Christopher R. Hutson Q & A on 1-2 Timothy and Titus in the Paedeia Commentary Series

Timothy Titus Commentary by Christopher R. HutsonChristopher R. Hutson (PhD, Yale University) is professor of Bible, missions, and ministry and is associate dean for academic programs and services in the College of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University.

He previously taught at Hood Theological Seminary and St. Xavier University. He is also the author of 1 Corinthians: A Community Not of This Age.

Dr. Hutson’s latest work is the First and Second Timothy and Titus volume in the Paideia commentary series (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019).

According to the publisher, Paideia commentaries show how New Testament texts use ancient narrative and rhetorical strategies to form and shape the reader and provide a fresh reading of the biblical texts in light of ancient culture and modern issues.

Students, pastors, and other readers will appreciate the historical, literary, and theological insight offered in this commentary.

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

My doctoral dissertation was titled My True Child: The Rhetoric of Youth in the Pastoral Epistles (PhD diss., Yale, 1998). In that study I explored ancient philosophical ideas about the formation of youth and applied those to the training of a “good minister of Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 4:6). I argued that the Pastoral Epistles, addressed to “youthful” individuals rather than to churches, are fundamentally about ministerial formation rather than church order.

In my teaching, I have worked through the Pastoral Epistles in Greek with various groups of graduate and undergraduate students at Hood Theological Seminary and Abilene Christian University. I have stayed abreast of scholarly engagement with these letters, especially through my affiliation with the Disputed Paulines Section of the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Along the way I published several scholarly and popular articles exploring aspects of these letters.

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

The Forward to the Paideia series as describes these commentaries as, “aimed squarely at students—including M.A. students in religious and theological studies programs, seminarians, and upper-divisional undergraduates—who have theological interests in the biblical text. Thus, the didactic aim of the series is to enable students to understand each book of the New Testament as a literary whole rooted in a particular ancient setting and related to its context within the New Testament.”

With that target readership in mind, I seek to introduce students to an abundant variety of ancient sources for understanding the Greco-Roman and Hellenistic Jewish context of the letters, and I seek to guide them through the maze of interpretational issues.

Inasmuch as the letters are about ministry, I hope that working pastors will find them useful for thinking about their own ministries. And I hope pastors will appreciate the “Theological Issues” sections that discuss how the letters have informed the broad Christian tradition down through the centuries.

And finally, since my attention to ancient pedagogy is different from most readings of these letters, I hope that seasoned scholars and specialists will find insights to stimulate their own research.

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

First, as indicated above, I read the Pastoral Epistles as letters to youthful individuals aimed at ministerial formation. So in the “Theological Issues” sections I apply the letters to issues in ministry.

Second, I am dissatisfied with the way so many interpreters read these letters as if their aim were to impose ancient Roman social and household values as normative for the church. As I read these letters, it seems to me that what is normative for the church is Christology—the incarnation, resurrection, and anticipated Parousia of the Messiah. I apply James Scott’s anthropological theories of “infrapolitics” to show how Pastoral Paul operates in the Greco-Roman world but not of the Greco-Roman world. So much of his advice about women and enslaved persons, for example, is contingent upon the social context.

Third, my theological reflections are ecumenical, drawing from many streams of Christian tradition. In this I am modeling the sort of advice ancient philosophers gave to their students, that, in order to have the best grasp on any philosophical question, one should read deeply in one’s own tradition and also broadly in other traditions. The same applies to any minister who wants to have a good grasp of any theological question.

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

When I was working on “the quiet life (hēsychios bios, 1 Tim 4:2) and “quietness” (hesychia, 1 Tim 4:11), I wanted to understand better the Orthodox tradition of hēsychasm. So I read the Philokalia, a compilation of some thousand or so years of Orthodox monastic tradition. It was rewarding to be immersed in matters of spiritual formation as I was thinking about these letters to young ministers.

