Summary and Analysis The Pastoral Letters



Three short letters in the New Testament are addressed to Christian pastors. Traditionally, these letters were attributed to Paul on the assumption that he wrote them while he was a prisoner in Rome. Two are addressed to Timothy, a young man whose parents became Christians prior to the time when Paul visited them in the town of Lystra, in Asia Minor. Timothy joined Paul in his missionary activities and continued to minister to the churches after Paul became a prisoner in Rome. The third letter is addressed to Titus, a young man born of Gentile parents who became a Christian and who was one of the delegates sent by the church at Antioch to accompany Paul and Barnabas when they went to Jerusalem for a meeting of the council. Nothing is said in either of the letters to Timothy about the occasion for writing, but the Epistle to Titus mentions that Paul is in prison.

New Testament scholars generally do not agree whether or not these letters, at least in their present form, were written by Paul. The reasons for not believing that Paul is the author are based partly on the letters' style and vocabulary, which are quite different from what we find in the older letters that Paul wrote. The theological conceptions that Paul used so frequently are absent, but the major reason why some scholars believe that Paul did not write these letters is that the ecclesiastical order that these letters presuppose did not exist in Paul's day. Perhaps the letters were written by someone who was an admirer of Paul and who wrote the kind of instruction of which he believed Paul would approve.

1 Timothy

1 Timothy was written to give instructions in worship and in church administration, and to warn against false teachings in the churches. Certain forms of worship should be observed, and certain types of conduct should be strictly avoided. Because both bishops and deacons were necessarily appointed in the churches, it was highly important that these offices be respected and that careful attention be given to the selection of men to fill them. The bishop must be above reproach, temperate, dignified, of a peaceful disposition, and not a lover of money. The deacons, too, must be men of serious mind, free from greed, and conscientious in all of their activities. They should be tested first, and only those who are blameless should be permitted to serve in that office.

The letter contains a special warning against the false beliefs and practices that were associated with Gnosticism. For example, the author specifies the asceticism that was advocated by some Gnostics in their efforts to overcome the demands of the physical body, and the opposite method that was urged by others who taught that indulgence in various forms of sensuality would accomplish the same purpose. Both asceticism and over-indulgence were based on the Gnostic conception that matter is evil; only that which is spirit is good. Christians are also warned against being misled by the godless myths that formed a part of the special kind of knowledge that Gnostics regarded as essential for salvation. The letter expresses reproof toward those who try to make a profit out of religion, and it contains instructions concerning the attitude that Christians should hold in their dealings with widows, presbyters, and slaves.

2 Timothy

Written by an experienced missionary, 2 Timothy urges Timothy to recognize that endurance is one of the main qualities essential for a successful preacher of the gospel. Evidently, situations developed within the churches that were especially difficult for Christian pastors. Timothy must stand firm and rekindle the gift of God that is within him. He must be willing to bear hardships when necessary and to conduct himself as a good soldier for God. He needs both courage and humility to perform the tasks that have been assigned to him. In combating false doctrine, he must refrain from all that is ignoble and must show that he can differentiate words of truth from false doctrine. He can draw help and inspiration from the example of Paul, who is now at the end of his career and about to receive a crown of righteousness. The letter closes with personal greetings to the members of the church.


The Epistle to Titus contains three chapters. Similar in content to 1 Timothy, it specifies the qualifications for the office of bishop and gives instruction for the appointment of church elders. Because the bishop is God's steward, he must be blameless, hospitable, and able to control his temper, and he must not be arrogant, self-indulgent, or intemperate. He must have a firm grasp of the word of God and give instruction in sound doctrine. In dealing with the men and women who are members of the church, the bishop or elder in charge must train the congregation to be serious, temperate, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and steadfastness. Women are to be instructed to love their husbands and children. Younger men are to be taught to control themselves. Slaves should be taught obedience to their masters, and Christians must avoid hatred and wrangling. They should be encouraged to manifest meekness, gentleness, and courtesy, which are made possible by God's mercy in Christ.


The Epistle to the Ephesians can scarcely be called a pastoral letter since it was not addressed to a particular church leader. We have no proof that Paul wrote the letter, although it was supposed for a long time that he did. The evidence contained in the letter itself suggests very strongly that the letter was written after Paul's death, probably by one of his disciples who may have wanted it to appear that Paul wrote the letter because of the added prestige that his authorship would give to it. Although Paul was with the church in Ephesus for a period of about three years and would certainly have formed some close personal friendships, the letter does not contain personal greetings to particular individuals.

No mention is made of the Jewish controversy over legalism, which is found in nearly all of Paul's letters. The most convincing argument of all that Paul did not write the letter is the fact that reference is made to the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church; Paul always insisted that the church had no foundation other than Jesus Christ. The letter was evidently written for the churches at a time when church organization had proceeded quite beyond the point it reached while Paul was still living.

Two main themes are expounded in the letter: the unity of all things in Christ and the Christian church as the visible symbol here on earth of that unity. The author of the letter asserts that Jesus' life reveals the divine purpose that has existed since the creation of the world. The centuries-old disunity is due to humanity's sin. The Spirit of God made manifest in the life of Jesus here on this earth has shown how this disunity can be overcome and the original harmony restored. Overcoming evil in the lives of human beings achieves a unity not only between humans and God but a cosmic unity that unites all things on earth and in heaven. Therefore, there is no need for any worship of powers that are intermediary between heaven and earth, as was taught by Gnostics.

Unity has been achieved between Jews and Gentiles through the person of Christ. The Gentiles, who at one time were separated from the people of God and who were in bondage to the evil powers of the universe, are now offered salvation and have been made one with the children of God through Jesus Christ. A new household of God has been created through the preaching of the apostles and the Christian prophets. The church has been called into being to bear witness to the divine purpose and to knit together people from all races and nations into a single community in which God dwells through his Spirit. The letter closes with ethical instructions for the members of the church from which this unity may be achieved. Because the church is the visible body of Christ, it must grow strong in the bonds of love as it fulfills its mission in the world.


Although the pastoral letters can scarcely be attributed directly to Paul, they do contain passages that have every indication of Pauline authorship. Paul's influence can be seen in certain passages, even though such passages are now combined with other material that seemed appropriate for the conditions that existed in the churches at the time when the letters were written. The letters are especially valuable from a historical point of view since they reveal the beginnings of the type of church organization that, with modifications, has persisted even to this day.

From a religious point of view, the letters are inferior to those written by Paul. The chief difference lies in the fact that the pastoral letters do not show the close connection between Christian faith and Christian living that is so characteristic of Paul's writings. Paul never failed to point out that the fruits of the spirit would always be expressed in the quality of one's daily living. Faith was something that gripped the entire personality, and the results could be seen in one's actions, as well as in one's attitudes and beliefs. The pastoral letters emphasize two duties that are incumbent on all Christians: to believe certain things and to do certain things. However, the way in which these duties are related is not set forth in the manner that Paul so clearly made in his letters to the churches.

Despite this weakness, the letters set forth a high standard for Christian living. They contain practical instruction for meeting the problems that arise in daily life, and their message can be understood even by those who are not theologically inclined.