Wansbrough on the Pastoral Epistles

By Chuck Bumgardner

wansbrough intro ntHenry Wansbrough, a Roman Catholic biblical scholar, is notable for his work as the general editor of the New Jerusalem Bible (1985). Having published over twenty books throughout his scholarly career, he has now produced Introducing the New Testament (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). In roughly 400 pages, Wansbrough covers the NT in five sections: Preliminaries, Gospels and Acts, Paul’s Life and Letters, Catholic/Universal Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. Wansbrough’s scholarly acumen clearly underlies his work, but the volume seems to be aimed toward a lay or college level; there are frequent sidebars, but no footnotes/endnotes. My purpose here is to summarize Wansbrough’s work on the PE in this recent volume.

Wansbrough’s discussion of the three PE under “Paul’s Life and Letters” spans a mere eight pages, and is organized into three sections: authorship, situation, and order in the community. His discussion of authorship does not explicitly stake out his position, but he seems to agree with the scholarly majority which doubts Pauline authorship, though 2 Timothy may perhaps “stem from Paul” (303). If authentic, the PE could only fit Paul’s ministry after Acts, and must reflect Paul as a “broken,” “fearful” “old man,” “unable any longer to think through his magnificent old doctrinal formations” (304). Wansbrough connects the testamentary character of 2 Timothy with “the genre of farewell speech of a great leader” and such examples as The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and provides a brief comparison of 2 Timothy with Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Regarding challenges to authenticity, Wansbrough highlights the “elementary advice” which Paul provides to Timothy and Titus, and the non-mention of “so many distinctive Pauline interests” (305).

The situation of the PE is characterized by false teaching, which Wansbrough uses all three letters to describe (not distinguishing between that in Ephesus and that in Crete). The “myths and genealogies” might involve pagan myths, Jewish haggadoth, or proto-Gnostic demiurges. In the end, little can be known about the false teaching. On the other hand, various hints point to what the writer considers “sound doctrine”; this usually involves “salvation and the way to salvation” (306), and is often contained in trustworthy sayings. The letters must be read against the background of mystery religions and/or the imperial cult, where the Emperor was “Savior” and “Lord,” and language of “epiphany” was used.

As to order in the community, Wansbrough finds the PE to enjoin conventional Hellenistic morality, “the virtues of public and private life stressed by Greek and Roman contemporary writers on morals, centered on moderation and restraint, piety and godliness” (308). In 1 Timothy 2, “institutional morality is re-affirmed, in that a woman should not have authority over a man,” which must be understood “against the background of the position of women in the societies of the time” (308); in a related sidebar, Wansbrough does not make the typical appeal to Gal 3:28 against 1 Timothy 2:9-15, but instead highlights 1 Cor 11:11-12 in this role. There is an “incipient institutionalization” in the PE, and Wansbrough discusses in turn overseers, widows (who are enrolled for alms; nothing is specified about an office), elders (Wansbrough distinguishes episkopoi from presbyteroi), and deacons (“no argument for or against the ordination of women to the diaconate in the early Church can be based” on 1 Tim 3:11) (310).

In sum, Wansbrough has set forth a fairly standard critical take on the PE. His “further reading” list, oddly, gives only a single volume: Frances Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters.

Pauline Communities as ‘Scholastic Communities’: A Study of the Vocabulary of ‘Teaching’ in 1 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus

scholastic communitiesSteve Walton has written a helpful review of Claire Smith’s monograph, Pauline Communities as ‘Scholastic Communities’: A Study of the Vocabulary of ‘Teaching’ in 1 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, WUNT 2/335 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012). The monograph is a revision of her PhD thesis which was supervised by Peter Bolt.

It sounds like this book will be useful for PE studies. Her choice of the Pastorals along with 1 Corinthians is quite intriguing as is her defense. Apparently she does not take a position on the authorship issue but in the end suggests the similarities between the PE and 1 Corinthians which she finds should at least cause pause for those assuming non-Pauline authorship.

Additionally, with the significance of teaching in the PE, the amount of data gathered here (the book is 555 pages!) promises to be helpful for PE research.

Smith affirms the earlier evaluation of E. Judge that the earliest Christian communities were marked particularly by learning. In the end, while affirming the idea of Judge she says his phrase “scholastic communities” does not communicate as well (missing the relational aspects of teaching found in these letters, for example) and suggests a better phrase would be “learning communities.” Interestingly, this is the very phrase used by J I Packer, in a popular piece, which I mentioned previously.

