Pastoral Epistles

views updated May 17 2018


Three New Testament texts, 12 Timothy and Titus, have been collectively known as the Pastoral Epistles since the mid-nineteenth century. The Canon of Muratori said that they were written "for the ordering of ecclesiastical discipline." Used by Polycarp of Smyrna, these epistles were assumed to have been written by the apostle Paul until the advent of historical criticism in the early nineteenth century. Over the course of two centuries scholars advanced a number of arguments against their authenticity so that by the end of the twentieth century biblical scholarship reached almost universal consensus that these texts had not been written by Paul. A small number of scholars continue to hold that some of Paul's personal notes have been incorporated into 2 Timothy (the so-called fragment hypothesis).

Authenticity. Detailed study of the epistles' vocabulary and style has been one of the major factors leading to the scholarly consensus. One of every five words in the Pastorals do not appear elsewhere in the New Testament, another one of every five do not appear in any of the other "epistles of Paul." Several of Paul's characteristic words and phrases, "body," for example, are absent from these epistles. Several other words are used in the Pastorals, but with a meaning different from their meaning in Paul's own writings, for example "faith" (1 Tm 1.5, etc.) and "rulers" (Ti 3.1).

The Pastorals are relatively silent about some of Paul's most important ideas, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and, according to some scholars, justification. The epistles' way of dealing with opponents also differs from that of Paul. Opponents are dispatched with conventional idiom they are deceivers and impostors (2 Tm 3.13), whose minds and consciences have been corrupted (Ti1.15). Little attempt is made to refute their ideas (with the exception of 1 Tm 4.35). Titus is urged to avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels because they are unprofitable and worthless (Ti 3.9). Attempts to create a specific profile of these opponents have been largely doomed to failure because of the paucity of real data about them. They seemed to have practiced some forms of sexual and dietary abstinence (1 Tm 4.3) and espoused some form of elitism. Many scholars consider that the Pastorals were dealing with some form of early gnosticism, perhaps even a Jewish form of gnosticism (Ti 1.14), a kind of popular philosophy but not the Christian heresy of the second century.

Almost all study of the Pastorals demonstrate the "historical" information about Paul's life and ministry gleaned from these letters does not fit in with the data that can be garnered from Paul's own letters and the Acts of the Apostles. Many of the individuals mentioned in the Pastorals, especially in 2 Timothy, Hermogenes and Onesiphorus, for example, are otherwise unknown in the New Testament but reappear in the second-century apocryphal Acts of Paul.

While the literary genre of 2 Timothy is different from that of 1 Timothy and Titus, it is clear that the three Pastorals constitute a mini-corpus within the New Testament. They share similar ideas, a common vocabulary, and a remarkable stylized image of the Apostle Paul. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul is portrayed as the apostle par excellence. There is no mention of any other apostle. Timothy and Titus are not presented as Paul's coworkers; rather they are portrayed as Paul's "sons," men who have learned from Paul and will carry on his work. Paul is presented as the norm for the "full knowledge of the truth," an example to be followed, and the source of church discipline.

Late twentieth-century studies of Hellenistic epistolography have led to an evaluation of the Pastorals, whose canonicity is not at issue, as attempts to actualize the Pauline tradition. That disciples would write a piece of epistolary literature in the name of a revered teacher was not an unknown practice in the Hellenistic world. By so doing they honored the memory of the teacher and showed the relevance of his teaching to subsequent generations. The Pastoral Epistles came into being in this way. Their anonymous author, most likely a single author for all three epistles, adopted Paul's apostolic letter form in attempt to show how Paul's legacy was to be adapted to the situation of local churches in the late first century C. E. The three epistles were probably composed in Asia between 90 and 100 C. E. The epistles' circumstances of composition imply that they must be viewed in a positive light, not as the work of a dying Paul or as New Testament texts of lesser value.

1 Timothy. First Timothy is the longest of the three epistles. It is an ecclesial text whose literary form makes it one of the oldest examples of Christian "congregational rules," of which the 1983 Code of Canon Law is a more recent example. Sections are devoted to overseers (3.17), servers (3.813), including female servers (3.11), widows (5.316), and the elder's bill of rights (5.1719). Some commentators speak of "bishops," "deacons," "women deacons," "an order of widows," and the rights of "priests" but the use of such terms is anachronistic. 1 Timothy is an early attempt to organize the "household of God" (1 Tm 3.15); roles within the church have not yet reached the definition that they will later attain in later centuries when the terms are used to designate specific offices in the church.

In addition to the organization of the church, 1 Timothy is also concerned with the way that believers behave in the household of God. Accordingly the qualifications stipulated for those who function as overseers and servers were qualities that should be had by every Hellenistic householder. Women were expected to have "modesty"(2.15), the epitome of the Hellenistic woman's domestic virtues. The pursuit of wealth is presented as a derogation of godliness and a source of all kinds of evil (6.510, 1719).

2 Timothy. The epistolary structure of 2 Timothy tends to cloak the reality of its being a kind of farewell discourse. An imprisoned and isolated Paul is about to die (4.68). The epistle "reminisces" about Paul's life and mentions a whole series of people with whom Paul was associated in one way or another. Timothy is constantly encouraged to learn from Paul and to carry on Paul's work (2.814; 4.12; etc.). He appears to have been virtually "ordained" by Paul through the ritual gesture of the imposition of hands (1.67).

Titus. The Epistle to Titus is the shortest of the three texts and arguably the oldest. Its literary genre is similar to 1 Timothy; its foci are the same, church order and

proper behavior. Its epistolary opening offers an image of Paul's apostolate that is rich in theology and wide in focus. With regard to church order, Titus appears to speak of elders and the overseer almost interchangeably. He does not speak about widows nor specifically mention female servers. Titus' moral exhortation principally takes the form of a household code in which are spelled out the qualities of older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves (2.110).

Teaching. The Pastorals speak about Christian behavior in in much the same way as contemporary philosophic moralists. "Godliness" or "piety" was a virtue for which everyone is to strive. Some describe the ethics of the Pastorals as an "ideal of good citizenship." The description may not be apt but there is no doubt that the Pastorals foster the conventional moral values of the time, including respect and prayer for civil authority (1 Tm 2.2; Ti 3.1). To some extent their encouragement of a conventional ethic stems from a desire that the church be accepted in Greco-Roman society of the late first century. The ethos of the times expected young women to bear children, raise them, and be subservient to their husbands (1 Tm 2.12, 15; Ti 2.45). The Pastorals' support of conventional ethical values represents an accommodation to the times. The expectation of an imminent Parousia is no longer on the horizon, so the church was required to settle into the world in which it existed.

The emphasis on church structures and ethics is accompanied by a number of rich theological insights that have been wrongly and unfortunately neglected in some writing on the Pastorals. In the Pastorals, "faith" means the content of faith. Descriptive phrases talk about faith as "the full knowledge of the truth," "soun teaching," "trustworthy sayings," and "these things," i.e. the things that Timothy and Titus have received from Paul. Church structures are important; no less important are the considerations that the church is an assembly and the place where God dwells and that it is a pillar of truth (1 Tm 3.15).

The "theology" or understanding of God in the Pastorals is celebrated in doxologies and the multiplication of God's attributes. The theological statement in 1 Tm6.1516 appears to be an apologetic profession of faith in the One God (1 Tm 2.5) in the Greco-Roman world that recognized some emperors as gods. The Pastorals remind their readers that God is the Creator (1 Tm 4.4) and the One who inspired the scriptures (2 Tm 3.16).

Although the Pastorals have little to say about the Holy Spirit (1 Tm 3.16; 4.1; 2 Tm 1.14; Ti 3.5) and therefore lack a developed pneumatology, they provide their readers with elements of a rich christology. A christological hymn appears in 1 Tm 3.16. An "epiphany" or "appearance" motif is the key element in the christology of the Pastorals. Christ appeared in time as Savior (2 Tm1.10; Ti 3.45); he will appear again as Savior and judge (1 Tm 6.14; 2 Tm 4.18). Believers exist and live their lives between these epiphanies. The man Jesus is the one mediator (1 Tm 2.56). He has destroyed death and revealed life and immortality (2 Tm 1.10). The Pastorals' use of the epiphany motif was borrowed from the Greco-Roman world where emperors were revered as saviors and occasionally considered to be god made manifest.

Bibliography: r. f. collins, "The Image of Paul in the Pastorals," LTP 31 (1975) 147173. r. f. collins, "The Pastoral Epistles" in Letters That Paul Did Not Write: The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Pauline Pseudepigrapha (Wilmington 1988) 88131. b. fiore, The Function of Personal Example in the Socratic and Pastoral Epistles (Rome 1986). m. harding, What Are They Saying about the Pastoral Epistles? (New York 2001). g. w. knight, iii, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids 1992). i. h. marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh 1999). l. oberlinner, Die Pastoralbriefe, HTKNT 11/2. 3 vols. (Freiburg, Basel, Vienna, 19941996). j. d. quinn, The Letter to Titus (New York 1990). j. roloff, Der Erste Brief an Timotheus (Zurich 1988). m. wolter, Die Pastoralbriefe als Paulustradition (Göttingen 1988).

[r. f. collins]

Pastoral Epistles

views updated Jun 08 2018

Pastoral Epistles. The three letters, 1–2 Timothy and Titus in the New Testament, so-called because they contain instructions for church officers and organization.