Jesus Saves?

I’ve been preparing recently for a talk on a “Biblical theology of money”, and one of the topics I have been thinking about is saving. Saving up some money for times of need in the future is almost universally agreed on as a wise financial practice. When looking for biblical support on the matter, I often go to Gen 41:1-36, where Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream of fat cows and thin cows. Through this dream, God revealed that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and so during the abundant years they should store up grain for the future.

I tried to apply this principle when I got married. At that time, both I and my wife were earning salaries – two incomes for two people. But I knew we wanted children, and so these were our “fat cow” years. Now over a decade later, we have one salary to support seven people (in fact nine at the moment, but that’s another story). The modest amount we saved up during the “fat cow” years is still in our savings account, and is earmarked to be used for our next car when the current one finally stops working.

There are other passages you could go to in support of saving, such as Proverbs 6 where the sluggard is told to learn from the ant who works hard storing up food during the summer months. The principle is similar – store up food while it is plentiful for the times when it is lacking. It is common sense, sound financial practise, and a value I want to instil in my children.

But when we come to the teaching of Jesus, finding support for saving is harder. In fact, in his stories and teaching, it is the people who save who are the fools and the people with no reserves at all who are the wise ones.

For example, in Luke 12:16-21 Jesus tells the parable of the rich “fool”. Why was he considered a “fool”? For “laying up treasure” for himself without being “rich towards God”. Matt 6:19-20 teaches the same thing explicitly: “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth”. Which is pretty much the same thing as saying “don’t save up lots of money” unless you think Jesus had a particular aversion to wooden chests filled with gold coins and strings of pearls.

In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus praises a widow for giving everything away, when surely the prudent thing for her to have done would have been to save some of her money for food. By keeping nothing in reserve she had nothing left to trust in but God’s provision. This seems to have been Jesus’ motivation for sending his disciples out without any money in Mark 6:8. Again, this runs contrary to conventional “wisdom” – what church would dream of sending people out on a mission trip with no means of supporting themselves?

It seems that Jesus places a much higher value on a life which trusts God day to day than one which stockpiles money just in case. He taught us to ask for “daily” bread (Matt 6:11) whereas my preference would be for God to provide at least a month’s supply at a time.

Even more shockingly, he often encouraged those with financial reserves to get rid of them. In Luke 12:33 he tells people to “sell your possessions” in order to give to the needy. In Mark 10:21, the rich young ruler was told to sell everything. We often interpret this as some kind of “test” to see whether he loved Jesus more than his money, or whether he understood that you can hold nothing back from God. But what if Jesus simply felt that everyone ought to be able to live trusting God day to day for provision, and saw no sense in this man having a lot of surplus that he wasn’t currently using?

Does all this mean that saving is wrong? I’m not prepared to go that far, but this has made me reconsider whether I should present it as a particularly godly virtue. Obviously, extravagant consumerism where you spend all your income on yourself as soon as you get it is no more godly than putting some of it in a savings account. Spenders look to money instead of God for happiness, and savers look to money instead of God for security. Both are forms of idolatry.

There is one form of saving that Jesus wholeheartedly approves of, and that is what he calls “storing up treasure in heaven”. How you do this appears to be living a life of radical generosity and obedience to God. It means that we will sometimes do things that appear to be financially foolish, but in God’s economy, are the best investment we can ever make.

Book Review – The Message of Kings (John Olley)

I must start by apologizing to my handful of readers for the long delay since my last post. The last few months I have been busy working on a few different projects (writing some software, and running a leadership training course), and so I had to put blogging to the side for a while. Here’s a review of a book I finished earlier this year but never got round to reviewing.

This is the most recent addition to the Bible Speaks Today series, which is now only a few volumes away from being completed. It’s a fairly substantial 374 pages, so there is good coverage of the text of the two books.

Olley describes Kings as a story of decline and complete reversal from the high point of Solomon’s peace and security. It is storytelling with a purpose: “Kings tells the story of the past so that, in light of Yahweh’s purposes and promises, people will change their lifestyles in the present.”

