Study Guide

Paul (The Pastor) in The Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus)

Paul (The Pastor)

The Apostle Paul is the author of 14 New Testament letters. The epistles to Timothy and Titus are no different, right? Paul calls himself out as the author right in the beginning of each one. It's an open and shut case.

Or is it?

The Real Paul

First, let's start with some background. Paul was born into a Jewish home in the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus. He grew up in Tarsus (which is in modern-day Turkey) and ended up becoming a Pharisee. Yup. Those dreaded baddies from the gospels.

Paul never actually met Jesus, but found out more about him after Jesus died and the whole "Christianity" thing started taking off in and around Jerusalem. See, Paul was actually one of the people who persecuted the first Christians (1 Timothy 1:13). He rounded them up and arrested them. He was even there when St. Stephen was stoned to death.

Eventually, Paul saw the error of his ways—in the form of a vision of Jesus—and decided to dedicate his life to travelling around and teaching the whole world (or at least the eastern half of the Roman Empire) about Jesus (1 Timothy 1:11). Since he was set on telling Gentiles (non-Jews) all this good stuff about Jesus (1 Timothy 2:7), he became pretty darn popular. With Christians, that is. Other folks really liked to throw him in jail (2 Timothy 1:8). A lot.

But Paul's fame grew, and by the time he died, he was one of the most well-known disciples of Christ in the whole Roman Empire. In fact, some of the letters he wrote to the Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon are still kicking around today.

The Faux Paul

For hundreds of years, no one really doubted that the letters to Timothy and Titus were actually written by Paul himself. After all, his name is right there in the first sentence and they include all kinds of tidbits about his actual life. But around the 19th century, scholars started to compare these three to other letters that definitely seemed to have been written by Paul and noticed that something was up (source, 1137).

So what aroused their suspicion?

  • Paul is writing to two of his closest friends and companions, yet he's giving them lots of basic instructions. Do these guys seriously not know "how one ought to behave in the household of God" (1 Timothy 3:15)? Come on, that's Discipleship 101.
  • The letters don't really have any of the passion of Paul's other stuff. Take a peek at his work for the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians, and Philemon and see for yourself.
  • There's hardly anything about the end of the world (1 Timothy 6:14-15), which was a big deal for Paul (and something he thought was happening very, very soon).
  • The letters don't mention any of Paul's favorite topics: the cross of Jesus, the church as the body of Christ, or God's covenant with his people.
  • Paul says that "the law is good, if one uses it legitimately" (1 Timothy 1:8), but that doesn't really gel with his opinions on Jewish law in other letters.
  • He died in the 60s CE, but the letters deal with bishops, deacons, and elders (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9), positions that would have been more of a concern in at the end of the century.
  • The places he's said he's travelled (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 3:11) don't jive with the dates and places we have in Acts of the Apostles or his other letters.

(Thanks to The Oxford Bible Commentary for spotting all those issues [pp. 1220-21].)

The Pastor: The Brains Behind This Operation

Most likely, these letters were actually written by an anonymous Christian who totally dug Paul and wanted to help other Christians who dug him, too. For this guy, Paul was a hero.

This random Christian, who some folks call "the Pastor" (mental note: also makes an good superhero name), wrote a few letters and signed Paul's name to them. Why? Well, at the end of the first century CE, Paul was still a superstar of the church. His name had a lot of pull and anything that came from him would be seen as having a whole lot of authority behind it. Basically, if Paul said it, people wanted to hear about it.

Today, we'd call this plagiarism and sue the Pastor for copyright infringement. But in the first century, it was a pretty common practice. It was a way that people could take their own views and give them a little more oomph. After all, who cares what Gaius from Ephesus thinks about how widows should be treated. But the Apostle Paul? Well, he's someone worth listening to.

Why'd He Do It?

So the Pastor a big liar who used someone else's name to promote his own message? Not really. See, the Pastor's motivations were probably pretty decent.

The way he sees it, there are people out there using Paul's teachings for a bad purpose: they're misinterpreting things he's saying. The whole deal about the resurrection already happening might be based on Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 15. And not getting married? See, Paul's take on that in 1 Corinthians 7. The Pastor wants to use a source his opponents will respect to point out how so very wrong they are.

The Pastor also uses Paul's name to bring order to the community. He sees a future for Christianity, but in order for these people of faith to realize their full potential, they've got to put their best foot forward (source, 1137). That means always being on their best behavior. Be nice to non-Christians! Obey social norms! Women, slaves, and children need to know their place…under the boot of the patriarchy!

Sure, you could argue that it's just a way for a person in a position of power to collect even more power for himself. But you could just as easily argue that by asking folks in the community to toe the line, it made it much less likely that Christians would stick out, be noticed, and be promptly rounded up and thrown to the lions. If using Paul's name means fewer Christians get picked on and can "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Timothy 2:2), the Pastor is all for it.

Paul Is Dead

Really, the letters are pretty good fakes—which is why they fooled people for so darn long (that and people weren't really into the whole questioning-the-Bible thing at the beginning). The second letter to Timothy even points to Paul's own death. Paul tells Timothy he's imprisoned in Rome and that he is "being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come" (2 Timothy 4:6).

Yikes.

This pretty much jibes with church tradition, which has always said that Paul was beheaded in Rome in 64 CE. That's why lots of religious icons and paintings will show him holding a sword, even though we can't imagine he would have been too excited about carrying for all eternity the thing that killed him.

However Paul died, it's obvious that his name could still sell tickets (and move letters) long after he was gone. Because of letters like these three from the Pastor, Paul's legend grew throughout the Roman Empire and eventually the world.

Hey, here we are talking about him almost 2,000 years after he died. Not too shabby.

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