A Pastoral Theology from 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus

Jason A. Clark

The two epistles of the Apostle Paul to Timothy and one to Titus are commonly called the "pastoral epistles." This is because they contain the instructions of Paul to two of his protégés who were given the responsibility to shepherd their respective flocks. For the purpose of interpretation, it is important to remember that these epistles were written to individuals and are not merely a pastorís handbook. The purpose of this study, however, is to uncover Paulís theology as pertains to the pastoral ministry, so only those passages relevant to this discussion shall be addressed.

When the twenty-first century reader of the New Testament encounters terms such as "pastor," "elder," "presbyter," or "bishop," no doubt he immediately feels that he knows precisely the offices mentioned. Depending upon his denominational affiliation, he might identify the "pastor" as the principal head of a local congregation, the "elders" as the board elected to govern the same, and the "presbyter" or "bishop" as a kind of "super-pastor" who governs a larger territory of churches. There is no need, feels the modern churchgoer, to reexamine these church offices, for he has known them and seen them in operation his whole life.

The reader is encouraged, however, to shed his modern understanding of these roles and their official functions and attempt to achieve a first-century understanding of these terms. In other words, when reading the New Testament, do not ask, "How does my particular church organization define these offices?" Instead, one must ask, "What did the author of a given New Testament book mean when he wrote about them?"

Before one can attempt to form a cogent pastoral theology, he must first determine what exactly a pastor is. The difficulty here is that the word translated "pastors" (Gk. poimenas) is only used once to refer to the ecclesiastical office, and, beyond its meaning of "shepherd," there is no description of it there given (Eph. 4:11). In the so-called pastoral epistles, however, this office is described in detail in both 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. For the purpose of identifying the pastoral office, the Titus passage is most instructive:

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's stewardÖ [Titus 1:5-7a, NAS, emphasis added]

In the above citation, Paul uses the term "elder" (Gk. presbuteros) and "overseer" (Gk. episkope) interchangeably. This indicates that these offices are one and the same. These words may be transliterated "presbyteros" and "episkopos," respectively.1 The Authorized Version of 1611, or King James Version, used the word "bishop" to translate the latter.2 Biblically, then, neither a "presbyter" nor a "bishop" is in a position of ecclesiastical superiority, but both words refer to the very same office as the common pastor, regardless of any modern church traditions or practices.

While it has been proven that the terms "elder/overseer/presbyter/bishop [episkopos]" are synonymous in the New Testament, this leadership office has yet to be linked to that of the modern pastor. Since neither Timothy nor Titus contain the term "pastor," a passage outside the pastorals must be consulted. In Acts 20:17, Luke writes that Paul called together "the elders of the church." At the end of his address to them, he charges, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (20:28, emphasis mine; cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-2). Again, "elders" and "overseers" are used synonymously. Apparently these "elders/overseers" have been given the responsibility to care for "the flock" and are expected "to shepherd" them. If the English translation of this passage is not convincing enough to identify elders with pastors, a look at the Greek words translated "flock" (poimnioi) and "to shepherd" (poimainein) reveals them to be cognates of the word translated "pastors" (poimenas). Additionally, the function of the scriptural "pastor" is grammatically linked to teaching in Eph. 4:11 3 (cf. v. 14), and such teaching is a prerequisite for the elder/overseer position (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9, et al). Therefore, it is safe to conclude that "pastor," "elder/presbyter," and "overseer/bishop" all refer to the same position of leadership in the New Testament church. If this is not the case, then there is no New Testament description of the pastoral office, and the common term "pastor" would best be retired immediately.