My reading of 1 Tim 4:13 is distinctive. The ESV is typical of many translations, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Most western interpreters assume this verse lists Timothy’s duties as a minister to the community. But in the translation inserts the words “public” and “of Scripture” while deleting three definite articles. A more accurate translation is, “Until I come, give attention to the reading, the exhortation, the instruction.” This sounds to me like a directive for Timothy to engage more deeply in personal study by reading more, and by meditating on exhortations and instructions previously given to him. In my dissertation I had worked out that interpretation in light of ancient philosophical texts about the formation of young philosophers, and I thought I was out on a limb by myself. But when I was reading the Philokalia, I was delighted to discover that Orthodox monks down through the centuries routinely interpreted 1 Tim 4:13 the way I did. For them, this exhortation was not about Timothy’s duties as a church leader but about his own spiritual formation.

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

In 2 Tim 1, Pastoral Paul famously refers to a “spirit of timidity.” Over twenty years ago I published an article, arguing that this text provides no basis for a mirror-reading assumption that Timothy was timid. I placed the rhetoric in the context of ancient philosophical exhortations to youth. I still find that argument persuasive. But as I worked through the passage for the commentary, reflecting not only on the “spirit of timidity” but also of the spirits of “power, love, and self-control,” I came to appreciate more fully the language of spiritual warfare in ancient monastic traditions, both Catholic and Orthodox, not to mention in modern Pentecostal traditions.

And when I was working through the “washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5, I came to a new appreciation of the richness and beauty of Catholic baptismal liturgies going back to ancient baptismal liturgies found, for example, in the sermons of John Chrysostom.

Through such engagements with the long tradition, I came to see anew how, despite all its human faults, the church as the body of Christ animated by the Spirit of God is a dynamic presence in the world, a living force with an enormous capacity to engage people and orient them toward a life that is good.

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

If you want to go beyond my mid-level commentary for a high-end tome that includes fair-minded, well-argued discussions of issues and technical comments on all sorts of interesting minutiae, it’s still hard to beat I. Howard Marshall (with Philip H. Towner), The Pastoral Epistles, in the International Critical Commentary series (London & New York: T&T Clark, 1999).

A major scholar on the Pastoral Epistles not to be overlooked was my teacher Abraham J. Malherbe, who was assigned to replace Dibelius & Conzelman in the Hermeneia series. Since Malherbe died, that volume is now assigned to John T. Fitzgerald, and I anticipate that his commentary will be excellent. Meanwhile, Malherbe’s numerous scholarly essays, including many on the Pastoral Epistles, are collected in Light from the Gentiles: Hellenistic Philosophy and Early Christianity. Collected Essays 1959-2012 (two volumes; Leiden: Brill, 2014).

The monograph most simpatico with my approach is T. Christopher Hoklotubbe, Civilized Piety: The Rhetoric of Pietas in the Pastoral Epistles and the Roman Empire (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2017). Hoklotubbe’s fine study appeared after I had formulated my arguments, but I revisited my manuscript and cited him in several places where he offers more detailed discussion of matters of social and cultural context.

On authorship, Jermo van Nes, Pauline Language and the Pastoral Epistles: A Study of Linguistic Variation in the Corpus Paulinum (Leiden: Brill, 2018), is now the essential book on vocabulary and syntax bear on the question. See my review in Journal of Theological Studies 70.2 (2019). 817–819.

On church polity and leadership, one book that helps provide context for thinking about the Pastoral Epistles is R. Alistair Campbell, The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity (London & New York: T&T Clark, 2004).

On women in ministry, one book that helps provide context for thinking about the Pastoral Epistles is Kevin Madigan & Carolyn Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

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

I am still engaged with the Pastoral Epistles, currently working on a project that is exploring intersections between these letters and the fragmentary writings of the ancient Epicurean philosopher Philodemus.

But over the years I have also been thinking about the rest of the Pauline corpus, and I have some projects in the works on 1 Corinthians and Galatians.

When I get out of Pauline Studies, a can usually be found writing about Luke-Acts or about historical and theological matters involving issues of gender, race, or social justice in American religious history.

Readers can find information about me at:

Abilene Christian University: https://www.acu.edu/dbmm

and at

Academia.edu: https://acu.academia.edu/ChristopherHutson

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