Driscoll & Brierley on Women in Leadership

January 15, 2012

Justin Brierley, the unfailingly polite host of the British radio program, Unbelievable, recently podcast the entirety of his hour-long interview with Mark Driscoll.

Things did not go well.

There are many moments in this interview that could provide fodder for discussion. For example, Christians in the UK may be rather nonplussed by Driscoll impugning their entire country for not having, well, Mark Driscoll:

Driscoll: I go too far sometimes. Almost every other pastor I know doesn’t go far enough and that’s okay ’cause the church tends to be led by people who are timid and fearful of going too far. I mean, let’s just say this. … Right now, name for me the one young good Bible teacher that’s known across Great Britain.

Brierley: Hmm …

Driscoll: You don’t have one. That is a problem. There’s a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.

Brierley: So you think that the Bible teaches …

Driscoll: You don’t have one. You don’t have one young guy who can preach the Bible that anybody’s listening to on the whole earth.

I’ll leave it to the Brits to decide whether their churches suffer from a glut of cowards and a want of controversial celebrity preachers.

Much of the interview revolved around Driscoll’s views on women and their role in marriage and the church. When Brierley confessed that his own wife is, in fact, the pastor of his church, things got incredibly awkward:

Driscoll: I’m not shocked by the answer, by the questions you ask. I love you, but you’re annoying. ‘Cause you’re picking on all the same issues that those who are classically evangelical, kind of liberal, kind of feminist do.

Brierley: I think it’s because those are the issues here that people are thinking about. … [Brierley says he’s impressed by much of what Mars Hill Church is doing].

Driscoll: Kay, let me ask you a few hard questions.

Brierley: Go ahead, go ahead.

Driscoll: So, in the church that your wife pastors, how many young men have come to Christ in the last year?

[It’s clear from the tone of Driscoll’s question that this is not a bona fide inquiry about the souls in Brierley’s church. It’s a veiled criticism. Driscoll is going to prove that women pastors can’t get the job done (i.e. attracting men to the church) and he’s going to belittle Brierley’s wife & church to do it.]

Brierley: Well we’re not a huge church, unlike yours, but I’d say there’s two or three probably in the last year who certainly, yah, I’d say have come to Christ in a pretty meaningful way.

Driscoll: Okay and in the church, what percentage is young men, single men?

Brierley: It’s difficult to say off the top of my head, but I’ll freely say it’s certainly not a big percentage, no.

Driscoll: Kay, and are you okay with that? Do you think that’s the best way to go?

Brierley: No, but can it be so easily put down to the fact that the church is being run by a woman? I mean, is that …

Driscoll: Yup. Yup. You look at your results, you look at my results, and you look at the variable that’s most obvious.

[Yes, he did just say that. His results are better than hers. And it’s because he’s a man and she’s a woman.]

Brierley: Well, in our case, the …

Driscoll: This is where the excuses come, not the verses. This is where the excuses come, not the verses.

Brierley: … Up to the point my wife took over, it had been run by men. Since she’s come, lots of new families, lots of younger people, both men and women, have come. I wouldn’t say the balance is right perfect yet by any means. But it’s certainly a lot better than it ever was. And so I don’t necessarily see quite the same situation that you paint there in terms of men not relating. I see more men in the church since she’s been there than before she was there, in a way.

Driscoll: What kind of men? Strong men?

[The implication here is obvious. Only weak, limp-wristed mama’s boys would be attracted to a church with a female leader, right? Tough men like Driscoll certainly wouldn’t be. Brierley seems genuinely baffled by such a stupid question.]

Brierley: Well, men. I mean, men come in different shapes and sizes. I mean, yah, both really. Men who are very masculine, men who are, I guess, on a spectrum, more effeminate. But I couldn’t say that there’s been a sort of dearth of men in the church since she’s arrived. I mean, Mark, I don’t want to get into a sort of argument.

