The Central Message in the Pastoral Epistles

Paul’s central message in the Pastoral Epistles focuses on the presence and the errors of false teachers, and how the church and its leaders should respond. In 1 Timothy, Paul explains that false teachers in Ephesus were distorting and misrepresenting the Torah by devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies (1:3-4). Paul commissions Timothy to confront the corrupt teachers (Chpts 1 & 6) and tells him to instruct the church to pray, to learn sound doctrine and to appoint qualified Christian leaders who will carry on the true gospel message (Chpts 2-3). Paul connects belief with behavior by explaining that there are members in the church community that have adopted some of the false teaching and their lives and behavior have been affected as a result (Chpts 4-5). Thus, Paul wants Timothy to manage these issues and then teach the church to persevere in the truth while dealing with the false teachers.

Paul’s second letter to Timothy further addresses false teaching at length (see 2 Timothy 2:14-4:5), and like his first letter, Paul instructs Timothy to appoint leaders who will teach others correct doctrine. Paul wants them to focus on the Scriptures, “which are able to make [them] wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:15). He also explains the practical purposes of the Scriptures in that they are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (3:16-17).

The book of Titus addresses false teaching that was affecting the church in Crete. Paul describes the false teachers as “rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group” (1:10), and then he goes even further in his description by writing, “Even one of Crete’s own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true” (1:12-13a). “Their minds and consciences are corrupted” (1:15b). “They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good” (1:16b). Later in 3:11, Paul writes, “You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”  Similar to the situation in Ephesus, these false teachers were fixated on myths, foolish controversies, genealogies and Torah distortions. Therefore, Paul gives the same commission to Titus as he did to Timothy; he was to confront and silence the false teachers (1:11), and he was to appoint solid Christian leaders in order to continue the furtherance of the true gospel message (1:5-9).