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Bible Commentaries

Gaebelein's Annotated Bible

1 Timothy

- 1 Timothy

by Arno Clemens Gaebelein



The two Epistles to Timothy and the one to Titus are generally called the pastoral Epistles, because they were addressed to these servants of the Lord who had been put in charge of important churches. Timothy ministered in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3 ) and Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5 ). There never was a doubt expressed in the early Church that these epistles were written by the Apostle Paul. Quotations from them are found in the writings of Clement of Rome (96 A.D.); Polycarp of Smyrna (110 A.D.); Ignatius of Antioch (110 A.D.); Irenaeus (175 A.D.); Theophilus of Antioch (168 A.D.); Justin Martyr and others. The Syriac version, known by the name Peshito, made about 135 A.D., contains these Epistles, as well as other ancient versions. The greatest scholars of the early Church attested them as genuine. Some of the heretics, like the Gnostic Marcion, and Tatian, rejected them, and so do the destructive critics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is hardly necessary to say that the style and internal evidences establish fully the Pauline authorship.

The Personal History of Timothy

The name of Timothy is first mentioned in Acts 16:1 . His mother’s name was Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5 ); she was a Jewess, but his father was a Gentile (Acts 16:1 ; Acts 16:3 ). Paul called him his son, my own son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2 ), from which we conclude that he was converted by the apostle’s ministry. His mother and grand mother, Lois (2 Timothy 1:5 ), were both Christians. They must have been, before their conversion, God-fearing Jewesses. This seems to be implied by 2 Timothy 3:14-15 . Young Timothy had an excellent reputation among the brethren in Lystra and Iconium. After having him circumcised “because of the Jews,” Paul took him as a fellow-laborer in the gospel (Acts 16:1-3 ). He must have accompanied the apostle on his journey through Macedonia, for the apostle left him at Berea with Silas (Acts 17:14 ). He had been in Thessalonica and Paul sent him back to ascertain the state of the Thessalonian church. After that he remained with the apostle in Corinth. He then traveled with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus. From Ephesus he was sent by the apostle with Erastus to Macedonia and Corinth (Acts 19:22 ; 1 Corinthians 4:17 ). Later we find that he was with Paul, the prisoner, in Rome (Colossians 1:1 ; Philippians 1:1 , Philemon 1:1 ).

When Was First Timothy Written?

Much has been written on the date of the First Epistle to Timothy. The question of one or two imprisonments of the apostle becomes important in connection with the date of the First Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus. Paul was no doubt imprisoned twice, and between the two imprisonments, when he was a free man, the First Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus were written. If only one imprisonment is maintained, the date of the writing of these Epistles is hopelessly obscure, besides other unexplainable difficulties. Paul reached Rome as a prisoner in the year 61 A.D. and remained there for two years (Acts 28:30 ). During this time he wrote the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and to Philemon. In each he speaks of the fact that he was a prisoner. He does not mention himself as a prisoner when he writes the first letter to Timothy. He tells Timothy that he hoped to come unto him shortly. In writing Titus he speaks of spending the winter in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12 ). This is sufficient evidence that he was no longer a prisoner. His trusting confidence to be released had been realized (Philippians 1:25 ; Philippians 2:24 ; Philemon 1:22 ). The prayers in his behalf had been answered. For several years he was again at liberty, and Eusebius, a reliable source, states that it was known that Paul went forth preaching again.

Another ancient source (the Muratori fragment, 170 A.D.) gives the information that Paul after leaving Rome went to Spain. The interval between the first and second imprisonment explains fully the statement in 2 Timothy 4:20 , “Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick.” When Paul was at Miletus before he came to Rome (Acts 20:17 ), he did not leave him there sick, but Trophimus accompanied him (Acts 21:29 ). Therefore Paul visited Miletus and Ephesus again; this must have been between his first and final imprisonment. Nor could the statement in 1 Timothy 1:3 be explained if Paul had written this Epistle before his arrest in Jerusalem. He wrote Timothy that he had besought him to abide still at Ephesus .

The book of Acts records two visits of Paul to Ephesus. In Acts 18:19-22 we read of his brief visit, and in Acts 20:31 we have the record of his longer stay which lasted three years. At this time he did not request Timothy to stay in Ephesus, but he sent him into Macedonia (Acts 20:29-30 ) he predicted the coming danger for that church, grievous wolves coming from the outside and false teachers from the inside. Some eight years later this prediction came true. He visited Ephesus again, and left Timothy there facing the different heresies which had sprung up, and bearing witness against them. A short time after he wrote this first Epistle to his beloved Timothy, beseeching him to abide still in Ephesus. The second Epistle was written from Rome after he had been thrown into prison the second time, and immediately before he suffered the martyr’s death.

The Purpose of the Epistle

It is a confidential communication which Paul sent to Timothy concerning the church as the house of God. In chapter 3:14, 15 we find the words which state clearly the purpose of this Epistle, “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.” The epistle therefore contains practical and important instructions on the order which is to be maintained in the church, as the house of God. The suitable conduct befitting to the house of God is given by the apostle. Pure doctrine, pure worship and a faithful ministry are the leading thoughts of this pastoral letter, but he also enters into the godly conduct of the individuals which are in the church of the living God. Blessed instructions! There is failure on all sides, showing, that departure from the faith, when men no longer endure sound doctrine, is upon us, according to the warning given in both Epistles. Yet individuals can always walk and live in the truth, for there is grace sufficient to lead and to maintain the members of the body of Christ in the divinely marked out path, even in the last days, the perilous times.

The Division of First Timothy

In the beginning of this Epistle unsound doctrine and all that is connected with it is rebuked, and the apostle puts a strong emphasis on true doctrine, without which no godliness is possible. This true doctrine is the gospel of grace of which Paul testifies, when he writes, “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:11 ). Of this grace he was himself a witness. Prayer is the leading topic of the second chapter. In the third chapter the house of God and the holiness which becomes that house is the theme, what manner of persons overseers and deacons must be. Then in the fourth chapter we find a warning of the departure from the faith in the latter times. The last two chapters give different instructions and exhortations concerning the elder and younger women, widows, the support of elders, or overseers, as well as personal instructions to Timothy. This gives us a fivefold division.