is a mediatrix as no one else is, and is intimately associated with Christ in redemption itself.
Beyond all this, however, there is the simple problem of the basis of mediation. Paul pointed this out in 2 [sic] Timothy 2:5-6, where in the second verse he speaks of why Christ is the only mediator, “who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” Mary did not give herself as a ransom for anyone. She couldn’t do so, since she herself had to be ransomed by another! The reason that Christ is the only Mediator is that He is the only one with a ground of mediation: His perfect and complete work of atonement upon the cross of Calvary. You see, we may ask God to be merciful to ourselves or to others, but when Christ says, “Father, be merciful,” He can then point to a perfect Atonement as the reason the Father can and will be merciful. Hence, He is the only Mediator, and none can join in His work. (White, Mary-Another Redeemer? [Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN 1998], pp. 139-140)
On the surface White’s refutation seems to be quite compelling, until one digs a little deeper and discovers that White’s arguments end up proving far too much.
It is rather unfortunate that White doesn’t see how his reasoning basically ends up undermining the essential Deity of the Lord Jesus and the fact that God is actually a Trinity. After all, this text identifies the one God as someone before whom Christ mediates, thereby distinguishing the risen Lord from the one God who, in this context, must be the Father. Since White argues that one here means only one with there being no other, and since the one God here is obviously the Father, then White’s explanation would mean that Paul is essentially saying that the Father alone is the one God and that Christ is simply a man who mediates before him on our behalf.
In fact, this is precisely how anti-Trinitarians use this verse just as the following citations show:
The disciples viewed Jesus as the “one mediator between God and men,” not as God himself. (1 Timothy 2:5) Since by definition a mediator is someone separate from those who need mediation, it would be a contradiction for Jesus to be one entity with either of the parties he is trying to reconcile. That would be a pretending to something he is not. (Should You Believe in the Trinity?, “What Does the Bible Say About God and Jesus?”, p. 16)
What the Bible teaches about God and Jesus is clear and simple. It is not difficult to understand. Neither the word “Trinity” nor the concept is found in God’s Word. The Bible clearly states that Jesus Christ is God’s firstborn Son. (Colossians 1:15) It also points to Jesus as being the “mediator between God and men.” (1 Timothy 2:5) About the Father, the Bible says: “You, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.”—Psalm 83:18. (Must You Believe in the Trinity to Be a Christian? https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2010088?q=trinity+1+tim+2%3A5&p=par)
A mediator is by definition someone who mediates for two parties. And by definition he is neither of the two other identities in question but mediates between those two identities whether these two identities are single persons or groups of people. In this passage, we have a clear declaration that Jesus is not to be identified as the one God. And neither is he to be identified as the one group of “men” for whom he is mediating. There is one God and that one God here is distinguished from Jesus who is the mediator between this one God and the one group of men. He is also not the group of men for whom he mediates and neither can he be one of the group of men for whom he mediates. And he isn’t. He is between these two identities and by definition cannot be either of these two other identities. In other words, this passage tells us the identity of this one God is an identity other than Jesus Christ since Jesus is the mediator between that one God and the one group of men. In the very same way, the men for whom Jesus mediates is an identity group other than Jesus Christ since Jesus is the mediator between that one God and that one group of men. Moreover, we are told that the mediator between God and men, is the “man” Jesus. (The Trinity Delusion, 1 Timothy 2:5 http://www.angelfire.com/space/thegospeltruth/trinity/verses/1Tim2_5.html)
This is one of the great and clear texts in the debate as to who Jesus really is. If Jesus were God, this would have been a wonderful place to say it. Instead, Jesus is clearly called “a person” using the Greek word anthropos, “person, human, man.” The lexicons state that it is “man” in contract with animals, plants, angels, and of course, God. The Greek text reads that there is one mediator between God and “mankind,” or “people,” “a person” or “a man”, Jesus Christ. Although Trinitarians say that this refers only to his human nature, that is an interpolation, not the text of Scripture. If Jesus were a God-man, this would be one of the many places to say it, but Scripture never says it, ever. Instead, Jesus is stated to be a member of the human race, just as the Old Testament prophecies foretold he would be.
