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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
2 Timothy

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4

Book Overview - 2 Timothy

by John Dummelow

Introduction

1. Authorship. There can be no doubt that the author of 1 Timothy is the author of 2 Timothy. The evidence, external and internal, is almost the same for each, and the similarity of style and subject is unmistakable. If, therefore, St. Paul is the author of 1 Timothy, he is the author of 2 Timothy.

2. Reader. Undoubtedly the same as in the case of 1 Timothy.

3. Date and place of composition. It was written shortly before the Apostle's martyrdom from his prison in Rome, probably in the early part of 67 or 68 a.d.

4. Contents and purpose. The Apostle's primary object in the Epistle is to beg Timothy to come to him, as he was in prison and forlorn, most of his ordinary companions being gone elsewhere, and he needed the human comfort of a friend. The secondary purpose of the Epistle is to urge Timothy, once again, to maintain the faith entrusted to him for safe custody. It may be argued that the teaching of the two Epistles is compatible with a theory of legitimate development, but it certainly is not with any theory which would justify external additions to the once for all delivered faith, or subtractions from it, or any rearrangement of it which should throw the truths insisted upon by the Apostles into the background, and open the way for new dogmas.

A third object of the Epistle is to give further instructions as to Church organisation, similar in kind to those already given in the earlier letter. The position of Timothy and Titus was such as peculiarly to demand these apostolic instructions. They are the link between the Apostles and the local Church officers, and their appointment may be regarded as indicating a transition stage between government by Apostles and government by diocesan bishops. Episcopacy seems to have arisen in two ways: (1) From within the body of presbyters, by the appointment of a permanent president, to whom the title of 'bishop' or 'overseer,' originally shared by all the presbyters (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1), was gradually restricted. Whether this development took place within the apostolic age, or a little later, is a disputed question. It was, at any rate, well advanced by the beginning of the second century. (2) By the gradual settlement in local Churches of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and other apostolic men, naturally more highly regarded than presbyters. Thus St. John is said to have settled in Asia, St. Mark at Alexandria, Titus in Crete. The 'Didache,' which belongs to the first, or early part of the second, century, contemplates the possibility of the settlement of a 'prophet' in a local Church, where he was honoured as a 'chief priest,' and received the first-fruits of all produce (ch. xiii). If this dual origin of the episcopate be admitted, it furnishes an explanation of the fact that there was some hesitation in the early Church as to whether bishops were an order completely distinct from presbyters. In those Churches in which the episcopate had its origin within the presbyterate, there would be a tendency to regard the bishop as of one order with the presbyters, and of comparatively limited authority; but in those Churches in which the episcopate had originated in the settlement of an apostle or apostolic man such as Timothy or Titus, there would be a tendency to regard the bishop as of a higher order than the presbyters, and to assign to him a distinctive position and authority.

The Pastoral Epistles

General Introduction

The two Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus constitute a group by themselves, and are usually called 'The Pastoral Epistles,' because they deal to a large extent with matters of Church organisation and government. That they were all written by one author is generally agreed, not only by those who accept the tradition that St. Paul was the writer, but also by those who reject it. It will be convenient, therefore, to discuss the points common to all three, before dealing with each in detail.

1. Authorship. The authorship of these Epistles is one of the questions of NT. criticism upon which scholars are sharply divided. The objections urged against the Pauline authorship are of different kinds and varying degrees of weight, and may be briefly enumerated as follows: (a) Historical difficulties; (b) References to heresies; (c) Church organisation; (d) The description of St. Paul in the salutations; (e) Language and style.

(a) Historical Difficulties. It is impossible to find a place for these Epistles in the scheme of St. Paul's life, which is derived from the narrative in Acts and the references in the acknowledged Epistles. The journeys to which the Apostle makes reference are inconsistent with his movements as recorded in Acts. According to 1 Timothy 1:3, Timothy had been left at Ephesus while Paul proceeded to Macedonia; but in Acts 19:22; Acts 20:1; Timothy was sent from Ephesus to Macedonia in advance of St. Paul. In 1 Timothy 3:14 the Apostle intended to return to Timothy at Ephesus; but in Acts 20:4; Timothy was with him in Greece, and in Acts 20:14, Acts 20:17; St. Paul did not go to Ephesus, but sent for the Ephesian elders to meet him at Miletus. So in 2 Timothy 4:20 the reference to Trophimus cannot relate to the journey recorded in Acts 20:17 to Acts 21:8, for Trophimus accompanied the Apostle to Jerusalem (Acts 21:29). Again, the references in Titus 1:5; Titus 3:12, where St. Paul speaks of leaving Titus in Crete and asks him to meet him at Nicopolis, cannot be connected with the only occasion on which the Apostle visited Crete according to Acts (Acts 27:8), viz. when he was a prisoner en route for Rome, where Acts leaves him still under arrest.

