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Pastoral letters, overview

Introduction

The Pastoral letters are so called because they were written by the Apostle Paul to encourage two of his closest friends in their efforts to help the newly converted Christians in Asia. The letters were probably written not long after the last of his missionary journeys and when Paul was in Rome awaiting trial by Caesar. Paul realized that he was unable to see the new communities himself; so he relied on Timothy and Titus to care for these new followers of Christ.

The Letters have common ground. In each case Paul encourages both Timothy and Titus in their personal strength. Paul knew only too well the troubles they would face. The ecclesias were operating in a very hostile Roman environment. At the same time, many were prone to be influenced by old, Judaizing (the Law of Moses) customs. Moral standards in the Roman Empire were very low. This three-pronged 'attack' meant that the 'caregivers' needed to be able to withstand pressures themselves and know how to deal with those who had succumbed to the pressures, and to help those who hadn't to resist the tendency to succumb.

The order in which the letters were written, and their approximate years, are: 1 Timothy AD 67, Titus AD 67 and 2 Timothy AD 68.

1 Timothy

The first letter has three main themes. Paul was aware that it would not be long before sound doctrine would be ignored. He urged Timothy to resist the false doctrine that was being deliberately taught in Ephesus. It was evident that some of the believers in Ephesus were teaching doctrinal error, and were also devoting their time to the consideration of myths, genealogies and meaningless talk. Paul regarded the development of faith in love as being far more productive. It seems from 1Ti 1:8-11 that the error being proposed by the false teachers related to the keeping of the Law (of Moses). Paul, yet again (he did it in other letters) pointed out that the Law was made for sinners. On the other hand, while Paul regarded himself as initially a sinner of significant proportions (1Ti 1:13) it was through the grace of God, and through love and faith that he was able to receive strength and be a servant of God. Paul was encouraging Timothy to fight for the faith that he was also given so that he would not follow the path of those who became distracted and mad e a wreck of their faith (1Ti 1:18-20).

The second theme concerned the way in which groups of believers -- the ecclesia -- might worship. Paul gave advice on the way in which men and women might pray and dress, and he also suggested the role of the woman in relation to the man: the man should take the responsibility for guidance just as Christ took the responsibility for his ecclesia -- his "bride". He also discussed the qualifications of elders in the ecclesias.

The third theme concerns the issue of personal traits that Timothy should exhibit. Paul saw that Timothy had a major role to play in the development of the first century Christians and he did what he could to encourage him. In two other instances, Paul referred to the acute attacks that would come upon the believers before too long. Paul advised him to be a good servant "brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed." "Command and teach," Paul advised. He realized this chore would not be easy; he used words such as "fight", "take hold" and "command". Serious issues needed strong words and action.

Two things stand out in the latter part of this letter. Firstly, it was obvious to Paul that Timothy would need to keep Paul's directions "until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Ti 6:14). There was no doubt that Paul expected Jesus to return to the earth. The second thing is that Paul was anticipating a time when "what is falsely called knowledge" would need to be refuted (1Ti 6:20). For the followers of Christ, "looking for his appearing" should be a fundamental occupation, together with refusal to be caught up in contemporary society's paranoia for increasing knowledge, too much of which can be regarded as being false.

*****

These three of Paul's letters naturally belong together in any overall consideration of his writings. They have long borne the designation of "Pastoral Epistles" -- or letters written to pastors. A pastor was a shepherd (as the word itself implies), almost certainly identical in first-century terminology to a bishop or elder. Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, for they were themselves pastors, as was he. And he wrote concerning their duties and qualifications, as well as those of all other ecclesial "shepherds" (of that day and this day).

*****

While these three letters are addressed to individuals, and many of the admonitions are clearly personal, much of the material is nevertheless intended for the flocks over which Timothy and Titus presided. So, in a sense, they are to be understood as ecclesial letters also -- either read directly to the congregations by the recipients, or handed down second-hand in Timothy's and Titus's own words.

