Book Review: Robert W. Wall, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Two Horizons)

Robert W. Wall, with Richard B. Steele. 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. 416 pages, pb. $24.00. Link to Eerdmans.

Robert Wall is well known for a series of articles on the canonical reading the New Testament documents. In this Two Horizons commentary from Eerdmans, Wall applies this canonical approach to the Pastoral Epistles. The result is a very readable commentary which interacts with the text of the Pastorals on a theological level. This achieves the goal of the Two Horizon series to “bridge the gap” between biblical and systematic theology.

Robert Wall, Commenary on 1 Timothy and TitusAs Wall points out in the introduction to the commentary, the Paul of the Pastorals is not the “historical Paul,” but rather the “canonical Paul.” Even though the evidence against the traditional view that Paul was not the author of the pastorals fails to convince Wall, he considers authorship more or less irrelevant for reading the Pastoral Epistles. The letters were included in the canon based on the practical use of the letters and the intuitive judgments of early Christians. It is not necessary, for example, to worry about the problem of comparing the early letters of Paul, Acts and Paul’s biographical statements in 1 Tim 1:12-13. The description of God’s grace in Paul’s life is the “canonical Paul.” Questions of authenticity are not helpful since these letters are included in the Canon and ought to be read in the light of the rest of the Canon.

The occasion of the letters is Paul’s departure. Whether this is from Ephesus or not is again not particularly important from a canonical perspective, the letters should be read with Ephesus in mind, but every generation of the church lives in a “post apostolic” world, virtually the same occasion as the original letters. The Pastorals therefore define a set of normative practices and beliefs that help every generation after Paul to understand how successors to the Apostle ought to take place.

Wall places an emphasis on the metaphor of the “household of God” as he reads the Pastoral Epistles. The letters are written as official communications from a superior administrator (Paul) to an associate (Timothy, Titus) for use in a specific location. Some elements are for public reading, others are persona instruction to Timothy and Titus. This household metaphor does not promote a proto-catholic hierarchy (implying a second century date). The household metaphor would have resonated with Jews since the synagogue was structured in a similar way, but it works with Gentiles as well who experienced the same sort of structure in a Roman collegia. In the Pastorals, Paul is more interested in forming moral character than created rigid job descriptions and a hierarchy for the church.

The body of the commentary is an exegetical discussion of the Greek text (with transliteration in parenthesis). Wall does an excellent job efficiently explaining the text in a Greco-Roman context. He is well aware of rhetorical forms and points out examples of Paul conforming to those standards as well as deviations from expected rhetorical forms. In keeping with Wall’s canonical interest, he occasionally compares 1 Timothy to the book of Acts (“canonical Paul” vs. “Acts Paul”). For example, commenting on 1 Tim 1:12-13, Wall suggests that the conversion stories on Acts serve as an “intertext.” 1 Timothy is illuminated by Acts, but Acts is also illuminated by 1 Timothy. To me this is an interesting use of intertextual relationships between New Testament texts since it is not al all clear that the writer of 1 Timothy (whether that is the historical Paul or a later disciple) knew the conversion stories in Acts, or that the writer of Acts knew the description of Paul’s conversion in 1 Timothy. This is an example of a reader hearing echoes of other texts which were not expressly intended by the original authors.

After the exegesis of each book, Wall provides a “rule of faith” reading based on five categories drawn from Tertullian’s “Theological Grammar.” The five categories are: Creator God, Christ Jesus as Lord, Community of the Spirit, Christian Existence and Discipleship, and Consummation in a New Creation. With his exegesis in mind, Wall reads back through each Pastoral Epistle with these five areas in mind, creating a kind of mini-theology for each book. He gathers all the data from the letter on each element and provides a running theological commentary for the book. For 1 Timothy, this is nearly 50 pages!

An additional feature of this commentary are three “case studies” written by Richard B. Steele, Wall’s colleague at Seattle Pacific University. These short sections are applications of each Pastoral letter to a particular historical situation. Steele discusses 1 Timothy’s view of leadership in “John Wesley and Early Methodist Societies,” 2 Timothy in “John William Fletcher: John Wesley’s Designated Successor” and Titus in “Phoebe Palmer and the Wesleyan Holiness Movement.” Given then theological commitments of Wall and Steele, the content of these articles are obviously interested in Wesleyan applications. Since I am not a Wesleyan, I found these brief historical discussions interesting, although I had very little personal connection to the topics chosen.

