New Testament Introduction

Louis Berkhof

The Pastoral Epistles


In the case of these Epistles it seems best to consider the question of authorship first, and to treat them as a unity in the discussion of their authenticity. When we examine the external testimony to these letters we find that this is in no way deficient. If many have doubted their genuineness, it was not because they discovered that the early Church did not recognize them. It is true that some early heretics, who acknowledged the genuineness of the other letters attributed to Paul, rejected these, such as Basilides and Marcion, but Jerome says that their adverse judgment was purely arbitrary. From the time of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, who were the first to quote the New Testament books by name, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, no one doubted the Pauline authorship of these letters. The Muratorian Fragment ascribes them to Paul, and they are included in all MSS., Versions and Lists of the Pauline letters, in all of which (with the single exception of the Muratorian Fragment) they are arranged in the same order, viz. I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus.

As far as the internal evidence is concerned we may call attention in a preliminary way to a few facts that favor the authenticity of these letters and take up the consideration of other features in connection with the objections that are urged against them. They are all self-attested; they contain the characteristic Pauline blessing at the beginning, end with the customary salutation, and reveal the usual solicitude of Paul for his churches and for those associated with him in the work; they point to the same relation between Paul and his spiritual sons Timothy and Titus that we know from other sources; and they refer to persons (cf. II Tim. 4. Titus 3) that are also mentioned elsewhere as companions and co-laborers of Paul.

Yet it is especially on the strength of internal evidence that these Epistles have been attacked. J. E. C. Schmidt in 1804, soon followed by Schleiermacher, was the first one to cast doubt on their genuineness. Since that time they have been rejected, not only by the Tubingen school and by practically all negative critics, but also by some scholars that usually incline to the conservative side, such as Neander (rejecting only I Timothy), Meyer; ( Romans) and Sabatier. While the majority of radical critics reject these letters unconditionally, Credner, Harnack, Hausrath and McGiffert believe that they contain some genuine Pauline sections; the last named scholar regarding especially the passages that contain personal references, such as II Tim. 1:15-18; 4: 9-21; Titus 3:12,13, as authentic, and surmising that some others may be saved from the ruins, The Apostolic Age p. 405 if. The genuineness of the Pastorals is defended by Weiss, Zahn, Salmon, Godet, Barth, and nearly all the Commentators, such as Huther, Van Oosterzee, Ellicott, Alford, White (in The Exp. Gk. Test.) e. a.

