The ekklesia of the Pastoral Epistles (PE) is a challenging study. Part of its challenge is that the study is can be very quickly clouded by the assertions against Pauline authorship from interpreters which make large assumptions based upon a perceived problems with the way the organization of the church is detailed in the PE; and, although a majority of New Testament interpreters categorize the PE as pseudonymous, and deutero-Pauline, there are salient and thoughtful responses to such criticisms against Pauline authorship.
This particular investigation looks into the use of ekklesia in the 1-2 Timothy and Titus (PE) and seeks an understanding of how these letters articulate the organization of the church, and to present a preliminary conclusion of whether or not this reflects a post-Pauline setting.
Ekklesia in Perspective
To begin with, of the 114 instances of ekklesia in the New Testament Paul’s use of the term accounts for 62 (54.39%) of these, three of which are only in the PE (2.63%). The word is used in both non-biblical and biblical contexts. In its ordinary sense, it refers to “the popular assembly of the full citizens of the polis, or Greek city state” (Acts 19:32, 41).
It is incorporated into Jewish theology through the Septuagint (LXX) frequently to translate the Hebrew term qahal. It is found in references to the assembly of Israel during “their desert wanderings.” It also would describe “Israel when it assembled to hear the Word of God on Mt. Sinai, or later on Mt. Zion where all Israel was required to assemble three times a year.” There was the assembly “of the Lord” (Deut 23:2), or “of the people of God” (Judges 20:2; Acts 7:38). It seems proper to understand ekklesia, then, as a word which in many cases depicts an assembly of God’s people prepared to hear God’s Word (Matt 16:18).
Ekklesia in 1-2 Timothy and Titus
The first matter to discuss is the usage of ekklesia in the PE. The limits of the use of ekklesia in the PE perhaps underscore Luke T. Johnson’s concerns regarding certain tendencies in how “the three letters are invariably treated together as a group.” This tendency results in the “characterization” of the PE by “coalescing” their contents and in effect “dulls the perception of the individual letters.” There must be an internal reason for this limited use of ekklesia in the PE. Despite the data and Johnson’s concern, the concepts associated with church life are interwoven throughout the PE, demonstrated by the fact that ministerial concerns are ultimately church concerns: “Keep a close watch on yourself and to the teaching. Remain in them, for by doing these things you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16).
The three uses of ekklesia in 1 Timothy are found in 3:5, 15, and 5:16. These will be considered in the order of their appearance. 1 Timothy 3:5 is a parenthetical maxim: “but if someone does not know how to care for his own household [tou idiou tou idiou oikou], how will he take care of God’s church [ekklesias theou]?” Not much later, Paul writes, “but if I delay, that you might know how one ought to behave in the household of God [en oiko theou], which is the church of the living God [ekklesia theou zontos], the pillar and the foundation of truth” (3:15). At the end of the discussion regarding the ministry toward widows, Paul writes, “If any believing woman has widows, let her provide them help and do not let the church [he ekklesia] be burdened, in order that She (i.e. the church) may provide for the ones who are truly widows” (5:16).
1 Timothy 3:5 and 15 are the most closely linked together not only in proximity but also the way they are integrated into Paul’s argument for the expected conduct in the ekklesia (3:15). In 3:5, the care given in the guardian’s “own home” reflects his capacity to care for the “household of God”; moreover, this very “household of God” bears the “characteristic quality” (hetis) as “the church of the living God” (3:15). The syntax may be understood in a few a ways. These institutions may find their origin in God (ablative of source); or, the genitive reflects them as God’s possession, if not they are defined by their relationship with God. In either case, what God creates He possesses and has a relationship with what is His (John 1:12).
While these three are legitimate grammatical options, contextually the contrast between the household of the guardian and the household of God lays the emphasis upon possession: “God’s household” and “the Living God’s church.” Hence, as George W. Knight, writes, the Christian life is to be lived out in “the home built and owned by God and indwelt by him as the living one.”