The introduction includes some helpful tables such as a list showing prophesies and their fulfilments (p31). “The Kings writer repeatedly reminds his hearers that it is Yahweh who is sovereign, his word is not sovereign”. Another helpful table (p36) visualises the kings of the North and the South, showing their timelines in relation to other key events.

Olley notes that although we call the book “Kings”, it is often prophets who take the lead. He makes an interesting contrast between David’s “wisdom” in 1 Kings 1 to kill his enemies, with the wisdom of God to benefit the powerless in 1 Kings 3. In 1 Kings 9, he is critical of the way Solomon focuses on gold, acting like the rulers of other nations, to earn their admiration.

Whilst he defends the historicity of the accounts, he does accept that some of the numbers are exaggerated, following the pattern of ancient Near Eastern “numerical hyperbole”.

In 1 Kings 2, he highlights a number of ways in which Elisha’s ministry foreshadows the compassionate ministry of Jesus. He has some interesting reflections on the difficult issue of violence in the name of God in 2 Kings 10 and some helpful material on idols in the section on 2 Kings 17.

As always, this BST volume will prove helpful for anyone studying or preaching their way through the book. Leithart’s commentary remains my favourite on 1 & 2 Kings, but the two are quite different in their approaches, so complement each other very well.

Recommended Revelation Resources

Revelation is one of those books of the Bible that no matter how many times you read through it or study it or hear sermons on it, you always feel that you are still only just on the verge of understanding it. Or at least that’s how I feel. So in this post I want to highlight a number of resources on Revelation that I have found helpful.


First, some commentaries. I have read and reviewed commentaries by Michael Wilcock (Bible Speaks Today) and Alan Johnson (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). I also have the two more meaty contributions of Grant Osborne (Baker Exegetical Commentary) and Greg Beale (New International Greek Testament Commentary) sitting on my bookshelf but they will require a serious time commitment to read right through. Two other commentaries I would also like to get hold of are by Craig Keener (NIV Application Commentary) and Gordon Fee (New Covenant Commentary).


In terms of general books on Revelation, the most commonly recommended is The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Baukham. Within newfrontiers, our Revelation expert is John Hosier. His two books, Thinking Clearly About the End Times and The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil are both excellent. Simon Ponsonby has written a book more generally on the end times, called And the Lamb Wins.

Individual Talks

Revelation is of course almost impossible to do justice to in a single talk, but here are a few from people who really know the book inside out:

Preaching Revelation – John Hosier at Leadership International 2010


Revelation in an hour – John Hosier

How to read the book of Revelation – Richard Bauckham


Also, my friend Andrew Fountain recently preached a two part series giving an overview of the book of Revelation. He has a solid grasp of the book and often teaches a longer series on it, which you can find the outline for here.


Finally, I want to higlight two series of talks on Revelation that are well worth your time. The first is a six-part seminar series by Liam Thatcher, which he gave very recently at Christ Church London. I have found these extremely helpful and are a great introduction to the message of the book, presented in a very accessible style:

Also, Justin Taylor recently linked to a 26 part lecture series on Revelation by Don Carson. Carson is an excellent expositor and is rumoured to be writing the Pillar Commentary on Revelation, so I would expect these to be very thorough.

Do please let me know in the comments of any resources you would recommend in addition to these.

New Wine 2012

I got back on Saturday from a week at New Wine, which has become a regular fixture for my family (read my reports from 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005). With our five children all in different age groups, getting to seminars was a bit of a challenge, but I did get to a good number of meetings. The worship was led by Nick and Becky Drake, Elim Sound, Ian Yates, with an enjoyable guest appearance from Rend Collective.

