The three letters of the NT placed after 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Since 1726, when Paul Anton called the two NT letters to Timothy and that to Titus ‘Pastoral Epistles’, the name has stuck. It is appropriate on account of the concern they exhibit for a certain number of pastoral situations in the Church. There is a threat of persecution (2 Tim. 4: 6–8) and of apostasy by Christians (2 Tim. 4: 10), yet Christians are urged to be law-abiding citizens (Titus 3: 1). There is no call for revolution. Within the Church the author is worried by heretical tendencies of a Gnostic character, which obliged him to insist on the goodness of God’s creation (1 Tim. 4: 4) and the genuine humanity of Christ (1 Tim. 3: 16).
The three epistles’ claim to be written by Paul has been much disputed in NT scholarship for about 200 years, but the traditional view, mentioned by Irenaeus at the end of the 2nd cent., still has a few supporters. Maintaining Pauline authorship has to contend not only with the epistles’ refutation of Gnosticism—which marks them as later than Paul’s generation—but also with the difficulty that the organization of the ministry reflects an era later than Paul’s. It is surely surprising that elementary teaching about piety (cf. Heb. 6: 1) should be thought necessary for such close colleagues of Paul as Timothy and Titus. Style and vocabulary are also said to be uncharacteristic of Paul, though some differences could be explained either by Paul’s use of a secretary or by the sheer versatility of the man.
The balance of evidence is that the Pastorals are pseudonymous, though fragments of Paul’s own letters may have been incorporated (e.g. 2 Tim. 4: 9–18). A suggested date for the composition of the epistles would place them about 130 CE, since they are probably known to Polycarp (in about 135 CE), but a date near the end of the 1st cent. is also possible in that the kind of Church order in the epistles reflects that of 1 Clement (95 CE). A tentative suggestion for their place of composition would be Ephesus, where Timothy is said to reside (1 Tim. 1: 3).
The epistles could be fairly described as a manual for the management of the household of God. But ethical teaching is given not only to regulate the internal life of the Church, but is also directed to maintaining good relations with the whole local community. It reflects the structures and authority of an ordered society and the ethics of the surrounding Graeco-Roman world; women are regarded as subordinate (Titus 2: 5)—but on the basis of ‘the word of God’! See also timothy, letters to, and titus.