These difficulties, however, are obviated when the tradition is accepted that St. Paul after his first imprisonment (Acts 28:30; Philippians 1:13) was set free in 62 or 63 a.d., and arrested again in 66 or 67. In the First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (about 97 a.d.) the writer speaks of St. Paul having 'gone to the extreme limit of the west.' This expression in a letter written at Rome seems to point to Spain. St. Paul had once hoped to visit that country (Romans 15:24); and in the 'Muratorian Fragment,' a document of date about 200 a.d., it is indicated that he had done so: a tradition which is mentioned later by Eusebius in the 4th cent., and Chrysostom in the 5th cent. If the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles is established on other grounds, they give powerful testimony to St. Paul's activity during the period after Acts.

(b) References to Heresies. Many critics see in these Epistles, and especially in 1 Tim (1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 1 Timothy 6:20), references to heresies which prevailed widely in the Church during the 2nd cent., and are classed under the name of Gnosticism. These heresies dealt with solutions of the problem of evil; they combined ideas from Jewish and heathen sources with Christian truth; they tended to represent Christ's earthly career and sufferings as only seeming, not real (Docetism); and they exalted knowledge (gnosis, whence the name) as a special privilege of the few, and superior to faith, the possession of the many.

The references to heresies in the Pastoral Epistles, however, are extremely vague and indefinite. There is no reference to Docetism, such as we find in 1 John (1 John 4:1-3), supposed to have been written at Ephesus before 100 a.d.; and the references to false doctrines in 1 Timothy 4:1-4; 1 Timothy 6:20 do not seem to require a 2nd-cent. date, or to conflict with the Pauline authorship any more than the references to heresies in Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:23 require that Epistle to be denied to St. Paul, and assigned to the 2nd cent. In the early Church, composed, as almost every congregation was, of elements diverse in race, education, and religion, it is not surprising to find the germs of false doctrine from the beginning, showing themselves sometimes in tendencies towards Jewish legalism (1 Timothy 1:7; Titus 1:14; Titus 3:9), as was the case among the Galatians at an earlier date; sometimes in philosophical speculations drawn from heathen sources (1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:20), as was previously the case among the Colossians. The heresies indicated in the Pastoral Epistles seem largely Jewish in origin. They are speculations about the Law (1 Timothy 1:7-10 cp. 2 Timothy 3:14-17), about genealogies (1 Timothy 1:14; Titus 3:9), about Jewish fables (Titus 1:14, and probably also 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:7); and while the ascetic practices (1 Timothy 4:1-4) which some taught may have had some heathen elements, they are quite as likely to have been suggested by exaggerations of Jewish ceremonialism: see Romans 14:3; 1 Corinthians 8; Colossians 2:16, and cp. 1 Timothy 4:4 with Acts 10:11-15.

(c) Church Organisation. It has been objected to St. Paul's authorship of these letters that the indications of Church organisation are such as point to a time later than that of St. Paul. Titus was appointed to 'ordain elders in every city' (2 Thessalonians 1:5) in Crete; and both he and Timothy were instructed as to the qualifications of 'the bishop' (Titus 1:7-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Timothy was also given instructions regarding the deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-10). The organisation, however, does not seem when examined to be more developed than was necessary in the Churches almost from the beginning. Deacons had to be appointed at a very early date in the Church at Jerusalem-although the name was not then given them, the corresponding verb is used of their work—(Acts 6:4); and elders were appointed by St. Paul in every Church in Galatia on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:23); while at Ephesus, at the end of his third journey, they were evidently a recognised body (Acts 20:17) entrusted with the duties of overseeing and teaching the flock (Acts 20:28). Nor is the term 'the bishop' (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7) necessarily an indication of a post-apostolic date. For (1) it is largely held that the terms 'bishop' (episcopos) and 'elder' (presbuteros) are used synonymously in these Epistles, as they undoubtedly were at an earlier period (Acts 20:28 cp. Philippians 1:1); and (2) even if, as is also influentially maintained, 'the bishop' here means the principal minister of the Church, it would still be hazardous to pronounce the Epistles non-Pauline. Many good authorities trace back the beginnings of episcopacy to the apostolic age, and so it is by no means impossible that in an apostolic Epistle, written as late as 65-67 a.d., the term 'bishop' might occur in its later sense.

(d) Paul an Apostle. Another objection has been found in the fact that, in letters written to intimate friends and disciples, the writer should emphatically assert his apostleship. This trait, it is said, indicates that they were written by some one who was using the Apostle's name at a later time, as the Apostle himself did not mention his apostleship in letters written to those with whom he was on friendly terms, whether churches or individuals (Philippians 1:1; Philemon 1:1). But these Pastoral Epistles are not, properly speaking, private letters. They were probably intended to be read to the Churches: 'the author is writing with his eye on the community'; and the fact that heresy and incipient faction were to be guarded against, sufficiently explains the assertion of apostolic dignity.

