Church Leadership in The Pastoral Epistles

1 Timothy, Titus and 2 Timothy are normally called the “pastorals epistles.”  The standard view 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.  For example, John McArthur entitles Titus 1:5-9 as “the qualifications of a Pastor.”

The usual “situation” of the letters runs a bit like this.  Timothy 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.”

The key, for Fee, is to read seriously what Paul about his reason for writing the letters in  1:5 and 3:15, especially in the light of his final speech to the Elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:17-35.

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.

This means that 1 Timothy and Titus are concerned with appointed good elders and deacons who will defend the faith and behave in an appropriate way.  In Titus, for example, Paul tells Titus to appoint qualified leaders, and in doing so, he is replacing the “unqualified leaders” who are destroying congregations.   That these elders are unqualified is more clear once we look at how they have been teaching and behaving, but it is clear from the qualification list in 1:5-9 that there is a serious ethical and moral problem with some of the elders in these churches.

How then do we make use of these “qualifications” lists?  How are elders and deacons”different” than members of the congregation?  Or, are they different at all?


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.