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Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles

Posted On November 11, 2014

The discipline known as Pauline studies has certainly had its share of ups and downs over the years. Furthermore, much ink has been spilled on the subject of Paul and the New Testament epistles he wrote. Thus to a certain degree, there can be a sense of confusion as to what Paul was addressing in his letters, how they are to be understood within the greater context of Scripture, and perhaps most importantly, how does one apply the writings of Paul to life in the present tense. Focusing specifically on the Pastoral Epistles, Andreas Kostenberger and Terry Wilder have provided Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles in an effort to clear the proverbial air on the issue of Paul to include engaging with the state of current scholarship on this particular issue.

This book is a collection of twelve valuable essays from some very noted New Testament scholars. Each essay covers an important aspect of the Pastoral Epistles ranging from some fundamental hermeneutical and exegetical challenges that impact how one interprets these letters, the function of salvation as it is related in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, as well as the ethics of the Pastoral Epistles. All of the essays are worthy of discussion but to address the topics and insight provided in each chapter of this helpful book would be outside the scope of this particular review. With that said, I will focus on two chapters I found particularly insightful, that of Andreas Kostenberger’s chapter on the Hermeneutical and Exegetical Challenges in Interpreting the Pastoral Epistles and B. Paul Wolfe’s treatment of The Ethics of the Pastoral Epistles.

Kostenberger rightly notes there are a number of hermeneutical and exegetical challenges that face the reader of the Pastoral Epistles. These challenges include issues of authorship, genre, the historical background of the books, and the function and establishment of church leadership to include the offices of elder and deacon. Such issues permeate the discussion on these texts and thus must be addressed. While some NT scholars, even noted scholars such as I. Howard Marshall have asserted authorship as existing with someone other than the Apostle Paul, Kostenberger avers “the internal evidence strongly suggests the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, and all views posting pseudonymity or allonymity face considerable difficulties.”

If indeed Paul wrote these epistles, the question of establishing the proper genre is also of great relevance. There are some scholars who suggest what is termed as an “ad hoc” approach to the subject matter discussed in the Timothy and Titus letters, thus restricting the discussion solely to the “original situation at hand”. Such an approach according to Kostenberger “denies Paul, the author, the ability to make any pronouncements in a Pastoral or any letter that transcend his immediate circumstances.” Kostenberger rightly rejects this ad hoc approach given such a perspective does not allow the principles shared by Paul, principles by the way that were intended both for his immediate audience and the church in succeeding generations to follow, to be understood as timeless truths within the church body. He also correctly notes that the ad hoc approach leads to hermeneutical extremes that are inconsistent with the purpose of Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus.

One final issue Kostenberger addresses is that of the role of the overseer, namely elders and deacons. There is the seemingly age old question of whether such duties are restricted to men as well as the qualifications associated with the office that must be met. Building on his previous statements about how the Pastoral Epistles should be interpreted, Kostenberger engages the offices of elders and deacons providing valuable insight into the intent of Paul’s statements regarding each function. Kostenberger correctly notes that the basis for the injunction of elders and deacons being restricted to men is not some sexist or chauvinistic attitude. Conversely, such a position is rooted in I Tim. 2:12. Furthermore, the restriction of the office of elder and deacon to men is also found in the qualifications for these offices. He aptly notes the question that exists in the minds of some specifically in regards to the “husband of one wife requirement.” Does this mean someone who has been divorced can never serve in the office of elder or deacon? Kostenberger shares some valuable insight into the various viewpoints on this issue to include the connection of marital fidelity for church leaders with the Decalogue’s prohibition against adultery. He ultimately concludes that “when coupled with the requirement that an overseer be above reproach (which includes community reputation), it may be best not to appoint divorcees to the role of overseer, especially when qualified candidates are available that did not undergo a divorce.” Some may certainly disagree with Kostenberger’s position; however, his exegesis and analysis are such that it is hard to argue against his position on this matter. If anything, his discussion of such an issue reveals the variety of thought and the need to carefully investigate Paul’s statements based on a consistent hermeneutical approach to the Pastoral Epistles as a whole.

Another chapter in this book worthy of discussion is that of Madsen’s overview of the ethics of the Pastoral Epistles. In keeping with Kostenberger’s hermeneutical view that Paul intended his statements to be of value to both his immediate audience (Timothy and Titus) as well as the Church at large to include future generations of believers, Madsen notes “The Pastoral Epistles contain two types of statements to proper conduct.” He avers these as being ones that “capture various aspects of the Christian worldview, declaring what God is like and what he has done for particular groups of people – Paul, Timoty, the church, and so forth. Others state or imply what the affected person’s duties are, given that same set of facts.”

Madsen rightly notes that in the writings of Paul it is declared “Believers have died to sin and must therefore resist its waning influence.” When it comes to the message of the Pastoral Epistles, one must recognize the exhortations provided by Paul that focus on those in leadership positions within the church body, namely that of the pastor, elders, and deacons. One of the important ethical issues facing the pastor is that of the protection of the message of the gospel. Madsen aptly comments that “False doctrine threatens the very existence of the church by obscuring its distinctive identity and the gospel itself.” Furthermore, the pastor must address false doctrine by remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word to include the promulgation of sound doctrine. Madsen rightly points out that Paul charged Timothy to “preach the Word at all times, under all conditions, assuming these will often be unfavorable.” Thus, in the face of the tide of false doctrine that continues to this day, the pastor must stand firm on the truth of Scripture.

It is also important to note the ethical behavior that should permeate the life and preaching of those in authority within the church, to include that of love, humility, gentleness, contentment, and chastity. As noted in I Corinthians 13, even the best sermon that is shared without love is nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. Madsen correctly states “The Christian leader must habitually sacrifice his own interests and well-being for the sake of those under his care. He will give up rights when necessary and appreciate that he cannot serve Christ without serving his people, as opposed to using them for supposedly higher purposes.” In the Pastoral Epistles, we find the message noted by Madsen, namely the “Pastoral Epistles imply that ministry entails almost constant struggle against false doctrines, false disciples, and cavalier disobedience.”

I highly recommend this book for all believers, but especially for Seminary students, pastors, elders, and deacons. The contributors to this excellent resource provide salient insight into the purpose and application of the Pastoral Epistles that constantly reminds the reader of the importance of the offices within church leadership and the great care those who occupy said offices must take as they do the work of the Lord in ministry.

This book is available for purchase from B&H Academic Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from B&H Acaedmic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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