(e) Language and Style. The difference in language and style which exists between these Epistles and the undoubted letters of the Apostle is felt by many to be a serious objection to their genuineness. It is impossible here to enter into details; but there are a great many words and phrases found in these books, which are absent from the other writings of St. Paul, and there are over a hundred and seventy words used which are not elsewhere present in NT. A number of these words are, of course, necessitated by the fact that new subjects are here discussed; but there are many which cannot be thus explained. And on this ground alone many refer the Epistles to a later writer, who, according to some, has incorporated in them (especially in 2 Tim) fragments of genuine lost letters of St. Paul.

The argument from language, however, is by no means conclusive. The differences from the other Pauline Epistles in language and style may be the consequence of lapse of time. As the Apostle became older and travelled over new ground, meeting with new experiences, and making new converts, it would not be wonderful if he gained a wider command of language, and adopted a different mode of expression, according to the necessities of the case. As Farrar points out ('St. Paul': Excursus 27), 'St. Paul was the main creator of theological language.' He 'had to find the correct and adequate expression for conceptions which as yet were extremely unfamiliar. Every year would add to the vocabulary, and the harvest of new expressions would always be most rich where truths already familiar were brought into collision with heresies altogether new.' It has recently been ascertained by an examination in detail of about two hundred words which are not elsewhere found in the NT. that none of them had its origin later than St. Paul, that nearly half of them are found in the Septuagint, that over fifty are found in classical writers and writers who flourished not later than St. Paul, and that almost all the rest can be explained as necessitated by new subjects, or formed from Pauline or biblical words, or as otherwise consistent with the apostolic authorship. The argument from language would be valid and conclusive had it been shown that a number of words used in these Epistles did not come into use until after St. Paul's day. The fact that none can be shown to be of later date, but that almost all can be proved to be contemporaneous with the Apostle, indicates that there is nothing in the language of the Pastorals to conflict with their claims to be St. Paul's. It may be added that even critics adverse to the Pauline authorship recognise in these letters the reflexions of thoughts and ideas characteristic of the Apostle. Many think they see incorporated in them reminiscences of the Apostle and private notes he had written to companions and friends (e.g. 2 Timothy 1:15-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-22; Titus 3:12-13), and describe them as Pauline, though not by the Apostle himself. Advocates of a 2nd-cent. date admit that a detailed comparison of the Pastorals with the letters of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp, exhibits the former as 'astonishingly superior': and acknowledge that the writer was saturated with the contents of the genuine Epistles of St. Paul. Apart, therefore, from the historical and internal difficulties which have been dealt with, the Epistles suggest the apostolic authorship, and bear the marks of St. Paul's personality; and as these difficulties seem all to be capable of explanation, we need have little hesitation in receiving them for what they profess to be.

2. The External Evidence for the Pastorals is both early and good. They were probably made use of in the Epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp in the first quarter of the 2nd cent.; Irenæus (circ. 180) quotes from 1 Tim as a genuine letter of St. Paul; and they seemed to have been known to the writer of the letter from Vienne and Lyons about the same date. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, the African contemporaries of Irenæus, also speak of them as St. Paul's. Clement of Rome, who flourished in the end of the 1st and beginning of the 2nd cent., has many parallels to passages in the Pastorals; and, though some scholars think that this arises from their origin in a similar atmosphere, and amid a common phraseology, it is quite as likely that the similarities are due to Clement's acquaintance with the contents of these letters. Marcion, the Gnostic of the 2nd cent., omits these Epistles from his collection of authoritative Christian writings, and that, too, although he was 'a Pauline enthusiast,' accepting only St. Luke's Gospel, and the other ten Epistles of St. Paul. But Marcion was bound to reject these letters, if he was to save his doctrine, which they condemned by implication, root and branch; and no argument against their genuineness can be based upon the evidence of so interested and so prejudiced a witness. The external evidence therefore goes to support the view that St. Paul was the author.

