This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Titus-Timothy and the Pastoral Epistles

2 Tim 4:10 shows that the author of the Pastoral Epistles considered "Titus" and "Timothy" to be two different people. This post explores the possibility that the author took the name "Titus" from 2 Corinthians or Galatians, without realizing that he was Timothy.

"Titus" as Timothy's obsolete name.
Timothy is almost always known by that name (see Paul's letters, Acts & Heb 13:23). I have argued here that Paul calls him "Titus" in connection with the collection precisely because few people knew him by that name. If Timothy did indeed cease to use the name "Titus" this would explain why the author of the Pastoral Epistles did not know that the two names belonged to the same person.

The Pastoral Epistles were distant from Titus/Timothy
It is widely agreed that the author of the Pastoral Epistles wanted his compositions to seem like genuine letters of Paul. Thus, he added the personal details, for example, (e.g. 2 Tim 4:9-22) to lend verisimilitude. The intended audience was not "Titus" or "Timothy", but a wider community of Christians.

The author's decision to use individuals as the putative recipients makes sense if the 'letters' were written after it was known that all the letters addressed to churches had already been collected together. A newly "discovered" letter addressed to a church would have come under suspicion because people would wonder why such a letter had not been circulated earlier. However, a 'letter' addressed to an individual would come under no such suspicion if the individual was not known to have lived into the period when searches were made for Paul's letters. It could then be conjectured that no-one had known about the letter until it had been discovered, for example among the possessions that the individual had passed on after his death.

If anyone in the author's community at the time of composition had known Timothy or Titus well, the verisimilitude that the author carefully cultivates would have been in danger. There would have been a risk that someone object that Timothy had not said anything about having letters from Paul. The pretense of authenticity would not have worked. The fraud (if that is what it was) could have been exposed. The author's choice of "Titus" and "Timothy" as putative recipients of the 'letters' makes best sense, therefore, if his community had relatively little memory of either "men". Therefore, we should not be surprised if the author himself had little memory of "Titus" or "Timothy". Men known only from the genuine letters of Paul would make ideal fictional recipients of 'letters', for no-one would know that they had not received letters from Paul.

The Pastoral Epistles' poor information about Paul's companions
Do we have evidence that the author used the genuine letters as sources of information about Paul's companions? There are a few cases where we see that he probably did.

1 Tim 1:3 reads, "I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine.." This seems to be dependent on 1 Cor 16:5-11 where Paul is expecting Timothy to return to him in Ephesus and plans then to go to Macedonia and mentions opposition in Ephesus. A reader of 1 Cor 16:5-11 could easily imagine that Paul went to Macedonia after instructing Timothy to deal with the adversaries in Ephesus. However, we know from 2 Cor 1:1 and Acts 19:22 that Timothy did not stay behind in Ephesus. The author seems to have simplistically picked information from 1 Corinthians without checking that his assumptions were consistent with other texts.

2 Tim 1:7 implies that Timothy was cowardly. This seems to derive from a misreading of 1 Cor 16:10-11. In actual fact Timothy was not at all cowardly, as Hutson has demonstrated (1).

2 Tim 4:19 reads, "Greet Prisca and Aquila", and the implication is that they are in Ephesus where Timothy is supposed to be. This, again, seems to show a dependency on 1 Cor 16:19 which places the couple in Ephesus. The problem for the credibility of the author of the Pastorals is that Prisca and Aquila returned to Rome before Romans was written (Rom 16:3), so they are unlikely to have been in Ephesus at the time that 2 Timothy is supposed to have been written.

2 Tim 4:21 reads, "Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia". The problem here is that none of these names appear in the rather long list of people in Rome whom Paul greets in Rom 16.

2 Tim 4:13 reads, "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas". The only mention of Troas in Paul's letters is in 2 Cor 2:12-13 "When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia." Here we read that Paul left the departed from the believers in Troas in an anxious haste to reach Macedonia. A product of anxiety and haste is forgetfulness, so the author of 2 Timothy 4:13 could well have imagined Paul forgetting his coat in Troas when he anxiously hurried on to Macedonia. The author, reading 2 Corinthians, would have concluded that this was Paul's last visit to Troas and that Paul's cloak could therefore still be there. However, Acts 20:5-6 shows that Paul returned to Troas after a change of plan. 2 Tim 4:13, therefore, was crafted to comport with 2 Cor 2:12-13.

