03 October 2012

The Pastoral Letters (1): Introduction

Archaeological remains in the Basilica in Ephesus ... the pastoral epistles are addressed to Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

3 October 2012


In this tutorial group we have agreed that during our time for Bible study during the first few weeks of this semester we should look at the three Pastoral Letters in the New Testament.

The three pastoral epistles or letters are: the First Letter of Paul to Timothy (I Timothy) the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy (II Timothy), and the Letter of Paul to Titus. They are generally discussed as a group – sometimes along with the Epistle to Philemon – and have been known as the pastoral letters since the 18th or 19th century because they address two individuals, Timothy and Titus, who have pastoral oversight of local churches and discuss in pastoral ways issues of Christian living, doctrine and leadership.

These letters are arranged in the New Testament in order of size, although this does not represent their chronological order.

The letters are addressed to Timothy and Titus who were left behind by Paul to preside in their respective churches during the author’s absence – Timothy in Ephesus (I Timothy 1: 3) and Titus in Crete (Titus 1: 5).

They use similar terms to describe the desirable qualifications of hose they appoint to offices in the Church. Timothy and Titus are warned against the same prevailing corruptions, and in particular against the same misdirection of their cares and studies.

Who were the letters written to?

The cross-shaped baptismal pool in the Basilica in Ephesus … according to later traditions, Saint Paul consecrated Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus in the year 65 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These three letters share similar phrases and expressions and similar greetings to the two recipients.

Saint Timothy (Τιμόθεος, Timótheos, “honouring God” or “honoured by God”) probably died ca 97 AD. The New Testament tells us Timothy travelled with Saint Paul, who was also his mentor.

He is mentioned at the time of Saint Paul’s second visit to Lystra in Anatolia (Acts 16: 1-2), where Timothy is said to be a “disciple.” Paul, impressed by his “own son in the faith,” arranged that he should become his companion. Little is known about his father, apart from the fact that he was Greek, while his mother was a Jewish woman who became a Christian (Acts 16: 1). His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are noted as eminent for their piety and faith (II Timothy 1: 5), which may mean they were Christians too. Timothy had not been circumcised, so Paul ensures this is done so that Timothy is acceptable among the Jews.

Timothy is praised by Paul for his knowledge of the Scriptures, and is said to have been acquainted with the Scriptures since childhood (II Timothy 1: 5; 3: 15).

He was ordained by Saint Paul(I Timothy 4: 14) and accompanied Saint Paul on his journeys through Phrygia, Galatia, Mysia, Troas, Philippi, Veria, and Corinth. He is mentioned on several occasions by Paul as his trusted companion and fellow worker (for examples, see Romans 16: 21, I Corinthians 4: 17).

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews implies that Timothy was jailed at least once, mentioning Timothy’s release at the end of the epistle (Hebrews 13: 23).

Timothy may have had some stomach malady, for Saint Paul advises him to “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (I Timothy 5: 23).

According to later traditions, Saint Paul consecrated Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus in the year 65, and he served there for 15 years. Those traditions say that in the year 97, when Timothy was dying, the 80-year-old Timothy tried to halt a pagan procession of idols, ceremonies and songs in Ephesus. In response, the angry mob beat him, dragged him through the streets, and stoned him to death.

The Church of Saint Titus in Iraklion, the capital of Crete ... Saint Paul placed Titus in charge of organising the church in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Titus (Τίτος, Títos) was a companion of Saint Paul and is mentioned in several of the Pauline epistles. He was with Paul and Barnabas in Antioch and accompanied them to the Council of Jerusalem, although he is not named in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15; 2; Galatians 2: 1-3).

Titus appears to have been a Gentile and Paul refuses to have him circumcised. Initially, he was engaged mainly in ministry among the Gentiles.

At a later period, Paul’s epistles place Titus with Paul and Timothy at Ephesus. From Ephesus he is sent by Paul to Corinth to collect the contributions from the Church there to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem (II Corinthians 8: 6; 12: 18). He joined Paul again in Macedonia, and consoled or cheered him with the tidings he brought from Corinth (II Corinthians 7: 6-15).

After that, Titus is not mentioned again until after Saint Paul’s first imprisonment, when he was organising the church in Crete, where Paul had left him. According to tradition, Paul ordained Titus bishop of Gortys, 45 km south of Iraklion, on the south coast of Crete, and the early Church historian Eusebius says Titus was the first Bishop of Crete.

