Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

- 1 Timothy

by Charles John Ellicott


“In the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ Luke relates to Theophilus events of which he was an eye-witness,. . . . but [omits] the journey of Paul from Rome to Spain.
“An Epistle to Titus, and two to Timothy, which, though written only from personal feeling and affection, are still hallowed in the respect of the Catholic Church, and in the arrangement of ecclesiastical discipline.”

(From the Muratorian Fragment on the Canon discovered in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, and supposed to have been written not later than A.D. 170.)


I. Their Nature.—The two Letters of St. Paul to Timothy and the one Letter to Titus, usually known as the Pastoral Epistles, differ from the other Epistles of the Apostle, being addressed to individuals, and not to churches. [There is another private Epistle of St. Paul, addressed to one Philemon, consisting only of a few lines, exclusively confined to the relations which should subsist between a Christian master and a Christian slave.]

These divinely inspired compositions were written for the guidance of two younger men, disciples and intimate friends of the elder Apostle. To these, Timothy and Titus, St. Paul had entrusted the government and supervision of two important churches—Ephesus and Crete. Of one of these churches, that of Ephesus, St. Paul was probably the founder, and from his long residence in the city, we may reasonably conclude that the Ephesian congregations had been built up mainly under his teaching and influence; the circumstances of the church of Crete will be discussed more particularly in the brief special Introduction to ‘he Epistle to Titus. Over the Ephesian community, especially dear to St. Paul from his close and intimate relation with Ephesus, the Apostle placed the disciple he knew and perhaps loved the best, the pupil whom he had personally trained from early youth. Of all St. Paul’s friends there was none so close to him as the one he had for so many years watched over and educated in the faith as his own adopted son. The two Letters to Timothy contain the master’s last charge, his dying wishes to the son of his love, who knew so well his mind, his every thought and aspiration. We may well conceive that almost every thought in these Letters, every charge, every exhortation, was a reminiscence of some bit of public teaching well known to Timothy, of some solemn conversation between the master and the pupil, of some grave council in which St. Paul and his trusted pupil and friend had shared. The two Letters were the old master’s last words, and as the master wrote, or, more probably, dictated them, he was conscious of this, and strove to compress into the necessary short compass of a brief Epistle a summary of what he had already put forth as his teaching on the question of church doctrine, church order, and church life. This is the reason why the charges concerning the life to be led are so repeated, but at the same time so brief; why the directions respecting church order are so concise; why the doctrinal statements are simply urged, and never, as was his old custom in some Epistles, argued out and discussed. “We see here,” as one has eloquently described it, “rather the succession of brilliant sparks than the steady flame; burning words indeed, and deep pathos, but not the flower of his firmness, as in his discipline of the Galatians—not the noon of his bright warm eloquence, as in the inimitable psalm of love” (1 Corinthians 13:0).

Many of the more doctrinal statements in these Pastoral Epistles are something more than “memories” of past conversations, past deliberations—more than reminders of former teaching—they are evidently current and well-known sayings among the Christians of the years A.D. 65-67. Now they are a well-loved line or lines of a hymn to the Father, as in the First Epistle, 1 Timothy 6:15-16; now a verse from a metrical creed sung by these believers of the first days, as in 1 Timothy 3:16 of the same Epistle, where the principal events of the divine and human life of Christ, so far as that life was connected with man, are set forth; or, they are evidently well-known sayings which had become watchwords of the rapidly growing Church of Christ, introduced by the striking formula “faithful is the saying.” There are no less than five of these in the Pastoral Epistles. All these are woven into the tapestry of the writings, and contain many a word, many an expression not found in any other of the known Epistles of St. Paul; and it is to the presence of these evident quotations from hymn, or creed, or sacred utterances of the faith, that these last Letters of St. Paul owe many of those peculiarities of thought and of expression which have suggested to the critical minds of so many scholars of our own thoughtful age the question—were these Epistles really the work of the great Apostle of the Gentiles?

II. Their Authenticity.—For seventeen centuries the Pastoral Epistles were believed to have been written by St. Paul, and in all the churches were received among the divinely inspired Scriptures of the New Testament In the nineteenth century, for certain reasons specified below, their authenticity was first called in question by a school of German criticism.

