Pastoral Letters to Timothy and Titus
INTRODUCTION And COMMENTARIES
Cultural changes taking place in all areas of existence also affect the Church. In the beliefs and practices we have been taught, not all comes from Christ, and consequently, many things may change. There is nevertheless a risk of distorting authentic faith. Where then is the rule of faith, to which all our opinions must submit?
This problem already arose in the Church when in 64-67 A.D. Peter and Paul died as martyrs in Rome. The Church, especially in the West, no longer had these witnesses of Christ capable of proclaiming both his deeds and his words. It was as difficult for the Greeks to accept the Christian message as it was for the Jews, and even those of good will among the listeners understood the message—as we do today—through their own ways of thinking, distorting it in proportion to the prejudices of their time.
Then came an opportunity for people eager to discuss, to recount in a better way than did the apostles, even to say what they had not said, and some even took the liberty of teaching their own doctrine. How quickly the imitation of Christ could be replaced by theories and discourses on religion!
So it was that the successors of the apostles had to defend the doctrine they had received from them. At the same time they had to take care in the choice and in the formation of the ministers of the Church for these would have to keep the genuine message. Such are the concerns that we find in these letters to Timothy and Titus.
These letters of similar origin are entitled Paul’s letters. Both the form and content of these letters show that they are not from him. They must have been written in the pressure of circumstances we have just mentioned about 90-100 A.D. It was thought well to place this teaching of the Church under the authority of Paul and doubtless some more personal paragraphs written by him have been inserted: in several passages, we certainly find Paul’s counsels to Timothy and Titus or to other of his assistants.
These three letters of Timothy and Titus are called “pastoral letters” because they address Church shepherds. They truly deserve this name for still another reason that is not always perceived. They are addressed to Paul’s delegates who, although they did not enjoy the title of apostles, were like the itinerant ministers and had authority over the local churches. They are reminded of their missionary ideal for they had devoted their life to Christ and to preaching the Word. Yet at the same time they are ordered to watch over the Church local ministers. Whether they are bishops, elders or deacons, they were elected by the community and spent part of their time in leading and in teaching their brothers and sisters; they also celebrated the sacred sacraments of the Church, baptism, Eucharist and the anointing of the sick.
So we find here two kinds of ministries which complement one another to fulfill the pastoral duties. The first, of which Timothy and Titus are examples extends the mission of the apostles, follows the patterns of their consecrated life and enjoys apostolic authority. The second, trained themselves within the community which elected them. Today we would speak of lay ministers, for they go on belonging to their family and community, although they have been ordained by a laying on of hands and have been accepted or acknowledged by the apostolic authority. We shall strive to understand this complementarity because the subsequent evolution of Latin Church unified these very different ministries in the span of some centuries framing them into one hierarchical clergy. See on this point Num 4:1 and Heb 9:1. New Testament witnesses the different organizations of the early Church in the many cultural areas of Roman Empire. For a part it wanted to be and to remain the Church founded on the apostles, on the other hand, it took example of the Jewish communities with their elders. Afterwards the ministries would evolve or become fixed according to the needs and the social context.
• 1.3 In this first chapter we have a mixture of various topics: it practically repeats what Paul said in other letters where the commentaries have already been given.
We will note only what refers to false prophets. Since the apostles who had seen Christ were dead, some people forgot that all of faith is based on what Christ taught. Instead of reading and actually living the Gospel, certain people began to discuss and work out religious theories. See Introduction to Colossians.
The aim of our warning is love which comes from a pure mind (v. 5). Timothy must be firm in eliminating these discussions that weaken the Church and prevent development of the love that saves people. Even bloody wars came out of sterile religious arguments. The center of the paragraph is doubtless verse 15: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The new masters remain with their theories instead of facing the reality of sin. It is the reality of our sin that makes the grace of God a grace, and our salvation a true salvation.
• 2.1 Heading the rules for every category of believers, we find rules for the community assemblies with two outstanding points:
– praying for rulers;
– the behavior of women in church.
I urge that petitions be made (v. 1). Paul wants Christians to be in solidarity with their compatriots, loyal toward their nation and praying for them. In spite of its sins and superstitions, the pagan world was religious. Religion accompanied their every action. This explains why, some years later, Christians were persecuted as rebels and traitors because they did not worship the emperor, nor his gods. Perhaps this insistence on prayer for rulers is due to the fact that the paragraph was written when there already was some suspicion about Christians: it was necessary to remove these suspicions.