The highlight was getting a chance to hear Francis Chan speak, having read two of his books (Forgotten God and Crazy Love). He gave the morning messages as well as speaking in a few evening sessions. He is not only an engaging and humourous speaker, but very earnest, passionate and challenging. In fact, I suspect that much of what he had to say was not comfortable hearing for many people, as he uncompromisingly expounded some hard passages of Scripture. He brought up subjects such as God’s holiness, the need for repentance, the need for courageous evangelism, the importance of taking death and eternity seriously, and particularly underscored the importance of testing all things against Scripture. I suspect this may in part have been as a corrective to a rather Word-Faith message in one of the evening talks. Also, the New Wine network, like many contemporary charismatic groups, has a tendency to emphasise experiencing the Spirit and seeing miracles, whilst neglecting the less palatable biblical themes of personal holiness and enduring suffering. Having said that, he managed to be very gracious at the same time as packing a real punch, and everyone I spoke to at the event was extremely appreciative of his ministry. There was much to think and pray about.

Evening speakers included Mike Pilavachi with a helpful talk on life in the wilderness, and I also enjoyed a message from Ant Delaney on the need for convictions and integrity, based on the life of Daniel.

In terms of seminars, I got to one by David Stroud covering several principles of leadership. I also went to two by Carl Beech from Christian Vision for Men. His first talk was a good one from the life of David about what it means to be a man. His second was about how the church has not been good at reaching men, and included a rather controversial “ban” list of all the things he would like banned from church (including banners, missionary boards, romantic worship lyrics and bad toilets). I certainly agree that churches need to think more creatively about how they can reach men, and how they can do church in a way that doesn’t make unchurched men feel completely weirded out. However, I’m think you could quite easily make different “ban” lists if you want to reach introverts, or immigrants, or the working class, or the homeless, or academics, or people with disabilities, etc etc. Having said that, I completely agree that we need to think a lot harder about how we can effectively reach and disciple men.

The other speaker I should mention is Shane Claiborne. I only got to one of his talks, which turned out to be a retelling of many of the stories from his Irresistable Revolution book. His passion for the poor and his creative thinking are inspiring, but he did little to ease my concerns that he fails to take other teachings of Scripture as seriously as those that fit his social justice and pacifist agenda.

There were some other talks I got to hear at the end of the week, but by that stage it felt like I had already received so much teaching that I needed to take time out to process and pray about it.

My Commentary on John (PDF Download)

As I explained earlier, I am starting to publish some of my verse by verse expositions of various New Testament books here on my blog. In this post I want to introduce my comments on John (download as PDF here), which is the longest book I have tackled so far (although I am currently working through Acts). I began work on John back in 2004, but got stuck in chapter 6 which is very long and very deep. After a year’s break I came back with fresh enthusaism and finished it off.

The two main commentaries I consulted along the way were Don Carson’s outstanding Pillar commentary on John, and Andreas Kostenberger’s Baker Exegetical Commentary. I ended up regretting choosing Kostenberger as my second option as it seemed very rare that his insights were different to Carson’s. Other commentaries I have read on John include Bruce Milne’s Bible Speaks Today, Tom Wright’s John For Everyone, and Merryl Tenney’s John – The Gospel of Belief.

The gospel of John has always been one of my favourites. I find it interesting that John chose to leave out the parables and Sermon on the Mount, in favour of structuring a large part of his gospel around a series of seven “signs” and seven notable “I am” sayings of Jesus, which may even be linked in pairs (e.g. raising of Lazarus goes with “I am the resurrection and the life”). This may well indicate that the author of this gospel is indeed the same John that wrote Revelation, although I am aware some commentators find extra signs and “I am” sayings.

I also like the way that John complements and supplements the Synoptic gospels. It seems to me that in several places he assumes his readers know these other accounts, and this may explain why he feels free to leave many key incidents and teachings out. In their place we get treated to the brilliant and theologically profound introductory section of chapter 1, and the wonderful final teaching session before his crucifixion in chapters 13-16, and many more sections that are unique to John, such as the discussion with Nicodemus in chapter 3.

I must also thank Tom Scrivens (who has recently become the father of twin girls), who kindly proof read this one for me and provided lots of valuable feedback. As with all my “commentaries”, I still view this as a work in progress and hope to return to improve some sections in the future. As always, I welcome any feedback.

