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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

- 1 Timothy

by Adam Clarke

Preface to the First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy

In order to find out who this person was, it will be necessary to consult the Acts of the Apostles, where the first mention is made of him; and by collating what is there said with certain passages in the epistle, we shall find who he was, and the probable time in which the epistle was addressed to him.

Paul and Barnabas, in the course of their first apostolic journey among the Gentiles, came to Lystra, a city of Lycaonia, where they preached the Gospel for some time, and, though persecuted, with considerable success. See Acts 14:5, Acts 14:6. It is very likely that here they converted to the Christian faith a Jewess named Lois, with her daughter Eunice, who had married a Gentile, by whom she had Timothy, and whose father was probably at this time dead; the grandmother, daughter, and son living together.

Compare Acts 16:1-3 with 2 Timothy 1:5. It is likely that Timothy was the only child; and it appears that he had been brought up in the fear of God, and carefully instructed in the Jewish religion by means of the Holy Scriptures. Compare 2 Timothy 1:5 with 2 Timothy 3:15. It appears, also, that this young man drank into the apostle's spirit, became a thorough convert to the Christian faith, and that a very tender intimacy subsisted between St. Paul and him.

When the apostle came from Antioch, in Syria, the second time to Lystra, he found Timothy a member of the Church, and so highly reputed and warmly recommended by the Church in that place, that St. Paul took him to be his companion in his travels. Acts 16:1-3. From this place we learn that, although Timothy had been educated in the Jewish faith, he had not been circumcised, because his father, who was a Gentile, would not permit it. When the apostle had determined to take him with him, he found it necessary to have him circumcised, not from any supposition that circumcision was necessary to salvation, but because of the Jews, who would neither have heard him nor the apostle had not this been done: the Gospel testimony they would not have received from Timothy, because a heathen; and they would have considered the apostle in the same light, because he associated with such. See the notes on Acts 16:3.

It is pretty evident that Timothy had a special call of God to the work of an evangelist, which the elders of the Church at Lystra knowing, set him solemnly apart to the work by the imposition of hands; 1 Timothy 4:14. And they were particularly led to this by several prophetic declarations relative to him, by which his Divine call was most clearly ascertained. See 1 Timothy 1:18, and 1 Timothy 3:14. Some think that, after this appointment by the elders, the apostle himself laid his hands on him, not for the purpose of his evangelical designation, but that he might receive those extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit so necessary in those primitive times to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel. See 2 Timothy 1:6, 2 Timothy 1:7. Yet, it is likely that Timothy had not two ordinations; one by the elders of Lystra, and another by the apostle; as it is most probable that St. Paul acted with that πρεσβυτεριον or eldership mentioned 1 Timothy 4:14, among whom, in the imposition of hands, he would undoubtedly act as chief.

Timothy, thus prepared to be the apostle's fellow laborer in the Gospel, accompanied him and Silas when they visited the Churches of Phrygia, and delivered to them the decrees of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, freeing the Gentiles from the law of Moses, as a term of salvation. Having gone through these countries, they at length came to Troas, where Luke joined them; as appears from the phraseology of his history, Acts 16:10, Acts 16:11, etc. In Troas a vision appeared to Paul, directing them to go into Macedonia. Loosing therefore from Troas, they all passed over to Neapolis; and from thence went to Philippi, where they converted many, and planted a Christian Church. From Philippi they went to Thessalonica, leaving Luke at Philippi; as appears from his changing the phraseology of his history at Acts 16:40. We may therefore suppose, that at their departing they committed the converted at Philippi to Luke's care. In Thessalonica they were opposed by the unbelieving Jews, and obliged to flee to Berea, whither the Jews from Thessalonica followed them. To elude their rage, Paul, who was most obnoxious to them, departed from Berea by night to go to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy at Berea. At Athens, Timothy came to the apostle and gave him such an account of the afflicted state of the Thessalonian brethren, as induced him to send Timothy back to comfort them. After that Paul preached at Athens, hut with so little success that he judged it proper to leave Athens and go forward to Corinth, where Silas and Timothy came to him, and assisted in converting the Corinthians. And when he left Corinth they accompanied him, first to Ephesus, then to Jerusalem, and after that to Antioch, in Syria. Having spent some time in Antioch, Paul set out with Timothy on his third apostolical journey; in which, after visiting all the Churches of Galatia and Phrygia, in the order in which they had been planted, they came to Ephesus the second time, and there abode for a considerable time. In short, from the time Timothy first joined the apostle, as his assistant, he never left him except when sent by him on some special errand. And by his affection, fidelity, and zeal, he so recommended himself to all the disciples, and acquired such authority over them, that Paul inserted his name in the inscription of several of the letters which he wrote to the Churches, to show that their doctrine was one and the same. His esteem and affection for Timothy the apostle expressed still more conspicuously, by writing to him those excellent letters in the canon which bear his name; and which have been of the greatest use to the ministers of the Gospel ever since their publication, by directing them to discharge all the duties of their function in a proper manner.

