• When and Where
The first of 3 letters known as the “pastoral epistles.” Pastor did not yet refer to an official professional role but had its ancient meaning of “shepherd, leader of the flock.” Scholars do not consider them to have been written by Paul, the vocabulary and style are quite different in Greek, only dimly echoing the passion found in Paul’s writing. The issues addressed also reflect a later time, as these early communities just start to become more “institutionalized” with defined roles and a developing hierarchy.
• Key Insights
The letter is focused on practical advice for ordering the life of a community. Probably most quoted for its encouragement of Timothy in his youth, most debated for its view on the role of women.
One of the things I think this chronological order sheds the most light on is how the role of women shifts from Jesus ministry and Paul’s first travels to several decades later as the Church has become its own structure and begins to find a way to exist within Roman society as a distinct entity, separate from Judaism.
Remember reading Paul’s first seven letters – where the symbol of sin coming into the world was Adam. Here it is Eve – (see in particular 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 and Romans 5:12-14 for comparison).
• Big Picture
This text’s advice on riches is challenging for many of us to hear. As we’ve seen the letter indicate accommodations to Roman society, it remains “radical” on the issue of economics. How interesting is it that so many today cite prohibitions on women’s leadership as definitive and binding, despite clear differences in the Scriptural witness on that, while utterly ignoring the lessons Timothy offers on wealth. How do we distinguish between “having what we need” and living with excess?
Blessings on your reading!