Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 3)

Part 3—Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters

The final part of this article will address Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus); I have chosen to deal with them separately here since, of all the Pauline Letters in the New Testament, there is the most uncertainty regarding Pauline authorship for these four letters. I will not be examining arguments for and against authenticity here, nor do I make any judgment regarding authorship. In passing, I will only say that I find many aspects of the language and style of Ephesians to be atypical of that in the undisputed letters (compared with Colossians, which otherwise has a number of similarities in structure and subject matter with Ephesians). Regarding the Pastoral letters, I personally accept 2 Timothy as authentic, with very little reservation, its structure, style and phrasing being generally close to that of the undisputed letters; I find many more instances of uncharacteristic vocabulary and phrases in 1 Timothy, while the situation with the letter to Titus is harder to judge, though it may have more in common with 1 Timothy.


The main passage dealing with the Old Testament Law is Eph 2:11-22 (esp. verses 14-15, which I will deal with in a separate note). Specific references to the Torah (Pentateuch) are also found in Eph 5:31ff (citing Gen 2:24, cf. Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 6:16) and Eph 6:2-3 (citing Deut 5:16, par Exod 20:12); the latter citation indicates that the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue are still valid and applicable for believers, as attested elsewhere in early Christian tradition (cf. Mark 10:18 par; James 2:11; Rom 13:9). The other relevant references may be summarized as follows (cf. Part 2):

Similarities with Paul’s discussion of the Law in Galatians, Romans, etc.:
    • Eph 1:13—hearing/obedience is to the word/account of God (here called the “word/account of truth“), identified with the “good message (Gospel) of salvation”; obedience takes place through trust/faith (pi/sti$), and results in the gift of the Spirit.
    • Eph 1:19f—again the emphasis is on trust/faith, and the work being done by God (in/through Christ)
    • Eph 2:8-9—”for by (the) favor [xa/ri$] (of God) you have been saved, through trust [pi/sti$], and this not out of you(rselves)—(it is) the gift [dw=ron] of God, not out of works, (so) that no one may boast”
    • Eph 4:1-6—religious identity (understood here in terms of unity) for believers is realized through the Spirit and the binding principle of love (cf. Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14, etc).
Symbolic/Spiritual application of the Law:
    • Eph 2:20-22—The Temple shrine (nao/$) is used as a symbol for believers (i.e. the Church) as a whole—a building, with Christ as the cornerstone, parallel to the image of the body (with Christ as the head); for similar application of the Temple, cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16.
    • Eph 5:26-27—Imagery drawn from ritual cleansing (ablution) and sacrificial offering is applied to believers (collectively), as part of the wider ethical instruction (parenesis) in Eph 4:17-6:9.
    • Eph 5:31ffGenesis 2:24 (related to laws regarding marriage and divorce) is applied symbolically to the Church.
Sources of authority for believers (apart from the Law):
    • Eph 3:1-4ff—Paul’s authority (as an apostle), which comes through special revelation (from God/Christ) cf. Gal 1:12
    • Eph 3:16ff—power/authority is ultimately realized in the “inner man” and by the Spirit.
    • Eph 4:17-5:20—ethical instruction comes by way of (Paul’s) apostolic authority (“I bear witness in the Lord…”, v. 17), but is realized through putting off the “old man” and putting on the “new man”, reflecting the spiritual transformation symbolized by the rite of baptism (which, in turn, represents participation in the death and resurrection of Christ).
    • Eph 5:22-6:9—similar ethical and practical instruction presented as effective commands from Paul (in his role as apostle).
    • Eph 5:21—authority of believers to one another (i.e. the community/congregation itself), “set yourselves in order under each other in (the) fear of Christ”.

The Pastoral Letters

For the sake of convenience, I group these together, without necessarily affirming common authorship; the text of each letter indicates it was composed by Paul, and this was accepted without question in the early Church, though in recent generations scholars and commentators have expressed serious doubt on this point (cf. above).