Driscoll: No, no, you don’t want to sit in my seat, I understand. So does your wife do counseling with men? Sexual counseling? Does she talk about masturbation, pornography, the stuff that I do?

Brierley: Well no, she doesn’t.

Driscoll: Well, who does talk to the men about those things, especially the young men?

Brierley: Well there are other people that she can pass them on to. We have male elders in our church who, you know, would be able to tackle those kinds of questions. I mean, but would you speak with those kinds of issues to a female in your church?

Driscoll: Uh no. If they’re a married couple we might meet with them as a couple. But if it’s a woman, we would have women leaders meet with them.

Brierley: Sure, well it’s the same scenario in our church really.

Driscoll: Well except for who’s in charge.

[This part is almost comical. Driscoll seems to think he’s got a real zinger. If a woman is pastor, who’s going to do all that important sex counseling that Driscoll seems so obsessed with? Faced with the rather obvious explanation that it’s the same in Brierley’s church as in his own (men counsel men and women counsel women) Driscoll insists that it’s still not as good because the men aren’t “in charge”.]

Brierley: Well what’s wrong with… I mean, I agree, obviously theologically we’re not on the same page here Mark in terms of…

Driscoll: Do you believe in a conscious literal eternal torment of hell?

Brierley: What has that got to do with the issue of women in leadership, if you don’t mind me asking?

Driscoll: It does. It depends on your view of God. Is God like a mom who just embraces everyone? Or is he like a father who also protects, and defends, and disciplines? If you won’t answer the question, I think I know the answer.

Driscoll goes on to grill Brierley about whether he believes in penal substitution. When Brierley replies that it’s a valid way of understanding the meaning of the cross, Driscoll isn’t satisfied, calls him a “coward”, and eventually tells him to stop “drinking decaf” and get “more courage”.

It’s clear that Driscoll’s male supremacy vibe has implications for all of his theology. Eternal conscious torment is a tough, manly doctrine and, therefore, superior to weak womanly ideas that don’t involve a literal fiery hell. Real men, brave men espouse a penal substitution theory of atonement without reservation. Those who prefer a more nuanced understanding are effeminate cowards.

You see, if you have doctrinal differences with Mark Driscoll, you don’t just disagree with him; you are inferior to him. And he’s got the church-growth results to prove it.

There’s so much more that could be said, but I’ll leave that to others. Besides, given that I don’t share Driscoll’s doctrinal stances, I’ve probably got to go paint my nails or tease my hair or something.


[Edit: Based on a few of the comments I’ve received on this post, I want to add some clarification. I would be the first to agree that by no means is Driscoll this abrasive throughout the entire interview. Most of the time, he and Brierley got along fine (although I think the mood soured a bit at around the 17 minute mark when Driscoll called Brierley “immature” for asking what I thought was a perfectly legitimate question).

Some have wondered whether these quotes are taking Driscoll out of context. The first quote about the “cowards” in UK churches (28 minute mark) came in the context of Driscoll being asked if he regretted his Facebook comment that encouraged people to share stories about “effeminate anatomically male worship leaders”. He agreed that he had gone too far but then said what you see transcribed above. Seems beset with regret, doesn’t he?

The transcribed portion of the interview about women takes you from 49:40 through 53:30. Everything is there (except a few lines by Brierley about admiring Mars Hill, which I summarized for brevity). My square bracketed interjections do not represent missing context. What you read above is the entire 4 minute exchange. Yes, there is context before and context after. But I fail to see how that minimizes the legitimate concerns about what he said in the middle. I can understand a one-liner being “taken out of context”. It’s hard to take 4 solid minutes of conversation out of context. You can listen to the full interview here.]


Exegesis: You’re Doing it Wrong

December 31, 2011

When it comes to mishandling Scripture, few people can match the death-defying logical leaps of biblical daredevil Joseph Prince. Pastor of Singapore megachurch New Creation Church, Prince has been invited to speak at various Hillsongs conferences and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. His television show, Destined to Reign, reaches millions daily.

