Frances Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994, 170 pp., hardback, ISBN: 0-521-37036-1
As the readers of Kerux are well aware, there is a dire need for redemptive-historical commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles. Whether stripped of their authority by erudite liberals or robbed of their beauty by agenda-driven conservatives, the Pastorals have fallen upon hard times. Frances Young's work does nothing to restore the Pastorals to their exalted position as the last will and testament of the Apostle Paul.
Frances Young is the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham. His book is one volume in the Cambridge Theology of the New Testament series, whose stated purpose is "to remedy the deficiency of available published material, which has tended to concentrate on historical, textual, grammatical and literary issues at the expense of the theology . . . ." Thus Young's book is not a verse-by-verse commentary, but a survey of topics unique to the Pastorals. Young's chapter titles include: "Theology and Ethics," "God and the Divine Activity," "The Importance of Sound Teaching," and "Duties in the Household of Faith."
Young's book is easy to read, and though stated to be directed at "those who already have one or two years of full-time New Testament and theological study behind them," the average layperson would find little difficulty following Young's thoughts. Young rarely deals with the Greek, nor does he spend much time exegeting specific texts. His strength lies in his acumen of the Greek social structures which in Young's opinion the author of the Pastorals was attempting to preserve. As usual one must sift through the sitz im Leben philosophy, but Young avoids using typical neo-orthodox language. Young rightly perceives that the overriding motif throughout the Pastorals is the care of the household, and offers valuable glimpses into the average Greek household and its structure and character. Unfortunately he fails to move beyond Hellenism to the oikonomos of the Old Testament, in which both the Temple and the nation Israel stand as the retrospective backdrop for the Pastorals.
Modern Christianity is embarrassed by structure and authority in reference to the church. Yet she typically looks at the authority and structure of the Tabernacle and the nation Israel in a positive light. The twelve tribes surrounding the Tabernacle, each with a designated purpose and under called officers, is a picture that evokes favorable images. Yet how much more should we rejoice in the structure and authority of the heavenly tabernacle as it marches on to the true Promised Land! The Pastorals are glorious books when viewed in the light of the history of redemption.
Unfortunately while Young recognizes the call of the Pastorals for structure and authority, he is somewhat embarrassed by it. Young points out that the world of the Pastorals is a world foreign to our own modern, democratic individualism. But Young is clearly uncomfortable with that old world. He sees the need for authoritative teachers to maintain sound theology in the church, but seeks to avoid a return to the rigid authoritative arrangement of the Pastorals. In a section dealing with the theological problems of the pastorals, Young comments:
Thus Young's dilemma is how to preserve the importance of the Pastorals while at the same time demythologizing them for our modern democratic worldview. His solution to this dilemma is to encourage the modern church to adopt the character qualities of the different members of the Pastoral household "while discovering new ways of exercising those qualities in practice" (p. 155).
Young is a liberal. While the book is amply footnoted, there is little interaction with conservatives and none with any orthodox Biblical Theologians. But one can sympathize considering the dearth of Biblical Theological material on the Pastorals available. As with good liberals Young often comes amazingly close to the type of biblical-theological insights from which preachers might glean. He writes, "The present life of the community is 'between the times' we might say. The eschatological tension of Paul and the gospels has been simplified, but it is still there." Unfortunately Young concludes that the eschatology of the Pastorals does "not make sense as Pauline theology, but they do have a theology of their own" (p. 73). And while he rightly recognizes the over-eschatology that characterized the detractors in Ephesus, he barely mentions the biblical eschatology of the Pastorals given in response to this problem. One would be encouraged to study Philip Towner's work on this subject (The Goal of Our Instruction: The Structure of Theology and Ethics in the Pastoral Epistles, 1989).
Young waits until the end of the book to explain what he has assumed throughout the book, that Paul could not have written these letters. These closing sections do not match the careful thought and analysis of the rest. Young's critiques of Pauline authorship have been well refuted by commentators such as George Knight. Young brings nothing new to the table in this 200-year-old debate.
The conservative evangelical church and the Reformed community have done a rather poor job in heralding the important place of the Pastorals in the history of redemption. Conservatives often are just as embarrassed by the authoritative tone and focus on church structure. Only by seeing the Pastorals as the last stage in the history of redemption will these books be recognized as the jewels on top of the New Testament crown. As in the second half of Exodus, here is the construction of the Tabernacle the dwelling place of God. But now we are dealing with his permanent dwelling place! Here is the last Moses giving his last will and testament to the eternal covenant community. Here is Paul's upper room discourse: Paul in the image of Christ declaring his dying words of love and perseverance to his beloved church.
Authority and structure in the Pastorals can only avoid the embarrassment of liberalism and the agendas of the conservatism when church authority is seen in union with Christ; Christ the Master, yet servant of all; Christ who comes in power and glory yet serves as host at the great wedding banquet.
I would recommend this book only as an addition to an adequate collection of works on the Pastorals, but would warn the reader not to expect any groundbreaking scholarship or exegetical insights into any particular text. It can be useful in getting a feel for the unique perspectives of the Pastorals vs. the other New Testament books, and for obtaining insights into the early Greek household.
It may be time for those so gifted to step up and fill the need for quality commentaries on the Pastorals; commentaries that see these books in the light of the history of redemption.