Why it Matters That Paul Wrote the Pastoral Epistles image

Why it Matters That Paul Wrote the Pastoral Epistles

It has become increasingly fashionable in the last generation, particularly in academic circles, to argue that Paul was not really preaching a message of personal salvation, but of corporate rescue for Israel as part of his plan to renew creation. It has also become increasingly popular to say that Paul did not major on salvation by faith as opposed to works, or that if he did, he simply meant that salvation was not restricted to Jewish people. Both of these positions, in my view, contain large elements of truth and some necessary correctives to traditional interpretations (God's purpose is even bigger than the rescue of individuals; books like Galatians are more preoccupied with the inclusion of Gentiles in God's people than the danger of legalism). But expressed like this, they also represent significant overreactions that are in danger of minimising vitally important components of Paul's (and our!) gospel, or even denying them altogether.

It is also commonplace in academic circles to argue that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles (1&2 Timothy and Titus) - that is, either the letters are pseudonymous (written under a false name) or allonymous (written by someone representing Paul, with the readers knowing it wasn’t really him) - and this is sometimes accompanied by the claim that it doesn’t really matter whether they were or not. (I’m never sure what the original recipient, under this view, was supposed to make of the command to fetch Paul’s parchments, but there you go).
These positions are more closely related than you might think.
If we believe Paul didn’t write the Pastorals, or if we regard it as academic career suicide to argue that he did, then we cannot invoke them to help us decide how concerned Paul was with personal salvation and/or salvation by faith as opposed to works. (When coupled, as this often is, with the belief that Ephesians and Colossians were not by Paul either, the problem gets compounded; you can’t rip Eph 2:1-10 out of the Pauline corpus and not expect consequences). But if you believe that he did, then when faced with modern controversies about Paul’s meaning and his gospel, you have a whole raft of material to help you, written in a period of Paul’s life during which he was clearly wanting to ensure that his gospel and his doctrine were transmitted accurately to the next generation. And scattered throughout the Pastorals are the “trustworthy sayings”, brief statements which encapsulate key aspects of Paul’s teaching, two of which bear an almost spooky resemblance to the questions scholars are asking.
Did Paul’s message about Jesus focus on personal salvation? Let’s ask him:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim 1:15-16)

When Paul talked about “works”, is he simply referring to ethnic boundary-markers around the Jewish people, or did he have in mind a deeper contrast between self-reliance and the unmerited, transforming favour of God? Well:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things ... (Titus 3:4-8)

This doesn’t mean, before I get handbagged for implying it does, that the gospel is all about me, or that the New Perspective on Paul and/or Judaism is wrong. But it is a reason to believe that it matters Paul wrote the Pastorals.
Plus the fact that he said so, of course.

Andrew’s next book, If God Then What? Wondering Aloud about Truth, Origins and Redemption, will be released in April, published by IVP.

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