Paul’s Pastoral Epistles - Introduction
E W Rogers, Oxford
Paul's thirteen letters may readily be divided into three groups: (1) those written during the history covered by the book of the Acts, viz. Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians; (2) those written during the imprisonment alluded to at the end of the book of the Acts, viz. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon; (3) those written after his release therefrom and prior to his martyrdom, viz. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. We say nothing about the Epistle to the Hebrews; that may or may not have been written by Paul, we do not know. These letters are not arranged chronologically in our Bible, but, it would appear, they are arranged according to size, the longest being put before the shortest.
The letters to Timothy and Titus are commonly known as Pastoral letters because they give to those two apostolic delegates guidance as to how the interests of the local church, and of believers in general, should be cared for. Manifestly there are no apostolic delegates with us today (the false claims of men notwithstanding), but we do have "overseers and servants" (unfortunately translated as "bishops and deacons", these being but anglicized Greek words which, if translated, would be shown thus). These letters are invaluable directives as to how their work should be done. The New Testament does not sanction the highly organized hierarchical and monarchical system established by many, whether it be in its Roman form or in its various dissenting forms, however some may modify their practices.
Timothy was the product of a mixed marriage, his father being a Greek and his mother a Jewess. His mother and grandmother were God-fearing forebears who taught young Timothy to put his faith in God, 2 Tim. 1. 5. He was a convert of the apostle Paul, 2 Tim. 1. 2, and was chosen by Paul to be his associate in his missionary work, Acts 16.1. This was pursuant to foregoing prophecies touching him, 1 Tim. 1. 18; 4.14, and with the approval and sympathy of the local elderhood, Timothy having been entrusted with a gift that was given to him by the laying on of hands of Paul, 2 Tim. 1. 6. The laying on of Paul's hands involved the importation of the gift: the laying on of hands of the elderhood (presbytery) involved their identification with him in his future work. His gift may have been a multiple one comprising evangelist, pastor and teacher. It would seem so. He was evidently not too strong in body; hence Paul advised him to use a little wine for his stomach's sake and oft infirmities, 1 Tim. 5.23. Maybe also he was rather timid in nature, and needed to be reminded that God had not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, love and discipline, 2 Tim. 1. 7. He was a young man, but the Greek word motes, used of him in 1 Timothy 4. 12, is used of adults in the full vigour of life.
Titus is referred to several times in 2 Corinthians in chapters 2, 7, 8 and 12. He may be the one mentioned in Galatians 2. 3. He was a Greek, and a convert of Paul, Titus 1. 4. Paul well sums up the character and work of Titus in 2 Corinthians 8. 23, "my partner and fellowhelper".
It should be observed that, while Paul exerted no dictatorial authority over his fellow workers, they did manifest a healthy submission to his authority. He "sent" them here and there, and on one occasion his communication is called a "commandment", Acts 17. 15. In Paul's missionary team there was a very happy absence of either dictatorship on the part of Paul, or independence on the part of his companions.
The Object of the First Epistle to Timothy is plainly set out in 3. 15 it was to give direction as to how Timothy and people in general should behave in "the house of God, which is the church of the living God". Paul is not alluding to a building of stone, but to a congregation of persons who owned the Lordship of Jesus. Conduct in the local church, then, is the main theme of this letter. It touches purity of doctrine, the audible exercises in the gathering, restrictions imposed upon teaching, the qualifications of those who undertake the care and service of the church, widows, servants, the rich - the whole range of matters as relevant today as they were at the time when Paul wrote. These things Timothy was expected to transmit to "faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also", 2 Tim. 2. 2.
The Object of the Second Epistle to Timothy is not so plainly stated, though the circumstances in which he wrote, and the proximity of the end of his earthly life are clearly in view. Paul has in mind the devolution of responsibilities to Timothy, and from him, in due time, to others also. The four chapters may be respectively labelled: Be courageous, ch. 1; Be careful, ch. 2; Be constant, ch. 3; Be considerate, ch. 4. Or we may say that here we have Paul's bequests to his son Timothy. They are: An Unfailing Saviour, ch. 1; A Sure Foundation, ch. 2; An Infallible Guide, ch. 3; A Confident Hope, ch. 4. All this we will develop, as God helps, in due course.
The Purpose of the Epistle to Titus was multiple. It was to give guidance in the ordaining of elders, the inculcation of proper behaviour on the part of various people in the church, as old and young, men and women, servants and subjects, and how to deal with heretics. The importance of such authoritative guidance for today is not only plain, but cannot be over-rated.
The Place of Writing. It is not apparent from what place the first letter to Timothy and that to Titus were written. Conjecture is of no spiritual value. It is, however, clear that the second letter to Timothy was written from the prison at Rome where Paul was on trial for his life. Paul, under the guidance of the Spirit, and with the well-being of the churches lying heavily upon his heart, felt the importance of putting into writing the things he had so often made the subject of his verbal teaching, 1 Tim. 1. 3. His other letters had covered much ground such as the Gospel of God, God's plans for His earthly people, order in the local church, and many other matters. It only now remained for him to give directions to these apostolic delegates, encouraging a shepherd heart and conduct in them, so that those who read these letters after their decease might have a like spirit.
We shall not, in these articles, give a verse by verse and line by line exposition of the Epistles. This has been done in various commentaries, all of which should be read discriminately, sorting out the chaff from the wheat. We shall here merely content ourselves with giving the gist of the chapters, emphasizing what we deem to be points that need most to be stressed in our present time.