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Pastoral Letters, The

Since the second half of the eighteenth century the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus have been known as the Pastoral Letters. The three are closely related in both content and form and offer advice about the exercise of the pastoral office in the care and oversight of congregations.


  • I. Opening (1.1–2)
  • II. Body of instructions (1.3–6.21a):
  • A. The authority of Paul to give instructions to Timothy in the face of false teachers (1.3–20)
  • B. The instructions (2.1–6.21a):
  •   1. On prayer for all (2.1–7)
  •   2. On the inner connection between the prayer of men and women and their conduct (2.8–10)
  •   3. On women who are false teachers (2.9–15)
  •   4. On bishops (3.1–7)
  •   5. On deacons (3.8–13)
  •   6. Interlude: basis of and need for instructions for the household of God in the face of false teachers who deny the goodness of marriage and creation (3.14–4.5)
  •   7. To Timothy to teach Paul's instructions (4.6–5.2)
  •   8. On widows (5.3–16)
  •   9. On elders (5.17–25)
  •   10. To slaves (6.1–2a)
  •   11. To Timothy to teach the foregoing instructions in the face of greedy false teachers (6.2b–21a)
  • III. Closing (6.21b)
  • I. Opening (1.1–2)
  • II. Thanksgiving (1.3–5)
  • III. Body of letter: Paul's example, exhortations, and predictions form his last will and testament for Timothy (1.6–4.18):
  • A. Paul bequeaths to Timothy the deposit of faith for which he suffers (1.6–18)
  • B. Exhortation to Timothy to be prepared to suffer, like Paul, as a teacher (2.1–7)
  • C. Example of Paul who draws strength from the gospel as he suffers (2.8–13)
  • D. Exhortation to Timothy to teach faithfully in the face of the evil conduct of false teachers (2.14–26)
  • E. Prediction that false teachers will abound in the last times (3.1–9)
  • F. Example of Paul's life of teaching amid great persecution (3.10–17)
  • G. Exhortation to Timothy to teach persistently; prediction that people will give little heed to sound teaching (4.1–5)
  • H. Example of Paul, who at death's door trusts in God to save him (4.6–18)
  • IV. Final greetings and closing (4.19–22)
  • I. Opening (1.1–4)
  • II. Body of instructions (1.5–3.11):
  • A. Instruction to Titus to appoint elders and bishops in Crete who will promote sound teaching in the face of those teaching Jewish myths (1.5–16)
  • B. Instructions that accord with sound doctrine (2.1–15):
  •   1. On older men and women (2.1–3)
  •   2. On younger women and men (2.4–8)
  •   3. On slaves (2.9–10)
  •   4. Theological and christological bases of the instructions (2.11–15)
  • C. Additional instructions (3.1–11):
  •   1. Instruction to live a harmonious, generous, and gracious life with all (3.1–7)
  •   2. Instruction to do good deeds and to avoid idle words (3.8–11)
  • III. Closing (3.12–15)


The authorship of these letters, called pastoral because they deal largely with pastoral or practical matters and grouped together because they address the same issues in a uniform style, is contested. While the Pastoral Letters have a noticeable Pauline character, there are five major areas in which they differ from the indisputedly genuine Pauline letters. First, the vocabulary (e.g., “the saying is sure” 1 Tim. 1.15; 3.1; 4.9; 2 Tim. 2.11; Titus 3.8) and style vary greatly from those of the letters to the Romans and Corinthians and are closer to those of the apostolic fathers such as Polycarp. Second, the theological concepts (e.g., “the faith”) and the stress on public respectability differ markedly from emphases in the undisputed Pauline letters. Third, church order—bishops, elders, widows, deacons—does not correspond to that found in the genuine Pauline letters but is more like that in evidence toward the end of the first century CE. Fourth, the author relies much more heavily on traditions, both creedal and hortatory, than the Paul of the authentic letters; unlike Paul in Galatians, for example, he rarely argues theologically with opponents but merely upbraids them. Finally, the Pastoral Letters do not fit into the career of Paul as detailed in Acts and Romans. The chronology of the Pastoral Letters presupposes that Paul was freed from his imprisonment in Rome, changed his plans to go to Spain, journeyed back to the East on another missionary enterprise, was imprisoned a second time, and was then martyred.

