Pastoral Epistles?

First and Second Timothy and Titus are usually described as “pastoral epistles.”  The standard view of these three letters is that Paul is writing to individuals who he has placed in a leadership position overseeing churches.  The three books were first called “pastoral epistles” by Paul Anton in 1726.  The description has become so common that nearly every commentator on the books has described the letters as “church manuals” or “advice to young pastors,” etc.

Timothy has taken on additional responsibilities as a superintendent over several churches planted by Paul.  First Timothy is therefore letter is personal advice to Timothy on how to organize the church, as well as other ministry related issues. The second letter written to Timothy is to ask him to come to him in Rome, and to bring Mark with him, but the pastoral emphasis is still the main theme.  In Titus, the content is very similar to First Timothy, elders are described, and various potential problems are addressed.

Gordon Fee, however, has called this description into question.  As Fee notes, if these are “church manuals” they are not particularly effective ones.  We end up with far more questions about the church after reading them!  It seems hard to believe that such a wide variety of church structures and styles would all call upon these letters to validate their ecclesiology, if in fact Paul intended them to be read as “manuals for doing church.”  Furthermore, he states “It is a mistaken notion to view Timothy or Titus as model pastors for a local church. The letters simply have no such intent” (147)

The key, for Fee, is to read seriously what Paul about his reason for writing the letters in 1 Tim   1:5 and 3:15.  In the light of Paul’s speech to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:17-35, it would appear that the purpose of the letters might very well to be false teachers in the Ephesian community.

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer

1 Timothy 3:15 …if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Acts 20:30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

These verses do not concern organizing the churches from scratch, as if Paul has done just a bit of church planting and Timothy is sent in to finish the job, like a modern evangelist with a followup team.  There seems to be a serious false teaching that has caused the church at Ephesus serious problems.  The problem is internal (Acts 20:30), people from the inside have begun to teach things opposed to Paul’s message.  As Fee puts it, “What we learn about church order in 1 Timothy is not so much organizational as reformational” (146).

This observation may help with the most difficult problem of 1 Timothy.  If Fee is correct and the problem is straying elders, does this effect the way we look at the prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority in 2:11-12?

Bibliography: Gordon D. Fee, “Reflections On Church Order In The Pastoral  Epistles, With Further Reflection On The  Hermeneutics Of Ad Hoc Documents”  JETS 28:2 (June 1985) p. 141-151.

26 thoughts on “Pastoral Epistles?

  1. Thanks for that review of Fee. Great thoughts.

    One point: We should not assume Ephesus had elders before 1st Timothy was written. In fact, we have no evidence that Paul ever appointed elders while he was in the initial planting stages.

    That said, reformational vs. organizational is a good distinction to begin with. Yet, I believe we need even more developmental timelines in studying Pauline Ecclesiology.

    Thanks for this post…

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  2. Wow, lots to think about on this one. I wanted to address your question “If Fee is correct and the problem is straying elders, does this effect the way we look at the prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority in 2:11-12?”. I think that changing the perspective of the false teaching, namely the elders teaching a message opposed to Paul’s, would not change the command for women to submit. Not to sound sexist in any way, but I think when Paul writes chapter 2, the focus on worship and lifting up holy hands, I think that his command is in keeping with a code of conduct that Christians should have within the church. Modesty should be seen in Christians no matter what the gender of the believer, and I think that Paul is laying down some guidelines or safeguards for keeping the church unified. Any thoughts?

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    • Zach Anderson… I wish I read your post before I wrote mine in the other blog on the ‘woman topic’… you always have such good quotes for me to steal.

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  3. That is a great question that Fee pointed out. But I do not think that it changes the roles of women. Coming just from a woman’s point of view, I do not think that women should be places in a high leadership or authority role in the church. Yes, I think that it is fine if women teach some Sunday schools for like children or other women, but not a all mans group. I think that men need to teach men and women need to teach women. But that does not mean that men can not learn from women and women can not learn from men. I do not think that it has to deal with are women capable or not, but more from the fact that men can relate more to men and women can relate more to women. I know for me, that is true. I think that women should never be in high authority in the church. I think all of the church leaders should be men, but I also think that those men need to have a women by their side. Women do see things in a different light and are able help out their husbands in leadership roles. Women can have roles in the church, but not high authority roles. We even see that mots of Jesus’ followers and helpers were women. I am sure that He had them do things, but that does not mean that they had high authority.

