The Two Epistles of Paul to Timothy
- Recipients, Author and Time of Writing
- Subject and purpose of writing
- Contents (overview)
1. Recipients, Author and Time of Writing
Addressees of the Epistles
Timothy (his name meaning 'honouring God') was yet a young man (1 Tim. 4:12) but one of the most faithful co-labourers of the apostle Paul. He was the son of a Greek father but had a Jewish mother named Eunice. His mother and grandmother Lois had taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament from a child (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15).
On Paul's second missionary journey in the area of Derbe and Lystra this young believer came to the apostle's attention (around 51 to 54 AC). This young man was well reported of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2). During his first journey Paul had already evangelized this area and visited both these places twice (Acts 14: 1.8.21). Probably this is when Timothy had heard the gospel and believed it.
In both epistles we learn that the Lord Jesus had separated this young man for a special ministry. There had been prophecies regarding him indicating his special gift (1 Tim. 1:18). This gift (that of an evangelist - see 2 Tim. 4:5) was sealed by the laying on of the apostle's hands (2 Tim. 1:6). This is the only reference to laying on of hands in the NT. Timothy's gift was also respected by the elders with imposition of hands thereby showing that thaty identified with him (1 Tim. 4:14).
Timothy being the offspring of a heathen and a Jewess had not been circumcised as a child according to the Jewish custom (Gen. 17:10; Lev. 12:3). Paul therefore circumcised him in order that his heathen descent would not hinder his ministry in the gospel to the Jews (Acts 16:3; compare 1 Cor. 9:20).
Paul, Silas and Timothy continued together through Minor Asia to Macedonia where they preached the gospel first in Philippi and Thessalonica. From Berea Paul continued on his own to Athens. Later on Silas and Timothy followed (Acts 17:14; 1 Thess. 3:12). Paul was worried for the spiritual welfare of the young believers in Thessalonica and sent Timothy back to them (1 Thess. 3:1-6). Paul and Timothy only met again in Corinth (Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 1:1).
Timothy was again one of Paul's companions on the third missionary journey (around 54 to 58 AC). Together with Erastus Timothy was sent from Ephesus to Macedonia and on to Corinth. This visit is announced in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10). When Paul wrote the Second Epistle to the Corinthians Timothy was again with him. Paul had meanwhile reached Macedonia (2 Cor. 1:1; 9:2-4).
Paul then returned to Minor Asia by Macedonia after a three-months-stay in Greece, while Timothy went ahead with some other brethren and waited for him in Troas (Acts 20:2-6). Timothy then probably did not continue to Jerusalem but remained in Ephesus. This is the city where he worked in later years, following the request of the apostle.
During the apostle's imprisonment in Rome Timothy visited Paul in prison and he was with him when he wrote the epistles to Philemon, the Colossians and the Philippians (Philemon 1; Col. 1:1; Phil. 1:1). As the apostle himself was not able to visit he wrote of his intention to send Timothy to the Philippians (Phil. 2:19). We do not know whether and when this visit took place.
Heb. 13:23 tells us of Timothy's imprisonment but also of his liberation. We do not know any other details about it. Apart from this short mention (in Hebrews 13) the two Epistles to Timothy are the last biblical testimony to this faithful servant of Christ and co-worker of the Apostle Paul.
Timothy is the model (antitype) of a devoted and faithful servant of the Lord. Paul was full of praise for this companion and co-worker. In 1 Thess. 3:2 he calls Timothy 'our brother and minister of God and our fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ'. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians Paul calls him already his beloved son and faithful in the Lord who like himself worked in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10). Paul and Timothy worked together for about fifteen years. The warmest and dearest words Paul finds in Phil. 2:19-23: 'But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently, as soon as I shall see how it will go with me.'
Timothy, this young and slightly timid brother, was one of the few ones to remain faithful to the apostle when he was imprisoned and when many had departed from him. When Paul, following his release, visited some of the places he had worked in, he could confidently leave Timothy behind in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). He transmitted him in his first epistle the God-given instructions on the house of God, the church of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15). Although he hoped to go to Timothy shortly he probably felt that the Lord had another way for him (1 Tim. 3:14). These facts as well as the missing hint of an imprisonment prove that the apostle was at liberty.
In his second epistle however the apostle mentions several times his imprisonment and this with no prospect of liberation. On the contrary he knows that his time of departure (from this earth) is at hand (2 Tim. 4:6). He has fought the good fight, he has finished the course, he has kept the faith and his view is only up to the Lord who will take him to Himself. The apostle encourages Timothy in his last epistle to fulfil his ministry which he up to now had mostly shared with him. He encouraged him to remain faithful despite the first signs of departure (from the truth) in the early church (2 Tim. 4:5). – The first epistle to Timothy has, therefore, been written around 63 to 64 AC and the second around 66 to 67 AC.
The First Epistle to Timothy (6 chapters)
a) Subject and Purpose of Epistle
'These things write I unto you... that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth' (1 Tim. 3:14-15) These verses could be the heading of the First Epistle to Timothy.
Exactly in Ephesus Paul had proclaimed the whole purpose of God and in his epistle described the great privileges and blessings of the members of the body of Christ. Now he is instructing Timothy (who actually stays in Ephesus) in his first epistle in relation to the outward order of the church (whereas the first epistle to the Corinthians dealt with the inward order of the church). The truths written in the Epistle to Ephesus not more than three years ago had no need of being repeated (1 Tim. 1:3). The apostle pre-supposed these truths as known. This is also why the First Epistle to Timothy bears a totally different character from the Epistle to the Ephesians. First Timothy is neither directed to the believers nor to the whole church there but to a servant who had been charged and authorized by the apostle himself.
