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Campbell, Douglas A. Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. 219 pp. $25, pb.  Link to Eerdmans

At slightly less than 200 pages of text, Campbell’s new introduction to the life and thought of the Apostle Paul is written with the layperson in mind. There are no long discussions of the New Perspective on Paul nor does Campbell engage in highly technical language in the book. Only rarely does he engage the Greek text. The book uses endnotes (fourteen pages) making for a smooth reading experience. Campbell includes a number of personal insights which draw the ancient text forward to contemporary issues. For example, he concludes his first chapter on Corinth with a section entitled “the take-home from Corinth.” Chapters conclude with a series of questions designed for group discussions or perhaps even short writing prompts for papers.

As he does in detail in Framing Paul (Eerdmans, 2014), Campbell tells the story of Paul’s life based on the Epistles first, and then uses the book of Acts. Since there are so many questions surrounding the authorship and genre of Acts, many scholars consider the story of Paul in Acts to be a hagiography written to support the unity of the early church and highlight the successes of the Pauline mission. For example, Campbell suggests Paul’s visit to Athens is intentionally modeled after Socrates, a wise man who was unjustly arrested and executed. Although Campbell thinks Acts is “99 percent accurate” (p. 5), he still argues a sound historical methodology should use the authentic letters of Paul to “frame” the contours of Paul’s life before turning to the book of Acts.

Framing Paul’s story with the Epistles rather than Acts results in two detailed periods in Paul’s life. First, the events around the time of his conversion are clear from the epistles, especially Galatians, from A.D. 31-41. Second, the events of A.D. 49-52 are very detailed based on the Corinthian letters and Paul’s anxious comments at the end of Romans concerning his plans to return to Jerusalem with the collection. Acts is the only source for Paul’s life after this time (his arrest in Jerusalem, house arrest in Caesarea, journey to Rome and house arrest in Rome). For the most part, this “last journey” (Acts 20-28) is the subject of the final chapter of the book.

But this book is more than the story of Paul’s missionary journeys. Campbell suggests Paul makes a theological journey as well. Clearly his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus changed his thinking considerably, but as he encountered new challenges as the apostle to the Gentiles Paul was forced to think and rethink how the Gospel challenges the culture of the first century. For example, Campbell has two chapters on the Corinthian church: “Culture Wars at Corinth” and “Navigating Sex and Gender.”

Both of these chapters concern how the Gospel ought to change the way Corinthian Gentiles think about common cultural practices. Campbell offers a list of fourteen problems in the Corinthian church which more or less form the outline to 1 Corinthians. The problems boil down to a basic failure of Christians to relate to one another with kindness, beginning with the leaders of the church who were engaged in bitter competition with one another. What is more, the Corinthian church struggle with what Campbell calls “Christian intellectualism” as well as “sexual intellectualism” (100, 104). He discusses the difficult “silencing of women” passage in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 by suggesting the Corinthian women were loosening their hair and acting like devotees of Dionysus (110). Paul does not intend to silence all women in this passage, only those who are behaving inappropriately in the congregation.

The second part of the book covers several theological topics. Campbell deals with “enemies” of Paul, the covenant vs. contract, the status of Israel, and eschatology. The title of the chapter on Paul’s view of the future for Israel is entitled “God wins” and deals in part with the difficult text in Romans 11 that “all Israel will be saved.” He points out Paul’s argument is based on the Old Testament motif of the remnant; God never lets go of Israel.

What is more, God is a covenantal God who always faithful to his promises. Therefore, “all Israel will be saved” means just that. It is a kind of “Pauline universalism” based on the character of God. Campbell says “the covenant is unbreakable, and ultimately enwraps us all in the gracious purpose of God that was established with us through his son before the foundation of the world” (169). The following few paragraphs unpack tentatively a sort of universalism, “I expect everyone to be raised in glory, although some more shamefacedly than others.” In an end note, Campbell points out his view here is not far from C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. Intriguing, but I suspect this controversial conclusion will draw attention away from the rest of the book.

