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Gendered Letters: The Pastoral Epistles of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus

Reta Halteman Finger began her Bible study blog, Reta’s Reflections, with a study of 1 Corinthians. Since then she has completed studies of the Gospel of John, the book of Jonah, a series on Hermeneutics, a brief series on Philemon, and studies in the book of Revelation. Her seventh series focuses on three short letters, often called the Pastoral Epistles. They are attributed to the Apostle Paul and addressed to two of Paul’s co-workers, Timothy and Titus.

This is an index of posts in that series.

(Posts are in reverse order on this page, with the first of the series at the bottom.)

Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens

Pastorals and the Canon: Closing Thoughts with 2 Timothy 3:10-4:22

Lesson 25: "Christians who stress the inerrancy and inspiration of both testaments of our Bible often refer to 2 Timothy 3:16—'all scripture is inspired by God....’ But there are two problems with such an interpretation. First, when 2 Timothy was written (late first or early second century), the only scriptures the early Christians had were the scrolls of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament.”
Detail from The Buhl Altarpiece

Persistent Themes and a Striking Omission — 2 Timothy 2:1-3:9

Lesson 24: “In spite of the potential shame attached to followers of Jesus’s gospel, as Jouette Bassler’s commentary notes, the author of 2 Timothy never mentions the most embarrassing and shameful event in Jesus’s life—his crucifixion by the Romans, a punishment meted out only on criminals and runaway slaves.”
Oil Painting of St. Paul

The Power of a “Last Will and Testament”: 2 Timothy 1:1-18

Lesson 23: "Second Timothy [is] the final letter attributed to the apostle Paul, and one which appears to unite and authenticate his entire corpus of thirteen epistles. But If you have followed the lessons of 1 Timothy and Titus, the other two of the three letters known as the “pastoral epistles,“ you become aware of a different tone or flavor as this letter begins.”
Minoan Palace Zakros Crete Landscape

Titus 3:1-15—Submission, Salvation, and Ethics

Lesson 22: "We cannot help but notice that all the above names are men. No women are mentioned in any leadership capacity. In contrast, Paul’s letters to Rome, Corinth, Philippi and Colossae all mention women leaders. Paul greets nine women out of 29 names in Romans 16.”

Titus 2:1-15—Household Organization and “Healthy Teaching”

Lesson 21: "The entire chapter concerns five groups of people in the churches of Crete: older men, older women, young women, young men, and slaves of these households. The slaves presumably also represent a range of ages and genders, but they all have the same role: to 'give satisfaction in every respect [to their owners] . . .not to talk back, not to pilfer'(vv. 9-10)."
Crete House Ruins

Titus 1: 5-16—Harsh Words for a Church in Chaos

Lesson 20: “Amid all the polemic, it is hard to miss the brutal insult against all the inhabitants of Crete in 1:12: ‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’ They are acting more like animals than human beings! It is true that Americans today are hearing similar racist attacks on Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, on lazy immigrants from Central America, or on people of color from ‘s---hole countries.’ But do we expect to hear such rhetoric from our Holy Bible?!”
Arch of Titus

Titus 1:1-5 — Salutations and Thanksgivings

Lesson 19: “Paul’s undisputed letters of Corinthians and Galatians portray Titus as a long-time companion of Paul—a brother, partner, and co-worker—and, as a fund-raiser who must carry bags of coins, utterly trustworthy. Although he did not write letters (that were preserved) and did not have Jewish credentials, Titus sounds like an equal to Paul.”
Statue of Paul the Apostle in front of St Peter's Basilica on Piazza San Pietro, in Vatican City

Letter to Titus-What’s Next? 2 Timothy or Titus?

Lesson 18: “Surprise! I am taking the liberty to do a bit of canonical rearranging. We will study the letter to Titus next, and finish [our series on the Pastoral Epistles] with 2 Timothy. Why reverse the familiar order? Because 2 Timothy presents the Apostle Paul at the end of his life, it makes sense to include it last."

1 Timothy 6:3-21—Closing Advice for Church Leaders

Lesson 17: “Here we learn that opponents in the ongoing church fight believe their faith can help them get rich (1 Tim. 6:5,9). . . . The fact that the ‘prosperity gospel’ still thrives today indicates the persistence of such twisted theology. We can agree with our author that ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,’ because we see how it pervades our current capitalist, free-market economy.”
Slave market, Cairo ; on stone by J.C. Bourne from a drawing by O.B. Carter, the figures by H. Warren, image courtesy of the Wellcome Museum, https://wellcomecollection.org/works/jwvub5kk

1 Timothy 6:1-2—The Crushing Yoke of Slavery, Part 2

Lesson 16: "Our last lesson sought to accurately situate 1 Timothy 6:1-2 in its literary and historical context. When we read selected biblical texts like this passage as eternally relevant, they can cause great damage. For centuries, slaveholders in the American South used this text to justify chattel slavery, as if God intended some people to serve as the personal property of their supposed superiors."
Detail from Roman mosaic from Dougga, Tunisia (2nd century AD). Photo by Pascal Radigue. From Wikipedia.