What makes a pastor such a coveted international speaker? Sound, grammatical-historical biblical interpretation, you say? No. That would be boring. What people really want is an approach to Scripture that makes the Bible seem like a puzzle book with “Jabez Prayer”-like secrets waiting to be unlocked by the newest hermeneutical Evel Knievel.

Here’s an excerpt from one of this week’s devotional gems at JosephPrinceonline.com:

“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” Luke 2:40

The verse says that the grace of God was upon Jesus. The Bible also says that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. (Romans 5:20) And when you put the two together, you may find yourself asking, “If the grace of God was upon Jesus, does it mean that He sinned?”

No, Jesus did not sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21) So there must be another explanation as to why God’s grace was upon Jesus. There must be another explanation as to why someone can abound in God’s grace even when he has not sinned.

Let’s look at the word “grace” when it is first mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 6:8 says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord”. Noah’s name means “rest”. So the verse is telling us that rest found grace. In other words, when you rest, you find grace!

So grace was upon Jesus because His life was a life of rest and trust in His Father.

Let’s watch that again in slow motion.

Noah’s name means rest.

Noah found grace.

Therefore, rest found grace.

Therefore, if we rest, we will find grace.

See how easy that was? No need for those expensive Bible commentaries and long hours studying Hebrew. All you need is a Hebrew name book. Let’s try some ourselves.

Esau means hairy.

In Malachi 1, God says, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated…”

Therefore, God hates hairy people.

Let’s try a Noah one.

Noah means rest.

After the flood, Noah got drunk and exposed himself.

Therefore, when we rest, we should get drunk and … hmm … perhaps this is one of those “don’t try this at home” interpretive stunts.

Good exegesis is hard. It requires lots of study and knowledge of the original languages, culture and context. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Joseph Prince, the author of Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living, prefers an easier hermeneutical approach.

Effortless indeed.

Charisma magazine profiled Prince last year. It would seem that Prince’s interpretive approach lends itself to a word-of-faith type message. The article quotes Prince’s book, Unmerited Favor:

Because of the cross, we can today expect good, we can expect success, we can expect promotion, increase and the abundant life. It is all because of our wonderful Lord Jesus. If we have Him, we have everything and more, and can be a blessing to others.

His message is, predictably, popular in the U.S., where his televised services are broadcast on TBN, ABC Family Channel and several other networks. Charisma quotes one enthused viewer:

Linda Lee Bingham of New Jersey said understanding grace has enabled her to better trust and rest in God. “Good things are popping into my life faster than I can imagine,” she says. “I started a new business project a few months ago and already have 10 employees. The work is finished on the cross, and I’m just enjoying the ride.”

That’s right Linda Lee. Jesus bled on the cross so that you could get your Amway business off the ground. PTL!

To get a real flavor for the interpretive stylings of Joseph Prince, check out the video below. Skip ahead to the 9:00 minute mark to learn:

  • that Luke 21:25-26 contains a prediction of the March 2011 Japanese tsunami and nuclear crisis;
  • that ouranos [misspelled uranos by Prince] is the ancient Greek word for uranium [an element first discovered in 1789 AD]; and
  • that taking communion will neutralize the radiation in your body from the Japanese nuclear leak.

Can’t get enough Prince? In this next video, Prince explains how the book of Deuteronomy and the cartoonish map in the back of his Bible enabled him to predict the discovery of an offshore natural gas deposit near (actually, nowhere near) Haifa.

Kind of makes Harold Camping look like a top-notch biblical scholar, doesn’t he?


Who Needs a Savior? [Wright vs. Comfort]

December 18, 2011

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. -Matthew 5:21

If you’ve spent any time in evangelical circles, you’ll be familiar with certain guilt-inducing analogies about evangelism. Not telling your neighbor about Jesus is like not throwing a life preserver to a drowning man. Not sharing the gospel with your school chum is like having the cure for cancer and not sharing it with a cancer-stricken friend.

