The Marginalization of the Pastoral Epistles

I have found 1 Timothy Reconsidered (edited by K. P. Donfried; Peeters, 2008) to be a very helpful resource in Pastoral Epistles studies. I drew from it quite a bit for our recent ETS session on 1 Timothy. The book contains “the presentations and deliberations of the nineteenth meeting of the Colloquium Oecumenicum Paulinum, a distinguished group of some thirty-five international and ecumenical Pauline scholars, held at the Abbey of Saint Paul in Rome during September, 2006” (drawn from Peeters’ website). You can see the table of contents here. The book contains one essay devoted to each chapter of 1 Timothy as well as a few essays on the letter as a whole.

What I found most interesting at this time was Luke Timothy Johnson’s challenging of the marginalization of 1 Timothy and Donfried’s agreement that 1 Timothy has been marginalized. Johnson has, of course been making this point, but his essay here is a good condensing of the issue. Johnson writes, “If not Pauline, then the letters were not considered authoritative, and were increasingly moved to the edge or even out of the canon of Scripture” (p. 22). Noting how modern interpreters of Paul commonly give no attention to the Pastorals although they do interact with Gnostic writings and apocryphal writings, Johnson quips, “Out of Paul means out of canon, and even out of mind!”(p. 22, n. 11). It was particularly interesting to see Karl Donfried, not a supporter of Pauline authorship, affirm Johnson’s point. Donfried noted that the Pastorals have been “disenfranchised” in much of mainline Protestantism and suggested this process has been “facilitated by much feminist biblical scholarship” (p. 154). Donfried even pointed to Brevard Childs who said attempts to interpret the PE in light of a fictitious setting “rendered mute” the “kerygmatic witness of the text.”[1]

In his concluding essay Donfried wrote, “As one today looks at the literature dealing with the so-called ‘pastoral epistles’ one finds a state of utter disarray” (p. 179). He continues saying “their [the Pastorals’] alleged ideological bias has for many undermined their credibility and their canonical function has virtually ceased” (p. 179-180). This is a significant issue for a broad range of Christians, and I am glad to see it addressed in such a significant setting. The functional removal of a portion of the canon is serious and is an issue evangelicals and Catholics should both be concerned about.

Lastly, Donfried went further suggesting this was part of a larger problem in biblical studies.

too much biblical scholarship is performed in an individualistic and non-collaborative manner, thus leading to a situation where many theses emerge that have not been properly tested, sifted and critically discussed with a wider group of diversely competent scholars. This leads to publications with perspectives that not only sharply contradict each other, often in the name of a historiography that masks tendentious superficiality, and that are published with such rapidity that scholars and students are often more busy keeping up with the “latest” in biblical scholarship than in wrestling with the texts and their respective contexts (p. 180).

 

Donfried goes on to call for more collaboration, centering our efforts on properly understanding the texts rather than simply producing more publications. Accomplishing this will be difficult, but as Donfried suggests the way forward is probably to start on the small scale in developing communities of scholarly collaboration.

This is a valuable volume with stirring challenges and humble suggestions as we move forward with biblical studies and study of the PE specifically.



[1] Brevard Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 383.

Comments

  1. Ched says:

    Thanks for this reflection and for highlighting the exchange between Johnson and Donfried. Do you think the most pressing need is for inter-disciplinary collaboration or inter-sub-disciplinary collaboration?

    So for instance, is it a matter of getting Pauline scholars to dialogue (e.g., those who work with the PE, those who hold them to be pseudonymous, etc), or getting Pauline scholars to dialogue with other NT scholars (e.g., those who focus on the Gospels or Luke-Acts), or getting OT scholars to dialogue with NT scholars, etc. This seems to be a different task than say getting Pauline Biblical Studies scholars to dialogue/collaborate with theologians, philosophers, or historians?

    Or are these categories themselves the problem?! At any rate, I appreciate your work in this area here.

    • Ray Van Neste says:

      Hi Ched,

      Thanks for stopping by. Donfried is specifically calling for collaborative work among NT scholars. He points to the work of the Colloquium Oecumenicum Paulinum, which led to this volume. That being said, collaboration of all the sorts you mention is needed. The interdisciplinary ought to take place in our faculties where we have colleagues from various disciplines. Part of the issue here, I think, is that biblical/theological study needs to be done for the sake of the church and thus in communion with the church, which will include other scholars.

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