The last we hear of Titus is in II Timothy 4: 10, when he leaves Saint Paul in Rome in order to travel to Dalmatia, on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea.

His death is not mentioned in the New Testament, but Greek tradition says he died in the year 107, aged about 95. His only relic is his skull, which is kept in the Church of Saint Titus in Iraklion in Crete. It was removed to Venice during the Turkish Ottoman occupation of Crete, and was returned to Iraklion in 1966.

Dating the letters

Remains of the basilica in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Timothy may have been written around AD 66 or 67 and II Timothy a year or so later from Rome, where Paul was a prisoner.

The Epistle to Titus was written after Paul’s visit to Crete (see Titus 1: 5), but this was hardly the same visit as the one in Acts 27: 7, when Paul was on his way to Rome as a prisoner, and where he remained a prisoner for two years. Traditional exegesis supposes that after his release Paul sailed from Rome to western Anatolia, passing through Crete on the way, and that there he left Titus “to set in order the things that were wanting.”

From Crete he would have gone to Ephesus, where he left Timothy, and from Ephesus to Macedonia, where he wrote I Timothy. From there he travelled on to Nicopolis (modern Preveza) in Epirus, from where he wrote to Titus, about AD 66 or 67.

I Timothy:

I Timothy primarily provides guidance for the worship and organisation of the Church. It deals with the issue of women in relationship to authority (I Timothy 2: 9-15) and dignity (I Timothy 3: 11), speaks of bishops (overseers, I Timothy 3: 1-7), deacons (I Timothy 3: 8-10, 12), and elders (I Timothy 5: 17-18).

The letter also opposes false teaching of a speculative and moralistic type.

This epistle or letter consists mainly of counsels to Timothy regarding the forms of worship of the Church (I Timothy 2: 1-15), and the responsibilities resting on its members, including ἐπίσκοποι (epískopoi, bishops or overseers, I Timothy 3: 1-7), πρεσβύτεροι (presbyteroi, presbyters, priest or elders, I Timothy 5: 17-20), and διάκονοι (diákonoi, deacons, I Timothy 3: 8-13).

In I Timothy, the task of preserving the tradition is entrusted to ordained πρεσβύτεροι. Deacons are not mentioned in Titus, but the office of πρεσβύτερος is also mentioned in James 5, and this word, sometimes translated as elder, is also the Greek root for the English word priest.

There are exhortations to faithfulness in maintaining the truth amid surrounding errors (4: 1 ff), presented as a prophecy of erring teachers to come. The letter warns strongly against teachers who lack understanding, wander into vain discussions, and end by making a shipwreck of their faith (I Timothy 1: 3-7, 19-20; 6: 3-10). It also attacks an asceticism that was related to Gnosticism (see I Timothy 4: 3, 7; 6: 20).

The epistle’s “irregular character, abrupt connections and loose transitions” have led critics to discern later interpolations, such as the epistle’s conclusion (I Timothy 6: 20-21), read by some as a reference to Marcion of Sinope, and lines that appear to be marginal glosses that have been copied into the body of the text.

This epistle also includes the well-known but oft-misquoted passages: “For we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it” (I Timothy 6: 7), and: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6: 10).

II Timothy:

II Timothy is the most personal of the pastoral letters, and most of it is addressed directly to Timothy. It is an earnest pastoral letter from a veteran missionary to a younger colleague.

In II Timothy, Paul asks Timothy to come to him and bring Mark. He warns Timothy about the false teachers and urges him to be faithful in carrying out the office to which he has been called. It is a prophecy about difficult times that will come.

In this epistle the author, who identifies himself as the Apostle Paul, entreats Timothy to come to him before winter, and to bring Mark with him (c.f. Philemon 2: 22).

He realises “the time of my departure has come” (II Timothy 4: 6), and he exhorts Timothy, his “beloved child” (II Timothy 1: 2) to all diligence and steadfastness in the face of false teachings, giving him advice about combating them with reference to the teachings of the past. He urges him to be patient under persecution (1: 6-15), and to faithfully discharge of all the duties of his office (4: 1-5), with all the solemnity of one who is about to appear before Christ Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead.


The head of Saint Titus is kept in a side chapel in the Basilica of Saint Titus in Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

This short letter is addressed to Titus in Crete, and is divided into three chapters. It includes advice on the character required of Church leaders (chapter 1), a structure and hierarchy for Christian teaching within the Church (chapter 2), and the kind of godly life and moral action required of Christians in response to God’s grace and gift of the Holy Spirit (chapter 3).

