Interpreting Scripture – The Pastoral Epistles As A Test Case

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus
A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an earlier post, I challenged Moises Silva where he was basically stating that his theology should inform his interpretation of a given text.

Building on that, I have found that interpreting the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) prove to be an excellent test case.

Scholars seem strongly divided into two main groups here, and it revolves around if Paul wrote these letters or not.  Now, as I will show later, there are actually dozens if not hundreds of possibilities and suggestions when it comes to how and when these letters were written. But let’s put that aside for the moment.  The two very general interpretive camps, as I see it, come down to the inspiration and authority of scripture.

Those who hold strongly to inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration have a very difficult time accepting that anyone other than Paul himself wrote these letters.  Some may go as far as to say that he used an amenuensis (basically, someone we might understand to be a secretary) assist with the writing, but that the words are Paul’s as he was inspired by God to write them.

Those who are not as interested in inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration are seemingly quite ready and able to see other options, writers and possiblities for the production of these letters.

So, right out the gate, Silva’s model reveals it’s product – the text says what you believe it should say.  If the interpreter is an Evangelical, they read it as coming from Paul.  If the interpreter is not theologically predisposed, they read it as quite possibly coming from sources other than Paul.

Now this is where it gets interesting.

There are all sorts of theological issues embedded in these letters.  Probably the top three in contention these days are the issue of the role of women in ministry, the qualifications for ministry and the formation of scripture.

I would like to address these issues in future posts as I work through these three short letters because, for the most part, these issues can be interpreted in very different ways depending upon how the letters are approached.

Those that know me, will recall that I came from some pretty conservative theological roots.  None of my training for ministry, formal or informal, ever attempted to teach anyone but Paul the Apostle as the author to these letters.  After all, that is what the text itself says, right?


Any thoughts on this before I dive in?


4 thoughts on “Interpreting Scripture – The Pastoral Epistles As A Test Case

  1. Well John, it seems like you have started a lively conversation. I am interested to see the basis for your questions concerning Paul’s authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. I took the time to go back and read your article on Silva’s statements about theology and interpretation, since you state that it is the foundation which you are building this article upon. I think your evaluation of Silva’s statements failed to mention the section preceding his statement which argues for Biblical theology as the foundation for systematics and that that the “apostolic proclamation was characterized by a fundamental unity, so that we may use that proclamation as the source for systematics”. It seems to me that even if one argues for a different author, who uses Paul as a pseudonym, one would have to ask the question “Why use Paul in the first place?” If one appeals to Paul’s name it is for a reason. If it is for authority then this acknowledges the fact that Paul’s other writings are known and accepted as authoritative. What I am doing here is building the case that if the Pastoral Epistles were written by someone other than Paul, then that individual’s (or multiple people’s) cognitive environment (what is known and the way of thinking within the particular community), contained Paul’s perspective already. For the epistle to have any weighted, it would have to bare some unity with the rest of Pauline teaching. If this unity exists, then what is the basis for questioning Pauline authorship? I know there are probably several reasons and I look forward to see what you present. I would also argue that believing in inspiration, authority, and inerrancy are not dependent upon authorship (that is a straw man argument in my opinion). Anyways, just some thoughts. I enjoy watching my friends processing through these issues.

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