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Spring 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 1 · pp. 104–105 

Book Review

1 & 2 Timothy, Titus

Paul M. Zehr. Waterloo, ON and Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2010. 405 pages.

Reviewed by Dan Nighswander

Three short letters in the New Testament are addressed to two young leaders in the Christian church. Two are to Timothy, one to Titus. In total they comprise only a few pages, but to twenty-first-century churches that are absorbed with questions of leadership responsibilities, competencies and failures, these are crucial resources. More relevant to the church than Old Testament leadership models and more focused on the ongoing life of the institutional church than Jesus’ teachings, these letters deserve careful attention from pastors, congregations, and pastoral educators.

Paul M. Zehr’s recent volume in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series opens these letters for our understanding and points the church toward appropriate application of first-century instructions to matters of church life and leadership today. Zehr, who also serves as chair of the editorial council for this commentary series, brings a lifetime of experience as pastor, bishop, and pastoral educator to bear on his reading of these texts.

A perennial question about these letters, often called the “Pastoral Epistles” has been their authorship. While the letters themselves name Paul as the writer, theological, lexical, and historical problems have long raised doubts about this. Those doubts have in turn prompted counter-arguments. Zehr honestly and concisely reports the debates and concludes that the letters genuinely represent Paul’s perspectives but were shaped by the “secretary” who did the actual writing, probably Luke. According to Zehr, such a view does not diminish the authenticity and authority of these letters.

Perhaps no paragraph in these three letters has received more attention in recent decades than 1 Timothy 2:9–15—especially v. 12: “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (NRSV, passim). Zehr provides a careful exegetical study of this passage, attending to its literary and cultural setting. He also, in the standard format for these commentaries, explores “The Text in Biblical Context,” looking at passages from Genesis, the Gospels, and the other Pauline letters to broaden his and our perspective on the role of women in worship and leadership.

A proper understanding of this passage, Zehr argues, turns on our understanding of authenteō. This Greek word is often translated into English by some variation of “have authority,” (e.g., NRSV quoted above), but Zehr argues that it should carry a connotation of dominance, not simply of having authority. He draws on extensive scholarly research and concludes with his own translation, namely, “I do not permit a woman to teach a man in a dominating way but to have a quiet demeanor”—noting that the Greek text instructs women to be “quiet,” not “silent.”

Zehr’s discussion of the history of interpretation and recent debates {105} is not located, as one might have expected, in “The Text in the Life of the Church” section, but in an essay on “Women in Ministry.” There he concludes that “the prohibition passages in 1 Corinthians 14:34–36 and 1 Timothy 2:9–15 appear to be exceptions due to the recipients’ particular historical and cultural contexts. From my perspective, the biblical witness and the church’s experience of the blessing of God on women’s ministries place the burden of proof regarding the ordination of women on those who oppose women in leadership.”

A second text that has received a lot of attention is 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” Much debate has turned on the nature of the divine inspiration of Scripture. Zehr notes the exegetical issues, but he wisely focuses the reader’s attention on the usefulness of the Scriptures rather than their inspiration. Here he provides a substantial discussion not only of “The Text in the Biblical Context,” but also of “The Text in the Life of the Church.” He lays out the principles of biblical interpretation that shaped the Protestant Reformation and especially the Anabaptist movement from the sixteenth century to the present.

These two examples, which have occupied recent interpreters, do not comprise Paul’s own main concerns in these letters. He was primarily intent on urging his protégés to model and teach faithful theology and high moral standards within the church. Most of the content of these letters, and hence of the commentary, addresses specific examples of these and urges them within an eschatological awareness of the gospel and of God “who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

The commentary includes introductions to and outlines of each letter, a set of essays, and an index of ancient sources, all of which help the reader to see the larger picture while working through particular texts.

This is a very helpful commentary for anyone who wants to understand biblical teaching on church leadership. It brings together academic discussion and a churchly perspective, and makes both accessible to lay as well as trained readers. For those who preach and teach it would have been helpful to have more suggestions for application in “The Text in the Life of the Church.” Nevertheless, there is much material here to enable the reader to draw one’s own applications and lessons for the particular circumstances of local congregations.

Dan Nighswander, Pastor of Jubilee Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, is writing the 1 Corinthians volume for the Believers Church Bible Commentary.

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