The Law (o( no/mo$) is mentioned twice in 1 Tim 1:8-9, along with nomodida/skaloi (“teachers of the Law”) in verse 7. It is not entirely clear whether this means specifically the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah), as elsewhere in Paul, or to “the law” in general. In Titus, the author appears to warn against (quasi-)Jewish influence (cf. Tit 1:14; 3:9), and it is often thought that something similar is referenced in 1 Tim 1:4; 4:7 (also 2 Tim 4:4), perhaps an early manifestation of “Gnosticism”. The list of crimes in 1 Tim 1:9-10 are, for the most part, dealt with somewhere in the Torah, but they would just as easily apply to the laws in most societies. The Law here is understood in its rudimentary role of curbing and punishing wickedness, especially crimes which are particularly harmful to others. This would come to be a popular line of reasoning for (Gentile) Christians who wished to maintain the binding validity of the Old Testament Law; however, it should be noted that Paul himself (in the undisputed letters) really never refers to the Law in this context (cp. Rom 13:1-4ff). In Romans and Galatians, Paul ascribes a very different purpose for the Old Testament Law (Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:4-25; 11:32), as I have discussed in the previous articles of this series. In Titus 3:9 there is an exhortation to avoid “legal battles” or “fights about the Law” (using the adjective nomiko/$), which may (or may not) refer specifically to the Torah. The fact that, in 1 Tim 1:10, at the end of the list of crimes, the author adds “…and if (there is) any other (thing) lying against [i.e. opposed to] whole/healthy teaching [didaskali/a]” is significant, as will be discussed below.

Other relevant passages are summarized below, organized according to the same structure used above (and in Part 2):

Similarities with Paul’s discussion of the Law in Galatians, Romans, etc.:
    • 1 Tim 1:5—Love (a)ga/ph) is described as the end/completion (te/lo$) of the paraggeli/a (lit. a message given/placed alongside), a word frequently used for authoritative instruction and often translated “command, charge”. Love is here connected with a “pure heart”, the ‘conscience’ (sunei/dhsi$, cf. below) and trust/faith (pi/sti$), all expressing an inward emphasis, rather than observance of external commands, and for which there are parallels in the undisputed Pauline letters. For a similar declaration that Christ is the end/completion (te/lo$) of the Law, cf. Rom 10:4; on the priority of the love command (or principle), see esp. Gal 5:14 and Rom 13:8-10.
    • 1 Tim 4:3-4—Here Paul (or the author of the letter) emphasizes freedom, as against ascetic/legalistic restrictions involving dietary regulations, etc. (cf. Rom 14; Col 2:16-17, 21-23). There is an implicit denial that anything is, in and of itself, clean or unclean; this is expressed more clearly in Titus 1:15. For the abolishment of any (ritual) distinction between “clean” and “unclean” (rel. to the Torah purity laws) for the believer, see esp. Rom 14:14.
    • 2 Tim 1:9-10—Salvation is not “according to our works” (kata\ ta\ e&rga h(mw=n) but according to God’s own purpose (pro/qesi$, lit. what he set beforehand) and favor (i.e. “grace” xa/ri$); note also the verb katarge/w in v. 10, which Paul elsewhere uses in the sense of Christ making ineffective (or nullifying) the Law and/or the power of sin and death (cf. Rom 6:6; 7:2, 6; 1 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Eph 2:15).
    • 2 Tim 4:8dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) is used here in the traditional (eschatological) sense of acceptance in the judgment before God’s tribunal; the emphasis, of course, is not on preserving the Law but on keeping/guarding the trust/faith (pi/sti$) in Christ. For more on this, see below.
    • Titus 3:5-7—justice/righteousness (and being made/declared just) does not come out of our own doing, but according to God’s mercy and cleasing which comes through Christ’s sacrificial death.
Symbolic/Spiritual application of the Law:
    • 2 Tim 2:19ff—There is here an echo of the Old Testament purity Laws, which is applied (symbolically) in the context of ethical instruction for believers.
    • Titus 1:14-16—purity/impurity is fundamentally a matter of the mind and conscience, rather than observance of (ritual) regulations; impurity or defilement is specifically connected with unbelief (a&pisto$), lit. “without trust” (in Christ).
    • Titus 2:14—believers are now God’s (covenant) people, described in traditional language related to the observance of the Law; the context of vv. 12-14 shows that normative ethical instruction is now tied to the Gospel message, and that purification/cleansing is based on the work of Christ.
    • Titus 3:5-7—similarly, ritual cleansing (ablution) is replaced by spiritual washing and renewal, which again is connected with the death of Christ (cf. the symbolism associated with baptism in Rom 6:3-4ff, etc).
Sources of authority for believers (apart from the Law):