From the very earliest times we find constant references to these Pastoral Letters of St. Paul. Although there are no exact quotations in those few fragments we possess of the writings of men contemporary with or immediately succeeding the Apostles, still the language of Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Ignatius of Antioch (all three living and writing in the first century), seems to show their familiarity with the language and thought of these Epistles.
Unquestioned references to one or other of these Letters are found in Irenæus (second century), Tertullian (second century), Clement of Alexandria (second century), Theophilus of Antioch (second century). Eusebius (A.D. 320) without question includes the three Epistles in his catalogue, among the universally confessed canonical writings. In addition to this, in the famous Fragment on the Canon of Scripture edited by Muratori, generally ascribed to the latter half of the second century, we find these “three” classed among the Epistles of St. Paul.
They are also contained in the Peschito-Syriac version of the New Testament, which was made in the second century. There never, indeed, seems to have been the slightest doubt in the early Christian Church that the Pastoral Epistles were canonical, and written by St. Paul. The only doubter, in fact, seems to have been the famous Gnostic heretic Marcion (second century), who for doctrinal reasons omitted these writings from his canon. But Marcion arbitrarily made up his own Volume of Scripture, excluding what was distinctly adverse to his peculiar system. He admitted into his “canon” only ten of St. Paul’s Epistles and a mutilated Gospel of St. Luke, omitting all the rest of the New Testament writings.
We possess a continuous chain of historical evidence for the authenticity of these writings from the earliest times. We can, then, aver that from the very days of the Apostles down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the two Epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus were received in all the churches as undoubted writings of St. Paul, and were reverenced as Holy Scripture. The school of critics to which allusion has been made above has sought to undermine this testimony, stretching over one thousand seven hundred years, by arguments drawn from the contents of these three Epistles.
The following are the main points they have endeavoured to establish:—
(1) A number of words and phrases are found in these Letters which never occur in any other of St. Paul’s writings.
(2) An ecclesiastical organisation of a period long subsequent to St. Paul’s time apparently existed when these Pastoral Epistles were written.
(3) Heresies of a date later than the period included in the lifetime of St. Paul are combated in the three Letters.
(4) In the lifetime of the Apostle no period can be found which would suit the circumstances under which it is evident these Letters were composed.
We will reply to these arguments very briefly:—
(1) As regards the unusual words and phrases, it must be borne in mind that the Epistles or groups of Epistles of St. Paul were composed under very different circumstances, and for varied purposes, and with long intervals of time between the several writings. To a certain extent, in each Epistle or group of Epistles we should expect to find its own peculiar vocabulary: and this we find, for the number of verbal peculiarities in the group of Letters we are now considering does not appear to be greater than that existing in other undoubted Letters of the Apostle. Prof. Van Oosterzee, of Utrecht (Die Pastoralbriefe, 3rd edit. 1874), computes the number of these peculiar words in the three Epistles at one hundred and eighty-eight, while in the Epistles to the Philippians, Ephesians, and Colossians he reckons one hundred and ninety-four of these verbal peculiarities not elsewhere found.

But while verbal peculiarities in this group of Epistles do not appear more numerous than in other special groups of writings by the same hand, there are peculiar circumstances connected with these Letters to Timothy and Titus, which would of themselves fairly have explained a much greater divergence from the customary style and usual expressions than we actually find.
Here, and here only—with the exception of the little Letter to Philemon—is he writing to dear friends, not to churches. The official character of the communication is in great measure here lost sight of. The chief pastor is addressed, rather than the flock; and the chief pastor in each case is the pupil and intimate associate of the writer. Surely different expressions might be reasonably looked for in such Letters as these.
Again, we might fairly expect that in this last period of the Apostle’s long life his theological vocabulary would have become materially enlarged. This would account for his use of certain new words when he wished to express or reiterate perhaps old thoughts.
It should be remembered, too, that he was in these Epistles combating new forms of heresy which were rapidly developing themselves in the various growing Christian communities. What more likely than that the old master, the wise and divinely inspired teacher, should have appropriated some of the favourite sayings of his opponents, the false teachers of Ephesus and the Asian cities—should have “borrowed” from these unhappy men their own words, thus rescuing them from the perversions which false philosophy had begun to make of them?
We have already, in the first section of this short Introduction, suggested a probable explanation of the repeated use of the formulary “faithful is the saying,” and of other divine sayings which had apparently grown into customary use in the Church.

