A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2). The case against Pauline authorship c). Doctrine.
Some scholars are quite rude in their evaluation of the theology (or lack of it) which they discern in the Pastorals. A.T.Hanson, for example, declares that ‘there is a complete absence of unifying theme’ in the Pastorals, even ‘an impression of relative incoherence’. And the reason for this, he continues, is that the author of the Pastorals ‘had no theology of his own. He is a purveyor of other men’s theology.’ But this uncomplimentary judgment has been challenged by other scholars, including Dr. Frances Young, who finds little difficulty in assembling the theological teaching of these three letters.
Some critics complain that they cannot find in the Pastorals either the trinitarian doctrine of the earlier letters, or the gospel of salvation. But without question the Pastorals set forth the gracious, redeeming initiative of ‘God our Saviour’, who gave his Son to die as our ransom, to redeem us from all evil, and to purify a special people for himself. He justifies us by his grace and renews us by his Spirit, in order that we may live a new life of good works. Dr. Philip Towner has argued that salvation as a present reality is the ‘centre point’ of the message of the Pastorals; and that the present age, which is the age of salvation, is illuminated and inspired by the incarnation and the parousia, the Christ-events which inaugurate and terminate it.
Very different is the assessment of Professor Ernst Kasemann who writes that he cannot regard as Pauline letters in which the church has become ‘the central theme of theology’, ‘the gospel is domesticated’, and Paul’s image has become ‘heavily daubed by church piety’. One can only respond that this is an extremely subjective judgment. Paul’s earliest letters already evidenced his high doctrine of church and ministry, and Luke tells us it was his policy to ordain elders in every church from the first missionary journey onwards (Acts 14:23). His further instructions in the Pastorals about the selection and appointment of pastors, about the conduct of public worship in the local church, and about the maintenance of sound doctrine, are entirely compatible with this. It is simply not true that the church structures envisaged by Paul in the Pastorals are those of the second century, including the rise of the monarchical episcopate associated with Bishop Ignatius (c. AD 110). In the Pastorals there is no threefold order of bishops, presbyters and deacons, for bishops and presbyters are still the same person and office.
It was Martin Debelius who first applied the epithet ‘bourgeois’ to the Christian lifestyle envisaged in the Pastorals. And ‘of course if bourgeois, Professor J.H.Houlden added. ‘then certainly *petit* bourgeois’. Robert Karris has also written about the ‘middle-class ethic’ of the Pastorals. What these scholars are referring to is the atmosphere of respectability, of conformity to prevailing social values, which they feel permeates the ethical instruction of the Pastorals. And it is quite true that the author is concerned about the church’s public image, and about its *eusebeia*, which sometimes means personal godliness but at other times seems to be s synonym for ‘religion’.
On the other hand, there is great emphasis in the Pastorals, as in all Pauline letters, on the paramount Christian qualities of faith and love, and on the purity, the good works and the future hope to which they give rise. Commitment to Christ still has radical consequences; we are pilgrims travelling home to God, and summoned to live this life in the light of the next (e.g. 1 Tim.4:8; 6:7f., 19).
Dr Towner, in his monograph *The Goal of our Instruction*, subtitled *The Structure of Theology and Ethics of the Pastoral Epistles*, registers a salutary protest against those who interpret the Pastorals as giving evidence of a ‘bourgeois Christianity’, ‘a Christianity which sought little more than to live comfortably in the world’, and self-centred Christianity without mission. On the contrary, the ‘Christian existence’ for which Paul called is a combination of theology and ethics, which originates in the Christ-event and the salvation he achieved, and which directly counters the perversions of behaviour introduced by the false teachers. Instead, it lays down concrete duties for different groups, and is constantly motivated by the Christian mission.
Having considered the language, doctrine and ethics of the Pastorals Letters, we should be able to agree with Dr. J.N.D.Kelly that ‘the anti-Pauline case has surely been greatly exaggerated’. The differences of vocabulary do not necessarily demand a different author; there are other possible explanations. In regard to theology too, ‘the critics seem to have overplayed their hand. Not only are the discrepancies fewer than they claim, but several of the more important are found on inspection to represent developments of ideas already present in the earlier correspondence.
There is still the possibility of pseudonymity, however, to which we now turn.
Tomorrow: 3). The case for and against a pseudonymous author.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.