The general aim of the three letters is set down by Paul: "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God" (1Ti 3:15). These letters, then, are seen to deal with the care and organization of the flock of God. They tell men how they ought to behave in an assembly which had replaced Herod's Temple as the true dwelling place of Almighty God upon earth. They give instructions as to what kind of people the ecclesial leaders must be, how they must administer ecclesial affairs, and how they should deal with the threats to Christian doctrine and life.

The pastoral letters reveal to us intimate glimpses of the struggles of infant ecclesias, veritable islands in a sea of paganism. These people were only slightly removed from their heathen origins, and it would have been very easy to relapse into the sensual atmosphere of the world around them. In some measure, then, these letters may speak to us in our "missionary" pursuits today -- whether in far-off "missionary" lands, or in the establishment of new lightstands nearer home.
Despite the newness of the Truth revealed to the flocks of Timothy and Titus, they possessed (through Paul's instruction?) a high degree of ecclesial organization. At Ephesus and in Crete there were "bishops" (1Ti 3:1-7; Tit 1:7-16); at Ephesus at least there were also "deacons" (1Ti 3:8-13) and an order of "widows indeed" (1Ti 5:3-16).

There is even the beginnings of a "creed", or "statement of faith", implicit in what appears to be quotations from recognized documents (1Ti 1:17; 2:5,6; 3:16; 2Ti 2:11-13; Tit 2:11-14; 3:4-7). In the Pastorals Paul no longer presents new and challenging ideas -- as he did in Romans and Hebrews, for examples. Instead, his great aim is not to introduce new teaching, but to persuade his followers to stand by the old, to consolidate and maintain what they had received. This is why he so often refers to "sound teaching" (2Ti 1:13; 4:3); "wholesome teaching" (Tit 1:9), "sound faith" (Tit 1:13), and "sound doctrine" (Tit 2:1). [See Lesson, Sayings of faith in Pastorals .]

*****

One more interesting element in the Pastorals is what might be called "domestic codes" -- sections outlining advice on the correct behavior of Christians in different social classes and relationships:

1Ti 2:9-15: Women
1Ti 5:3-16: Widows
1Ti 6:1,2: Slaves
Tit 2:1-3: Elderly people
Tit 2:4,5: Young women
Tit 2:6,7: Young men
Tit 2:9,10: Slaves

These domestic codes are also found in other letters -- especially Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter -- and are a reminder of how much the Truth should affect all our activities, especially including our family life. In the ancient world, religion was often considered as purely a public affair. (Sadly, that is also very much the case with many "churches" around us.) But believers in Christ should be members of a close-knit family, the family of God (1Ti 3:15). Paul's letters constantly emphasize this.

*****

When the literary characteristics of the letters are examined, as the outline of Titus shows, there is an absence of order such as is found in Romans or Ephesians. Instead, some subjects are treated more than once, intermixed with brief doctrinal statements or personal advice. The letters are far removed from literary exercises. They are the natural and human (though of course inspired) expressions of a busy man. They reveal much, therefore, of the man himself as he faced contemporary conditions in the brotherhood.

Other differences are also obvious. A careful and sensitive reading of the Pastorals leaves the impression that the style is not quite like that of the other letters. It is less fiery, less emphatic, but even more exhortational and comforting than Paul's other letters. There are also enormous differences in vocabulary between the Pastorals and the earlier letters (so much so as to lead modernists to postulate some author other than Paul). But it should not be expected that the same author would write in the same manner and use the same words in two letters composed probably fifteen years apart, as were 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy. (If this is doubted, let the reader compare his latest composition to his high-school or college term papers!) It is nothing but reasonable that Paul's attitudes and characteristic expressions would undergo great changes in the course of a generation. The amazing thing is that God spoke, through both Paul the young preacher and Paul the aged apostle -- as He did also through Moses and David and Isaiah and Jesus! And that each revelation, while different, was essentially identical!

