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The three pastoral epistles are books of the canonical New Testament: the First Epistle to Timothy (1 Timothy) the Second Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy), and the Epistle to Titus. They are presented as letters from Paul of Tarsus to Timothy and to Titus. They are generally discussed as a group (sometimes with the addition of the Epistle to Philemon) and are given the title pastoral not because they are uniquely caring or addressing personal needs, but because they are distinctive in being addressed to an individual person rather than a whole church or group of churches.

The epistles

1 Timothy

The epistle (letter) consists mainly of counsels to Timothy regarding the forms of worship and organization of the church, and the responsibilities resting on its several members, including episkopoi (translated as "bishops") and diakonoi ("deacons"); and secondly of exhortation to faithfulness in maintaining the truth amid surrounding errors (iv.iff), presented as a prophecy of erring teachers to come. The epistle's "irregular character, abrupt connections and loose transitions" (EB 1911) have led critics to discern later interpolations, such as the epistle-concluding 6:20–21, read 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.

2 Timothy

In this epistle the author (who, possibly pseudonymously, identifies himself as the Apostle Paul, see below under 'Authorship') entreats Timothy to come to him before winter, and to bring Mark with him (cf. Phil. 2:22). He was anticipating that "the time of his departure was at hand" (4:6), and he exhorts his "son Timothy" to all diligence and steadfastness in the face of false teachings, with advice about combating them with reference to the teachings of the past, and to patience under persecution (1:6-15), and to a faithful discharge of all the duties of his office (4:1-5), with all the solemnity of one who was about to appear before the Judge of the quick and the dead.


This short letter is addressed to Titus, a Christian worker in Crete, and is traditionally 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 line quoted by the author from a Cretan source: "Cretans are always liars, wicked beasts, and lazy gluttons" 1:12


For Pauline Authorship


The traditional view accepts Paul as the author. William Paley wrote in Horae Paulinae (1785),

Both letters were addressed to persons left by the writer to preside in their respective churches during his absence. Both letters are principally occupied in describing the qualifications to be sought for in those whom they should appoint to offices in the church; and the ingredients of this description are in both letters nearly the same. Timothy and Titus are likewise cautioned against the same prevailing corruptions, and in particular against the same misdirection of their cares and studies.

This affinity obtains not only in the subject of the letters, which from the similarity of situation in the persons to whom they were addressed might be expected to be somewhat alike, but extends in a great variety of instances to the phrases and expressions. The writer accosts his two friends with the same salutation, and passes on to the business of his letter by the same transition (comp. 1 Tim. 1:2, 3 with Titus 1:4, 5; 1 Tim.1:4 with Titus 1:13, 14; 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12 with Titus 2:7, 15).

Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897) gives a date for the First Epistle to Timothy of around AD 66 or 67 and says of 2 Timothy, "It was probably written a year or so after the first, and from Rome, where Paul was for a second time a prisoner, and was sent to Timothy by the hands of Tychicus," as the text indicates. Of the Epistle to Titus, Easton's says "Paul's authorship was undisputed in antiquity, as far as known, but is frequently doubted today. It was probably written about the same time as the First Epistle to Timothy, with which it has many affinities."

Adherents of the traditional position date the Epistle to Titus from the circumstance that it was written after Paul's visit to Crete in Titus 1:5. That visit could not be the one referred to in Acts 27:7, when Paul was on his voyage to Rome as a prisoner, and where he continued a prisoner for two years. Thus traditional exegesis supposes that after his release Paul sailed from Rome into Asia, passing Crete by the way, and that there he left Titus "to set in order the things that were wanting." Thence he would have gone to Ephesus, where he left Timothy, and from Ephesus to Macedonia, where he wrote the First Epistle to Timothy, and thence, according to the superscription of this epistle, to Nicopolis in Epirus, from which place he wrote to Titus, about A.D. 66 or 67.

Those who ascribe the books to Paul find their placement fits within his life and work and see the linguistic differences as complementary to differences in the recipients. Other Pauline epistles have fledgling congregations as the audience, the pastoral epistles are directed to Paul's close companions, evangelists whom he has extensively worked with and trained. In this view, linguistic differences are to be expected, if one is to assert Pauline authorship to them. Johnson[1] asserts the impossibility of demonstrating the authenticity of the Pastoral Letters. It is possible to state, however, that the grounds for declaring them inauthentic are so flawed as to seriously diminish the validity of the scholarly "majority opinion".' Stott[2] and Donald Guthrie likewise say that the authorship of Paul is the most likely explanation and the burden of proof now falls to those who would dispute it.


