I have just recently read Phil Towner’s “Christology in the Letters to Timothy and Titus” in Contours of Christology in the New Testament, edited by Richard Longenecker (Eerdmans, 2005). Towner discusses the key Christological passages in the three letters interacting with recent scholarship and synthesizing the Christology found in each letter. It is the sort of careful work we have come to expect from Towner and, therefore, is a good entry way into this area of study. Towner continues (rightly I believe) to stress the fact that, while these letters have some significant commonality, they also have their distinct emphases.
Though I agree with most of the essay, for the sake of conversation I will here point out two smaller things I question. The first has to do with discerning the background of some of the Christological language. Discussing the “epiphany” language, Towner asserts,
“Undoubtedly … epiphany language must have been deliberately chosen to engage the dominant religious-political discourse of the day and to force a rethinking of these categories by the proclamation of God’s story in Hellenistic dress.” (225; emphasis mine)
I think this may be overstated. Since, as Towner notes, this language appears in the Septuagint describing “Yahweh’s interventions in the world” then the use in the PE could arise for a number of reasons. Towner mentions emperor worship elsewhere so I wonder if that is what he has in mind here. I am not convinced that emperor worship is in view. I want to be cautious when trying to establish specific background connections.
Secondly, Towner refers to Timothy’s “dwindling courage and lagging commitment” in 2 Timothy (238). This is a common assertion, but I think it reads too much into 2 Timothy 1. Simply because Paul calls on him to stir up his gift (1:6) does not mean he is failing. The fact that Paul exhorts him not to be timid (1:6) or ashamed (1:8) does not mean that he is being these things. It is, rather, what is to be expected by a father figure as he exhorts his “son” to face hardship well. Paul is simply exhorting Timothy to “strap it on”, wade into the fray and take his lumps in the “good fight.” The similarities between this letter and letters from commanding officers to their subordinates would seem to support my reading as well.
These are not major points in Towner’s essay, and as I noted the essay as a whole is very profitable. These two points are ones I see in other essays so I raise my critique here to see if a profitable discussion might be raised.