Here begins the writing of the Apostle Paul in what have been termed the Pastoral Epistles, so titled because Paul is writing to Pastors, specifically Timothy and Titus. Philemon is sometimes included in this set of books although it is not clear that Philemon was a pastor. I believe it was included here because it deals with how to shepherd people in a complex situation, which is the primary job of the Pastor.
Recall from our previous studies that we have to understand the historical context of the letter that is written so that we may understand what is being said, and sometimes it makes the Scripture even more relevant to what is going on in our lives as we begin to see what is really being addressed and what is actually being said. We will consider this here, and concerning these Pastoral Epistles, that will involve some controversy as it turns out.
There are several attacks on the authorship of these letters, and it is more practical to deal with them all at once, because they are the same for each letter. There are four primary areas of attack:
- The letters cannot be attached to the known history of the book of Acts.
- Attempts to confuse the relationship between Paul and Timothy.
- Different tone, style, and vocabulary in these letters argue different authorship.
- Specific heresies and ecclesiastical structure too advanced for the time period.
Commentators are divided on the authorship of these letters, because of certain things we simply do not know historically from those days. Some (usually more liberal scholars trying to attack the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture) have taken this as an occasion to insist that Paul did not write these letters (not including Philemon, which includes personal details of events that make this kind of thing impossible). For example, Marcion, who rejected the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament portion of our Bible) and the God of Israel because of the wrathful aspects of His nature, did not include 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus in his canon but did include Philemon.
[I need to pause here, because there is a new effort today to do this very same thing in the so-called Evangelical Church. This charge is being led by Andy Stanley, yes, the son of Charles Stanley, who says we need to “unhinge” the Old Testament from the New Testament in order to teach better Christianity, I suppose. This is nothing other than the second-century heresy of Marcionism in disguise as “new thought.” It isn’t even a good disguise to people that know what it is. In my opinion as a Biblical scholar of sorts, that theology itself is unhinged. Andy has in fact written a new book called “Irresistible,” which is a conservative word in theological circles, to attempt to sell his heresy to the rest of the evangelical world, and to me, if you’re going to start redefining words to sell books, that moves you squarely into the camp of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and “clouds without water.” Paul talks about this in these books in 1 Tim. 6:5, and he says that such are “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth,” and are also individuals that “suppose godliness is a means of gain,” meaning that they are in it for the money. I don’t want to attribute motives to Andy Stanley, but Pastors write books to sell as an income supplement, and he has to know that people know this because people aren’t stupid. Anyway, don’t buy or read the heresy he is putting forward unless you for some reason feel the need to write a godly response to it.]
Marcion’s desire, I suspect, was to avoid the harder questions about why God would order the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children on certain occasions and things like this. I don’t run from or hide from those kinds of questions, and in fact find that they make sense when you consider the metanarrative in Scripture of the two seeds, the seed of the woman (which is Christ) and the seed of the serpent (aka the sons of Belial, the sons of Destruction, etc.). But that is not our topic of study today, we can talk about that another time.
The easiest way to understand this book’s historical context in this case is to consider who Paul was and what he wanted to express and to whom, as well as who Timothy was and what motivated him. This will give us a better idea of what was being said, and set up a good contextual framework for understanding these letters. This is again, no easy task, as commentators are heavily divided on what happened.
There is a school of thought, most eloquently expressed by Dr. William Barclay (the author of a New Testament Commentary series called “Daily Bible Study”), that feels that Paul went to Rome at the end of Acts, and he lived there for two years or so, when he was executed under Nero. These scholars, who form the majority of scholars, by the way, feel that because of this historical presentation, that Paul would not have had time to author these letters, and so one of his close associates would have written them in his name. I know how strange that may sound, but this was more common in the first century than it is today. A disciple would have no issue writing in his teacher’s name and with his authority. However, I am uncertain that this is the accurate chain of events.
These letters make perfect sense if Paul was released from prison for a period of time after his initial 2-year captivity. In fact, that would make these letters actual evidence that Paul was released, because he had time to write them. This view is very eloquently and skillfully expressed by Dr. John MacArthur, who has been the lead Pastor of Grace Community Church for 50 years this year (quite a milestone if you ask me). His proposed timeline is that Paul was released after his first Roman imprisonment, and that there is actual archaeological evidence that Paul finally did travel to Spain and other places on the Iberian peninsula, as well as back to visit Philippi, Colossae, and nearby places, when he was again arrested in a sweep by Roman soldiers under Nero, and his second imprisonment was a little worse than the first. Paul may in fact have referenced this in 2 Tim. 4 when he gives a list of requests of things to bring to Timothy.
I believe I owe it to you to tell you that I personally am more in favour of Dr. MacArthur’s line of reasoning because it has archaeology to support it and better accounts for the timeline we see. There is no way to place these letters into the historical writings of Luke in Acts because they occur after the last verse of Acts. This version of events also makes much more sense from the perspective of the inerrancy of Scripture, but I don’t want to have it said that I am subscribing to wishful thinking. Even Barclay acknowledged that there was some evidence to suggest that Paul was in Spain after his Roman captivity, he just didn’t know what to make of it at the time, because it was new when Barclay was writing his Bible studies.
