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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Timothy, Letters to

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Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are commonly known as the Pastoral Letters. In them Paul shows a deep concern for the personal responsibilities that he had entrusted to Timothy and Titus in the places where he had left them. They show the warm personal relationship that Paul had with his fellow workers. They also show how church life had developed over the years since Paul first set out on his missionary travels.

Background to 1 Timothy

Towards the end of the book of Acts, Paul was taken prisoner to Rome and kept there for two years (Acts 28:16; Acts 28:30). In letters he wrote during that time, he expressed the hope that he would soon be released and so be able to visit churches in various places again (Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:24; Philem 22). Paul’s hopes almost certainly came true, but since the book of Acts had by this time been completed, it contains no references to Paul’s later travels. Paul’s letters, however, provide information that enable us to work out at least some of his movements.

One place that Paul visited after leaving Rome was the island of Crete, where he found that the churches were badly in need of help. After staying a while, he sailed on, but he left Titus behind to help the churches of Crete further (Titus 1:5).

When Paul came to Ephesus he found similar problems. Many years earlier he had warned the elders of the Ephesian church that false teachers would create confusion among them (Acts 20:29-30), and now that had happened. The false teaching concerned some important matters, but contained much senseless talk on unimportant matters. People had tried to copy the Jewish teachers of the law by developing imaginative theories based on ancient myths, legends and genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 Timothy 6:3-5). Besides being unprofitable, the teaching created arguments and confusion. Some of it was dangerous to Christian faith, with the result that Paul had to put the more serious offenders out of the church (1 Timothy 1:19-20).

In due course Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia, but he left Timothy behind to help restore order and stability in the church. However, Paul was concerned for Timothy and the Ephesian church, so from Macedonia he wrote to give Timothy encouragement and direction in his difficult task. Paul felt at times that Timothy lacked boldness, and he hoped this letter would give Timothy the confidence he needed. At the same time Paul wrote a similar but shorter letter to Titus.

Contents of 1 Timothy

Paul begins his letter to Timothy with a warning about the false teachers. He contrasts the wrong kind of teaching given at Ephesus with the gospel that he preaches (1:1-11), and then shows from his experiences that the truth of this gospel is sufficient for even the greatest of sinners (1:12-20).

In view of the disorder created by the false teachers, Paul gives Timothy instruction concerning the orderly arrangement that should characterize the church’s life. He speaks of prayer and teaching, and of the conduct of both men and women in church meetings (2:1-15). After listing some basic requirements for elders and deacons (3:1-13), he contrasts the straightforward truth of the gospel with the deceptive nonsense taught by the false teachers (3:14-4:5). He advises Timothy how to deal with the false teachers and how to exercise his own gifts for the maximum benefit of all (4:6-16).

The final section of the letter deals with the various kinds of people within the church. It gives instruction concerning behaviour towards people in different age categories (5:1-2), care for widows (5:3-16), appointment and support of church leaders (5:17-25), attitudes of slaves and masters (6:1-2), treatment of false teachers (6:3-10), self-discipline and courage in God’s servants (6:11-16) and the dangers of wealth (6:17-19). It concludes with an encouragement to Timothy to persist with the true Christian teaching and not to waste time arguing over senseless issues (6:20-21).

Background to 2 Timothy

Some time after writing 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul left northern Greece. The Bible gives no details of route he followed, but among the places he visited was Corinth in southern Greece (2 Timothy 4:20). He also visited Miletus, a town near Ephesus in western Asia Minor (2 Timothy 4:20), and Troas, a town farther north (2 Timothy 4:13). It seems that soon after this, Paul was arrested and taken to Rome once more. From Rome he wrote his final letter, 2 Timothy (2 Timothy 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:9).

When the government authorities in Rome laid their charges against Paul, former friends deserted him. This was a great disappointment to Paul, but God protected him from violence and gave him the opportunity to make known the gospel to his captors (2 Timothy 4:16-17). Paul knew he had little chance of being released; he expected rather to be executed (2 Timothy 4:6-8). He therefore urged Timothy to come to Rome as quickly as possible (2 Timothy 4:9), and to bring Mark with him (2 Timothy 4:11). (Mark was probably working in Colossae, a town not far from Ephesus; cf. Colossians 4:10.)

Paul was lonely in prison. He had been visited by Onesiphorus of Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:16-18) and by some of the local Roman Christians (2 Timothy 4:21), but only Luke was able to stay with him (2 Timothy 4:11). Various friends and fellow workers had gone to different places in the service of God, though Demas, who had been faithful to him during his previous imprisonment, had now left him for no good reason (2 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:12; cf. Colossians 4:14).

Apart from giving Timothy details concerning his circumstances in Rome, Paul wanted to give him added encouragement concerning the church in Ephesus. The Ephesian church was still troubled by false teaching, and Paul wanted Timothy to stand firm in his defence of the gospel.

Contents of 2 Timothy

The letter opens with Paul’s encouraging Timothy to exercise his God-given gifts with boldness and to defend the gospel against all attacks (1:1-14). He mentions Onesiphorus as an example of whole-hearted faithfulness (1:15-18), and impresses upon Timothy the need for endurance (2:1-13).

Paul then deals specifically with the problem of the false teachers. He urges Timothy to concentrate on the main truths of the Christian faith and to avoid useless arguments (2:14-26). He warns that opposition to the truth of God will increase (3:1-9). In view of this, Timothy is to be an example to all, through enduring suffering patiently and preaching the Word constantly (3:10-4:5). Paul looks back on his own service for God with satisfaction (4:6-8), and concludes with details and advice in relation to his present circumstances in Rome (4:9-22).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Timothy, Letters to'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/t/timothy-letters-to.html. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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