Among the Apostolic Fathers, 'a strong case can be made for Ignatius' use of ... 1 and 2 Timothy'.[3] Similarly for Polycarp.[4] The unidentified author of the Muratorian fragment (c.170) lists the Pastorals as Pauline, while excluding others e.g. to the Laodiceans. Origen[5] refer to the "fourteen epistles of Paul" without specifically naming Titus or Timothy.[6] However it is believed that Origen wrote a commentary on at least the epistle to Titus.[7]

Against Pauline Authorship


On the basis of the language and content of the pastoral epistles, many scholars today claim that they were not written by Paul, and believe that they were written after his death, although the Second Epistle to Timothy is sometimes thought to be more likely than the other two to have been written by Paul. Critics examining the texts fail to find their vocabulary and literary style similar to Paul's unquestionably authentic letters, fail to fit the life situation of Paul in the epistles into Paul's reconstructed biography, and identify principles of the emerged Christian church rather than those of the apostolic generation.

P.N. Harrison's "The Problem of the Pastoral Epistle" was the first attempt to disprove Pauline authorship via counting hapax legomena or other vocabulary measures. However, Harrison did not even address the question of statistical validity, nor did he test his basic methods on any undisputed cases. Later work by Yule, Morton, DeRose, Guthrie, and others has shown his methods unreliable, and even his basic counts to be flawed (for example, he counted a word as unique to the Pastorals even when very close cognates occur in the remainder of the Epistles; a particularly unfortunate error for Greek). Yule also pointed out that the Epistles are far too short for most statistical methods to be reliable. He recommended that a sample of at least 10,000 words was necessary for statistical differences to show, whereas the Pastoral Epistles contain less than 4000.[8]

As an example of qualitative style arguments, in the First Epistle to Timothy the task of preserving the tradition is entrusted to ordained presbyters; the clear sense of presbuteros as an indication of an office, is a sense that to these scholars seems alien to Paul and the apostolic generation. Examples of other offices include the twelve apostles in Acts (an additional apostle was selected to replace Judas Iscariot) and the appointment of seven deacons, thus establishing the office of the diaconate. Presbuteros is sometimes translated as elder; by a longer route it is also the Greek root for the English word priest. (The office of presbyter is also mentioned in James chapter 5.)

A second example would be gender roles depicted in the letters, which proscribe roles for women that appear to deviate from Paul's more egalitarian teaching that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

Similarly, some authors charge that the Pastoral Epistles seem to argue against a more developed Gnosticism than would be compatible with 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.


Ancient criticism of the pastoral epistles includes the Syriac Orthodox church, who for many centuries did not deem the Pastorial Epistles canonical.


It is 'highly probable that 1 and 2 Timothy were known and used by Polycarp, and quite likely that [ Titus was] known and used by 1 Clement'.[9] Irenaeus made extensive use of the two epistles to Timothy as the prime force of his anti-gnostic campaign, ca 170 AD. Proposals by scholars for the date of their composition have ranged from the first century to well into the second.

The later dates are usually based on the contention that the Pastorals are responding to specific second-century developments (Marcionism, gnosticism); the fact that they are absent from Marcion's canon, assembled ca 140, is not an overly significant part of the argument for their date (though it does weigh into the larger body of evidence), for Marcion's exclusionary canon omitted all New Testament books save edited versions of Luke and the Pauline epistles, omitting the Epistle to the Hebrews and these pastoral epistles, according to Tertullian. In addition, much of the theology expressed in the Pastorals would have been disagreeable to Marcion. However, scholars do not agree that the targets of the epistles' criticism can be definitely identified.

According to Raymond E. Brown (An Introduction to the New Testament, 1997), the majority of scholars who accept a post-Pauline date of composition for the Pastorals favour the period 80-100. Scholars supporting a date in this mid range can draw on the description in 2 Timothy 1:5 of Timothy's Christian mother and Grandmother who passed on their faith, as alluding to the original audience being third generation Christians.

More recently, earlier dates have been argued by scholars who have identified targets of the epistles' criticism among those also known to Ignatius and Polycarp, who died in the early second century.

Within the New Testament, these letters are arranged in size order and some scholars doubt this represents chronological order, speculating that 2 Timothy was an earlier book than 1 Timothy.

See also


  1. Johnson, Luke Timothy (2001), 'The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary', Anchor Bible, ISBN 0385484224, p.91
  2. Stott, John R. W. (2001), The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, InterVarsity Press, ISBN 0830812474
  3. Foster, P, Ignatius of Antioch, in Gregory+Tuckett (eds), (2005), The Reception of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers, OUP, p.185
  4. Holmes,MW, in Gregory+Tuckett (eds), (2005), The Reception of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers, OUP, p.226
  5. Origen on the Canon of Scripture
  6. See the writings of Eusebius, Apostolic Constitutions, etc.
  7. Heine, RE, (2000), In Search of Origen's Commentary on Philemon,The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 93, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 117-133
  8. Anthony E. Bird, "The Authorship of the Pastoral Epistles - Quantifying Literary Style," Reformed Theological Review 56.3 [1997] 132.
  9. Marshall, IH and Towner, PH (1999), 'The Pastoral Epistles', The International Critical Commentary, T&C Clark, ISBN=0567086615, p.3

External links

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