Theories that attempt to account for these differences are as follows. First, accepting the Pastoral Letters as fully authentic, it is felt that Paul was indeed freed from his first imprisonment and returned to the East for further missionary work. 1 Timothy and Titus reflect this mission. Arrested again, Paul was imprisoned, tried, and executed in Rome. 2 Timothy issues from the time of this second imprisonment. Paul's need to establish church order in communities and to counteract false teachers accounts for the different vocabulary of the Pastoral Letters. These last letters date to ca. 65 CE, and because they stem from an aged Paul, they lack the theological acumen of a vibrant and young Paul.

Another theory also presupposes further missionary work by Paul in the East, but it accounts for the high incidence of uncharacteristic Pauline elements in the Pastoral Letters by postulating that Paul employed a secretary to whom he gave greater responsibility in creating these letters ca. 65 CE.

A third theory holds that the Pastoral Letters contain so many un‐Pauline words and concepts because they were written by a later author, who, ca. 85 CE, desired to apply the teaching of Paul to new situations in the Pauline missionary territory. This author worked into his letters fragments of genuine Pauline letters, such as 2 Timothy 1.15–18, 4.6–22, and Titus 3.12–14. These authentic fragments account for the personal notes, which a later author presumably would not have invented.

A fourth theory is more radical and maintains that the letters are completely pseudonymous and are in this regard like the contemporary pseudonymous Socratic letters, which are written under Socrates' name and apply his teaching to a later time. In writing three letters, the author was influenced by the trend in evidence in Cicero, Seneca, and Pliny of publishing a collection of letters. Writing ca. 100 CE, the author uses personal notes to add verisimilitude to the letters and to present Paul as an example to be imitated. Thus, for example, the personal note of 2 Timothy 4.13, which depicts the imprisoned Paul asking that the cloak he left behind in Troas be brought to him, adds local color to the letter and also shows how Paul embodies his teaching of contentment with the basic necessities of life (1 Tim. 6.8). The view adopted here is a modification of this fourth position and dates the Pastoral Letters ca. 85 CE.


The goal of the Pastoral Letters is to provide instructions on how the household of God should live in Paul's spirit during the post‐Pauline era, when the expectation of the Lord's imminent coming has receded and teachers are propounding false doctrine in the apostle's name. In this situation the author writes to two of Paul's most trusted collaborators with a message that is actually addressed to an entire church, be it a long‐standing gentile church like that of Ephesus addressed in 1 Timothy or a new Jewish Christian church like that of Crete addressed in Titus. The instructions that are to govern the churches addressed in 1 Timothy and Titus have Paul's apostolic authority behind them (note the imperatives that run throughout the letters, e.g., 1 Tim. 2.1, 8, 12; Titus 2.1, 6; 3.1). By obeying these imperatives, the entire church, but especially its leaders, will inculcate sound teaching in the face of false teachers (1 Tim. 6.1; Titus 2.5). Paul's last will and testament in 2 Timothy requires that the church imitate Paul's example (especially his willingness to suffer for the faith, 1.8; 3.10–11), follow his instructions (4.1–5), hold on faithfully to the deposit of faith (1.13–14), and be guided by his predictions (3.1–10). In doing so, they will be able to combat false teaching (14–19).

It is somewhat difficult to ascertain the exact nature of the false teaching countered in the Pastoral Letters. This is because, unlike Paul, the author rarely argues with the false teachers but is content to hurl stereotyped charges against them, paralleled primarily in popular philosophy. These charges follow a set schema: the false teachers are greedy (1 Tim. 6.5; Titus 1.11), do not practice what they preach (2 Tim. 3.5; Titus 1.16; 3.8–9), are involved in verbal quibbles (1 Tim. 1.4, 6; 4.2; 6.4; 2 Tim. 2.14, 16, 23; Titus 1.10; 3.9), are guilty of many vices (1 Tim. 1.9–10; 2 Tim. 3.2–4), and take advantage of women (2 Tim. 3.6).

Once the stereotypical aspects of the polemic are discounted, the following picture of false teachers emerges. They are Jewish Christians who emphasize the Law (1 Tim. 1.7; Titus 3.9; cf. Titus 1.14), Jewish myths (Titus 1.14; cf. 1 Tim. 1.4; 4.7; 2 Tim. 4.4), and genealogies (1 Tim. 4.3–5). They teach that the resurrection has already occurred (2 Tim. 2.18). Some of the proponents of their doctrine are women (1 Tim. 2.9–15). If this false teaching with its emphasis on speculation and depreciation of the material is to be called gnosticism, then it would be advisable to call it proto‐gnosticism, for it cannot be identified with any later known gnostic system or group.