Conclusion:  Campbell’s book is a pleasure to read. His presentation of the basic ideas of Paul’s thought are clear and he draws conclusions which will resonate with the contemporary reader. Perhaps the biggest drawback to the book is its brevity; some topics worthy of a chapter are dispatched in a few pages. This new introduction to Paul ought to serve well for both undergraduate and graduate level classes as well as any interested layperson who wants to understand the life and teaching of the Apostle Paul.

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

 

Sumney, Jerry L. Steward of God’s Mysteries: Paul and Early Church Tradition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 209 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

In recent years a number of books have been published making the claim Paul “invented Christianity.” For example, Hyam Maccoby’s The Mythmaker (Harper & Row, 1987), Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian (2010), Robert Orlando, Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe (Cascade, 2014) or Barrie Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian (St. Martins, 2008). These books argue for a strong contrast between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, suggesting it is impossible Paul knew Jesus or his teachings. These claims are usually answered by examining theological connections between Jesus and Paul or answering the negative critiques directly. See, for example, Todd Still’s Jesus and Paul Reconnected (Eerdmans, 2007) or David Wenham’s Did St Paul Get Jesus Right? (Lion Hudson, 2011).

Jerry Sumney surveys this discussion in his first chapter (“Thinking about Paul’s Place in the Early Church”) and suggests a different method for connecting Paul to Jesus. Rather than finding connections between Jesus and Paul, his goal in this book is to “explore the relationship between the teachings of the earliest church and Paul’s thought” (15). Sumney defines “pre-Pauline tradition” as material which comes from “a time before Paul was influential in the church” (19). The book argues Paul “remained dependent on the theological ideas and developments that were in the church” (19). Paul was therefore not an independent voice creating doctrines no one in the church had ever considered before and he continued to stay connected to the wider church as he developed his theology. Yet there is some creativity in the way Paul developed the traditions he received.

To achieve this goal, Sumney will examine citations of “preformed tradition” in the undisputed Pauline letters. He recognizes the problems of confidently identifying preexisting tradition, so he proposes a fourteen-point criteria for identifying a particular text as pre-Pauline. These criteria and not unlike Hays’s famous seven criteria for detecting allusions to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament and have the same strengths and weaknesses. Some of these are clear and should not be controversial. For example, the presence of an introductory formula explicitly identifying a tradition or terminology which is absent elsewhere in Paul’s letters may indicate the use of a preformed tradition. If Paul shifts from first person plural to second or third person, especially with verbs of confession or praise he may be alluding to a tradition.

Other criteria are more open to debate. For example, Sumney includes the use of relative pronouns and participial phrases as an important indication Paul is alluding to a tradition. However, the use of relative clauses may be due to Paul’s writing style rather than a preformed tradition. He also sees statements which are not “fully congruent with the author’s theology seen elsewhere” (18) or is an interruption of the flow of a text as an indication of the presence of a tradition. This assumes Paul could not himself compose a one-off saying that is different than what appears in the rest of Romans or Galatians. It also assumes we understand “congruency of Pauline Theology” the same way Paul did. Since the database of Pauline letters is so small, unusual sayings or interruptions are to be expected.

Even with these objections, Sumney’s criteria are important since they control parallelomania. Outside of a few places in which Paul directly claims to be handing along a tradition (1 Cor 15:3-5, for example), Sumney recognizes his argument for any given text as a pre-Pauline tradition is inductive. The fourteen criteria are listed in order of significance, so that “parallels in rhythm of lines” does not carry the same weight as “presence of a citation formula.”

He applies this method in a series of thematic chapters: the meaning of Christ’s death (ch. 2); the identity of Jesus (ch. 3); “understandings of salvation” (ch. 4); the “The Coming of the Lord” (ch. 5); the Lord’s Supper (ch. 6). In each chapter he offers few paragraphs on each of the clearest allusions to pre-Pauline material, often interacting with the major commentaries.

Sumney begins with one of the clearest examples of Paul’s use of a tradition handed down to him, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. This text is a “confessional piece” which demonstrates the earliest church interpreted the death and resurrection of Jesus through the lens of Scripture” (22). That Paul would consider Jesus as Lord (Phil 2:6-11) is certainly grounded in earliest Christian worship, since the church “had already assigned Jesus an exalted position as a messianic and eschatological figure” (55). This runs counter to some readings of Paul (James Tabor, for example). Sumney’s conclusions are in line with Richard Bauckham and Gordon Fee who also argue the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is akin to a creedal statement.

