The scriptural letters to Timothy and Titus are often referred to as the Pastoral Epistles, as they deal with pastoral issues. Many modern commentators claim that the pastoral epistles were not written by Paul. They give them a late date, assuming they were written towards the end of the first century, much later than Paul's other letters.

I disagree with this view.

Not Bishops

The main reason that the commentators give a late date is that the letters to Timothy and Titus seem to give instructions about appointing "bishops" (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9). They assume that these letters could not be written by Paul, because bishops did not come into existence until later in the history of the church when his ministry was complete.

Unfortunately, this common understanding of the letters is wrong. The pastoral epistles are not instructions about appointing "bishops". The greek word translated as bishop is "episkopos". The English word "bishop" is a transliteration of the word episkopos, but this practice is misleading, as it makes it sound like an administrative or management position. The actual meaning of "episkopos" is "overseer". "Skopos" means "watcher" and "epi" means "around", so "episkopos" describes "watching over or around". Overseeing is not managing, directing and controlling, but watching over believers to ensure that they remain safe.

Episkopos is just another name for an elder. All elders "watch over" or "oversee" the disciples that God has placed under them. An elder/overseer is a person in a church who has oversight over less mature Christians. Even mature followers of Jesus need to be in a relationship with an elder. The word "oversight" describes the nature of this relationship well, because the elder watches over them, but does not control them.

In the New Testament, overseer is not a different role, but just another word that explains the nature of eldership. In Titus 1:6,7, the words "elder" and "overseer" are used interchangeably in teaching about the task of elders. The letter does not describe two different ministries.

Paul made this clear in his teaching to the church in Ephesus.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church... Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:17,28).
Paul explains to the elders that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (episkopos) of a flock. Paul challenged them to guard their flock. They do this by watching over them to see that they continue to grow and do not come to harm. Mature Christians do not need to be closely discipled; they just need someone to watch over them, who will only act if they come under severe attack or things go wrong. Jesus bought us with his blood, so no one should be allowed to slip away.

Peter also challenged elders to exercise "oversight" (verb) in their role as elders by shepherding God's flock. They do this by serving and setting an example, not by ruling and bossing.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers (episkopos) — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Pet 1:1-3).
The use of the word overseer tells about the nature of the elder's role. They mostly just watch over their people without doing anything.

Our enemy is prowling around, looking for someone to snare, so all Christians need an elder watching over them. Every Christian will be submitted to an elder, but it must not be "heavy-handed" control. Submission is really just willingness by a believer to allow a more mature Christian to speak into their life, by being teachable and willing to accept correction.

Selecting Elders

Once we understand that the letters to Timothy and Titus are instructions about the type of people that should become elders, an earlier date for these letters makes more sense. Elders were recognised in the church right from the beginning. Deacons were appointed early on in the history of the church (Acts 6:1-7).

Sending a letter about selecting elders and deacons to the church at the end of the first century does not make sense. By that time, the church had considerable experience with elders. They were everywhere. All churches had elders (Acts 13:1-3). Most would have deacons to care for their poor. They did not need basic teaching about appointing elders and deacons, because they had been doing that for a long time.

However, in the early days of the church, the situation was different. Paul had gone back to the churches he had established and recognised the more mature Christians as elders (Acts 14:23), but they could not keep on depending on Paul to do this. Therefore, it makes sense that Paul would give instructions about identifying elders to the people who worked with him and were going to visit new churches that had been established.

Paul had had more experience than anyone in identifying good elders, so it would be natural for the church to preserve his instructions about selecting them. Timothy and Titus were returning to places where new groups of Christians had formed, so it would be natural that Paul would write to them giving instructions about how to appoint elders (Tit 1:5-9; 1 Tim 3:1-7). Getting this task wrong would create serious problems, so Paul would want to ensure that they did it well.

