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Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church

series: Library of Pauline Studies

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"[Aegeson] demonstrates the pivotal role that the Pastoral Epistles have in locating contacts and points of contention in the church of the first three centuries. He works through the materials efficiently, generously, and fairly. The book fills a gap, and it is a model of lucidity."--Arland J. Hultgren, Luther Seminary
Paul's influence on the history of Christian life and theology is as profound as it is pervasive. A brief survey of almost twenty centuries of Christian thought and practice will confirm the enduring importance of Paul for the life of the church in the Roman and Protestant traditions of the West as well as the Orthodox traditions of the East. Even as Christianity, at the dawn of its third millennium, has become increasingly global and traditions have come to develop and intersect in new and complex ways, Paul's place in the story of Christianity remains deeply rooted in the church's theology, worship, and pastoral life. In both past and present, Paul's influence on the Christian church can hardly be overestimated.

Among the many intriguing issues generated by the historical Paul, his New Testament letters, and early church history is the question, what happened to Paul after Paul? Whether we think in terms of the reception of Paul's theology, or the ongoing legacy of Paul, or early Christian reinterpretation of his letters, the questions persist: what did the early church do with Paul's memory? How did it reshape his theology? And what role did his letters come to play in the life of the church?

The focus of the present discussion is in the early decades and centuries of Christianity, a time when the memory and legacy of Paul came to serve varied and often competing interests in the emerging church. It was a time when Paul's reputation and importance to the church were being reinforced and when his epistles were gaining the authority that would ensure their place in the sacred library of Christianity. It was also the time when the Jesus movement forged itself into Christianity, a process in which Paul played a pivotal role and eventually also became an object of revision and transformation himself. What is virtually indisputable in this process is that Paul, during his lifetime and after, played a critical role in making Christianity what it was to become.


"Centering attention on Paul and his legacy, Aageson has put forth a perspective that is both fresh and provocative. The writings of the New Testament and the writings of the major Christian theologians of the second and third centuries are routinely considered separate fields of study and interpretation, but Aageson has joined together what specialties have put asunder. He demonstrates the pivotal role that the Pastoral Epistles have in locating contacts and points of contention in the church of the first three centuries. He works through the materials efficiently, generously, and fairly. The book fills a gap, and it is a model of lucidity."--Arland J. Hultgren, Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary

"Aageson has contributed significantly to the ongoing discussion about the location of the theology of the Pastoral Epistles within the whole spectrum of the developing Pauline tradition. The author's skillful recovery of post-Pauline patterns of use of the apostle's image and authority, in ways that shape the Pauline legacy, provide a model for understanding better how and why letters such as these could have borne the influence they apparently did. Equally, this reconstruction conforms convincingly to the complexity of conflict and development which marked the church in its diverse representation in the first three centuries. And in this glimpse of the development of the Pauline story in early centuries there may be a paradigm for its further appreciation and appropriation in the twenty-first century. Any who study the theology or critical problems surrounding these letters will have to consult this book."--Philip H. Towner, director of translation services, United Bible Societies, Reading, UK

"This insightful book shines new light on the Pastorals with careful comparisons of their thought and theology. Aageson artfully teases out their theological patterns to clarify their message. He is sensitive to the differences among the Pastorals, and he shows how those differences should shape our understandings of each epistle and the growth of the church. Aageson lays out the complexity of the issues that surround the Pastorals and the image of Paul in the early church and then comes to reasoned conclusions that take in those intricacies of historical circumstance and theological nuances and tensions. Beyond the Pastoral Epistles, Aageson dispels the notion that Paul was important in the second and third centuries primarily for heretics, who forced him on the rest of the church. Aageson uses his broad knowledge of the post-apostolic church and his multiplex approach to demonstrate how images of Paul were important for a wide cross-section of the church. He brings to light the multifaceted nature of the church's historical development and so does not allow an imposed paradigm to dictate the outline of his reconstruction of its first three centuries of the church's life. Aageson rewards his readers with insightful analysis of important literature that ranges over 300 years. He demonstrates clearly that his method of seeking patterns of thought has potential in many areas of biblical and post-biblical research."--Jerry L. Sumney, professor of biblical studies, Lexington Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. James W. Aageson

    James W. Aageson

    James W. Aageson is professor of religion and chair of the Division of Arts and Humanities at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He specializes in the study of early Judaism, Paul, and the history of the early church. He has traveled and studied widely...

