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What, No Mercy?

By August 1, 2019August 30th, 2022Lost in Translation

This summer, our Bible study group has been working through Paul’s pastoral epistles – the three letters that were written by Paul to his young pastor friends Timothy and Titus. Other than the letter to Philemon, who was a personal friend but not a pastor, these documents make up the only personal correspondence that Paul wrote to individuals that we have as part of the Scripture. The rest of the books that he wrote were to churches or group of people, such as the Galatians, the church at Ephesus or the church at Corinth, among others.

Paul’s typical greeting at the beginning of his letters is to claim apostolic position (being taught by Jesus, among other commonly accepted requirements) and then to mention his prayers. He then continues, usually, with the opening “Grace and peace…” However, in the book of 1 Timothy, Paul starts off with a little different twist on his customary greeting. He includes the word “mercy” – grace, mercy and peace… to be specific.

Paul also uses the same greeting in his second letter to young Timothy and it is clear that Paul is being tender to his young pastor friend while teaching a theological point in the process. Paul wants Timothy to know that it is through God’s mercy that we were extended grace and that we have peace in knowing that we belong to God and will spend eternity with Him as believers who have accepted the gift of eternal life.

In other words, none of this would have come to pass unless we served a merciful God who gave us undeserved favor, better known as grace. I found it interesting that Paul included “mercy” in the opening verses of both his letters to Timothy and as I was preparing to teach the first chapter of  Titus this week, it bothered me that the word “mercy” was not included in Paul’s greeting to his other young pastor friend. After all, Paul had led both Timothy and Titus to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and he refers to them as “sons” in the text.

But when the theme of the letters was to talk about church leadership, the teaching of sound doctrine and the demonstration of good works, it seems that mercy is an integral part of the message that Paul was trying to convey. So, I got a little confused when I didn’t see mercy mentioned in the opening to young Titus. Of course, my curiosity got the best of me and so I travelled down the rabbit hole to try and figure out why there was this omission in the text. After studying, I found out that in the original Greek, as well as the King James version of the Bible, the word “mercy” is included in the original text!

That was quite a relief to me. But it raised the question as to why it was omitted in later translations. In seminary, we referred to these kinds of differences as “textual variances.” In other words, depending on what ancient documents were used for translations, there can be differences in the way that the scribes copied original letters that were circulated in the area.

Theologians have long debated what scrolls and manuscripts were the most accurate representations of the original documents – which we don’t have… And this has led to different translations and versions of the Holy Bible. There are hundreds of differences between the King James and the NIV versions – and even the NASB has variances from the original texts. They are watered down from the Greek Textus Receptus manuscripts used to translate the King James back in 1611.

To most people who are not scholars, these differences may not even be noticeable but for some reason, I was troubled by the omission of “mercy” in my NIV teaching Bible. I was relieved to find it in my KJV. So, the verse for tonight is the greeting in the book of Titus. Paul, addressing his young pastor friend, tells him, in Titus 1:4, “To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (KJV)

My encouragement tonight is that God not only extends us grace, but he is a merciful God. It is through His incredible mercy that we were extended grace and offered the gift of eternal life. That’s important for us, as believers, to understand. My prayer is that we will all reflect on the gift that we have been given, as we can’t earn salvation no matter how hard we work. We just have to accept the offer from Jesus. Have a great day in the Lord, grace, MERCY and peace…

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