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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

- 2 Timothy

by Dr. Robert Utley




A. The geographical locations mentioned in 1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy do not fit into the chronology of either Acts or Paul's other letters.

a. visit to Ephesus (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3)

b. visit to Troas (cf. 2 Timothy 4:13)

c. visit to Miletus (cf. 2 Timothy 4:20)

d. mission to Crete (cf. Titus 1:5)

e. mission to Spain (from Clement of Rome, A.D. 95 and the introduction to the Muratorian Canon, A.D. 180-200)

Therefore, I think that Paul was released from prison (early to mid 60's, which is documented in I Clement 5, written about A.D. 95) and took a fourth missionary journey, was then rearrested and killed before A.D. 68 (Nero's suicide).

B. The purpose of these letters has generally been thought to have been administrative (church organization). However, in the New International Biblical Commentary, Vol. 13, on I and 2 Timothy and Titus, Gordon Fee convinces me that the occasion for the letters was false teaching emerging within the house churches of Ephesus (1 Timothy) and on the island of Crete (Titus).

C. In some ways the Pastoral Letters establish an administrative pattern similar to the Essenes' Manual of Discipline. These guidelines were all the more necessary in light of the early and pervasive deviation from Apostolic teachings and form.

D. The similarity between the Pastoral Letters and Luke's vocabulary in Luke and Acts may be due to the fact that Paul used him as a scribe (cf. C. F. C. Moule, The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles: A Reappraisal). S. G. Wilson has even asserted in Luke and the Pastoral Epistles that these three books may have been Luke's attempt to write a third volume delineating the gospel's movement beyond Rome.

E. Why are these three books lumped together? Is it possible they deal with separate times/ places/issues? Only 1 Timothy and Titus have anything to do with church organization. It is really (1) their vocabulary; (2) the false teachers that seem to unify these books; and (3) the fact they do not easily fit into the chronology of Acts (if taken together).


A. The letters themselves claim to be from Paul the Apostle (cf. 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; and Titus 1:1) to his two apostolic representatives, Timothy and Titus.

B. The issue of authorship of the Pastoral Letters began to be debated in the 19th and 20th centuries. The rejection of Paul's authorship is usually based on

1. a developed church organization (qualifications for leaders)

2. a developed Gnosticism (documented in the second century)

3. a developed theology (creedal statements)

4. a variation of vocabulary and style (one-third of the words are not used in Paul's other writings)

C. These differences can be explained

1. these are Paul's last writings, possibly using Luke as a scribe

2. vocabulary and style are dependent on the occasion

3. Gnostic ideas were a development of first century Jewish thought (cf. Dead Sea Scrolls)

4. Paul was a brilliant theologian and creative writer with a large vocabulary

D. There is a growing understanding of historical precedent

1. Paul's use of a professional Christian scribe (in this case, possibly Luke)

2. Paul's use of co-writers (i.e., part of his mission team, cf. 2 Timothy 4:11)

3. Paul's use of liturgical or hymnic quotes (a good summary is found in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Hawthorne and Martin, published by IVP, p. 664).

Suggestions that portions of the Pastoral Letters are quotes from other sources help explain the numbers of hapax legomena (words used only one time in the NT), non-Pauline idioms, and unique use of Pauline terms.

a. doxologies (cf. 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:15-17)

b. list of vices (cf. 1 Timothy 1:9-10)

c. appropriate conduct for wives (cf. 1 Timothy 2:9-1a)

d. qualifications for ministers (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-13)

e. hymnic confessions (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 3:3-7)

f. hymns (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11-12, 1 Timothy 6:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Titus 2:11-14)

g. OT midrash (cf. 1 Timothy 1:9-10; 1 Timothy 2:9-1a; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:19-21; Titus 3:3-7)

h. formula

(1) "faithful is the word" (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 2:9-1a; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Titus 3:3-8)

(2) "knowing this that" (cf. 1 Timothy 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:1-5)

(3) "these things" (cf. 1 Timothy 4:6, 1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:14; Titus 1:15-16; Titus 2:1)

i. quote from a Greek poet (cf. Titus 1:12 [Epimenides and/or Euripides])

E. It is surprising that a supposed second century "Paulinist" would mention such specific details as people's names (i.e., Hymenaeus, 1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:17; Alexander, 1 Timothy 1:20; Zenas, Titus 3:13) and events (Trophimus' illness at Miletus, 2 Timothy 4:20; or the widow's role, 1 Timothy 5:9) that are not mentioned elsewhere in Paul's writings. These things do not fit with the assumption of pseudographisity.