The following table shows some of the main differences:
|2. The Church|
|3. The Service|
First Timothy therefore is an epistle containing practical instructions for the life of the local churches.
In the first chapter Paul puts the sound teaching in contrast to the Law of Moses.
The second chapter deals with prayer (especially prayer of men) and with the position of the Christian woman.
Chapter three deals with the local charges of elders or overseers and of deacons.
In chapter four the apostle prophesies the rise of false teachings and he admonishes Timothy to correct comportment and example.
The subject of chapter five is firstly the provision of widows among the believers and then again the ministry of elders.
Finally chapter six describes true godliness as living in devotion to the Lord and is also warning of covetousness.
Elders and Deacons
Elders (Greek: presbyteros) or overseers (Greek: episkopos) are two words for the same charge (or 'office', see Acts 20:17.28; Titus 1:5.7). Besides the New Testament also mentions the ministry of deacons (Greek: diaconos ). Read Acts 6. These are all ministries and duties which existed as proper offices among the different assemblies in the beginning.
The Jews had always had elders (Ex. 3:16; Ezra 10:14; Matt. 26:59; Acts 6:12). This is why we do not read of any appointing of elders into Jewish-Christian churches, although they existed there as well (Acts 11:30; 15:6). Among the Heathen-Christian churches elders were appointed by apostolic authority (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). The deacons were elected of the church and then confirmed by the apostles (Acts 6:1-6). The fact that elders and deacons are mentioned at the heading of an epistle once only (Phil. 1:1) does not point to an exception but more to a normal state of the churches. Elders and deacons however needed to prove good and therefore were only appointed after a certain time.
In the Post-Apostolic time (after the apostles' decease) men started to make out that the office of elder was different from the office of overseer. With this the foundation was laid for the hierarchy of offices in the churches. This hierarchy even boasts of 'Apostolic succession'. The Holy Scriptures however give no basis for such! On the contrary, when Paul bade farewell to the elders of the church in Ephesus he commended them and the church to God and to the word of his grace (Acts 20:32). The importance of offices in Christendom is much stressed whereas the diverse and various God-given gifts are thrust into the background. These gifts are evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11). Yet these will remain unto the fulfilment of the church (Eph. 4:13).
As far as we can see in the NT elders or overseers were appointed only by the apostles or their representatives. By this they received an authority wanted by God through which the outward order in the assemblies was upheld during the beginning. Nowadays nobody – and not even the church – possesses the authority to appoint anyone to such an office. God-given authority always comes from above and never from beneath. If the ministry of an elder cannot exist today as official chare / office with biblical authority the ministry still can be practised, with moral authority, by spiritual men and for the blessing and benefit of the believers.
c) Overview of Contents
• 1 Timothy 1 - Law and Grace
• 1 Timothy 2 - Prayer; Position of Women
• 1 Timothy 3 - Elders and Deacons
• 1 Timothy 4 - False and True Doctrine
• 1 Timothy 5 - Widows and Elders
• 1 Timothy 6 - Contentedness and Wealth
The Second Epistle to Timothy (4 chapters)
a) Subject and Purpose of Epistle
This second epistle which was written several years after the first draws a totally different picture before our eyes. Paul was a prisoner again and awaited death. But the condition of the believers had deteriorated. The assemlies which Paul had so carefully planted and nourished departed more and more from their source of life and strength, the Lord Jesus. But even if the house of God, the church, is in decay because the believers become unfaithful to their Lord, the Lord Jesus abides faithful: He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).
Paul saw that his young co-worker Timothy might be frightened and maybe despair at his spiritual father's death as he might see himself all by his own amidst the beginning decline of Christendom. This is why Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage and strengthen him by this farewell epistle.
Paul could no longer write of the house of God or the church of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15). The departure had so much progressed that he had to write of a great house with vessels to honour and some to dishonour (2 Tim. 2:20). In the first epistle Paul had given instructions regarding elders and deacons. This indicated the normal state of the churches. For he had himself as apostle and depute of the Lord appointed elders (see Acts 14:23; 20:17.28; Phil. 1:1). This second epistle however gives mostly personal exhortations to Timothy, such as the thrice repeated 'but you...' (3:10.14; 4:5).
But there is neither giving way nor resignation! However bad and difficult the time, the strength of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus remain the same forever. This is why the epistle has been an encouragement through the ages for those Christians who want to follow their Lord and Saviour faithfully.
'In Christ Jesus'
In spite of the decay of Christendom the Lord Jesus remains always the same. In Him everything is sure and stable. In this epistle we, therefore, find seven times the expression 'in Christ Jesus':
• Life (chap. 1:1)
• Saving Grace (chap. 1:9)
• Faith and Love (chap. 1:13)
• Keeping Grace (chap. 2:1)
• Salvation (chap. 2:10)
• Godly Living (chap. 3:12)
• Faith (chap. 3:15)
c) Overview of Contents
• 2 Timothy 1 - Sufferings of a Servant of the Lord
• 2 Timothy 2 - Ministry of a Servant of the Lord
• 2 Timothy 3 - Resources of a Servant at Decline of Christendom
• 2 Timothy 4 - A Faithful Servant and a Faithful Lord
Translation by Veronique Vries