1st & 2nd Timothy — Lesson 1 Handout

Introduction to Pastoral Epistles


First Timothy, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, belongs to the group of Paul's writings known as the Pastoral Epistles.

The Pastoral Epistles yield valuable insights into the heart of the beloved apostle. They show a different side of him than do his other epistles, revealing his personal relationships with his intimate friends and associates. As the last of his letters to be written, they alone inform us of the later years of his ministry, following his release from his first Roman imprisonment recorded in Acts. They carry his life through to its triumphant conclusion, which he declares in 2 Timothy 4:7: "1 have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."

The Pastoral Epistles are also important because of the wealth of information they contain concerning practical matters of church life and organization. In fact, Paul states that his purpose in writing I Timothy was that Timothy "may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God which is the church of the living God the pillar and support of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15). Public worship, the selection and qualifications of church leaders, the evangelist's personal life and public ministry, how to confront sin in the church, the role of women, the care of widows, and how to handle money are among the matters discussed. Besides the wealth of practical information they contain, the Pastoral Epistles, as will be discussed below, also teach important doctrinal truths about the Scriptures, salvation, and the Savior.

Until the rise of destructive higher criticism in the nineteenth century, the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles was not questioned in the church (except by obvious heretics such as Marcion). In fact, the testimony from the early church that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles is as strong as that for any of his inspired writings, except for Romans and I Corinthians. There are references to them in the writings of several second-century church fathers, including Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome. The Muratorian Canon, a list of canonical books from the late second century, includes them. In the third century, such writers as Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian quote passages from these epistles and attribute them to Paul. Finally, the church historian Eusebius, writing early in the fourth century, includes the Pastoral Epistles with the genuine Pauline Epistles. (For a detailed listing of the historical evidence for the Pastoral Epistles' genuineness, see William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary-Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], 29-33; Homer A. Kent, Jr., The Pastoral Epistles, rev. ed. [Winona Lake, Ind.: BMH, 1982], 24-33.)

In spite of the clear testimony of the epistles themselves (cf. I Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; Titus 1:1) and the evidence from the early church, many modern critical scholars deny that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles. Instead, they propose that a devoted follower of Paul composed them in the second century, possibly using some genuine fragments of Paul's writings. As proof they offer five lines of evidence.

First, they argue that the historical references in the Pastoral Epistles cannot be fit into the chronology of Paul's life given in Acts. That is true, and it is acknowledged by those who defend Pauline authorship. However, for it to be a valid argument against the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles, critics would have to prove that Paul was never released from the imprisonment in Rome recorded at the end of Acts. Since Acts does not record Paul's execution, that is obviously an argument from silence. The view that Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment finds support from the rest of the New Testament and from tradition.

The narrative of Acts makes clear that there was no valid charge brought against Paul. Both the Roman Proconsul Festus (Acts 25:14-21) and Herod Agrippa (Acts 26:32) acknowledged that fact. In light of that "it is a fair assumption that the normal course of Roman justice would have resulted in his release" (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990], 623). In the epistles that he wrote during his first imprisonment, Paul expressed his confident hope that he would be released (Phil. 1:19, 25-26; 2:24; Philem. 22). That is in sharp contrast to his expectation of imminent execution in 2 Timothy 4:6. Further, many in the early church believed that Paul visited Spain (cf. Rom. 15:28). For example, Clement of Rome, writing to the Corinthians about thirty years after the apostle's death, notes that "after preaching both in the east and in the west, [Paul] gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world came to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects" (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians V, vol. 1 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 6). The "extreme limit of the west" was not Rome, the center of the empire, but its western frontier in Spain (cf. Kent, Pastoral Epistles, 45-46). Such a visit would have been impossible had Paul not been released.

Following his release, Paul ministered for a few years before being rearrested (probably in connection with the outbreak of Nero's persecution) and eventually executed. It was during this period of freedom between his two Roman imprisonments that the events n the Pastoral Epistles took place.

Second, critics charge that the heresy mentioned in these letters was the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century. Though there are similarities between the heresy in view in the Pastoral Gnosticism, there are also important differences. Unlike the second-century Gnostics, the false teachers in the Pastoral Epistles were still within the church. And unlike second-century Gnosticism, the heresy they taught contained Jewish elements (I Tim. 1:7; Titus 1:10, 14; 3:9). It is true that in I Timothy 4:1-5 Paul combats asceticism and that the Gnostics were ascetics. Yet the Gnostics did not invent asceticism, and Paul also warns against it in Colossians 2:20-23. The Gnostics denied the resurrection of the body, and Paul mentions that error in 2 Timothy 2:18. However, from the beginning there were those who denied the physical resurrection, and Paul opposes that heresy in I Corinthians 15. In short, there were no features of the heresy in view in the Pastoral Epistles that were not extant in Paul's lifetime.

Another argument advanced against Pauline authorship is that the church organizational structure of the Pastoral Epistles is too well developed for the first-century church. Critics charge that the Pastorals adopt a second-century model of church organization. Timothy and Titus, they maintain, correspond to the second-century bishops, with elders and deacons below them. In contrast, church leadership in the New Testament consisted only of elders and deacons. That, they claim, dates the Pastoral Epistles after the close of the New Testament. Such an argument fails to account for Titus 1:5 and 7, where the terms presbuteros (elder) and episkopos (bishop) refer to the same individuals. It is also not true, as some argue, that Paul had no interest in church organization. Acts 14:23 records that on his first missionary journey he and Barnabas "appointed overseers and deacons" (Phil. 1:1). Arguing "against a second-century date is the writer's concentration on the qualities looked for in elders and deacons. By the second century these would surely have been well known" (D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992], 364).

