I’ve always been happy to read the Pastoral Epistles (to Timothy and Titus) as being by Paul, in line with tradition. I realise that there are significant differences in style and content between these and Paul’s other letters, but I know that I wrote differently 20 years ago from how I wrote now, so I don’t see why Paul should be expected not to. In substance too, these letters deal with a later stage in the church’s life, as it begins to pass into the leadership of a new generation who haven’t known Jesus personally – or who haven’t even known what it is not to be a Christian, being brought up in Christian famiies like Timothy.
But I’m now less convinced that this is by Paul, rather than by someone writing later in his name. One factor is the frankly odd exegesis of 1 Tim 2:12-15. Admittedly in Genesis 3 it is Eve who is deceived by the serpent, but Adam doesn’t seem to argue with her when she invites him to taste the forbidden fruit. And how does that lead on to women being saved by childbearing? If it’s connected with Genesis 3, then by parallel men should be saved by farming. I know that it doesn’t have to make sense in order to be God’s word, but I can’t help thinking that this is interpretation of the Bible more to back up a position already decided on than to help us to understand a situation.
More telling, though, I find Paul’s apparent identification of himself as the worst of sinners, because of his persecution of the church done in ignorance. I can’t help remembering that Paul has previously referred to this persecution as evidence of the zeal of his faith, with no trace of guilt. This passage (1:12-17) fits more with our usual image of Paul’s conversion as an experience of guilt and forgiveness, but that doesn’t seem to be how Paul understood it some years earlier. Of course he may have changed, but this doesn’t quite ring true somehow.
Where I do see the tradition of Paul, if not his hand, is in the insistence in 2:1-6 that there is one mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ. In all nations and cultures, this is true whether recognised or not; and in all places Christians are to recognise the rule of Christ through prayer for the authorities precisely because they are sharing in the work of the rule of Christ. Whether they are doing this well or badly is another question, but either way we should pray for them.
In this setting, the church is being set up for its future life with deacons and priest/bishops. As a priest almost 2000 years later, and knowing that my ministry is very different from that of Timothy and others, there’s still something powerful about the knowledge that the apostles ordained elders, who ordained others, who ordained others…down to me and to those more recent priests on whom I have shared in laying on hands at their ordinations. The church may be frustrating at times, but it is a remarkable thing to know that it is still the same church to which Paul (or whoever else) was writing here. And I’m privileged to be a part of it, in a time very different where I believe that some of our expectations of ministers (including their chromosomes) have rightly developed from first century Ephesus.
Then and now, there and here, there is one mediator between us and God, Jesus Christ. The world in which we live has changed, and so the church has rightly changed. He has not changed and will not change.