In his final chapter (“I Handed On to You . . . What I Received”), Sumney concludes that Paul was not the originator of the early church’s theology. “He seldom develops new assertions about Christ’s nature or word or other theological doctrine beyond what is found in the traditions he cites” (173).  If Paul cited (or alluded) to traditions, he expected his readers to recognize these statements For Sumney, Paul part of the mainstream of the early church (169) and he is the leading interpreter of the beliefs expressed in the church’s earliest traditions (174). Although it is clear Paul did often cite traditions handed down to him and likely used traditional language just as calling Jesus “Lord,” there is at least some evidence he stood outside the mainstream of the early church in some ways. A fair reading of Galatians 1-2 would indicate there was some tension between Paul and Peter, Barnabas, and the “men from James.”

Is it the case Paul always develops the traditions he received? Since his goal was to study the pre-Pauline material, Sumney does not attempt to examine the material which is unique in Paul. Despite the laudable goal of keeping Paul and Jesus as close as possible, there are theological points which do seem at odds with the rest of the earliest church. For example, Paul’s view of the role of the Law in the present age was controversial in the early church (Acts 15, Galatians). It is unlikely any Jewish Christian would have considered the guardianship of the Law was at an end “now that this faith has come” (Galatians 3:23-4:7). There are a few texts in which Paul claims to be speaking the words of the Lord as if he is a prophet (1 Cor 7:10 and perhaps 1 Thess 4:15). In proving Paul was not a “Lone Ranger” who was creating theology no one had ever considered before, is possible to flatten the distinctions and miss what is unique in Paul.

Nevertheless, Sumney succeeds in his goal of identifying many examples of Paul’s use of traditions which were in some sense handed down to him before he began to write his letters. By developing a clear method, Sumney is able to make a compelling case in nearly every example he offers in this book.

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

This long sentence might be a summary of what Paul means by “sound doctrine” in Titus 2:1.  Gordon Fee called these lines “semi creedal” (1-2 Timothy, Titus, 200)  and nearly all agree that this section was used in some form of liturgy. Paul concludes by declaring this a “trustworthy saying” indicating verses 4-7 that this formulation was well-known to the church.  Since virtually every word can be traced to earlier Pauline writings, it is possible that Paul himself is the source, or someone created the song out of the theology of Paul’s letters. In either case, these few verses are a clear statement of Paul’s understanding of our salvation.

God has acted on our behalf and saved us out of our foolishness (verse 4-5a).  The appearance of the kindness of love of God refers to Jesus. The work of Jesus on the cross is God’s decisive act in history to solve the problem of sin.   Kindness and love are unusual ways to describe God’s motivation for sending Jesus into the world, but the words may reflect the Hebrew idea of hesed, God’s loyalty to his promises and covenant.   Because God is a faithful covenant partner, he acted in Jesus to enable those who are in Christ to keep the covenant in perfection.

Because of Jesus, we can be saved.  The word “saved” is in fact a metaphor which we miss since we use the term so frequently.  We were not just in danger, we were lost and in need to rescue.  In the Psalms David occasionally describes his personal salvation with being pulled out of a flood or a muddy pit, rescued from certain death and set in a level, firm place.

This salvation is not because of “works of righteousness,” rather it is based on the mercy of God.  The idea of “works of righteousness” ought to be understood in the light of the false teachers who likely insisted on things like circumcision or keeping elements of the law.   Rather than a covenant which promises blessings for obedience, this salvation is based entirely on the mercy of God.

This salvation is a rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit (verse 5b-6). Paul uses a metaphor in this verse to describe the role of the Holy Spirit in our new birth.  “Washing” (λουτρόν) and the cognate verb (λούω) frequently refers to ceremonial washing which cleanses one from impurity.  The words are used in the context of preparing for worship or entering into the sanctuary.   For example, the verb is used more than a dozen times in Lev 15 in the context of physical impurity. In Lev 8:6 Aaron and his sons are ceremonially washed as they are installed as priests. In Lev 16 the verb is used to describe the washing of the high priest prior to entering the Holy of Holies.