In 5:16, the closing statement requires the care for widows and presents a prohibition against burdening “the church” unnecessarily (he ekklesia). This is the anaphoric use of the article, pointing back to 3:15, which implicitly suggests this is a reference to the local congregation. “The church” is the same as “the church of the living God” for as K. L. Schmidt observes, “the words tou theou are implied even when they are not specifically added, just as basileia in the NT always means the basileia tou theou unless some earthly kingdom is expressly mentioned.” This fits well with the context, where there is a strong distinction made between one’s responsibility to “one’s own household” (5:4) and “member of the family” (5:8) with the responsibility he ekklesia has to care for its members who are “genuine widows.”
Taking a wider view, the phrase ekklesia theou is found in connection of the work of guardians who function as shepherds in Acts 20:28; moreover, the phrase ekklesia theou is found in the so-called “genuine” Pauline letters (1 Cor 1:2, 10:32, 11:16, 22, 15:9; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:13; 1 Thess 2:14) and “deutero-Pauline” references such as 2 Thessalonians 1:4.
The exclusive use of ekklesia in 1 Timothy demonstrates a few things. First, ekklesia must be understood in its connection to the genitival theou, which here emphasizes God’s ownership of the church. Second, ekklesia theou is explanatory revealing the “characteristic quality” (hetis) of the household of God (oiko theou 3:15). Third, the genitival construction ekklesias theou is consistent with the so-called “genuine” letters of Paul. This is significant since it is a consistent Pauline phrase to describe the saints in Christ (2 Cor 1:1). Fourth, as the “household of God” the church is distinct from the household of the “guardians” (3:1b, 5) and of the “servants” (3:12), and of the Christian families who must care for their own households (5:1-16).
1 Timothy’s use of ekklesia then is bound within what this writer would describe as a concentric responsibility. Guardians, servants, and Christian families must take care of their own households as part requisite to serve in greater echelons of the household of God, the church of the living God. The household metaphor will be explored next since it is pervasive in the PE.
The “Household” in 1-2 Timothy and Titus
The second matter to consider is the church organizational structure found in the PE. Despite the limited use of the ekklesia various church leaders are discussed within the PE. In 1 Timothy and Titus there those who would take on “the responsibility of a guardian” (episkope; 1 Tim 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-9). Only 1 Timothy provides a virtue list for those who would be “servants” (deacons) in the church (3:8-13). There is an “enrollment of the widows” which may refer to an “order” of godly women who are supported by the church (1 Tim 5:1-16). Again, Johnson’s caution is reiterated that the PE are individual letters in spite of many overlapping features, and these distinctions must be respected. Nevertheless, the familiar Greco-Roman metaphor of “household” is evident throughout the PE and provides the organizing principle for churches in Ephesus and Crete.
The “household” metaphor is significantly used throughout the PE. It is not without precedent that Paul uses metaphors (the body, the bride, the temple, etc.) to describe the interworking relationships of the church. David J. Williams introduces his research on metaphors in Pauline literature by calling attention to the literary fact that
metaphor is a way of presenting a truth that is wholly or partly unknown by likening it to something that is known to the person or persons under instruction. A metaphor is an aid to the perception of a truth (its intuitive recognition). It helps us to “get a handle” on a truth, but it does not necessarily furnish an explanation, certainly not a complete explanation, of the truth in question.
In the Greco-Roman backdrop, the household metaphor lent itself to the political realm. According to P. H. Towner, the Roman emperor “came to be viewed as a father and the state as his household. And many functions or positions in relation to the state were derived from the ‘household’ root.” As such, the metaphor of “household” would include derivative analogies such as immediate family members, slaves, freedmen, servants and laborers, and many other household personnel.
