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Pastoral Letters

I. Authorship. The term “Pastoral Letters,” as a common title for 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, dates from the early part of the eighteenth century. It is not exact. Though these letters do furnish worthwhile directions for pastors, the addressees were not pastors in the usual, present-day sense of that term. Rather, they were Paul’s special envoys sent by him on specific missions and entrusted with concrete assignments according to the need of the hour. For biographical articles see Timothy and Titus.

In the nineteenth century F. Schleiermacher rejected the authorship by Paul of one of these letters (1 Timothy), and F. C. Baur of all three. Baur had many followers, and today this rejection is rather common. The grounds on which it is based are as follows:

A. Vocabulary. Difference in vocabulary between these three (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) and ten other of Paul’s letters (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, etc.) must be admitted, but it has often been exaggerated. Of words found in the three but not found in the ten, only nine are common to the three. Detailed study, moreover, has shown that the Pastoral Letters contain not one single word that was foreign to the age in which Paul lived and could not have been used by him. Besides, vocabulary always varies with the specific subject that is being discussed. Thus, in addressing Timothy and Titus, who were in need of good counsel with respect to their own task of imparting instruction, the frequent use of words belonging to the word-family of teaching is certainly not surprising. Other factors that may have influenced the choice of words are the character of the addressees, the apostle’s age and environment, the progress of the church with its ever-expanding vocabulary, and the not improbable use of secretaries.

C. Theology. It is claimed that grace is no longer in the center, and that there is here an overemphasis on good works. The facts contradict this judgment. Is not grace the heart and center of such passages as 1Tim.1.14; 2Tim.1.9; Titus.2.11-Titus.2.14; Titus.3.5? It is true that in these three letters the fruit (good works) of faith is emphasized, but the reason is that the nature of faith and its necessity over against law-works had been fully set forth in the letters that preceded. The tree is first; then comes the fruit.

D. Marcionism. It is said that the Pastorals controvert second-century Marcionism (a heresy with erroneous views of Christ’s person), hence they cannot have been written by first-century Paul. The question is asked, “Does not 1Tim.6.20 refer to the very title of Marcion’s book Antitheses?” This is shallow reasoning. Surely a merely verbal coincidence cannot prove any relationship between Marcion and the author of this verse. What the author has in mind is not Marcion’s contrast between Christianity and Judaism but the conflicting opinions of those who speculated in Jewish genealogies. Other supposed allusions to second-century -isms are equally far-fetched.

F. Chronology. It is maintained that the Book of Acts, which records Paul’s life from his conversion to a Roman imprisonment that terminated in the apostle’s execution, leaves no room for the Pastorals, which presuppose journeys not recorded in Acts. However, Acts points toward Paul’s release, not his execution (Acts.23.12-Acts.23.35; Acts.28.21, Acts.28.30-Acts.28.31); so do Paul’s Prison Letters (Phil.1.25-Phil.1.27; Phil.2.24; Phlm.1.22). Early writers—Clement of Rome, Eusebius—as well as later ones—Chrysostom, Jerome—bear witness to two Roman imprisonments with ample room for the writings of the Pastorals after the first of these two.

As to internal evidence, not only does the writer call himself “Paul, an apostle” (1Tim.1.1; 2Tim.1.1), but he also describes himself, and this description agrees with that of Paul in Acts. The letter-plan of the three, moreover, is similar to that of the ten. All the evidence, accordingly, favors Paul’s authorship of the Pastorals.

II. Background and Purpose.

A. Common to Timothy and Titus. Released from his first Roman imprisonment, Paul, perhaps while on his way to Asia Minor, left Titus on the island of Crete to bring to completion the organization of its church(es) (Acts.2.11; Titus.1.5). At Ephesus Paul was joined by Timothy (back from Philippi? cf. Phil.2.19-Phil.2.23). On leaving for Macedonia, Paul instructed Timothy to remain in Ephesus, which was sorely in need of his ministry (1Tim.1.3-1Tim.1.4). From Macedonia Paul wrote a letter to Timothy in Ephesus (1 Tim) and one to Titus in Crete (Titus).

