Thursday, December 10, 2009

Introduction to 1 and 2 Timothy

Paul authored three pastoral letters, two to Timothy and one to Titus (although all three, and especially 1 Timothy) could be seen as written to their entire congregations), late in his life. They guide Timothy and Titus in the administration of local congregations, namely at Ephesus and Crete, especially to more readily combat the false teaching that was taking place in both locations. Paul describes how church government is to be carried out, noting the character traits and behaviors of elders (bishops, presbyters, or overseers) and deacons, including how they ought to carry out their roles. Sound doctrine is repeatedly emphasized, and Paul throws in snippets of glorious doctrinal truth within each of these practical treatises.

The first century writing of Clement (95 AD) implies Paul’s martyrdom in Rome after his fourth missionary journey (maybe even to Spain), though Luke’s book of Acts leaves us with Paul under house arrest in Rome after his third mission trip. Tradition suggests (from the 4th century historian, Eusebius), along with Philippians 1:25-26 and Philemon 22, that Paul was released, continued his labors, and was re-imprisoned in Rome unto death by beheading under Nero. The release would have come in 62 AD, and his 4th journey may have started in Crete (Titus 1:5), extended to Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), and included a brief visit to both Colossae (Philemon 22) and Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3; Philippians 1:25-26). Paul may have also made it all the to Spain (Romans 15:24-26), Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), back to Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:14,15, 4:13), and through Troas (2 Timothy 4:3), Miletus, and Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20), en route to final imprisonment in Rome (2 Timothy 1:8,12; 2:9; 4:6-7,16). Paul’s death was likely around 68 AD. Thus 1 Timothy and Titus were written around 62-64 AD. 2 Timothy was written later, the last of Paul’s canonical epistles, between 64-68 AD.

The son of a Gentile father, Timothy was from Lystra (Acts 16:1); his Jewish mother and grandmother (Eunice and Lois, respectively) likely converted to Christianity during Paul’s first visit to the region (2 Timothy 1:5). They taught Timothy and were most certainly influential throughout his youth. Timothy was circumcised during Paul’s second mission trip (Acts 16:3) and likely also ordained to ministry through the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 1:18, 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6, 2:2) around the same time; Timothy’s baptism is noted in 1 Timothy 6:12. Timothy was with Paul or serving alongside Paul as his protégé for the rest of Paul’s life (2nd, 3rd, and part of the 4th mission trip – 15-18 years).

Considered as Timothy’s spiritual father (Philippians 2:22), Paul called him his true son (1 Timothy 1:2,18; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 1:2, 2:1). As Paul’s co-worker for the faith, Timothy represented Paul in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2,6), Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17, 16:10), Philippi (Philippians 2:19,23), and Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), and perhaps elsewhere. Timothy may have been shy, fearful, nervous, and/or anxious, perhaps due to his youth, health, and/or inexperience, as Paul often encourages him and his audiences to help him in regard to these areas. We read of Timothy’s release from prison in Hebrews 13:23, but we really don’t know what happened to him after that (post 2 Timothy).

Paul wrote 1 Timothy – perhaps using Luke as a scribe (note similar styles to Luke and Acts) – from Macedonia, having left Timothy in Ephesus to combat false teachers, whom he had prophesied would arise. Paul spent three years there (Acts 19; 20:31), but it was a hard place. The false teachers had either come from within or arisen to leadership within the church from outside, perhaps by appealing to the women of the congregation, which explains why Paul addresses his concerns for the women so frequently in this letter.

Finally, some of the points of interest in 2 Timothy include the fact that Paul had no support at his preliminary hearing in Rome; he knew the trial would come and result in his execution. His friends left him, perhaps for good reason, to carry on his work, but others may have left him out of fear, abandoning the faith in persecution under Nero. Nevertheless, we find Timothy still in Ephesus combating false teachers, who likely exhibited an early form of Gnostic legalism. Paul wrote 2 Timothy to encourage Timothy in this endeavor and to invite him to visit Paul one last time, before it was too late. Paul, never lacking in sound doctrine or the exhortation to exhibit sound doctrine, was ready to die, confident in God, unashamed of his faithful labor for the gospel, and sure that God would rescue him from death (2 Timothy 3:11; 4:17), if even through death (2 Timothy 4:8,18).

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