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  4. Fee has a good point in saying: “What we learn about church order in 1 Timothy is not so much organizational as reformational” (146). The content is in fact very reformational, however the fact that the leadership for the local church body is drawn out is in and of itself very organizational. We find the qualities and characteristics of the group that is to be in charge in the church. We also can identify distinct roles and tasks which will be performed: (i.e. elder directs the affairs of the church…preaching and teaching (I Tim. 5:17), deacons are respected examples of faith and service I Tim. 8-10). It may also be worthy to note that when a group of people are gathered together natural leadership will be evident in some individual of the group. Polhill suggests this in the following quote: “Quite likely, the patrons and patronesses of the house churches had leadership roles from the very beginning.” (403). Paul had appointed elders in his earlier missionary journeys. It is also likely that he followed the Jewish example of a synagogue (403). There was an underlying and previous concept of church organization which Paul expanded as he instructed Timothy in qualifications for this type of leadership. However, my question in this issue is: Why are there so many types of church leadership systems (hierarchy) that are so far from this group of leadership that were the elders and deacons? It seems there has been a deviation from the Biblical beginnings as Christians turned away to traditions? Could this ironically echo some of the issues of those early days?

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  5. I think it is also important to have keep in mind the international church when considering the women as pastors or elders.
    If you recall, just a little while ago Hilary Clinton was giving a speech in a north African country. At the end of her speech someone asked her, what her husband thought about the topic of her speech. She was greatly offended and informed the man that her husband was not the Secretary of State.
    I bring up this story, to highlight the importance of understanding the other culture’s view of a woman in leadership. Many culture’s a woman is not respected in leadership. This can be for a variety of reasons, in the Hilary’s case, she was thought to be speeching in behalf of her husband.
    In light of other culture’s perception of women’s leadership roles, we should be cautious about Christianity’s acceptance in other nations. There are many culture’s that will simply not accept the message, because it is delivered by an religion who appoints women as leaders. This may seem like a stretch from 1 Timothy, but the context is Paul’s concern with the reputation of the Gospel.

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    • This is a good point Zach, but (for the sake of discussion) to what extent can we allow a cultural factor (patriarchy) influence our reading of a biblical text? In this case, the Africans you cite in your example would agree with the “stronger” reading of the passage because of their culture, while the women studying in an American seminary preparing for pastoral ministry would agree with the “lighter” interpretation. In both cases, people read what they culturally want without reading what the text actually says. (Probably both would say they are reading what the text actually says, naturally!)

      If something is biblical and acceptable, I think that there is a good reason to refrain from that behavior / principle in order not to offend. But once you start making culture a guideline for morality, you are likely in trouble.

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      • I see your point. I don’t think the argument of culture is sufficient for saying that a woman should not take roles of leadership in a church. The value I see in the argument of culture is in understanding the implications on the gospel in putting women in roles of church leadership.
        I also think that a great deal of the reason why we question biblical evidence for not having women as church leaders is due to reading Scripture in light of our culture. If it were possible to read Scripture without a today cultural biases, I think we would conclude that Paul is saying that women are not to teach and exercise authority over men in 2:11-12.

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  6. I would like to take concepts both from Jessica’s post and from Zach’s post. The first thing I want to point out is that I agree with Jessica about the supportive role of women. It is much a similar concept as ‘wives submit to your husbands.’ The passage doesn’t say anything about the husband lording it over his wife, on the contrary, it commands him to love his wife to the point of death. In no way, shape, or form is this passage saying that women don’t have valuable contributions that can be made to leadership. Whether or not you read this passage in the ‘stronger’ or ‘lighter’ sense, you can’t argue this point.

    Second, I would like to point out that I agree with what Zach was saying about cultural impressions. When we look all the way back to Genesis, the Biblical model, before there was even an OT, or even a Pentateuch, we find the model of the wife submitting to the husband, and the husband taking the leadership role. This itself should be an indication that the original culture created by God, albeit fallen, had this in mind. As far as culture goes, America can become somewhat ridiculous when it comes to rights of anything; animal, vegetable, or mineral. Women’s rights is a relatively recent idea that flourishes in America because of our obsession with ‘tolerance.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying women shouldn’t have rights, the point is that it is a cultural thing, not necessarily biblically based.

    I pose this question…what if Paul was talking to the ‘women’s rights activists’ of the day, letting them know that men should be leading, with the best interests of everyone, specifically their better halves, at heart?

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  7. Why do I feel like we’ve already touched on this subject? Perhaps, I’ll bring it over to church organization and the purpose of the letters….