Correct Use of the Law in 1 Timothy

In 1 Tim 1:8 Paul says that the “law” is good if one uses it “lawfully”. He goes on to explain that the law is not for the righteous, but for sinners, and gives a list of examples of sinful lifestyles (1 Tim 1:9-11). These verses raise the interesting and controversial question of what use the “law” is to Christians. If we are the “righteous” in Christ, does that make the law completely irrelevant for us? Are any commands still binding on us in the New Covenant? Is it only to be mined for prophetic references to Christ?

I thought it would be interesting to look and see how Paul uses the law in the rest of 1 Timothy, since that would constitute a good example of what he considers “lawful” use of the law. The first difficulty is in deciding what exactly he includes in “the law”. Is this a reference to the 623 commands found in the Pentateuch (i.e. those things which are specifically ‘laws’)? Or does it refer more generally to the first five books of the Bible? Or even to the whole Old Testament? It is hard to say for sure. The false teachers in Ephesus that Paul wants Timothy to deal with consider themselves to be teachers of the law (1 Tim 1:7), and since their speciality included “genealogies” I opt for at least the whole five books of Moses being in view.

  • The first clear allusion to the “law” comes in the most confusing and contentious part of the letter. 1 Tim 2:13-14 refers to Adam and Eve. Some would say Paul uses this text to illustrate a “principle” from creation, although others argue this is merely an “example” of a woman being deceived.
  • The qualifications listed for overseers and deacons in 1 Tim 3:1-13 include several virtues that the Old Testament praises, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear link to the law.
  • 1 Tim 4:3-5 seems to allude to both the creation story, and possibly to various food restrictions in the law. Here Paul emphasises the primacy of the creation story – what God calls good is good, and no one should introduce laws against those things.
  • In 1 Tim 4:13 Timothy is urged to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. With the New Testament not yet written, this clearly is a reference to the Old Testament. Paul firmly believes it has on-going benefit for Christians to read and meditate on.
  • 1 Tim 5:3 speaks about the church’s ministry to widows. Where did they get this idea from? Almost certainly it flows from the Old Testament’s repeated concern for the plight of widows and orphans (e.g. Ex 22:22, Deut 14:29). This is a good example of a principle from the OT law being practically applied into the life of the church.
  • Showing “honour” is a recurring theme in the latter part of 1 Timothy, so 1 Tim 5:4,8 quite possibly are intended to invoke the command to “honour” your father and mother.
  • The first unambiguous citation of an Old Testament law is in 1 Tim 5:18. Paul quotes Deut 25:4 which is a command not to muzzle an ox while it treads the grain, and then applies it to providing financial support for elders.
  • In the next verse (1 Tim 5:19), he appears to take another principle from the OT law, this time Deut 19:15, which requires two or three witnesses to establish a matter. Again, these are principles reapplied into the new context of the church.
  • The final reference I noticed was in 1 Tim 6:7, which is a possible allusion to various passages from the wisdom literature (Job 1:21; Ps 49:17; Ecc 5:15). Whether this falls under the category of “law” is debatable, but it again shows Paul drawing on the OT to back up his teaching.

Overall then, the pattern that emerges is that Paul has an intimate knowledge of the OT and draws on it regularly as a source of principles for Christian living. He doesn’t however seem to cite commands directly and demand that we keep them. When he does issue commands they tend to come from his apostolic authority instead. His position with regards to the OT “law” can probably be best summed up in his words in 2 Tim 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Taken with the preceding verse (2 Tim 3:15), we could say that Paul sees the OT as having two great purposes. First it makes us “wise to salvation” by telling us the story of God’s plan of redemption, throughout which we see Christ prophesied and prefigured. But second, it is intensely practical. That is why Paul has no difficulty in seeing the commands as a rich store of principles, even if he doesn’t necessarily see them as having an on-going binding force on us in the New Covenant. Yes, we are under a new law, written on our hearts by the Spirit, but as we look at the law of the Old Covenant, there is much in there that points us to the unchanging character of God, and as such it is quite appropriate to use it to shape the way we live and do church.