So who was Paul? His testimony is recorded in full in Acts 9, but there are other details that are important. Paul was born in Tarsus, a Roman city, of a Jewish mother and a Jewish (Benjamite) father, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” as the expression was used. So he was a Jew and a Roman citizen by birth. He became a Pharisee, because he was by all reports including his own, a very religious person, having the opinion that God and His will should be put before anything. He was present (Acts 7) at the murder of Stephen, and it says that he approved of Stephen’s death. His passion was so inflamed by the perceived heresy of this Way of Jesus that he became involved in hunting these heretics down. It seems that his opinion that these people had to be stopped or their heresy would spread and cause a war with Rome that the Jews knew they could not possibly win. He in fact had received what amounts to arrest warrants for followers of Jesus and was on his way to Damascus to execute those warrants when he was, well, interrupted. You can read Acts 9 for yourself to see what happened and how Paul was saved. However, over time, God formed him and eventually called him as His own Apostle (messenger) to the Gentiles, and is likely the reason any of us are sitting here in this study today! Paul was a persecutor who had been involved in the murder of saints – and he faced that everywhere he went as a Christian. He never forgot, and I think it changed him in such a way that he became the humble servant of God that I have come to see him as.
Who was Timothy? Well, we know that he was a believer that had been saved at a young age, and that his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice were both Jews, while his father was a Greek (and that we never learn his name may indicate that his father was not involved, and given the day, likely dead – this may have contributed to his relationship with Paul). Timothy is referred to by Paul as his “true [genuine] child in the faith” (1Ti.1:2). The Father-Son dynamic aside, they did have a remarkably close relationship. Timothy became for Paul a perfect representative to send into harsh situations, saying of him in his letter to the Philippians, “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” (2:20) I know, it gets to sound like a Nine-Inch-Nails song (Timothy was a copy of a copy in a way). I’m glad we’re talking about people and not photocopiers. Some commentators have even put forward the theory that Timothy was in the crowd with his mother and grandmother listening to Paul speak at Lystra when he healed the lame man, and was one of the ones that was converted as a result of that. I really don’t know, and it doesn’t actually say – but imagine it.
The close relationship that resulted between Paul and Timothy took on a role that I am somewhat familiar with, that of a young Pastor with his older Mentor. That dynamic makes both letters to Timothy some of the most intimate and tender writings Paul makes in the New Testament, even though he is sometimes speaking of hard or bad things, because he is speaking to a like-minded individual. Paul is taking the time to explain things that need explanation as he goes because of the relationship of respect.
Another reason people have suggested that opposes Paul’s authorship is that the tone of the letters is very different from all his other letters, even the angry one (Galatians). Again, most of this comes from liberal scholarship that are trying to attack the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures. Think about this – Paul is not addressing a congregation theologically as in Ephesus or Philippi, and is not polemically addressing one as in Galatians or Colossians (yes the addresses themselves were both polemics, though the tone is very different, and that should be a clue that Paul can write in different tones!). He is addressing a like-minded pastor on specific issues and concerns and requires a very different tone, and a very different vocabulary to discuss various congregational issues. I can tell you personally that those kinds of conversations between a pastor and his pastoral mentor are very different than conversations with members of the congregation, and require a different vocabulary and tone entirely. From the letters that no one argues over, there is a variance of tones from Paul. It should therefore come as no surprise that these kinds of letters use a more intimate tone and a more specialized vocabulary.
Yet another reason for liberal theologians to argue that Paul did not write these letters is that the heresies Paul addresses with Timothy and the ecclesiastical structure of the church are too far advanced to be from that era in the first century. To that I would say that every heresy had its start somewhere. All of the ideas of full-blown Gnosticism are described here, but these scholars insist that Gnosticism is a 2nd century heresy. If that is the case, then why does Colossians address it so effectively at its base roots? No one really disputes the authorship of Colossians. And like I said, everything has a start somewhere – and Paul was seeing it and addressing it, perhaps officially for the first time in some cases.
As for ecclesiastical structures of the church, the measure used in my thinking is a little subjective. Paul is instructing Timothy and Titus how to set up the church. These structures did not yet necessarily exist, but Paul knew that they were what the Lord wanted, and was explaining them. The Proto-positions that may have existed at first were likely still present but did not preclude the ones Paul wanted instituted. And things may have moved a little faster than we all think. They certainly did in Thessalonica, as we saw in the last couple of books – because of persecution. Nothing causes development like persecution does. So the argument, while legitimate, can be rendered inert so to speak with a little observation and logical thought.
Like most other things I have encountered, these letters require some informed faith to accept and understand as part of the holy Word of God. I am not asking you to agree with me, but instead, if you do not, then please dig into the subject, do your own work, examine your own motives, and reach your own conclusions. When dealing with the truth of God, flesh and blood cannot reveal it. You must be shown by God, and the only way you can make that happen is to do the honest work before God.
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