Yarbrough, Robert W. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. xxxvi+604 pp. Hb; $50. Link to Eerdmans
This new contribution to the Pillar New Testament Commentary series by Robert Yarbrough offers insightful exegesis of these three important but often overlooked letters. As he observes in his introduction, many readers approach the Pastoral Epistles for their detailed descriptions of church leaders. In fact, these letters do contain “valuable counsel not available elsewhere in the New Testament” (1). But the list of qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are only one aspect of these letters.
The ninety-page introduction to the Letters to Timothy and Titus begins with eight theses on the heritage of the Pastoral Epistles (PE). These eight statements were drawn from Thomas Oden’s Ministry through Word and Sacrament (Crossroad, 1989) and adapted to the content of the PE.
Any commentary on the PE must deal with the problem of authorship for 1-2 Timothy and Titus. As Yarbrough observes, according to the consensus opinion, the author and the audience are fictive. Paul did not write the letters and the situation in Ephesus described in 1 Timothy and on Crete in Titus reflects the late first or early second century (11). He points out that authorship issues overshadow the substance of the Pastoral Epistles (69). Unfortunately, this may be the case for Yarbrough’s commentary since he accepts Pauline authorship and does not think the situation in Ephesus or Crete is fictional.
Yarbrough follows Adolf Schlatter’s 1936 German commentary on the PE. Since this work was not translated into English it has been sadly ignored, but it does foreshadow what Yarbrough calls the “new look” on Paul’s authorship of these letters. This new look started with Luke Timothy Johnson’s acceptance of Pauline authorship in 1996. Yarbrough cites Johnson’s observation “that the expulsion of the Pastorals was the sacrifice required by intellectual self-respect if scholars were to claim critical integrity and still keep the Paul they wanted most—and needed.” (76). If one scans the Scripture index of a typical book on Pauline theology (Wright, Dunn, etc.), there are few if any references to the Pastoral Epistles.
The body of the commentary follows the pattern of other Pillar commentaries. After a short introduction to each pericope and the text of the NIV 2011, Yarbrough moves through the section verse-by-verse, commenting on key vocabulary in order to illuminate the meaning of the text. He intends to follow the discourse flow in order to follow the argument Paul is making and to explain the unusual words Paul uses in these letters. All Greek appears in transliteration with minimal in-text citations to standard biblical studies tools (BDAG, MM, etc.) Detailed footnotes interact with other literature on the passage. The result is a very readable commentary which is focused on the text of the Bible.
One of the most controversial passages in these letters is 1 Timothy 2:9-14, Paul’s instructions concerning women in worship, Yarbrough’s commentary devotes about 25 pages to these verses. By comparison, Tom Schreiner devotes 62 pages to these verses in Women in the Church (Third edition, Crossway, 2016) and the book has about thirty pages of bibliography. Yarbrough does not consider this a “sudden interjection of prudery” (165). Instead, it is an integral part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy on worship and church order.
By way of introduction to this problematic text, Yarbrough devotes a few pages surveying the three main approaches, critical feminist, Evangelical feminist (egalitarian view), and Evangelical traditionalist (complementarian view). The first and second view do not think this passage is limiting the role of women in ministry, although the first view does this by dismissing Paul’s views as misogynist (although they are probably not Paul’s views at all, they reflect the conditions of the much in a much later period). The second view wants to see the Bible as authoritative so Paul’s command that a woman ought not to exercise authority over a woman is referring to some real situation in Ephesus and was not intended as command aimed at all women of all times. The third view also takes the Bible as authoritative and considers Paul’s words as applicable to the present church and would therefore limit a woman’s role in ministry (usually as a pastor who has authority over men). Yarbrough approaches 1 Timothy 2:11-15 with this complementarian view. But Yarbrough is quick to point out he does not intend to prevent the flourishing and ministry of women” (143). He cites with approval N. T. Wright’s title for this section in his translation of 1 Timothy: “Women Must be Allowed to Be Learners” (170).
With respect to the historical situation in Ephesus, there certainly was some particular reason for Paul to prohibit women from teaching. But Yarbrough argues 1 Timothy 2:12 is both distinctive to a particular situation and universal in scope (177). He rejects negative translations of αὐθεντέω (authenteō), such as the KJV “usurp authority,” preferring the ESV’s “exercise authority” (178). The study of this particular word has generated many articles, Yarbrough follows recent research by Al Wolters and Denny Burk which argue the women in Ephesus were trying to gain an advantage over the men by teaching in a “dictatorial fashion” (180).
Conclusion. Like other volumes in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series, Robert Yarbrough has contributed a solid exegetical study of the Pastoral Epistles based on the English Bible which is also faithful to the Greek text. Yarbrough’s acceptance of Pauline authorship and his approach to the controversial 1 Timothy 2:11-15 may cause some scholars to dismiss this excellent commentary.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.