1 & 2 Timothy and Titus
Craig Blomberg's review of "1 & 2 Timothy and Titus" from Africa Bible Commentary Series by Samuel M. Ngewa
Samuel M. Ngewa, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Africa Bible Commentary Series. Nairobi, Kenya: Word Alive (Hippo Books); Bukura, Nigeria: Africa Christian Textbooks; Accra, Ghana: Step Publishers; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009. xxii + 466 pp. Pap. ISBN 13: 978-9966-805-38-6.
In the first half of this decade, SIM began raising money to provide a kit of basic Western-produced Bible reference works for countless pastors in English-speaking parts of Africa. In 2006, Word Alive and Zondervan jointly published the one-volume Africa Bible Commentary, written entirely by Africans, with sporadic application for distinctively African contexts. Now, the best gift of all: the first volume in a projected series of commentaries on the entire Bible, also written entirely by Africans, with prolific application to the issues of their continent.
Sameul Ngewa, who trained at Trinity International University (M.Div.) and Westminster Theological Seminary (Th.M., Ph.D.) and is professor of New Testament at the Nariobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, has created a masterpiece, according to the purposes of the series, in this inaugural volume. Given the leadership needs today in Africa, the Pastoral Epistles are a splendid place to start.
The format of the series breaks the text into bite-size, preachable chunks of material, is clearly written for straightforward understanding by a wide range of readers, yet is fully abreast of all the major exegetical issues, with replete endnotes interacting with the major scholarly works on each, especially among the standard English-language commentaries. Exposition intersperses close analysis of the text, presentation of all the major options on disputed matters, judicious conclusions complete with rationale, and regular, incisive applications to issues of particular African concern. Yet there is little that Ngewa presents that cannot greatly illumine and challenge Christian living in any part of the world.
Ngewa adopts the standard evangelical reconstruction of the setting of the Pastorals: Paul is writing 1 Timothy and Titus to his junior colleagues in Ephesus and Crete after a putative release from his house-arrest in Rome, with which the book of Acts ends, and before a second imprisonment, during which he wrote 2 Timothy before his execution in the mid-to-late 60s. The mission of both men to put right, to the extent that they could, both theological and moral error, resonates well with the task of church leaders in contemporary Africa. Too many of its countries and their churches are rife with corruption and immorality and with heretical sects and offshoots of genuine Christianity constantly springing up. Recurring themes include the need for pastors to model humility rather than authoritarianism, intra-Christian co-operation rather than conflict, and the avoidance of syncretism, especially via the prosperity gospel. Respect for rulers and authorities at all levels should be inculcated, but never at the expense of violating God’s will as disclosed in the Scriptures.
On the vexed issue of gender roles in church, Ngewa interprets 1 Tim. 2:12 as Paul not permitting women to teach the overseers of the church. Influenced by the false teachers, the women “are not to assert that they already know everything and can teach others. They must allow the overseers to teach and correct them” (p. 53). In 2:15, “saved through childbirth” is best understood as the preservation from the heresy that women who “occupy themselves with childbearing and the challenges that go with it” (p. 56), as they live godly, Christian lives, will more likely experience. In neither text, however, does Paul exclude all women from all pastoral roles or offices. And he probably refers explicitly to women deacons in 3:11.
With respect to the overseer being the husband of one wife (3:2), “what Paul is saying is that those overseers who are married (as most of them are) must be faithful, and that those who are not married must display purity of character” (p. 62). Those who become Christians as polygamists need not put away all but their first wife, given the suffering and shame such a practice generally produces, but those who become believers before marrying should be instructed to take but one wife—for life. Under 4:10, Ngewa recognizes that malista can mean “namely” (not just “especially”) and appropriately takes the “all people” who are saved here to be the same as those who believe. Similarly, 5:17 is probably not distinguishing between teaching and ruling elders because of this same use of malista.
Not surprisingly, Ngewa stresses the role of suffering for the Christian in his comments on 2 Timothy more than most Western commentators. Indeed, his excellent summary of Paul’s message to Timothy here is worth citing in detail: “When you feel that your suffering for the gospel is more than you c an bear, remember our Lord Jesus Christ in whose life both suffering and glory went hand in hand. Remember me, your mentor, who does not mind being treated like a criminal if my only crime is my determination to preach the word. And remember that God is faithful even if you sometimes fail. Your goal should be to endure for the sake of Christ, our faithful Lord who has promised that we will reign with him” (p. 227).
Titus is particularly relevant for Africans, Ngewa observes, because it has many young and immature Christians just as Crete did in Paul’s day. The language of 1:12 (“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons”) does not justify stereotyping. By quoting and affirming the truth of a Cretan’s statement, Paul implicitly acknowledges there are exceptions to the generalization. Rather he is speaking about the deceivers of v. 10 in the way that someone today might refer to the frequent internet scams about earning millions of dollars for a small initial outlay of money as “Nigerian e-mails” (p. 348).
Exegetical glitches only rarely appear. Suggesting that service to Christ in 1 Tim. 1:12 means moving “so fast to carry out a duty that one leaves in a cloud of dust” because diakonia comes from dia (“through”) and konis (“dust”) is a classic example of the etymological fallacy (p. 26). The two or three witnesses of 5:19 are not eyewitnesses of an offense (often there are none) but those who witness (i.e., “testify”—from martureÅ) to the attempts at restoration (akin to Matt. 18:15-18) already attempted. And “patience” in 3:10 is not defined simply by reusing the word: “the ability not to lose patience when people are foolish. . .” (p. 281).
Affluent Westerners need to read this volume if only for the applications. The most poignant of all for me came under 1 Tim. 5:18 (“workers deserve their wages”) when Ngewa described returning to Africa after graduate school and being told what his wife’s and his salaries would be by the Western mission agency that would be paying them. When he explained about his extra needs due to resettling costs and having a baby, his request for a higher salary was denied because, as he explains, “any increase would make the gap between what we earned and the average pastor earned too large. . . . The irony of the situation is that the person who declined our request was a missionary who was requesting more than our salaries combined to support each of his children! (p. 128)”
Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament