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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
2 Timothy

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4

Book Overview - 2 Timothy

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to 2Timothy

Section 1. Time and Place of Writing the Epistle

There has been much diversity of sentiment on the question when this Epistle was written. That it was written at Rome, and when the apostle was imprisoned there, is the unanimous opinion of all who have written on the Epistle, and indeed is apparent on the face of it; see 2 Timothy 1:8, 2 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 4:6. But whether it was written during his first imprisonment there, or during a second imprisonment, is a question, on which critics even now are by no means agreed. The most respectable names may be found on each side of this question, though the common opinion has been that it was during a second imprisonment. Of this opinion are Mosheim, Michaelis, Benson, Mill, Macknight, LeClerc, Paley, Stuart, Clarke, and Doddridge. The reasons for this may be seen at length in Hug‘s Introduction, pp. 761-763, Macknight, and in Paley‘s Horae Paulinae. Dr. Lardner, Baronius, Witsius, Lightfoot, Hammond, Hug, Hemsen, and others, maintain that it was written during the first imprisonment, and that it was sent about the same time as the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. The reasons for this opinion may be found in Hug‘s Introduction, pp. 556-559, and in Lardner, vol. 6, pp. 38-72. It is not consistent with the design of these Notes to go at length into an examination of this question, and it is not material in order to an exposition of the Epistle.

After considering the reasonings of Lardner and Hug to prove that this Epistle was written during Paul‘s first imprisonment at Rome - that is, as they suppose, during his only imprisonment there, and not long after the First Epistle was written - it seems to me still that there are insuperable difficulties in such a view, and that the evidence is clear that it was during a second imprisonment. The reasons for this are briefly the following:

(1) In the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, written during his first imprisonment, Paul confidently looked forward to a release, and to a speedy departure from Rome. In this, he had no such expectation. Thus, he tells the Philippians Philemon 2:24, “I trust in the Lord, that I myself shall come shortly.” In the Epistle to Philemon Philemon 1:22, he says, “But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.” In this Epistle, however, the author had no such expectation; 2 Timothy 4:6, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”

(2) in 2 Timothy 4:16, the apostle uses the following language: “At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all forsook me.” It is true that this may refer to a hearing which he had had before Nero during the same imprisonment at Rome in which this Second Epistle was written; but the most natural interpretation is to suppose that he had had one hearing, and had been discharged, and that the imprisonment of which he speaks in this Epistle was a second one. This seems to me to be confirmed by what he says in the next verse: “Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” Here it appears:

(a)that he had been delivered, on that occasion, from death - “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion,” which is equivalent to saying that he was discharged;

(b)that after that discharge he was permitted to preach the gospel - “that by me the preaching might be fully known;”

(c)that he had been permitted after that to travel and preach “and that all the Gentiles might hear,” which is just such an expression as he would use on the supposition that he had been discharged, and been permitted to go abroad and preach the gospel extensively, and is not such an expression as he could have used if he had been imprisoned but once.

(3) the expression occurring in 2 Timothy 4:20, “Erastus ‹abode‘ at Corinth,” implies that he had made a second journey to Rome. The word rendered “abode” - ἔμεινεν emeinen- is such as would be used where two were traveling together, and where one of them chose to remain at a certain place. It implies that, at the time referred to, the two were together, and that one chose to go on, and the other to remain. But it is capable of very clear proof that, when Paul was sent to Rome by Festus 2 Timothy 4:21. But how could it be a reason for this urgency to say that, “some five years before,” he had been forsaken by one fellow-laborer, and had been obliged to leave another one sick on the way?

(4) Similar remarks may be made respecting what Paul says in the close of the same verse 2 Timothy 4:20; “Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” Paul, when sent by Festus to Rome, did not stop at Miletus; for the course which the ship took on that occasion is minutely described 2 Timothy 4:13, “The cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” This evidently refers to some recent affair. Can it be believed that these had been there for some five years, and that Paul had not needed them before? He was at Caesarea for two years. He had abundant opportunity of sending for them. An article of wearing apparel, or books to study, or his own writings, he would be likely to need long before, and it is highly improbable that he should have suffered them to remain during this long period without sending for them.

(6) in the epistles which were written during Paul‘s first imprisonment, certain persons are referred to as being then with him, who are in this Epistle mentioned as absent. It is almost beyond a doubt that the Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon, were written during Paul‘s first imprisonment at Rome; see the Introduction to those epistles. In the Epistle to the Colossians, Colossians 1:1, Timothy is mentioned as being then with the apostle. When this was written, of course he was absent. In the same Epistle, Mark is mentioned as with Paul, and unites with him in the salutation to the Colossians 2 Timothy 4:10; when this Epistle was written, he was absent, for Timothy is ordered to bring him with him 2 Timothy 4:11. Demas was then with him Colossians 4:14; now he was absent, for Paul says, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica;” 2 Timothy 4:10. These circumstances make it quite clear that the Second Epistle to Timothy was not written during the imprisonment at Rome in which the Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, etc., were written, unless a change had taken place in the circumstances of the apostle, which we have no reason to suppose occurred. The probability, then, seems to be strong, that the apostle was imprisoned there a second time, and that the things referred to in this Epistle occurred then.