Now that the pastoral office has been identified according to scripture, it is necessary to examine its function in the church. The first question to be asked is, "How does one become an elder?" Contrary to the modern practice of electing leaders, in the Bible a pastor or elder was appointed by a senior elder, as Paul practiced in the churches he founded (Act. 14:23, et al) and as he commanded Titus and Timothy to do (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:5). That these preaching and teaching elders were to be supported financially by the church is plainly taught in 1 Tim. 5:17-18. There was no stated term of office, so a lifetime of faithful pastoral service is implied. It is assumed, though, that an unfaithful elder should be removed from service if he were convicted of sin by the testimony of two or three witnesses, for Paul further instructs Timothy to rebuke such elders before the entire church (vv. 19-20).

What are the prerequisites for service as a pastor? Sterling Christian character is foundational. According to Paul, the pastoral candidate "must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitableÖ not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money" (1 Tim. 3:2-3, NET; cf. 4:12b, 16; Tit. 1:6-8, 2:1, 7). Recent converts are forbidden from the pastoral ministry, because of their tendency toward pride (1 Tim. 3:6), as are women, because of gender differences and the chain of authority evidenced at creation (2:11-15; cf. 3:2, Tit. 1:6).

A final prerequisite for a pastor is that he be "able to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2b, NAS), for this is the primary responsibility of a Christian leader. In the list of qualifications for elders in Titus, Paul expands upon this definition: "He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it" (Tit. 1:9, NET). He is to be the guardian of the apostlesí doctrine and communicator of divine truth to Godís people (1 Tim. 4:1-6, 11, 13, 16; 6:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:2, 14-15, 24-25; 4:2, 5; Tit. 2:1, 7-8, 15; 3:8; cf. Eph. 4:11), and it becomes his responsibility at times to silence those who are teaching heresy to the flock (Tit. 1:11; cf. 2 Tim. 2:25; 4:2). For the modern pastor, the apostlesí teaching is preserved in the New Testament, so it is to be studied with great care (along with the Hebrew Bible). The words that Paul wrote Timothy are applicable to the pastor today in this regard: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15, NAS). That the communication of scriptural truth was to occupy the premier position in the Christian assembly or worship service is evident from Paulís instruction to "give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching" (1 Tim. 4:13b). Finally, with a view toward the future and the advancement of the kingdom of God through proclamation of the gospel message, Paul mentored Timothy and expected him to train up teachers as well (2 Tim. 2:2).4

In modern churches, there has been an unhealthy tendency of pastors to become bogged down needlessly in excessive, administrative tasks at the expense of studying and teaching the word of God. Once again, the biblical model provides the clear solution (and is echoed by contemporary business-management strategies): delegation. Appoint deacons to serve in these capacities, thus freeing up the elders to fulfill their solemn charge of feeding the flock of God (Acts 6:1-6; cf. 1 Tim 3:8-13). As a result of the apostlesí decision to delegate lesser responsibilities, "the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith" (6:7). The elders were never meant to "micro-manage," or control every aspect of the church, but to "devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (6:4). They are the only ones so enabled, so if the pastor is not in his "kitchen study" preparing and serving spiritual food for the flock, then who is?

The church would do well, then, to rethink her usage of biblical terminology as pertains to leadership positions in the church, for adopting biblical terms to refer to non-biblical offices obscures the intended meaning of the original, scriptural office and leads to general confusion.5 Simultaneously, she should endeavor to reexamine her Western, twenty-first century model of church organization and pastoral duties in the light of first-century, Bible teaching on the matter.

"Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach," wrote Paul to Timothy, and to Titus, "communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching" (1 Tim. 4:16; Tit. 2:1, NET). The call to Christian leadership is the most glorious calling on this earth, yet it carries with it an awesome responsibility both to exhibit upright moral character and to teach the word of God with diligence. The words of our Lord to Peter echo today as a sober reminder in the pastorís ears: "Feed my sheep" (John 21:17).


The Greek New Testament. 4th revised edition. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies/Deutsch Bibelgesellschaft, 1998.

The Holy Bible. New American Standard Bible. Updated edition. La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

The Holy Bible. The NET Bible (New English Translation). N.p.: Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 1999.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: HarperCollins, Zondervan, 1996.

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