There is no greater honor or joy than teaching the inerrant and infallible Word of the Living God. Getting to teach the Pastoral Epistles is a particular joy and a challenge. You will have the opportunity to help your fellow believers enter into the first-century world of Paul. Imagine: through the power of the Holy Spirit hovering over His own Word, and you are holding the record of God’s redemptive history in your hands (or on your screen)! Through prayer, study, and preparation, you have the opportunity to “transport” Bible students into that time when the Church was ignited by Pentecost and going into the uttermost parts of the earth. Here, Western Civilization will receive an injection of Biblical theology that will change the course of history. No longer just a story about Greek democracy and Roman efficiency, the West now becomes transformed through the unprecedented activity of this man, Saul of Tarsus, and through him, pastors and evangelists like Timothy and Titus. Everything will change. And you are a veritable guide to history in the making. But your ministry as a teacher is even greater than a historical guide.
You are a spiritual director and teacher, helping students understand Timothy’s first-century challenges in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. Then, you must build a bridge from the extraordinary first-century exploits of these first Christian missionaries to the students in front of you. This is an undertaking that requires more than scholarship, more than rhetorical flair, and much more than any pedagogical theory. Building a bridge from what God did in His Word to what God will do today requires a life devoted to prayer; and an expository plan. If I may, I would like to help you develop that plan. There’s no time like the present. I will be using 1 Timothy as a working laboratory for our study. So, let’s go.
Step 1: State the Presenting Issue in the Text
Read the Text
It might sound like I am unnecessarily stating the obvious. However, reading the Text, even out loud, is vital to further study. You will notice certain literary devices as you read: sarcasm (yes, Paul does use sarcasm); hyperbole (overstating an issue to make a point), and even Pauline appeals to the classical trio of speech, Aristotle’s “artistic proofs:” pathos (sympathy, emotion), ethos (trust), and logos (authority).
Pray the Text
When you read, I would encourage you to pray before you begin. Ask God to use your reading to speak to your heart, open your mind, and show you the Holy Spirit’s original intent in the human author’s words. But, it is also imperative that you go to the Lord after reading the Text. In this way, you pray back to the Lord about what you have read. Go through the Text, highlight sentence clauses, keywords, and questions, and bring those before the Lord. Ask that your teaching glorify Jesus and bring good to others. Ask the Lord to use your preparation to advance His mission in the world today.
“Let my teaching fall like rain and my speech settle like dew, like gentle rain on new grass, like showers on tender plants” (Deuteronomy 32:2).
You and I cannot fully comprehend the majesty and glory of God’s sovereignty. But we can trust Him! God may use just one lesson you teach to transform a human soul, inspire some to “go the distance” for Christ, or pass along the legacy of Biblical faith to a thousand generations. No pressure! You’ve got this. How do I know? Because you are so sharp or your friendly neighborhood curriculum writer is such a brilliant light bulb? Of course not. I know you will do well because God has “got this.” This is His Word, and His Word will accomplish all that He intends. His Word will not return void.
- “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
- “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
First, you are going to need to establish the presenting issue of each section of Scripture your class is reading. The Bible student must come with questions. “What is the main issue in the Text?” “How does it affect the central Biblical characters (in our case, usually, Paul, Timothy, and Titus) in their lives?” “How must they have felt?” “What are the implications for the goal of revitalizing or developing churches in Ephesus/Crete?”
Secondly, answer those questions first and always yourself. Go with what you read. Use your own experience. How would you feel? What would you do in Timothy’s situation? How will this affect Titus’ own life? How will Paul’s command “go down” in that Christian community? What is at stake? What will be gained?
Don’t go to the commentaries until you have “wrestled with the Text” yourself. Keep it “organic.” Keep it personal. This is crucial for the first step in your study.
Now: write out the presenting issue of the respective portion of God’s word. Write the presenting issue in a single sentence. You might use the A/B approach. For instance, you read 1 Timothy 1. You ask your questions about the Text. You locate, isolate, and express the “presenting issue” of the Text. You write a complete sentence to express the presenting issue of this portion of God’s Word (in this case, from 1 Timothy 1), “Since there are many false teachers, Paul is calling Timothy to focus on godly doctrine.”
