Synopsis of the PE Group at ETS 2017

We had a great meeting for the Pastoral Epistles study group at ETS last week, with strong attendance for four helpful papers.

For our first paper we invited Fred Sanders, one of the leading systematic theologians in evangelicalism today. I had noticed a few years ago that Sanders was doing some work on the Pastorals. I contacted him and found out that he was teaching on the letters for a lay institute. He was making shrewd observations on social media, so I was intrigued to see what insight a careful theologian might bring to our question of how serious engagement of the Pastorals might impact our view of Paul.

Sanders titled his paper, “Grace the Civilizer: Paul Undomesticated in the Pastoral Epistles.” He argued that the sheer oddness of the PE gives important information on Paul and that to ignore the Pastorals would be to domesticate Paul. This is a great point and well put, since the typical charge is that the PE tame down the robust Paul. However, today, people seem to shy away from embracing the claims on the PE.

Sanders described the vocabulary of the PE as “a bold, missionary appropriation of Hellenistic moral vocabulary.”  Focusing particularly on Titus, he highlighted the letters concern for form, beauty and order. He argued that Paul’s point was that the grace civilizes people, not merely in a bourgeois fashion leading to dull lives, but in a missional fashion leading to lives of moral beauty which honor God and attract others to the gospel.

Eckhard Schnabel, with a nod to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, presented 40 theses on “Paul and the Next Generation of Christian Leaders: The Contribution of the Pastoral Epistles to New Testament Ecclesiology.” In bullet point fashion, Schnabel drew key points for ministry which are found in the PE. Quite appropriately in light of the letters in view, Schnabel practically preached certain potions, urging the necessity of personal evangelism, prayer, and endurance. Noting how Paul roots his labors in the saving work of Christ, Schnabel said, referring the work of Christ, “there are some things Christian leaders never stop talking about.”

Greg Couser, from Cedarville University and co-chair of the PE study group, presented “The Judgment of Believers in 2 Timothy: What is Judged and What is the Outcome?” Couser noted that not much work has been done on the numerous references to final judgement in 2 Timothy. Taking the various opinions on the final judgement of believers listed in Schreiner and Caneday (The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance), Couser asked which position seems best to fit the evidence in 2 Timothy. Along the way Couser demonstrated that 2 Timothy has much to say about this important topic even though works on Pauline theology tend to neglect this data. Here is an excerpt where Couser states his basic conclusion:

From what Paul seems to say in 2 Tim, his view of the believer’s judgment fits most easily into the “loss of rewards” category. The warnings are more than just rhetorical devices and they are for believers. There is something to lose, though reprobation is not in view. Nonetheless, Paul also reflects an inner-dynamic of the Christian life that makes it impossible to envision any acts of unfaithfulness by a believer as anything more than lapses from an otherwise progressive movement toward greater delight in Christ and service to him.

Marty Feltham, who is finishing his PhD at Macquarie University in Sydney, concluded the session with his paper, “Carefully Crafted or a Clumsy Imitation? Assessing the Argument of 1 Timothy 2:1-7.” One of the things I have been particularly pleased with in our study group has been the opportunity to hear such good papers from younger scholars who are just finishing or just recently finished their doctoral work. Feltham maintained that tradition with a strong argument for the coherence of the theological argument in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 and the connection of this section with the rest of the letter. Following the argument of his recent article in Tyndale Bulletin, Feltham demonstrated that 2:5-6 was a Christological reworking of the Shema (Deut 6:4-5). Contrary to those who have long said the PE lacked anything more than clumsy theological imitation, Feltham argued that 1 Timothy 2:5-6 was a thoughtful and well-worked piece of theological argumentation “perfectly tailored to the rhetorical and polemical needs of the letter.” I thought this was a fascinating paper and I am excited to learn of one more able scholar working in the Pastoral Epistles.

 

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