“GOD, our Saviour”, or more literally, “our Saviour God”, is strictly an expression found only in Paul’s first letter to Timothy and the letter to Titus – although Mary speaks in her hymn of “God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47), and Jude addresses the doxology which ends his epistle to “the only (wise) God our Saviour” (verse 25). It is distinctive of these epistles that Paul tends to link some attribute with the name of God. Three times he speaks of “the living God” in contexts which do not obviously demand a contrast between the living and the non-existent as 1 Thessalonians 1:9 does (1 Tim 3:15; 4:10; 6:17). Once, very daring, he speaks of the “blessed” or “happy” God (1 Tim 1:11), whereas elsewhere a quite different word is used for “blessed” as a divine ascription. (Surely only Paul himself could have used such a singular expression!) Once, like Jude, he called Him “the only God” (1 Tim 1:17; av “the only wise God”).

There is, then, a tendency in these epistles – doubtless called for by special circumstances of place and time – to emphasize attributes and qualities of God. Timothy was at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3), Titus at Crete; both ecclesias had their problems and dangers, and Paul doubtless chose his language with these in view. That the second letter to Timothy was of a more personal kind perhaps explains why there is less stress on these aspects. But above every other attribute Paul holds forth the truth that God is Saviour; it is His very nature to be Saviour; He is “the Saviour God” (1 Tim 1:1; 2:3; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4). For this reason He is the Saviour of all men without distinction (1 Tim 2:3–4; 4:10) – not only of an elite, a special race such as the Jews, or a special class such as the philosophers. The truth that in Romans and Galatians was deduced from God’s oneness here rests upon a quality of His nature; it is that His salvation is universal and the same for Jew and Gentile.

It is noteworthy how often the expression is used in connection with an “appearing” or “manifestation”. In Titus 1:2–3 Paul writes “in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal; but in his own seasons manifested his word in the message wherewith I was entrusted, according to the commandment of God our Saviour” (rv). Though eternal life was promised, the means of implementing the promise was formerly a sacred secret, but now was brought to light in the “preaching”, the divine message entrusted to Paul. The “word” had become the subject of a phanerōsis.

In Titus 3:4 it is “the kindness and love to man” (philanthrōpia) of the Saviour God which shine forth in an epiphany. In Titus 2:11 the same is said of “the grace of God” which shines forth in salvation to all men.

The passage in Titus 2 is the fullest of all, but is best appreciated by turning back to the Old Testament source of the expression. Isaiah frequently speaks of God as the Saviour of Israel (Isa 43:3; 45:15; 49:16; 60:16; 63:8); but in 45: 21–22 Yahweh declares Himself Saviour for all the ends of the earth (cf 43:11). The source from which these expressions spring may be found in the wonderful verse in Isaiah 12:2 : “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; and he is become my salvation”. “Lord Jehovah” stands here for the reduplicated divine name, Yah Yahweh, and the emphatic form must be designed to stress its meaning: He Who Shall Be. Since the verb to become is the root from which the name Yahweh is derived, are we straining the idea in seeing a deliberate play on the divine Name in the closing phrase of the verse? The likelihood becomes almost certainty from the fact that in the Hebrew (so the writer is informed) the verb immediately follows the Name – thus: “My strength and song is Yah the He Shall Be; He is become my salvation.” If, then, we ask, What shall He be? the answer of this passage is: “Salvation”; and this (prophetically speaking) He is become. Since the point of view of the prophecy is the future day of the Lord (see verse 1), the “becoming” is spoken of as an accomplished fact.

Here then is the reason for describing Him as “the Saviour God”. But when Paul writes the salvation has already been brought to light; the word, the grace, the love to man, have been manifested in the “preaching”. Yet this raises a question: Why are the apostles sent forth with the message at that juncture? Why has the word appeared at that time? The answer is unmistakeable: Because an even greater manifestation has taken place first: the Saviour God Himself has become manifest in flesh, and “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself”. And so twice in the letter to Titus, Paul follows up the reference to “our Saviour God” with mention of “Christ Jesus our Saviour” (1:4; 3:6), where in the construction of the phrase the appellation follows instead of preceding the name.

But in the passage in the second chapter he goes further; having written of “the doctrine of our Saviour God” he is moved to continue with this exposition of it:

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

From speaking of the Father in heaven as “our Saviour God”, Paul is led on to speak of the Son in whom He is revealed as “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (rv). Yah Yahweh has become salvation in Christ; and being exalted to the Father’s right hand and being endowed with the Divine name (“that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow”), he is to us “our great God”. Yet in becoming the object of our veneration he does not supersede the Father but reveals Him, so that our confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is truly “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). Never to be lost sight of is the fact that it is God Who has “become salvation” and is therefore “our Saviour God”; but He has “become salvation” in Christ who is thus our Saviour; and that salvation will be fully realized for the people who are Christ’s own at the manifestation of his glory.