Paul always supported himself in ministry by working part-time as a tentmaker, but he did not expect other elders who worked hard at caring for new believers to do the same. He recognised that some elders would need financial support if large numbers were coming to faith in Jesus. Ensuring that they all grew in faith could be a full-time task during some seasons. The early church was growing fast, so it was natural that Paul would write instructions about financial support for very active elders (1 Tim 5:17-18).

Deacons were established to care for the poor in the early days of the church at Jerusalem. These deacons were not deputy bishops, but people who cared for the poor (Acts 6:1-7). Read my article called Ministry of the Deacon for more on this topic. This role was important for the demonstration of the gospel, so other churches would have copied the Jerusalem example. However, appointing the right people to be deacons (caring for the poor) would be important (1 Tim 3:8-13). So it would be natural for Paul to write instructions about how to appoint deacons who would be able to carry out their role effectively (1 Tim 5:3-16).

When read with an understanding of the role of overseers and deacons, the letters to Timothy and Titus would not make sense if they belonged at the end of the first century. However, if Paul wrote them to two of his key followers in the early days of the church, they really do make sense. So I support an early date and Paul's authorship.

Last Days

Paul explains to Timothy what will happen in the Last Days/Latter Times. A common misconception amongst Christians is that the "Last Days" are a tumultuous season prior to the Second Coming of Jesus. That is incorrect. I have explained in an article called Last Days that this expression is the name of the season between the Ascension of Jesus and the Destruction of Jerusalem. This short season marked the end of the nation of Israel in its existing form, before the Jews were sent into exile.

Timothy was a Jew, so it was natural that Paul would describe what things would be like in the Last Days (1 Tim 4:1-3). In his second letter to Timothy, he gives his fullest description of what things would be like in Israel during the season between the Ascension and the Destruction of Jerusalem (2 Tim 3:1-6). All the things described in this passage occurred during the siege of Jerusalem.

Christians love to look for the fulfilment of 2 Timothy 3:1-6 in their own situation, but this prophecy was fulfilled prior to the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. It does not have a future fulfilment (except as a general description of what always happens in societies that desert God).

If Paul was warning of the situation that would occur during the lead up to the Destruction of Jerusalem, his words would only make sense if they were written before that terrible event occurred. This suggests that the two letters to Timothy must have been written well before AD 70, which confirms an early date for the letters.

Young Timothy

If the Pastoral Letters have a late date, Timothy would have been getting older when Paul wrote to him. However, Paul writes as if he is a young man. He explains how Timothy should conduct himself in the church (1 Tim 4:15). He warns him not to let anyone despise his youth (1 Tim 4:12). Paul urges Timothy to stir up the gift that had been released in him through the laying of hands (2 Tim 1:6). He encouraged him to do the work of an evangelist and to fulfil his ministry (2 Tim 4:5).

Paul's exhortations to Timothy do not make sense if he was writing at a late date. By then, Timothy would have been twenty years into his ministry, so it would be ridiculous to be treating him as someone who did not know what he was doing and could easily fail. The nature of Paul's message confirms an earlier date for the letters.


The usual assumption is that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy while he was in prison in Rome, not long before he died. I believe that this is wrong. The only hint that the letter was written when Paul was in Rome is a verse about a church leader called Onesiphorus. Paul sends greetings to the church that meets in his house (2 Tim 4:19).

Paul says that Onesiphorus blessed him when he was in prison in Rome.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me (2 Tim 1:16-17).
Two things should be noted about this text. Onesiphorus had not been worried about Paul's chains, but the letter does not say where. It could be referring to the time when he first met Paul in Colossae where Onesiphorus led a church and Paul was in prison before visiting that city.

The text says that Onesiphorus looked out for Paul when he visited Rome, but does not say when that occurred. It does not say that Paul was in prison when Onesiphorus looked him out.

Most commentators believe that Paul did not get to Rome until after he was arrested in Jerusalem and appealed to Rome. I don't agree with that. At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul sends greetings to a large number of church leaders and churches in Rome (far more than any of his other letters). This indicates to me that Paul has already visited Rome. He would not have known so many people living there if he had not visited.

