[Originally posted at my personal site]
The recently published Fortress Commentary on the Bible: New Testament contains 22 pages of commentary, written by Deborah Krause, devoted to each of the Pastoral Epistles. With Fortress one expects a more critical direction from the commentary. The introduction to the whole volume makes this explicit with its endorsement of feminist, liberation and queer interpretation.
Krause begins with the assumption of non-Pauline authorship, and then most often explains why the exhortations found in these letters are not binding. She wrongly asserts that these are not proper letters but are simply vehicles for enforcing a certain church structure. These letters fit well within the models of letter writing in the first century (scholarship here has been clear). Furthermore, as the last several decades of scholarship has noted, these letters cannot be reduced to concerns about church structure.
After briefly laying out the perspective of non-Pauline authorship, Krause acknowledges, “it is important to remember that for the vast majority of the church’s history, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus” were not seen as just one of various ways of appropriating the Pauline message. “Rather, the writings have been seen as authentic communication between Paul and his closest companions in ministry.” This is an important piece to remember, though it gives no pause to the author. She does acknowledge, though, that since the church has for so long believed these letters were actually from Paul, “these writings have been remarkably successful in achieving their original intent- to influence and direct the Pauline tradition as it has informed the life and ministry of the church” (590). Despite what we “know” now, Scripture has had its intended effect.
Of course, 1 Timothy 2 is of particular interest. While the prohibition on women teaching men “may sound antiquated, it is remarkable to see how broadly this text is cited as an authority in current manuals of church administration and polity” (595). What is remarkable to me is that one would think it remarkable for clear statements of Scripture (in keeping with the manner in which the Church has interpreted them through most of its history) to serve as authority in church polity. And, the apparent reason why this should amaze us is that this statement of Scripture sounds “antiquated.”
One might argue for a different interpretation of these letters in general and of 1 Timothy 2 in particular. But we ought not be surprised that Scripture serves as a norm for churches today no matter how “old” its teaching may sound. And we ought to be careful about so lightly and so completely disregarding the consistent witness of our forebears.
In the end, this commentary on the Pastorals seems to be concerned primarily with protecting readers from the actual message of these letters.