It is clear that “household” is an overarching metaphor Paul draws from in the PE. This is seen in the PE’s phrase, “how one ought to behave in God’s house” (1 Tim 3:15b). Paul does use the term “house” in his correspondences in the sense of one’s own home (1 Cor 11:22) and in the sense of where Christians meet (Rom 16:5; Phlm 2). Yet, it is in the metaphor of household that the PE develop the analogy of the church as “a social unit, made up of various members, each responsible to one another and ultimately to the householder.”
This emphasis on household imagery could explain the omission of spiritual gifts as the connective tissues of church organization and leadership, which is a critical concern that some interpreters find to be evidence pointing against Pauline authorship. Therefore, if it is granted to Paul that the household metaphor better pointed out “truth” to his recipients then at the very least the viability of Pauline authorship cannot be dismissed lightly. Such criticisms, which centers on the PE’s use of non-Pauline metaphor for ekklesia, appears forced and arbitrary.
The household metaphor for the church organization, then, is developed in the PE in the following ways. In 2 Timothy 2:20-21 there is a brief comparison of the church to “a great house” (en megale oikia). Such a comparison suggests that the house must have various elements of worth. 1 Timothy 2:1-3:13 more emphatically develops that there are expectations in the household of God (3:15).
Let us summarize a few points regarding expectations. First, 1 Timothy 2:1-15 develops the roles of the church as a whole (2:1-7), and gender role expectations in the assembly (2:8-15). Second, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 addresses the qualifications for the managerial and senior members of the household of God (guardians and elders). Moreover, Titus 1:7 calls the elder and guardian a “steward of God” (theou oikonomon), which refers to a member of the household who is entrusted with a task by the master of the household. Third, 1 Timothy 3:8-13 provides a virtue list for servants (diakonous) who function in various roles in a household. In this connection, Timothy himself is described as a diakonos Christou Iesou who later on is called to fulfill his work as an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5). Fourth, there is the familial treatment between Christian “siblings” and the care of widows as members of the household of God (1 Tim 5:1-16). Timothy and Titus are both regarded as a “true child” (1 Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4), and Timothy is also described as “beloved child” (2 Tim 1:2).
Does this Fit with Paul’s Authorship?
With the evaluation of much of the internal evidence of the PE, it must be considered whether the picture of the church is of such a state that it weighs against Pauline authorship. The use of the household metaphor for organizing “the church of the living God” in the PE is pervasive, providing analogies for every ministry of ekklesia; moreover, it is all inclusive with specific guidelines for the various ministries considered.
Gerd Theissen, however, argues that “the notions of the community are not very Pauline. The image of the body of Christ in which all members have equal rights is absent.” Quite to the contrary, the “notions of community” in the PE are every bit as comparable to so-called “authentic” Pauline teaching of the body of Christ. In Romans 12:3-8 the body of Christ is filled with many members with differing gifts. Paul writes the gifts are given “each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (3 ESV), and “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (5 ESV).
Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul makes a similar argument. All the spiritual gifts are from a single source, but every Christian has a different ministry: “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (4 ESV). In this context, Paul raises the issue of church leadership: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” (29 ESV).
There appeared to be equal opportunities to serve but different areas of ministry based upon the will of God. This is precisely how the household metaphor presents ministry in the PE. Such evidence ought to reduce the weight of observations like those of Theissen who reject Paul’s authorship on the belief that the community in the PE is inconsistent with the so-called “authentic” letters of the apostle.
The conclusions drawn here are preliminary, but they lean toward a realization that each letter in the PE must be respected for their individual contribution and voice. Yet, for the focus given to individual church leaders (Timothy and Titus) and their concerns for conduct in the household of God, there is a commonality between them which can be evaluated in unison. There are three preliminary conclusion which can be made at this time.
First, the limited data of the use of ekklesia in the PE demonstrates that 1 Tim has particular expectations for its members to understand the difference between one’s own household and God’s household. This clearly suggests a rebuke and an attempt to recalibrate the Christian behavior. Titus and 2 Timothy apparently had different church concerns.