On the other hand, would not a forger who was desirous to introduce for a particular purpose a writing, or writings, into the Church, under the venerated name of St. Paul, have been specially careful not to introduce into his composition any word or expression foreign to the Apostle’s most common and best known terminology?
(2) The ecclesiastical organisation to which reference is made in these Pastoral Epistles is, after all, of the simplest description. The forms of the government or the Jewish synagogue, only slightly modified to suit the exigencies of the mixed Jewish and Gentile congregations of Christians, are evidently all that existed at the time when St. Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus.

The only marked innovation is that provision which was being made in all the churches for women’s work—a provision rendered necessary from the new position which women, under the teaching of our Lord and His disciples, were henceforth to occupy in the work and life of the world. (This great and important question is treated of at some length in the commentary on the Pastoral Epistles which follows.) And even of this female organisation we see the germs in such notices as in Acts 6:1; Acts 9:36-41; Acts 21:9; and in the life and work of one like Lydia (Acts 16:14), or Priscilla (Acts 18:2; Acts 18:26), &c.

The presbyterate, not merely in name, but also in the matter of the functions assigned to the office, was clearly adopted from the synagogue, of course with such changes and modifications as the new and growing society required.
The diaconate also, in some way, appears to have been derived from Jewish precedents. The very name, “Levites,” by which these inferior ministers of the Church were often called, points to the origin of the order.” Thus Jerome (Ep. 27) distinguishes them from the presbyters, speaking of the deacons as “the countless number of Levites.” So, too, Salvian, A.D. 450, writes of the deacons, calling them “Levites.” Frequently in the Councils the term “Levite” is used as the peculiar title of the deacon.

But the diaconate—which, although probably originally a copy of a Jewish order of ministers in the public services connected with worship and religious instruction, still may be looked on as an order especially belonging to the Christian Church—existed long before “the last days” of St. Paul. Indeed, it is traceable back to the very first years of the existence of the little Jerusalem community of believers in Jesus of Nazareth. See Acts 6:2-6, where the famous Seven are appointed by the Twelve Apostles—diaeonein trapezais, “to serve tables.”

The functions of the “deacons of Ephesus” alluded to by St. Paul were certainly not very different from the duties apparently performed by the “Seven” of Acts 6:0. See, especially 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10, where these solemnly ordained ones assisted the Apostle in almsgiving, in the general regulation of the Church’s charities, and also appear to have preached and taught publicly.

But there is one argument for the extreme antiquity of these Epistles derived exclusively from internal evidence supplied by the Epistles themselves.
At the very commencement of the second century it is an acknowledged fact that the episcopal office was firmly and widely established. But these Letters were written before any sign of episcopal government had appeared in Gentile Christendom. In the Pastoral Epistles the Greek words rendered “bishop” and “presbyter” or elder (episcopos, presbyteros), are applied indifferently to the same person. (See Note on 1 Timothy 3:1.)

Too great stress can hardly be laid on the vast difference which existed between the ecclesiastical organisation presented in the Pastoral Epistles and that revealed to us in the Letters of Ignatius, written at the very commencement of the second century, even if we only admit as genuine the shorter form of the version of the Ignatian Epistles, or the still briefer recension of the three Syriac Letters edited by Dr. Cureton.
No candid critic would surely suggest for so vast a development in ecclesiastical organisation a less period than thirty to forty years, placing the Ignatian Epistles in the early part of the second century. This would give as the date of the so-called Pastoral Letters, the last year of St. Paul’s life.
(3) Heresies of a later date appear to be combated in these writings. But the false teachers referred to here were evidently Judaistic in their teaching (see for instance 1 Timothy 1:7; 1 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:10-14; Titus 3:9), while the Gnostic teachers of the next century were strongly anti-Judaistic. This state of things was no doubt brought about by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the total ruin of the Jewish national system, in the year of our Lord 70.

In these Epistles we have allusion to schools of heresies widely differing from those which opposed the Catholic Church in the second century. Here we find the seeds, but only the seeds, of the famous Gnostic teaching. Dean Alford (Prolegomena to the Pastoral Epistles) has well, though roughly, painted the development of heresy in the early days of Christianity. In the first years, the principal enemies within the church were “Judaising Christians,” these are alluded to in St. Paul’s earlier Epistles. “The false teachers against whom Timothy and Titus were warned seemed to hold a position intermediate to the Apostle’s former Judaising adversaries and the subsequent Gnostic heretics.”

