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Book Reviews > New Testament > The Pastoral Letters as Composite Documents

Ray VanNeste

Ray VanNeste
Director of the RC Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies

The Pastoral Letters as Composite Documents
James D. Miller
Details: 1997, Cambridge University Press, Amazon.comISBN: 0521560489
Posted: August 14, 2002


(This book is part of the Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 93)

This monograph, originally a University of Edinburgh Ph.D. thesis written under the direction of John O’Neill, claims to argue a third position on the issue of the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles (hereafter PE), or to actually suggest the authorship debate is asking the wrong question. Miller accepts the arguments against Pauline authorship, but, in addition, claims the letters could not have been written by any single author particularly because of the ‘lack of sustained argument and development of thought that characterizes these letters’ (p. 11). Thus, Miller argues that the PE have a long compositional history (perhaps as long as 100 years! See p. 49; cf. also p. 158) beginning as authentic, short personal notes from Paul to Timothy and Titus but enlarged over time by the inclusion of diverse materials from Pauline and other Christian sources as well as Jewish and Hellenistic sources. The outlook of the book is summarized by the closing words of the Introduction:

At the heart of this book is the belief that the Pastorals do not have a simple literary past; in their present form they are misread if understood as the product of one mind, be it that of Paul or a pseudo-Paul. The letters appear, rather, to be much more the work of a compiler than of an author. (18)

The key question for the Pastorals, then, according to Miller, is not who wrote them, but how were they compiled.

Chapter 1, ‘Introduction,’ seeks to establish the basic perspective of the book. In 18 pages Miller debunks Pauline and pseudo-Pauline authorship, highlights the diverse literary forms present in the PE, and suggests the PE are the work of a compiler rather than an author. For Miller the case is convincing enough that he states in the conclusion to Chapter 1, ‘A controlling assumption of the present study is that the problem of the Pastorals revolves not so much around questions of authorship as of composition’ (p. 18, emphasis added). For this reviewer the discussion was too brief to be so convincing. Miller states in strong terms that the Pastorals are disorganized and incoherent (pp. 2, 9, 11, 13, 17) but without any real substantiation. Admittedly, the introduction summarizes a broad field, but to conclude with such a ‘controlling assumption’ is too strong and causes one to wonder if the results of the study are a foregone conclusion.

Chapter 2, ‘Religious Writings as Collections,’ surveys the discussion of the editorial reworking of the sacred literature of Judaism, non-canonical early Christian writings, and the New Testament. Miller accepts a high degree of redaction in each category and aims to show that such redaction would have been a common part of the literary milieu from which the Pastorals emerged. Miller suggests it was common for sacred literature to be significantly redacted and augmented with additional material; thus, it would not be uncommon for the Pastorals to be compilations. Also, according to Miller, such redacted documents ‘are marked by abrupt transitions and logical discontinuities’ (p. 52) just like the Pastorals in Miller’s view. However, the degree to which these ancient documents have been redacted is debatable, and many scholars would accept considerably less redaction than Miller allows.

Chapters 3-5 examine each of the three letters (chap. 3- 1 Tim., chap. 4- 2 Tim., chap 5- Titus) section by section seeking to demonstrate a lack of logical sequence of thought and abrupt transitions. In some places the flow of argument in the Pastorals is not readily apparent, and Miller rightly points these out. However, in these chapters the word ‘seems’ is ubiquitous as Miller suggests that sections do not ‘seem’ to fit logically with each other though he does not consider possible explanations. A few examples will suffice. 1) Nowhere in the discussion of 1 Timothy does Miller interact with the important articles by P. Bush (New Testament Studies, 1990) and J. T. Reed (Neotestamentica , 1992) both of which argue contrary to Miller. 2) Miller divides 2 Tim. 2:1-13 into at least 6 separate pieces although the theme of faithful service in the face of suffering runs throughout the section. Miller notes the repeated reference to suffering, but simply suggests this was a common theme that caused a scribe to combine these statements. 3) Miller claims the unusual length of the salutation of Titus must be due to later addition of creedal material. There is precedence for such a long salutation in Romans, but Miller suggests that Romans has been augmented as well. He simply asserts this with the support of one scholar, John O’Neill, in spite of the fact that O’Neill’s argument has not garnered wide support (the commentaries by Cranfield, Moo, and Dunn all assume Paul wrote the entire introduction to Romans). 4) Miller claims the polemical warnings in Titus 1:10-16 interrupt instructions regarding church order (1:6-9; 2:1ff). This overlooks the fact that the section is introduced by gar suggesting that the presence of the false teachers (1:10-16) is the reason for giving instructions on the appointment of elders (1:5-9). Miller admits this section on false teachers ‘may have been intentionally placed here by a compiler who wished to underscore the need for care to be exercised in the selection of church leaders’ (128). This sounds like an admission of logical flow in the argument. One could just as well say an author had planned his writing in this way.

Chapter 6, ‘Summary and Conclusions,’ predictably states ‘The letters have no driving concern, no consistent focus of interest’ (138). One wonders if this was actually the result of the study since the introduction stated the book would work from the assumption that the Pastorals were understood better in terms of composition rather than authorship. Miller goes on to speculate that the Pastorals were compiled by a community which revered Paul, had a ‘scriptorium-like setting’ (similar to Qumran), and had access to an extensive archive room. Miller’s reconstruction is highly speculative which he admits stating, ‘Because of the lack of evidence we find ourselves in a quandary of conjecture’ (p. 155).

The book has two appendices. Appendix B, ‘A Formal Analysis of the Pastoral Letters,’ contains the Greek text of the three letters with indentation to indicate ‘preformed elements that have been editorially joined together’ (168). Appendix A, ‘The Pastorals: Compositions or Collections?’, is a response to more recent monographs (apparently published after the completion of the thesis) which argue for a logical, coherent argument in the Pastorals. Miller deals with the commentary by R. Karris and the monographs by Verner, Fiore, and Donelson. Miller argues that his thesis still stands, but in his final sentence must yield, particularly to Donelson, admitting that his suggested reading of the Pastorals ‘may have to be revised so as to permit more readily the occurrence of small groups of sentences which belong together’ (167).

Overall, Miller’s thesis was not persuasive in the mind of this reviewer. The work would have benefited from more interaction with the arguments of Karris, Verner, Fiore, and Donelson not simply in the appendix but particularly in the chapters which examined each letter. However, Miller has made a contribution in demonstrating quite a bit of useful parallels between the Pastorals and Jewish literature. This is helpful since Verner, Fiore, and Donelson dealt exclusively with Greco-Roman parallels.

Ray Van Neste

University of Aberdeen

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