Faithfulness to Christ does not prevent loyalty to the nation unless the nation becomes an idol, and this happens when, in the name of the nation, people are asked to obey its rulers blindly. We cannot give up criticizing their errors, nor stop considering as our brothers and sisters those who do not agree with us.
We should pray for rulers. Does that mean that we cannot look for more honest and better rulers? Of course, we can: see Romans 13.
Verses 9-14 concern women, and to understand why the letter is so strict, we must recall that there was a lot of talk about freedom in the Church, and there were abuses.
On the other hand, we always have a hard time accepting the demands of the Gospel when society teaches us something different. Jesus’ attitude regarding women was revolutionary and liberating, and at the beginning, the Church followed his example (see 1 Cor 7). Before long, they went back to the usual way of giving a very limited place in society to women and that applied also in their religious assemblies.
In the whole history of the Church there was a great respect for the dignity of women and there were many initiatives favoring them; yet there were few periods when women enjoyed equality with men. In many places women were more emancipated during the Middle Ages than closer to our times, in the 19th century. Likewise, in urban societies dealing with business, in the world and in the Church, women occupied a place very different from that granted them in more closed societies.
In fact, the Church alone does not change the world and society until people have learned to know the human reality better.
This passage, reminding us of 1 Cor 11:1-10 and 14:34, opposes women’s emancipation with the same biblical arguments commonly used by the Jewish masters.
God wants all to be saved. Paul repeats in his own way the passage from the last words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: the Gospel must be preached to everyone, to all the nations. Perhaps only a minority will believe but this evangelization is necessary so that all humanity may reach the goal fixed by God.
• 3.1 Here Paul deals with leaders, bishops and deacons (see commentary on Titus 1:6 and Phil 1:1).
• 14. This short paragraph reminds us that, if indeed we are in charge of the Church of God, we are neither its founders nor its masters. The Church was born through a merciful intervention of God, when he decided that his Son should identify with the human race, as is expressed in this short poem.
Here we use divine blessing (v. 16) for a word that we translated elsewhere as “piety” or “religion” (see 2:2; 4:7; 6:3; 5, 6; 2 Tim 3:5 and Titus 1:1). In those years, the word was mostly used to mean a loving attitude toward the Father and neighbors, characteristic of true believers who simply imitate God’s example.
The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. We must understand this phrase as referring to the concepts of that time: from above, from a world in which everything is truth, God lowers his Truth to the earth, as a column or a visible sign on which we can lean. In spite of all the infidelities of the Church, God uses it to preserve true knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Spirit in the world. Without this knowledge, people cannot be free, nor can humanity reach its maturity.
• 4.1 After the death of the apostles, new masters who tamper with the faith appear in the Church.
One of the numerous errors of these people is to despise all that comes from the body: they condemn marriage, forbid meat and wine. Concerning marriage, see the Introduction to Colossians. For those who said matter comes from evil powers whereas souls come from God who is good, having children was to imprison in an evil body souls which later would have to be saved. This is why they condemned, not sexual relations but marriage and procreation. In this contempt of the body and of a nature created by God, there is nothing Christian (see Col 2:23).
In the last days (v. 1): these are the days beginning with Jesus’ resurrection and stretching to his second coming (Heb 1:2; James 5:3).
The Spirit tells us clearly. The prophets of the Church often predicted that people would come to preach their own theories, and not authentic faith.
The believers receive with thanksgiving. From the beginning, it was the custom in Christian families to give thanks to God at the family meal.
Train yourself in godliness (v. 7). Here we have another danger. Contrary to teachers who despise life and want us to live as strange characters, there are others who are totally absorbed in external things. In the Greco-Roman world there was much enthusiasm for sports and races. Without despising the body we are asked to check if we give each part the importance it deserves and the time corresponding to it.
• 11. Faced with all these false teachers, Timothy must be an example of a true apostle.
Let no one reproach you on account of your youth. Usually, in the Christian communities and in the Jewish ones, the leaders were older men. This is why they were called “elders“ or “presbyters” (which means the same thing). Timothy, who is visiting the church on behalf of Paul, has authority over these elders, even though he is much younger than they are. The example of his sincere faith and profound knowledge of the Bible will be his strength.
