Can thinking about who wrote a book of the Bible add depth to our understanding of it?

Have you ever heard of the missionary epistles?


What about the pastoral epistles?

That rings a bell, doesn’t it? 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are often referred to as the pastoral epistles. Their focus is church leadership and church life, but the primary reason they’re called the pastoral epistles is because they were not letters to churches, like so many other books of the New Testament, but personal letters to pastors.

But what else are they?

Tradition tells us Timothy was a pastor, and there’s one historical reference that indicates he was.

At the same time, the Bible tells us Timothy was a co-worker of Paul — that’s a term Paul reserved for folks working with him to spread the gospel, or missionaries. Paul also called Timothy an evangelist, which means someone who spreads the Good News. Again, that’s a New Testament term for missionaries.

Is that important?

Consider this. We call them the pastoral epistles because we believe the books are best understood as letters to pastors. But does it change our understanding if we think of them as letters to missionaries? Are these, perhaps, not so much written to direct pastors in leading an existing church, but instruction for establishing a thriving church? We ought to at least have the context to consider the possibility.

Should we also consider who wrote the books?

Of course. That’s an important principle of Bible study. Many commentators point out that Paul wrote them near the end of his ministry.

Shouldn’t we also note that Paul was a missionary, and this was near the end of ministry as a missionary?

Should that affect how we understand the books?

Or what about the fact that Paul, a missionaries, wrote more than a quarter of the New Testament? Luke, his protégé and co-worker — and fellow missionary — wrote another quarter. Mark, whom we see in Acts assisting in Paul’s missionary work, wrote another book.

Together, the letters of these missionaries account for more than half of the New Testament.

Consider the book of Philippians. You’ve probably heard teaching from Philippians for years. But has anyone mentioned that the book was written by Paul, a missionary, as a thank-you letter for the Philippians’ large and generous gift to his work?

That should make a difference in how we understand Philippians, as well as all the other books written by Paul, Luke and Mark. They were missionaries.

Remembering that fact as you read the New Testament will bring you a greater and richer understanding of God’s Word. I think you’ll begin to see the Great Commission for what it is — a central theme of the New Testament.