Mark Harding's new book on the status of scholarship vis-a-vis the Pastoral Epistles is the latest in Paulist Press's well known WATSA series. As might be expected, his study covers the range of scholarly perspectives on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus , and should be regarded as an indispensable survey of the various approaches taken to the issues these New Testament texts present.
Harding takes up the crucially important problem of the Epistles' authorship in the first chapter, siding with those scholars who argue in favor of their pseudonymity while also providing a valuable overview of those who favor Pauline authorship. He comments extensively on the canonical problem raised by classifying the Epistles as pseudepigrapha, a problem that touches upon questions of institutional establishment, hierarchy, and the status of women in particular. Assuming the pseudonymity of the Epistles' authorship, he devotes the second chapter to an exploration of their linkage with the Pauline Tradition in general. From the various viewpoints surveyed, he concludes that the "Pastor" (his title for the Epistles' author) was working from within the Pauline Tradition in order to invoke the Apostle's authoritative voice for a new moment in the church's own development as it sought to fend off the challenges provided by heterodox influences.
An analysis of the Epistles' social setting provides the focus for chapter three. In surveying various perspectives, Harding reminds his reader that any judicious assessment of the Epistles' theological position requires such analysis, as "[t]he highly contextualized theological and ethical discourse encountered in Paul's letters is the result of a dialectic shaped by the ethos of the communities he addressed, an ethos that was itself shaped by socially determined factors" (46). Such an ethos is no less important in the post-Pauline communities to whom the Epistles are addressed, and for whom the authoritative "voice" of Paul functions, via the "Pastor," as a necessary stabilizing factor.
The epistolary form of the Epistles is highlighted in the fourth chapter as a powerful vehicle through which their author invokes Paul's very presence both as the moral example par excellence and, as a result, the Epistles' own status as authentic missives of moral exhortation. The "testament genre" of 2 Timothy is of particular interest, as the "Pastor" presents the Apostle's "last words" which confirm him as the paradigmatic Apostolic voice. The use of this genre may be regarded as a further, if not definitive, means of establishing an early stability based on the Apostle's final reflections as he awaits death. The fifth chapter continues an overall discussion of form by analyzing the Pastor's use of classical rhetorical conventions in these letters of moral exhortation. Although the Epistles are obviously not speeches, the use of such conventions is designed, in part, to help enable the Epistles' readers to recognize and assent to "the persona of Paul" that the Pastor "brings to speech in his letters" (94).
The final chapter surveys recent scholarly assessments of the Epistles' contemporary significance. Harding affirms the Epistles' status as authoritative scriptural sources for faith and doctrine, yet also acknowledges the "hermeneutical challenges" (108) they raise for today's believers. Rejecting the literalist interpretation that some scholars propose, Harding counsels in favor of "insightful and imaginative interpretation" (108) as the Epistles offer the contemporary church an opportunity to engage creatively its own legacy. This chapter is of especial importance for those wishing to identify the positions informing the current debate.
This book is to be recommended to scholars and graduate students wishing to familiarize themselves with the status of scholarship on the Pastoral Epistles. I believe it is also useful to the educated general reader who seeks to understand the contours of scholarly endeavor in the assessment of the Epistles' importance for today.