Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Early Church. By James W Aageson


Pp. xv, 235 , Hendrickson , Peabody, Massachusetts , 2008 , £12.99 .

What to do with the Pastoral Epistles? The predominant approach is to first ask who wrote them – probably not Paul; then to date then – AD 80–100; then to comment on the text but with the effect of making them somewhat marginal in the NT canon and, within the tradition of Protestant exegesis (particularly post-Harnack), to consign them to a post-Apostolic ‘Catholic’ development. Aageson's purpose is rather different. He is interested in what they tell us about a Pauline tradition that emerged after Paul and continued into the following centuries. He asks ‘What happened to Paul after Paul?’

Aageson's method is descriptive and comparative. He prefers to leave open the questions of the authorship, date, location and context of the Pastoral Epistles in order to compare literary and theological patterns among the three letters themselves and with a range of other ‘Pauline’ documents. He notes that 1Timothy and Titus are concerned, among other things, with behaviour in ‘the household of God’, with ministerial order and with holding to the (unspecified) truth of faith. 2 Timothy is concerned with suffering in the Christian life in a way paralleled most strongly in Philippians. Aageson inclines to the view that 2 Timothy was written by someone other than the author of 1 Timothy and Titus, so not all the Pastorals were written by Paul. Aageson lines up the three Pastoral letters against those undisputed letters of Paul with which they have most often been thought to have a connection: 1 Timothy with 1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy with Philippians, and Titus with Galatians. In each case he finds the connections are tenuous or non-existent. So probably none of them were written by Paul; there were probably three authors: Paul and two others. In answer to the question, What happened to Paul after Paul? The first answer is: the Pastoral Epistles, but under two forms: 1 Timothy/Titus and 2 Timothy.

The next comparison is with Acts where Paul is not presented as a writer of letters and a thinker but as an orator and witness. Luke here also moves out from 1 Timothy's concern with life within the household of God towards life for the Christian inside the Empire. Then the patterns within the Pastorals are compared with Deutero-Pauline letters, where Aageson finds that in ‘theological and structural terms, Colossians and Ephesians resemble more closely the undisputed Pauline letters than they do the Pastorals’. And so the comparisons continue to the Apostolic Fathers – Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria – and the Pastoral Epistles to see how the Pauline tradition developed in new contexts and to see how the image of Paul himself changed. Then to their positive use at the end of the second-century by Irenaeus and Tertullian, and their comparative neglect by Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Two things emerge here. First, it is not true to say that Paul was ignored by orthodox writers in the second-century and only used and misused by Gnostics like Marcion. And second, the Pastoral Epistles, with their appeal to hold to the true faith, were cited more by authority figures like Irenaeus, while Paul's own letters were more used by those who wanted to interpret scripture, to use philosophy and to present arguments. So bishops used the Pastorals and teachers used Paul himself.

Aageson also thinks that the Pastorals demonstrate an early move towards a Pauline scripture, a Pauline canon, which developed further in the following decades, even to showing itself in The Acts of Paul and Thecla. When he considers patterns that have been proposed for the development of doctrine in the early Church – whether truth preceding error, or error preceding the formulation of orthodoxy (Walter Bauer); whether there were both fixed and flexible elements of tradition, or a diversity of trajectories from the beginning (James Robinson and Helmut Koester) – James Aageson reckons that his examination of Paul and the Pastoral Letters demands ‘a more complex and variegated approach to Christian origins … we need to adopt what might be called a multiplex or multilayered approach to the development of early Christianity in general and Paul's legacy in particular’. This book, then, is in no sense a conventional account of the Pastoral Epistles; it is much more interesting than that.