“Jesus’s Testimony before Pilate in 1 Timothy 6:13” by Michel Gourgues

The latest issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature contains Michel Gourgues’s article, “Jesus’s Testimony before Pilate in 1 Timothy 6:13” (JBL 135:3 [2016]: 639-48)- the abstract can be viewed here. Gourgues notes the fact that outside of the Gospels and Acts, 1 Timothy is the only other place Pilate is mentioned. Arguing from the context and structure of the passage in 1 Timothy 6 and verbal parallels with the account of Jesus’s trial in John, Gourgues argues that 1 Timothy 6:13 draws from John’s gospel (or traditions behind John’s gospel). He sees this as confirming a later date for the composition of 1 Timothy.

I appreciated Gourgues’s attention to the context and structure of 1 Timothy 6. He mentions but dismisses (rightly, I think) those who explain this text as simply pre-formed material inserted into the letter. He notes that the pieces fit together reasonably so that if pre-formed material is used it has been shaped to fit the context.

I think most would agree with his point that the confession of Jesus in 6:13 parallels the confession called for from Timothy in 6:12. I agree and think that the historical appeal to the example of Jesus is meant to bolster Timothy in an analogous situation. Gourgues argues that this confession of Timothy’s was most likely a baptismal confession. This is reasonable, though I’m not sure it can be proven. The idea of this being a baptismal confession is then the basis for looking for traditional material which could provide the basis for the language in 6:13. Gourgues then notes several verbal parallels between 1 Timothy and John’s gospel. These are interesting and potentially significant parallels, but the article ends abruptly stating that these parallels “suggest” 1 Timothy 6:13 alludes to “the Johannine version of Jesus’s appearance before Pilate” (648). This then “suggests” a late date for 1 Timothy.

I find the conclusion of the article disappointing. There is some interesting information here, but he hurries to a conclusion where I thought it needed more reflection and reasoning. I am not convinced that enough evidence was marshalled to make a strong case for literary borrowing from John’s gospel. Furthermore, though he briefly acknowledges the possibility of drawing from traditions pre-dating the writing of John’s gospel, he does not adequately consider that this could undo his thesis.

So, this is an interesting article worth reading, though I am unconvinced of his thesis in the end. Hopefully Gourgues will show us elsewhere some more of his thinking on this data.