The date of this epistle has been a subject of much controversy, some assigning it to the year 56, which is the common opinion; and others to 64 or 65. A great balance of probability appears to be in favor of this later date; and it appears to me that the arguments of Drs. Macknight and Paley are decisive in favor of the later date. The former, in his preface, gives a very clear view of the question.

In the third verse of the first chapter of this epistle the apostle says: "As I entreated thee to abide in Ephesus, when going into Macedonia, so do; that thou mayest charge some not to teach differently." From this it is plain,

1. That Timothy was in Ephesus when the apostle wrote his first letter to him;

2. That he had been left there by the apostle, who at parting with him entreated him to abide at Ephesus;

3. That this happened when Paul was going from Ephesus to Macedonia; and,

4. That he had entreated Timothy to abide in Ephesus, for the purpose of charging some teachers in that Church not to teach differently from the apostles.

In the history of the Acts of the Apostles there is no mention of Paul's going from Ephesus to Macedonia but once; viz. after the riot of Demetrius, Acts 20:1, for which reason Theodoret, among the ancients, and among the moderns, Estius, Baronius, Capellus, Grotius, Lightfoot, Salmasius, Hammond, Witsius, Lardner, Pearson, and others, have given it as their opinion, that the apostle speaks of that journey in his First Epistle to Timothy. Yet, if I am not mistaken, the following circumstance will show their opinion to be ill founded: -

1. When the apostle went from Ephesus to Macedonia, as related Acts 20:1, Timothy was not in Ephesus, having gone from that city into Macedonia with Erastus by the apostle's direction; Acts 19:22. And in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which was written after Timothy's departure from Ephesus, we are informed that he was to go from Macedonia to Corinth. 1 Corinthians 4:17 : "I have sent to you Timothy." 1 Corinthians 16:10, 1 Corinthians 16:11 : "If Timothy be come, take care that he be among you without fear. Send him forward in peace, that he may come to me, for I expect him with the brethren." But before Timothy returned from Corinth, the apostle left Ephesus and went into Macedonia, where the brethren above mentioned met him, 2 Corinthians 2:12, 2 Corinthians 2:13, having Timothy in their company; as is plain from his joining the apostle in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, which all agree was written from Macedonia, immediately after the brethren from Corinth gave the apostle an account of the success of his first letter. Wherefore, since Timothy was not in Ephesus when the apostle left the city after the riot, it could not be the occasion on which the apostle said to him: "As I entreated thee to abide in Ephesus, when going into Macedonia, so do." But the journey into Macedonia, of which he speaks, must have been some other journey not mentioned in the Acts. To remove this difficulty we are told that Timothy returned from Corinth to the apostle be lore his departure from Ephesus, and that he was left there after the riot; but that something happened, which occasioned him to follow the apostle into Macedonia; that there he joined him in writing his Second Epistle to the Corinthians; and, having finished his business in Macedonia, he returned to Ephesus and abode there, agreeably to the apostle's request. But as these suppositions are not warranted by the history of the Acts, Timothy's joining the apostle in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians may still be urged as a proof that he came with the brethren directly from Corinth to Macedonia. Farther, that Timothy did not go from Macedonia to Ephesus after joining the apostle in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, but returned with him to Corinth to receive the collections, is, I think, plain from Acts 20:4, where he is mentioned as one of those who accompanied Paul from Corinth to Jerusalem with the collections.