One of the most distinctive elements in the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy and Titus) is the pronounced emphasis on the careful guarding and observance of early Christian teaching and tradition. The apparent context of the letters clearly suggests that Timothy and Titus, as co-workers and associates of Paul, represent him in the territories where they are serving (Ephesus and the island of Crete, respectively), and, by way of extension, possess a measure of his own apostolic authority. And yet, the repeated stress on safeguarding a defined body of (correct) doctrine is striking—here, even more than in the undisputed letters, doctrine seems to take priority over personal (apostolic) authority (cf. Gal 1:6-9). Quite often there is a clear contrast between correct teaching (i.e. orthodoxy), and that which is false, unreliable or irrelevant. This involves frequent use of a number of words and phrases which are uncharacteristic of the undisputed Pauline letters; these are marked with an asterisk (*) below.

    • paragge/llw (and the related noun paraggeli/a)—the verb literally means “give along a message”, generally in the sense of delivering an order, command or other authoritative instruction; while these words do appear in the undisputed letters (1 Thess 4:2, 11; 1 Cor 7:10, etc), nearly half of the occurrences in the Pauline corpus are in 1 Timothy (1 Tim 1:3, 5, 18; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17).
    • parakale/w (“call alongside”) has a similar meaning, indicating authoritative instruction (and exhortation), 1 Tim 1:3; 2:1; 5:1; 6:2; 2 Tim 4:2; Tit 1:9; 2:6, 15; it appears relatively often in the undisputed letters as well.
    • dida/skw (and the related nouns didaxh/, didaskali/a*)—these words together appear more frequently in the Pastorals than the other letters, emphasizing the importance of (correct) Christian teaching:
    • parati/qhmi* (and the related noun paraqh/kh*)—these words are essentially never used in the undisputed letters, but have an importance place in the Pastorals (1 Tim 1:18; 6:10; 2 Tim 1:12, 14; 2:2). Elsewhere Paul uses the noun parado/si$, along with the related verb paradi/dwmi; they have a similar meaning—parado/si$ is something “given along” while paraqh/kh is something “set/placed alongside”. However, the latter term carries specifically the nuance of something entrusted to a person, or laid down as a deposit. Christian teaching is no longer limited to something passed down from the apostles; it now has the additional characteristic of a fixed, permanent body of doctrine which must be guarded. While such an idea is not absent from the undisputed Pauline letters, its repeated emphasis in the Pastorals is striking.
    • eu)se/beia, etc.*—One may also mention the noun eu)se/beia, which is never used in any of the Pauline letters outside of the Pastorals (1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3, 5-6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5; Tit 1:1); it is sometimes translated (inaccurately) as “godliness”, but it really means “proper fear (or reverence)”, usually in a religious sense, and generally approximates what we mean in English by “religion” (or the more archaic-sounding “piety”). This is another distinctive element (or development) in the Pastorals—a sense of Christianity, marked by correct teaching and practice, as reflecting true religion. The related verb eu)sebe/w* (1 Tim 5:4) and adverb eu)sebw=$* (2 Tim 3:12; Tit 2:12) also are not to be found in the other letters, though Paul (as speaker) does use the verb in the narrative of Acts 17:23.

