The term ‘Pastoral Epistles’, under which these three NT Epistles attributed to St Paul are generally known, dates from the 18th cent. Since the early 19th cent., there has been increasing agreement that the situation reflected in the Epistles is that of a period later than the lifetime of St Paul, though they contain earlier traditions; their Pauline authorship is generally denied.
The chief subject is the organization of a Christian ministry able to combat false doctrines, which seem to have included elements of Jewish speculation and an asceticism incompatible with belief in God's creation. Their witness to the development of Church organization is important, but ambiguous. ‘Bishops’ appear to be synonymous with ‘elders’ in Tit. 1: 5–7, but the reference to ‘the bishop’ (singular) in 1: 7 may indicate a development in the direction of the monarchical bishop found in the writings of St Ignatius. Similarly, it is not clear whether ‘deacon’ is used as a non-technical term meaning ‘helper, assistant’ or whether it denotes a grade in the order of ministry. In each case, interest centres on the moral qualifications of the officials, not on their function.