Several arguments are employed to discredit the authenticity of these letters. We shall briefly consider the most important ones. (1) It is impossible to find a place for their composition and the historical situation which they reflect in the life of Paul, as we know it from the Acts of the Apostles. Reuss, who provisionally accepted their Pauline authorship in his, History of the New Testament I pp. 80-85; 121-129, did so with the distinct proviso that they had to fit into the narrative of Acts somewhere. Finding that his scheme did not work out well, he afterwards rejected I Timothy and Titus. Cf. his Commentary on the Pastorals. (2) The conception of Christianity found in these letters is un-Pauline and clearly represents a later development. They contain indeed some Pauline ideas, but these are exceptional. “There is no trace whatever,” says McGiifert, “of the great fundamental truth of Paul’s gospel,—death unto the flesh and life in the Spirit.” Instead of the faith by which we are justified and united to Christ, we find piety and good works prominently in the foreground. Cf. I Tim. 1: 5; 2: 2,15; 4:7 f.; 5:4; 6:6;—II Tim. 1:3; 3:5, 12;—Titus 1:1; 2:12. Moreover the word faith does not, as in the letters of Paul, denote the faith that believes, but rather the sum and substance of that which is believed, I Tim. 1: 19; 3: 9; 4:1, 6; 5 :8. And sound doctrine is spoken of in a way that reminds one of the characteristic esteem in which orthodoxy was later held, cf. I Tim. 1:10; 4: 6; 6: 3 ;— II Tim. 4: 3 ;—Titus 1: 9; 2:1, 7. (3) The church organization that is reflected in these letters points to a later age. It is unlikely that Paul, believing as he did in the speedy second coming of Christ, would pay so much attention to details of organization; nor does it seem probable that he would lay such stress on the offices received by ecclesiastical appointment, and have so little regard to the spiritual gifts that are independent of official position and that occupy a very prominent place in the undoubted writings of the apostle. Moreover the organization assumed in these letters reveals second century conditions. Alongside of the πρεσβύτεροιthe ἐπίσκοποςis named as a primus inter pares (notice the singular in I Tim. 3:1; Titus 1: 7); and the office-bearers in general are given undue prominence. There is a separate class of widows, of which some held an official position in the Church, just as there was in the second century, I Tim. 5. Ecclesiastical office is conferred by the laying on of hands, I Tim. 5: 22; and the second marriage of bishops, deacons, and ministering widows was not to be tolerated, I Tim. 3: 2, 12; 5 : 9-11; Tit. 1: 6. (4) The false teachers and teachings to which the Epistles refer are evidently second century Gnostics and Gnosticism. The term ἀντιθὲσεις, I Tim. 6 :20, according to Baur, contains a reference to the work of Marcion which bore that title. And the endless genealogies of I Tim. 1: 4 are supposed to refer to the Aeons of Valentinus. (5) The most weighty objection is, however, that the style of these letters differs from that of the Pauline Epistles to such a degree as to imply diversity of authorship. Says Davidson: “The change of style is too great to comport with identity of authorship. Imitations of phrases and terms occurring in Pauls authentic Epistles are obvious; inferiority and feebleness show dependence; while the new constructions and words betray a writer treating of new circumstances and giving expression to new ideas, yet personating the apostle all the while. The change is palpable; though the author throws himself back into the situation of Paul the prisoner.” Introd. II p. 66. Holtzmann claims that of the 897 words that constitute these letters (proper names excepted) 171 (read 148) are ἅπαξ λεγόμενα of which 74 are found in I Timothy, 46 in II Timothy, and 28 in Titus. Besides these there is a great number of phrases and expressions that are peculiar and point away from Paul, such as δώκειν δικαιοσύνην, I Tim. 6:11; II Tim. 2:22; φυλάσσειν τὴν παραθήκην, I Tim. 6:20; II Tim. 1:12, 14; παρακολουθεῖν τῇ διδασκαλία̨, I Tim. 4:6; II Tim. 3:10; βέβηλοι κενοφωνίαι, I Tim. 6:20; II Tim. 2:16; ἅ̓νθρωπος θεοῦ I Tim. 6:11; II Tim. 3 :17; etc. On the other hand many expressions that play a prominent part in Pauline literature are absent from these letters, as ἄδικος, ἀκροβυστία, γνωπίζειν, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, δικαίωμα, ἔ̓́ργα νόμου, ὁμοίωμα, παράδοσις, etc.

As far as the first argument is concerned, it must be admitted that these Epistles do not fit in the life of Paul, as we know it from the Acts of the Apostles. Their genuineness depends on the question, whether or not Paul was set free again after the imprisonment described in Acts 28. Now we have reasons, aside from the contents of these Epistles, to believe that he was liberated and resumed his missionary labors. In view of the fact that Felix, Festus and Agrippa found no guilt in Paul, and that the apostle was sent to Rome, only because he appealed to Caesar, the presumption is that he was not condemned at Rome. This presumption is greatly strengthened by the fact that, when the apostle wrote his letters to the Philippians and to Philemon, the prospect of his release seemed favorable, Phil. 1: 25; 2: 24; Philem. 22; compare II Tim. 4: 6-8. It is objected to this that Paul, in taking his farewell of the Ephesan elders, says to them: “I know (οἷδα) that ye all—shall see my face no more,” Acts 20: 25. But it may be doubted, whether we have the right to press this οἷδα so that it becomes prophetic; if we have, it is counterbalanced by the οἷδα in Phil. 1 :25. The most natural inference from the data of Scripture (outside of these Epistles) is that Paul was set free; and this is confirmed by the tradition of the early Church, as it is expressed by Eusebius, Church Hist. II 22: Paul is said (λόγος ἓχει)after having defended himself to have set forth again upon the ministry of preaching, and to have entered the same city a second time, and to have ended his life by martyrdom. Whilst then a prisoner, he wrote the second Epistle to Timothy, in which he both mentions his first defense, and his impending death.” Moreover the Muratorian Fragment speaks of a visit that Paul paid to Spain, which cannot be placed before the first Roman imprisonment. And Clement of Rome states in his letter to the Corinthians, after relating that the apostle labored in the East and in the West, that he came to “the bounderies of the West.” Now it does not seem likely that he, who himself lived in Rome, would refer to the city on the Tiber in those terms. And if this is not the import of those words, the presumption is that he too has reference to Spain.

Paul’s movements after his release are uncertain, and all that can be said regarding, them is conjectural. Leaving Rome he probably first repaired to Macedonia and Asia Minor for the intended visits, Phil. 1: 23-26; Philem. 22, and then undertook his long looked for journey to Spain, Rom. 15 : 24. Returning from there, he possibly went to Ephesus, where he had a dispute with Hymenaeus and Alexander, I Tim. 1: 20, and engaged the services of Onesiphorus, II Tim. 1: 16-18. Leaving Timothy in charge of the Ephesian church, he departed for Macedonia, I Tim. 1: 3, from where he most likely wrote I Timothy. After this he may have visited Crete with Titus, leaving the latter there to organize the churches, Tit. 1: 5, and returning to Ephesus according to his wishes, I Tim. 3:14; 4:13, where Alexander the coppersmith did him great evil, II Tim. 4:14. From here he probably wrote the Epistle to Titus, for he was evidently in some center of missionary enterprise, when he composed it, Tit. 3:12-15. Departing from Ephesus, he went through Miletus, II Tim. 4: 20 to Troas, II Tim. 4:13, where he was probably re-arrested, and whence he was taken to Rome by way of Corinth, the abode of Erastus, II Tim. 4: 20; Rom. 16: 23. In that case he did not reach Nicopolis, where he intended to spend the winter. In this statement we proceed on the assumption that the winter mentioned in II Tim. 4: 21 is the same as that of Titus 3:12. The second imprisonment of Paul was more severe than the first, II Tim. 1: 16, 17; 2: 9. His first defense appears to have been successful, II Tim. 4:16, 17, but as his final hearing drew nigh, he had a presentiment of approaching martyrdom. According to the Chronicles of Eusebius Paul died as a martyr in the thirteenth year of Nero, or A. D. 67.

The objection that the theological teaching of these Epistles is different from that of Paul, must be taken cum grano salis, because this teaching merely complements and in no way contradicts the representation of the undoubted Epistles. We find no further objective development of the truth here, but only a practical application of the doctrines already unfolded in previous letters. And it was entirely fitting that, as every individual letter, so too the entire cycle of Pauline Epistles should end with practical admonitions. Historically this is easily explained, on the one hand, by the fact that the productive period of the apostles life had come to an end, and it is now Paul the aged—for all the vicissitudes of a busy and stormy life must greatly have sapped his strength—that speaks to us, cf. Philem. 9; and, on the other hand, by the fact that the heresy which the apostle here encounters had developed into ethical corruption. If it is said that the writer of these Epistles ascribes a meritorious character to good works, we take exception and qualify that as a false statement. The passages referred to, such as I Tim. 1:15; 3:13; 4:8; 6:18 if.; II Tim. 4:8, do not prove the assertion. Since a rather full statement of the Christian truth had preceded these letters, it need not cause surprise that Paul should refer to it as “the sound doctrine,” Cf. Rom. 6:17. Nor does it seem strange, in view of this, that alongside of the subjective the objective sense of the word faith should begin to assert itself. We find an approach to this already in Rom. 12: 6; Gal. 1: 23; Phil. 1: 27.

It is a mistake to think that the emphasis which these letters place on the external organization of the churches, and the particular type of ecclesiastical polity which they reflect, precludes their Pauline authorship. There is nothing strange in the fact that Paul, knowing that the day of Christ was not at hand (II Thess. 2:1-12), should lay special stress on church government now that his ministry was drawing to a close. It might rather have caused surprise, if he had not thus made provision for the future of his churches. And it is perfectly natural also that he should emphasize the offices in the church rather than the extraordinary spiritual gifts, since these gradually vanished and made place for the ordinary ministry of the Word. The position that the office-bearers mentioned in these letters prove a development beyond that of the apostolic age. is not substantiated by the facts. Deacons were appointed shortly after the establishment of the Church, Acts 6; elders were chosen from place to place, as the apostle founded churches among the Gentiles, Acts 14: 23; and in Phil, 1: 1 Paul addresses not only the Philippians in general, but also “the bishops and deacons.” Moreover in Eph. 4:11 the apostle says: “And He gave you some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers.” Surely it does not seem that the Pastoral Epistles are strikingly different in this respect from the others. If it be said that the bishop becomes so prominent here as to indicate that the leaven of hierarchy was already working, we answer that in the New Testament the terms ἐπίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος; are clearly synonymous. The fact that the bishop is spoken of in the singular proves nothing to the contrary. Not once are bishops and presbyters arranged alongside of each other as denoting two separate classes, and in Titus 1: 5-7 the terms are clearly interchangeable. The case of Phebe, Rom. 16: 1 certainly does not countenance the theory that the office of deaconess was not called into existence until the second century. And the passages that are supposed to prohibit the second marriage of office-bearers are of too uncertain interpretation to justify the conclusions drawn from them.

