Thursday, October 18, 2012

Today's New Testament dilemma...

So today's dilemma - who wrote 2 Timothy? The simple answer is Paul, dilemma resolved...

It's a dilemma for me today as over the next fortnight I have to write some material for a worship resource where the brief is that 2 Timothy represents second generation Christianity, the followers of Paul seeking to keep his version of the faith alive in the hearts of those who miss him. I hadn't realised how much of a dilemma this was for me until I saw the brief in black and white.

2 Timothy is part of the larger problem of the so-called pastoral letters. These three writings (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) seem very different in language and style from other letters of Paul (Romans, Galatians, Philippians, etc), they seem to presuppose a church structure very different from that in 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians and they talk about journeys that cannot be fitted into the narrative framework of Acts.

But... Having just read 2 Timothy to check this is right, I find there is absolutely nothing about church organisation in this letter. It is a very personal defence of a life lived as a follower of Jesus, a life that stands on the brink of being snuffed out. It is shot through with a pathos you'd expect if the author was facing his imminent demise following the (legal) trial he is currently enduring.

There are turns of phrase that do not sound like the Paul of Romans and Galatians. But equally there are moments when that Paul is heard loud and clear. For example, when he says 'remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel...' (2:8) we are firmly in the introduction to Romans (1:3-4) where similarly Paul's gospel is about God's messiah (Christ), descended from David and raised from death. And the stress on following his example strongly echoes the same advice he gave the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:17; 11:1), interestingly citing Timothy as the one who will remind them of his teaching and way of life. And the anger he expresses in chapter 2 about false teachers is redolent of Galatians and 2 Corinthians.

Perhaps the difference of style is accounted for by two factors. The first is that 2 Timothy is the only genuinely personal letter of Paul's that we have. The letter to Philemon (plus 1 Timothy and Titus assuming those two are by Paul) were intended for public as well as private consumption. The second is that Luke could well have had a hand in the writing of the letter, acting as Paul's scribe. There has been a strong case made for the similarity of language between Acts and 2 Timothy suggesting the involvement of Luke in the composition of both. Luke is clearly with the author as he writes (2 Tim 4:11)

There could also be a third factor at play here. Paul knows he's at the end of his life, possibly days or weeks away from being executed. While there is a firm faith and confidence in God, there is an air of sombre regret about the letter, regret that he's not going to enjoy more times of fruitful mission. It is different in tone from Philippians where he was confident of being released from prison (see Phil 1:20-26). He knows that there will be no release for him this time, that he will only leave his cell to meet his death. That's bound to affect the way you express yourself - even for Paul.

That just leaves where 2 Timothy might fit into any chronology of Paul's life. That'll be the subject of a later post; suffice to say, I think there is a plausible way of understanding Paul's later life that finds room for 2 Timothy.

No comments: