Deconstructing Paul – The Pastoral Epistles – An Introduction

The Apostle Paul wrote 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, right? Right?

That is the popular Evangelical stance, that Paul is the author, or at least someone helped him write these somewhat personal messages to his disciples Timothy and Titus.

Yet, many with a critical eye or an open mind concede that something else is going on. It is as if your favorite band plays a certain way, with a certain tune, a recognizable familiarity. Then you go to a local pub or concert and a cover band plays a song from your favorite band. Its nice, but not as good as the original. Oh, wait, they changed the song there. No, that isn’t the original lyric! Wait, what?

That is what many New Testament readers experience when reading these epistles after reading Paul’s other letters. And as a musician notices intricate differences between one player and another, New Testament teachers, pastors, and scholars trip over these same differences. How one explains the difference is the key here. There are simple answers, easy answers, obligatory answers and then there are questions…lots of them! My goal in this study is to point out the differences, highlight them, expose them, and then come to a conclusion that I believe is more reasonable than the simple, easy, or obligatory answers.

Shall we get started?

Robert Mounce, a contemporary conservative New Testament Greek scholar, in contradiction with many current scholars, believe The Pastoral Epistles (hereafter referred to as PE) were written by Paul just before his death. To outline his position, we can turn to an excellent online source:

“Many contemporary scholars consider the Pastoral Epistles to be pseudonymous – written not by Paul but by someone else after Paul’s death, writing in Paul’s name to uphold and maintain the Pauline tradition among the churches. In view of ‘the nearly universal witness of 1800 years of church interpretation … that the self-witness of the PE [Pastoral Epistles] is credible and true’, Mounce seeks ‘to recreate a historical setting in Paul’s lifetime in which these events may have occurred and to ask if the PE may reasonably be placed in this setting.’ He writes, ‘Is it more credible to see Paul writing the PE at the end of his life in a unique historical situation or to see an admirer of Paul, either shortly after his death or toward the end of the first century, perhaps with scraps of authentic material, writing the three letters in an attempt to make Paul’s message relevant to the specific issues that arose in that generation?’” (1, underline mine)

I’ll ignore the false dilemma of “either this or that” for the moment to focus my response on credibility, even though credibility is a very subjective word inherently open to what may be believed or believable.

May I suggest the question be rewritten? What is more credible…to force a historical document into something it is not to satisfy a theology or to set the document free to reveal itself to its readers? Either way, the readers will interpret the document and be informed by it. The question ultimately becomes not what is it, but what was it? And that pulls us back to authorial intent. What was the document supposed to do in its original context? Once we understand that, then we can decide what it is in the present.

A case has been made for some time that these are personal letters written by Paul, likely through an amanuensis (scribe), to Timothy and Titus in order to give them specific direction in their ministry. Today, they have become a favored resource for those in ministry. It is, in fact, how I came to read, know, love, and ultimately challenge these letters.

What I am about to propose is yet another possibility, a perhaps, a plausible case for these letters being prepared for a specific purpose. Here is where I can address the false dilemma of the either/or Mounce presented above. Are there only two options: Paul wrote these letters or an admirer wrote them? I have seen several possibilities, mine being just one of many. So, I won’t argue that my position is the correct position, but I will suggest that it is yet another possibly better solution because it lets the documents speak for themselves with all their flaws, breaks, incoherencies, and incompatibilities.

Essentially, I have come to the conclusion that Paul did not write these letters as we see them, and as such they found their final and current form much later than Paul’s lifetime. With that as a point of reference, I can explain how and why I came to this conclusion. Readers open to this possibility will find freedom from several hurtful and divisive arguments currently burning throughout many churches. These hurtful arguments are the fruit of the interpretative stance Mounce holds – that Paul wrote these letters. You can be certain that I will highlight each one of these hurtful arguments and misinterpretations in my analysis. As such, this will not be a verse by verse commentary, but more of a section by section analysis. While I have examined each sentence, clause, and even punctuation in both the original language and the available manuscripts, my scope is to make my analysis available to a general audience. Therefore, my position is not simply academic, but one born out of a truly pastoral heart…a desire to see all people included, loved, and free to seek and know their God.

(1) 11/17/2020

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels


On New Testament Ministry

23: Daily Inspirational Bible Verse
23: Daily Inspirational Bible Verse (Photo credit: [Share the Word])
Professor Black posted this up on his blog this week.

