the shape of leadership

The Pastorals for Pentecostals

Review of 'A Pentecostal Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles' by William K. Kay and John R. L. Moxon

George P Wood on July 19, 2022


The relationship between charisma and institution is an evergreen issue in ministry. First Corinthians 12–14 emphasizes charisma, pointing to the unity, diversity, and universality of spiritual gifts in a local congregation. The pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) emphasize institution, outlining the character and competencies necessary for congregational leaders.

These emphases can seem competitive. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. Some early Pentecostals felt this way, eschewing formal creeds and institutional structures altogether. 

Common sense — not to mention canonical sense — suggests otherwise. Charisma and institution are complementary. The more you have one, the more you need the other. The New Testament includes both 1 Corinthians and the pastoral epistles, after all. 

In A Pentecostal Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, British Assemblies of God scholars William K. Kay and John R.L. Moxon provide a verse-by-verse exposition of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. They write with the needs of Pentecostal ministers in mind, where the word ministers is “broadly conceived” to include people with Bible-teaching responsibilities. 

Alongside this ministerial focus is a “historical orientation.” The authors look for “the meanings of verses within the text itself and then within the broader context of the church and the life of Paul.”

Some critical scholars argue that Paul did not write the pastoral epistles. They offer three reasons: (1) The “Greek style and vocabulary” of the pastorals is different from Paul’s other letters. (2) The letters’ “theological emphases and church life” suggest a date well after Paul’s death in the 60s. (3) Finally, there is “the difficulty of locating the events alluded to within the framework of Acts.”

Kay and Moxon resolve problems (1) and (2) with reference to the missional context of the pastoral epistles. They argue that the letters evince “a clear second-generation, future-facing orientation and a decision to use new, more specifically Hellenistic religious language” to reach a “young, often mixed-race and metropolitan group” represented by Timothy himself.

Regarding problem (3), they argue that the pastoral epistles were written after the events described in Acts 28. This assumes a second Roman imprisonment of Paul under Nero. Some strands of church tradition confirm this reading.

This commentary is well-written and suitable for use by a broad audience — a good example of how scholarship can serve the Church.

Three themes from this commentary stood out to me particularly.

First, the danger of heterodoxy. Paul tells Timothy, “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3). False doctrines “promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work — which is by faith” (verse 4). False teachers have a pecuniary motive: “the love of money [which] is a root of all kinds of evil” (6:10). 

It is difficult to read these warnings without thinking of the prosperity gospel.

Second, the necessity of moral leadership. First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 outline the requirements for church leaders. Those chapters prioritize the character qualities necessary for those who lead the church as elders, deacons or overseers. Those qualities stand in sharp contrast to the financial motive of false teachers.

The moral failures of high-profile ministers in recent years illustrates the Church’s ongoing need for ethical leaders.

Third, the Church’s social responsibilities. Good news produces good works. Paul writes Titus, “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:8). This good is social, not just personal. First Timothy 5:1–16 shows how the Early Church instituted a relief program for widows, one of the ancient world’s most at-need populations.

Today, many opponents of Christianity don’t care whether Christianity is true. They want to know that it is good. The pastoral epistles place good works in the center of a congregation’s ministry.

A Pentecostal Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles is the second installment in the Pentecostal Old and New Testament Commentaries series edited by American AG scholars David C. Hymes (OT) and Christopher L. Carter (NT). The first is Australian AG scholar Jon K. Newton’s commentary on Revelation. Keep an eye out for forthcoming titles in this series!

I close with this recommendation of Kay and Moxon’s commentary: It is well-written and suitable for use by a broad audience — a good example of how scholarship can serve the Church.


Book Reviewed

William K. Kay and John R.L. Moxon, A Pentecostal Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2022).


This review appears in the summer 2022 issue of Influence magazine.


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