It includes the oft-quoted paradox which the author ascribes to a Cretan prophet: “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, and lazy gluttons” (Titus 1: 12).

Known as the “Epimenides Paradox,” this proposition reveals a problem with self-reference in logic. The original statement is said to have been made by the Cretan philosopher, Epimenides of Knossos (ca 600 BC), who responded to the popular belief in Crete that Zeus was dead by saying: “All Cretans are liars.” The paradox arises when we considers whether it is possible for Epimenides to have spoken the truth.

Titus deals with the character and qualifications of church officials such as elders, declaring that they are to be men of dignity, respectful, honourable, etc.

The remains of the Palace at Knossos ... Saint Paul borrows his paradoxical claim, “Cretans are always liars,” from the Cretan philosopher, Epimenides of Knossos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some questions and problems

During our studies of these three epistles over the next few weeks, we should also pay attention to some of the problems they raise for us today, including the attitudes to the submissiveness of slaves and women, and questions about the Pauline authorship of the letters.

1, Slavery

Paul writes: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour” (I Timothy 6: 1). And he says something similar when he writes: “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity …” (Titus 2: 9-10).

Today, we may be surprised that Paul does not denounce slavery, and this surprise may be expressed if we continue on to the Letter to Philemon, which is sometimes included with the pastoral letters.

How do we interpret Paul’s understanding of the attitude Christian slaves should have towards unbelieving masters?

Why does he seem so nonchalant about slavery?

Has Paul cowered under the pressure of the Greek and Roman culture of the times and accepted the patriarchal attitudes of the day without questioning them?

How do we react to this in a world where 27 million people are living in slavery or the victims of human trafficking? Modern-day slavery is built on greed, fear and a disregard for human life, and human trafficking is a $32 billion multinational industry.

2, Women:

The letters deal with the issue of women in relationship to authority (I Timothy 2: 9-15) and dignity (I Timothy 3: 11). They say how women should dress, what they should do with their hair, and what type of jewellery they should wear.

We shall see how the attitude to women in these letters appear to deviate from Saint Paul’s more egalitarian teaching that in Christ there is neither male nor female. However, Saint Paul also commands that “women should be silent in the churches … For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (I Corinthians 14: 34-35).

3, Pauline authorship

The traditional view accepts Paul as the author. Those who accept this view say they fit within his life and work and they say the linguistic differences complement the differences recipients of the letters. While other Pauline letters are addressed to fledgling congregations, the pastoral epistles are addressed to Paul’s close companions, evangelists he has worked with and has trained. In other words, linguistic differences are to be expected. They would argue that the burden of proof rests with those who dispute the Pauline authorship of these letters.

Among the Apostolic Fathers, it seems I and II Timothy were known and used by Saint Ignatius of Antioch and by Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. Saint Irenaeus makes extensive use of the two epistles to Timothy as the prime force of his work against Gnostics ca 170 AD.

The Muratorian fragment (ca170) ascribes the Pastoral Letters to Paul, while excluding other epistles.

Origen refers to the “fourteen epistles of Paul” without specifically naming Titus or Timothy, and is believed to have written a commentary on at least Titus.

However, on the basis of their language, content, and other factors, many scholars do not accept the Pastoral Epistles as the work of the Apostle Paul, and say instead that they were written after his death. These critics say these letters do not have the same vocabulary and literary style as the unquestionably authentic Pauline letters, they fail to fit the life story of Saint Paul found in the Acts of the Apostles and the other Pauline epistles into a reconstructed biography of Saint Paul, and they identify principles applicable to a later Church rather than the Church of the apostolic generation.

The letters do not share some of Saint Paul’s leading theological concerns, such as the union of the believer with Christ, the power and witness of the Spirit, and freedom from the law. Some of the expressions used in these letters also have a different meaning from the customary Pauline usage – for example, “faith” is used as a synonym for Christian belief and religion rather than a believer’s relationship with Christ.

Similarly, some critics claim the Pastoral Epistles seem to argue against a more developed Gnosticism than that found in Saint Paul’s time; however, more recent scholarship has shown that Gnosticism developed earlier than was previously thought, and this argument, once considered strong, has now faded.


I Timothy 1

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 3 October 2012

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