The Pastoral Epistles — Introduction and Questions of Authorship

Studies in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus—Bible Study Lesson 1

By Reta Halteman Finger

First Timothy - Photo by Le Weaver

Several years ago, Letha Scanzoni encouraged me to write Bible studies for our website. This will be my seventh series. Usually I choose a biblical book I delight in and which may reflect some of my feminist values. This time may be different. We will look at three letters, all attributed to the Apostle Paul and addressed to individuals, two to Timothy and one to Titus. These two men were Paul’s co-workers in itinerant evangelism, as they are characterized in the book of Acts or in other letters written by Paul (e.g., Acts 17:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 8:23).

However, in these letters, Timothy and Titus are no longer evangelists, but now function as pastors of churches in one geographical area: Timothy in Ephesus and Titus on the island of Crete.  Gone is the Spirit-driven fervor; now we read of church organization and structure. Gone are the fluidity of roles and the many names of women leading house churches. The hierarchical Roman household appears, with women and slaves in their proper places.

Why choose 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus?

Christian feminists need to understand the Pastoral Epistles in their original contexts. However, my impetus for writing about them now is that I recently bought a 2016 commentary on these letters in the Wisdom Commentary series published by the Liturgical Press (Collegeville, MN). According to series editor Barbara E. Reid, OP, “Wisdom Commentary is the first series to offer detailed feminist interpretation of every book of the Bible….This title…reflects both the importance to feminists of the figure of Woman Wisdom in the Scriptures and the distinct wisdom that feminist women and men bring to the interpretive process” (Editor’s Introduction, xxi, xxii-xxiii). How exciting!

But my specific choice of this volume on Timothy and Titus was because a good friend of mine wrote it! Annette Huizenga and I had worked together for many years editing the Christian feminist magazine, Daughters of Sarah. Eventually, both of us returned to graduate school in New Testament. I taught Bible in college and seminary until I (mostly) retired, and Annette is now Associate Professor of New Testament at Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Along with other resources, I will be interacting with Woman Wisdom’s presence in Annette’s commentary. (Forgive me when I refer to her as “Annette” rather than Dr. Huizenga. It reflects friendship rather than a lack of respect!)

Did Paul write these letters?

For anyone familiar with the Apostle Paul’s other letters, such as Romans or Corinthians, Galatians or Philippians, the letters to Timothy and Titus can seem like outliers. They differ so much in tone and content that most Pauline scholars today assume they are pseudonymous. In other words, they were written by someone else who used Paul’s name as a pseudonym. (The word literally means “false name.”) Even if Paul’s writing style changed as he aged, or he used a different secretary, or new problems arose in his later years, it is the accumulation of differences that make the case for a pseudonymous author. This, however, was not an attempt at forgery. Huizenga notes that in Greco-Roman education of (mostly male) students, “it was a customary assignment to compose a text in the name and persona of a well-known figure” (xiv). It also honored the influence of that person.

What happens when we compare the Pastoral Epistles with Paul’s undisputed letters? The six issues in the following outline were presented in a class taught by my mentor and Pauline scholar, Dr. Robert Jewett, at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

  • Language
    • There are 335 words in the Pastorals that are not in other Pauline letters.
    • The syntax (patterns of forming grammatical sentences) is very different.
  • Theological Language and Viewpoint
    • The issue of faith and law is missing (1 Tim. 1:8-11).
    • “Faith” is now a rational belief, rather than a faithful relationship with God (e. g., 1 Tim. 1:2; 3:9, 13; 4:1, 6; 5:8; 6:10.
    • The place of the Holy Spirit is greatly reduced. The varying gifts of the Spirit are absent.
    • “Godliness” is used in the sense of good citizenship (1 Tim. 2:1-2). “Good works” are used in a socially conforming sense (1 Tim. 3:7).
  • Argumentative Style and Methods
  • The Situation in the Church
    • Apocalyptic hope is declining; now the church must accommodate to the world (1 Tim. 2:2; 3:7).
    • There is more concern with internal problems than with mission (1 Tim 4:1-3; 6:3-10).
    • There is an established clergy with offices of elder, bishop, and an order of widows (1 Tim. 3:1-13; 5:3-16).
  • Historical and Chronological Problems
    • Why would a co-worker need such details if Paul was going to return?
    • Why are Prisca and Aquila (2 Tim 4:19) still in Ephesus (Acts 18:18a,19a) when Romans 16:3-5 indicates they are already back in Rome?
    • According to Romans 15:19-21, Paul says his mission work in the East is completed. He plans to go to Spain (15:23-24).
    • In Acts 20:25, Paul says he will never see the elders of Ephesus again.
    • Acts 28:30-31 implies that there is nothing more to relate after Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.
  • Theological Implications
    • The power of the gospel presented in Romans is downplayed by the Pastoral Epistles, which reduce the gospel to traditional doctrines.
    • The Pastoral Epistles reject equality between genders and classes. Now slaves and women should be silent and submissive.

In spite of their possible pseudonymity, these letters are included in our New Testament canon and are part of the larger Pauline corpus. Our task is not to write them off, but to take them on their own terms and try to understand them in their socio-historical context within the Roman Empire of the late first century CE. In our next lesson, we will hear from a few other New Testament scholars and note some differences among the three letters themselves.


Questions for reflection or discussion

  1. What is your experience, if any, with the Pastoral Letters? Have they been studied or discussed in your church?
  2. What do you think are the implications if these letters are or are not written by Paul but by an unknown author writing under his name?

Sources used:

Huizenga, Annette. 1-2 Timothy, Titus. Wisdom Commentary. Barbara E. Reid, OP, General  Editor. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 2016.

Outline adapted from lecture notes in “Romans to Revelation,” a class taught by Robert Jewett at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL, 1992.


Reta Halteman Finger
Reta Halteman Finger is a long-time member of EEWC-CFT and is a past Southeast representative on the EEWC-CFT Council. She holds a Ph.D. in theology and religion from Northwestern University, masters of theological studies from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary and Northern Baptist University, and a master of education from Boston University. Reta retired in 2009 from teaching Bible (mostly New Testament) at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. She lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and since her retirement from Messiah College has been devoting her time to writing and speaking projects, as well as some part-time teaching at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. For fifteen years, Reta edited the Christian feminist magazine, Daughters of Sarah (no longer published), and is a frequent writer and reviewer for Christian Feminism Today. Using the search box on the homepage of our EEWC-Christian Feminism Today website, you’ll be led to many of her online articles.