*****

Outline

1Ti 1:1-2: Greeting
1Ti 1:3-11: The problem of false teachers
1Ti 1:12-20: Grace, faith and love
1Ti 2:1-15: Directions for private and public worship
1Ti 3:1-16: Duties, responsibilities and qualifications of God's servants in the ecclesia
1Ti 4:1-15: General, personal advice to encourage Timothy
1Ti 5:1-25: More specific personal advice
1Ti 6:1-2: Continued advice
1Ti 6:3-10: A further reminder of troubles -- doctrinal, financial and social -- that will come to God's people
1Ti 6:11-20: Final encouragement

*****

2 Timothy

It is estimated that Paul wrote this letter in AD 68, the last year of his life. He had been released from prison in about AD 63 and had gone back to some of the places he had visited earlier. Towards the end of AD 67 he was arrested again and placed in prison back in Rome. This time, because of the increasing persecution of Christians, he was put into a dungeon and was barely able to write the letter. There can be no doubt that God was at work in insuring that such an important letter was not only written, but was delivered and kept safe for many years until it was placed in the canon of Scripture.

For Paul, the letter was somewhat sad. He had earlier warned Timothy of the troubled times soon to come, and he was now seeing the results. The sadness was evident in 2Ti 1:15-18. Everyone in Asia had deserted him, even Phygellus and Hermogenes. They were obviously two people he had respected and had thought were strong in faith. He was surprised that they had left. Paul had high praise for Onesiphorus because of the way he searched until he found Paul in prison.

Once again, however, even in his own reduced and perilous state, Paul was concerned for the welfare of his associates in Christ. Right until the last minute (almost literally) of his life, Paul was doing his best to help strengthen Timothy, knowing that he would take the main responsibility of continuing with the work of preaching the gospel. (It is suggested that Paul died not long after the letter was written.)

There are some marvelous little insights into Paul and his warmth in this letter. He was obviously touched by Timothy's upset at their previous departure (2Ti 1:4) and wanted to see him again because that would bring him great happiness. Paul had so much affection for Timothy.

We see in the same few verses (2Ti 1:4-7) the importance of family values in the bringing up of children. Paul refers to Timothy's mother and grandmother and their sincere faith. Paul obviously endorsed the principle of a good example in the upbringing of children.

In encouraging Timothy to be "strong in the faith" (2Ti 2:1) Paul draws attention to the fact that earthly bondage is only temporary. While he was chained like a common criminal for the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, "God's word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything ..." Paul had before him the hope that "If we endure, we will also reign with him."

As always, Paul gave a lot of practical advice to Timothy. In 2Ti 2 he:

  1.         drew attention to the disruption of quarreling and idle chatter between Christians; warned against false teaching and "stupid arguments", and reminded Timothy of God's sure foundation;
  2.         advocated the need for each person to be "a workman approved of God";
  3.         provided, again, the alternative of truth and righteousness to wickedness.
In 2Ti 3; 4 Paul again refers to the troubled times that will continue. He ends where he began, expressing sorrow at the way in which his friends deserted him. He shows the true characteristic of Christianity by pleading that they not be punished for this. He finishes with an absolute certainty -- that in the face of trouble "the Lord stood at my side", surely a great comfort to all who follow Jesus.

Outline

2Ti 1:1-2: Greeting
2Ti 1:3-7: A personal tribute to Timothy
2Ti 1: 8-12: The Gospel – a pattern of "sound teaching"
2Ti 1:13-16: Contrasts – those who deserted with him who persevered
2Ti 2:1-7: Personal encouragement to Timothy
2Ti 2:8-13: "Remember Jesus Christ"
2Ti 2:14-21: The approved workman
2Ti 2:22-26: Practical advice
2Ti 3:1-9: A tragic picture of "the last days"
2Ti 3:10-17: "All about my teaching"
2Ti 4:1-6: "Preach the word... keep your head and endure hardship."
2Ti 4:8-16: Personal observations
2Ti 4:19-22: Final greetings

Titus

Summary: This letter was written by Paul from Rome to Titus whom he had left to care for the churches on the island of Crete. The letter provides Titus with instruction and advice for his conduct in dealing with the believers in Crete.

Key verses: "The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ´No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives" (Tit 2:11,12).