The general characteristics of the heresies spoken of in the Pastoral Epistles would certainly not appear to belong to a period subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70).

(4) As regards the last objection,—to the critics who seriously propose to throw doubt on the authenticity of these Epistles, alleging that it is impossible to assign during the lifetime of St. Paul, as related in the Acts, a period which would suit the peculiar circumstances under which it was evident that these writings were composed, we reply that St. Paul lived and worked after the captivity related in the last chapter of the Acts; for the unanimous testimony of the primitive Church tells us that the appeal of St. Paul to Cæsar (Acts 25:11) terminated successfully, that after the imprisonment related in the last chapter of the Acts, he was liberated A.D. 63, and that he spent some time (A.D. 63 to A.D. 65-66) in freedom before he was again arrested and condemned.

The principal evidences for this are found in the Epistle of Clement, Bishop of Rome, the disciple of St. Paul (Philippians 4:3), to the Romans, written in the last year of the first century. “He, Paul, had gone to the extremity of the west before his martyrdom.” In a Roman writer the “extremity of the west” could only signify “Spain,” and we know in that portion of his life related in the Acts he had never journeyed further west than Italy. In the fragments of the Canon called Muratori’s, written about A.D. 170, we read in the account of the Acts of the Apostles, “Luke relates to Theophilus events of which he was an eye-witness, as also in a separate place [Luke 22:31-33] he evidently declares the martyrdom of Peter, but [omits] the journey of St. Paul to Spain.” Eusebius (H.E 2:22—A.D. 320) writes, “After defending himself successfully it is currently reported that the Apostle again went forth to proclaim the gospel, and afterwards came to Rome a second time, and was martyred under Nero.”

St. Chrysostom (A.D. 398) mentions as an undoubted historical fact, “that St. Paul after his residence in Rome departed to Spain.” St. Jerome (A.D. 390) also relates, “that St. Paul was dismissed by Nero that he might preach Christ’s gospel in the West.”

Thus in the Catholic Church in the East and West during the three hundred years which succeeded the death of St. Paul, a unanimous tradition was current that the great Apostle’s labours were continued for a period extending over two or three years after his liberation from that Roman imprisonment related in Acts 28:0. During this renewed season of activity, probably in the last year or fifteen months, the Epistles to Timothy and Titus were written.

The last of the three Letters, the Second Epistle to Timothy, was no doubt written within a few weeks at most of the glorious end. We see, then, that internal evidence, when carefully sifted, instead of contradicting, supports, with a weighty mass of independent testimony, the unanimous tradition of the ancient Church which, with one voice, proceeding from the East as well as from the West, pronounced the Pastoral Epistles canonical, receiving them as the word of the Holy Spirit communicated through the Apostle Paul.

The Epistles to Timothy and Titus.

Dean of Gloucester.


I. Timothy.—Timothy was a native of the province of Lycaonia in Asia Minor—most probably of Lystra, a small town some thirty miles to the south of Iconium, the modern Konieh. His father was a pagan, but his mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, were Jewesses, evidently devout and earnest in the practice of the religion of their forefathers. They became Christians, apparently, at the time of St. Paul’s first visit to Asia Minor in company with Barnabas (A.D. 46), (Acts 14:0; 2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15).

From Lois and Eunice Timothy no doubt learned the rudiments of the faith of the Lord Jesus. Some five years later, in company with Silas (A.D. 51), St. Paul paid a second visit to Asia Minor. Moved probably by the devotion and earnestness of the young son of Eunice, and seeing in him the promise of a loving and heroic life, St. Paul took Timothy in the place of Mark, whose heart had failed him in the presence of so many difficulties and dangers. From this time (A.D. 51) Timothy’s life was closely associated with that of his master.

He was with the Gentile Apostle in Macedonia and Corinth (A.D. 52-53), (Acts 17:14; Acts 18:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:1); with him at Ephesus, whence he was sent on a special mission to Corinth (A.D. 55-56), (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10); with him when he wrote from Macedonia the Second Corinthian Letter (2 Corinthians 1:1); with him at Corinth when he wrote to the Roman Church (A.D. 57), (Romans 16:21); with him when he was returning to Asia, where he was arrested prior to the long captivity at Cæsarea and Rome (A.D. 57-58), (Acts 20:4). We find him again specially mentioned as the Apostle’s companion during that long Roman imprisonment (A.D. 61-63). (See the Epistles written at that period—Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1; Philippians 1:1.)