1 Timothy 6:1-2—The Crushing Yoke of Slavery, Part 1

Lesson 15: "With no concept of democracy, the functioning of Roman society could be diagrammed as a pyramid, with the emperor at the top and everyone else below in descending and unequal patron-client relationships, down to the lowliest slave. People retained their social status by doing favors, or benefactions, for their socially inferior clients, who in turn affirmed their patron’s status by publicly showing their devotion to him or her. Clients in turn were patrons to clients beneath them."
Replica of scripture on parchment from Nazareth Village

1 Timothy 5:17-25 — Instructions for Male Elders

Lesson 14: "Verse 5:23 has stumped many readers. especially teetotalers. Why should Timothy take wine instead of only water? There are both health and religious reasons for this. City water usually flowed through lead pipes or was otherwise contaminated, so stomach problems in the ancient world were common."
Photo from Nazareth Village

1 Timothy 5:16 and Acts 9:36-43 — A “Believing Woman” with Widows?

Lesson 13: "As widows, these unattached women needed to make a living. Most likely, Tabitha had a house and enough resources to supply the tools of the trade, so the women could work together as an economic collective. That is why her death was so catastrophic for these widows, and why Peter made the effort to walk all the way to her house and pray for her resuscitation."

1 Timothy 5:3-16 — The Politics of Too Many Widows!

Lesson 12: "The author of 1 Timothy assumes that independent women with some social standing and wealth not only pose a threat to the patriarchal structure of the “household of God” but also are attracted to the heretics, who, by forbidding marriage, encourage female independence."
Ruins of Ephesus

1 Timothy 4:6-16 — Instructions for Timothy, and for Us?

Lesson 11: Timothy has been “nourished” in the faith with sound teaching (v. 6). According to Thomas Long, the Greek word for “nourished” means “to be reared by,” which implies a sense of tradition connecting the faith of those gone before and the generations still to come.
burnt down candles at a wedding

1 Timothy 4:1-5 — Marriage and Food: The Intra-Church Struggle Continues

Lesson 10: “So the false teachers ‘forbid marriage and demand abstinence from [certain] foods’? Is that all the fuss is about? No wild orgies or murderous rampages? Maybe not, but these beliefs have extensive consequences. Theologically, they imply that true Christians will strive for union with a God who is pure spirit. They must leave behind earthy pleasures like sex and ordinary family life, as well as most tasty foods.”
Ruins in Ephesus

1 Timothy 3:1-16 — “Bishops” and “Deacons” in Context

Lesson 9: “Overall, why is the author of this letter so concerned to shape the Ephesian churches in the mold of Roman ideals of dignified, socially respectable, patriarchal household management? Such instructions differ widely from the social-reversal teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and the countercultural theology in Paul’s undisputed letters.”
Pregnant belly and hands

1 Timothy 2:15: Salvation—A Strange Promise for Mother’s Day!

Lesson 8: "For conservative scholars who believe Paul himself wrote the Pastoral Epistles, figuring out what he meant here becomes a pressing issue. If salvation comes through Christ, as other Pauline letters affirm, what can salvation through childbearing mean? "
Carving of a Face in Rock

1 Timothy 2:9-15 — That Troublesome Paragraph on Women

Lesson 7: "The pastor provides what he sees as scriptural authority for women’s submission in 1 Timothy 2:13-14: Adam was formed first and only Eve was deceived by the serpent. That is a traditional Jewish interpretation of the Genesis 2-3 story, but a very limited and male-oriented one. Since both Adam and Eve sinned, is it worse to be deceived or to deliberately sin?"
Statue of Artemis - Photo by Reta Finger

1 Timothy 2:8-15 — Dangerous Arguments or Peaceful Worship?

Lesson 6: “In this context, women’s behavior was a typical concern. The pastor would have assumed that men were natural leaders, and women did not have that capacity for leadership. They were considered more emotional and prone to be taken in by the ‘myths and genealogies’ of the opponents. Thus, observes Jouette Bassler, the pastor has more instructions for women than he has for the men.”
Walking on the main street of ancient Ephesus. Photo by Reta Finger

1 Timothy 2:1-8 — Negotiating Salvation for All

Lesson 5 - In striking contrast to an emperor’s assumed role as mediator between the divine and humans because of his military conquests, Jesus as mediator generously and nonviolently gives up his life as a ransom for all—Jews, Romans, and ‘barbarians’ alike.
Opposition - falling rain and split road graphic

1 Timothy 1:8-20 — How to Describe Opponents

Lesson 4 - “The metaphor of the church as a Roman household will pervade 1 Timothy. Major questions will be: how closely does this description of church organization conform to Roman ideals of household management? Or, is the hierarchical aspect blunted by the stated aim in 1:5 of ‘love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith'?"
Dead Acacia Trees and Dunes in Namibia

1 Timothy 1:1-7 — “Speculations” or a “Divine Economy”?

Lesson 3 - “In a Roman household, inheritance always passed from father to son (not to daughters). So Paul has an inheritance for Timothy: the ‘instruction’ (1 Tim 1:5, 18), also called ‘the sound teaching’ (1:10). In Paul’s absence, Timothy functions as the head of the church(es) in Ephesus.”
Saint Paul Statue in front of the Castel Sant’angelo in Rome

Paul the Person, Paul the Personage

Lesson 2 - "Christian feminists who haven’t already tripped over 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34-36, will probably stop dead in their tracks while reading 1 Timothy 2:9-15, along with various other statements in the Pastoral Epistles limiting women."
First Timothy - Photo by Le Weaver

The Pastoral Epistles — Introduction and Questions of Authorship

Lesson 1 - "... 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."

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