Paul is therefore developing a metaphor which any person living in the first century would have understood.  If we are to be servants of God, we must be cleansed and made holy so that we are able to serve him (as priests in nay religion might have been cleansed).  It is the action of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation which “washes us” and makes us right with God. He may have in mind a text like Isa 1:16, where the Lord demands the people wash themselves of their sins, or Isa 4:4 where the filthiness of the nation of Israel will be washed away by a “spirit of judgment” and a “spirit of burning.”

Paul therefore has in mind the rebirth or recreation of the person who is dead in their sins; they are “made alive” in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is a hint of eschatology here as well, since the dawning of the new age is described with this same term (παλιγγενεσία).  This is the same regenerating work of the Spirit found in 1 Cor 6:1 and Eph 5:26.

The result of our rebirth is our membership in God’s family (verse 7).  Verse seven begins with a purpose clause and an aorist passive participle.  Our membership in God’s family is predicated on our having been made righteous, or justified, by God’s grace.  While he does not make the point here, justification by grace is always “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  The verb is passive, we do not justify ourselves nor can we create our own righteousness, we are dependent wholly on God’s grace and mercy.

Since we have been justified, we are “heirs” in God’s family. This is an allusion to the theme of adoption from Paul’s earlier letters (Romans 8, for example).  “Be what you are, a child of God.”   This status in God’s family is a guarantee of our future hope.  We know that our inheritance is held by God and that our eternal life is secure in him.

Therefore be devoted to doing good (8b).  To be “devoted” to something (φροντίζω) means to think about it, constantly pursue it, perhaps even to worry about it.  This is more than simply “keep it in mind.”  (I find that when someone says “I’ll keep that in mind” they usually mean, “I am going to ignore what you just said and do what I was going to do anyway.”) The word may be translated “pay attention to” doing good works.

It is remarkable that Paul can say in one line that we are not saved by works, salvation is totally an act of God’s grace, yet in the next line say that we need to do good works. But the order of the lines is critically important!   To reverse them is to destroy the foundation of “sound doctrine” described in these verses.

In contrast to the false teachers, Paul lists his own suffering as an example of what will happen to anyone that wants to live a godly life (vv. 10-12).  This is somewhat surprising for contemporary Christians who are fed a steady diet of “health and wealth” gospel – if you are really spiritual and doing everything God requires, you will be blessed, you will be happy, healthy and wealthy.  That is the exact opposite of Paul’s point in this passage.  Paul knows that his Gospel is the truth because he has suffered physically as a result of his preaching of Jesus.

It might seem odd, but Paul recalls his first missionary journey as an example of his suffering. He specifically has in mind the persecution he faced in Asia Minor (Acts 14). In Antioch, Paul is opposed by Jews from the Synagogue, who follow him to Iconium to harass him. Paul was attacked in Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). Perhaps these persecutions were chosen because he was “left for dead,” or perhaps this period continued to haunt him in his ministry for some time.

Honk for Jesus

While that physical attack was important, Paul has in mind the constant treat from the Jewish community throughout that first journey as well as the threats to his churches reflected in the book of Galatians.  The attack on Paul’s character reflected in Paul’s early letters may have been more painful than the physical pain he faced in Lystra.  It appears that some of Paul’s opponents described him as unqualified to preach the gospel (Gal 1) or worse, as a charlatan (1 Thess 2, for example).

A potential problem with this review of Paul’s ministry is that it all occurred on the first missionary journey, before Timothy began to travel with Paul (Acts 15). This is sometimes used to argue that the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery.  The writer introduced a historical error by saying that Timothy witnessed these events himself.  On the other hand, Timothy was from Lystra himself and joined Paul mission with the full knowledge that Paul is often persecuted physically and opposed by very powerful people where ever he preaches the Gospel!

Paul states very clearly that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . This is a common theme throughout the New Testament: Jesus was persecuted and so too will his followers face similar trials.  Galatians 5:11 indicates that Paul was persecuted because he was preaching that the Gentiles were not under the Law.  The immediate background is his troubles in Asia Minor to which he alludes here in 2 Timothy (cf. Rom 8:35, 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, 12:10, Gal 4:29, 5:11, 2 Thess 1:4).