2. When the apostle wrote his First Epistle to Timothy, "he hoped to come to him soon," 1 Timothy 3:14; but from the history of the Acts it is certain that in no letter written to Timothy after the riot, till his first confinement in Rome, could the apostle say that he hoped to come to him soon. He could not say so in any letter written from Troas, the first place he stopped at after leaving Ephesus; for at that time he was going into Macedonia and Achaia to receive the collections for the poor from the Churches in these provinces. Neither could he say so after writing his Second Epistle to the Corinthians from Macedonia; for in that epistle he told the Corinthians he was coming to them with the Macedonian brethren, who were commissioned to attend him in his voyage to Jerusalem, with the collections, 2 Corinthians 9:4, and that he meant to sail directly from Corinth to Judea, 2 Corinthians 1:16. As little could he write to Timothy that he hoped to come to him soon, when he altered his resolution on the occasion of the lying in wait of the Jews, and returned into Macedonia, Acts 20:3. For he was then in such haste to be in Jerusalem on the day of pentecost, that when he came to Miletus, instead of going to Ephesus, he sent for the elders of that Church to come to him, Acts 20:16, Acts 20:17. When he arrived in Judea, he could not write that he hoped to come to Ephesus soon, for he was imprisoned a few days after he went up to Jerusalem; and having continued two years in prison at Caesarea, he was sent bound to Rome, where likewise being confined, he could not, till towards the conclusion of that confinement, write to Timothy that he hoped to come to him soon. And even then he did not write his First Epistle to Timothy, for Timothy was with him at the conclusion of his confinement, Philippians 2:19, Philippians 2:23.

3. From the first epistle we learn that the following were the errors Timothy was left in Ephesus to oppose:

1. Fables invented by the Jewish doctors to recommend the observance of the law of Moses as necessary to salvation.

2. Uncertain genealogies, by which individuals endeavored to trace their descent from Abraham, in the persuasion that they would be saved, merely because they had Abraham for their father.

3. Intricate questions and strifes about some words in the law; perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, who reckoned that which produced most gain to be the best kind of godliness.

4. Oppositions of knowledge, falsely so named.

But these errors had not taken place in the Ephesian Church before the apostle's departure; for in his charge to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, he foretold that the false teachers were to enter in among them after his departing. Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30 : "I know that after my departing, shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them." The same thing appears from the two epistles which the apostle wrote to the Corinthians; the one from Ephesus before the riot of Demetrius, the other from Macedonia after that event; and from the epistle which he wrote to the Ephesians themselves from Rome, during his confinement there. For in none of these letters is there any notice taken of the above mentioned errors, as subsisting among the Ephesians at the time they were written; which cannot be accounted for on supposition that they were prevalent in Ephesus when the apostle went into Macedonia after the riot. I am therefore of opinion that the first to Timothy, in which the apostle desired him to abide in Ephesus for the purpose of opposing the Judaizers and their errors, could not be written either from Troas or from Macedonia after the riot, as those who contend for the early date of the epistle suppose; but it must have been written some time after the apostle's release from confinement in Rome, when no doubt he visited the Church at Ephesus, and found the Judaizing teachers there busily employed in spreading their pernicious errors.

4. In the first Epistle to Timothy the same sort of persons, doctrines, and practices, are reprobated, which are condemned in the second. Compare 1 Timothy 4:1-6 with 2 Timothy 3:1-5; and 1 Timothy 6:20 with 2 Timothy 2:14; and 1 Timothy 6:4 with 2 Timothy 2:16. The same commands, instructions, and encouragements are given to Timothy in the first epistle as in the second. Compare 1 Timothy 6:13, 1 Timothy 6:14, with 2 Timothy 4:1-5. The same remedies for the corruptions which had taken place among the Ephesians are prescribed in the first epistle as in the second. Compare 1 Timothy 4:14 with 2 Timothy 1:6, 2 Timothy 1:7; and as in the second epistle, so in the first, every thing is addressed to Timothy as superintendent both of the teachers and of the laity in the Church at Ephesus; all which, I think, imply that the state of things among the Ephesians was the same when the two epistles were written; consequently that the first epistle was written only a few months before the second, and not long before the apostle's death.

These arguments appeared so convincing to Pearson, Le Clerc, L'Enfant, Cave, Fabricius, Mill, Whitby, and others, that they were unanimously of opinion Timothy was left by the apostle in Ephesus as he went into Macedonia, not after the riot of Demetrius, but after he was released from his first confinement at Rome. And from that circumstance they infer that he did not write his first epistle till some time in the end of the year 64, or in the beginning of 65. I think it was written from Nicopolis.

