The Pastoral Epistles
The wide-spread term “pastoral epistles” for the epistles of the Apostle Paul to Timothy and Titus was formed in 1726 by the theologian Paul Anton and means “shepherd letters” (from latin pastor “shepherd”).
These three epistles have a special place in the New Testament. As the epistle to Philemon they are addressed to individuals. They are however not private epistles. Their subject is the order in the church of God. Timothy and Titus were young men but faithful co-workers of the Apostle. Both Timothy and Titus are seen as the Apostle's deputies and representatives.
Subject, style and tone of these epistles differ from the other epistles of the same apostle. This is why since Schleiermacher (around 1800 AD) various liberal researchers have doubted the genuineness of these epistles. Some thought these letters were genuine fragments of the apostle which later had been mixed up with other people's thoughts. Others date these epistles into the second century only and declare them to be fakes! We find however many hints to the Epistles to Timothy with Polykarp. Irenaeus (around 140 to 202 AC), Clemens of Alexandria (around 150 to 215 AC) and Tertullian (around 160 to 220 AC) even cite the Pastoral Epistles as Paul's writings.
The Situation of the Apostle Paul
One of the reasons of doubting the genuineness is the situation the apostle was in according to the epistles, the reason being that it is not easy to align the various statements on this with the Acts of the Apostles. This however is not impossible as the Acts of the Apostles do not give a complete and exhaustive description of Paul's travels.
There is much that speaks in favour of Paul's release after two years of imprisonment in Rome (as described by the end of Acts) around the year 63 AC. Hints to this effect can already be found in his Epistles to the Philippians (chap. 1:22-26; 2:24) and to Philemon (verse 22). According to the messages in the Pastoral Epistles he then came to Minor Asia, Crete and Greece (compare with 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:13.20; Tit. 1:5; 3:12). Only hereafter Paul was again taken captive and condemned to death and executed in Rome.
The First Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus, therefore, have been written between the first and second imprisonment for from these epistles we learn that Paul had been released. We find no mention of chains or bonds. The Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and to Philemon as well as Second Timothy all mention chains or bonds, which would indicate imprisonment. In 2 Tim. 1:8.12.16-17; 2:9 Paul again is writing of imprisonment and of a trial (2 Tim. 4:6-8). This epistle therefore is the last inspired testimony of the apostle Paul, so to say his spiritual last will.
These circumstances regarding the final part of Paul's life (as seen in the Pastoral Epistles) are not in contradiction with the reports contained in the Book of Acts and to the picture drawn by the remaining epistles but they are to be considered as addition.
As Paul foresaw that he would not live much longer his latter epistles differ from his earlier ones in subject and style. He had already presented, in various and detailed ways, the doctrine of Christ. This is why his last epistles contain more practical messages and directions of assembly life. In doing so the entire truth of Christ, the redemption work and the truth of the assembly (or church) is presupposed (compare 1 Tim. 3:15 with Math. 16:18; 1 Tim. 4:14 with 1 Cor. 12:4.31; Tit. 1:1-3 with Rom. 5:21; 6:23; Eph. 1:3-4).
The offices of elders, overseers and deacons, which are mentioned in some detail are no new institutions. They had existed in the assemblies from the beginning (Acts 6; 14:23; 20:17.28; Phil. 1:1).
Paul had already warned against future false doctrines in his farewell speech in Miletus (compare 1 Tim. 4:1and 2 Tim. 3:1; Acts 20:28-29).
The Saviour God
The expression “Saviour God” as such appears several times in this or similar form in the Pastoral Epistles:
- 1 Timothy 1:1; 2:3; 4:10
- 2 Timothy 1:10
- Titus 1:3.4; 2:10.13; 3:4.6
Apart from 2 Peter this name of God appears in the New Testament in Luke 1:47 and Jude 25 only. This expression points at the universal grace of God in Christ in which he now offers salvation and redemption throughout the whole world. Up to then there was just Israel as the only chosen and elected people in the world by God.
Sound and Modest (Sober)
A further characteristic of the Pastoral Epistles are the regularly appearing words “sound” and “sober/modest”.
- 1 Timothy 1:10 (doctrine); 6:3 (wholesome words)
- 2 Timothy 1:13 (words); 4:3 (doctrine)
- Titus 1:9 (doctrine); 1:13 (faith); 2:1 (doctrine); 2:2 (faith); 2:8 (speech)
- 1 Timothy 2:9.15; 3:2
- 2 Timothy 1:7
- Titus 1:8; 2:2.5-6.12