If Timothy’s desire is to live a godly life, he will in fact face some sort of trial or  persecution.  Paul knows that Timothy is at the moment facing a difficult time because of the false teachers in Ephesus, even if that has not developed into a physical persecution at this point. This text is clear that the one who is “in Christ” will suffer like Christ.  Perhaps this is an indication that the opponents in Ephesus are not really “in Christ,” they simply do not suffer!

Imagine what would happen in Evangelical Christianity if people really believed that they should suffer for Jesus rather than expecting to be wealthy because of their faith. When was the last time you took a rock to the head because of your faith in Jesus?

Second TimothyPaul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Tim 2:7. The “preacher” in the ESV is better a “herald,” or “proclaimer.” This is a person who is appointed to deliver a particular message, in Paul’s case, from God. The language is a little different in 1 Tim 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Tim 2:2. In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him. Like the old “town crier,” Timothy is to take this deposit of tradition and accurately proclaim it to his community.

Paul mentions things passed down to him in his other letters. Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles: 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 1 Cor 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thess 2:15 Paul encourages the congregation to “stand firm” in the traditions which Paul delivered to them. Even in his earliest letter, Paul considers his gospel a tradition which cannot be modified (Gal 1:14).  It is likely that Paul alludes to the words of Jesus in 1 Thess 5, words that are eventually collected in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse.

Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation. For some doctrines, this is a direct revelation that could not be deduced from the Hebrew Bible. For example, in 1 Thess 4:13-18 Paul says that the Lord himself gave him the revelation of the rapture. That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was not revealed in the Hebrew Bible. In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul claims that the Gospel he preaches is “not of human origin” but rather “received by revelation.”

For some of Paul’s teaching, he may have been led by the Holy Spirit to interpret biblical texts differently, or to combine texts from the Hebrew Bible in unique ways which supported the idea that Jesus is the Messiah or that salvation is apart from works. Romans 4 indicates that the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel – this is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. Much of the argument of Galatians is based on applications from stories in Genesis. Paul was trained as a scholar and interpreted Scripture in his sermons and letters in a way consistent with other Jewish teachers of his day.  This “interpretation of scripture” is part of the tradition Timothy is to guard and pass along.

In some cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus. In other cases Paul is the source. But in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully and to pass it to the next generation of believers.

For some American Christians, tradition is very important. I recently heard a sermon in the radio which cited the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession, and in the twenty minutes I listened, no Scripture. Is that what Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy?

On the other hand, how does the principle of “handing down good teaching” work in a modern culture where “tradition” is routinely rejected? In other churches, if something is even vaguely traditional, it is ignored as useless for the modern church. Scholars and pastors often push ideas well-past traditional boundaries simply for the joy of being different. How might Paul react to this sort of thing?

This section of 1 Timothy is the center of the letter, perhaps the center of the three Pastoral Epistles as a whole. The main metaphor Paul works in this letter is the Household of God. Timothy is a pillar in that household and responsible for the spiritual life of other members of the household. Some people in Ephesus have rejected key doctrines of the faith and have developed some behaviors which are not scriptural. In order to argue against these opponents, Paul first describes what he calls the “mystery of godliness” before turning to some examples of the un-truth which the opponents are teaching.

HandsPaul expresses his desire to join Timothy (3:14). This is fairly typical of Paul’s letters, he often expresses a desire to be there even if that is not possible in the immediate future. He is expressing his desire to work alongside Timothy, but even if he cannot be there Paul is confident that Timothy will be able to do the task to which he has been appointed.

Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy is that the churches in Ephesus see themselves as part of the “household of God.” If one is a member of a particular household, they must behave according to that household’s rule. Members of a Roman household had very clear roles and expectations. Fathers, children, and servants all had clearly defined roles in Roman society and it was honorable to do what was expected of you as a father, child, servant, etc.

In fact, it would bring shame upon a household if a father did not perform his role as leader of the family properly, or a child behaved in a way so as to dishonor on the family name. As an analogy, think of a powerful political family in America. Since the family name is well known, there are some things which a family member cannot do without bringing some kind of shame or scandal to the family, endangering their political aspirations. Paul has taught throughout this letter that people within the church are part of a new household, God is their father and they have a role to play within the order of the household of God.