These analogies are bound to make the timid evangelist feel like a cad. I’ve long thought the analogies were unfair. The drowning man knows he needs saving. The cancer patient is keenly aware of his need for a cure. Not so the unsaved friend. The drowning man is not going to swim away from the life preserver and give you the cold shoulder for bothering him about it. But the unsaved friend who isn’t keen on being proselytized might do just that. Christianity was a hard sell because we were trying to convince people of a solution to a problem most people didn’t believe they had.

Several years ago I was introduced to a soap-box preacher who seemed to have a solution to this dilemma. His name was Ray Comfort and he had a sure-fire way of convincing people of their sinfulness before offering Jesus as the solution. If you’ve seen Comfort’s approach, you’ll know that he rarely deviates from it. He runs through the 10 Commandments, asking people if they’ve ever lied, stolen or taken God’s name in vain. He even gets people to admit that they’re murderers and adulterers by employing Christ’s expansive “You have heard it said” definitions in Matthew 5.

Comfort eventually gets his interviewees to admit that they are guilty of breaking God’s law. He then asks whether God will send them to heaven or hell as a consequence of such guilt. People tend to divide down the line on this one. Some say “hell”, though often with a laugh, suggesting that they don’t really believe this to be their fate. Others insist that they will still go to heaven because they aren’t bad people. This is when it gets interesting. Comfort must then persuade these people that they are deserving of eternal torment, often on the basis of their having admitted to little more than telling lies and “looking at a women with lust.”

I can remember, even then, that although I was on Comfort’s side, I felt the weight of the objections. Why exactly were the fires of hell an appropriate punishment for offences that seemed an inescapable part of being human? Comfort’s whole strategy was to confront people with the law so that they would recognize their personal guilt and cry out for a personal savior. Yet few people seemed to walk away from their encounter with Comfort buckling under the weight of condemnation. Probably because he had done little more than demonstrate that they were typical human beings.

I was reminded of Comfort this week while watching N.T. Wright’s recent talks at Moody Bible Institute. Wright spent a good deal of time sketching the framework for a proper narrative understanding of the gospel in its first century Jewish context. Christ “saving his people from their sins,” he maintains, is primarily about Christ’s role as Savior of the Jewish people from exile (i.e. from the consequences of their corporate sin). For the New Testament authors, “salvation” was about God rescuing his people. It meant the restoration of the Jewish nation – indeed, all of creation – and of individuals as part of that corporate restoration.

The interviewer, seemingly concerned about the lack of emphasis on personal salvation, questioned Wright about what he would say to an unbeliever who sought his counsel because of a personal sense of guilt and alienation from God. Wright replied, in part, as follows:

Actually, I have to say, within western post-modernity, most human beings I meet are not walking around saying, “I feel terribly guilty. How can I get rid of this?” That’s simply not the way they’re asking the question. And I don’t believe it is necessarily part of the task of either the apologist or the evangelist first to make them feel a guilt which they didn’t feel and then to show Jesus as the answer to that. It feels like a con trick.

I’m not saying that we go soft on sin – far from it. I’m saying that all people are aware of a major problem at some point. They may blame everyone else for it. They may blame the politicians, the economists, whatever. But to be able to say, “Actually, the whole world is in a mess and we share that messiness, that brokenness, that sinfulness. And God has dealt with the whole cosmic problem and he’s dealt with your problem in the middle of it.”

We’ve got to do both. And I have a sense that people … there’s a sort of sigh of relief when they realize that the church isn’t just interested in them as an individual, as maybe another scalp to be yanked in. But actually that we in the church are concerned with the whole creation, the whole world, with, to be sure, every single last human being as part of that…

I wonder if Ray Comfort would meet with more success if, instead of trying to persuade people of a personal guilt problem, he sought first to persuade them of a corporate guilt problem. I wonder if my neighbors’ consciences aren’t more attuned to the world’s need for a savior than to their own need for a savior.