    Paul sent men to organize the churches, of this there is no doubt. He sent to of his aides (apprentices?) so that they could find individuals who demonstrated spiritual maturity to guide the Church in their pursuit of God’s Will as found in scripture and to demonstrate it in their own lives. How does this lead to the hierarchy that we seem to follow today, I don’t know. If it is true that power corrupts, then one men placed above the others is foolish and they should all get trained in godliness so that they too can correct “the chosen one”. It seems that Paul had this same idea, pushing Timothy to find men who demonstrated godly living. Note, not singular. Paul seemed to believe that the church doesn’t need a Moses or David to lead the congregation, but a group of godly individuals to care and lead the community… Anyway, just some thoughts on the matter…

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  8. I want to start off by saying I liked Zach’s bit about the cultural integrity of the gospel. I have often heard the whole culture argument, but people usually do not back it up with an example, especially for a “stronger” translation as P. Long referred to it. Most times when culture is applied to these passages it is in the sense of the culture of the past was such and such but now times have changed…so thanks zach for shedding light on some current day cultural issues.

    PJ brings up a very good point, I think, towards the end of his post. “Paul seemed to believe that the church doesn’t need a Moses or David to lead the congregation, but a group of godly individuals to care and lead the community” this was something which escaped my eyes as I was doing the reading. The presence of the plural. But once you think about it makes more and more sense. Why would the church need one person as the leader of it? Having several installs checks and balances in the power. Moreover, Christ is already the “head of the Church” we don’t need another do we? I’m not ragging on the Pope, or the catholic hierarchy.

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  9. I don’t think this effects women prohibitions to authority. With this new information I still see the women’ authority was the house and the rest was for the men. Hermeneutically I still see that issue as more of a cultural barrier.

    I think that the false teachers are still refering to Jewish leaders trying to draw these believers into the food laws, circumsicion, and table fellowship rather than seeing them as women dragging believers away.

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  10. The issue of culture is definitely the hardest thing to understand. We want to understand what Paul is trying to state here and we do have some grounds for it to go both ways, and sometimes i do see it as something that is determined how you learned it. So how do we know for sure?

    I do like to talk about what you guys have mentioned briefly before about our culture today. We use the argument for the culture in 1 Timothy but how often do we examine what our culture says and notice how much that dictates what we think. Too often do i feel like we become “American Christians” rather than Christian Americans. I wonder how much do we look at this passage and try to explain what it says into our culture by excusing what Paul is stating. Our culture looks down on even the mention of the topic of submission because we have such a drive to be “equal”. However, I agree with Duke in saying that submission that Paul is talking about is great.

    So why do we fear this topic so much? And are we bending what the Bible says to what our culture wants to hear? I sure hope not.

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  11. I don’t think that Fee’s argument should change the way we read the instruction about women within the church. I also think that women should not take authority over men in the church. Men are supposed to be head of the household and leading the family spiritually. The logical progression is for men to be leading in the church. I think that these passages are less offensive from a women’s point of view when we keep in mind the other side of these statements. Men are being called to step up and take responsibility in a humble Christlike manner.

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  12. To somewhat go along with Zach’s post about culture, I think that is is important to keep in mind the culture that Paul was writing to. When we talk about these epistles confusing the church, and making it hard to really follow them, it is because of our culture. Our culture is completely different from Paul’s culture, and that is something that we should not ignore.
    This discussion has seemed to follow the other women discussion, so I would have to once again say that we live in a different time period, and different circumstances, and we should take Paul’s words literally, but in context to our culture.

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  13. I don’t believe that this changes things a bit. In fact, the false teaching and Paul’s mention of the role of woman in the church are fairly well linked. “Evidently some of them [women] had become the particular targets of the false teachers” (Polhill, 410). Polhill describes how these false teachers had gained significant, controlling influence among some of the women of the church. If this is correct, then there is no change in the way we look at the woman’s role.

    It seems that there is desperate need for clarification on how exactly we are looking at this prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority in the first place. Could it be that this has become such a hot topic once again because of false doctrine once again being admitted, both internally and externally? Our societies aggressive push for gender equality, the reversal of traditional roles between husband and wife in the household, the vigorous fight for who wear the pants, the degradation of how manhood is today viewed, et cetera, have started an uproar or upheaval in society, again both internally and externally of the church, and if as Polhill repeatedly mentions as Paul’s desire for the church to be respectable among the communities and to have a positive image, what is our fighting over this accomplishing except everything opposite of what we are called for? [A side note, what, is this intention of true of Paul, does this say for Christian social activists?]

    The value of both the male and female roles, in church, in home, in society, in life, is incalculable. I think is is an agreeable statement and something to which this verse is not directed. The hasty feminist is quick to aggression at what appears like masculine suppression, but that is not the case of the argument. Paul’s concern is more to do with the church as a whole, its function and operation as an evangelistic body of believers.

    We often talk about presuppositions when discussing theology, be it biblical or systematic, this means cultural and political as well. So let down the guard everyone! Let’s work toward an accurate interpretation and application of the biblical truth and lets be obedient in actually applying it.

