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Timothy, Epistles to

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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TIMOTHY, EPISTLES TO . These Epistles, together with that to Titus, form a special group among the Pauline letters, the Pastoral Epistles , being united by common objects in view, and by a common literary style. Each Epistle claims in its opening words to have St. Paul for its author a claim which the Church has consistently allowed ‘ever since the idea of a Canon of the NT came into clear consciousness.’ During the last century, however, their genuineness has been vigorously assailed. Baur relegated them to late in the 2nd century; but modern hostile criticism very generally holds that, while they contain genuine fragments of the Apostle’s writing, their present form is the work of pseudonymous writers.

There is no doubt that these Epistles present very special difficulties to scholarship; but these are on the way to solution, and the general tendency of criticism may be said to be towards establishing their genuineness.

1 . The situation disclosed by 1 and 2 Tim. is as follows. Paul, having to go into Macedonia, left Timothy in charge of the Church at Ephesus ( 1 Timothy 1:3 ); and, fearing he might be detained longer than he anticipated, he wrote telling him how to act during his absence ( 1 Timothy 3:14-15 ). From other allusions in the Epistles we gather that the Apostle visited not only Ephesus and Macedonia, but also Troas ( 2 Timothy 4:13 ), Corinth and Miletus ( 2 Timothy 4:20 ), and Crete ( Titus 1:5 ), and that he purposed wintering in Nicopolis ( Titus 3:12 ).

Now it is impossible to fit these visits into the period covered by the Acts. No doubt in Acts we find the Apostle remaining two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10 ), but on that occasion he did not leave Timothy behind when he went into Macedonia; on the contrary, he sent him into that country while he remained at Ephesus ( Acts 19:22 ); nor was there time during his two years in that city for such lengthened journeys as the above visits require. Therefore, as the Acts closes with St. Paul in Rome in prison (a.d. 61), we must conclude, if we accept the Pastorals as genuine, that the Apostle visited Ephesus, Macedonia, and Crete after a release from imprisonment.

Those who oppose the Pauline authorship refuse to believe in this release, taking as their ground the fact of the silence of the Acts on the point, and charge those who accept it with making an unwarranted assumption; but surely theirs is the unwarranted assumption, for they assume that St. Paul was not released, merely because the Acts does not continue its history farther than it does. Indeed, even if we had not the distinct statements of the Pastorals, we should consider it extremely likely that he was thus released; for it is clear that he anticipated being set at liberty when, from his imprisonment, he wrote to the Philippians that he hoped shortly to come to them (Philippians 2:24 ), and when he bid Onesimus prepare him a lodging at Colossæ ( Philippians 1:22 ). When, therefore, we add the further facts, that the Muratorian Fragment states that the Apostle fulfilled his expressed wish of visiting Spain ( Romans 15:24; Romans 15:28 ), a journey which certainly necessitates his release from his Roman imprisonment and that Clement of Rome tells of his reaching ‘the bounds of the West,’ a phrase which, used by one resident, as Clement, in Rome, can only mean Spain we may hold without misgiving that St. Paul was released in a.d. 61, that he was again arrested, and suffered martyrdom in Rome (a.d. 64?), that between these dates he visited Spain in the West, and various Churches in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that during this period he wrote the Pastoral Epistles.

2. The external evidence in favour of the Epistles is remarkably strong. Irenæus, Clement, Tertullian, the Epistle of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, Theophilus of Antioch, were all clearly acquainted with them. A singularly convincing quotation is found in the writings of Polycarp (the disciple of the Apostle John, and who died a.d. 167), who says: ‘The love of money is the beginning of all trouble, knowing … that we brought nothing into the world, neither can carry anything out’ (cf. 1 Timothy 6:7; 1 Timothy 6:10 ).

On the other hand, not a word is raised by earlier writers against their genuineness, save by the heretics Marcion and Basilides; and their rejection was due not to any stated doubts as to the Pauline authorship, but apparently to dislike to the teaching of the Epistles. Very much stronger evidence against their authenticity must be supplied before this weight of evidence can be overturned.

3 . Much discussion has arisen concerning the nature of the heresies attacked by Paul in these Epistles. Some see in them an incipient Gnosticism , theories from which the developed Gnosticism of Marcion ultimately sprang. Strength was lent to this view by the supposition that ‘the endless genealogies ’ mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:4 and Titus 3:9 were the long lists of emanations of æons and angels which formed part of the Gnostic systems. But, as Philo and others use the word ‘genealogy’ of the primitive history of the Pentateuch, it is now generally allowed that the reference is not to Gnostic speculations but to the legendary history of the Jewish patriarchs. Others regard the heresies opposed as essentially Jewish in origin, and undoubtedly many passages point in this direction. We read of would-be ‘teachers of the law’ ( 1 Timothy 1:7 ), of ‘they of the circumcision’ ( Titus 1:10 ), of ‘Jewish fables’ ( Titus 1:14 ) of ‘fightings about the law’ ( Titus 3:9 ). Yet, while there are these distinct evidences of Jewish influences, it seems doubtful if it is right to mark all the heresies opposed as coming from this source. The errors leaning towards asceticism, with its prohibition of marriage, and of certain foods, and perhaps of wine also ( 1Ti 4:1-4; 1 Timothy 4:8; 1 Timothy 5:23 ), may indeed have sprung from forms of Judaism which had become ascetic; but just as likely indeed more likely they may have come from Gentile sources. These ascetic doctrines may have been founded on the un -Jewish belief of the essential evil of matter an error which the Apostle probably aimed at when he wrote that God gave all things richly to be enjoyed ( 1 Timothy 6:17 ). In a city like Ephesus, Oriental mysticism, Greek thought, Judaism, and Christianity would meet; and the Church there, if lapsing from truth, would show signs of heresy derived from all these sources. In 2 Timothy 2:18 one heresy is distinctly named the belief that the resurrection was already past; this opinion may have been the same as that held by those within the Gentile Corinthian Church who said there was no resurrection ( 1 Corinthians 15:12 ).