This verse is commonly translated, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” but there is no definite article, no “the” in the Greek text before “man, Christ Jesus.” Adding the “the” before “man” distorts the verse a little, as if it were saying that Jesus was “the man.” This verse is not pointing out that Jesus is “the” man, it is pointing out that he is “a man,” “a person,” a human being. Romans 5 shows that it was a person who sinned and got mankind into the mess it is in, and it was a person, Jesus, who got us out of that mess. (Biblical Unitarian, 1 Timothy 2:5 – One Mediator, A Man http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/articles/1-timothy-2-5-one-mediator-a-man)
When we come to the New Testament, we find the same message repeated, telling us that God is one. The apostle Paul said:
“Yet for us there is only one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we for Him, and one lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)
“One lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6)
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
There are many other verses throughout the Bible that tell us that God is the only one true God, and that there are no other gods besides Him…
The Father alone is the one true God:
Deuteronomy 32:6; 2 Samuel 7:8-14; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14, 29:10: Psalms 2:7, 89:26-29; Isaiah 42:1, 61:1-2, 63:16, 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4,19, 31:9; Malachi 1:6, 2:10; Matthew 11:25, 24:36; Mark 10:18, 13:32; Luke 10:21, 18:19; John 1:18, 5:43-44, 6:27,45, 8:41-42,54, 14:28, 17:1-3, 20:17; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 1:7, 15:6; 1 Corinthians 1:3, 8:6, 11:3, 15:24; 2 Corinthians 1:2-3, 11:31; Galatians 1:1-5; Ephesians 1:2-3,17, 4:5-6, 5:20, 6:23; Philippians 1:2, 2:11, 4:20; Colossians 1:2-3, 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3, 3:11,13; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2, 2:16: 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3: Hebrews 12:7; James 1:27, 3:9; 1 Peter 1:2-3; 2 Peter 1:17; 2 John 3,9; Jude 1: Revelation 1:6. (One God or a Trinity?, by James and Deb Flint http://www.christadelphia.org/pamphlet/p_onegod.htm)
White would be the first person to reject and oppose the logic employed by these anti-Trinitarian groups. White would correctly reason that since there are other passages which affirm the Deity of Christ and the divine Personhood of the Holy Spirit, a person cannot therefore use 1 Timothy 2:5 to refute these divinely revealed truths. Instead, we must seek to harmonize statements where the Father is expressly identified as the one God with passages where both the Son and the Holy Spirit are also said to be fully divine, and therefore one with the Father in essence and glory.
In other words, White does not believe and will not accept that heis in 1 Timothy 2:5 means that there is only one Person who is God, or that only the Father can be properly identified as God. Why then should the use of the same Greek word in the very same citation mean that there is only one Person that is our mediator, and use this to argue against the Catholic assertion that this verse doesn’t refute the fact that God allows believers from sharing in Christ’s mediation?
Ironically, one of White’s team members provides the refutation to White’s argument as he responds to the misuse of 1 Timothy 2:5 to undermine the Trinity. Here is what Alan E. Kurschner wrote in respect to Oneness apologist Roger Perkins’ employing 1 Timothy 2:5 to prove that the Greek word heis rules out the Trinity since it only allows for God to be a singular Person:
Perkins claims that the Greek word heis rendered “one” requires unitarianism when it is applied to God. But he failed in providing a single biblical example of the being of God being shared only by one person. Further, the Greek term heis has a semantic range and context can only determine the meaning. BDAG says:
1. a single pers. or thing, with focus on quantitative aspect, one
2. a single entity, with focus on uniformity or quality, one
3. an unspecified entity, some/one=τὶς,
4. marker of someth. that is first, the first
I found it ironic that the one verse that Perkins cites for heis ACTUALLY DEMONSTRATES A MULTIPLICITY WITHIN heis. He cites, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female–for all of you (multiplicity) are one heis in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28; cf. John 10:30). Perkins want [sic] to focus on the fact that only the person of Christ is mentioned here. But the point is that in this case heis CONTAINS A MULTIPLICITY, in this case, persons. So this REFUTES Perkin’s claim that heis CANNOT CONTAIN MULTIPLICITY OF PERSONS.
In addition, Perkins is making a category error. He is confusing being with person because of his presupposition of unitarianism. It is a non sequitur to state that because heis can refer to God it must mean “one person.” Perkins cannot prove that heis contains the meaning of “personhood.” (Kurschner, On Roger Perkins’ Lexical Fallacies in his Oneness Debate with James White, December 20, 2011 http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2011/12/20/on-roger-perkins-lexical-fallacies-in-his-oneness-debate-with-james-white/; capital and underline emphasis ours)
Now White and co. cannot have their proverbial cake and eat it too. You cannot argue on the one hand that heis in this context does not rule out the fact of there being other divine Persons associated or united with the One God, and then turn around and argue that the Catholic claim that the risen Jesus is the one mediator in the sense of being primary, unique etc., but not the sole mediator, is wrong on the grounds that the same Greek word for one is used in this same passage in respect to there being only one God.
After all, if heis in reference to the one God before whom Jesus mediates does not undermine the fact that there are other divine Persons, then neither can it refute the Catholic position that born again members of Christ’s spiritual Body, the Church, share and participate in Christ’s mediation.
With that said, in the next part of my response I am going to show from the inspired Christian Scriptures that the Catholic (and by extension the Eastern Orthodox) understanding of the word “one” is absolutely correct: One Mediator and One God Pt. 2.