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The Intersection of Biblical Theology & Church Leadership: Q&A with Andreas Köstenberger

An Interview with Andreas J. Köstenberger on Commentary on 1-2 Timothy, Titus (BTCP)

One of the exciting parts of launching a translation is seeing its words and phrases become a part of the scholarly conversation around biblical theology. In the past few years, we have been able to watch the development of a new series of commentaries, the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation (BTCP) series, which features the Christian Standard Bible text.

The second volume, Andreas Köstenberger’s Commentary on 1-2 Timothy, Titus, is now available in stores. To learn more about this volume, we sat down with Andreas Köstenberger to talk about biblical theology, church leadership, and what 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus contribute to the canon of Scripture.

How can an understanding of and experience engaging in the discipline of biblical theology help a pastor edify and encourage those to whom he regularly preaches?

AJK: An appreciation of biblical theology will help the pastor get closer to the original meaning intended by the author. This originally intended meaning constitutes the actual meaning of the text and is alone authoritative. So, engaging in biblical theology will help the pastor attain greater authority in preaching, rather than merely asking how a given passage of Scripture is relevant for his audience today.

Seeking to discern the meaning of a given passage inductively, historically, and descriptively, as biblical theology aims to do, is also vital in distancing the pastor from the questions people are asking today, which may not necessarily be addressed in those terms in Scripture. Thus, rather than imposing an alien grid or set of questions onto the text, the pastor will more likely be entering the world of the text and be engaged by it. In this way, a two-way conversation will develop where not only are we asking questions of the text, but the text itself can challenge cultural, traditional, and personal beliefs or practices that are not in keeping with Scripture.

What are some examples of biblical-theological themes to which Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (LTT) make a significant contribution?

AJK: One of the most important contributions of the LTT to biblical theology is the depiction of the church as God’s household. In Paul’s earlier letters, the characterization of the church as the body of Christ is prominent, with Christ serving as the head and individual believers being members of his body with different gifts and contributions. In the LTT, Paul uses a different metaphor, that of a household, with the man as the head and the household consisting of different groups of people with varying needs and concerns. I believe an understanding of this metaphor for the church has the potential of revolutionizing people’s conception of the pastoral ministry, including pastors’ self-understanding of their role. Just as in the natural household, pastors and elders should understand themselves as heads of households who protect the members of the household (especially those who are vulnerable, such as widows and children) and provide for the needs of the various groups in the church. An understanding of this metaphor is also vital in the complementarian-egalitarian debate because both Jewish and Greco-Roman households were patriarchal, which makes it extremely unlikely that Paul held and advocated an egalitarian view of gender roles.

The LTT make another vital contribution to biblical theology with their unique blend of eschatology and ecclesiology. Rather than viewing the last days as a future which will occur at the very end of time, the LTT reflect the understanding that we already live in the last days. This is shown by the presence of false teachers who operate in the church or seek to infiltrate it, and who are used by Satan to lead people astray. Incidentally, this speaks decisively against the theory that the LTT are an exemplar of bourgeois Christianity (bürgerliches Christentum) at a time when a delay of the second coming of Christ led to increasing institutionalization and a fading of the eschatological hope (a highly influential theory popularized by Martin Dibelius and others). To the contrary, the LTT indicate that Paul in fact looked at the church’s condition from an eschatological vantage point and saw the end times as casting a long shadow forward in the form of Satan-sent and -inspired false teachers who must be firmly resisted by vigilant pastors and teachers in the church.

In the LTT, what are some ways in which Paul grounds his apostolic mission in the Old Testament?

AJK: When you think about the mission of the early church, you think about books like Acts or perhaps some of Paul’s other letters, such as Romans (not to mention the Great Commission at the end of Matthew). But the LTT, perhaps surprisingly, make a vital contribution to the NT’s mission theology. Howard Marshall, in his NT theology, has characterized the LTT as “the documents of a mission,” and I would certainly concur. Not only this, Paul significantly grounds his missional teaching in the LTT in the Hebrew Scriptures. In 2 Tim 4:17, written at the very end of his life, Paul describes as the desired outcome of his ministry “so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” Poignantly, the phrase “all the Gentiles” or “all the nations” harks back to the Abrahamic promises which culminate in the Great Commission (Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Matt 28:19).

Moreover, in 1 Tim 2:8, Paul urges men “in every place” to pray. This alludes to Mal 1:11, which envisions a time when God’s “name is glorified among the nations, and in every place incense is brought to my name.” In this way, the churches Paul plants become a sign that God’s promise of salvation for all nations is being fulfilled. As far as Paul is concerned, his apostolic mission was not a brand-new initiative; it had deep roots in the OT, though it was only now after Jesus had provided salvation that the gospel could go out to all the nations.

How do the LTT contribute to our understanding of how local churches ought to function?

AJK: I’ve already mentioned a couple significant ways in which the LTT can uniquely inform our understanding of the nature of the church, such as the metaphor of God’s household or the implications of eschatology for our understanding of the present location of the church. In addition, the LTT provides detailed requirements for church leaders, both elders and deacons. This includes qualifications related to their marriage and leadership of their family, and possibly also qualifications for women serving as deacons (though not elders). Considering what we would be missing if these books were not included in the canon shows the vital contribution these letters make to our understanding of proper qualifications for church leaders. Overall, I think it’s striking how much attention Paul gave to matters of leadership. He knew that appointing proper leaders and vetting them carefully is essential for the health and flourishing of the church. Beyond this, the LTT makes many other contributions to our understanding of how local churches ought to function in the commentary, including matters of order and authority, various responsibilities related to different groups in the church, the vital importance of preaching and teaching the Word, and others.

Considering the teaching of the LTT, what should a pastor know about his role as a preacher and about the ministry of preaching?

AJK: The LTT are permeated by a focus on teaching and preaching the Word. A good teacher must preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and healthy doctrine, that is, the apostolic message. This includes publicly reading Scripture and encouraging and exhorting God’s people based on Scripture. It also means appointing leaders who are capable, faithful teachers (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). One of my favorite verses is Paul’s command to Timothy: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim 4:16). Here, Paul strikes the perfect balance when he exhorts Timothy to pay close attention both to himself and to his teaching. In doing so, he will not only guard his own life and spiritual well-being but also be a blessing to others. Preachers today need to understand how vital it is for them to cultivate and exhibit the character and exemplary life that they urge others to pursue. In this way, godliness and mission go hand in hand.

What is your current project? Are you working on any new publishing venture?

AJK: Thanks for asking! My current research project is a book on the Holy Spirit for a new series with B&H Academic in collaboration with Gregg Allison. My task is to present a biblical theology of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture, and then in the second half of the book Gregg will present a systematic theological treatment of the Spirit. Working on this project has already been a great blessing to me, and I have learned a lot about both how to do biblical theology in practice and specifically about the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you very much for this interview, Andreas, and for publishing this important new commentary. We join you in praying that this will prove to be a significant resource for pastors and other serious students of the Word.

The Commentary on 1-2 Timothy, Titus is part of the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series, a growing series of commentaries that features the CSB. Commentary on 1-2 Timothy, Titus is now available—find out more or order your copy.