The Acts of Paul and Pastoral Epistles

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Catacomb image of Paul and (possibly) Thecla
Catacomb image of Paul and (possibly) Thecla

In his article “I Permit No Woman to Teach Except for Thecla: The Curious Case of the Pastoral Epistles and the Acts of Paul Reconsidered” (Novum Testamentum 54 (2012): 176-203), Matthijs den Dulk offers a reanalysis of the relationship between the Acts of Paul (hereafter APl) and Pastoral Epistles (hereafter PE), arguing that a) the APl rely upon the PE (contra MacDonald); 2) the author of the APl viewed the image of Paul from 2 Timothy as useful; and 3) the author of the APl rejected the authority of 1 Timothy and its attendant conception of Paul. Building from existing studies of the relationship between the PE and APl, den Dulk advocates an analysis of the interplay of these texts on an individual rather than collective level. Through structural, linguistic, and feminist analysis, den Dulk then argues that the APl agrees with 2 Timothy on a number of substantial points and perspectives.

Conversely, the APl conflicts with Paul’s activities and teachings as portrayed in 1 Timothy (perspectives which are solely in Titus are not reflected enough in the APl for any meaningful judgment to be made). An examination of the direction of the influence undermines theories which posit the PE as written in response to the APl (or the oral traditions behind it). Finally, den Dulk outlines some of the implications for these schema, suggesting that the author of the APl engaged in “corrective composition” with regard to the PE, finding 1 Timothy lacking in authority but in 2 Timothy a view of Paul worthy of emulation and development.

Saint TimothyI applaud the approach of considering individual PE writings rather than the entire corpus (although this raises questions about the authorship and transmission of the Pastorals which are not adequately explained). Especially noteworthy is the application of (long) recognized differences regarding women between 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy to the study of these writings’ relation to the APl. Furthermore, the investigation of the parallel perceptions of women in the PE and APl is highly informative, convincingly demonstrating den Dulk’s argument concerning the APl’s relationship to the PE, the acceptance of 2 Timothy, and rejection of 1 Timothy. This approach sufficiently problematizes MacDonald’s thesis on the impetus and directionality of the PE (drawing at least favorably upon Bauckham’s similar push back) and adequately explains what differences do exist between 2 Timothy and the APl as chronological and literary adaptations.

Particularly intriguing was den Dulk’s employment of Margaret Mitchell’s theory of “corrective composition” as an explanation of how the PE corpus may been simultaneously co-opted and deemed authentic with respect to the differing perceptions of women evidenced in 1 and 2 Timothy. This is certainly a theory that I need to examine more in light of my future work. Finally and by way of critique, this article would have benefited from a more robust understanding of “[pseudo-] Paul’s view of women” in the Pastorals. Certainly, a recognition of the complexities of occasional writing and the different genre of epistolary literature being examined would have shed further light on how these writings may have been used and interpreted. Although obviously not a central component to the argument of this paper, the frequent comparisons between the Pastoral’s and Paul’s (possible) statements in 1 Corinthians would have offered an appropriate juncture for at least noting these issues.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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