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A Series on Examining the Controversy of
1 Timothy 2:12
The Problem of Ecclesiology
Critics believe that the structure of church leadership and authority listed in the Pastoral Epistles is
more advanced than what existed during the first century church and more accurately reflected a second century
church. Critics do not believe that the following existed during the first century church:
"Overseer" (episcopes) and "Deacon" (diakonos) found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13
"Elder" (presbuteros) found in 1 Timothy 5:17-20
"Elders" (presbuteroi) found in Titus 1:5-7
However, the argument that the Pastoral Epistles introduced a more advanced form of church hierarchy than
could possibly exist for the first century church is incorrect.
Elders were already in existence in the Jerusalem church
Elders were appointed in the churches of Galatia (Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe)
during Paul's First Missionary Journey
Paul met with the elders of the church of Ephesus (Asia) during his Third Missionary
Journey (Acts 20:17).
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul's opening address is directed to the overseers and
deacons (Philip 1:1).
Paul referred to a form of church leadership in his letter to the Thessalonians
(1 Thess 5:12).
Various aspects of church leadership were referred to in discussions about spiritual gifts
(Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:28,
and Eph 4:11).
Given that 1 & 2 Timothy was written later than the citations above, the argument of ecclesiology fails to
establish an anachronism and as an argument against Pauline authorship of 1 & 2 Timothy. 1 & 2 Timothy were in
fact maintaining an ecclesiastical organization that was already established.
The Problem of Theology
Critics have questioned two issues with regard to theology:
The false teaching that Paul opposed in his Pastoral Epistles is in regards to second century
Gnosticism; thus, the Pastoral Epistles were not authored by Paul in the first century.
The Soteriology (doctrine of sin) found in the Pastoral Epistles is different from the theology
found in other Pauline letters. The Pastoral Epistles promote some concepts that are different than Pauline thought
in other letters. For example:
"Savior" is a title used for God as well as for Jesus Christ (God -
1 Tim 1:1; 2:3;
4:10; Tit 1:3;
Christ - Tit 1:4;
"Faith" is used to refer more to sound doctrine than a saving relationship with Christ
(1 Tim 1:19).
"Righteousness" appears to be faith plus good works instead of being justified for faith before
God (Tit 3:5). There is a stronger emphasis on good works
(1 Tim 2:10; 5:10;
6:8; 2 Tim 2:21;
However, the critics' charges of a theological problem are not convincing.
Gnosticism, which developed more fully in the latter half of the second century, is a system of
false teachings that believed that knowledge is the way to salvation. This Greek religion held that the body and
soul of a human being was evil; however the human being's spirit was not. Salvation was gained by awakening the
spirit with knowledge and liberating this inner person by ascending from the confines of the evil matter of earth.
Seven cosmic spheres, guarded by "spiritual principalities," envelop the earth. One may pass through these
guardians by recalling knowledge of certain formulas. Salvation is achieved when one passes through all of the
spheres and is reunited with god.
It is very possible that the seeds of false belief that developed into Gnosticism were present
in the first century church. In contrast to his vigorous writings against misguided Christian teachers such as
Judaizers (i.e. Galatians), Paul treatment of these false beliefs were more as passing comments.
"Myths and endless genealogies"
(1 Tim 1:4, 4:7;
Tit 1:14, 3:9)
– "Myths" are in reference to Jewish myths and "genealogies" were used within the context of the Law. This
indicates that the false teaching was of a Jewish nature.
"Men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from"
(1 Tim 4:3) – Asceticism was an early reaction to the idea that
the material world was evil and corrupt.
"What is falsely called knowledge" (1 Tim 6:20)
– The Greek term for "knowledge" is "gnosis." This may indicate the possible presence of an early form of
Gnosticism; however, it is not clear what exactly Paul is referring to. Other forms of false teaching, not
necessarily Gnostic, may be what Paul was referring to. It is easier to see that Paul was warning Timothy about
"Astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place"
(2 Tim 2:18) – Paul is warning Timothy about two men, Hymenaeus
and Philetus, who taught that the resurrection of believers had already occurred
(1 Tim 1:20).
While later apologists, such as Iranaeus, used the Pastoral Epistles to refute Gnosticism,
there is no evidence that Paul wrote his Pastoral Epistles with this in mind. This is an instance where
Pauline authorship is being challenged for contents the Pastoral Epistles did not contain.
