The Pastoral Epistles: Were Timothy and Titus Pastors?

I guess this must be controversial. Years ago, I was talking to a customer in my Christian bookstore, and I began to point out the obvious, which is that Timothy and Titus were not pastors. It took the man a second to believe that I was suggesting this. When he realized I was serious, he said, “We’re done here.”

He put down the books he was going to buy, walked out, and he never came back again.

Really, though, there’s not any question scripturally.

<h2>Proof Timothy and Titus Were Not Pastors</h2>

<b>1. Timothy and Titus were told to appoint pastors.</b>

The word “pastor” is only used once in reference to the Christian church. They are mentioned to exist in Ephesians 4:11, and nothing specific is said about them.

“Pastor” is used as a verb in other places in the apostles’ writings. It’s translated as “shepherd” rather than “pastor,” but it’s the same word. The ones who are said to do the pastoring are the elders (Acts 20:17,28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Elders and pastors are interchangeable terms in the Scripture (see <a href=”http://www.christian-history.org/bishops-elders-pastors.html&#8221; target=”_blank”>Bishops, Elders, Pastors</a>).  Both Timothy and Titus are told to appoint elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). They are not elders themselves.

<b>2. Timothy is said to be an apostle, and Titus must be one, too.</b>

1 Thessalonians 1:1 says that the letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. 1 Thessalonians 2:6 references “we” as “apostles of Christ.” Since we all regard Paul as an apostle, and the Scriptures specifically say Barnabas was an apostle (Acts 14:14), it’s a simple conclusion that everyone who traveled with Paul was regarded as an apostle, even if temporarily.

There is no doubt that Timothy and Titus were functioning in that role in Ephesus and Crete. Both were there temporarily (2 Tim. 4:21; Tit. 3:12). Paul tells them the reason they were left, and in both cases it included intalling elders.

Apostles traveled; elders stayed in one place. The idea that an elder (pastor) could be raised in some faraway church, trained in seminary, then recruited by a pastor search comittee is a modern, heretical [<i>the word, in a general sense, means “divisive”</i>] tradition. Tertullian described something different going on in the early church:

The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character (Apology 39)

3. Apostles must be pastors and evangelists.

This should be listed as a free bonus, but it’s part of the proof that Timothy and Titus were not pastors.

I don’t have the room to give the proof of that. I have to limit myself to showing you that both Timothy and Titus were doing the jobs of pastor and evangelist.

It may not be wrong to call the three letters, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, the pastoral epistles. The letters are full of pastoral instruction. Paul gives constant advice on how they should train the church. That is what shepherding involves (cf. Eph. 4:11-12).

However, that was not the only job Timothy and Titus had. They also had to appoint people to do the shepherding on a permanent basis because they were moving on.

They were also evangelists. Apostles build churches. Unlike today, in the first century apostles couldn’t draw their members from unchurched Christians or members of other denominations. They had to win their church members from among the Jews and Gentiles (two very different crowds and methods).

Paul tells Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). We like to apply that, as we do with many verses, to all Christians, but there is no good scriptural reason to do so. Apostles are required to do the work of an evangelist and the work of a shepherd. Some of the rest of us are called to shepherd or evangelize, but that is not a general command for Christians.

Paul doesn’t seem to tell Titus to do the same, or suggest anything similar. It’s possible that Titus had his hands full with a group of converts that were “liars, evil beasts, and gluttons” (Tit. 1:12). It’s possible that Titus didn’t have the same gifts Timothy did.

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4 Responses to The Pastoral Epistles: Were Timothy and Titus Pastors?

  1. paulfpavao says:

    Wow, here it is a year later, and I accidentally found these comments with a search. They were sent to my junk mail so I never realized they were here.

    For those who might happen by, let me answer RP.

    RP, the answer to your last question is my answer to your whole response. I don’t know how the RCC or Orthodox churches handle 1&2 Timothy and Titus. My concern is about these letters being considerd by Protestants to be “the pastoral epistles.” Timothy and Titus, they say, were young pastors.

    The modern pastor is not a biblical role. There was no individual leader in the early churches except the temporary apostolic leadership. I am not in any way denying that apostles did pastoral work. And yes, in that sense, both Timothy and Titus were pastors. There is a distinction between apostles and shepherds made in Ephesians 4, even though apostles had to do shepherding work.

    A lot of the advice given to Timothy and Titus would apply to shepherd. If that is what “pastoral epistles” mean, then great. That is not, however, what it means in the Protestant Churches. They think of Timothy and Titus as being pastors in the modern sense.

    That brings me to the comment about appointing elders that you made. In Paul’s church, as I am sure you are aware, a pastor was one of several “pastors,” though he titled them elders, not shepherds. Shepherding was their work, elder their position (suggesting their status), and overseer (bishop) their title.

    Thus, the fact that Timothy and Titus appointed “elders” is important because it distinguishes the plural early Christian leadership from the pastor model that is almost mandatory in Protestantism today.

  2. Pingback: Day 348: 1 Timothy 1-6; Leadership Qualifications | Overisel Reformed Church

  3. Hmm, interesting Paul. I have a few reactions:

    1. As you point out, “Pastor” doesn’t have a nice Biblical job description in the way other roles in the Chuch do. Doesn’t that make the rest of the discussion rather moot, since it depends what meaning one chooses to attach to the role?

    2. Also as you point out, the term bishop and presbyter seem to be used with little/no distinction in the New Testament, but we see by the time of Ignatius of Antioch that a distinction had become pretty firmly established, at least in the East. So, not only do we not have a good Scriptural job description from which to begin, we know that leadership roles took time to mature and become more defined.

    3. Likewise, the term “apostle” appears to have a somewhat fuzzy definition in the Early Church, although it definitely had a missionary quality. However, we know that Paul himself even stayed in Ephesus for three years so even that role had some level of geographic stability. Although Paul was an Apostle, he certainly pastored that congregation for an extended period of time.

    4. Does the instruction to appoint pastors really necessitate that they themselves were not pastors? I don’t really think it does.

    5. I’m not sure if Paul’s request for Timothy to come and visit him is conclusive either. Although one would expect a pastor generally to remain with his flock, it’s not unheard of for him to have a leave of absence either.

    6. Didn’t Eusebius say that Timothy was the bishop of Ephesus?

    7. I’m a little confused by your third point. Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, but if we put 2. Timothy is said to be an apostle… together with 3. Apostles must be pastors and evangelists., doesn’t that mean that Timothy was a pastor? Or are you using the word “pastor” here in a different sense?

  4. Matthew says:

    Interesting stuff. Thank you for posting. I don’t always agree with you, but I almost always enjoy your posts. Please keep them coming.

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