Some argue that Paul could not have written the Pastoral Epistles because they lack the great themes of his theology. But that argument fails to consider the nature of these letters. They were written to two of Paul's closest associates who were already deeply imbued with his theology. Further, as noted above, these epistles largely deal with the practical matters of church life and organization.

The Pastoral Epistles do contain the essentials of Paul's theology. There is no clearer presentation of the inspiration of Scripture to be found anywhere in the Bible than in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. And Titus 3:5-7 is one of the most lucid and forceful statements of the doctrine of salvation in all of Paul's writings. The Pastoral Epistles teach the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13), His mediatorial work (I Tim. 2:5), and His substitutionary atonement (I Tim. 2:6). Because of that evidence (and much more that could be cited), commentator William Hendricksen aptly remarks, "One stands amazed that this argument is still being repeated" (Pastoral Epistles, 18).

The final and most convincing argument (to those who deny that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles) against Pauline authorship comes from vocabulary. Critics point out that more than one-third of the Greek words in the Pastoral Epistles are not found in Paul's other epistles. Of that third, more than half the words appear nowhere else in the New Testament. Those statistics, they argue, group the Pastoral Epistles together and set them apart from the rest of Paul's writings, which points to an author other than Paul.

Again, such an argument fails to consider the circumstances in which the Pastoral Epistles were written. In contrast to Paul's other writings, which (except Philemon) were addressed to churches, these letters were written to individuals. Further, their subject matter was different. Much of Paul's other inspired writing is devoted to teaching doctrine and correcting error. Obviously, Timothy and Titus did not need that type of instruction. Different circumstances demand a different vocabulary; certainly a preacher today would use a very different vocabulary writing to a close friend than when preaching to his congregation. Summing up this point, Donald Guthrie noted the following reasons for the different vocabulary of the Pastoral Epistles:

Dissimilarity of subject matter undoubtedly accounts for many new words. Themes not previously dealt with unavoidably produce a crop of new expressions.
Variations due to advancing age must be given due weight, since style and vocabulary are often affected this way.
Enlargement of vocabulary due to change of environment may account for an increased use of classical words.
The difference in the recipients as compared with the earlier Epistles addressed to churches would account for certain differences in style in the same way that private and public correspondence inevitably differs. (The Pastoral Epistles, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990], 240)
Critics also note that two-thirds of the words that appear in the Pastoral Epistles but not in the rest of Paul's epistles are found in the writings of the second-century Christians. From that they infer that the Pastoral Epistles, too, date from the second century. However, "most of the words shared by the Pastorals and the second-century writers are also found in other writings prior to A.D. 50. It cannot be argued that Paul would not have known them" (Carson, Moo, and Morris, Introduction, 361).

The dangers of deciding authorship based on vocabulary led nineteenth-century lexicographer Joseph Henry Thayer to warn of the "monumental misjudgments committed by some who have made questions of authorship turn on vocabulary alone" (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [reprint; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970], 689). Homer Kent rightly observes, "The uniform testimony of early history must carry more weight than the variety of vocabulary" (Pastoral Epistles, 67; cf. Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles, 21). (For a thorough discussion of the vocabulary argument, see Guthrie, Introduction; Pastoral Epistles (especially the Appendix); Hendricksen, Pastoral Epistles; and Kent, Pastoral Epistles.)

None of the five arguments advanced by the critics is valid. In addition, there are serious difficulties with the view that a pseudonymous author (a "pious forger") authored the Pastoral Epistles. (For a discussion of the issue of pseudonymity, see Carson, Moo, and Morris, Introduction, 367ff.)

First, despite claims by the critics, the early church did not approve of "pious forgeries." Paul warned of the danger of false letters purporting to come from him (2 Thess. 2:2) and took steps to authenticate his letters (cf. 2 Thess. 3:17). The church father Tertullian wrote of a church leader who was removed from office for forging a document in Paul's name, although he did it out of love for Paul (On Baptism XVII, vol. 3 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 19731, 677).

Nor was forging personal letters a common practice in the early church . Carson, Moo, and Morris caution that "we should not approach the New Testament epistles as though it were common for the early Christians to write letters in a name not their own. As far as our knowledge goes, there is not one such letter emanating from the Christians from anywhere near the New Testament period" (Introduction, 368). The pious forger hypothesis raises a number of troublesome questions: Why would he have forged three letters that cover much of the same ground? Why did he not invent an itinerary for Paul that would fit in with the record of Paul's life given in Acts? And how did he deceive the early church into accepting the historical details of the Pastoral Epistles if they never happened? Into what specific historical situation in the second century do the Pastoral Epistles fit? How likely is it that a devoted follower of Paul would describe his master as "a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor the foremost of all [sinners]" (1 Tim. 1:13, 15)? Would it not have been the height of hypocrisy to include warnings about deceivers (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13; Titus 1:10) when he himself was one?

The evidence is clear. Paul the apostle wrote the Pastoral Epistles, as the church (until recent times) has always maintained.

Date, Place, and Occasion of Writing

Following his release from his first imprisonment, Paul revisited some of the key churches in which he had ministered, including Ephesus. He then went to Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind to deal with some problems in the Ephesian church (I Tim. 1:3). From Macedonia, Paul wrote this letter, giving Timothy further instructions to help him carry out his task. At about this time (A.D. 63-64), he wrote to Titus, who was engaged in ministry on the island of Crete. Rearrested in connection with the outbreak of Nero's persecution, Paul wrote his final letter (2 Timothy) while in prison awaiting execution (ca. A.D. 66).

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)