B. Further Background and Purpose of 1 Timothy. At Ephesus Judaizers were spreading strange and dangerous doctrines (1Tim.1.4, 1Tim.1.7; 1Tim.4.7). Both men and women attended worship spiritually unprepared (1Tim.2.1-1Tim.2.15). To cope with that situation there was Timothy—timid Timothy. The letter’s aim:

1. To impart guidance against error (cf. 1Tim.1.3-1Tim.1.11, 1Tim.1.18-1Tim.1.20; 1Tim.4.1-1Tim.4.16, 1Tim.6.1-1Tim.6.21). With this in mind proper organization is stressed: choosing the right kind of leaders (1Tim.3.1-1Tim.3.16, 1Tim.5.1-1Tim.5.25).

2. To stress the need of proper preparation and conduct (for both men and women) with respect to public worship (1Tim.2.1-1Tim.2.15).

3. To bolster Timothy’s spirit (1Tim.4.14; 1Tim.6.12, 1Tim.6.20).

C. Further Background and Purpose of Titus. The reputation of the Cretans was poor. True sanctification was needed (1Tim.2.11-1Tim.2.14; 1Tim.3.10). Gospel workers (such as Zenas and Apollos, whose itinerary included Crete and who probably carried with them Paul’s letter) had to receive every assistance. As to Paul himself, having recently met Timothy, and the situation in Crete being critical, it is natural that he wished to have a face-to-face conference with Titus also.

Purpose of Paul’s letter to Titus:

1. To stress the need of thorough sanctification.

2. To speed on their way Zenas the law-expert and Apollos the evangelist (1Tim.3.13).

3. To urge Titus to meet Paul at Nicopolis (1Tim.3.12).

1. To urge Timothy to come to Rome as soon as possible in view of the apostle’s impending departure from this life, and to bring Mark with him, as well as Paul’s cloak and books (2Tim.4.6-2Tim.4.22).

2. To admonish Timothy to cling to sound doctrine, defending it against all error (2Tim.2.1-2Tim.2.26; 2Tim.4.1-2Tim.4.5).

III. Contents.

1 Timothy

Theme: The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, gives directions for the administration of the church.

Chapter 1

Paul salutes Timothy and repeats his order that Timothy remain at Ephesus to combat the error of those who refuse to see their own sinful condition in the light of God’s holy law, while pretending to be law experts. By contrast, Paul thanks God for having made him, who regards himself as “chief of sinners,” a minister of the gospel.

Chapter 2

Paul gives directions with respect to public worship. Prayers must be made in behalf of all men. Both the men and the women must come spiritually prepared.

Chapter 3

The apostle gives directions with respect to the offices and functions in the church.

Chapter 4

He warns against apostasy and instructs Timothy how to deal with it.

Chapters 5 and 6

He gives directions with respect to certain definite groups and individuals: old(er) men, young(er) men, old(er) women, young(er) women, etc.


Theme: The apostle Paul, writing to Titus, gives directions for the promotion of the spirit of sanctification.

Chapter 1

In congregational life. Well-qualified elders must be appointed in every town. Reason: Crete is not lacking in disreputable people who must be sternly rebuked.

Chapter 2

In family and individual life. All classes of individuals who compose the home-circle must conduct themselves so that by their life they adorn their doctrine. Reason: the grace of God has appeared to all for sanctification and joyful expectation of the coming of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Chapter 3

In social (i.e., public) life. Believers should be obedient to the authorities and kind to all people. Foolish questions should be shunned and persistently factious people should be rejected. Concluding directions are given with respect to kingdom travelers and believers in general.

2 Timothy

Theme: Sound Doctrine.

Chapter 1

Hold on to it, as did Lois and Eunice, as I (Paul) do, and as did Onesiphorus.

Chapter 2

Teach it. This brings great reward, for the gospel is glorious in its contents. Vain disputes serve no useful purpose.

Chapter 3

Abide in it, knowing that enemies will arise, and that it is based on the sacred writings.

Chapter 4

Preach it, in season, out of season. Remain faithful in view of the fact that I, Paul, am about to set sail.

Bibliography: P. N. Harrison, The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles, 1921; E. K. Simpson, The Pastoral Epistles, 1954 (on the Greek text); D. Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (TNTC), 1957; J. N. D. Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles (HNTC), 1963; A. T. Hanson, Studies in the Pastoral Epistles, 1968; M. Dibelius and H. Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles, 1972; A. T. Hanson, The Pastoral Epistles, 1981; B. Van Elderen, The Pastoral Epistles (NIC), 1984.——WH