Paul describes the Church as a “pillar” in that household, and a “buttress of the truth.” The metaphor shifts from a household to a Temple, with a foundation and pillars. Both of these metaphors refer to a building. Paul called Peter and James “pillars of the church” in Galatians 2, indicating that they were the chief leaders. Here Timothy is the “pillar” and main support for the churches at Ephesus. A buttress or bulwark (ἑδραίωμα) is like a foundation, the verb is used for founding something on a good foundation.

While the church is like a pillar in the household of God, the church itself is built on the truth (v. 15). This is not unlike Eph 2:19-22, the church grows into a holy temple for God, built on the prophets and apostles (pillars?) and built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

In both cases the point of the metaphor is that the Church stands on the foundation of truth, that it is to guard and defend the truth of the Gospel against defections from the truth. This looks back to how Paul started the letter; in 1:3-7 he warned Timothy about people who were swerving from the truth, both in doctrine and practice.

True godliness begins with Jesus and his work on the Cross (3:16) Paul describes the godliness expected by a member of the household of God as a “great mystery.” He uses the word “confess” (ὁμολογουμένως) perhaps indicating that this short description of the work of Jesus was used as a public confession or doctrinal statement in the early church. The word has the sense of agreement, “this is something that we all agree on.”

This mystery of godliness is called “great.” While it is hard to know if Paul had this in mind, the riot in Ephesus in Acts 19 culminated in the Ephesian crowds chanting “great is Artemis” for hours. Rather than a great god like Artemis, Paul proclaims a living God, rather than a great temple like the temple of Artemis, Paul declares that the church itself is the household of God.

How is this a mystery? The word (μυστήριον)often refers to God’s revelation of something which could not be known unless it was revealed by God. It is the secret which the church guards, how to be “godly.”

The qualifications for the overseer are moral virtues which would be worthy of respect in the Greco-Roman world. He must be “above reproach.” Along with verse 7, this is the controlling theme of the whole passage.  Paul will repeat this for all members of the church in 5:7 and 6:14.

The husband of one wife.  This is the most controversial in terms of modern application.  This has been taken to mean that an elder must be married (rather than single or a widower) as well as an elder cannot have ever been divorced.

ExcellentSober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable.  These four virtues are all common in Greco-Roman ethical texts.  Sober-minded (νηφάλιος) and self-controlled (σώφρων) in fact, are often associated with the cardinal virtues in the Greek world. To be sober-minded is to be level headed and in control of one’s passions at all times. Paul has already used respectable (κόσμιος) in 2:9 for appropriate dress.  To be hospitable is a virtue among both Greeks and Jews (φιλόξενος means “a friend of strangers.”) 1 Clement 12:3 (about A.D. 95) used this noun to describe Rahab, Epicticus combines hospitable with respectable to describe the fall of Alexander.

Able to teach.  From this one exceedingly rare word (διδακτικός), elders are usually tasked with teaching scripture in church.   Philo (On Rewards, 27) used the word in a virtue list to describe Abraham, Yonge translates the word as “self-taught,” Rengstorf comments that Philo has in mind the virtue of Abraham “consisting or expressing itself in learning.”

Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  These vices are all commonly rejected by virtually every society – no one wants a leader who is a violent, greedy drunk! A drunkard is a good translation since the emphasis is “one given to too much wine.”  Moulton and Milligan (496) offer several examples of drunkenness and violence, “I sinned and was drunken in the night, in that I maltreated the brethren” (P.Lond 1914.27), although this dates to A.D. 335.

The next phrase is related to drunkenness. “Not violent” (πλήκτης) is sometimes translated as pugnacious, a bully. The verbal cognate appears in Aristotle, Ethics Eud. 2, 3.  “Gentle” stands in contrast to drunken violence, although the noun could be translated as courteous or tolerant.  “Not quarrelsome” is a single word (ἄμαχος) which means peaceful (anti-war, put it is used in non-military contexts, including a grave inscription by a husband describing his beloved wife (Cos 3259). A “lover of money” is greedy (ἀφιλάργυρος), a virtue found in instructions to people from midwives to generals (BDAG).

