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Timothy and Titus: Place in the Canon

Place in the Canon

We’ve come to the final post in a series in which, after an introduction, I have presented six major themes in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus: (1) mission, (2) teaching, (3) salvation and God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, (4) the church, (5) the Christian life, and (6) the last days. In this final post, I’d like to look at ways in which these letters relate to the rest of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament (OT) and Paul’s other letters.

Regarding connections with the Gospels, Paul’s mission is tied to the Matthean Great Commission through verbal links. There is also a connection between church discipline procedures laid out in Matthew (18:15–20) and these letters (1 Tim 5:19–20; Titus 3:10–11). Beyond this, Paul quotes a saying of Jesus recorded in Luke’s Gospel (1 Tim 5:18; cf. Luke 10:7).

In addition, there are also points of contact with the book of Acts, other New Testament letters, and the book of Revelation (see pp. 538–42 in my commentary), but for our purposes we will focus primarily on affinities between the letters to Timothy and Titus and the OT as well as with the other Pauline letters. As we’ll see, 1-2 Timothy and Titus make a valuable contribution to both OT and Pauline theology.

The Letters to Timothy & Titus and the OT

While the OT is quoted explicitly only a handful of times, appearances can be deceiving, as the theology of these letters is grounded at numerous points in OT theology. Particularly pronounced are connection points regarding the apostolic mission, righteous suffering, and the pattern of apostolic succession.

The Apostolic Mission

Paul grounds the apostolic mission in the God’s promises to Abraham (2 Tim 4:17; cf. Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Also, Paul’s instructions to men “in every place” echo Malachi’s vision according to which God’s “name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting” (1 Tim 2:8; cf. Mal 1:11).

Righteous Suffering

We see a web of connections between the righteous sufferer as portrayed in David’s Psalms on the one hand and both Jesus and Paul on the other. There is a sense of abandonment (2 Tim 4:16; cf. Ps 22:1). Like David, Paul craves God’s presence (2 Tim 4:17; cf. Ps 22:19). Paul experienced deliverance from persecution or is expecting such rescue in the future (2 Tim 3:11; 4:17–18; cf. Ps 22:8). In the context of universal gospel proclamation, Paul, like the psalmist, was rescued from “the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim 4:17; cf. Ps 22:27). Paul thus stands at the climax of a trajectory of righteous suffering reaching from David to Jesus and subsequently to Paul.

Affinities with Moses/Joshua

The pattern of mentoring and succession connecting Paul and Timothy seems to be grounded in the Moses/Joshua relationship. Consider the following: (1) Concerning Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16), Alexander and Hymenaeus are types of the false teachers while Paul and Timothy hark back to Moses and Aaron (2 Tim 2:19). (2) The false teachers hark back to Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim 3:8–9; cf. Exodus 7, 9). (3) While Moses laid hands on Joshua (Num 27:18–23; Deut 34:9), Paul and the elders laid hands on Timothy (2 Tim 1:6). (4) Moses “the servant of the Lord” (Deut 34:5; cf. 2 Kgs 18:12) and “man of God” (Deut 33:1) prefigures Paul and Timothy (“servant of the Lord”: 2 Tim 2:24; Titus 1:1; “man of God”: 2 Tim 3:17). (5) Moses’ call on Israel to be “strong” anticipates Paul’s similar call on Timothy (2 Tim 2:1; cf. Deut 31:6–7). Again, we see how Paul significantly reaches back to the OT in his understanding and practice of his relationship with his successor.

Adam & Eve and Men & Women in the Church

On this controversial subject, again, it is highly significant that Paul grounds his teaching in OT precedents. Specifically, when teaching on the role of men and women in the church, he refers to the creation of Adam and Eve by God in the beginning as well as mentions the scenario at the Fall (1 Tim 2:12–15; cf. Genesis 1–3). Women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man in the church because Adam was created first, not Eve (1 Tim 2:12–13); and because it was not Adam who was deceived by the serpent but Eve (1 Tim 2:14). For these reasons Paul consistently teaches that qualified men should be assigned ultimate responsibility for the church before God (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9) while women should be devoted to their roles as wives and mothers and managers of the household (1 Tim 2:15; 5:2–16, esp. v. 14; 2 Tim 2:5; Titus 2:3–5).