Second, the church organization revealed in the PE is quite clearly patterned after the metaphor of “household” with God as the master. In employing this metaphor, the PE reveals that leadership roles are subject to God’s prerogative to entrust a task for His household servants. Timothy and Titus along with the other leaders and servants appear cooperative; there does not appear to be a portrayal of a second century monarchical type of hierarchy as in Clement of Rome and Ignatius.
Finally, the criticism that the PE “office holders” have replaced a “charismatic-functional church structure” overlooks the pervasive and organic nature of the “household” organizing principle, and upon closer look reflects similar levels of diversity of ministries and personnel.
- Pastoral Epistles (PE) will be used throughout this essay. There is some objection raised as to the use of this nomenclature due to the correct view that neither Timothy nor Titus are pastors in the modern sense. However, Paul does address the qualifications for the episkopos, the overseers, or the guardians of the church; so, in this sense as documents which speak to this office these letters are viewed as pastoral, if not episcopal, in the New Testament sense.
- The internal areas of discussion are fourfold: the historical problem of fitting the PE into the historical scheme of Acts and the Pauline corpus, the connection between church organization in the PE and second century church organization, the distinct style of the PE and its unfamiliar robust vocabulary, and the dissimilar use of Pauline theological terms and lack of common doctrinal concerns.
- Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 554-68; Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 612-36; a centrist, Luke Timothy Johnson and Todd C. Penner, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999), 424-28.
- Peter T. O’Brien, “Church,” DPL 124. Cognates of ekklesia are used throughout in 1 Timothy (6:12) and 2 Timothy (1:9; 2:20, 22), but they are not used in Titus.
- “ekklesia,” BDAG 303-04.
- O’Brien, “Church,” 123.
- O’Brien, “Church,” 124; Karl Ludwig Schmidt, “ekklesia,” TDNT 3:527; BDAG 303.
- Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology: A Brief Sketch (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 76.
- O’Brien, “Church,” 124.
- See also the assemblies in 1 Kgs 8:55 and 1 Chr 29:10; interestingly, the Hebrew writer speaks of the redeemed in a similar way (Heb 12:22-24).
- Johnson and Penner, The Writings of the New Testament, 424.
- Unless otherwise noted all translations are those of the author.
- “episkopos,” L&N 35:43.
- “hostis, hetis, hoti,” BDAG 729.
- Boyce W. Blackwelder, Light from the Greek New Testament (1958; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Hook House, 1976), 131; James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 8-9, 23
- George W. Knight, III, The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013), 181-82.
- Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 217-20.
- Schmidt, “episkopos,” TDNT 3:507.
- Blackwelder, Light from the Greek New Testament, 131; Charles B. Cousar, The Letters of Paul (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 89-90, 163-80.
- Cousar, Letters of Paul, 178, 202.
- David J. Williams, Paul’s Metaphors: Their Context and Character (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 1. Williams sees the use of “household of God” (oiko theou) as a probable metaphor for the church in 1 Tim 3:5 and 15, and he compares this with the “household of faith” in Galatians 6:10 (30).
- Philip H. Towner, “Households and Household Codes,” DPL 417.
- Towner, “Households and Household Codes,” 418.
- Cousar, Letters of Paul, 202; Towner, “Households and Household Codes,” 418.
- “oikonomos,” BDAG 698.
- This is of particular importance since Timothy is thought of as a type of monarchial bishop from the second century. Neither Timothy nor Titus are so named.
- Gerd Theissen, Fortress Introduction to the New Testament, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 136.
- Howard Lee Kee, Understanding the New Testament, 4th ed. (Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1983), 315. Although Kee rejects Pauline authorship, he does concede that there is “no hint” of a single bishop in a city or territory with central authority over the Church in the PE.
- Udo Schnelle, The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, trans. M. Eugene Boring (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 330; trans. of Einleitung in das Neue Testament (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994).