Historical Background To Paul's Pastoral Epistles

The Name “Pastoral Letters”

Paul's First and Second Letters to Timothy and his Letter to Titus have been called “Pastoral Letters” since the eighteenth century. Thomas Aquinas had given this name to Paul's First Letter to Timothy already in the thirteenth century.

These letters are called “Pastoral Letters” because in them Paul reveals his concern for the future of the church and its ministry. In them he addresses a wide range of issues pertaining to the life and ministry of the church. He instructs his co-workers Timothy and Titus to provide the churches with qualified pastors and lay leaders. Paul informs them what are the qualifications of those servants in the church. He instructs them in the worship life of the church. He teaches them how to care for the souls in their congregation--men and women, young and old, rich and poor. Paul urges them repeatedly to be on their guard against false doctrine and to teach the Word of God faithfully as well as to exhibit a godly life.

The Historical Background To The Pastoral Letters

Paul's three pastoral letters, unlike his other ten letters, do not blend into the historical framework of Paul's missionary journey's recorded in the Book Of Acts. The Book of Acts concludes with Paul's first imprisonment in Rome prior to the time he wrote his three pastoral letters. Thus the order of events in Paul's life and ministry, as well as the dates of those events, from the time of his release from his first imprisonment in Rome to the time of his second imprisonment in Rome and his execution remain uncertain.

Upon his release from his first imprisonment Paul appears to have revisited the churches in Asia Minor (in what is now the country of Turkey) and in Macedonia (the northern Roman province in what is now Greece). Paul had intended to do this (cf. Philemon 22; Philippians 2:24). It seems he traveled southeast from Rome to the island of Crete. There he left Titus to organize the church and to have pastors appointed (cf. Titus 1:5). He then possibly set sail and traveled northeast to Ephesus on the west coast of Asia Minor. He left Timothy in Ephesus to take charge of the affairs of the church there. From Ephesus he traveled west to Macedonia, where he revisited Philippi, In Philippi it is thought he wrote his First Letter to Timothy and his Letter to Titus in the fall of A.D. 63.

It appears that Paul may have then spent the winter in Nicopolis where Titus was to join him after being relieved in Crete by Artemas or Tychicus (cf. Titus 3:12). The Nicopolis Paul referred to is thought to be the city in the Roman province of Epirus, which was located on the western coast of what is now Greece by the Ionian Sea. There is the possibility that in the spring of A.D. 64 Paul traveled to Spain to do mission work, as he had hoped to do (cf. Romans 15:23,24). Some scholars have thought that if Paul did indeed go to Spain, he did so immediately upon his release from imprisonment in Rome in A.D. 61-62. There is no scriptural evidence to verify that Paul did journey to Spain. The Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, however, which was written in A.D. 96, states Paul did travel to Spain. If Paul did go to Spain around the spring of A.D. 64 and remained there to A.D. 65, he would have been there at the time of the burning of Rome, a fiery tragedy that Nero blamed on the Christians and used as an excuse to begin persecuting them.

In his Second Letter to Timothy Paul wrote that he had been to Troas (cf. 2 Timothy 4:13) and to Corinth in southern Greece and to Miletus in Asia Minor (cf. 2 Timothy 4:20). If Paul did go to Spain in the spring of A.D. 64, then it appears he made a second trip to the East after his release before his second imprisonment in Rome.

Where and when Paul was arrested is unknown. In any case, he was again imprisoned in Rome. During his second imprisonment he was treated harshly, unlike the better treatment he had received during his first imprisonment when he was held under house arrest in his own rented quarters. In 2 Timothy 2:9 Paul wrote that he was chained up like a criminal. He anticipated that his martyrdom was near, as he stated in 2 Timothy 4:6. According to Christian tradition Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome around A.D. 67 to 68. It is therefore thought that Paul wrote his Second Letter to Timothy shortly before his death in A.D. 67.