The family of the overseer is important: “He must manage his own household well.” This is far more than a single word, and Paul gives a reason for the elder to have a well-managed household: an elder is in charge of the household of God, if he is not faithful in his own family, he will not be faithful in the church either.  The verb (προΐστημι) means to exercise authority, or “be the head of” something, and the very is modified with the adverb “well.”  On the one had, this could be taken to mean he is a good leader in the home.  Josephus (Ant 8.300) used the word to describe the wickedness of King Jeroboam, who did not appoint kind rulers who would “govern righteously.”

But the verb can have the meaning of “have care for.”  In 1 Thess 5:12-13 this is the word used to describe the activity of the church leaders (they are to care for the needs of the church).  If a person does not take care of his family properly, why should he be trusted to care for the family of God in the church!

This description of a proper leader in the church opens up some problems for application, possibly because pastor’s children are held to a high standard and are often judged as little hellions. At what point does a pastor / elder use the behavior of their children as a measure of how well a pastor / elder has led in their home? This is something like the application of the Proverbs, all things being equal, raise up a child in the way they should go and they will not depart from it. But sometimes that does not happen and a child, through their own choices, seriously defect from the faith of their parents.  A bad child is not always the sign of a bad parent.

He must not be a recent convert.  Perhaps this is the problem with the overseers who have defected from Paul’s gospel, they were to quickly accepted as leaders in the church and were arrogant.  At least in the mid-first century, this might have been a real problem since it was probable that churches were established from only new converts. But by the early 60s it was possible that there were now second generation believers and people who had been Christians for many years.  Paul is advising that these mature believers be considered for leadership, not a recent convert.

The reason given is that they could become arrogant and fall into “condemnation of the devil.”  What does this mean?  Probably that the new elder would be judged like the devil, who also fell because of pride. How they “fall” might be a hint of the false teachers.  Their arrogance leads them to accept teaching that is outside of the faith passed from Paul to Timothy, they more easily accept new and innovative doctrines, perhaps of their own making, because they do not have the spiritual maturity to resist being on the “cutting edge.”

One of the problems for reading the Pastoral Epistles is the identity of the “opponents” in Paul’s churches. Paul seems to have a group of elders in mind who are in rebellion against his Gospel, What is more, the opponents in Ephesus are like the people predicted to come in the “later days.” Jesus also described false messiahs and prophets who would come claiming to be messengers from God. First and Second John both describe teachers with wrong views about Jesus as “antichrist.”

End of the WorldThe idea that the “last days” have arrived in common in the New Testament, the earliest church believed that Jesus could return at any moment. In this they were correct. In 2 Thess 2 Paul teaches that in the last days there will be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth. In the last days, this falling away will be so intense that people will choose to believe the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel.  Did Paul actually believe that he was living in the last days?  I think that he did, but every generation of the church have had at least some people who thought they were in the last days!

But this text cannot be directly applied to any particular modern false  teaching in order to declare that we are “in the end times.” Certainly Jesus can come back at any moment, and there are plenty of people teaching all sorts of things in the name of Jesus that are simply not in line with the truth. But that is the condition of all of church history!

Paul describes the opponents in Ephesus as sub-Christian. They have Christian like ideas, but when examined in the light of the truth they are in fact not Christian at all.  Paul is not dealing with a group of people who have a honest difference  of opinion on a theological issue.  His opponents in Ephesus have rejected key elements of the gospel which separate them from the truth.

