Roman Empire in the Late 1st or Early 2nd Century
Israel. Rome. Macedonia. Greece. Biblical settings can be rich, majestic, and beautiful and add layers of meaning and understanding to our knowledge of the ancient texts.
The Pastoral Epistles don't have any of that.
When (Not) in Greece
In each of the letters, the author says that he's writing to a certain place. Timothy is hanging out in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). Titus, meanwhile, is making things happen down on the Greek isle of Crete (Titus 1:5). But since Paul didn't actually write these, that means these letters don't actually shed light on what it was like to be a Christian in ancient Greece.
So what do we know about the setting of these letters? Well, most scholars think they were written around the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century CE (source, 1137). This was quite a few decades after Paul died in the mid-60s CE. That's probably why these epistles are mainly concerned with how to help the church that he built grow up strong and healthy in the future.
Law and Order
The Pastor is pretty big into organization issues. Maybe he just loved bureaucracy and red tape. But it's way more likely that as the church grew and expanded, it needed to get some structure to it. That means setting rules for who could be in charge and, most importantly, laying down the law about which traditions and teachings people should be following. Only 100% Paul-approved teachings would do.
The other big thing on the Pastor's mind is conformity with a capital C. If Christians are gonna have any kind of future in this Greco-Roman world, he says, they're gonna have be on their best behavior (source, 1137). That means acting in ways that make the outside, unbelieving world happy.
Christians would sometimes run into trouble when they refused to recognize the authority of the Roman Emperor. To avoid all kinds of nasty run-ins with Rome, the Pastor encourages Christians to pray for non-Christian leaders. They're also supposed to obey anyone in authority. Hey, that's one way to keep from getting thrown to the lions (source, 1223).
Dealing with Underlings
Men and women also had to stay in their proper place. The Pastor expects the church to run like a traditional Roman household:
- A man was the head of his entire family, and only he could own property or represent the family in public affairs.
- A wife was expected to manage the household and the children. She supported her husband by being a good little wifey and acting with modesty, grace, and dignity (source).
- Slaves, too, were definitely not advised to step out of line. Since slavery was part of life in the Roman Empire (source), the Pastor didn't seem to see any use in rocking the boat. Just obey your master and everything will be a-okay.
Ah, how times have changed.
The Pastor saw a world where Christians needed to get along to get ahead. There's no us vs. them mentality in these letters: he wants his fellow Christians to blend in seamlessly with their Roman neighbors. Part of this is just basic survival strategy: don't attract attention and you won't get stoned to death for not worshipping Zeus.
But some of this is also smart PR. If Christians could present themselves as normal, run-of-the-mill Joes, then their faith would start to look more appealing to outsiders. Hey, if you're not rocking the boat, more people might want to get on.
We'd say that 2,000 years and 2 billion followers later, it was kind of a success.