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Pastoral Letters |

Pastoral Letters is drawn from Chapter Six, beginning on page 183, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Four pastoral epistles serve as his last will and testament

Pastoral Letters - Paul’s most touching letters

Pastoral Letters - Paul’s most touching letters

For the Christian career of Paul the Apostle, spanning perhaps thirty years in the middle of the first century and powerfully influencing events in the next nineteen, we have two chief sources. One is the book called the Acts of the Apostles, probably written by his friend and associate, the physician Luke. The other is his own correspondence, letters written by himself or others on his behalf that give his own assessment of events.

Of the thirteen “Pauline epistles” in the New Testament, however, four stand apart: personal, reflective, and, in one instance, expressing finality. The game was almost over, Paul knew. Though there were problems everywhere, backsliders, turncoats, even treachery, he’d won that game, and he knew it. Or, as he himself would have hastened to add, not he, but Christ, who had worked through him.

Most historians agree that the four “pastoral epistles” were written from Rome, shortly before Paul’s execution in or around a.d. 64. (Some contend they were written several years before when Paul was in prison at Ephesus, others while he awaited trial at Caesarea.) Two things distinguish them. Unlike the other nine, they are addressed to individual people. Moreover, the style is different. By then, Paul had mellowed, writes the British historian F. F. Bruce. Historian Jerome D. Quinn describes the pastorals as Paul’s last will and testament.

The probable first of the four is written to the Gentile Titus, one of Paul’s earliest converts, who accompanied him to the pivotal Jerusalem conference that officially commissioned Paul as Apostle to the Gentiles. Titus served Paul all through the strife and chaos of church planting in Greece, Macedonia, and Asia Minor. Now, with this letter, Paul assigns Titus to the island of Crete, directing him to appoint clergy and setting out character standards for bishops, a passage that would be read at episcopal consecration services for centuries to come.

Advice for the conduct of all Christians follows: Old men should be temperate, serious, and wise, known for their love and patience. Old women should be reverent, not given to accusatory complaining, and not addicted to wine. Younger women should set examples for their children and be chaste, kindhearted, willing to adapt to their husbands. Young men should take life seriously, have a strict regard for truth, and not be given to affectations of speech. Slaves should serve their masters loyally, especially if their masters are Christians and therefore brothers. Finally, all should avoid endless discussion and dissension over fine points of the Law, because these settle nothing and go nowhere.

Probably the most curious of the four is the letter addressed to Phile-mon. Consisting of a single twenty-five-verse chapter, it is the shortest book in the Bible. In it, Paul appeals to Philemon, one of his converts, to take back into his service a runaway slave named Onesimus who had fled to Rome, fallen in with Paul, been converted to Christianity, and given great help to Paul. Paul sends him back, accompanied by the letter, urging Philemon to receive him and offering to pay any loss Philemon sustained because of Onesimus. What Philemon did with Onesimus isn’t recorded but, as one historian points out, if he had not acquiesced, the letter would certainly never have found its way into the Bible.

The Epistle to Philemon presents one other delightful historical possibility. Fifty years later, when Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was being taken to his execution at Rome, he stopped over at Ephesus and later wrote that the bishop there, a certain Onesimus, who had been active in collecting Paul’s letters, had been most gracious to him. Was it the same Onesimus? Was the one-time runaway slave, perhaps then in his twenties, now in his seventies, heading the whole Christian community? No one knows, of course, but someone had certainly preserved Paul’s “covering letter” and assured it found its way into the Christian Bible.

The remaining two pastoral epistles are both addressed to Paul’s assistant Timothy who, like Titus, had been with him from the beginning. To Paul, Timothy is “my own son in the faith” and “my own dear beloved son.” As in the letter to Titus, Paul sets forth the standards for Christian clergy and laity, warns against idle doctrinal disputation, and reminds the wealthy that they brought nothing into this world and will certainly take nothing out.

But more than anywhere else in his letters, Paul here foresees the end of the world. “The last times will be full of danger,” he writes, in J. B. Phillips’s translation, Letters to Young Churches (London: Macmillan, 1955). “Men will become utterly self-centered, greedy for money, full of big words. They will be proud and abusive, without any regard for what their parents taught them.

“They will be utterly lacking in gratitude, reverence, and normal human affections. They will be remorseless, scandalmongers, uncontrolled, violent, and haters of all that is good. They will be treacherous, reckless, and arrogant, loving what gives them pleasure instead of loving God. They will maintain a facade of ‘religion’ but their life denies its truth.”

Timothy must therefore make every effort to keep his "mind sane and balanced," Paul counsels. "Go on steadily preaching the gospel and carry out to the full the commission that God gave you."

He concludes: “As for me, I feel that the last drops of my life are being poured out for God. . . . The future for me holds the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the true judge, will give to me in that day. And not, of course, only to me, but to all those who have loved what they have seen of him.”

This is the end of the Pastoral Letters category article drawn from Chapter Six, beginning on page 183, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn. To continue reading more about Pastoral Letters from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at