There are a number of specific passages which clearly indicate the authoritative character of (correct) Christian instruction, especially in ethical matters (1 Tim 6:2b-10, 17-19; 2 Tim 2:14-19; Tit 3:1-11), but also with regard to the governing and administration of local communities or congregations (1 Tim 2:8-15; 3:1-13; 4:6-10; 5:1-8ff, 17ff; 2 Tim 2:22-26; 4:1-5; Tit 1:5-9; 2:1-10, 15). In 1 Tim 6:2-3, we even see that correct teaching functions as “the words of the Lord”; on the authority of the minister, cf. also Tit 2:15. Beyond this, Paul (the putative author), in his role as an apostle (2 Tim 1:11-13; 3:10), issues authoritative instruction—note the first person use of the verbs parakale/w, boulomai, e)pitre/pw, (dia)martu/romai in 1 Tim 2:1, 8, 12, etc. The minister, like the apostle, is also to be an (authoritative) example for others to follow, cf. 1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 1:13; 3:10-15; Tit 2:7. On both of these last points, see in Part 2.

In addition, note the following passages:

    • 1 Tim 5:4—proper behavior is regarded as “acceptable” (a)podekto$) before God
    • 1 Tim 5:10, 17, etc—the normative character of good works and ministry in the community (note also 2 Tim 2:2, 5)
    • 1 Tim 6:14—the word e)ntolh/ is often translated “command”, referring to the commands of the Torah; however it can also be used of authoritative Christian instruction, and that is almost certainly the meaning here—”watch/guard the e)ntolh/” should be understood as generally synonymous with “guard/keep the paraqh/kh” (6:20; 2 Tim 1:14, cf. above), and note also 4:16 (“take hold upon the teaching”), etc.
    • 2 Tim 3:14-16—the authority and efficacy of the “sacred writing(s)” (i.e. Scripture) is declared; nowhere else in the Pauline corpus is this stated so precisely, with the Writings set within the context of authoritative Christian teaching (“the things you have learned” [v. 14], “of profit toward teaching” [v. 16]). The idea that the Scriptures are able to lead one to salvation is rather unusual for Paul.
      If 2 Timothy is authentically Pauline, then the “sacred writings” are the Old Testament Scriptures, meaning (at the very least), the Pentateuch, Prophets (presumably Joshua–Kings, along with Isaiah–Jeremiah, Ezekiel–Malachi), and the book of Psalms; if the letter is pseudonymous (and late), then a broader sense of Scripture may be intended, possibly including New Testament writings as well (cf. 2 Pet 3:16).

The Pastoral letters are somewhat unique in the way that they use the term sunei/dhsi$; this word is typically translated “conscience”, but literally means “seeing/knowing (things) together”, indicating (self-)awareness and understanding. It plays an important role in Pauline anthropology and psychology, as we see in Rom 2:15; 13:5; 1 Cor 8:7, 10, 12; 10:25-29; 2 Cor 1:12; 4:2; 5:11. Though he does not use the term in Rom 7:7-25, the passage would seem to be relevant; it is fair, I think, to consider the sunei/dhsi$ along with the mind/intellect (nou=$) as part of the “inner man”. In the Pastorals, sunei/dhsi$ carries more of an authoritative quality, as an inner guide for believers, often mentioned in connection with faith/trust (pi/sti$)—both of which are necessary for safeguarding true teaching, cf. 1 Tim 1:5, 19; 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3; Tit 1:15.

Finally, we should note several references indicating the (direct) role of the Spirit guiding believers:

    • 1 Tim 4:1—The Spirit is said to speak directly to believers (“and the Spirit in utterance relates that…”), by means of prophetic oracle (to Paul?); clearly it should be understood as authoritative, and in contrast to “wandering [i.e. deceitful/untrustworthy] spirits” that lead believers away from the (true) faith.
    • 2 Tim 1:14—Here the common exhortation/charge to “keep/guard” the teaching (par. to keeping/observing the Torah in the old covenant) is qualified: the guarding is done “through the Spirit th(at) houses [i.e. dwells] in us”, i.e. by the power (and guidance) of the Spirit.
    • Tit 3:5—Cleansing and renewal occurs, not by external observance of commands, but internally by the Holy Spirit.
    • Mention should also be made of the term qeo/pneusto$ (“blown/breathed by God”) in 2 Tim 3:16; the reference is primarily to the divine source of Scripture, but there may also be here an implied understanding of the role of the Spirit (pneu=ma, “breath, blowing”) of God in guiding the believer.

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