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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Authorship.

1.

The claim that Paul himself wrote the letters seems at first sight obvious and incontrovertible. All three begin with a greeting from the apostle and contain personal notes and asides such as ‘I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia’ (1 Tim 1:3 ); ‘I left you behind in Crete’ (Titus 1:5 ) and ‘When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books and above all the parchments’ (2 Tim 4:13 ). Combined with such emotional appeals as 2 Tim 1:3–5; 4:6–8 , the impression of Pauline authorship seems clear.

2.

But things are not so straightforward: signs of the late date of the letters proliferate. The organization of the church under officers such as bishops and deacons is well advanced (e.g. 1 Tim 3:1–13; 5:3–13 ) and mirrors the situation found in late first-century and early second-century Christian writings such as 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp. The situation of the letters seems inauthentic too; they are addressed to two travelling companions whom ‘Paul’ has apparently just left (1 Tim 1:3; Titus 1:5 ) and expects to see again soon (1 Tim 3:14; 2 Tim 4:13; Titus 3:12 ). Yet they contain teaching of the most rudimentary kind which close associates might be expected to know.

3.

The teaching that characterizes the Pastorals lacks the fire and passion of the original Pauline epistles; the immediacy of eschatological expectation that lay behind much of Paul's teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 7:17–31 ) has gone. Judgement and the future appearance of Christ are still expected, but it is the ordered life of the community that is focal. There is no mention of key Pauline ideas such as the cross, the church as the body of Christ, or covenant. Paul's struggle to identify the role of the law in his new understanding of salvation is absent; in the Pastorals, the law fulfils its normal function of identifying, restricting, and punishing evildoers (1 Tim 1:8–11 ). The teaching of the Pastorals focuses upon the ordered life of the community emphasizing such virtues as piety or godliness (e.g. 1 Tim 2:2; 2 Tim 3:5; Titus 1:1 ) and good conscience (1 Tim 1:5, 19; 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3 ). Individual behaviour is bound up in the well-being of the whole group, and there is a clear sense that the church has a future as a community; its organization is designed to enable sound doctrine to continue (1 Tim 4:6; 2 Tim 3:10 ). The ethical teaching is not solely inward-looking, but also aims to ensure that the church is acceptable to the outside world. The behaviour of its members must not draw attention to them as part of a new and suspect cult, they must conform in every way to the moral standards and expectations of the larger community.

4.

By the end of the first century the figure of Paul had assumed authority for many in the church and, as his significance grew, so did narratives about his life and interpretations of his teaching. The Acts of the Apostles provides evidence of this sort of development; the figure of Paul is employed to present the author's own image of the Gentile church and its origins. In Paul's speeches in Acts there is nothing that directly contradicts the ideas we find in Paul's own letters, but the picture that emerges is one of a more conciliatory and less theologically sophisticated figure. Both Acts and the Pastoral Epistles witness to a time in the church's development when Paul had become a legendary figure and different groups were competing to be regarded as his true successors. This trend continued well into the second century: the apocryphal Acts of Paul provide evidence of speculation and legends which grew up around the figure of Paul. The longest and most complete of them, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, provides a model of the woman's role as teacher and baptizer that the Pastoral Epistles deplore (1 Tim 2:11–15 ). According to Marcion, the second-century heretic, Paul alone had presented the true Christian message of love and grace.

5.

Thus the origin of the Pastoral Epistles begins to become clear: the author emphasizes the importance of handing on true teaching through leaders such as Timothy and Titus, authorized by Paul so that false doctrine could be refuted and its promulgators condemned, ‘Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge’ (1 Tim 6:20; cf. 2 Tim 2:1–2, 14–19; Titus 1:1–5; 3:8–11 ). While a small and declining number of scholars still argue for Pauline authorship, most prefer to see the author's modesty and his admiration for Paul behind his pseudonymity; he was passing on Pauline tradition and the credit was due to Paul rather than to him. The letters can be seen as documents written in and for a community which wanted to hold fast to what they considered true Pauline teaching in the face of persecution or opposition from different kinds of Christian teachers. On the other hand, some of Paul's teaching on practical matters—teaching about the remarriage of widows for example, and about the ideal ascetic life—is contradicted in the Pastorals (e.g. 1 Cor 7:7–8; cf. 1 Tim 2:11–15; 3:2–5 ). The situation the author was addressing was so different he felt he had the authority to alter Paul's original teaching.

6.

This implies that the personal notes and reminiscences, which occur throughout the letters (1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 4:13; Titus 1:5 ), are conscious forgeries included to add authenticity. So some scholars (e.g. Miller 1997 ) have suggested that the Pastorals are a semi-pseudonymous work, containing fragments of genuine Pauline material with later teaching added to these ‘notes’ to form the epistles as we have them. But a growing number of scholars see the Pastorals as entirely pseudonymous. They argue for complete and intentional pseudonimity; the writer used the device of the letter form, and included the kind of personal details that would convince his readers of the letters' authenticity. If the device was successful the author's opponents would be unassailably refuted. The personal notes are trivial in nature and do not fit with details of Paul's life we know from his undoubted letters, or from the story as presented in Acts. But they were an important part of the fiction and for the author's purpose to work, the fiction must be convincing.

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