Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Spirit and Moral Progress in the Pastoral Epistles

C. H. Talbert, “Between Two Epiphanies: Clarifying One Aspect of Soteriology in the Pastoral Epistles,” in Getting “Saved”: The Whole Story of Salvation in the New Testament. Eds. Charles Talbert and Jason Whitlark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 58-71.  

In this excellent chapter on the moral dimension of salvation in the Pastoral Epistles, C. H. Talbert makes the claim that the view that "the Holy Spirit given at baptism enables the Christian's moral and spiritual progress between conversion and judgement is unproven."  Talbert however goes on to argue from 2 Tim 4:17-18 that there is a hint of the Spirit's work in delivering believers from present evil.  "At this point there is a reference to the Lord's saving activity of an individual in the between time in order to enable him to reach the heavenly kingdom."  

It is unclear to me as to why Talbert limits 2 Tim 1:6-7 to Timothy and his special ministry.  Firstly, the text does not tell us when Timothy received the Spirit, and so we cannot limit this to his commissioning for service.  Secondly, Paul notes that the Spirit was given to "us" (ἡμῖν), not just to Timothy.  We can either infer that Paul is talking about Christians in general, or that he is talking specifically about those called to a specific ministry.  We have no reason within the Pastoral Epistles, or the undisputed Pauline letters, to limit the Spirit's enabling to those with a specific ministry.  Thirdly, Paul here links the work of the Spirit with specific moral and ethical virtues, namely power, love and self-mastery (σωφρονισμος).  Furthermore, the genitives suggest that it is the work of the Spirit that aids or empowers Christians to develop such characteristics as love and self-mastery (this also seems to be a polemic against the opponents who love themselves, money and pleasures, 2 Tim 3:2-5, and lack self-mastery and love for others).  

Even if we limit the work of the Spirit to Timothy and Paul in this passage, as Talbert does, Talbert specifically notes that both Timothy and Paul function as exemplars in the Pastoral Epistles, and thus as Tim and Paul rely on the empowering work of the Spirit in their own lives, by following their example, Christians must do likewise.  

Thus within these writings there is an emphasis on the work of the Spirit between the two epiphanies, and this Spirit enables and empowers "good works" and moral reasoning as Christians seek to navigate through the difficult situations of life.  

For a more helpful and detailed analysis of the work of the Spirit in the Pastoral Epistles, see the helpful study of Paul Trebilco, “The Significance and Relevance of the Spirit in the Pastoral Epistles,” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins. Essays in Honor of James D. G. Dunn. eds. G. N. Stanton, B. W. Longenecker and S. C. Barton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 241-256.

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