It was probably during this early visit to Rome that Onesiphorus had met up with him. There is no reason to assume that he was in Rome when he wrote the second letter of Timothy.

Luke seems to have missed part of Paul's ministry in the book of Acts while he was not with him. When writing to the Romans, Paul declares that he has travelled as far as Illyricum, which is in modern-day Croatia, with the gospel (Rom 15:19). Acts does not record this journey. If Paul had travelled as far as Croatia, he would probably have gone to Rome at the same time. This would explain why he knew so many people when he was writing to the church in Rome.

Aquila and Priscilla

A clue to the date of the second letter to Timothy comes from the travels of Aquila and Priscilla. They were Jews who had been expelled from Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). Paul met them in Corinth and took them to Ephesus when he made a brief visit there, prior to travelling to Jerusalem.

They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:19).
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla were still in Ephesus, because they sent a greeting to Corinth (1 Cor 16:9). By the time Paul wrote to the Romans, Aquila and Priscilla were back in Rome, because Paul sent a greeting to them there (Rom 16:3).

This confirms an early date for Second Timothy, because in this letter, Paul sends a greeting to Aquila and Priscilla and the church in the house of Onesiphorus (2 Tim 4:19, which was in Ephesus or its environs. It is unlikely that Aquila and Priscilla would have gone all the way back to Rome and then returned to Ephesus again, so Paul must have written to Timothy before he wrote to the Romans.

This connection with Aquila and Priscilla explains where Timothy was when Paul wrote his second letter to him. He must have been in the area around Ephesus, where Aquila and Priscilla had been based. It also explains why Paul asked Timothy to pick up his cloak and books from Troas when he came to join him. If he was travelling west from Ephesus, he would need to pass through the Port of Troas.

This also confirms that Paul was based even further west when he wrote to Timothy, probably somewhere in Macedonia or Greece. One possibility is Nicopolis in the West of Greece (see Titus 3:12).

Many Imprisonments

Paul says that he was in prison (2 Tim 1:8). There is no reason to assume that this was his last time in prison. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul records that he was imprisoned numerous times. Many of these are not recorded in the book of Acts. It seems that part of his life and ministry was missed by Luke.

Several of the bad experiences Paul records in his letter must have happened on another journey for which we have no details.

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits... in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea... I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (2 Cor 11:23-27).
Acts does not record three shipwrecks, or the five times Paul received forty lashes. It does not seem to record all the times that he was in prison. So some of his imprisonments probably occurred during his journey to the western Balkans.

I think that it is more likely that Paul's second letter to Timothy was written while Paul was in prison at some point on his unrecorded missionary journey, possibly after he had returned from to Greece from Illyricum.

Paul records that he has sent Titus to Dalmatia (which is down the coast from Illyricum (2 Tim 4:10). This suggests that he was writing after he had returned from planting churches there. He often sent one of his co-workers to visit the churches he had established to ensure that elders were functioning correctly. Titus had probably gone to Dalmatia after his time in Crete (Tit 1:5). He had probably gone there with Paul and remained for a while after Paul left (or perhaps was forced to leave).

Not Depressed

Many commentators assume that his second letter to Timothy was written just before Paul died. They suggest that he was shut up in prison in Rome and depressed because he was alone, and his ministry was coming to an end. I reject this view, because I believe that it is based on a misunderstanding of the letter.

The passage that is commonly misunderstood is 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Commentators mostly assume that Paul knew that his death was near and was ready to die. But that is only one possible meaning of these verses.

Paul says that he is being poured out as a drink offering. That was not new. He said the same thing in his letter to the Philippians.

I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you (Phil 2:17).
He rejoiced with the Philippians because his sacrifice of service was helping increase their faith. He was not talking about his death, so it does not follow that he was thinking about his death when he spoke the same way to Timothy.