The author of the Pastoral Epistles, therefore, does not seem to have had good information about Paul's companions, so he would probably not have known Timothy's obsolete other name. We have reason to believe that the author of Colossians has just as poor information about Paul's companions. In Philemon 23-24 Paul deliberately uses diminutive name forms (see here). The author of Colossians uses the same name forms, suggesting that he took them from Philemon 23-24 without realizing that they were diminutive forms. Also, he probably mis-identified the Mark of Philemon 24 (see here), and misread "Jesus" in Philemon 23 (see here). He may also have misidentified Luke as a Gentile (see here). If, as is likely, the author of Colossians did not know the names ordinarily used by Epaphras, Mark, Demas, and Luke, it is hardly surprising that the author of the Pastoral Epistles did not know the name that Timothy no longer used. 

The human mind classifies according to name. Once it has ascribed two identities to two names, it has great difficulty in switching to the one-person view. Conversely, where the same name appears twice, one tends to equate the two individuals. These tendencies have led to misidentifications from ancient times. Even Cephas and Peter were considered two individuals by much of church tradition, starting in the second century, in spite of John 1:42.(2). Thus, it is natural that the author of the Pastorals mistakenly split Titus-Timothy into two people. These things happen. Every other document that sees Titus and Timothy as different people is dependent on the Pastoral Epistles.

In conclusion, it would not be at all surprising if the author of the Pastoral Epistles took the name "Titus" from 2 Corinthians or Galatians without realizing that this was Timothy's former name. The Pastoral Epistles supply no significant evidence against the Titus-Timothy hypothesis.

(1) C.R. Hutson, ‘Was Timothy Timid? On the Rhetoric of Fearlessness (1 Corinthians 16:10-11) and Cowardice (2 Timothy 1:7)’, BibRes 42 (1997), pp. 58-73.
(2) See B.D. Ehrman, "Cephas and Peter" JBL 109/3 (1990) 463-474. Ehrman argues that Cephas and Peter were different people, but has been convincingly refuted by D. Allison, "Peter and Cephas: one and the same," JBL 111(1992) 489-495.


  1. Which texts do you think your Pastoralist had access to? Was it only a couple of Paul's letters (e.g. 1 Cor but not 2 Cor), or all of them (even Acts?) and he just ignored some under your view?

  2. Hi Stephen. I think he used 1 Corinthians, for the reasons given. Beyond that I'm not sure. I wouldn't be surprised if he had all the genuine letters and perhaps even Acts, but I don't know. What do you think?

    His main interests were in theology, church politics, social ethics and so on. I think it is rather unlikely that he took an interest in placing the letters in a historical order or piecing together the biographical details about Paul's companions and their movements. You and I enjoy that kind of exercise, but most people find it dull, and I suspect that the ancients did too. Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous post, John Chrysostom wrote this about disinterest in Rom 16:

    "I think that many even of those who have the appearance of being extremely good men, hasten over this part of the Epistle as superfluous, and having no great weight in it. ... For because it is a catalogue of names, they think they cannot get any great good from it."

    I suspect that the author of the PE composed his 'letters' to comport with individual sources such as 1 Cor 16, but failed to investigate whether his compositions were consistent with the picture that emerges when data from multiple sources are combined. He was a disputant in church doctrine, not a puzzle fitter. My guess is that he had most of the texts that we have, but when he mined them for the mundane historical information that he needed to lend verisimilitude to his 'letters', he read them individually in isolation. A possible exception is his statement that Erastus stayed in Corinth (2 Tim 4:20).

    My main point, of course, is that we can't rely on the PE to decide the Titus-Timothy question. Is that a fair conclusion?

  3. Richard… Bob Brett here again. With great difficulty I have been attempting to understand your blog entries claiming that Saint Timothy and Saint Titus are one and the same.

