For as long as I can remember I’ve heard 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus referred to as the “pastoral epistles.” I even had a class in Bible college by the same name. The assumption is that Timothy and Titus were pastors according to the modern conception. Most people accept this without any thought, as if it were automatically true. In reality, though, this is a classic case of our tendency as humans to read into the scripture our own present traditions and practices. Or, as Richard Hanson has said,
“It is a universal tendency in the Christian religion, as in many other religions, to give a theological interpretation to institutions which have developed gradually through a period of time for the sake of practical usefulness, and then read that interpretation back into the earliest periods and infancy of those institutions, attaching them to an age when in fact nobody imagined that they had such a meaning.”
Our modern conception of a pastor is basically of a guy (or gal) who functions as resident priest of a local congregation of Christians. The Protestant pastorate is basically a reformed version of the Roman Catholic priesthood with more of an emphasis on the preaching of scripture than the administering of sacraments. The modern “pastor” is a local brother who preaches the sermon on Sunday and usually gets paid a salary to perform the duties of the clergy, such as visitations, church administration, ect.
The strongest evidence against the view that Timothy and Titus were the equivalent of the modern-day pastor is the fact that both these brothers, like Paul, were itinerant. That is, they were travelling workers who moved about regularly from place to place planting and building up churches. Timothy and Titus were not pastors, they were apostles. As such, they were constantly on the go. Listen to what bishop Lightfoot has to say on this subject:
“It is the conception of a later age which represents Timothy as bishop of Ephesus, and Titus as bishop of Crete. Paul’s own language implies that the position which they held was temporary. In both cases their term of office is drawing to a close when the apostle writes.”
So if Timothy wasn’t the “pastor” of the church at Ephesus, who was? The obvious answer, which we do-it-by-the-book, Bible-believing evangelicals love to overlook, is simply this: nobody. The office of the pastor, as it is widely regarded and practiced throughout Christendom today, is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Look long and hard, but nowhere will you find a single example of a first-century believer occupying such a role in the local church.
But please, dear reader, before you throw stones, allow me to say that I am all for leadership, authority, and pastors. But I am for them in their truly biblical, “organic” sense, that is all. To describe what I mean by that is not the point of this particular post, however. All I’m saying for now is that to label Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus as “pastoral epistles” is a mis-leading, and it stems from the way we read and interpret scripture through the lens of our present traditions and practices. Let us pray for the Lord to give us light that we may see these writings and the story they tell in their original meaning. No doubt a revolution awaits us in that direction.