Jerome H. Neyrey, «"First", "Only", "One of a Few", and "No One Else". The Rhetoric of Uniqueness and the Doxologies in 1 Timothy», Vol. 86 (2005) 59-87
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.
86 Jerome H. Neyrey
Similarly, the name pantokravtwr, which became quite common in the
LXX as the translation for twabx (88), is a regular name of praise for
God in Rev 1,8; 4,8 and 11,17, where it is linked with profession of
Godâ€™s uncreated and imperishable character. Moreover, Greek gods
were often praised with some form of â€œmuch or manyâ€/polu- such as
â€œPhysis, resourceful (polu-mhvcane) mother of all (pam-mhvteira) ...
rich (poluv-ktite) divinityâ€ (Orphic Hymns 10.1-2), â€œAphrodite,
praised in many hymns (polu-uvmnh)â€ (Orphic Hymns 55.1), and
â€œ(Physis) many named (poluwvnume)â€ (Orphic Hymns 10.13). Finally,
other superlative nouns might be traced, such as â€œMost Highâ€, for
which there is now Greco-Roman as well as Israelite evidence (89).
These express uniqueness by claiming that god or God has absolute
sway or power, or â€œmost of allâ€, or as â€œone of a fewâ€. In Christian
doxologies, the monotheistic core would claim for God total and
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 (ajovrato") who sees (oJra/') all things;
the Incomprehensible (ajcwvrhto") who comprehends (cwrei') all
the One who needs nothing (ajnepidehv"), of whom all things stand in
the Uncreated (ajpoivhto") who made (ejpoivhsen) all things by the word
of his power (90).
(88) See W. MICHAELIS, â€œpantokravtwrâ€, TDNT III, 914-915; H.W. PLEKET,
â€œReligious History as the History of Mentality: The Believer as Servant of the
Deity in the Greek Worldâ€, Faith, Hope and Worship, 171-173.
(89) 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, â€œDedications to â€˜The Most High Godâ€™â€,
NDIEC 1 (1981) 25-29 and A.D. NOCK, â€œThe Guild of Zeus Hypsistosâ€, Essays
on Religion and the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA 1972) I, 414-443.
(90) See E. VON DOBSCHÃœTZ, Das Kerygma Petri (TU 11; Leipzig 1893) 18-
19; the translation used here is taken from Henneckeâ€™s NTA II, 99. See Plutarchâ€™s
Dinner of the Seven Wise Men 155A.