You will be certain that you have some of your questions answered. You will undoubtedly feel as though others remain enigmatically unanswered. Now, you are ready to “stand on the shoulders” of giants and consult the lifelong scholarship of commentators. You will doubtlessly discover that commentators challenge some answers you located, expositors support some, and others are in question. In some cases, you will be wrong (and, yes, the commentator could also be wrong)! No worries there. That is why you are seeking the counsel of others.
“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20 ESV).
Step 2: State the Exegetical Summary of the Text
The “exegetical summary” is “what this section of God’s Word is about.” Or, to put it another way, “This portion of God’s Word means this: _____.”
However, the summary statement relates to your first discovery, the “presenting issue.” So, how do we locate and state the “exegetical summary” of the passage before us?
Read the Map
The military’s map reading involves identifying major geographic features and plotting the most efficient way to reach the goal. Similarly, the Bible teacher is “map reading” the Holy Text within the Bible. Read the thoughts of a fellow Bible teacher as she identifies the major features of the Text:
Aha! Here is the issue that Paul deals with in 1 Timothy 1: ‘False teachers and the dangerous threat their teaching poses for Ephesus.’ I can see these “geographic features” of the Text as I follow the ‘contour’ of the Text—I see the logical thought process, I read Paul’s examples, I see the consequences and dangers; and I note literary features on the landscape: literary device, idiosyncrasies, place, and time. As I read and pray, I see ‘a bigger picture’ emerge. I can now identify a presenting issue and a response unfolding before me. I prayed some more. ‘Lord, help me to know the meaning of Your Word in 1 Timothy so that I can declare Your Word to others.’ So, connect the issue and the response. I am able to state this in a complete sentence now. This passage is about . . .”
To find and state the summary statement about the text, you are “connecting the dots” between the presenting issue (often a problem, but not always) and the response (not always a “solution,” but is rather an explicit or implicit movement in the language of the writer that one may identify). You are reading the “map” of Holy Scripture to locate the treasure.
Extract the Treasure
Using the same approach as employed in locating the presenting issue of the Text, you seek to locate and identify the “exegetical” summary of the Text. Exegesis is the “extraction” of the summary meaning of the Biblical portion before you (we will get to “exposition” in a moment). Seek, at this point, without referencing commentaries, to state “what this section is about” relative to the “presenting issue.” For instance, you stated that the presenting issue in 1 Timothy chapter 1 is Timothy’s challenge of false teachers. As you pray, read, and pray the Text, you are faced with Paul’s “movement” from false teachers to his testimony. “Something is going on here,” you say to yourself. “There is a story at work here!” And you are right! The exegetical statement expands on the presenting issue, isolates, unearths, and displays the fuller Bible picture of the problem or issue. This is like digging for treasure: God’s treasure for our lives. So, in our example from 1 Timothy chapter one, we might state the exegetical summary as (again, in A/B form):
“[A] Paul calls for Timothy to confront the enormity of false teaching at Ephesus by
[B] providing an example of the effect of the power of the Gospel in his own life.”
You have approached the Sacred Text of God to Man by prayer, reading the Text, and praying the Text. You have analyzed the larger context, located the “presenting issue” that Paul is addressing (or that Timothy is experiencing in his ministry), and you have “dug” through the chapters and verses, the paragraphs and literary devices, to hit “pay dirt.” What is that? You have located the summary of “what these passages are about,” which is also called the “exegetical summary.”
So, now, you have a treasure before you. What to do with it?
Step 3: State the Expository Meaning of the Text
Pastors and Biblical scholars go to school longer than some medical doctors to arrive at this very goal: to exposit the text correctly. But God’s Word is not only for clergy and scholars. It is for any and all. I believe that a child of six may discern God’s intent in many cases. For this movement, from meaning in the original context to meaning for our time is an act of the Holy Spirit. But according to the divinely revealed pattern and plan of the Lord, He uses ordinary people, like you and me, to “bridge that gap” between the original context and our world today.
