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.

Pastoral Epistles Consultation at ETS, paper titles

I previously announced the creation of a new consultation of the Pastorals at the Evangelical Theological Society to begin meeting this Fall. As stated before, the overall goal of this consultation is to explore the ways that the exclusion of the Pastoral Epistles has impacted the work of Pauline theology and how the inclusion of the Pastorals would inform the same work.

Now, I am pleased to announce the presenters and paper titles for this inaugural session. Here are the details of the session:

Session Title: “The Place of the Pastoral Epistles in Pauline Theology”

Moderator: Ray Van Neste

Robert Yarbrough: “The Pastoral Epistles in New Testament Theologies from Tübingen to Thielman”

Timothy Swinson: “The Pastoral Epistles and Perspectives, Old and New”

Greg Couser: “Life on Life”: Explorations in Paul’s Understanding of Eschatological Life

Frank Thielman: The Pedagogy of Grace: Soteriology, Ethics, and Mission in Titus 2:11-14

We are pleased to have each of these scholars participating. Bob Yarbrough’s paper will open the discussion by surveying how the Pastorals have been treated or ignored. Tim Swinson’s paper will examine what the Pastorals might contribute to one of the major discussions in Pauline theology, the New Perspective. Greg Couser will examine “life” terminology in 1 Timothy in comparison with the wider Pauline usage seeking to discern how 1 Timothy would contribute to Pauline theology in this area. Frank Thielman will investigate soteriological themes in Titus 2-3 in comparison with those themes elsewhere in Paul.

This promises to be a very beneficial discussion. I hope to see you there.

Progress

We’ve been on Winter Break (Thursday and Friday off, no school), so I’ve been able to do some writing. 

When I started on the project in January, I tried to work my way through Philemon.  I thought I could get that letter finished and then move on to the PE.  I rewrote / restructured / supplemented all the materials on slavery in the NT world, but got really bogged down when I reached the materials dealing with classical rhetoric–NOT my area.

So I’ve set Philemon aside, and now I’m writing the introduction to the PE.  Yesterday, I outlined about 35 pages (double-spaced) of material.  About 40% of that material needs to be written from scratch.  Well, I got TEN PAGES of the “from scratch” part written today.  I’m feeling pretty good about the project right now.

Of course, there are midterms and pregistration and prof reviews and taxes to do and a fuel filter to change and . . .

I’m Back!!

After some time away, I’m working in the Pastorals again.  Here’s a rather disjointed series of thoughts on what I’m doing.

The time away: last spring, I was named the Dean of the Sack School of Bible and Ministry at Kentucky Christian University, the school where I’ve taught for five years.  Administration has left me with almost no time to write, especially since our Youth and Family Ministries professor left without warning in June.

Writing again: my doktorvater, Charles Talbert, has invited me to finish the commentary on the Pastorals and Philemon in the Smyth and Helwys Reading the New Testament series.  This particular volume, which will be published under the title Reading Paul’s Letters to Individuals, has a checkered past.  Several NT scholars have had the contract at one time or another.  I’ll be completing work that Hulit Gloer was not able to finish due to health reasons.

My deadline: 4 July, which is growing nearer every day.

How it’s going: I made the mistake, when I first started writing, of trying to tackle Philemon first.  But I don’t know Philemon as well as I know the PE, so I’ve gotten a bit bogged down.  So I’ve started writing on the PE again.

Little projects that make up the big project:

  • In April, I’ll be presenting a paper at the Stone Campbell Journal conference, at Cincinnati Christian University.  The paper will deal with 1 Timothy 2.
  • The commentary will build on the reading of the PE from my monograph, Leadership Succession, and on the papers that I’ve read at SBL in Philadelphia (a narrative reading of the PE, using Aristotle’s Poetics as my primary lens) and Washington.
  • In the commentary, I will treat the letters in the order Titus – 1 Timothy – 2 Timothy – Philemon.

Commentary and Reference Survey

John Glynn’s 10th edition of his Commentary and Reference Survey (Kregel) has just been released.  This is the most thorough of such books around- though recommendations from Don Carson still carry the most weight with me! 


Glynn’s book is a great resource.  He has added two chapters on software in this edition.


 


His section on the Pastorals is well done.  As before, he has a list of forthcoming commentaries which is always interesting.  In addition to his listing of “Technical, Semitechnical” and “Exposition” types of commentaries he has a list of books dealing with 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and a list of “Special Studies.”  I was gratified to note that Lloyd’s book and mine were included in the list, though neither were marked as best buys. J  I am not sure exactly how he determined which books to list in this section since there seem to be some obvious gaps, Towner’s monograph for example.  Perhaps the idea is that with Towner’s two commentaries there is no need to list his monograph.


 


This is a very useful- and impressive- book.