  • They have abandoned their faith. The verb Paul uses here (ἀφίστημι) is the same as 2 Thess 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deut 7:4 it is used for turning away from God to worship other gods. These opponents have rejected the core truth of the Gospel (1 Tim 3:16) and can no longer be described as within the faith.
  • They follow “deceitful spirits” and hold to the “teachings of demons.” This seems like a strong polemic, the sort of thing that we would not say about an opponent today. But there are a number of Pauline texts that describe real spiritual warfare. In 1 Tim 3:6-7, for example, Paul warns that a leader in the church ought not be a recent convert, since it is possible for him to become prideful and fall into the devil’s snare.
  • They are hypocritical liars. Combining hypocritical and liar indicates that their teaching appears to be well-intended, but it is in fact false. This indicates that the opponents are not simply fooled into teaching something that is false, they are choosing to maintain a lie for some reason (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 291).
  • Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. There are two ways to read this line. First the phrase may refer to someone who has told a lie so many times that they believe it, that there conscience no longer functions as it ought. They are numb to the truth, etc. Second, it is possible that this refers to being branded. The verb (καυστηριάζω) can mean sear, but it can also refer to branding someone with a hot iron. “The imagery suggests crime published with a branding mark on the perpetrator” (BDAG). In either case, their conscience has been destroyed by the “doctrine of demons” that they no longer know if they are teaching the truth or not.

I am not sure it is possible to identify the opponents from these four items alone. What is certain is that there are people in Paul’s churches in Ephesus who have defected from the Gospel in such a way that the are not Christians at all.  Timothy is warned about these people and told to appoint elders who cling tenaciously to the gospel and are truly godly.

1 Timothy

The background to the Pastoral epistles is a matter of some speculation. The letters to Timothy and Titus are collectively called the “pastoral epistles” and are usually described as “letters to young pastors” on topics of church organization. This common way of describing these letters misses the obvious fact that by this point neither Timothy nor Titus could be called “young,” nor are they ever really described as pastors in the letters. Both men are described as personal representatives of Paul and both men are given the task of dealing with some sort of theological deviation from Paul’s gospel which likely includes some practical, moral failure on the part of elders and deacons in Ephesus (and potentially Crete). First Timothy is less of a manual that could be subtitled “how to be a pastor” than directions to Timothy on how to deal with a serious problem plaguing Paul’s churches in Ephesus.

This is how I would reconstruct the situation behind First Timothy.  I am more interested in placing these letters into Paul’s career at this point that describing the “opponents” who are implied by the letter. After teaching through the material over a few months, I will return to the difficult problem of the opponents.

  1. Paul spent about three years in Ephesus (Acts 19). During this time he would have established churches in the city and trained others who planted still more churches. Colossians is evidence that at least one other city near Ephesus was evangelized by a Pauline disciple. Revelation 2-3 mentions 6 churches in addition to Ephesus which may have been established as a result of Paul’s three years of ministry in Ephesus.
  2. While it is impossible to know how large the church was in Ephesus when Paul left, we do know from Acts that enough people had joined the Christians that they were an economic threat to the silversmiths who made small models of Artemis (Acts 19).
  3. In Acts 20, Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders predicts that there will be some among the Christians who fall away from sound doctrine and practice. The connection between Acts 20 and the pastorals has led scholars such as C. F. D. Moule to suggest that Luke himself is the author of the letters. Luke intended them as an epistolary conclusion to his Luke/Acts. For a review of this argument, see Hagner, The New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2012), 623.
  4. Paul traveled to Jerusalem where he is arrested at held under house arrest in Caesarea for two years. He is then transferred to Rome after appealing to Caesar. He is in Rome under house arrest for two years. This is where the book of Acts ends. In all, Paul is away from Ephesus for at least five years before he wrote First Timothy, perhaps two or three years more than that.
  5. Paul is released from prison after Acts 28 and continues his ministry, likely into Spain but perhaps visiting churches he established in the earlier parts of his ministry. Somehow he learns that his fears for the Ephesian churches have come true and some elders / leaders have moved away from Paul’s teaching and practice. The nature of the problems in the Ephesian churches may be a division between “Pauline congregations” and Jewish-Christian congregations.

Timothy was sent to Ephesus to encourage the congregations to “guard the deposit” which had been given to the churches. As Bill Mounce points out, Timothy was not a pastor, or elder, or bishop in these Ephesian churches. He was “an itinerant apostolic ‘delegate.’” (The Pastoral Epistles, lviii; citing Jeremias). Timothy has already been sent to difficult situations as Paul’s personal representative, he was sent to both Thessalonica (Acts 17) and Corinth to continue Paul’s work.

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.

LovejoyTimothy 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 (1985): 141-151.

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Christian Theology

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