Granted that the errors to which these letters refer were of a Gnostic character—as Alford is willing to grant—, it by no means follows that the Epistles are second century productions, since the first signs of the Gnostic heresy are known to have made their appearance in the apostolic age. But it is an unproved assumption that the writer refers to Gnosticism of any kind. It is perfectly evident from the letters that the heresy was of a Judaeistic, though not of a Pharisaic type, resembling very much the error that threatened the Colossian church. Hort, after examining it carefully comes to the conclusion that “there is a total want of evidence for anything pointing to even rudimentary Gnosticism or Essenism.” In view of the fact that the errorists prided themselves as being teachers of the law, I Tim. 1: 7, and that the term γενεαλογία is brought in close connection with “strivings about the law” in Titus 3: 9, the presumption is that it contains no reference whatever to the emanations of Gnostic aeons, but rather, as Zahn surmises, to rabbinic disputations regarding Jewish genealogies. And the word “antitheses,” of which Hort says that it cannot refer to Marcions work, is simply descriptive of the opposition in which the heretics that boasted of a higher knowledge placed themselves to the Gospel.

The argument from style has often proved to be a very precarious one. If a persons vocabulary were a fixed quantity, he were limited to the use of certain set phrases and expressions, and his style, once acquired, were unchangeable and necessarily wanting in flexibility, a plausible case might be made out. But as a matter of fact such is not the usual condition of things, and certainly was not the case with Paul, who to a great extent moulded the language of the New Testament. We need not and cannot deny that the language of the Pastorals has many peculiarities, but in seeking to explain these we should not immediately take refuge in a supposed difference of authorship, but rather make allowance for the influence of Paul’s advancing years, of the altered conditions of his life, of the situation in which his readers were placed. And of the subjects with which he was obliged to deal in these Epistles. And let us not forget what N. J. D. White says, Exp. Gk. Test. IV p. 63, that “the acknowledged peculiarities must not be allowed to obscure the equally undoubted fact that the Epistles present not only as many characteristic Pauline words as the writer had use for, but that, in the more significant matter of turns of expression, the style of the letters is fundamentally Pauline. Cf. also the judicious remarks of Reuss on the style of these letters.History of the New Testament, I p. 123.

In concluding our discussion of the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles we desire to remark: (1) The critics admit that the objections urged by them against the genuineness of these letters do not apply to all three of them in the same degree. According to Baur II Timothy and Titus are the least suspicious. He maintains, however, that I Timothy will always be “the betrayer of its spurious brothers.” But it would be reasonable to turn the statement about with Reuss, and to say that “so long as no decisive and palpable proofs of the contrary are presented the two which are in and of themselves less suspicious ought always to afford protection to the third which is more so.” Ibid. p. 84. (2) Baur and his followers rightly held that, in order to prove the spuriousness of these letters, they had to point out the positive purpose of the forgery; in which, according to Reuss, they utterly failed, when they said that it was to combat the Gnostic heresies that were prevalent after A. D. 150, Ibid. p. 124 f. (3) It looks a great deal like a confession of defeat, when several of the negative critics admit that the passages in which personal reminiscences are found, must be regarded as genuine, for it means that they yield their case wherever they can be controlled. For a broader discussion of the authenticity of these letters, cf. Alford, Prolegomena Section I; Holtzmann, Einl. pp. 274-292; Zahn, Einl. I pp. 459-491; Godet, Introd. pp. 567-611; Farrar, St. Paul, II pp. 607-622; Salmon, Introd. pp. 433-452; McGiffert, Apostolic Age pp. 399-423; Davidson, Introd. II pp. 21-76. Lock (in Hastings D. B. Artt. I Timothy, II Timothy and Titus.)