The Letters to Timothy & Titus and Paul’s Other Letters

As I’ve argued, the letters to Timothy and Titus mark the closing chapter in Paul’s NT correspondence and apostolic ministry. This means that these letters are unique in many ways, which can be seen both in the distinctive vocabulary used and the subject matter fitting to the preservation and passing on of Paul’s apostolic legacy. The letters to Timothy and Titus continue the account of Paul’s mission from the book of Acts and Paul’s earlier letters. They also articulate Paul’s theology in a contextually appropriate way.

For example, as we’ve seen in previous posts, Paul focuses on salvation and calls both God and Jesus “our Savior” in contrast to contemporary savior figures. Paul speaks of the church as God’s household in keeping with first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman households rather than (as he does in earlier letters) as the body of Christ. He conceives of and presents the Christian life primarily in terms of a pursuit of a series of virtues such as love, faithfulness, godliness, and self-control. And he points out that the last days are already upon the church in form of the false teachers who are instruments of Satan. Finally, these letters alone feature “trustworthy sayings.” In these and other ways, the letters to Timothy and Titus make a distinctive contribution to Pauline and NT theology.

At the same time, there is considerable continuity between these letters and Paul’s earlier NT writings. The letter openings by and large follow the standard epistolary format. False teachers are delivered to Satan (1 Tim 1:18–20; 1 Cor 5:5). Believers are to submit to governing authorities (1 Tim 2:1–3; Titus 3:1–2; Rom 13:1–7). There are lists of virtues (1 Tim 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22; 3:10; 2 Cor 6:6–8; Gal 5:22–23; Eph 4:32; 5:9; etc.) and vices (1 Tim 1:9–10; 2 Tim 3:2–5; Titus 3:3; Rom 1:29–31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:10–11; 6:9–10; etc.). Paul uses athletic metaphors (2 Tim 2:5; 4:7; 1 Cor 9:24–26; Gal 2:2; 5:7; Phil 2:16; 3:13–14). Paul grounds his teaching on male-female roles in Old Testament teaching (1 Tim 2:12–15; 1 Cor 11:8–9).

Finally, he crafts household codes, uses OT passages in similar ways, draws on preformed traditions, and exhibits a concern with local church leadership. Beyond this, there are also many other verbal and conceptual parallels (see the list in my commentary, p. 536). All these affinities demonstrate that we should not exaggerate the uniqueness of the letters to Timothy and Titus within the Pauline corpus. While Paul’s theology in these letters is certainly distinct, at the same time there is a vital connection and continuity between Paul’s earlier letters and his last three letters, written to individuals such as Timothy and Titus.

Conclusion: The Letters to Timothy & Titus and NT Theology

The letters to Timothy and Titus are an integral part of the biblical and NT canon. They are firmly built on the substructure of OT theology, in particular with regard to the grounding of the early church’s mission, the pattern of apostolic succession, the conception of righteous suffering, and their understanding of God’s design for man and woman as it applies to the NT church. They display both similarities and distinctive differences in relation to the other ten letters in the Pauline corpus. Most likely written after the period covered in the book of Acts, the LTT provide an essential supplement to the Pauline chronology and account of his apostolic ministry. They also display a series of interesting connections with other NT letters, including the book of Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude. Rather than belonging to the subapostolic period, the LTT are therefore best viewed as an integral part of the NT’s depiction of the life and mission of the early church as spearheaded by apostles such as Paul.

Note: For greater detail, see my Commentary on 1-2 Timothy and Titus (BTCP; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 527–44. The conclusion is reproduced verbatim from pp. 542–43.

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