Paul says that he has a crown of righteousness and reward awaiting him on the day of judgment. However, this is something that he said frequently, not just when he thought he was dying. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Paul speaks of the crown that he and the disciples wear, just as he writes to Timothy. Speaking of a crown that would be given by Jesus to his followers when he appears is not a sign that he was thinking about his death.

Paul says that he has completed the race, but he was a person who was always racing, and striving. He always worked hard at his ministry, so he always saw himself as having completed the race that he had been called to run. Paul was always in a position where he had no regrets about what he could have done. His role made his life precarious, so he was always ready to die, because he was always doing what Jesus wanted him to do.

Paul says that the time for his "departure" is near. He was not necessarily speaking of his death (v.8). The Greek word that Paul uses is "analusis". It means "unloosing" or "departure". It can refer to the unmooring of a ship ready for departure.

I suspect that Paul realised that his release from prison was getting close, and his letter was planning for what he would do when he got out. He wanted Timothy and Mark to come and join him, so he could engage in further missionary work (2 Tim 4:9). There would be no point in their coming to him if he was about to die. Paul confirms this by saying that Mark is useful for his ministry (2 Tim 4:11).

Paul asks Timothy to come before the winter (2 Tim 4:9,21). He asked Timothy to bring a cloak for the winter, and some books that he used. He would not be asking for these things if his death was imminent. Paul's practice was to find a good place and stay there for the winter months (1 Cor 16:6; Tit 3:12). It seems that he was planning to do this again.

Not Deserted

Commentators usually suggest that Paul was depressed when he wrote his second letter to Timothy because all his fellow-workers had deserted him. Again, I think that this is misleading. A more realistic picture is that Paul was constantly organising his fellow-workers to advance the gospel and protect the fledgling churches.

The reason that Paul wanted Timothy and Mark to come was so that they could work with him. A careful reading of the final chapter of Second Timothy shows that Paul was busy organising the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church. He sent his fellows to various places where the church might need help.

These leaders covered most regions of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece where Paul and his co-workers had already taken the gospel. Clearly, Paul was still thinking strategically about how to advance the gospel.


Some modern scholars claim the pastoral epistles written by Paul are pseudepigrapha. The word refers to letters and other texts that are falsely attributed to an important religious leader who is not the true author. They say that these letters were written by a later leader, who tried to gain authority for his letters by claiming they were written by Paul to leaders from the first generation of Christians.

They suggest that the letters referred to leaders mentioned in Paul's genuine letters to give them credibility. They say that the author of the letter used Paul's name to give their writings standing in the church.

I think that this is a stupid idea. Even if the letters were written at a date as late as AD 120, there would be people around who knew about Timothy and Titus and how and where they lived and what they did.

My great-grandfather moved to the area where my family farmed in 1878. That is about 140 years ago. My father knew his grandfather, and he told me about his struggles on a small uneconomic farm, and his making ends meet by working as a shearer. If someone was to come along now and say that my great-grandfather was a doctor or a lawyer, I would not believe them. Their story would not be credible to someone familiar with my family history.

If Timothy and Titus were active in about AD 50, a letter written in AD 120 would have only a gap of seventy years. That is the equivalent of me looking back to 1952. I was a child at that time. My parents talked to me about the things that happened at that time. I remember some of the big events, like the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and Hillary climbing Mount Everest. If someone wrote a book about my great uncle climbing Mount Everest, I would know it was not true.

Even if the Pastoral Epistles were not written until AD150, the gap back to Timothy's actual life is like me looking back to the 1920s. I was not alive then, but my father was. He talked to me about the things that happened in his family and the nation back then. A false narrative about what happened during the great depression of the late 1920s would not gain traction because too many people still alive know what really happened.

So the idea that someone could pretend to write a letter from Paul to Timothy or Titus and gain credibility for their account is not credible. It assumes a level of stupidity for the Christians of that time that is arrogant and unfair.