Genre of the Pastoral Letters

What sort of letters are these? New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson has challenged traditional notions.

1 Timothy and Titus

These two letters often have been viewed as representing a literary form in between that of a traditional personal letter and a more formal handbook on church order (such as the Didache, which appeared around the end of the first century). Johnson suggests, rather, that their form is adapted from a type of royal correspondence called mandata principis—a public document from a ruler to an appointed official spelling out the office’s responsibilities and authorizing the occupant to fulfill them.

2 Timothy

This letter often has been thought to embody the popular format of a “last testament” or “farewell speech,” in which inspiring words, along with various exhortations and warnings, were pseudonymously attributed to some revered figure from the past (see Gen. 49; Deut. 33; Josh. 23–24; 2 Sam. 23:1–7; 1 Chron. 28–29; John 14–17; Acts 20:17–38). Johnson suggests that 2 Timothy has the form of a “personal parenetic letter,” an actual letter that seeks to exhort the recipient by pointing out good and bad examples of what is to be commended.

See Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, AB 35A (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 2000), 137–42, 320–24.