After the Apostle’s release from his first great captivity (A.D. 63), (see General Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles), Timothy, still St. Paul’s companion (1 Timothy 1:3), was left in charge of the Ephesian Church (probably about A.D. 64). While fulfilling this work he received the two Epistles of St. Paul (A.D. 64-65) which bear his name. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 13:23) Timothy is alluded to as having been imprisoned and again liberated. This solitary notice, however, throws but little light on the life of the Apostle’s famous disciple, except that it seems to tell us that the pupil’s life was full of hardship and danger, as was the master’s, and that the younger man had well learned the lesson of St. Paul, who bade him with his dying breath (2 Timothy 2:3) “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

Nicephorus and the ancient martyrologies tell us that Timothy died by martyrdom under the Emperor Domitian some time before A.D. 96. Baronius, however, puts his martyr death a little later—A.D. 109—when the Emperor Trajan was reigning.
The accompanying table will assist the reader in following the life of Timothy:—







First meeting between Paul and Timothy, still a child, at Lystra—probably in the house of Eunice and Lois.


Paul and Silas take Timothy with them from Lystra.


Timothy accompanies Paul in his journey through Macedonia.


Timothy is with Paul at Corinth.



Timothy is with Paul at Ephesus.


Timothy is with Paul at Corinth. Paul writes Epistle to Romans.


Timothy is with Paul in the journey from Corinth to Asia.


Timothy is with Paul during the Roman imprisonment.


Paul leaves Timothy at Ephesus.


Timothy receives the two Epistles from Paul.

Not later than


Alleged martyrdom of Timothy.

Or, according to Baronius,


Alleged martyrdom.

II. Date of the Epistle.—The First Epistle to Timothy was written apparently in the year 65-66, while the Apostle was passing through Macedonia, after a probable journey into Spain and a return to Ephesus, at which city he had left Timothy in charge of the church.

III. General Contents of the Epistle.—No systematic arrangement is followed in this Epistle. Its contents may be roughly divided into six general divisions, coinciding with the six chapters:—

1.—St. Paul reminds Timothy of his especial commission at Ephesus—the repression of a school of false teachers which threatened to subvert the church.

This leads to a brief review of the Apostle’s own past history (1 Timothy 1:0).

2.—The second division is occupied with directions respecting the public worship of Christians, and the parts which each sex should take in public prayer (1 Timothy 2:0).

3.—Treats of the office-bearers in the church—bishops (or, elders), deacons, and deaconesses (1 Timothy 3:0).

4.—Again St. Paul refers to Timothy’s commission in respect to false teachers. He dwells upon’ the deceptive teaching of asceticism, showing the dangers which accompanied such doctrine. The practical godly life of Timothy and his staff would, after all, be the best antidote to the poison disseminated by these unreal, untrue men (1 Timothy 4:0).

5.—Treats (a) of the behaviour of the church officials to the flock of Christ; (b) of the public charities of the Church in connection with destitute and helpless women; (c) of a certain order of presbyteral or elder widows, which, in connection with these charities, might be developed in such a Christian community as Ephesus; (d) rules for Timothy, as chief presbyter, respecting ordination and selection of colleagues in the ministry, &c. (1 Timothy 5:0).

6.—A few plain comments on the great social question of slavery. How Christian slaves were to behave in their condition. The false teachers must be sternly combated in their teaching on this point. Timothy is warned with solemn earnestness against covetousness. This, St. Paul argues, was the root of all false teaching (1 Timothy 6:0).

One golden thread seems to run through this, and, it may be said, through the other two Pastoral Letters. St. Paul’s earnestness in these last days of his life seems rather to expend itself in exhortations to Christian men and women to live a good, pure, self-denying life. Doctrine, in these last words of the noble, generous toiler for the Lord, retreats a little into the background. It is true that he reiterates in several places the grounds of a Christian’s belief—that he rehearses in plain and evidently well-known phrases the great articles of the Christian faith; but his last words dwell rather on life than on theology. The errors of the false teachers whose deadly influence Timothy was to counteract belonged rather to an evil life than to a false belief. The pure and saintly conduct, the pattern home life—these things, Timothy and his colleagues must remember, were the surest antidote against the poisonous teaching and the selfish practice of the enemies of the Lord Jesus.

Ads FreeProfile