I’m increasingly persuaded that the evangelical emphasis on embracing Jesus as a “personal Lord and Savior” represents an impoverished understanding of the kind of savior Christ was meant to be.

Perhaps spreading the euangelion (good news) is not so much about throwing life preservers to individuals who have fallen overboard as it is about enlisting our fellow deckhands into the captain’s plan for righting our listing ship.


[Click here to watch the 4 sessions from Wright’s visit to Moody. The above quotation is from the final video.]


Worst Christian Bookstore Name Ever

December 16, 2011

Wandering through a mall in Durban, South Africa, last month, we came upon this unfortunately-named Christian bookstore:

I have yet to figure out what the acronym might stand for. It is an acronym, right?

Here’s their website, where you can order products such as …

Or, just in time for the holidays …

I wonder if they know.


Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles? Part IV

December 13, 2011

This will be the final post on the topic of the authorship of the Pastoral epistles. Follow these links for Part I, Part II, and Part III. We’ll wrap up by examining two apparent conflicts between the Pastorals and other NT writings by or about Paul. These conflicts raise further doubt about whether Paul is the author of the putative letters to Timothy and Titus.

Historical Difficulties

The Pastoral epistles describe travels of Paul that bear little resemblance to what we know of his journeys from Acts and other Pauline letters. They have Paul ministering in Crete and leaving Titus to continue the work they had begun. They have Paul wintering in Nicopolis (Western Greece). They have Paul leaving Timothy in Ephesus when he departs for Macedonia (seemingly contrary to Acts 20 which says that Timothy was Paul’s companion on his journey from Ephesus into Macedonia and Greece).

There is no external evidence for any of these trips and no easy way to reconcile them with the chronologies provided by Acts and the undisputed Pauline epistles. Recognizing this, some have suggested that these journeys must have occurred after the time frame covered by Acts. In other words, maybe Paul managed to survive his Roman imprisonment, was released, and returned to the Eastern Mediterranean to complete the journeys mentioned in the Pastorals.

The first problem with this suggestion is that there is simply no evidence of it.

Second, the idea that Paul survived his Roman imprisonment and went on to complete further missionary journeys is at odds with passages in Acts that give the clear implication that Paul would meet his end in Rome.

In Acts 20:25, Paul bids a tearful farewell to the elders at Ephesus:

Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.

The author of Acts gives us no indication that Paul was mistaken about this. Rather, at verses 36-38 he continues:

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.

Did Paul surprise everyone (including himself) by surviving his imprisonment in Rome, returning to the Eastern Mediterranean and launching a new work in Crete? I suppose this is possible. But the more likely explanation (particularly in light of all the other evidence pointing away from Pauline authorship) is that the historical details don’t fit because someone is writing these letters in Paul’s name at a later time. The author has sufficient knowledge of Paul’s travels and companions to include personal details that sound plausible, but insufficient knowledge to do so in a way that doesn’t conflict with our more reliable records.

The Role of Women

Scholars have noted that the Pastorals’ teachings on the role of women in church life seems at variance with Paul’s view. Would the Paul who provided instructions on how women should pray and prophecy in I Corinthians (11:4-6) also tell Timothy that women must learn in silence (1 Tim. 2:11-14)? Would the Paul, who frequently commended prominent women in the church (eg. Phoebe, Priscilla, Chloe) and who described Junia (a female name) as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7), now forbid women from teaching or exercising authority over men?

There are several clues throughout the Pastorals that the author is motivated by a desire to reduce tensions with those outside the church, such that Christians might enjoy “peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Tim. 2:1-3). We know from ancient sources that the early church was criticized for the prominent role afforded to women and for teachings that were seen as disruptive to the household.

