Question and Answer with Robert Yarbrough on the Pastoral Epistles

Learn more about 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus in the Pillar Commentary Series

timothy titus bible commentaryRobert Yarbrough (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the professor of the New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. He taught previously at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Covenant Theological Seminary (1991-96), Wheaton College, and Liberty University. He has been involved in theological education in Eastern Europe since 1990 and in Africa since 1995. He served on pastoral staffs in Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Illinois.

Dr. Yarbrough is author of 1, 2, and 3 John (2008) in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series, which he co-edits. Other books include The Salvation-Historical Fallacy? Reassessing the History of New Testament Theology; and The Gospel of John. With Walter Elwell he authored the widely used textbook Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (3rd ed. 2013), which has been translated into numerous languages. At the popular level Dr. Yarbrough is author of The Kregel Pictorial Guide to the New Testament (2009).

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus?

First, I have been involved in pastoral ministry since about 1975. Paul’s “pastoral” epistles have always been a natural and favorite focus. Second, I have taught and written about Paul extensively in various settings around the world in connection with pastoral training since 1989. These epistles’ truth and wisdom are never far from my thinking. Third, since the early 1990s I have been a contributor to three different editions of the book Women in the Church, which explores 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in depth. This has kept me active in hermeneutical questions at the center of interpreting not only 1 Timothy 2 but Paul’s letters overall.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

Don Carson’s “Editor’s Preface” in every Pillar series commentary nails it: “Designed for serious pastors and teachers of the Bible, the Pillar commentaries seek above all to make clear the text of Scripture as we have it. The scholars writing these volumes interact with the most important informed contemporary debate but avoid getting mired in undue technical detail. Their ideal is a blend of rigorous exegesis and exposition, with an eye alert both to biblical theology and to the contemporary relevance of the Bible, without confusing the commentary and the sermon.”

I would underscore “serious pastors and teachers of the Bible” in the paragraph above, but I would expand those words to include “all serious readers of Scripture hungry better to know what it says and eager to put it into practice.”

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus?

Unique? I refer to 50 Pastoral Epistles commentaries in my bibliography; all have common features and concerns. In that sense none is unique, and I doubt mine is either.

How about “distinctive”? My commentary seeks to

1) see the Pastorals (and questions like their authorship) in the light of global Christianity and not primarily the post-Enlightenment (and often post-Christian) historical-critical paradigm;

2) show how the Pastorals reflect Pauline and apostolic teaching, both linguistically and thematically;

3) pay due attention to word meanings without overlooking literary, contextual, and theological considerations of equal importance; and

4) highlight the pastoral wisdom on display in these writings, as they model an approach to care of souls in the church that will prove fruitful wherever the gospel message is received.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Not surprisingly, 1 Timothy 2 stands out as challenging. I was pleased to arrive at a reading that emphasizes women’s call to discipleship, not their leadership limitations, and pastors’ responsibility to maximize women’s call to and competency for serious learning in connection with the church’s pastoral teaching.

Beyond that, my abiding memory of the several years that went into the writing is two-fold.

First, commentary writing is painfully hard work. In that sense I’m glad the work is through. Yet second, at every turn deeper study revealed truths and insights I had not seen before, or had not seen with such clarity or been gripped by with such conviction. In that sense I am grateful for the prolonged intellectual-and-spiritual-retreat that work on the commentary provided.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

I was frequently moved by the confluence of various commentators—despite the complexity of the text and the interpretive issues, there is impressive agreement in much (not all) of the literature when it comes to major points of emphasis, especially Christology, soteriology, Christian ethics (good works), and the grandeur of God that commends his worship.

Also, because I have served in pastoral roles, and trained pastoral workers, not only in the US but in eastern Europe, African, and Asia, I was reminded again and again of the global truth and force of the message that permeates the Pastoral Epistles (as it does the entire Bible). What is good in this world is the work of the God we meet in the Pastorals through his Son, by whom all humanity benefits from both his common and his special grace.

The Pastorals attest, directly and indirectly, to a theology of the cross that often led to persecution in that era. It was edifying/sobering to rediscover this as it is observable in so many quarters of the global church at present, with some of which I have had personal contact.

Some days more so than others, admittedly, researching and writing the commentary was a doxological experience. Also, I would be remiss not to mention the collegial encouragement gained from interaction with Don Carson and Eerdmans editor Craig Noll as the commentary took final shape.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus?

Phil Towner’s NICNT remains the scholarly gold standard in English. Howard Marshall’s ICC (written with Towner’s assistance) is masterful in succinctness and interaction with German commentators. L. T. Johnson’s commentaries are expansive and creative; his Anchor Bible on 1-2 Timothy is a powerful tribute to the plausibility of Pauline authorship. For preaching, a go-to resource is Andreas J. Köstenberger’s Commentary on 1-2 Timothy and Titus in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series. Ben Witherington III in his Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1, draws helpfully on Mounce, Johnson, and many others and often arrives at fresh insights for rumination and proclamation.

For English-speaking readers seeking church historical depth (which should be true of all preaching pastors!), Luther (on 1 Timothy) and Calvin (on all three of the Pastorals) should not be overlooked.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Along with other projects, I’m working on a Romans commentary in the ESV Expository Commentary series. I hope to publish lectures soon on elitism and populism in New Testament theology. I also edit the pastoral and theological journal called Presbyterion for my seminary. At just $12/year for two issues (160 pp.+ each time) it’s hard to beat! Go to covenantseminary.edu/publications/.


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