The Pastoral Epistles

Written by A. T. Hanson Reviewed By Carsten P. Thiede

With the present commentary, A. T. Hanson has put what one might call the finishing touch to the decades of research he has dedicated to the pastoral epistles. The book deserves attention not least because it is the work of one of the acknowledged specialists in the field. Those who have read his earlier contribution to the debate, Studies in the Pastoral Epistles (1968), will be familiar with his general outlook. Hanson does not accept Pauline authorship for the pastorals. In all fairness, he states in the introduction that what the exegete ‘believes about their authorship will condition almost everything else he has to say about them’. Does that make his commentary useless for those who hold to their authenticity? Far from it. The introduction, covering questions of authorship, dating and provenance, historical elements, purpose, use of Pauline material, church order, Christology, technique of composition and significance, offers insights and information that are valuable irrespective of one’s standpoint. Hanson is a subtle proponent of the pseudonymity theory and a date at the turn of the first century, but he discusses this in a way that leaves room for disagreement, especially as he portrays alternative positions as openly as someone who refutes them categorically could possibly do.

A select bibliography precedes the introduction, and the annotated section on commentaries is particularly helpful, since it serves as a guide not only through the maze of recent commentaries, but also to Hanson’s own predilections. Norbert Brox’s Die Pastoralbriefe (1969), for example, is introduced as ‘the first Roman Catholic full commentary that wholly disavows Pauline authorship. Probably the best all-round modern commentary’—a telling aside. The Dominican Ceslas Spicq receives full recognition for the fourth revised edition of his commentary (1969), ‘though much of it is irrelevant if one does not accept Pauline authorship’, and it is Spicq who reappears again and again in the commentary proper. It is to be regretted, however, that among the defenders of authenticity neither Kelly, nor Guthrie, nor Reicke are fully discussed in the introduction. (Reicke, the Swede teaching at Basle University, is even transferred to Denmark.) The most serious omission for a commentary published in 1982 is Hanson’s failure to register, let alone to comment on, John A. T. Robinson’s analysis of the pastorals in his Redating the New Testament. In short, introductory matters are far from settled in this commentary, and for anyone who wants to make the pastorals a special area of study Hanson’s commentary, lucid and polite as it is, must still be supplemented by J. N. D. Kelly (1963), and above all, by Donald Guthrie’s Tyndale Commentary (1957) and by the chapter on the pastorals in his New Testament Introduction (1961/1970). The latter remains the only indispensable tool for a sober analysis of all the pros and cons and their respective consequences. For those with a working knowledge of French, Spicq’s commentary should be obligatory—not simply because of its conservative outlook, but mainly because of its countless, detailed references to the Greek and Jewish background of Paul’s thought in the pastorals. Hanson’s own commentary, on the other hand, is to be recommended as the liveliest, most readable contribution to the debate by a leading member of the pseudonymity school.

Spiritual insights, however, are few and far between—as could be expected from one who regards the pastorals, if authentic, as a sign of deterioration—‘as if someone were to argue that W. B. Yeats, having developed from the poems of the Celtic twilight to the difficult and profound Byzantium poems, ended by writing the poetry of John Betjeman’. Hanson never offers any arguments for the alleged lack of theological value in the pastorals that are more convincing than this witty, but unsuccessful, analogy.

Carsten P. Thiede

Institute of Germanic Studies, London