The Pastoral Letters

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Biblical Teachings

  • The term, Pastoral Epistles, was first used by a German scholar, Paul Anton, in papers that he read in 1726-27.
  • The term is derived from their content: namely, pastoral concerns for congregations that have leaders who function as pastors (although they are not called pastors in the letters).
  • Prior to this, the letters were known as Pontifical Letters since they were written by the pontifex, or priest, of the church.
  • The letters were ostensibly written by Paul to two of his younger co-workers who were leaders in churches in Ephesus (Timothy) and Crete (Titus).
  • Paul’s other letters (with the exception of Philemon) were all written to churches.
  • There is no indication of the place of origin for two of the letters; in 2 Timothy, the writer is supposedly in Rome.
  • Most scholars now believe the letters were written by a pseudonymous author, who still might have used some authentic Pauline material. (This is especially true in 2 Timothy.)
  • The use of Paul’s name would have been a testament to him as their founding apostle and of the tradition he left to them.
  • More than half of the people named in the letters have some association with Ephesus, leading scholars to assume that the author either wrote from there or sent the letters there.
  • According to Acts 20:31, Paul spent 2-3 years in Ephesus. The congregation had presbyters (20:17) who were charged by Paul to “oversee” the church. (It is not known whether this accurately reflects the congregation during the time of Paul or whether it was the situation in 80-90 when Acts was written.)
  • Scholars began questioning Pauline authorship of the Pastorals by the nineteenth century. Though the reasons are varied and sound, some scholars dispute these findings and maintain Pauline authorship.
  • Scholars who do not accept Pauline authorship date the letters to the turn of the century, or 100 CE. (Paul was martyred in the early 60’s CE)
  • The letters are important for the glimpse they provide regarding the early church.
  • They address a highly developed ecclesiastical organization that includes elders, bishops, and deacons.
  • They still struggle with opponents who promote differing Christian teaching.
  • They are sent to specific pastors who were in charge of specific churches, yet they have a universal and timeless appeal.
  • Most of the people in these churches were third or fourth generation Christians.
  • The Pastorals begin to deal with how tradition would be passed from generation to generation.
  • The role of women is addressed, including widowed women.
  • They also spoke about caring for the poorest of the poor, including the elderly and slaves.
  • They were invaluable in providing the structure that was needed to withstand the challenges from opposing beliefs (like Marcionism and Gnosticism).
  • The yardstick became “sound doctrine,” “the truth,” and “the faith.”
  • They enumerated the qualifications that were needed for ecclesiastical ministry.
  • With Paul as their presumed author, these letters also gave official sanction to such church order. (This is, of course, why the church has endured for 2000 years.)
  • It is likely that the three letters circulated together and were read as one.
  • They are arranged according to their length. · Most scholars agree that the Pastorals were written by the same person, but they don’t know whether that person was Paul.
  • Some scholars have suggested that “Luke” might have been the author since he was the only one who remained with Paul at the end.
  • Scholars hope that the questions over authorship do not overshadow the message that is inherent in the letters.


Barclay, William. "The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975.

Duling, Dennis and Norman Perrin. The New Testament. Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. Philadelphia, PA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1994.

Fee, Gordon. "1 and 2 Timothy, Titus." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1988.

Gaebelein, Frank. "1 and 2 Timothy, Titus." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.

Hanson, A.T. "The Pastoral Epistles." The New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1982.

Hultgren, Arland. "I-II Timothy, Titus." Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing. 1984.

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