Fee’s Pauline Christology

I just received the Ryan Center’s copy of Gordon Fee’s Pauline Chrtistology.  I have deeply appreciated Fee’s work on the Spirit in Paul, God’s Empowering Presence, and have therefore eagerly anticipated this new book.  He follows the same basic format as the earlier book though he could not be as comprehensive for obvious reasons.


60 pages are devoted to the Christology of the Pastoral Epistles (with each letter treated individually).  I have not had the chance yet to work through it, but Fee had already described to me his argument that Paul does not call Jesus God in Titus 2:11-14.  It is a significant argument though I have not been able to settle yet on my evaluation of it.


This will be a significant book on many levels.

Towner on the context of Titus

[an aside: I sometimes wonder if, when mentioning a scholar or work on the PE, we shouldn’t immediately tag the author with a short, 3-5 word description of his/her view of authorship]

In his new commentary (NICNT), Philip Towner (authorship: Pauline via a free amanuensis) introduces what is (at least to me) a new argument regarding the context of Titus.  He points to local Cretan mythology regarding Zeus as a deified / ascended Cretan king (thus born on the island, NOT on Olympus), etc., and how Cretan portrayals of Zeus are of a long-haired young man, with all the impulsiveness and lusts of youth.

These myths, Towner argues, provide the backdrop for reading Titus.  And the first interpretive key to the letter is 1.2b, hO APSEDHS QEOS.  From there, Towner reads the letter as polemically engaging the Cretan views of Zeus AND empire and emperor (“appearing,” descriptions of God’s character, etc.)

Has anyone other than Towner read Titus on this basis?  Has anyone critiqued this reading, beyond a brusque and reactionary “the PE are pseudonymous, Towner thinks they’re Pauline”?

PLStepp

Authorship

I have deliberately kept out of the discussion on authorship to date but I’ll add my thoughts here seeing as all our other contributors have commented.  I agree totally that too much in the past has been made of differences in style, ecclesiology, theology, etc. and I am pleased that recent scholarship has questioned the basis on which the old scholarly consensus was formed.  Perry also rightly raises the question of these letters initial reception.  Richard Bauckham addresses this question in “Pseudo-Apostolic Letters”, JBL 107 (1988), 469-94.  He writes: “For any pseudepigraphical letter which has the didactic aims of NT letters must find some such way of bridging the gap between the supposed addressee(s) and the real readers, which the pseudepigraphical letter as a genre seems necesarily to create” (p. 476).   Bauckham argues that material in the PE concerning false teaching fulfils this function (p. 493).  Furthermore, he argues, if the situation “Paul” foresees after his death is the situation of the real readers, then Timothy and Titus are part of this situation.  Consequently, if the PE are pseudepigraphical, then they have to be written, on Bauckham’s analysis, within the lifetime of Timothy and Titus (and with their full collusion).

I reach similar conclusions by an entirely different route.  I have argued that the PE function sociologically as a literary form of a status degradation ceremony.  For this to work sociologically this means that at least Timothy and Titus, if not Paul (as the prime actors), have to be real actors in the ceremony.  This means either they are authentic (all 3 actors are real) or they are written within the lifetime of Timothy and Titus (i.e. within one generation of Paul’s death).

Neither Bauckham’s analysis or mine, of course, proves the inauthenticity of the PE but Bauckham persuasively, both in the above article and in his Word commentary on 2 Peter, argues for the inauthenticity of the latter.  He roots the procedure of 2 Peter in the conventions of Jewish testamentary genre: “The pseudepigraphal device is therefore not a fraudulent means of claiming apostolic authority, but embodies a claim to be a faithful mediator of the apostolic message. Recognizing the canonicity of 2 Peter means recognizing the validity of that claim, and it is not clear that this is so alien to the early church’s criteria of canonicity as is sometimes alleged” Richard J. Bauckham, vol. 50, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Peter, Jude (Dallas: Word, 2002), 161.  Do others here accept the pseudepigraphical nature of 2 Peter?

If there is at least one pseudepigraphical letter in the NT canon we cannot therefore argue on theological/ideological grounds alone for the authenticity of the PE.  I personally find, despite the reservations of my colleagues here, Howard Marshall’s allonymity arguments persuasive.

Thing 1, Thing 2

To quote the great theologian Dr. Seuss:

Thing 1: have we adequately thought through the fact that, even under the current consensus (deceptive pseudonymity a generation or more after Paul’s death), the PE were received by the original audience as genuinely Pauline? 

Whatever the case with authorship–and I don’t buy the standard arguments–when we posit some kind of deceptive pseudonymity, we are a. acting as resistant readers, and b. marginalizing or ignoring the way the letters were heard by the original audience(s).

Thing 2: when the PE mention houses or families (e.g., OIKOS in Titus 1.11, “misleading whole families“, what is the possibility that this is a reference to HOUSE CHURCHES (a home-based congregation within the network of house churches) rather than a nuclear or extended family, whatever constituted such in that day and culture?

Corrections

Amanuensis.  Paratheke.

I really need to stop trying to type while I’m asleep.