An extreme example of the sort of teaching that was raising eyebrows is found in the mid-2nd century AD text, The Acts of Paul and Thecla. This early Christian novel portrayed Paul as teaching a strict form of asceticism that forbade marriage and sex. The heroine, Thecla, takes Paul’s message to heart and refuses the marriage arranged for her. She preaches, baptizes herself, narrowly avoids death … it’s all very exciting. But to encourage women to carry on in such a fashion was, to a Roman audience, scandalous.

5-6th century fresco of Paul, Thecla (left) and her mother (right)

The Pastorals may be, in part, an attempt by followers of Paul to counter such interpretations of the Pauline message and alleviate tensions with those outside the church. The message: Paul was no enemy of traditional Greco-Roman family roles. Rather, women should strive for propriety, quiet submission and salvation through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15), i.e. by fulfilling their traditional role in the household. [For more on this point, be sure to listen to Professor Phil Harland’s podcasts 1.11 and 1.12 at Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean.]

In sum, the Pastorals appear to teach a more restrictive role for women than do the undisputed letters of Paul, possibly as a reaction against interpretations of his message that were bringing the church into disrepute.


Taken in isolation, one might be able to mount a cogent rebuttal to each of the arguments canvassed over the last four posts. But the case against Pauline authorship is a cumulative one. Considered together, the various pieces of evidence make it difficult to resist the conclusion that Paul did not author the Pastoral epistles — a view shared by most mainline scholars.

What does this means for 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus? What does it mean for the Bible as a whole? Must we “throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy,” as suggested by Aaron Armstrong? I certainly haven’t cut the Pastorals out of my Bible. Nor should you. They represent an important record of how early followers of Christ interpreted the message of the Apostle Paul as it had been passed down to them.

The presence of pseudonymous writings in the NT does, however, raise some interesting questions about whether the privileged position given to canonical texts is always warranted. For my part, I would tend to give greater weight to something found in the undisputed Pauline corpus than to a teaching unique to the Pastorals. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.


Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles? Part III

December 11, 2011

This post is Part III in a series examining the problems scholars have identified with attributing the Pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) to Paul. For Part I click here. For Part II click here.

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.

Developed Ecclesiology

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.


Did Paul Write The Pastoral Epistles? Part II

November 15, 2011

In my last post, I discussed some reasons for being cautious about accepting 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus (the Pastoral epistles) as genuine writings of the Apostle Paul. In this post, we begin considering some of the evidence that has moved scholars from mere caution to downright skepticism.

Vocabulary & Style

The vocabulary of the Pastoral epistles is different from that of the undisputed letters of Paul. Of all the letters attributed to Paul in the NT, the Pastorals have the highest proportion of words appearing nowhere else in the Pauline letters. Many of those words are more characteristic of 2nd century writing than of Paul’s.

Norman Perrin explains the data as follows:

… [O]f 848 words (excluding proper names) found in the Pastorals, 306 are not in the remainder of the Pauline corpus, even including the deutero-Pauline 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians. Of these 306 words, 175 do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, while 211 are part of the general vocabulary of Christian writers of the second century. Indeed, the vocabulary of the Pastorals is closer to that of popular Hellenistic philosophy than it is to the vocabulary of Paul or the deutero-Pauline letters.

 The New Testament: An Introduction, pg. 264

Some will argue that differences in vocabulary may be attributable to Paul writing to a different audience for a different purpose at a different time. I agree that an e-mail I send to my wife will probably use different vocabulary than a brief I draft for court. I get that. But the fact that over 1/3 of the words in the Pastorals are absent from Paul’s other letters in combination with the presence of over 200 words typical of 2nd century Christian writing … it all just seems awfully suspicious.

One example of a significant difference in vocabulary is the word “Savior”. Christ and God are frequently called “Savior” in the Pastorals (10 times, by my count). Paul, on the other hand, tends to refer to Christ as “Lord”. The descriptor “Savior” is never used of God and only once of Christ in the undisputed letters of Paul. The sole usage is in Phil. 3:20:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

[I find it fascinating that Paul’s only use of the word “Savior” in the undisputed letters is in reference to a role that Christ has yet to fulfill, but that’s a topic for another day.]

