Top Five Pastoral Epistle Commentaries

Introduction. 1-2 Timothy & Titus are known collectively as the Pastoral Epistles because they are addressed to individuals rather than churches and seem to address issues of interest to pastors of local churches. As Gordon Fee has commented, if these are letters on how to “do church,” the are not very successful. There is less in these letters on “doing church” that we might expect. They are certainly not “pastoral handbooks,” Paul is addressing real problems among the churches in Ephesus (1 Timothy) and hoping to prevent similar problems on Crete (Titus).

Authorship is main issue introductions to these letters must treat. The traditional view that Paul wrote the letters after his imprisonment in Acts 28 is routinely challenged in the commentaries. Even among contemporary evangelicals there is the suspicion that these letters were written in the name of Paul by a close disciple (an amanuensis who faithfully represents Paul, for example). Most commentaries treat the three Pastoral Letters together despite the differences between the two letters to Timothy. Potentially one could argue for Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy and Titus but reject it for 2 Timothy.

One non-commentary I ought to mention is the collection of essays edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Terry Wilder, Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010). Wilder deals with the problem of authorship in one of the first essays, and I. Howard Marshall contributes an essay on the Pastorals in Recent Study. On the issue of Paul’s statement on women see the essays collected in by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin, Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1995).

I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Letters (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004). Marshall’s contribution is perhaps the most detailed exegetical commentary on the list, as is to be expected from an ICC volume. Marshall replaced Walter Lock’s 1924 commentary in the series. The book caused a stir when it was released since Marshall (beloved by many evangelicals) rejected Pauline authorship of these letters. The introduction to the commentary develops Marshall’s view of authorship. The body of the commentary contains detailed bibliographies for each section followed by an overview of the text. The format of the commentary is a phrase-by-phrase unpacking of the Greek text, including textual, lexical and syntactical issues. He interacts with a broad range of scholarship, with Marshall includes a number of excellent excursuses (on Household Codes, in Titus, for example).

Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006); 1-2 Timothy & Titus (IVPNTC; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1994). Towner’s recent commentary in the New International Commentary series is an excellent exegetical commentary. The body of the commentary proceeds through the text phrase-by-phrase, with Greek treated in the footnotes in detail.  Towner has excellent exegetical notes and also demonstrates a expertise in Greco-Roman literature as well, especially in the virtue / vice lists.  I also mention here his IVP volume, written more than ten years before the larger commentary. This series is designed for busy pastors who need a basic commentary, although an interested layman would find this a very readable commentary. His comments are on the English Bible and all references to Greek are in footnotes.

Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (AB; New Haven: Yale University, 2001). Johnson is one of the more prolific New Testament scholars, and his Anchor Bible volume on the letters to Timothy is one of the best of the series. He spends about fifty pages on the authorship of the Pastorals, fairly describing and assessing the “conventional approach.” He offers five problems which this consensus view rarely discusses, and finally settles on the view that these letters are genuinely Pauline. He knows that authenticity cannot be demonstrated, but he sees these letters are representing Paul’s own thinking even if they are written through a delegate of some kind. As with all the Anchor commentaries, the body of the commentary includes a fresh translation followed by phrase-by-phrase notes, all Greek is transliterated. After the notes, Johnson provides a comment section which deals with the overall themes of the section, usually including the special contribution of the section to a kind of “pastoral epistles theology.” Johnson does not include Titus in this volume. The Anchor Bible series has a separate volume for Titus, Jerome D. Quinn, The Letter to Titus (AB; New Your: Doubleday, 1990). Quinn, who died before finishing this commentary, includes an introduction on all three pastoral letters. (Ben Witherington calls Quinn’s commentary the “only real standout” commentary on Titus.  He may be right, since there are precious few commentaries on Titus alone!)

William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (WBC; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000). While he is better known for his ubiquitous Greek Grammar, Mounce has produced a fine commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. His introduction is very well written and is a good overview of the methodological issues which stand behind the problem of authorship. Mounce settles on a form of amanuensis theory to explain the differences between the Pastorals and the other letters of Paul. He includes an excursus on Pseudepigraphy and Canon which is one of the better overviews of the problem I have read. (The introduction is 136 pages; I wish that the Word series would dispense with Roman numerals for introductions when they run this long!) The body of the commentary follows the pattern of the Word series: Bibliography, followed by a fresh translation with textual notes, form/structure, formal commentary and explanation. The Formal commentary is on the Greek text without transliteration, and like the rest of the series, there are no footnotes, all sources are cited in-text. As might be expected, Mounce’s comments on the syntax of the Greek are detailed, but he does not merely identify forms, he consistently draws out theological conclusions based on his exegesis.

Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies to Hellenized Christians. Volume 1 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2006). Witherington’s socio-rhetorical commentary for the Pastoral Epistles was published by IVP rather than Eerdmans, and under the title this more verbose title. If you do not read the subtitles, you might miss the fact that there three volumes are commentaries. They are roughly the same style as the other socio-rhetorical commentaries, providing notes on the English text with Greek transliterated. As with his other similar commentaries, Witherington attempts to read these letters as examples of Greco-Roman rhetoric categories. An interesting wrinkle in this series is that he starts with Titus, rather than 1 Timothy. Usually commentaries start with Timothy and give Titus too little attention. I do find it odd that he includes the letters of John in this volume, making it impossible for me to put the book in a proper place on my OCD shelf.

Conclusion. There are a few books I left off this list to keep it to five.  Even though I slipped a few extras into mix, there are a number of good commentaries I know I have omitted.  What have you found useful?  What is the “classic” every pastor and teacher ought to read?


Index for the Top Five Commentary Series


Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

Matthew        Mark        Luke        John        Acts
Romans        1 Corinthians         2 Corinthians
Galatians         Ephesians        Philippians        Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians        Pastoral Epistles         Philemon
Hebrews        James         1 Peter         2 Peter & Jude 
Letters of John         Revelation

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries