Powell on the Pastoral Epistles

By Chuck Bumgardner

Mark Allan Powell is the Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary (Columbus, OH), having taught New Testament at TLS since 1987. A prolific author, Powell has crafted his Introduction to the New Testament (Baker, 2009) (INT) as a college textbook. This work is atypical in that it “urges engagement of ideas but does not attempt to resolve disputes,” with its goal being “engagement, not indoctrination” (11), and so Powell tries not to tip his hand as to his own position on various issues. Also of note, his INT also includes over 75 pieces of Christian artwork scattered throughout the book. Powell, to my knowledge, has not published anything specifically on the Pastoral Epistles; his published works major more on the Gospels and Acts. Strikingly, a book that he edited with David R. Bauer, Who Do You Say that I Am? Essays on Christology (WJK 1999), walks through the New Testament via various essays (including the Christology of . . . Matthew, Mark, Luke-Acts, Johannine Writings, Pauline Epistles, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, Jude/2 Peter, Revelation) but does not include the christological contribution of the Pastoral Epistles in the chapter by M. L. Soards on “Christology of the Pauline Epistles”—and only in passing in two other places in the volume.

In INT, after a brief introduction to the PE which (in keeping with his overarching methodology) leaves the question of authorship open, Powell provides a very brief overview of each of the three epistles. Addressing historical background, he presents standard possibilities of the PE being (1) authentically written (1a) during or (1b) just after the events of Acts, (2) pseudonymously written in their entirety shortly after Paul’s death, (3) pseudonymous expansions of embedded authentic Pauline notes, or (4) an authentic 2 Timothy providing the template for pseudonymous 1 Timothy and Titus. Several sidebars liven up the chapter: biographical sketches of Timothy and Titus, a chart of proposed historical situations for the PE, a brief list of reasons scholars reject the authenticity of the PE, the office of widows (Powell doesn’t mention the possibility that the widows of 1 Tim 5 don’t actually occupy a formal church office), concern for social respectability in the PE, the meaning of “the husband of one wife”

The major themes Powell finds in the letters include church government, false teaching and sound doctrine, women and ministry, and suffering and shame. In the end, he understands the PE to have been written to engage two threats to the church, external persecution and internal heresy. Powell finds the purpose of the letters to be the preservation of the Pauline tradition and appropriate conduct in the church. His own view seems to be that the PE come “from a difficult but necessary stage in the development of the Christian religion: the church is becoming more institutionalized and more authoritarian in an effort to forestall revision of the faith for which Paul was willing to suffer and die” (413). A brief “further reading” list concludes the chapter.

Material supplemental to the chapter is found online at the companion website www.introducingNT.com (freely available to the public). This material on the main PE page refers to Powell in the third person and doesn’t seem to have been written by him. The site provides discussion prompts, pedagogical suggestions (the notion of widows as occupying a specific church office is brought into question), and PDFs of the sidebars included in the chapter. In addition are other PDFs of sidebar-like discussions that were not included in the chapter: authorship (with arguments for and against pseudepigraphy and a helpful bibliography of works categorized by view on authorship), church leaders in the NT (including both “deacons” and “widows” as “church leaders”), the nature of the false teaching (doesn’t distinguish between that in the epistles to Timothy and that in the epistle to Titus), polemic in the PE (doesn’t seem to treat polemic in the PE as merely stock), genre of the PE, distinctive vocabulary in the PE, the PE in the Revised Common Lectionary, women and ministry in the PE (the PE teach that “there is an office in the church for aged widows”; “some women may also serve as deacons”; “women should not be permitted to teach or to have authority over men . . . they are . . . more easily deceived than men”) with brief bibliography; and an expanded English-language bibliography with 78 entries in nine categories: overview (including less technical commentaries), critical commentaries, authorship, linguistic distinctiveness, parenetic character, church government, women and ministry, household codes, other studies. Although INT was published in 2009, the online bibliography has works as late as 2010. The bibliography is a bit uneven, but excellent overall.

Powell has chosen to include representations of three pieces of artwork as part of the chapter on the PE. First is “Window of St. Timothy with the martyr’s palm, removed from Neuwiller Abbey, studio of Lorin de Chartres (12th c.),” although Powell opines that Timothy is holding a “rod or bat”, not a martyr’s palm (a cudgel was traditionally the instrument of Timothy’s death); unfortunately, the image available to Powell presents the title in the window (S.TIMOTHEUS.MARTYR) backwards. Second is a 17th-c. Melkite icon, “The Council of Nicaea I,” depicting church leaders flanking Constantine; the use of this painting reflects a later understanding of a “bishop” than a Pauline reading of the PE permits. Third is German realist Wilhelm Leibl’s best-known work, “Three Women in Church” (1882); Powell connects the quiet demeanor of these women with that enjoined in the PE. I was slightly disappointed that Rembrandt’s “Timothy and His Grandmother” wasn’t chosen for inclusion, but then, I’m particularly partial to Rembrandt.

Speak Your Mind

*