Thursday, August 27, 2009

Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles

What Are They?
  • D. N. Berdot (1703) was the first to use the term “pastoral” when referring to these letters. He initially used it in referring only to Titus because he believed it to be a manual for ministry (Moss, p. 11).
  • This was followed by Paul Anton (1726) who included 1 and 2 Timothy into this category because he saw similarities between 1 Timothy and Titus (Guthrie (1957), p. 11).
  • And while this phrase has stuck, modern scholars are re-evaluating the categorization because the letters themselves do not necessarily deal with anything “pastoral” or ecclesiastical (Moss, p. 12).
    a. 1 Timothy 3:1-13—Qualities of church leaders.
    b. 1 Timothy 5:3-22—Treatment of widows and elders.
    c. Titus 1:5-9—Qualities of church leaders.
  • If one were to read Titus as a Travel Letter (e.g., Romans) and 2 Timothy as a Prison Letter (e.g., Ephesians) “their otherness would be diminished” (Johnson, p. 424).
  • The Thessalonian letters are treated as Travel Letters, however separating them into their own category would greatly emphasize their message (i.e., pastoral authority and false teaching).
  • If these letters are not directly dealing with church structure or the pastoral offices, what exactly are they dealing with?
  • Perhaps surveying the debate about who wrote them will provide us with a more concrete answer to this question.

Objections to Pauline Authorship

  • K. L. Schmidt (1804) and Friederich Schleiermacher (1807) were the first to formally question and criticize the apostolic authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.
  • Although he is in favor of Pauline authorship, Michael Moss presents these five objections that are raised by those who do not accept Pauline authorship:
  1. Historical Allusions—The Pastoral Epistles do not fit easily into the historical framework of Acts and Paul’s other writings (p. 14-15; cf. Scott, p. xvi-xvii).
    a. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27—Yet Paul mentions several situations that are not mentioned in Acts.
    b. The traditional interpretation is that Paul is released from his Roman imprisonment mentioned in Acts 28 and re-arrested at a later date. Both Clement of Rome and Eusebius describe Paul preaching publicly in Rome following his first imprisonment.
  2. Ecclesiastical Situation—Roughly only 10% of the letters deal with “ecclesiastical teaching,” although Paul has a keen interest in church matters (p. 15-16).
    a. However, the Pastoral Epistles do not appear to be addressed to more formally organized congregations.
    b. Carson, Moo and Morris say that “none of this amounts to much in the way of organization” (p. 364).
  3. Type of False Teaching (p. 16-17).
    a. Many scholars argue that the type of false teaching being argued against is too “coherent and powerful” to be anything earlier than second-century Gnosticism (Easton, p. 2-3).
    b. However, the type of heresy discussed (1 Timothy 1:7; Titus 1:10 and 14, 3:9) looks more like the search for eternal wisdom found in the Qumran literature and in the apocryphal book Jubilees.
  4. Vocabulary and Style (p. 17-18)
    a. Donald Guthrie says that those who object Pauline authorship are “swayed more by linguistic considerations than by” anything else (1970, p. 209).
    b. P. N. Harrison points out that 306 words in the Pastoral Epistles are not used by Paul anywhere else. Of those 306, 175 occur nowhere else in the New Testament (p. 20ff; cf. Grayston and Herdan, p. 1-15).
    i. Of the remaining 542 words, 50 are characteristically Pauline, and the remaining 492 words are those which would be necessary in writing a Christian letter (e.g., “brother”, “love”, “faith”).
    ii. Of the unusual 306 words, 211 aer found in the second-century writings of the Church Fathers and Apologists (p. 70).
    iii. Many of the words used in the Pastoral Epistles that are also found in the universally-accepted letters of Paul have different meanings.
    • Carson, Moo and Morris offer this rebuttal to the objections raised by Harrison (p. 361):
    1. Most of the 211 words found in the Pastoral Epistles and second-century writings are also found in writings dating to AD 50 and before (cf., Guthrie (1956), p. 9).
    a. Paul’s vocabulary in his undisputed letters is 2177 words.
    b. Is it not possible that a man wit such a vast vocabulary could use an additional 306 words that would have been common in his day?
    2. Most of the unusual words occur in 1 Timothy (127, with 81 occurring in 2 Timothy and 45 occurring in Titus; Harrison, p. 137-139), yet it is obvious that the author of 1 Timothy is also the author of 2 Timothy.
    • Guthrie says that Harrison’s data is “selective” and “would seem to be invalid” (1956, p. 13).
  5. Some argue that the emphasis is not on the Cross (Paul’s typical theological emphasis) but on works (vocation and ethics) (cf., Donelson, p. 187-188). This, however, “fails to take into consideration the whole of the teaching” offered in the non-disputed letters and in the Pastoral Epistles (p. 18-19; cf., Hendriksen, p. 17-18).
  • Although many scholars who oppose Pauline authorship will lean towards the letters being written by a pseudepigrapher, Carson, Moo and Morris argue that the assumption that pseudonymous writings were widely accepted and freely circulated cannot be supported (p. 367; cf., Lea and Griffin, p. 37-38).
  • Also, does the letter not lose some of its apostolic imperative if it was not written by the Apostle?
  • The objections, taken as a whole, do not stand up against the support for Paul’s authorship.
  • Gordon Fee writes, “To say that Paul is the author of the Pastoral Epistles means that the letters ultimately come from him in the historical settings contained within them. It does not say how they came from him; the final answer to that question is not available to us” (p. 26).