Do not neglect the spiritual gift (v. 14). If someone was named to a ministry or an official position in the church, this was considered as a spiritual gift: for example, presbyters, deacons, bishops, prophets. While other gifts, such as healing the sick, came directly from the Holy Spirit, ministries were received through a laying on of hands. An apostle or a prophet would lay his hands on the candidate to transfer to him the authority that he had received in a similar way. Thus, in the Church, every leader receives his authority from Christ through a succession of people going back to the apostles.
On this occasion the prophets present would also address the candidate with exhortations and warnings (see 1:18).
Devote yourself to reading, preaching and teaching until I come. This counsel is always valid. To be steadfast in reading and study is what costs most in the majority of liberal professions. Very few people are courageous enough to persevere in study once they have passed their examinations. This is so, even in the Church. The “pastors,” clergy and lay, are constantly tempted in thinking such and such an activity is pastorally useful, that leisure is “relaxing” even at the cost of postponing study and meditation on the Word. The Church is always lacking people able to express their faith creatively – a gift that springs from spiritual knowledge and habitual contact with the Word of God: smiles, goodwill and psychology cannot replace this charism.
• 5.1 From the beginning, women had their own unique role in the Church. Some of them, called widows occupied an official position.
Paul sees three kinds of widows: some did not need help from the Church because they had relatives; others did need Church assistance. Finally, there were some, with or without the help of the Church, who were in charge of certain functions.
They deserve condemnation… (v. 12). This means that by leaving her position and marrying, the “widow” of the third category broke a commitment she had made publicly. The “widows” were dedicated to the service of Christ in the same way as religious women of today.
A true widow is she who has set her hope on God. We should read what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 concerning the greater freedom celibates have to serve the Lord. Every baptized person is called to belong totally to Christ. If, through circumstances of life, we are alone again and free from family responsibilities, this may be an invitation from God to dedicate ourselves completely to the service of the Church and to constant prayer.
If today retired Christians looked into their lives in the light of God’s presence, the Church would have more leaders and missionaries than are necessary.
• 17. Paul speaks again of the elders or “presbyters” who are in charge of the local community. Paul wants the community to help its leaders spiritually and financially.
We have already noted that the elders who were in charge of the community and who presided at the Eucharist were chosen from the most esteemed believers. This paragraph shows that the primary service expected from them was the preaching of the Word.
They deserve double compensation. It is rather astonishing to see that in many parishes the council consists of more lay people competent in social or material matters than persons of the Word, learned or prophetic, capable of giving life to the community.
They must fulfill their duties. Rebuke him in the presence of the community as a warning to the rest: the first Christians were no angels. Sometimes their enthusiastic and sincere faith needed strong discipline in order for them to remain faithful to their commitments. Besides when have leaders of communities not caused problems?
In 5:18 note the quotation of the Gospel: “the worker deserves his wages” (Lk 10:7). This passage shows us that when this letter was written, towards the year 90, the Gospels were already considered “Scripture.”
At the beginning and end of the chapter, the author insists on faithfulness to tradition. Faith is not a doctrine that can be adapted to one’s tastes. Leaders are required to have a respectful and humble attitude towards this treasure entrusted to them to be transmitted to others. We can already see two faults:
– instead of deepening faith, some multiply words;
– some replace surrender to God’s Word with a critical attitude that attempts to judge faith and decide if it agrees with their own ideas.
Money is mentioned twice (6:10 and 6:17-19). After the first years of enthusiastic faith, the Church finds that, even for believers, everything is lost when love for money persists. That is the drama in certain countries where solid Christian groups have been caught up with the best of society in the pursuit of money: faith continues to be important for them but this faith only motivates fidelity to religious practice. Money that has become our security lessens our trust in God (6:10) and isolates us from others.
The pastors of the Church should be the most aware of the danger (6:11). Salvation for them will be to place themselves in the less secure areas of life and society, where an act of faith is constantly necessary to overcome difficulties and joyously accept sacrifices (v. 12). It is not in seeking first of all our personal fulfillment that we become God’s agent and a witness of Christ, as he himself has been the witness of the Father (6:13).
Paul calls upon Timothy to avoid all those dangers and remain true to faith and free from greed. By doing so, he will be “a man of God,” a witness of Christ.
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