Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles? Part IIIDecember 11, 2011
Lack of Substantive Debate
In Part II, we looked at the emphasis in the Pastorals on keeping “the faith”, which may indicate that the Pastorals were written after apostolic teaching had an opportunity to coalesce into a recognized body of doctrine. A corollary of this point is the manner in which false teachers are opposed in the Pastorals. When it comes to false teachers, the Pastorals are heavy on name-calling, but light on substantive debate.
Paul’s usual approach is to confront his opponents with reasoned debate and an authentic gospel. Consider, for instance, the epistle to the Galatians where Paul spends several chapters developing his argument against the Judaizers (who taught that gentiles must adhere to the external signs of the covenant).
The author of the Pastorals, on the other hand, is content simply to denounce false teachers. There is no apparent need to mount any lengthy argument against the false teaching. It is sufficient to point out that the impugned teaching is at odds with established teaching. The opponents have “departed from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:21) and little more need be said.
We should be familiar with this kind of approach because we hear it all the time. Those who view themselves as faithful and orthodox Christians will condemn a particular viewpoint, not on its merits, but on the ground that it is contrary to the creeds or the “fundamental truths of the faith” or “the historic teaching of the church.” There’s nothing inherently wrong in making an argument like this. But in order to make it, you must be living in a time when such traditions have already been established. Thus, scholars see the frequent appeals to tradition in lieu of substantive debate as a further sign that the Pastorals date to the post-Pauline era.
Presence of Gnostic Thought
Woven throughout the Pastoral letters are attacks on certain heresies. Some have observed that the false teaching the author is combatting appears to have elements of proto-gnosticism. The author’s opponents forbid marriage (1 Tim. 4:3), and get caught up in myths and genealogies (1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 3:9). They maintain that the resurrection has already occurred (2 Tim 2:18). Timothy is warned about “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim. 6:20), gnosis being the Greek word for knowledge. Part of the repudiation of the false teachers is an explicit affirmation (contra gnosticism) of the goodness of the material world, “For everything God created is good” (1 Tim. 4:4).
Charting the origins and emergence of gnostic thought is notoriously difficult, but some scholars have suggested that these elements in the Pastorals suggest a date of composition towards the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century.
The Pastorals’ emphasis on the roles of bishops, elders, deacons and widows is typical of the more developed ecclesiology of the late first century rather than Paul’s era. Concern about the roles and qualifications of church office holders is absent from the uncontested works of Paul. In those letters, church leadership has more to do with spiritual gifting/charisma than with a clearly defined system of offices.
James Dunn summarizes the argument from ecclesiology as follows:
The degree of church structure seems more developed than anything in the earlier Paul. A distinctive office of “overseer (bishop)” has emerged (1 Tim 3:1; Titus 1:7), as also that of “deacon (minister)” (1 Tim 3:8). These titles were already in use in Phil 1:1, but the concept of a formal office is more in evidence. Likewise, the office of “elder” appears in the Pauline corpus for the first time (1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5). It looks as though on this point the Pastorals share the hindsight perspective evident also in Luke’s account of Paul’s mission (Acts 14:23; 20:17), of which there is no trace in the earlier Pauline letters. It may also be significant, then, that the only use of the term “charism,” so central to Paul’s concept of the body of Christ (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1), is limited to talk of Timothy’s charism given through the laying on of hands in the past (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).
Dunn, James D.G., The First and Second Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.
Dunn goes on to caution, however, that the ecclesiology in the Pastorals is still emerging. It is not yet as developed as in the letters of Ignatius (circa 110 AD), which evidence a monoepiscopacy [try saying that word 5 times fast! – it means having only one bishop per city]. The important point is that the Pastorals reflect a degree of institutionalized church structure unknown in Paul’s day.
In the next and final post in this series, we’ll look at the role of women in the Pastorals as well as some historical difficulties with the letters. On a personal note, I must apologize for the month-long hiatus in the middle of this series. I have just returned from a three week trip to South Africa during which I had rather limited internet access. As a token of my apology, I offer this irresistibly cute photo of a momma marmoset and her baby, taken in Hout Bay, South Africa. Sadly, I was not permitted to bring them home with me.