While the Pastoral Letters were not written by Paul, there is no doubt of their Pauline character. The image of Paul as a prisoner for the faith, known from Philippians and Philemon, is reflected throughout 2 Timothy (1.8, 12; 2.8–13; 3.11–13). The Pauline emphasis on the universality of the gospel (see Rom. 1.5) is prominent (1 Tim. 2.4–7; 3.16; 4.10; 2 Tim. 4.17; Titus 2.11). The Pauline accent of God's fidelity to promise (see Rom. 3.3) finds expression in 2 Tim. 2.13; Titus 1.2. That redemption is through Jesus Christ (see Rom. 3.24–25) is underscored (1 Tim. 2.5–6; 2 Tim. 2.11–12; Titus 2.14). The Pauline hallmark that salvation and justification are by faith alone and not by works (see Rom. 3.28) echoes in 1 Tim. 1.13–16; 2 Tim. 1.9–10; Titus 3.5–7. The creative theologizing of the Paul of Romans may be past, but the results of that creativity live on in traditions and are actualized by the Pastoral Letters for Pauline churches of the generation after Paul.

In combating the doctrines of the false teachers, the author develops a theology of creation. The theology of the Pastoral Letters fears a benevolent God, who wills life, goodness, and salvation for all men and women (Titus 3.4–7). All that this God has created is good: marriage (1 Tim. 2.15; 4.3), food (1 Tim. 4.3), wine (1 Tim. 5.23), possessions (1 Tim. 6.17–19), the round of humdrum daily human chores (Titus 2.1–10). The instructions that form much of 1 Timothy and Titus demonstrate that this God does not desire that chaos exist in God's world; order in human affairs is willed by the divine creator.

As a corollary of his teaching on creation, the author stresses the human side of “Christ Jesus our Savior” (Titus 1.4). He is also the mediator between God and individual men and women; he is the human being who has given himself up as a ransom for all persons (1 Tim. 2.4–6). Christ Jesus, in the face of the opposition of Pontius Pilate in his earthly life, remained steadfastly obedient to God's will and made the good confession (1 Tim. 6.13). In Titus 2.13–14 we find dynamically juxtaposed the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the great god and savior who died to redeem men and women from all iniquity and to gather them into a people.

Some of the ethical teaching in the Pastoral Letters has been evaluated as a middle‐class or bourgeois ethic, which does not challenge the status quo but strives to live by its norms. Thus, for example, the qualities required of a bishop in 1 Timothy 3.1–7 are basically those required of a general by Onosander (died 59 CE). Similarly, the norms of Titus 2.1–10 are largely those of the patriarchal model of the author's society.

The author's world‐affirming ethic and desire to conform to society's standards are also evident in his great concern that the conduct of church leaders should be irreproachable in the eyes of the larger public: bishops (1 Tim. 3.7; Titus 1.6, 7), deacons (1 Tim. 3.10), and widows (1 Tim. 5.7, 10). He takes great pains to ensure that the conduct of slaves (1 Tim. 6.1; Titus 2.10) and of young wives (Titus 2.5) should not bring discredit on the word of God or on the sound teaching.

The church order of the Pastoral Letters is not that of Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 CE) with his insistence of the monarchical bishop with elders and deacons under him. It reflects rather the somewhat loose structure evident in 1 Clement (ca. 95 CE), in which bishops and elders exist side by side. With their offices of bishop (1 Tim. 3.1–7; Titus 1.7–9), elders (1 Tim. 5.17–22; Titus 1.5–6), deacons, both men (1 Tim. 3.8–10, 12–13) and women (1 Tim. 3.11), and widows (1 Tim. 5.3–16), the Pastoral Letters reflect the transition period between Paul, who taught that the church was animated with diverse charismata, and Ignatius, who insisted that one individual be in charge of the churches of a distinct area. In the Pastoral Letters the leaders' task, as demonstrated by the instructions to the two representative leaders, Timothy and Titus, is to guard the deposit of faith (2 Tim. 1.14) and to be apt teachers of sound doctrine, capable of refuting false teachers and revilers (1 Tim. 3.3; 5.17; 2 Tim. 4.1–2; Titus 1.9).

Robert J. Karris, O.F.M.

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