(7) to these circumstances should be added the fact, that many of the Fathers say that Paul was liberated from his first imprisonment, and afterwards traveled extensively in preaching the gospel. This testimony is borne by Eusebius, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and others; see Calmet‘s Dictionary, and Lives of the Apostles, by D. F. Bacon, New Haven, pp. 619-621. - If the supposition of a second imprisonment at Rome, during which this Epistle was written, is correct, then it was written probably not far from the year 65 a.d. Lardner, however, who supposes it was written during the first imprisonment, places its date in May, 61 a.d.; Hug, also, in the same year.

Section 2. The Place Where Timothy Was When the Epistle Was Addressed to Him

There can be little doubt that Timothy was at Ephesus at the time when this Epistle was addressed to him. The evidence for this opinion is thus stated by Lightfoot and others:

(1) Paul directs Timothy to salute the household of Onesiphorus, 2 Timothy 4:19. But it is evident, from 2 Timothy 1:18, that Onesiphorus was an Ephesian, and, as the direction is to salute his “household,” it may be argued with the more certainty that Timothy was then at Ephesus, the ordinary residence of the family of Onesiphorus.

(2) he directs Timothy to take Troas in the way as he came to him at Rome 2 Timothy 4:13, which was the way that Paul had gone to Ephesus 2 Corinthians 2:12; Acts 20:5, thus showing that this was the usual route of travel, and was a way which Timothy would naturally take in passing from Ephesus to Rome. It is true that this does not absolutely prove that he was at “Ephesus” - since, if he had been in any other part of the western portion of Asia Minor, the direction would have been the same - but it is a slight circumstance corroborating others.

(3) he warns him to beware of Alexander 2 Timothy 4:14, who we know was an Ephesian - 1 Timothy 1:20; Acts 19:33.

(4) in 2 Timothy 4:9, he gives direction to Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, and then adds 2 Timothy 4:12, “Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.” From this it would seem that one reason why he wished him then to come was, that he had appointed one to occupy his place there, so that he could leave without injury to the cause. But it would seem also probable that Paul was not in the habit of calling away a laborer from an important station without supplying his place. Thus, in Titus 3:12, he says, “When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me.” It may thence, be inferred that Timothy was at Ephesus at the time when Paul wrote to him, and that he had taken care that his place should not be left vacant, by the appointment of Tychicus to fill it when he should leave.

(5) it may be added, that the errors and vices which Timothy is directed to oppose, are the same which are referred to in the First Epistle, and it may be hence, inferred thai he was at the same place.

How long Timothy had been in Ephesus is not certainly known, and is not material to be known in order to a proper understanding of the Epistle. It does not appear, from the Acts, that he was with Paul during the two years in which he was in Caesarea, nor during his voyage to Rome; yet it is certain that he was in Rome when Paul wrote to the Philippians, to the Colossians, and to Philemon, because he is named in the titles to those Epistles. In Hebrews 13:23, Paul says that Timothy was “set at liberty,” or, more probably, “sent away” (see notes on that verse), but to what place he had gone is not mentioned. Nothing would be more natural, however, than that he should visit Ephesus again, and it is not improbable that Paul would leave him there when he again visited Rome.

Section 3. The Occasion on Which the Epistle Was Written

The Epistle was evidently written when the apostle was expecting soon to be put to death; 2 Timothy 4:6-8. The main object of writing it seems to have been to request Timothy to come to him as speedily as possible; 2 Timothy 4:9. But, in doing this, it was natural that Paul should accompany the request with such counsel as Timothy needed, and such as it was proper for Paul to give in probably the last letter that he would write to him. The particular reason why the apostle desired the presence of Timothy seems to have been, that nearly all the others on whom he might have supposed he could rely in a time of trial, had left him. Thus, he says that Demas had forsaken him; Crescens had gone to Galatia; Titus to Dalmatia, and Tychicus he had himself sent to Ephesus; 2 Timothy 4:10-12. No one remained with him but Luke 2 Timothy 4:11, and he was, therefore, desirous that Timothy and Mark should be with him; 2 Timothy 4:11. He did not ask their presence merely that they might sustain him in his trials, but that they might aid him in the work of the ministry 2 Timothy 4:11, for it would seem that all hope of doing good in Rome was not closed.

If the view of the time when this Epistle was written which has been taken in this introduction, is correct, and if this is the last Epistle which was written by the apostle Paul before his martyrdom, then it occupies a very important place in sacred canon, and is invested with great interest. It may be regarded as the dying counsels of the most eminent of the apostles to one who had just entered on the ministerial life. We should read it with the interest with which we do the last words of the great and the good. Then we feel that every word which they utter has a weight which demands attention. We feel that, whatever a man might do at other times, he will not trifle then. We feel that, having little time to express his wishes, he will select topics that lie nearest his heart, and that he deems most important. There is no more interesting position in which we can be placed, than when we sit down at such a man‘s feet, and listen to his parting counsels. To a young minister of the gospel, therefore, this Epistle is invaluable; to any and every Christian, it cannot fail to be a matter of interest to listen to the last words of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and to ponder his last written testimony in favour of that religion to the promulgation of which he had devoted his talents and his life.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, August 12th, 2020
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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