For a good article on pseudonymity related to NT letters, see An Introduction to the New Testament, by Carson, Moo, and Morris, pp. 367-371.


A. If it is true that Paul was released from prison (after the close of the book of Acts, possibly A.D. 59-61), then is there any early tradition of his post-prison activities (i.e., preaching in Spain, cf. Romans 15:24, Romans 15:28)?

1. the Pastoral Letters (cf. 2 Timothy 4:10)

2. I Clement 5

a. Paul preached in the east and west (i.e., Spain)

b. Paul was killed under "the prefects" (i.e., Tigellinus and Sabinus, who functioned in the last year of Nero's reign, A.D. 68)

3. the introduction to the Muratorian Fragment (a list of canonical books from Rome about A.D. 180-200)

4. Eusebius' Historical Ecclesiastical History 2 Timothy 2:1-8, states that Paul was released from Roman imprisonment

B. It seems that 1 Timothy and Titus were written close together before Paul's re-arrest. 2 Timothy is Paul's last writing and good-bye while in prison.

C. Possible chronology of Paul's writings following F. F. Bruce and Murry Harris with minor adaptations.

BookDatePlace of WritingRelation to Acts 11.-13.Galatians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Romans Prison LettersColossians Ephesians Philemon Philippians Fourth Missionary Journey1 Timothy Titus 2 Timothy 48 5050 5556 57 early 60searly 60searly 60slate 62-63 63 (or later,63 but before64 A.D. 68)Syrian Antioch Corinth CorinthEphesus MacedoniaCorinth RomeRomeRomeRome MacedoniaEphesus (?)RomeActs 14:28; Acts 15:2; Acts 18:5 Acts 19:20; Acts 20:2Acts 20:3 Acts 28:30-31


A. The name, Pastoral Epistles, comes from D. N. Berdot's commentary of A.D. 1703. It speaks of their unique character and content. Timothy and Titus, however, are not pastors, but apostolic delegates.

B. These letters were written to churches, but under the literary form of letters to Paul's co-workers, Timothy and Titus. Paul addresses the congregations as he addresses his leadership team. Hints of Paul's wider audience are

1. the formal introductions mentioning his apostleship

2. the plural "you" in the final close of all three letters

3. Paul's defense of his call (cf. 1 Timothy 2:7)

4. Paul's writing to Timothy about things he would already have known from his time with Paul (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15)


A. The main purpose was to combat emerging heresies (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-7). The specific heresy may be a combination of Jewish and Gnostic tendencies (much like the false teachers of Ephesians and Colossians). Possibly there were two distinct groups.

B. The OT gives specific guidelines for the organization of the community of faith. The NT does not contain specific instructions concerning the organization or polity of the church. The Pastoral Letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) are as close as it comes to NT guidelines.

C. 1 Timothy was written

1. to request Timothy to stay on at Ephesus (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3)

2. to deal with the false teachers (cf. 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 Timothy 6:4-5, 1 Timothy 6:20-21)

3. to help organize the leadership (cf. 1 Timothy 3:0)

D. Titus had a similar assignment to deal with heresy and organization on Crete (cf. Titus 1:5)

E. 2 Timothy finds Paul in prison with little hope of release (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 2 Timothy 4:16-18)

F. There is a strong sense of "sound teaching" (i.e., correct doctrine) that rings through these letters (cf. 1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Timothy 4:6; 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1) or "sound in the faith" (cf. Titus 1:13; Titus 2:2). God entrusted this "sound teaching" to Paul (cf. 1 Timothy 1:11); Paul entrusted it to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:20), and Timothy was to entrust it to faithful men (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).


A. It is difficult to discuss the false teachers because of our lack of specific first century information. Paul is writing to those who knew these false teachers firsthand. He, therefore, does not fully discuss their theology, but usually condemns their lifestyle and motives (as does Jude).