3. Date. Accepting the Pauline authorship, we may conclude that these Epistles were written during the interval between the first and the second imprisonment of St. Paul at Rome. The Apostle arrived in Rome (Acts 28:16) probably early in the year 59. He was a prisoner there, dwelling in his own hired house (Acts 28:16, Acts 28:30) for two years. There the Acts of the Apostles leaves him. His appeal, however, seems to have been sustained and himself afterwards set at liberty. If he visited Spain, it must have been immediately after his release. Subsequently he revisited the scene of his earlier labours in Macedonia, and possibly in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). Timothy had been in Ephesus for some time, and the Apostle asked him to remain there for a longer period. To instruct him further regarding his action in the difficult situation he had to face, St. Paul wrote the First Epistle to him from Macedonia, perhaps in 65 or 66. About the same time, or very soon after, he wrote the Epistle to Titus. From it we learn that Titus was in Crete, where he had been left by the Apostle (2 Thessalonians 1:5), who had visited the island probably on his way to Macedonia. St. Paul asked him to join him in the winter of the same year at Nicopolis. From Nicopolis St. Paul returned to Rome, whether under arrest or of his own will we cannot tell; but if he arrived a free man he was very soon a prisoner. From prison he wrote the Second Epistle to Timothy asking him to come to him (2 Timothy 4:9). Where Timothy was at that time does not appear. He seems to have left Ephesus, otherwise he would have known of Trophimus having been invalided at Miletus, which was close by, and also of the visit of Tychicus (2 Timothy 4:12, 2 Timothy 4:20). The Apostle felt that he was nearing his end (2 Timothy 4:6-7); he had already appeared before his judges (2 Timothy 4:16), but he evidently expected to be condemned. The Second Epistle to Timothy was thus written shortly before the Apostle's martyrdom in 67 or 68.

4. Church Organisation. The state of Church organisation exhibited in these Epistles is exactly what might be expected to have existed in the later years of St. Paul's life. When the Apostle in his first missionary operations had made a number of converts in any town or district sufficient to constitute a congregation, he appointed presbyters to minister and rule in it (Acts 14:23), perhaps also, as many maintain, a leading or presiding presbyter (episcopos) with special authority—all of them looking to the Apostle as their superior. When he, however, was no longer able himself to visit and control the various presbyters, and set in order the things that might be amiss, he selected one of his companions and assistants to act in his stead. This was the state of things in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and Crete (Titus 1:5). St. Paul had appointed Timothy and Titus to be his delegates in these places, though their duty in that capacity may only have been temporary (2 Timothy 4:9, 2 Timothy 4:21; Titus 3:12).

One of their duties was to appoint presbyters (elders) and (if presiding presbyters had been already introduced) bishops in these Churches (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:3-9), who were to bear rule over the brethren (1 Timothy 5:17), and to teach and preach (1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9). The functions of these officers, however, are not minutely detailed: it is their character upon which the Apostle dwells. The qualities in which they are to be preëminent are moral qualities, and they are to be held in honour in proportion to their diligence induty and faithfulness in teaching (1 Timothy 5:17).

Besides them, there were to be deacons appointed, whose duties would be much the same as those of the deacons appointed in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the Church (Acts 6:1-6). They would have charge of the temporal affairs of the Church, but might, like Stephen, also have part in purely spiritual work. The Apostle in their case also dwells not upon their functions, but upon their character (1 Timothy 3:8). Perhaps also deaconesses were appointed, charged with the care of the women in the Church and with the duty of commending the gospel to women outside its pale (1 Timothy 3:11, where many translate 'their wives,' RV 'women,' as 'deaconesses': see note there).

5. Christian Doctrine. Much stress is laid by the Apostle upon the proclamation of the true faith. Exception has been taken to the genuineness of the Epistle on the ground of the Apostle's insistence upon sound doctrine. But nothing could be more natural, as nothing was more necessary, than that emphasis should be laid upon doctrine, when heresy was rampant, and that the importance of the truth should be asserted in presence of false teaching. In any case, the doctrines taught are doctrines which St. Paul was continually insisting upon: God's desire that all men should be saved (cp. 1 Timothy 2:4 with Romans 3:29; Romans 10:12); Christ's manifestation as our Saviour, and His giving Himself as a ransom (1 Timothy 2:6); His death and resurrection (2 Timothy 2:8, 2 Timothy 2:11; 2 Timothy 4:8); our spiritual union with Him (2 Timothy 2:11-12; 2 Timothy 3:11); salvation not of works, but of free grace (Titus 3:5), etc. So in characteristically Pauline fashion practical teaching is closely connected with doctrinal, and the moral aspect of faith in Christ is impressed upon the recipients of the letters. It is doubtless important to 'hold fast the form of sound words,' but it is because the results of 'sound doctrine' are manifest in life and conduct (1 Timothy 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 2:1-2). A feature of the Epistles is the recurrence of the phrase 'Faithful is the saying,' used to introduce maxims of truth or duty. This expression occurs five times, viz. 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Timothy 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8. It would seem to point to the fact that favourite sayings or watchwords were current among the Christians by this time—perhaps extracts from manuals of instruction, which had already begun to be prepared for the use of the presbyters in preparing converts for baptism—which were quoted by the Apostle.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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