To the late date of this first epistle, there are three plausible objections which must not be overlooked: -

1. It is thought that, if the First Epistle to Timothy was written after the apostle's release, he could not with any propriety have said to Timothy, 1 Timothy 4:12 : "Let no man despise thy youth;" but it is replied: That Servius Tullius, in classing the Roman people, as Aulus Gellius relates, lib. x. c. 28, divided their age into three periods: Childhood he limited to the age of seventeen; youth, from that to forty-six; and old age, from that to the end of life. Now, supposing Timothy to have been eighteen years old, a.d. 50, when he became Paul's assistant, he would be no more than 32, a.d. 64, two years after the apostle's release, when it is supposed this epistle was written. Wherefore, being then in the period of life which, by the Greeks as well as the Roman, was considered as youth, the apostle with propriety might say to him, Let no man despise thy youth.

2. When the apostle touched at Miletus, in his voyage to Jerusalem with the collections, the Church at Ephesus had a number of elders, that is, of bishops and deacons, who came to him at Miletus, Acts 20:17. It is therefore asked: What occasion was there in an epistle written after the apostle's release, to give Timothy directions concerning the ordination of bishops and deacons, in a Church where there were so many elders already? The answer is: The elders who came to the apostle at Miletus in the year 58 may have been too few for the Church at Ephesus, in her increased state, in the year 65. Besides, false teachers had then entered, to oppose whom more bishops and deacons might be needed than were necessary in the year 58; not to mention that some of the first elders having died, others were wanted to supply their places.

3. Because the apostle wrote to Timothy that "he hoped to come to him soon," 1 Timothy 3:14, it is argued that the letter in which this is said must have been written before the apostle said to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:25 : "I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more." But if, by this, the First Epistle to Timothy is proved to have been written before the apostle's interview with the elders at Miletus, his Epistles to the Philippians, to the Hebrews, and to Philemon, in which he promised to visit them, must likewise have been written before the interview; in regard, his declaration respected the Philippians, the Hebrews, and Philemon, as well as the Ephesians; for they certainly were persons among whom the apostle had gone preaching the kingdom of God. Yet no commentator ever thought the epistles above mentioned were written to them before the apostle's interview with the Ephesian elders; on the contrary, it is universally acknowledged that these epistles were written four years after the interview; namely, during the apostle's first imprisonment at Rome. Wherefore, when he told the Ephesian elders that they, and his other converts, among whom he had gone preaching the kingdom of God, should see his face no more, as it was no point either of faith or practice which he spake, he may well be supposed to have declared nothing but his own opinion, resulting from his fears. He had lately escaped the rage of the Jews, who laid wait for him in Cenchrea to kill him, Acts 20:3. This, with their fury on former occasions, filled him with such anxiety that, in writing to the Romans from Corinth; he requested them "to strive together with him in their prayers that he might be delivered from the unbelieving in Judea;" Romans 15:30, Romans 15:31. Farther, that in his own speech to the Ephesian elders the apostle only declared his own persuasion, dictated by his fears, and not any suggestion of the Spirit, I think plain from what he had said immediately before, Acts 20:22, Acts 20:23 : "Behold, I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." Wherefore, although his fears were happily disappointed, and he actually visited the Ephesians after his release; his character as an inspired apostle is not hurt in the least, if, in saying he knew they should see his face no more, he declared, as I have said, his own persuasion only, and no dictate of the Holy Ghost.

Dr. Paley's arguments are the same in substance; but he does not mention Dr. Macknight, who wrote before him, and whose work he must have seen.

The principal difficulty in this opinion is, that it necessarily implies that St. Paul visited Ephesus after his liberation at Rome; which appears so contrary to what he said to the Ephesian Church, that they should see his face no more. Dr. Paley, however, finds some farther presumptive evidences that the apostle must have visited Ephesus. The Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon were written while the apostle was a prisoner at Rome; to the former he says: "I trust in the Lord, that I also myself shall come shortly;" and to the latter, who was a Colossian, he gives this direction: "But withal, prepare me also a lodging, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you." An inspection of the map will show us that Colosse was a city of Asia Minor, lying eastward, and at no great distance from Ephesus; Philippi was on the other, i.e. the western, side of the Aegean Sea. Now if the apostle executed his purpose, and came to Philemon at Colosse soon after his liberation, it cannot be supposed that he would omit to visit Ephesus, which lay so near it, and where he had spent three years of his ministry. As he was also under a promise to visit the Church at Philippi shortly, if he passed from Colosse to Philippi he could hardly avoid taking Ephesus in his way. See Paley's Horae Paulinae, page 293. This, taken in connection with the preceding arguments, can leave little doubt that the date of this epistle must be referred to a time subsequent to St. Paul's liberation from Rome, and consequently to the end of the year 64, or the beginning of the year 65.

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