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) Misselbrook.org.uk http://www.misselbrook.org.uk/GNT/TimothyTitus.pdf 11/17/2020