Adoption into the Canon

  • 1 Timothy is quoted by Polycarp, Athenagoras and other early Church writers (Carson, Moo and Morris, p. 374).
    a. It was rejected by Tatian (late second century), however his viewpoint was individualistic.
    b. Marcion also rejected it, however he rejected anything that respected the Old Testament.
    c. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 2.11; 6:20) and Origen (Against Celsus, 1.63; 1:15) both attribute 1 Timothy to Paul (Moss, p. 13).
  • Polycarp quotes from 2 Timothy, and Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria refer to the letter as “by Paul to Timothy.” Ignatius and the writer of 1 Clement echo much of 2 Timothy (Carson, Moo and Morris, p. 379).
    a. Again Tatian and Marcion both reject it.
    b. It is not included in the Chester Beatty Papyrus p46, however this codex is incomplete. It is, however, included in the Muratorian Canon (end of second century).
  • Tertullian and Irenaeus routinely quote Titus, and 1 Clement echoes it (Carson, Moo and Morris, p. 382).
    a. Ironically, Tatian accepts Titus, although Marcion continues to reject anything “pastoral.”
    b. Although it is not included in p46, it is included in the Muratorian Canon and was universally accepted by the end of the second century.
  • Eusebius (fourth-century AD) writes that there were fourteen letters attributed to Paul (including the Pastoral Epistles). Hebrews, however, was not one of them (p. 66, 3.3).