The argument from vocabulary gets even stronger when you consider Paul’s syntax. In their NT commentary, Achtemeier, Green and Thompson explain:

Most telling of all, some nineteen participles, conjunctions, and adverbs that characterize the undisputed Pauline letters are absent from the Pastorals; an author tends to use such words automatically, and their absence betrays an author other than Paul.

Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and TheologyGrand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001, pg. 461.

But it’s not only the words; it’s how Paul uses them. Perrin describes the distinction between the literary style of the Pastoral epistles and Paul’s style:

Paul writes a characteristically dynamic Greek, with dramatic arguments, emotional outbursts, and the introduction of real or imaginary opponents and partners in dialogue. The Pastorals are in a quiet meditative style, far more characteristic of Hebrews or 1 Peter, or even of literary Hellenistic Greek in general, than of the Corinthian correspondence or of Romans, to say nothing of Galatians.

 The New Testament: An Introduction, pg. 265

To accept the Pastoral epistles as authentically Pauline, one must accept that Paul’s style, vocabulary and syntax all underwent a discernible change at some point in his letter-writing career. That’s not impossible. But a pseudonymous author is a far simple explanation.

The Emphasis on Keeping the Faith

Even when the author of the Pastorals uses Pauline vocabulary, there is a subtle shift in the meaning of some words – a shift that may betray the fact that the author is writing in the post-apostolic era.

In the undisputed letters, Paul does occasionally refer to Christian belief as “the faith” (eg. 1 Cor. 16:13), but usually the word “faith” refers to trust in God.

In the Pastorals, the expression “the faith” takes on greater significance. Again and again, the phrase is used as a shorthand for the established body of Christian teaching from which one should not depart. Many people are said to have wandered from, abandoned or denied “the faith”. (1 Tim. 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:8; 1 Tim 6:10; 1 Tim 6:21) Deacons must be those who hold to the “deep truths of the faith” (1 Tim. 3:9). Timothy is to be “nourished on the truths of the faith” (1 Tim. 4:6). One gets the clear sense that, by the time of the Pastorals, “the faith” is a thing unto itself. Some parameters of orthodoxy have been established (within this author’s community, at least) and the author’s aim is to encourage adherence to that orthodoxy.

In the Pastorals, the object of faith has begun to shift. It is not merely fidelity to the gospel of Christ that is encouraged, but fidelity to the apostolic teachings about the gospel. This suggests that the audience is living in an age in which the apostolic traditions have had a chance to coalesce into a recognized body of belief.

In a similar vein, the Pastorals employ a construction foreign to the undisputed letters that seems aimed at emphasizing the pedigree of particular teachings. The Pastorals frequently describe a particular truth claim as pistos, a Greek word meaning trustworthy or faithful.

1 Tim 1:15 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance …”

1 Tim 3:1 “Here is a trustworthy saying …”

1 Tim 4:9 “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.”

2 Tim 2:11 “Here is a trustworthy saying …”

Titus 1:9 “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

Titus 3:8 “This is a trustworthy saying.”

Outside of the Pastorals, pistos is used to describe faithful people or a faithful God, but only in the Pastorals is it used to describe the soundness of particular points of doctrine. This continual appeal to trustworthy or faithful Christian teaching fits nicely with the theory that the author is a later adherent of Pauline Christianity calling his readers back to authentic apostolic teaching.

Titus 1:9 (quoted above), in particular, implies a concern for continuity: this message was passed on to you, now you must pass it on faithfully to others. This aim of securing the long term integrity of the message seems unlikely to have come from the pen of Paul, who was possessed of a rather imminent expectation of the parousia (see, for instance, 1 Thess. 4:15–17).

In the next post, we’ll consider further the problematic relationship between the content of the Pastorals and their claims to Pauline authorship.