The Pastoral Epistles present difficult questions for the modern interpreter, including such matters as their authorship, literary characteristics, and social orientations. Collins, professor of New Testament at the Catholic University of America, depends heavily on Jewish and Hellenistic backgrounds in his interpretations of various passages. He summarizes topics of importance throughout these three letters under excursuses on church leadership, women, church order, and the conduct of Christians in the world.
The introduction is quite brief, assuming an acceptance of critical scholarship including authenticity, authorship, and literary form (pp. 3–5). Beginning with Schleiermacher’s study of the vocabulary of 1 Timothy in 1807 and continuing with an off-the-cuff rejection of conservative scholars, Collins concludes that “by the end of the twentieth century New Testament scholarship was virtually unanimous in affirming that the Pastoral Epistles were written some time after Paul’s death” (p. 4). He seems to accept the view that portions of these three epistles were original (the fragment hypothesis), but were collected and compiled at a later date. He suggests that Paul’s request for Timothy to come and join him in Rome was a “note” that was “never sent . . . because he realized that he could borrow a cloak for the winter and obtain parchments from Christians in nearby Colossae” (p. 5). Collins also claims that in view of “style and vocabulary, of content and theology, of incipient church order, and of consistency with the Pauline profile . . . the inauthenticity of these texts [is] beyond all reasonable doubt” (p. 7).
In keeping with his view of these compositions, Collins refers to the author of the Pastorals as “the Pastor.” However, since the author of all three epistles identifies himself as Paul, “the Pastor” would be guilty of forgery. Further, Collins states that “in no case can any one of the Pastoral Epistles be considered a truly personal letter” (p. 7). However, the personal addresses (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4), the mention of Hymenaeus, Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17), the lists of personal names at the end of 2 Timothy and Titus, the personal instructions concerning Timothy’s health (1 Tim. 5:23), the mention of Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5), Paul’s quotation of Epimenides (Titus 1:12), and the instructions concerning the selection of leaders for Ephesus and Crete (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) all argue otherwise.
In discussing “inspired of God” in 2 Timothy 3:16 Collins makes three observations. First, he correctly states that the meaning of “all” is best taken as distributive, “that is, as meaning every part of Scripture” (p. 263). He points to rabbinic traditions of biblical interpretation that suggest that “every part of Scripture is important, no matter how small.” Second, he rightly concludes that qeovpneusto" (“God-breathed”) should not be taken in an active sense (all Scripture is inspiring), but in the passive (all Scripture comes from God). Third, he points out that the principal verb “to be” must be supplied. But does this mean that “all inspired Scripture is useful,” or does it mean that “all Scripture is inspired and useful”? The first alternative implies that only “inspired parts of Scripture are useful,” while the second alternative states clearly that all Scripture is inspired (p. 264).
In discussing 1 Timothy 2:9–15 (on women) Collins leans heavily on Hellenistic concepts of virtue and modesty (pp. 66–75). But still his conclusions are rather conservative. His exegetical approach to this important passage is overshadowed by his historic-cultural concerns and thus is disappointing. Collins does not, however, deal with the issue of application (whether the passage is limited to the time of writing or is timeless), nor does he distinguish clearly between a complementarian or egalitarian interpretation.
In discussing 1 Timothy 3:1–7 (on the qualification of overseers) Collins offers interpretations about “a man of one woman” or “the husband of one wife” but he does not discuss exactly who is qualified for the office. Even though he sees “clues” that suggest that an overseer (and servant, v. 12) should not remarry “after a divorce or the death of a spouse,” he does not offer more. He does not address questions such as these: Is a divorced man or widowed man who does not remarry eligible to be an overseer? Is a single man eligible? Is a man once guilty of sexual immorality eligible if he has repented? What disqualifies a man from seeking the office of overseer or deacon? Also Collins does not discuss the issue of the overseer’s relationship to his children, that is, to what extent does “managing one’s own household” apply (v. 4)? The author does not address the problems assailing modern families (teenage pregnancy, drug addiction, etc.) and whether these would disqualify a person from the office of elder.
Collins correctly states that Titus 2:13 (“our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”) affirms the deity of Christ.
Second Timothy 2:12–13 is of particular interest. “If we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” Does this passage refer to apostates who claim Christianity but are unsaved (an allusion to false teachers), or to loss of salvation for believers, or to loss of reward for believers at the judgment seat of Christ? Does the first clause refer to apostates and the second clause refer to true believers? Collins does not address these issues; he simply states, “Those who deny that one in the present life will be denied by that same one in the life to come” (p. 228). He also says the “He” is “mysterious: his identity not revealed.” But the immediate context points clearly to Jesus (vv. 10, 12). Collins also does not consider the immediate context of suffering in verses 1–10. This would shed light on the possible reason for denial by some under Timothy’s care who were suffering intense persecution.
As noted, this commentary is lacking in certain areas, and it does not interact with conservative scholars who hold differing views on the authenticity of these epistles and their Pauline authorship. While help may be gleaned from the Hellenistic and patristic backgrounds of certain texts, the money for this volume could be better spent on more evangelical works.