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.