Monday, February 16, 2009

The Pastoral Epistles, by George W. Knight III

Every once in a while, I like to write about a book that I've read thoroughly, one that I can recommend to others (or warn them about). I've recently gone back through The Pastoral Epistles, by George W. Knight III (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992). Here's an updated version of something I wrote not long after Knight's work first came out: . . .

Over the last ten years or so, students of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus have been given several nice gifts, among them a full-scale commentary by William D. Mounce in the Word series, a similar work by Luke Timothy Johnson (but which does not include Titus) in the Anchor Bible, not to mention Ben Witherington's Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John.

These latest works go a long way toward supplementing other fine books on the Pastorals like the ones by J.N.D. Kelly, Donald Guthrie, Gordon D. Fee and, of course, John Calvin.

Next on the horizon is Abraham J. Malherbe's long-awaited commentary in the Hermeneia series. While we wait for that one, another fairly-recent and very helpful treatment of the Greek text should not be overlooked: George W. Knight's The Pastoral Epistles in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series, edited by I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward Gasque.

Given the modern history of studies in the Pastorals, it comes as no surprise that the 50-page introduction focuses on the question of authorship. Knight, acknowledging the help of Donald Guthrie, fends off the arguments against Pauline authorship and upholds the traditional position: Paul wrote 1 Timothy and Titus during the time between his two Roman imprisonments (i.e., during the early-to-mid 60s). He wrote 2 Timothy during the second Roman imprisonment (as early as 64 and as late at 67). He was martyred in Rome around that same time.

In defending this reconstruction, Knight deals with the alleged and real differences in vocabulary, style, ecclesiology, and theology between the Pastorals and other letters ascribed to Paul. In dealing with the revived suggestion that Luke wrote these letters, Knight accepts no more than the possibility that Luke served as Paul's amanuensis.

In the commentary proper, Knight briefly introduces each section and then seriously engages the Greek text verse by verse, treating phrases and individual words. He discusses significant textual questions, carries on a conversation with the immediate and broader biblical contexts, and responds to both ancient and modern secondary literature. Instead of asserting a determined position, he discusses every exegetical alternative with thoroughness. For example, more than a page is taken up discussing whether the Greek term kyrios in 1 Tim 1:14 refers to the Father or to the Son.

In two excursuses Knight crosses the line that traditionally divides exegesis from hermeneutics. In the first, "Bishops/Presbyters and Deacons," he builds a strong case that churches of the New Testament era typically recognized the two classes of leaders (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Phil. 1:1). Indeed, sounding much like a member of the Churches of Christ, the author says that a plurality of bishops and deacons serving a congregation is the New Testament "pattern."

In the second excursus, "Motivations for Appropriate Conduct," he argues that in Titus 2:1-10 Paul insisted upon such standards not merely because their violation would be offensive to outsiders and thus hurtful to the reputation of the gospel, but also because those standards square with healthy teaching, are intrinsically right, and were recognized by many first-century Cretans as such. In taking this stance Knight rejects the view that some of the regulations (notably, the wife's submission to her husband) are purely cultural and should not be bound in more egalitarian societies like ours. (For an overview of Knight's argument on the wider question, see his article, "The Role of Women in the Church"). He also rejects the notion that the high ethical standards of Pauline Christianity and the culturally accepted norms of the Pastorals do not match. Citing the ideal of citizenship in Romans 13 and the popular ethics of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, the author denies any sort of tension between "the real Paul" and the author of the Pastorals. Furthermore, the Pastorals do not uniquely represent an "early catholicism" that upheld a sort of pedestrian, middle-class morality.

As expected, readers will find in this work any number of likes and dislikes. In my opinion, the best aspect of this commentary is its exegetical detail on the Greek text. Knight also does a better job of drawing the reader into the text than do, say, Dibelius and Conzelmann (although their commentary remains a gold mine of historical and literary parallels).

I think that the primary flaw of Knight's commentary is that its linguistic focus is so intense, other contours of the biblical text are frequently ignored. For example, on 1 Tim. 5:23 ("No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and frequent ailments"), he says nothing of wine drinking in the Greco-Roman world, nor does he respond to the common suggestion that this verse gives us a glimpse into how the ascetic demands of the false teachers at Ephesus were affecting timid Timothy. Though shorter commentaries might ignore such questions, one expects a full-length work to treat them. A second criticism is that the historical notes, as well as the reported positions of other scholars, sometimes lack precision.

These quibbles aside, Knight's commentary is a significant contribution to New Testament study. An excellent supplement and balance to more liberal works like Dibelius-Conzelmann, this work will be a help to professors and other students of the Greek text. And for preachers whose Greek is serviceable, this guide is arguably the one to turn to first after working through the text itself.


mattdabbs said...

Funny you should mention the BW3 commentary. Our youth minister and I were joking about that book this morning as it sits on my desk, waiting to be cataloged into the library. I just think that is such an interesting grouping of letters...and then to call is Vol 1 all just strikes me funny for some reason. The only way it could have gotten any better would be if Dr. W3 had titled it A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Letters to Hellenized Christians Volume 1.

Jim Martin said...

These posts are helpful. I find that with all that goes on from week to week in my work that I sometimes miss reading about significant books (in particular commentaries) that have been written. Thanks for this.

Clyde said...

Thanks for the info. I didn't have Knight's commentary until about a month ago and haven't used it yet. But I was impressed with some of the other volumes and when I got a new version of Libronix I got the entire NIGTC and NAC sets as part of the deal. Whoo-hoo!

I'm looking fw to hearing BW3 in person at Austin Grad this May at their sermon seminar.

Dan said...

I really like the NIGTC commentaries...Im looking forward to Carson's commentary on John's Epistles in the set...