Outline

1.
Greetings and introduction: Tit 1:1–4
2.
Titus' task: Tit 1:5 – 3:15

a)
Appointing leaders: Tit 1:5–16

b)
What to teach different groups: Tit 2:1–15

c)
Insist that believers do good: Tit 3:1–15

*****

These last three letters naturally belong together in any overall consideration of Paul's writings. They have long borne the designation of "Pastoral Letters" -- or letters written to pastors. A pastor was a shepherd (as the word itself implies), almost certainly identical in first-century terminology to a bishop or elder. Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, for they were themselves pastors, as he was. And he wrote concerning their duties and qualifications, as well as those of all ecclesial "shepherds" (of that day and this).

While these three Pastoral Letters are addressed to individuals, and many of the admonitions are clearly personal, much of the material is nevertheless intended for the flocks over which Timothy and Titus helped preside. So, in a sense they are to be understood as ecclesial letters also -- either read directly to the congregations by the recipients, or handed down second-hand in Timothy's and Titus' own words.

The general aim of the three letters is set down by Paul: "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the ecclesia of the living God" (1Ti 3:15).

These letters, then, are seen to deal with the care and organization of the flock of God. They tell men how they ought to behave in an assembly which had replaced the Temple in Jerusalem as the true dwelling place of the Almighty upon earth. They give instructions as to what kind of people ecclesial leaders must be, how they must administer ecclesial affairs, and how they should deal with the threats to Christian doctrine and life.

The Pastoral Letters reveal to us intimate glimpses of the struggles of infant ecclesias, veritable islands in a sea of paganism. Many of these believers were only slightly removed from their heathen origins and could easily relapse into the sensual atmosphere of the world around them. In some measure, then, these letters may speak to us in our "missionary" pursuits today -- whether in far-off lands, or in the establishment of new light stands and the strengthening of new converts nearer home.

Despite the newness of the Truth revealed to the flocks of Timothy and Titus, they possessed (through Paul's instruction?) a high degree of ecclesial organization. At Ephesus and in Crete there were "bishops" (1Ti 3:1-7; Tit 1:7-16); at Ephesus at least there were also "deacons" (1Ti 3:8-13) and an order of "widows indeed" (1Ti 5:3-16).

There are even the beginnings of a "creed", or "statement of faith", implicit in what appear to be quotations from recognized documents (1Ti 1:17; 2:5, 6; 3:16; 2Ti 2:11-13; Tit 2:11-14; 3:4-7). In the Pastorals, Paul no longer presents new and challenging ideas -- as he did in Romans and Hebrews, for example. His great aim is not to introduce new teaching, but instead to persuade his followers to stand by the old, to consolidate and maintain what they had received. This is why he so often refers to "sound teaching" (2Ti 1:13; 4:3); "wholesome teaching" (Tit 1:9); "sound faith" (Tit 1:13), and "sound doctrine" (Tit 2:1).

One more interesting element in the Pastorals is what might be called "domestic codes" -- sections outlining advice on the correct behavior of believers in different social classes and relationships:

1Ti 2:9-15: Women
1Ti 5:3-16: Widows
1Ti 6:1,2: Slaves
Tit 2:1-3: Elderly people
Tit 2:4,5: Young women
Tit 2:6,7: Young men
Tit 2:9,10: Slaves

These domestic codes are also found in other letters -- especially Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter -- and are a reminder of how much the Truth should affect all our activities, especially our family life. In the ancient world, religion was often considered as purely a public affair. (Sadly, that is also very much the case with many churches). But believers in Christ should be members of a close-knit family, the family of God (1Ti 3:15). Paul's letters constantly emphasize this.

A reading of the Pastorals leaves the impression that the style is not quite like that of the other letters. It is less fiery, less emphatic, but more exhortational and comforting than Paul's other letters. There are also differences in vocabulary between the Pastorals and the earlier letters (so much so as to lead modernists to postulate some author other than Paul). But it should not be expected that the same author would write in the same manner and use the same words in two letters composed probably fifteen years apart, as were 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy. (If this is doubted, let the reader compare his latest composition to his high-school or college term papers!) It is entirely reasonable that Paul's attitudes and characteristic expressions would undergo great changes in the course of a generation. The amazing thing is that God spoke, through both Paul the younger preacher and Paul the older apostle -- as He did also through Moses and David and Isaiah and Jesus! And that each revelation, while superficially different, was essentially identical!

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