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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy

International Critical Commentary NTInternational Critical

- 2 Timothy

by S.R. Driver, A.A. Plummer and C.A. Briggs


ἄνθρωπος ὲλεεινὸς εἶ· μὴ φοβοῦ, ὑγίαινε,�Daniel 10:19.

Historical situation.—(i) St. Paul. —St. Paul is a prisoner in Rome (1:3, 16, 2:9) and has been so for some length of time, during which he has received a visit from an Ephesian Christian, Onesiphorus, who had found him out, though apparently with difficulty, and had cheered him with frequent visits (1:16). The charge laid against him is not stated: it may have been of being a Christian (2:10, cf. 1 P 4:16), perhaps that of some offence against the State (2:9 ὡς κακοῦργος, cf. 1 P 4:15 κακοποιός). The end of the trial is in sight: so he writes to his beloved son Timothy, to bid him farewell, to exhort him to be ready to share suffering for Christ’s sake, and to impress upon him the duty of choosing faithful ministers to whom to hand on the true teaching, and to lay stress upon the true characteristics of such teaching. This is all that we can say, if 4:9-21 is to be separated from the Epistle as embodying fragments of letters of an earlier date (cf. p. xxxii). If, however, we can assume the integrity of the Epistle, the further object is to request Timothy to join him speedily in Rome and share his sufferings there (4:9-21, cf. 1:8, 2:3). There is no certain indication of the place to which the letter was sent, but 1:18 makes Ephesus probable.

(ii) The Church at Ephesus. —Very little light is thrown on the circumstances of the Church at Ephesus. Timothy is in charge of it, as the Apostle’s delegate, and is expected to remain there, so that the Epistle seems to point to the position of a permanent rather than that of a temporary delegate: he has to do the work of an “Evangelist,” and it is described by the indefinite title of “ministry” (4:5). He has had the Apostle’s hands laid upon him (1:6), apparently for this special task: his duty is to keep the deposit of truth, to hand it on to others, to control their teaching, to exercise discipline over the members (4:2). No mention is made of other grades of ministers or of the details of the services. But there are false teachers, tickling the ears with novelties, appealing specially to women, corrupted in mind, disloyal to the faith; their teaching tends to a low standard of morality and is likely to spread (2:16). Of its nature there are three hints: (i) they deal with well-known fables (τοὺς μύθους, 4:4), i.e. probably stories from the Jewish Haggada (cf. Introd. p. xvii). (ii) Some of them are called γόητες i.e., probably, dealing with magical charms, like Simon Magus and Elymas and the sons of Scæva a Jew at Ephesus (Act_19): so this, too, may spring from Jewish influences, and they are compared with the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. (iii) Two of them assert that the Resurrection is past (2:18), probably influenced by doubts about the Resurrection of the body, and misrepresenting St. Paul’s teaching (Rom_6) as meaning only a resurrection to spiritual life in this world. This is the tenet most akin to later Gnosticism (vid. notes ad loc.), but it might also be suggested by Sadducean teaching. There is then nothing to separate them from the teachers referred to in 1 Ti and Tit.

Date. —If we assume the integrity of the whole, Paul has lately been travelling through Asia Minor and Greece with a band of fellow-travellers, including Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Tychicus, Erastus, Trophimus; but all have now gone different ways except Luke, who alone is with him: he has once been put on his trial and has made his defence: he has been left alone without any human aid, but the Lord has protected him, If we further assume the completeness of the Acts as a record of St. Paul’s travels at this time, it seems impossible to fit in all these allusions with the data there: it becomes necessary to assume that St. Paul was released from the imprisonment of Act_28 (cf. Introd. p. xxx), that he travelled freely in the East after it, was arrested again and is now suffering a second imprisonment which ended in his death, probably in a.d. 64. If, on the other hand, 4:9-21 are earlier notes, all the data in them must be put aside; and the letter might have been written at the end of the imprisonment of Act_28, not long after the Third Group of Letters; cf. Introd. p. xxii ff.

Spiritual value. —The importance of the Epistle is not great doctrinally or ecclesiastically: doctrinally, indeed, it seems to give justification for prayer for the dead (1:18 note); and it gives the fullest statement in the N.T. of the inspiration of the O.T. and of its primary value to a Christian teacher: ecclesiastically it shows the value attached to the imposition of the Apostle’s hands and to a succession of carefully chosen ministers as a means of securing the tradition of sound teaching. But its main interest is that of character, and two portraits may be traced in it.

(i) The portrait of the ideal Christian minister. He is, like His master, to reproduce the features of Isaiah’s ideal of “the suffering servant”: he is to be patient, gentle, hopeful, interceding for his opponents (2:24); he is to be like a soldier, unentangled with civil duties (2:3); like an athlete, obeying loyally the rules of the contest (2:5); like a husbandman, toiling hard and earning his reward (2:6); like a tradesman, skilfully cutting out his goods (2:15?); like a fisherman, trying to catch back those who have been caught by the devil (2:26?). He needs long-suffering, yet persistence in pressing his message in season and out of season (4:2), sobriety of tone (4:5), courage to face suffering (1:8, 2:3, 4:5); he has to aim at the great central virtues, to keep in touch with all sincere Christians (2:22), so as to become a vessel which his Master will always find ready to His hand (2:21); he has to rekindle again and again, “to keep at white heat,” the grace given by ordination, remembering that it was the gift of love, of strength, of self-discipline (1:6); he has to rely upon the Holy Spirit that dwells in him (1:14). In teaching he has to avoid idle speculations and restless innovations, to be loyal to the truth, and to take for guidance: (a) the example of the Apostle’s life (3:10); (b) the outline of the Apostle’s teaching (1:13); (c) the O.T. Scriptures, which are not only able to make men wise unto salvation, but are also a guide for the discipline of others (3:16, 17). His aim is to make each person a man of God thoroughly equipped for every good work (3:17).