Universal offer of Salvation in the Pastorals

I posted a while ago about limited atonement, and included a reference to 1 Tim 4:10, which I think is a helpful verse that can defuse some of the contentiousness about this point.  As I have been studying the Pastorals in more detail over the past few months, I have been on the lookout for more verses about the scope of salvation.

The first passage of note is 1 Tim 2:1-7, with the recurring word “all” (πάντων) standing out. Paul starts off by asking us to pray for all people (1 Tim 2:1). It becomes clear that praying for their salvation is in view since God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). 1 Tim 2:6 then goes on to say that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. These verses certainly fit nicely in the Arminian framework, and have to be qualified somewhat by Calvinists.

1 Tim 2:7 does however state that it is this universality of salvation that has resulted in Paul becoming a preacher to the Gentiles. In other words, the force of the all in this passage may be that Paul wants to say that God’s heart is for all nations, not just the Jews, and that Jesus is the Saviour for all nations, not just the Jews. This is why in 2 Tim 4:17, Paul says he wants all the Gentiles to hear the gospel.

Then we have 1 Tim 4:10. Here, God is the “Saviour of all people”, but especially the Saviour of “those who believe”. I take this to mean that he is the only Saviour available to people, but only actually saves those who believe.

The final verse of note is in Titus 2:11, which speaks of the “appearing of grace” (referring to Jesus’ incarnation). The coming of Jesus brought salvation for all people, which unless we are universalists, means that it provided a way of salvation available to all people.

In summary, the Pastoral epistles regularly speak of the offer and availability of salvation in universal terms, and if we want to be biblical Christians, we should do the same. Jesus is the only Saviour available to the people of this world, and his sacrifice was sufficient to atone for the sins of the world. As a Calvinist I am happy to affirm this. The sticking point remains at why some avail themselves of this salvation, and others do not. Is it rooted in the eternal choice of God, or in human free will?

Book Review – The Message of Chronicles (Michael Wilcock)

This volume in the Bible Speaks Today series covers the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles in 288 pages. In the introduction, Wilcock sets the scene and deals with the issue of relevance. The Chronicler is telling stories of times before the exile to those living after it. If we struggle with the question, “how is all this relevant to me”, then so did the original hearers. But the Chronicler is more than a historian, he is a preacher. His sermon is about right relationship with God and his sometimes selective use of history is intended to draw out principles that illustrate various points.

One of the biggest challenges a commentator on Chronicles faces is what to do with the long-winded genealogies at the start of the book that can test the patience of even the most committed reader. Wilcock does an admirable job of helping us through this difficult section, presenting this material as “the tree of the Lord’s planting”, with its root, branches, and fruit. David, Israel (Jacob), and Adam are particularly highlighted, the Chronicler making the point that the people of God are the true kingdom, God’s true family and the true humanity.

As he goes through the remainder of 1 Chronicles, which is about “David, the man of war”, he deals with several of the chapters out of order, so he can group them into themes of nation, ark, testimony and temple. The Chronicler is preaching to a people who live in “day of small things” compared to the grandeur of David’s day, but the challenge of his sermon is that people in his own day follow the example of those before them and “offer willingly” and “consecrate themselves” to the Lord’s work.

The Chronicler is often accused of manipulating history, and Wilcock is not afraid to highlight several the places where his account deviates from the Samuel/Kings narratives. The Chronicler may be selective in places, but does so to support his point, rather than attempting to “suppress” information that his audience know in any case. Wilcock also deals with “anachronisms” such as reporting the amount of the temple offering in terms of the Persian Daric, which amounts to no more than presenting the total in “today’s money”.

Wilcock’s interpretation of the Chronicler’s sermon is that he presents David and Solomon as a double ideal – kind of two-fold picture of God’s true kingship. The point for the original audience is not for them (or their rulers) to “be like Solomon”, but that blessing will follow when the life of God’s people is directed by the one of his choosing.

As he moves through the various later kings, Wilcock picks out various lessons from their lives which he thinks the Chronicler also is trying to highlight. We see Asa’s capitulation to ‘worldly wisdom’ in 2 Chron 16:2-3, and Jehosophat’s repeated ill-advised alliances (a marriage alliance, a military alliance and a commercial alliance).