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"This fine study takes a fresh look at the Pastoral Epistles by bracketing the usual approach that focuses on the question of Pauline authorship of these New Testament texts and their apparent contrasts with the theology of the so-called genuine letters of Paul. . . . [Aegeon's] main interest is in viewing the content of each of the letters as a stage in the development of the legacy of the early church. These letters look back to Paul and, at the same time, anticipate some of the great pastoral issues that would absorb the attention of the apostolic church. Aageson demonstrates this by tracking the Pauline legacy in the writing of the apostolic fathers up to the middle of the third century, including such works as the Acts of Paul, and the Acts of Paul and Thecla. This constructive approach puts new light on the distinctive content of each of the Pastoral Epistles."--The Bible Today

"This is a valuable book for its fresh questions about the theological patterns in the Pastorals and for its comparison of them with the Apostolic Fathers and other early writers."--Themelios

"Aageson is to be applauded for writing a book that attempts to move beyond worn-out debates concerning the authorship of the Pastorals. His lucid study provides insightful readings of numerous sources, and his examination of the Pauline legacy in the first through the third centuries opens a fascinating window into the earliest interpretations of the Pauline writings. Yet there is a tension that runs throughout this volume. As the second half of the monograph clearly demonstrates, all theological articulation is historically contingent. . . . Aageson's focus on the theological patterns in the Pastoral Epistles, however, tends to sidestep discussion of the particular, historical contexts, either in Paul's lifetime or shortly thereafter, that would have given rise to the theological perspectives found in the Pastorals. The observation that Aageson's method does not fully resolve this tension is not so much a critique of this stimulating book as it is an invitation to further study of these complex matters. Future researchers will have Aageson to thank for mapping out an approach to Paul's influence on Christian praxis and theology that brings the apostle into conversation with his earliest interpreters."--Review of Biblical Literature

"Aageson is to be commended for developing a new method, that of theological patterns, to investigate the Pastorals, Paul's legacy, and what happened to Paul after Paul."--Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"This fascinating book provides a different approach to the Pastoral Epistles and fresh insights into their place in the history of the church and early Christian literature. . . . This is a book that I truly enjoyed reading, especially for its fresh approach and numerous insights. Particularly as a Roman Catholic, I hope that Aageson's short, focused reflection on Scripture and tradition receives wide circulation. All things considered, 'kudos' is the word that best sums up my reaction to this gem of a book."--Interpretation

"This careful and methodical monograph on the Pastorals studies their relationship to Paul and his authentic epistles by comparing the differing theological patterns: how they represent God, God's redemptive activity in Christ, godliness, truth, knowledge, faith, exhortation, and instruction. . . . The conclusions reached are broadly in line with the critical consensus, but no-one will read Aageson without having their understanding of this small part of the New Testament enlarged and a sense gained of the emergence of early Christian literature and the history of the canon. At a time when interest in the second century is flourishing it is helpful to have such sane discussions of the 'orthodox' material. . . . A valuable contribution. It should be a priority for libraries and bibliographies wherever the later New Testament books are taken seriously, and it may encourage students and teachers to advance further into the second century."--Theological Book Review

"[A] highly readable study. . . . With commendable lucidity and convincing argumentation, Aageson uncovers the important place inhabited by the Pastoral Epistles in the developing Pauline tradition and provides a model for better understanding the powerful influence these writings have exercised over later developed conceptions of Paul and Pauline theology. It should be read by anyone remotely interested in the reception history of Paul's epistles in the early church or in the development of early Christian doctrine and ecclesiology."--Theological Book Review