Polish the Stone
To “Exposit” is to derive universal truth from the Biblical meaning of a text. Using our earlier example, we can say that exegesis is digging for and locating the sacred treasure. Exposition is polishing the priceless stones. Why? So that God’s People may be arrayed with the finest treasures of God’s Word; so that they may have a “faith for living.” More than that, to exposit a text is to begin to fulfill God’s mission in the world today.
For instance, in 1 Timothy, we can see Paul’s condemnation of false teachers to say several expository truths:
- False teaching is wrong.
- False teachers bring spiritual damage to human beings (which could bring physical harm and community corruption).
- False teachers hurt the work of the Church.
- Christian leaders must keep the Church from false teaching.
Each of these statements is an example of an expository truth derived from 1 Timothy chapter one. In each case, the statement is linked to the meaning of the text in the original. The expository statement cannot stand on its own. The expository statement is forever tethered to the original meaning. If that meaning is unclear or interpreted wrongly, the expository statement will be a faulty exposition. Thus, it is not God’s Word to us today. You can see just how important and critical preparing a Bible study is! But, on the other hand, God’s Word is intended to be used by you and the Church for our lives today. His Word is a treasure, but a treasure that is intended to be unearthed, displayed, strung together into a necklace of priceless pearls, and worn with joy!
Now that you have done that work, you will arrange your material so it can be presented. As a group, you will want to explore the Text’s meaning and the Text’s meaning for today. That is how your lessons are presented in this study. Yet, before you finalize your exegesis and exposition (or at least some of the exposition; each passage can have multiple applications for our lives), you need to “check your work.”
When the Apollo 13 mission (1970) went bad (if you have seen the movie, you can never forget that line, “Houston, we have a problem.”) the world watched as human beings were hurled through space in a veritable “tin can” with no power to use the sophisticated instrumentation of their day, the oxygen tank had exploded, the Commander, Jim Lovell (portrayed by actor Tom Hanks in the 1995 award-winning film), transmitted those unforgettable words (the movie changed the tense for dramatic effect): “Houston, we have a problem.” Precious breathing air was shooting out of a gaping hole into space. The navigational systems were denied power as multiple malfunctions began to mount. Apollo 13 became a red-alert emergency threatening the lives of the three courageous astronauts on board. In April of 1970, the world watched and waited, and many prayed. The crew were forced to use an old-fashioned slide rule to calculate re-entry. If they were off by the slightest percent, they would either bounce off of the earth’s atmosphere and be hurled into deep space or be burned up by the atmosphere. Lovell made the calculations. Immediately after making his mathematical notations that spelled life or death, he told his crew to check his work.
As dramatic as Apollo 13 was, the teaching of the Bible is more so. Eternal life is at stake. Human beings and their relationship to God and each other are on the line. Get your calculations wrong, and you could hurl a person off into a life of disillusionment. I have seen it happen. I have counseled those who received false teaching and have seen the consequences.
God was with the crew of Apollo 13, and God is with you. But God has provided us with gifts, help, and those who can “check our work.” That is the role of commentaries. This is why I stress that you begin with your own reading. But then “check your theological notations.”
Step 4: Stand on the Shoulders of Giants (and Ordinary People, too)
Consulting commentaries and other scholarly resources is an art. Commentaries are, of course, not meant to be read as an entire book (you could, of course). But you do want to read the fuller context. Remember that the epistles of the New Testament are letters. There were no universally acknowledged chapters and verses in the Holy Bible (there were attempts) until Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (c 1150-1228), arranged a systematic division of the Bible.
The first copy of the Bible to use the system was the Geneva Bible (New Testament in 1557; Old and New Testament version published in 1560). This was the Bible of William Shakespeare, John Donne, and the Pilgrims in New England. The division of the Bible has been enormously helpful in innumerable ways. However, there is at least the possibility of a drawback to the system.
One might be tempted to look upon the Text as truncated. For instance, in Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, the great Apostle spends a great deal of time in chapter one speaking about the dangerous doctrines of false teachers. Then, chapter two speaks about several challenges with worship in the church. Chapter three opens with the qualifications of officers in the Ephesian church and concludes with a glorious picture of the Church. One might be tempted to consider these examples from 1 Timothy as three unique essays. However, one would be mistaken.