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  14. If Fee is correct in his standing of strayed elders it does not make a difference to the conclusion of 2 Timothy 2:11-14. I reference back to my first post and Zach Kemper’s post replying back to P, Long for this. We need to be careful not to read our culture in to the Bible.

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  15. I would have to say that although Fee makes a good point that these letters do make for a reformation type purpose, we cannot dismiss the fact that these letters do have advice for elders in the church. In my paper on these letters of Paul, these are the two points that I actually stress on. Paul talks very pointedly about both of these topics, elders in the church and false teachers in the church. Regardless whether or not Paul intended these letters for a “church manual” or an urgency to root out false teachers, Paul obviously wanted both dealt with. If Fee wishes to call one more important than the other then so be it, but it doesn’t seem that Paul wished to do that. I would assume that Paul actually planned on them being a cooperating idea, church leadership involved in rooting out false teaching. Paul has obviously put Timothy and Titus in charge of the churches he has planted and expects them both to be on their toes about false doctrine.
    I would agree with the fact that these letters have nothing to do with planting churches, however why should it? Paul is writing to Timothy and Titus, who he placed in charge of churches already planted. These letters a meant to help them from where they already are, not where they have been. Just because these have nothing to do with planting churches does not mean they have no guidance for the church.

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  16. This has to be one of those “I don’t mean to…but I am anyway…” sort of things, P.Long. Here is what I mean. In your post on women you say “The last thing I want to do is step into this firestorm, but since we are moving through the Pauline letters, it is important to at least mention several factors in the debate.” But yet both that one (intended to be on women), and this one (which is intended to be on Paul’s purpose for writing 1 Timothy) you have started quite the discussion on women’s roles in he church without wanting to “step into this firestorm”. It just seems ironic that you bring up women in both of these posts and then claim in the second that you don’t want to step into this debate. The irony of our professor aside, I would like to take a stab at the intent of this letter.

    As you have cited, P.Long, Fee thinks that if this is meant to be an organization letter, then he kind of failed miserably (my spin on Fee). I think it’s correct, because then you HAVE to decide which church is biblically based in Paul. We’re proud Protestants, obviously the Catholics have it wrong! Or if we were Catholics, we would be saying out the Protestants are wrong. in their organization of the church. What would we use as proof? The “Pastoral Epistles” of course; who would be right? TH 413 we grappled with this question of church structure, and I came to the realization that a) it doesn’t matter because the church works effectively in and through the various kinds of structures and b) maybe it isn’t Paul’s point to debate Church organization types.

    He does mention a hierarchy but after he warned against false teachers. What follows chapters 2 and 3? Of course, chapter 4. What is Paul talking about in 1-8!? What does that have anything to do with church organization!? And what about the topic of money found in Chapter 6? And in Chapter 5 he’s talking about the poor, elderly and the widowed. The only chapters in 1 Timothy are 2 and 3 that talk about any specific outline for church organization, and maybe his point isn’t that that wasn’t the main thrust of his letter at all! 2/6 of a letter is 1/3 which is a measly 33 % of the letter that deals with hierarchy in any real concrete way. That leaves 2/3 of the rest of the Epistle talking about behavior, or “reforming” if you prefer, which comes to an overwhelming 67% of the letter. Maybe it is time to re-think the term “pastoral epistle.”

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  17. As I read through these passages I was reading them outloud to Stefan and Maryann. When I got to the passage in 1 Timothy 2 (which I havent read in a LOOOOONGGGG time) I’m not going to lie, it kind of took me by surprise and I had to read it again. I was a little bit offended (but I think that was more because of Stefan giving his little “Amens” and “preach its” in there throughout the whole thing. But after reading both this blog and the other blog and the responses for both and reading through the passage a few more times I have to say a few things.

    I definitely like the point that Britalia brought up… “I think that these passages are less offensive from a women’s point of view when we keep in mind the other side of these statements.” I was slightly offended before because I am sort of an equality…. God can use everyone in whatever way he wants to, no matter what gender you are. But I took a step back (not a literal step but in my head) and realized how much truth behind Britalia’s statment there is. Men do have a lot more to answer to and about. As somone posted on the other blog… I can’t remember who, I think it was either Elyse or Jessica but they said something about women being emotional. Has anyone been in the women’s dorm lately? Women are definitely so emotional. God knew what he was doing when he gave these instrustions. God knows the structure and minds of women… He created us that way for a reason which is why he had to make these guidelines that that crazy, emotional wreck, women were not trying to shepard other’s toward Christ.

    I had somewhere else I was going to go with this but I can’t remember now… sad day….

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