Conclusion. Wall’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles delivers on the Two Horizon series goal to “bridge the gap between biblical and systematic theology.” While the commentary is not as rich in detail as the recent commentaries by Towner, Marshall or Johnson, it is a very helpful contribution to the study of the Pastorals which will be profitable for both layman and pastor.

Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Robert W. Wall, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Two Horizons)

  1. Thanks for such an extensive review! The approach to authorship issues sounds interesting. Perhaps “creative” is a suitable word also. But I’m not sure that it doesn’t create as many difficulties as it apparently tries to solve. For example, does he deal with the questions such as, “If we allow” [as I do, and then some] “that Paul personally may not have been the author, would intended readers not have been confused, misled (and probably not happy about it!) at the deceptions involved, especially that the supposedly personal parts were not real at all?”

    Does Wall, in that vein, address the data dug up and pointed out by Ehrman in “Forged” as to how ancients actually looked at the practice we now tend to soften with terms like “pseudepigrapha?” Do you think he manages to turn what is even in his own mind at least a strong prospect of deception to “the good” because the books are (to him) adequately theologically (“canonically”) in line with Paul’s genuine letters? (If I’m getting his points about right.)

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    • He does not address Erhman directly nor does he interact with the developments in NT studies on pseudepigrapha as a genre much. I think what he is trying to avoid is the marginalization of the PE because they are thought to be non-Pauline. By reading the PE as canonical, he avoids the argument. Maybe it is something like this: “the people who found these letters valuable enough to include in the authoritative writings of the church thought Paul was the author, since they are in the canon of Scripture they are authoritative, so let us read the PE as if Paul really wrote the letters and develop theology and practice from them.”

      I am not sure I have ever read a commentary that expressly stated “Paul did not write the PE, therefore the church is not required to pay any attention to what these letters say.” I suspect there are passages in these letters that the church would like to avoid (“save through childbirth?!?), but few if any dispense with the letters on authorship.

      Wall does state clearly on page 5 that the evidence against Pauline authorship “generally fails to convince me” and in note 11, that he agrees with Stanley Porter’s “trenchant rebuttal of this historical criticism and his counterargument in ‘Pauline Authorship.'” (A BBR article, 1995).

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  2. Thanks again, Phillip. My concern is for the ability of individuals and churches to grow. I like to monitor (with help of others like you) what various more conservative scholars/leaders are saying and how they arrive there. I look for signs of movement and encouragement (to me and others like me)… and not just to align with “modern” or “majority” scholarship necessarily… I find that often of dubious method and conclusion myself. (I’m excited about developments in both Process – older – and Integral Xn – newer – theology that have a more honest, consistent and helpful approach… Will be posting on that myself soon.)

    Now back to Wall: on something like perspective on and use of the PE (or other NT books), my main concern is common sense, based on good data, and a realistic, well-founded concept of any book(s)’ authority… which to me is tied to other things than “apostolic authority” or even acceptance by early X’n groups of the roughly 80-120 or 130 period. Basing inclusion/authority on the latter, one would need to be pretty broad and have a very complex set of criteria to say one book was accepted (or clearly pre-canonical) over another in many cases, including that of several not in our canon. I realize you are versed on this issue, Phillip, tho the avg. lay person is not and most have a distorted view of the relevant non-canonical lit. (I mean relatively early, before or apart from the more fantastical stuff.)

    Sounds to me like Wall takes a step in the direction of consistency tho seems to fall short of really getting there. I think it is necessary to entirely recast how one looks at scriptural authority, relative to the traditional and Evangelical position, to fairly, sensibly deal with how to use the PE, along with all the NT books. That is just a step too far for most Evangelical (or traditional) scholars.

    Do you yourself think his case that since they are “canonical”, they can be taken as with God’s authority in everything contained in them is valid? If I am distorting his position, I’m as interested in your position as his… tho I know you probably have to be cautious in what you say in a public forum like this. (Blogging has disadvantages with the many advantages!)

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