With regard to aspects of soteriology found in the Pastoral Epistles as being different from
other Pauline letters, the conjecture of critical scholars can be dismissed.
One reason is that the Pastoral Epistles illustrate a progression of Paul's theology as he
matures with time. For example, examine how Paul views himself with time:
||Paul's perception of himself
||1 Corinthians 15:9
||"I am least of the Apostles"
||"the very least of all saints"
||1 Timothy 1:15
||"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all"
In a similar fashion, there is a progression in thought with Jesus Christ culminating with
the explicit identification of Jesus Christ with God:
Another reason is the purpose of the Pastoral Epistles, which served in a different manner
than the other Pauline Epistles. The other Pauline Epistles (except Romans and Philemon) were letters intended
to serve with apostolic authority for churches; they were both doctrinal and practical.
The Pastoral Epistles were intended to guide two close friends, functioning as pastors, who
knew Paul's theology well; they were not intended to serve with a apostolic authority that superceded the
pastoral authority of Timothy and Titus. Thus there is a focus on sound doctrine, to guard against false teaching,
and the importance of works as a means to discern spiritual maturity and as a basis to qualify sound Christian
The Problem of Pious Forgeries
Was it possible to sneak a forgery into the Canon to further an ecclesiastical political agenda? Critics
against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles have presumed that the forgeries were intended to establish
an explicit apostolic basis for a male dominated church order at the beginning of the second century.
However, the claim of forgery is nothing but conjecture.
While the premise of political expediency to establish a certain form of church structure can
be used to provide motive for a 1 Timothy forgery, it fails to serve as a motive to cause one to forge 2 Timothy
and Titus. No motive can be surmised for the forgery of 2 Timothy and Titus. Furthermore, if there were motive to
forge one letter, why would there be a need to forge two more?
Critics denying Pauline authorship have not been able to historically reconstruct the reasons
for making forgeries of all three Pastoral Epistles.
Paul was ever mindful of distortions and false teachings of the Gospel. In starting his
churches, Paul vigilantly oversaw the dissemination of the Gospel, and his epistles reflect his supervision of
its explanation and how it should be applied.
Paul was aware of possible forgeries and misrepresentations even in his earliest epistles.
"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our
gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a
spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come."
(2 Thess 2:1-2)
"It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our
Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word
of mouth or by letter from us."
(2 Thess 2:14-15)
"We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do
what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who
leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us."
(2 Thess 3:4-6)
"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every
letter; this is the way I write." (2 Thess 3:17)
"And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say),
'Let us do evil that good may come'? Their condemnation is just."
Paul teaches clearly that the Truth is transparent and that God is sovereign; deception and
distortion of God's Word is both unnecessary and condemned.
"Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we receive mercy, we do not lose heart,
but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of
God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
(2 Cor 4:1-2)
A Christian forger would find no moral motive in anonymously writing the Pastoral Epistles.
Both the Greeks and Romans took care to maintain the authenticity of their collections of
writings from the past. During the period of the first century B.C. and A.D., there was a growing emphasis for an
accurate attribution of written works to the original author. Like the Greeks and Romans, the first century church
also guarded the works considered authoritative and orthodox.
When a forgery was discovered, it was immediately rejected as an authentic work of that
particular author. In both Greek / Roman and Christian communities, regardless of its content, there are no known
writings, as religiously and philosophically prescriptive as the New Testament, that has been knowingly accepted
as a forgery.
When examining the many examples of ancient forgeries, there are some notable characteristics:
The hero or protagonist of the forgery is portrayed in the very best light.
Yet Paul states "I am the foremost of all sinners"
(1 Tim 1:15). Not only is this uncharacteristic of a forgery,
but it continues a genuine and perceptible trend of self-appraisal in accordance with his earlier letters (as
noted earlier in this article).
Letters falsely ascribed to a great teacher of the past were rarely written close to the
If the Pastoral Epistles were forged, they were written within 20 – 30 years of Paul's lifetime.
This would be highly unusual as forgeries typically have a gap on the order of hundreds of years. For example:
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch – epistle forgeries were written 300 - 400 years later.
Plato – epistle forgeries were written about 200 - 300 years later.
Socrates – epistle forgeries were written about 200 – 400 years later.
Critics will continue to debate the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, yet the evidence and conjecture
by destructive scholars so far has not been convincing.