(ii) The portrait of the Christian Teacher face to face with death, with his work finished. It is, “Testamentum Pauli et cygnea cantio” (Bengel), and should be compared with the farewell words of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:1-8), of Joshua (c. 23), of David (1 K 2:1-9), of Our Lord Himself (esp. John 13-16), with 2 Peter, and with St. Paul’s own farewell to the elders of Ephesus (Act_20). He is ready to endure what suffering still remains (2:10); but his thoughts turn back to the past or forward to the future. He looks back to the religion which his ancestors had taught and he himself had learnt from childhood (1:3), to the commission he had received to preach the Gospel (1:11), to all his sufferings in the past, to God’s protection of him through them all (3:11), to the fight which he has fought; he is grateful for the kindness of friends, invoking God’s blessing upon them (1:16), for the loyalty of his loved son (3:10), sensitive to the failure of others to support him, but leaving their punishment to God (1:15, cf. 4:16). But his eyes are mainly on the future: he foresees difficult days (2:17, 3:1), he tries to prepare his successor to face them: he is prepared to depart himself (“de prospectu ejus exultans scribit,” Tertullian, Scorp. 13): he has deposited his all in God’s care, and hands on the truth as a deposit to his successor (1:12, 14): his thoughts are full of “that great day” (ἐκείνη ἡ ἡμέρα three times here, elsewhere only once in St. Paul): his eyes are turned to the light (cf. 1:10), to the bright shining of the Lord’s coming: he looks forward with confidence to a crown of righteousness, and to a life beyond death: his faithful saying is a hymn about life through death with Christ (2:11, cf. 1:10): he is to the end that for which the will of God had chosen him, an Apostle κατʼ ἐπαγγελίαν ζωῆς (1:1). It is the letter of a good shepherd who is laying down his life for the sheep (2:10 διὰ τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς) to one whom he is training to be in his turn a good shepherd and to lay down his life for the Gospel’s sake, inspired by the thought of “the Good Shepherd” who had laid down His life and had risen from the grave (2:8), to be the strength of all who should suffer for His sake.1

Analysis. —The subject-matter oscillates between the thought of St. Paul’s own position, with which it begins (c. 1) and ends (c. 4), and that of Timothy which occupies the central part (Song of Solomon 2:3); but the two are not kept separate and often interlace.

A. 1:1, 2. Greeting.

3-18. St. Paul’s feelings and position:

3-5. Thanksgiving for Timothy’s past affection and desire to see him again.

6-18. Appeal to Timothy:

(1) To stir up the gift given him by the laying on of St. Paul’s hands (6, 7).

(2) Not to let St. Paul’s imprisonment dishearten him, but to be ready to face suffering himself, remembering Christ’s conquest of death, and St. Paul’s own sufferings and unswerving faith in God’s readiness to keep all that he has entrusted to His care (8-12).

(3) To hold fast the truth that St. Paul has taught him (13, 14). These appeals enforced by two recent experiences of St. Paul’s: as a warning—his desertion by all in Asia (15): as encouragement—the boldness and kindness of Onesiphorus at Rome (16-18).

B. 2:1-4:5. Timothy’s duties.

In relation to himself:

To be strong—

(1) To hand on his teaching to others (1, 2).

(2) To be ready to face suffering and endure toil, like a good soldier, a good athlete, a good husbandman (3-7); constantly to bear in mind—

(a) The Risen Christ, who has enabled Paul to endure suffering and imprisonment for the sake of the elect (8-10);

(b) The faithful saying—with its encouragement to all who share Christ’s death and warning to all who deny Him (11-13).

In relation to the teachers to whom he hands on the deposit:

To warn them against empty wranglings (14): to be himself a true worker avoiding such discussions which will only lead to impiety and harm, as is seen already in the teaching of Hymenæus and Philetus (15-18): to remember the true foundation—God’s own knowledge of His own, and their abstaining from iniquity (19). To keep himself pure, to avoid youthful impulses, to aim at the central virtues (20-23): to avoid foolish discussions and contentions; to be a true servant of the Lord, gentle, skilful in teaching, hopeful for his opponents (23-26). Times are hard: there are many, and there will be more, whose whole standard is based on selfishness and pleasure (3:1-5). There will be silly teachers who will oppose the truth, as Jannes and Jambres did Moses. Timothy must avoid all such, and their folly will soon be exposed (1-9, 13). Timothy has been loyal to him in the past and shared all his sufferings, and must not expect to escape persecution himself (10-12). Let him be loyal to the teachers who taught him in his youth, and hold fast to the Scriptures which can make him wise and able to do his work as a teacher (14-17). He must preach boldly, persistently, however unwilling people are to listen to the truth (4:1-4): must be sober, ready to suffer, carrying His ministry out to the full (5).

C. St. Paul’s own position.

All this is necessary, because St. Paul’s own end is approaching: he has done his work: he can look forward in confidence to the award of the righteous Judge (6-8).

9-18 Appeal to Timothy to come speedily. Details about his companions and his own recent experiences.

19-21 Special greetings to and from individuals: further details about his companions: more pressing appeal to Timothy to come to him.

22 Salutation to Timothy and to those with him.

With the exception of the Final Salutation (μεθʼ ὑμῶν)—which may possibly have been added when the Epistle was made canonical—the whole is strictly personal, and the note in 2:7 emphasizes the personal, almost esoteric, character of the advice given. There is scarcely any section which could have been intended to be read publicly when the Church met.

1 Adapted with some alterations from my own article in H.D.B.

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