Many of the kings are described as examples of “pastors”, such as Uzziah the “strong” pastor whose strength was his downfall, and Josiah the “alone” pastor. Wilcock sees the throne and temple as the main two focuses of the Chroniclers sermon, and though Jesus is the fulfilment of the three-fold office of prophet/priest/king, it is priest and king that are at the forefront here.

Overall, this is a helpful guide that will broaden your understanding of the overall message of these books, as well as help you appreciate them in their own right as opposed to simply being the poor relations of the much fuller Samuel/Kings accounts.

Fake Paul and the Pastoral Epistles

For most evangelicals, the debate about whether or not Paul wrote the Pastorals is a non-issue. The Bible says so, and that is good enough.

But anyone who has read the commentaries will know there is a real debate on this topic, with many scholars opting to reject Pauline authorship. Much of the debate rests on issues outside of my area of expertise, such as the Greek vocabulary and grammar, but I would nevertheless like to present a few brief thoughts of my own on the topic, after spending the last few months studying the Pastorals.

First, it is not hard to be convinced that the same author wrote all three Pastorals. There are so many points of contact between them that to imagine a different author wrote them feels weird to me. You’d have to imagine that “fake Paul” wrote 1 Timothy, and then someone else, fooled into thinking it was real Paul, wrote 2 Timothy in the style of 1 Timothy.

Having said that, it is also possible to discern some variations from Paul’s more “normal” way of speaking that we are familiar with from his earlier writings (e.g. “trustworthy sayings”, or non-characteristic words like epiphany). Of course, there are some quite plausible natural explanations for this, including a development in his own writing style and vocabulary over time, and the possible use of an amanuensis. The trustworthy sayings are in fact evidence that Paul was happy to borrow from other Christian’s creedal statements and hymns, thus broadening his own way of speaking.

But let us contemplate for a moment that someone else did write these letters. “Fake Paul” is writing a letter, but we need a motive. Is he trying to trick the real Timothy and the real Titus into thinking they are receiving instructions from the real Paul? This seems very unlikely indeed. They would be the hardest people to fool, and would soon enough find out that the letters were a fraud. So “fake Paul” is also writing to “fake Timothy”, a fabricated recipient, when in fact the real target audience of the letter is someone else entirely.

Various motives for writing as “fake Paul” have been suggested. Some argue for a well-meaning person telling us “what Paul would have said to Timothy”, but never intended to deceive anyone  or teach anything Paul wouldn’t have agreed with. Another possibility is that someone uses this technique to lend authority to some theological ideas of their own that otherwise would be hard to persuade people of.

To choose between these options, we must reconstruct what we can about “fake Paul”. First, he knows quite a lot about Paul. He must have read other Pauline letters, and be familiar with the accounts from Acts. He comes up with some brilliant pithy summaries of the gospel (1 Tim 2:5-6; Titus 1:1-3; Titus 2:11-14) which makes him a pretty astute theologian in his own right. He has got all kinds of Pauline mannerisms down to a tee, from the way he does the introductions, to the occasional spontaneous doxologies (e.g. 1 Tim 1:17), to the Christian adaption of household codes, to the greetings to assorted colleagues at the end of letters (e.g. 2 Tim 4:19-21).

What’s more, he uses his knowledge of Paul’s missionary movements to add authenticity (e.g. 2 Tim 3:11), as well as his knowledge of Paul’s companions and their locations (e.g. 2 Tim 4:10,19), and yet at the same time chooses to locate Titus on an island never mentioned in Acts, and introduce a random assortment of additional companions not known elsewhere. He either has a very fertile imagination or insider information not contained within Acts.

Even more curious is the personal details “fake Paul” knows about Timothy. He recalls incidents that include prophecies made Timothy’s ordination (1 Tim 4:14) and baptism, who Timothy’s mother and grandmother are (2 Tim 1:5), and knows that Timothy has stomach problems (1 Tim 5:23).