    I attempted to learn more about your background, Richard, but your “complete profile” is empty. Are you a Christian? Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word?

    In your blog above… you state that “It is widely agreed that the author of the Pastoral Epistles wanted his compositions to seem like genuine letters of Paul.” without substantiating this claim. I do see that Wikipedia suggests that the Pastoral Epistles may have been written by Paul’s assistants but that Paul signed off on them. I’m OK with that possibility.

    But you appear to dismiss the Pastoral Epistles. Do you advocate removing them from the Canon?

    I take 2 Tim 4:10 seriously as the Word of God as well as John 1:42. I firmly believe that God knows all and He does not make mistakes. You infer that He does: “the author of the Pastoral Epistles did not know that the two names (Timothy & Titus) belonged to the same person.”

    Even so, I have decided to share with my BSF discussion group your hypothesis. Here it is below. I seek your feedback on the circumcision issue.

    Respectfully in Christ,
    Bob Brett

    BSF Acts Study Lesson 14

    5. (Challenge) Why was Titus not circumcised (Galatians 2:1–7), and why was Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3 and 1 Corinthians 9:20–23)?

    Simple answer:

    Timothy was circumcised because he was going to be ministering to the Jews in the “second journey” ahead. He volunteered to be circumscribed to overcome any barriers to his witness for Christ. He ascribed to 1 Corinthians 9:20-23: To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews…

    Titus was not circumcised because he was chiefly engaged in ministering to Gentiles (Wikipedia). Therefore he needed to be like Gentiles and remain uncircumcised.

    Complicated answer:

    Titus and Timothy were one and the same persons according to Udo Borse, J. Zmijewski, Blogger Richard Fellows, and suggested by Wikipedia. Apparently Titus remained uncircumcised on their visit to Jerusalem. Later, once his name had been changed to Timothy, he volunteered to be circumscribed to overcome any barriers to his witness for Christ.

  4. Hi Brett,

    thanks again for your interest in Titus-Timothy. Specialists are in wide agreement that the Pastoral Epistles were not written by Paul. My personal opinion is that they are fraudulent letters, though I cannot prove this conclusively. There are some things in the PE (e.g. 1 Tim 6:6-19) that reflect the genuine teachings of the early church, but there is a lot (e.g. 1 Tim 2:9-15) that is anti-Pauline. Some scholars have been clear on this point, but many seem to fudge the issue. The church fathers were keen to protect the scriptures from false documents. One wrote, "would you mix gall with honey?". Scholars and all who love the scriptures need to unequivocally reject the PE. Those who are loyal to the scriptures should be the first to defend the genuine scriptures against fraudulent impostors, but, for some reason that I do not understand, many conservative Christians seem bent on defending the PE.

    I think you are right about the reason for Timothy's circumcision. However, it is incorrect to say that Titus's mission was more to Gentiles than was that of Timothy. Titus, like "Timothy" was known to the Galatians and, like "Timothy", was active throughout the Aegean region. The "two" men covered the same territory. Also, Titus was sent back to Corinth to oppose the influence of Jews (see 2 Cor 8:16-17; 11:22), and, of course, he went to Jerusalem.

  5. Richard, I am in complete agreement with you that the Pastoral Letters are fraudulent, and have caused more damage to the church (especially women in the church) than we can even know. Clearly, as Fee and Hays in their commentaries on 1st Corinthians have shown, the interpolation in 1Co 14:34,35 was by someone of the same persuasion as the writer of 1 Tim 2:9-15, or was influenced directly by the Timothy passage. but Gal 3:28; Phil 4:2-4; Rom 16;7, 1 Co 11 prove that women in Paul's churches were free to preach, teach, etc.
    As to not understanding why most conservatives are bent on defending them, I believe it is there false presupposition that before one can trust in Christ (or continue to do so), he must have in inerrant Bible. But the NT scriptures after Pentecost (Christ's exaltation) call Christ "the word of God" and the Gospel "the word of God" -- uniquely; not a book.

    1. Well stated, anonymous. You might like to read my article on Euodia and Syntyche (see this blog), and my forthcoming article in Catholic Biblical Quarterly, when it is out.