The three letters that we refer to as the Pastoral Epistles are 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. That specific term has only been around for several hundred years, and it might be somewhat misleading. All of Paul’s letters have some pastoral concerns, and not everything one can say about church leaders and leadership is found in these three epistles.
In many ways the three are quite similar to each other, while somewhat different from Paul’s other letters. They are certainly among the more practical of Paul’s letters. All deal with concerns of the Christian pastor or leader and how they are to faithfully fulfil their ministry.
A key text would be 1 Tim. 3:14-15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” I. Howard Marshall says this about the first of the three books:
With 2 Timothy and Titus, 1 Timothy is one of the three “Pastoral Epistles” addressed by Paul to his co-workers rather than to congregations. It deals with the task of Timothy as overseer of the congregation(s) in Ephesus and is largely concerned with the danger of opposition and heresy in the church, the need for measures to ensure the proper maintenance of congregational life (including care for widows and the conduct of elders), the development of reliable leadership (overseers and deacons), the responsibilities and personal life of Timothy as a local pastor, and the curbing of disturbing influences (unacceptable teaching by both male teachers and women). It is not primarily concerned with articulating theology, but nevertheless has considerable theological importance.
As to a key theme found in these three letters, John Stott offers us this:
The apostle’s overriding preoccupation throughout all three pastoral letters is with the truth, that it may be faithfully guarded and handed on. The pertinence of this theme, at the end of the twentieth century, is evident. For contemporary culture is being overtaken and submerged by the spirit of postmodernism….
In contrast to this relativization of truth, it is wonderfully refreshing to read Paul’s unambiguous commitment to it. He has himself been appointed, he says, ‘a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth’ (1 Tim. 2:7, RSV); the church is ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (1 Tim. 3:15); and it is the truth which ‘leads to godliness’ (Tit. 1:1). The false teachers, on the other hand, ‘have wandered away from the truth’ and even ‘oppose the truth’ (1 Tim. 6:21; 2 Tim. 2:18; 3:8; cf. 4:4).
Or as Gordon Fee sees it:
At the heart of everything for him is the gospel, the good news of God’s gracious acceptance and forgiveness of sinners, to which the proper response is faith (trusting God that he really does accept sinners) and love toward others. This saving work is totally by God’s own initiative, his prior action of grace toward the disobedient…. It will be clear from any careful reading that this concern for the gospel is the driving force behind the PE. Preserving and reaffirming “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1:11) against errors absolutely dominates 1 Timothy, is still a vital concern in Titus, and returns in 2 Timothy as the crux of everything.
Lastly, George Knight says this about their main purposes:
Two broad concerns characterise all three letters: (1) Paul warns Timothy and Titus about a false teaching and exhorts them to stand against it; (2) Paul gives instructions to the Christians of Ephesus and Crete, through Timothy and Titus, concerning their conduct and church life. In 1 Timothy and Titus the latter includes instructions concerning what sort of men are to be appointed to church leadership (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9; cf. 2 Tim. 2:2). These concerns are not treated individually but are interwoven in the letters.
The epistles were all likely written in the early 60s to these two co-workers of Paul. He seems to be freely travelling in two of the letters, but by 2 Timothy he is again in confinement – this time in a Roman prison. Following Mounce, let me offer brief outlines of the books. A somewhat abridged version of his outlines are as follows:
1:3-20 The Ephesian problem
2:1-4:5 Correction of improper conduct in the Ephesian church
4:6-4:16 Personal notes to Timothy
5:1-6:2a How Timothy is to relate to different groups in the church
6:2b-21 Final instructions
1:6-2:13 Encouragement to Timothy
2:14-4:8 Instructions for Timothy and the opponents
4:9-22 Final words to Timothy
1:5-9 Qualities necessary for church leadership
1:10-16 Description of the problem in Crete
2:1-3:11 Instructions and theological basis for godly living
3:12-15 Personal comments and final greeting
1-2 Timothy and Titus expository commentaries
Hughes, R. Kent and Bryan Chapell, 1–2 Timothy and Titus (PTW, 2000, 2012)
Ryken, Philip Graham, 1 Timothy (REC, 2007)
1-2 Timothy and Titus critical commentaries
Fee, Gordon, First and Second Timothy, Titus (NIBC, 1984)
Guthrie, Donald, The Pastoral Epistles (TNTC, 1957)
Kelly, J.N.D., The Pastoral Epistles (BNTC, 1963)
Knight, George, The Pastorals (NIGTC, 1992)
Mounce, William, Pastoral Epistles (WBC, 2000)
Quinn, Jerome and William Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (ECC, 2000)
Stott, John, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus (BST, 1996)
Stott, John, The Message of 2 Timothy (BST, 1973)
Towner, Philip, 1-2 Timothy, Titus (IVPNTC, 1994)
Towner, Philip, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT, 2006)
Witherington, Ben, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus,1-2 Timothy, 1-3 John (IVP, 2006)
Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (SPCK, 2003, 2004)
Yarborough, Robert, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (PNTC, 2018)
Kostenberger, Andreas and Terry Wilder, Entrusted With the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles. B&H, 2010.
As usual, the commentaries I recommend are for the most part on the more conservative and evangelical side of the scale. And as to a short list of those commentaries I might recommend the most, perhaps run with Mounce, Towner (2006), Stott, and Yarborough. My review of Yarborough’s brand new commentary can be seen here:
And my review of Towner’s somewhat older one is found here:
Happy study and happy reading.
(Australians will find many of these books at Koorong: www.koorong.com/ )