1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon

Reformation Commentary on Scripture

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Lee Gatiss, Bradley G. Green
  • Downers Grove, IL: 
    IVP Academic
    , November
     488 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The six biblical books presented in this volume of the Reformation Commentary Series, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, edited by Lee Gatiss and Bradley G. Green, were all considered by 16th-century reformers to have been written by the apostle Paul. The latter four are called the Pastoral Epistles since they focus on doctrinal and practical issues of church thought and life as early Christians faced questions, controversies, and decisions about what the young church should believe and do. Paul was giving guidance, and his instructions in these books were deemed by the Reformers to be consistent with other Pauline letters. So interpreting Paul was a major feature of Reformation understandings of these six New Testament books.

In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, theological questions were related to eschatology, death and the state of the dead, and the nature of the “lawless one,” while encouragements and warnings and the danger of idleness, were also of concern.

Of particular note in regard to eschatology are the exegetical comments for 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which speaks of the coming of the Lord. The hope of resurrection is prominent for believers; a final judgment is dread for nonbelievers on “the day of the Lord,” which will come as “a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2; see 5:1–11). Resurrection hope is a spur to faithful Christian living and “perseverance” so “in that very moment of death we might adhere to Christ, and we might apprehend him alone by faith,” writes Robert Rollock (38). Those alive at Christ’s coming to earth in the future will be “caught up,” to be with those raised from the dead to join Christ and enter heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:17–18). For Heinrich Bullinger, “heaven is called the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Father, joy, happiness, and felicity, eternal life, peace, and quietude” (42). “For the life of believers,” comments John Calvin, “when they have once been gathered into one kingdom, will have no end any more than Christ’s” (43).

But Reformers also devoted considerable attention to “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–6) or antichrist, who will have a brief period of dominance, marked by false “signs and wonders” (2:7–12). Some saw the pope (or papacy) as being meant here. Others believed Muhammad or the religion of Islam was antichrist—or both the papacy and Islam. A general apostasy can give rise to antichrist. Or some said Paul’s reference was to the dissolution of the Roman Empire, paving the way for the assuming of temporal authority by the pope—asserting a universal rule over Christendom. Erasmus Sarcerius saw it as a “fable that the antichrist is going to be one certain person,” since “Antichrist is said of everyone who is opposed to the person and doctrine of Christ, indeed for everything said, instituted, and done by Christ” (85). It is only at Christ’s coming, wrote Sarcerius, that Christ “will extinguish this impious reign completely” (94).

In terms of day-by-day living for Christians now, Bullinger writes that “in all troubles and perils we have these two supports to bear us up: prayer and steadfast faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1–5; 100). Or, as Calvin puts it, in “the warfare of the present experience,” as Christians “wait for the Redeemer,” they need “patient endurance amidst the continual exercises of the cross” (102).

The first and second letters of Timothy plus Titus were “pastoral” epistles written by Paul to church clergy or leaders, according to Reformation exegetes. Major themes include church order, ministry, false teaching, and soteriology. Paul said he wrote “by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). Caspar Cruciger writes: “I call him our hope, that is, our propitiator and our Savior, in whom we should trust that our sins are forgiven, that we are heard, that we are guided, defended, and saved” (116). Christ is said to have “come into the world to save sinners,” (1 Timothy 1:15), and Luther said this “has quite often been life and salvation for me.” Because Christ “gave himself for the salvation of sinners,” therefore “let no sinner lose hope,” for “the sinner has the opportunity to hope because ‘Christ has come’” (128).

When it came to the question of the meaning of Christ having given himself “as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6), there was dispute over the meaning of “all.” Speaking for Reformed theologians, Peter Martyr Vermigli says “all” meant “all estates and kinds of people, namely that God will have some of all kinds of people to be saved: which interpretation agrees excellently well with the purpose of the apostle” since “we cannot infer from this that God endues every person particularly with grace, or predestines everyone to salvation” (136). Disagreement with Lutherans is highlighted by Christian Chemnitz: “Lutherans consider Christ the universal Redeemer, while Calvinists hold him to be the particular redeemer” (137).

Counter to voices that interpret teachings about the role of women in the church (1 Timothy 2:8–15) to mean women should be prohibited from the preaching office and be subordinate to their husbands at home was Marie Dentière, a Belgian Reformed theologian. She cites the role of Mary in the birth of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in being the first to declare Christ’s resurrection as “graces that have been given to women.” According to Dentière, while not permitted “to preach in public in congregations and churches, we are not forbidden to write and admonish one another in all charity” (146).

A clear statement of the Reformation emphasis on salvation by faith alone is provided by Calvin on Titus 3:4–8; humans did not deserve to receive salvation or be reconciled to God through faith. But, says Paul to Titus: “they obtained this blessing solely through the mercy of God. We therefore conclude from his words that we bring nothing to God, but that he goes before us by his pure grace, without any regard to works” (298). The editors have worked well to provide this fine commentary in this fine series.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Donald K. McKim is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lee Gatiss is the director of Church Society and a lecturer in church history at Union School of Theology.

Bradley G. Green is associate professor of Christian studies at Union University.


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