The Church as Learning Community

In J. I. Packer’s recent book, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging, he turns to the Pastorals frequently. In the following quote he gives a helpful, practical picture of the church in the PE

The Pastoral Letters in the New Testament all indicate, one way or another, that the church must expect to be constantly infected by misbelief as well as misbehavior. And congregations in every age must see themselves as learning communities in which gospel truth has to be taught, defended, and vindicated against corruptions of it and alternatives to it. Being alert to all aspects of the difference between true and false teaching, and of behavior that expresses the truth as distinct from obscuring it, is vital to the church’s health.

This definition is useful to all of us regardless of age (as his book is also useful in many ways, regardless of age).

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.

ETS Study Group

I am pleased to announce that the Program Unit on the Pastoral Epistles at the Evangelical Theological Society has been renewed and upgraded to a Study Group. This means we are renewed for six more years of investiagting the Pastoral Epistles together.

With this site operational again, one use of the site will be as a clearing house for information on the ETS Study Group. Further information about this year’s meeting is forthcoming. I invite you to plan on joining us if you are at ETS. Here is the time and place for this year’s session:

08:30 AM-11:40 AM
Hilton — Johnson A
Pastoral Epistles: Authorship of the Pastoral Epistles

If you are interested in participating in our dialogue and/or presenting a paper for the study group in the future drop me a line through this site.

Calvin: 2 Timothy the most Profitable Book of Scripture

John_CalvinI am working through Calvin’s sermons on the Pastoral Epistles in preparation for the Reformation Commentary on Scripture volume on the PE and editing a new edition of the English translation of these sermons. Today I came across this strong statement in Calvin’s first sermon on 2 Timothy.

As no doubt, if a man reads this epistle diligently he shall find the spirit of God shown to him in this way, and in such majesty and virtue, that whether he wants to or not, he will be as it were ravished with it. As for me, I know I have profited and do daily profit more by this epistle than by any book of the scripture, and if every man will look into it diligently, I doubt not but that he will find the same.

And if we desire to have witness of God’s truth pierce through our hearts, we may well keep ourselves here.  For a man must be very heavy on sleep, and more than a block if God does not work in him when he hears the doctrine that is drawn out from here.

Luther seems almost to say that whatever book of the Bible he is working on is the most important. Calvin though is typically more careful and deliberate with such praise, so this is quite striking.

Update on Pastorals Section at ETS

The draft of the schedule for the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society has now been posted. I have previously announced the presenters and titles for the new section on the Pastoral Epistles, but now I can post the date, times and location. I am excited about this beginning of our conversation about how the avoidance of the Pastorals has impacted our view of Paul.

I hope to see you there.

Thursday, November 17, 2011




The Place of the Pastoral Epistles in Pauline Theology

Moderator: Ray Van Neste

(Union University)


Robert W. Yarbrough

(Covenant Theological Seminary)

The Theology of the Pastorals in NT Theologies


L. Timothy Swinson

(Liberty University)

The Pastoral Epistles and Perspectives Old and New


Greg A. Couser

(Cedarville University)

‘Life on Life‘: Explorations in Paul‘s Understanding of Eschatological Life


Frank Thielman

(Beeson Divinity School)

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

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.

Recent Commentary Reviews

The latest issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (53:2, June 2010) contains two reviews of commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles. My positive review of George Montague’s commentary (initial volume of the new Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) appears in this issue. I have mentioned this book positively on this blog before.

Bob Yarbrough provides a very helpful and thorough review of Samuel Ngewa’s 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, the inaugural volume of the Africa Bible Commentary Series. Yarbrough notes strengths of the commentary in pastoral reflection but points out significant weaknesses in the actual exegetical work. Yarbrough stated that the book has “more of a Christian education feel and less the heft of a work of NT exegesis and scholarship proper” (418).

Review of Biblical Literature also contains a recent review of Ngewa’s volume, written by Teresa Okure who is in Nigeria. This reviewer provides a view of the commentary from Africa. She notes many helpful points about the commentary but registers some critiques similar to Yarbrough’s.

These two reviews of Ngewa’s work will be helpful to those engaging this commentary.

New Dissertation on the Pastorals

I am currently reading Tim Swinson’s dissertation “GRAFH in the Letters to Timothy” recently passed at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I was eager to read it after hearing a number of good papers from Tim at ETS meetings along the way. I am only into the second chapter but already find this to be a well done, useful work. Swinson is more conversant with French, German, and Spanish sources than is common in American PhD’s. His writing is clear and forthright. His brief argument for Pauline authorship is well done and gathers a lot of helpful information.

I am eager to finish the reading. If you are working on the Pastorals concerning authorship or the references to scripture (1 Tim 5:18; 2 Tim 3:16), you would do well to check with the library at TEDS for this dissertation.