Looks like he has made an addition or two, but nonetheless, I really like these convictions.

Someday, I’ll add a few of my own…

  • I am convinced that the house church rather than the sanctuary church was the New Testament norm.

  • I am convinced of the normalcy of tent-making leadership.

  • I am convinced that the church exists in part to equip all of its members for ministry.

  • I am convinced that the leadership of the church should be shared for the health of the congregation.

  • I am convinced that top-down structures of leadership are unquestionably more efficient. Efficient in doing almost everything other than equipping, which is the primary task of leadership.

  • I am convinced that the process of appointing new elders is best done on the basis of recognizing who is already serving as an elder in the church.

  • I am convinced that any local church that takes seriously Jesus as the Senior Pastor will not permit one man to become the titular head of the church.

  • I am convinced that the essential qualifications for ministry in the church have little or nothing to do with formal education and everything to do with spiritual maturity.

  • I am convinced that the church is a multi-generational family, and hence one of the things that makes the church the church is the presence of children, parents, and other adults.

  • I am convinced that because every local church has all the spiritual gifts it needs to be complete in Christ, believers should be exposed to the full expression of the charisms (grace-gifts) when they gather, in contrast to specialized ministries that center around singularly gifted people.

  • I am convinced that the local church is the scriptural locus for growing to maturity in Christ, and that no other training agency is absolutely needed.

  • I am convinced that the local church ought to be the best Bible school going.

  • I am convinced that Paul’s letters were not intended to be studied by ordinands (a candidate for ordination) in a theological college but were intended to be read and studied in the midst of the noisy life of the church.

  • I am convinced that the church is a theocracy directly under its Head (Jesus Christ), and that the will of the Head is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all His subjects.

  • I am convinced that the goal of leadership is not to make people dependent upon its leaders but dependent upon the Head.

  • I am convinced that since all believers are “joints” in the body, ministry is every believer’s task.

  • I am convinced that pastor-teachers, as precious gifts of Christ to His church, are to tend the flock of God by both personal care and biblical instruction, equipping God’s people for works of service both in the church and in the world.

  • I am convinced that the role of pastor-teacher is a settled ministry in a local congregation.

  • I am convinced that leaders should communicate that every part of the body is interrelated to the other parts and indispensable; every member will be appreciated, every charism will be treasured.

  • I am convinced that the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for ministry.

  • I am convinced that everyone needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world. If the church is to become what God intended it to be, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ. The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God.

Toward A Functional Ecclesiology (Part 2 of 2) […or Professional Ministry – FAIL!]

Anglican priest or deacon in choir dress

Today, Alan Hirsch posted a quick quote from Richard Hays on FB:

Our habit of thinking of ministry as a ‘profession’ is likely to produce serious distortions in our conception of the church and our role within it ~ Richard B. Hays, 1 Cor.3:18-23

While this is crystal clear to me, I know many Christians simply do not see the distortion (see Part 1).  This just goes to show how deeply ingrained we are in our contemporary Western culture and how utterly out of touch we are with the culture of the early church.

There is a popular phrase that states “form follows function” meaning:

If an object has to perform a certain function, its design must support that function to the fullest extent possible. – Digital Web Magazine

In fact, the context in which this was taught was in a class on church planting.  And this makes perfect sense, the form follows the function; the design supports how the church works.  So, if we have professional ministers, the church structure, from the organizational chart all the way to the actual performance of ministry, in all practicality must serve the professional minster.

Yet, the “fail” is seen in the fact that upon reading the New Testament there simply were no professional ministers or hierarchy, and the design, the form, was quite different from what we have today.

This, then begs the question: If we notice this difference, how do we go about changing it?  How do we get back to the original intent?  How do we essentially allow for purposeful change that will benefit the church and in turn benefit society?  How do we return to a functional ecclesiology?

The answer begins with embracing and encouraging a ministry supported by the New Testament in which all are ministers and all have received gifts and empowerment by the Holy Spirit to serve as Christ here and now every day of the week at any given place on the planet…and maybe beyond!

Take a look at these passages: Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4.

The church is the body, all having a part to play.  There are no professional ministers.

Now, there are indeed leaders, often called elders, but nowhere do we see these individuals taking over for the body.  Their function is to encourage service – not to take it and to protect the body – not to control it.

Take a look at 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for more on this.  Again, no professional here either.

So, in short, both the church and her leaders need to be willing to reevaluate the current system to see how functional or dysfunctional it really has become.