Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


22. The Pastoral Letters: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus

Video Introduction


This chapter offers brief overviews of all three Pastoral Letters, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, three distinct scenarios have been proposed regarding the composition of the Pastoral Letters. If they are authentic compositions of Paul, the historical situations they presuppose must either be regarded as instances that are not otherwise mentioned in what the Bible says of Paul’s biography (scenario one) or as instances that fit into a “second career” for Paul after the time when he is traditionally thought to have died (scenario two). If they are pseudepigraphical letters, they would come from a later time period, reflecting concerns of an increasingly institutional church (scenario three).

In general, the Pastoral Letters are concerned with the appointment of church leaders, with more attention to specifying qualifications for offices than responsibilities. The qualifications emphasize moral character as well as doctrinal orthodoxy, and there is a notable concern for choosing leaders who will be socially respectable. These letters are also concerned with stemming the tide of false teaching in the church, and they seek to do so primarily by denouncing and silencing the heretics rather than by engaging those opponents in debate. The Pastoral Letters have also attracted much attention in modern churches due to the negative stance they take toward women in ministry. Second Timothy, finally, presents Paul’s words on the topic of suffering shame for the gospel, indicating how the good news can be proclaimed even in a context of humiliation.

Study Questions

  1. Describe the historical situation that is presumed for each of the three Pastoral Letters and indicate why those situations prove to be somewhat problematic when scholars try to fit them into a biography of Paul based on information available in his undisputed letters and Acts.

  2. What do we know about the individuals to whom the Pastoral Letters are ostensibly addressed? Provide brief biographical sketches of what other books of the New Testament tell us about these two companions of Paul: Timothy and Titus.

  3. Recount three scenarios for the composition of the Pastoral Letters, indicating the significance of each scenario for dating the letters and fitting them into early church history.

  4. What church offices are named in the Pastoral Letters, and what qualifications are indicated as appropriate for these? Cite at least five characteristics or credentials that these letters indicate a person should have in order to be a leader in the church.

  5. What was the office of “widows” in the early church, and what problems seem to have arisen with regard to that office? How does 1 Timothy seek to address those problems?

  6. Summarize what the Pastoral Letters say about a “false teaching” that was rampant in the church and indicate how these letters attempt to deal with that teaching.

  7. What do the Pastoral Letters suggest as appropriate roles for women in the church? How has this advice been understood in modern Christianity?

  8. List four ways in which 2 Timothy suggests the gospel can be proclaimed in contexts of persecution and humiliation.

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