B. The main interpretive issue relates to whether they were

1. Jewish

2. Greek

3. a combination

The false teachers seem to be a mixture of Jewish and Gnostic elements. But how did these totally divergent religious movements merge?

a. Judaism always incorporated some dualistic elements (cf. Dead Sea Scrolls)

b. Gnosticism of the second century developed these common near-eastern philosophical/ theological themes

c. Judaism of the diaspora was much more eclectic than modern scholarship previously imagined

d. there is a first century precedent for a Jewish-Gnostic heresy in the book of Colossians

C. Some of the elements of the false teachers

1. Jewish aspects

a. false teachers

(1) teachers of the Law (cf. 1 Timothy 1:7)

(2) the circumcision party (cf. Titus 1:10)

b. false teachers warned about Jewish myths (cf. 1 Timothy 3:9; Titus 1:14)

c. false teachers concerned with food laws (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-5)

d. false teachers concerned with genealogies (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14-15; Titus 3:9)

2. Gnostic aspects (See Special Topic at Titus 1:0)

a. asceticism forbidding and exempting

(1) forbid marriage (cf. 1 Timothy 2:15; 1 Timothy 4:3)

(2) exempt certain foods (cf. 1 Timothy 4:4)

b. sexual exploitation (cf. 1 Timothy 4:3; 2 Timothy 3:6-7; Titus 1:11, Titus 1:15)

c. emphasis on knowledge (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 1 Timothy 6:20)


A. Paul's letters were gathered together into one volume called "the Apostle" and then circulated among all the churches. The only Greek manuscript of Paul's letters that lacks I and 2 Timothy and Titus (also 2 Thessalonians and Philemon) is a papyrus manuscript from the 200's, called P46 (from the Chester Beatty papyri). Even this is conjecture because the manuscript is missing several concluding papyrus pages. All other Greek manuscripts contain what came to be called "the Pastoral Epistles."

B. Ancient sources which quote, allude to, or mention the Pastoral Letters

1. early church leaders

a. Pseudo-Barnabas (A.D. 70-130) quotes 2 Timothy and Titus

b. Clement of Rome (A.D. 95-97) alludes to 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and quotes Titus 3:1

c. Polycarp (A.D. 110-150) alludes to 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus

d. Hermas (A.D. 115-140) quotes 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy

e. Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202) quotes often from 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus

f. Diognetus (A.D. 150) quotes Titus

g. Tertullian (A.D. 150-220) quotes 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus

h. Origen (A.D. 185-254) quotes 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus

2. list of canonical books which includes the Pastoral Letters

a. Muratorian Fragment (from Rome about A.D. 200)

b. Barococcio (A.D. 206) d. Cheltenham List (A.D. 360)

c. Apostolic List (A.D. 300) e. Athanasius' Letter (A.D. 367)

3. early versions which contain the Pastoral Letters

a. old Latin (A.D. 150-170)

b. old Syriac (A.D. 200)

4. early church councils which affirmed the inspired status of the Pastoral Letters

a. Nicea (A.D. 325-340) c. Carthage (A.D. 397 and 419)

b. Hippo (A.D. 393)

C. A process of consensus among the early Christian congregations of the Roman Empire developed the canon. This consensus was surely affected by internal and external social pressures. The basic requirements for inclusion in the canon seem to have been

1. relationship to an Apostle

2. a message consistent with other Apostolic writings

3. the changed lives of those who encountered these writings

4. a growing agreement in the lists of accepted writings among these early churches

D. The need for a canon developed because of

1. the delayed Second Coming

2. the geographical distance between churches and Apostles

3. the death of the Apostles

4. the early rise of false teachers

a. Judaism

b. Greek philosophy

c. mixture of Jewish and Gnostic elements (Colossians)

d. other Greco-Roman mystery religions (e.g. Mithra)

This occurred as the gospel spread to different cultures.

E. The issue of canonicity is historically related to authorship. The early church accepted the Pastoral Letters as Paul's writings. My own presuppositions about canonicity include the involvement of the Spirit, not only in the writing of the Scriptures, but also in their gathering and preservation. The question of Paul's authorship (which I assume) does not affect inspiration and canonization.

READING CYCLE ONE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

READING CYCLE TWO (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

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