Dunn on the Pastoral Epistles in Neither Jew nor Greek

By Chuck Bumgardner

James D. G. Dunn, well-known New Testament scholar and Lightfoot Professor Emeritus of Divinity at Durham University, has discussed the Pastoral Epistles in numerous places in his writings, with the most focused treatment being his commentary on the letters in the New Interpreter’s Bible (ed. L. E. Keck; Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 11:773-800. My purpose here is to summarize his take on the PE in the recently released third volume of his substantial Christianity in the Making project: Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015); he discusses the letters in a focused manner in §39.3(b) (85-91) and §47.2(a) (678-82).

The simple fact that Dunn places his discussion of the PE in the third volume of his project, not the second (Beginning from Jerusalem) is enough to divine his general approach to the letters, as the second volume takes the reader through 70 AD, and the third volume picks up there. Anyone familiar with Dunn’s work will not be surprised to find that his major discussion of the PE in Neither Jew nor Greek is under the heading “Paul as Depicted in Second-Generation NT Documents.” Dunn finds the best explanation of pseudepigraphy in the canonical NT to be that of Meade, who contends that “attribution is primarily a claim to authoritative tradition, not a statement of literary origin” (Pseudonymity and Canon, 102; cf. further Dunn, “Pseudepigraphy,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, 977-84). In this vein, Dunn understands the PE to contemporize and promote the authoritative Pauline tradition for the following generation, and to have been accepted by that generation as “sharing in the authority of the tradition’s originator” and thus “accepted as also authoritative under his name” (85).

As typical in critical scholarship, Dunn grounds his judgment of pseudonymity in certain features of the letters: distinctive language and style, historical circumstances thought to be difficult to square with Acts and other Pauline epistles, a false teaching with no parallel in pre-70 NT literature, increasing institutionalization, and “crystallization of the faith into set forms” (86-88). “It is most probable that we should attribute [the PE] to an unknown (conservative) disciple who thought he was doing what Paul would have approved of and whose further ‘letters of Paul’ were accepted in the same spirit” (89). Dunn suggests that, though pseudonymous, the PE might just possibly have been written to Timothy and Titus, and should be dated in the 80s or 90s.

Dunn finds the most striking and distinctive features of the PE to be “increasing institutionalization” and the “crystallization of faith into set forms,” both of which he discusses as some length. As to institutionalization, Dunn uses 1 Corinthians as a foil, arguing that there Paul does not “appeal to ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ or ‘deacons’ to exercise authority and to bring order to the disorder” (678) (but does Paul actually do this in the PE? Certainly he straightforwardly sets forth the qualifications for these positions, but it is Timothy and Titus as Paul’s delegates who receive the bulk of Paul’s instructions to take care of the problems in the churches.). Dunn finds that Paul “has become Paul the good churchman, significantly different from Paul the innovative apostle” (679).

Similarly, as to “crystallization of faith into set forms,” the PE evidence “a dominant desire to consolidate and secure a more objectified identity” (679). The dynamic “faith” of the authentic Paul (“the living means by which individuals are in communication with God and by which they live”) has become “the faith” which is simply orthodox doctrine (679-80). As well, Dunn finds Jew/Gentile tensions to be fading and formulaic, references to false teaching to be vague and lacking content.

Christology, however, is developing fresh expression in the PE, Dunn observes. It is “the only detail about the faith which is clearly defined” (680). Though monotheism is emphasized in 1 Timothy, “the Pastorals’ Christology would seem to encroach to a substantial degree” upon it (681). Dunn doesn’t see Titus 2:13 as speaking of Christ directly as “God” but as “the glory of our great God and Savior.” Jesus is “the embodiment of God’s glory and decisive expression of his saving power” (681). This developing Christology suggests that “it was the growing reverence for Christ which most clearly marked out the second-generation churches (of the Aegean) as they moved into the second century” (682).

In sum, “this then is the Paul who is presented in the Pastoral Epistles—a Paul for whom the priority was to consolidate the faith, to guard it unflinchingly and to pass it on faithfully. This was Paul as his disciple(s) evidently him remembered—as equipping his churches for what would be a threatened and challenging future” (682).

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