  1. Manual for Ministry?/Apostolic Succession?
    a. Manual for Ministry:
    i. Thomas Aquinas referred to 1 Timothy as a “pastoral rule” (Moss, p. 11).
    ii. Most traditional references to these letters are in a pastoral nature (Hanson, p. 31-38).
    iii. D. N. Berdot (1704) saw in Titus an instruction manual for ministers (Moss, p. 11).
    b. Manual for Apostolic Succession (Gloer and Stepp, p. 51-52):
    i. Succession texts deal with leadership roles, responsibilities and tasks, knowledge or craft, and possessions and inheritance (p. 51).
    ii. Succession texts describe varying degrees of replacement, ranging from a delegation to full replacement (p. 51-52).
    iii. Succession texts achieve several different objectives, such as marking a successor or guaranteeing that the institution remains healthy following the leader’s death (p. 52).
    iv. According to Dr. Stepp, Paul follows the third aspect of the theme in these writings (p. 52; cf., Stepp, 2005):
    1) To legitimate Titus and Timothy as the next generation of Apostolic leadership.
    2) To empower Titus and Timothy to achieve their goals.
    3) To continue Paul’s ministry following his death.
    4) To ensure the health of these congregations.
  2. Ethical Christian Living?
    a. Lewis Donelson (who denies Pauline authorship) says that the writer’s theme is found in 1 Timothy 3:14-15 and that the material in the Pastoral Epistles constitutes a moral exhortation (p. 117).
    b. The teaching does not pertain to the society-at-large, rather it pertains to Christians and how we should live both inside and outside the confines of the Church.
  3. Dealing with Heresy?
    a. Gordon Fee says that the theme for the letters is found in 1 Timothy 1:3 (p. xiv).
    b. Thomas Oden says that Paul is confronting six heretical teachings in these letters (p. 9-10):
    1) Gnostic elitism (1 Timothy 2:4, 4:10, 6:20; Titus 2:11).
    2) Rejection of the bodily resurrection (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:18).
    3) Asceticism (1 Timothy 4:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:15; cf., Colossians 2:16-18).
    4) Antinomian license (1 Timothy 5:22, 6:5; 2 Timothy 2:22, 3:6; Titus 1:11 and 16).
    5) Fascination with myths and genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4-7, 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14-16, 3:9).
    6) Divisive, speculative “antagonists” (1 Timothy 1:4, 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14-16 and 23; Titus 3:9; cf. Haugk, p. 153-154).
  4. Multiple Themes?
    a. Luke Timothy Johnson says that lumping these letters together distorts their true messages (p. 424).
    b. Michael Moss offers these themes:
    i. 1 Timothy—Paul offers a reflection on ministry (p. 25-26).
    ii. 2 Timothy—Paul encourages Timothy is remain steadfast in his ministry (p. 186).
    iii. Titus—Paul encourages Titus to produce good works that will affect non-Christians (p. 135).
  • So, which one is it?
  • I believe that the best answer is a combination of options 3 and 4.
    a. If we look carefully at each letter individually instead of looking at them as a complete unit (per Johnson), we will see that defending the faith against heresy pervades each letter.
    b. However, this apology is proclaimed within the overarching themes that Moss offers to us.


D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).

Lewis R. Donelson, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996).

B. S. Easton, The Pastoral Epistles (New York: Scribner’s 1948).

Eusebius, The History of the Church, rev. ed., Trans. G. A. Williamson (New York: Penguin, 1989).

Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 2nd ed., New International Biblical Commentary, New Testament Series 13 (Peabody, MA/Carlisle, UK: Hendrickson/Paternoster Press, 1988).

W. Hulitt Gloer and Perry L. Stepp, Reading Paul Letters to Individuals: A Literary and Theological Commentary on Paul’s Letters to Philemon, Titus, and Timothy, Reading the New Testament (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys, 2008).

Kenneth Grayston and Gustav Herdan, “The Authorship of the Pastorals in the Light of Statistical Linguistics,” New Testament Studies 6 (1959-1960): 1-15.

Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970).

Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (London: Tyndale, 1957).

Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul (London: Tyndale, 1956).

Anthony T. Hanson, The Pastoral Epistles, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982).

P. N. Harrison, The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles (London: Oxford University Press, 1921).

Kenneth C. Haugk, Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988).

William Hendriksen, Thessalonians, Timothy and Titus, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979).

Luke Timothy Johnson and Todd C. Penner, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999).

Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992).

C. Michael Moss, 1, 2 Timothy and Titus, College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Co., 1994).

Thomas C. Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1989).

Ernest Findlay Scott, The Pastoral Epistles, Moffat New Testament Commentary (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1936).

Perry L. Stepp, Leadership Succession in the World of the Pauline Circle, New Testament Monographs 5 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005).

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