When we search for fake Paul’s hidden agenda, it is hard to find. The letters are greatly concerned with opposing false teaching, but we don’t really get told much about what that teaching entailed. If this is real Paul writing to real Timothy that makes perfect sense. But surely “fake Paul” would want his audience to know what teachings in particular were in need of rejecting. Instead he names and shames the (presumably fake) false teachers.

We have already established that fake Paul isn’t addressing the real Timothy or Titus, so why address so much of his letter directly and personally to them? The genuine Pauline letters are more broadly directed to a whole church, so why not utilise that style as the model which would give fake Paul much more freedom to make his point without having to resort to ridiculous fictions such as “please go to Troas and get my cloak and scrolls” (2 Tim 4:13).

One of the most readily identifiable features of Paul’s letters is his trademark greeting, “grace to you and peace” which is found in all his other letters: Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2, Col 1:2, 1 Thess 1:1, 2 Thess 1:2, Phil 1:3. Even the other fake Paul, you know, the one who wrote Ephesians, remembered to include it. This fake Paul clearly has read other letters by the real Paul, so why on earth would he diverge from Paul’s standard greeting and use “grace, mercy, peace” (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2) instead? Even Tit 1:4 doesn’t get it quite right. We have to either put this down to a remarkable blunder on the part of fake Paul, or, more plausibly in my view, it is real Paul writing it in which case he has complete freedom to give an alternative special greeting to his close friend Timothy.

In other words, we have to imagine someone who has brilliantly done his homework in pretending to be Paul, fabricates all kinds of pointless details just for good effect, and yet introduces a major faux pas by failing to precisely copy Paul’s most readily identifiable catchphrase. He goes to great lengths to include fictitious personal information, with no discernible purpose other than to lend authenticity to his hidden agenda, which he in large part forgets to include, since the overriding theological themes of the Pastorals are in full agreement with the other Pauline letters.

In short, while the Pastorals do indeed have a different feel and flavour to the other Pauline epistles, the theory that someone else wrote these requires us to believe in a “fake Paul” who I find to be frankly unbelievable.

Epiphany of Grace and Glory

One of the recurring words in the Pastoral epistles is ἐπιφάνεια, translated as “appearing” or “revealed”, and from which we get the word “epiphany”. It is used to describe both the return of Jesus and his incarnation. Both were an “appearing” of Jesus. 2 Tim 1:10, Tit 2:11 and Tit 3:4 refer to Jesus’ first coming. 1 Tim 6:14 and Tit 3:4 refer to Christ’s second coming. 2 Tim 4:1 and 2 Tim 4:8 are a little less clear, but I think they also refer to the Parousia.

For Paul, these two “appearings” of Jesus are the two most significant interventions of God in human history, and we are living in between. I particularly like the way he describes the two appearings in Tit 2:11,13. Jesus’ first coming is the “epiphany of the grace of God”, and his second coming is the “epiphany of the glory of God”.

The “appearing of grace” is a beautiful way of describing what happened in the incarnation. Jesus came as a servant, rather than a king, as a rescuer rather than as a judge. His glory was concealed, only perceived by those whose eyes had been opened (Jn 1:14). Jesus’ first coming is the ultimate revelation and embodiment of the grace of God.

We now await the “appearing of glory”. When Jesus returns, this time his true glory will be evident to all. This will be a day of judgment (2 Tim 4:1) and reward (2 Tim 4:8). It is not that Christ will no longer be gracious – it is only on the basis of grace that anyone can expect a favourable outcome on that day. Jesus’ second coming is the ultimate revelation and embodiment of the glory of God.

It seems a shame to me that controversy over the end times (premil, amil, postmil, rapture, mark of the beast etc) has caused many Christians to steer clear of the topic of the second coming. We have many songs and sermons on the epiphany of grace, but comparatively few on the epiphany of glory. But we are not only to be a backwards oriented people, simply thanking God for his grace in the past. We should be those who live in the light of the appearing of God’s grace, and live in the hope of the appearing of God’s glory.