The first three chapters in 1 Timothy are logical sequences of the thought of Paul as he gave instruction, by letter, to Pastor Timothy. The chapters represent problems introduced and solutions provided in logical order. One concept builds upon another. So, we see that false teachers had created a host of troubles at the Ephesian Church (Chapter One), not the least concerning prayer in worship (Chapter Two). The way to deal with this is to select godly men, “Overseers,” and Deacons to govern the church according to a faithful Biblical pattern. The “household of God” is the “pillar and buttress of the truth” and, thus, demands such godly leadership to prevent false teachers and the ruinous consequences (Chapter Three). Do you see how the chapters might hinder the logical thought? Reading the epistle as it was intended to be received will aid you in overcoming the possibility of truncating the Text and missing the larger context. You discover the Lord’s intent in the passage within that larger context.
So, as teachers, we must be careful to use commentaries to treat the larger presenting issue, not merely to get scholarly reflection or interpretation of a given the word or sentence (though that is a secondary concern in our study). I will recommend some commentaries that do that well, but my list is in no way exhaustive. There are many good commentaries on the whole Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament, or specific books of the Bible. The key is for you, as a “consumer” of good Bible commentaries, is to use the published scholarship correctly. In Biblical interpretation, context is king. Begin with the “big picture” before narrowing to “the details” (i.e., word meaning, complex sentences, difficult sayings). The order of your study is, thus, very important to locating and stating the presenting issue, the
So, you consult your commentaries (which may be found online, as well; free, e.g., Matthew Henry; and paid, through, e.g., Logos Bible Software). Begin with the true giants of the faith—e.g., Calvin, Luther, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Matthew Henry—then consult contemporary scholars. They will agree, mostly, with the “giants.” But they might state it differently. They might showcase a part of the passage that was overlooked by another. Perhaps, the commentator will give a fresh insight to help you in exegesis, exposition, or even in your life of “how to study.” Often, a commentator just “speaks our language.” When that happens, we tend to say, “I like _____. I get what he is saying!” Just make sure that those commentators believe God’s Word and live by God’s Word in their own lives. The person who “checks your notes” must be reliable and trustworthy.
I have not addressed the dynamics of teaching the class. I will hope to do that in a forthcoming essay. But for now, it is enough to say that I have enjoyed preparing this study for you. I conclude with a prayer for you, the teacher, and your students:
“Lord God, our heavenly Father, You gave us Your Word by sending the Word-made-flesh, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and in His name, I ask that You will equip the teacher reading this so that he will be able, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, to know the meaning of Your Word, to help others to know the meaning, and to understand Your will for our lives today; and, in knowing Your will, to fulfill Your Great Commission of Jesus Christ faithfully. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.”
Resources for Teachers of the Pastoral Epistles
These commentaries are written by either the Church Fathers or the Reformers. They represent scholarship and pastoral application by those who, since the Apostles, have shaped the faith and life of the Church in extraordinary ways. I have included but two. One of these, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, will include commentary by church fathers like Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Athanasius.
Calvin, Jean, and John Calvin. 1, 2 Timothy and Titus. Vol. 17. Crossway, 1998.
Gorday, Peter Joseph, and Thomas C. Oden. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. IX. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Scholarly commentaries will often assume an understanding of the original language. However, they offer careful attention to helping the reader get at the “exegetical” meaning of the select portion of Scripture. Such commentaries have a place with all Bible teachers.
Fee, Gordon D. 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series). Baker Books, 2011.
Kelly, J. N. D. The Pastoral Epistles. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009.
Knight, George W. The Pastoral Epistles a Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.
Mounce, William D., and Bruce M. Metzger. Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles. Word Books, 2000.
Pastoral commentaries are most application-driven. They are not only helpful for understanding the meaning of the text. Still, They are suited, especially, for the exposition of the text: bridging time, geography, and specific Biblical circumstance to locate the universal spiritual truths for all people of all ages. All Bible study teachers should have access to the “pastoral” commentaries. Here are a few that I suggest.
Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 14. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990.
Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.
Henry, Matthew. The Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
Stott, John. The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus. SPCK, 2014.
———. The Message of 2 Timothy. SPCK, 2014.