4 . Within these Epistles St. Paul’s use of certain theological terms is somewhat different from that in his earlier writings. Thus faith is used more of the objective belief which the individual holds, than of the warm affection that unites the personal soul to Christ. Similarly righteousness is used rather of a virtue to be reached by personal struggle than in the technical sense found in the Epistle to the Romans. But it must be remembered that faith in the earlier writings is not always subjective ( e.g. Galatians 1:23; Galatians 3:23 ), nor is it always objective in the Pastorals ( 1 Timothy 1:16 , Titus 3:8 ), and that righteousness is often spoken of elsewhere as a virtue to be acquired ( e.g. 2 Corinthians 9:10 , Romans 6:13; Romans 8:10 ), while justification by faith is emphasized in the Pastoral Epistles ( 2 Timothy 1:9 , Titus 3:5 ). Another distinguishing mark is found in the traces of a formulated creed, which show themselves in frequent quotations, such as the five ‘faithful sayings,’ and the rhythmic stanza commencing ‘He who was manifested in the flesh’ ( 1 Timothy 3:16 ). The latter is clearly part of a hymn embodying a confession of the Christian faith. Such are undoubtedly marks of a Church with a history behind it; but, assuming that St. Paul wrote the Epistles shortly before his death in a.d. 64, ample time would have passed since he first evangelized Ephesus in a.d. 52. It takes but a few years for a living and active community to crystallize its common convictions.

5 . It is important to note the development reached in Church organization as presented in the Epistles. They show us the Apostle himself holding the reins of supreme control ( 1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:8 ), while Timothy and Titus are his delegates. Some years before, they had acted in this capacity on special commissions ( 1 Corinthians 4:17 , Philippians 2:19 , 2 Corinthians 8:13-18 ); and, as on those occasions, so on these, they seem to have been appointed temporarily to carry out the functions entrusted to them until the Apostle’s return ( 1Ti 1:3; 1 Timothy 3:14; 1 Timothy 4:13 , Titus 3:12 ). But as his delegates, even though temporarily, they had full jurisdiction over the various officers of the Church, and full instructions are given to them to guide them as to the qualifications necessary to be found in those to be appointed to the offices of bishop (or elder) and deacon. The bishop and elder are spoken of as identical ( Titus 1:6-7 ), showing that at the date of the Epistles these two titles had not yet been given to distinct offices (cf. Philippians 1:1 , Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28 ). This is strong confirmation of the accepted date of the Epistles, for, had they been written at the time assumed by radical criticism, the monarchical position of the bishop, then reached in Asia Minor, would have shown itself. Instructions are also given regarding ‘women’ ( 1 Timothy 3:11 ) and ‘ widows ’ ( 1 Timothy 5:3 ff.). As the former are mentioned in the midst of regulations concerning deacons, they probably are not the deacons’ ‘ wives ’ (as AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ), but official women or deaconesses , holding such an office as PhÅ“be held ( Romans 16:1 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). This is a distinct advance on the ecclesiastical organizations disclosed in earlier NT writings, but need not surprise us. ‘The secluded life of women must at the very beginning have caused a felt want for women to perform for women what deacons did for men.’ The care of widows engaged the Church from the first ( Acts 6:1 , James 1:27 ).

The absence of all instructions regarding prophets is remarkable. Probably prophecy, which is an abnormal gift and not a stated function, was not very active in the Ephesian or Cretan Churches at the time, or, if active, was under due control, and so did not call for special treatment as formerly at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 14:29 ff.).

6 . The individuality of St. Paul is strongly present in all his writings, a distinguishing style marking them as his. At the same time his Epistles form themselves into different groups, which vary considerably in style in accordance with the particular period of his life in which they were written. So strongly do the Pastoral Epistles show the general Pauline style, that even those who oppose their genuineness admit that they contain genuine fragments of his writing. But, while this is so, there is no doubt that there is present in them a considerably larger proportion of words peculiar to themselves than we find in any other of the groups into which his Epistles are divided. This is the strongest argument against their Pauline authorship. The argument from ‘style,’ however, is a most precarious one, especially in the writing of one who shows such great variety of phraseology in his other groups of Epistles. Indeed, if we followed it to its logical issues, it would lead us to conclude that even the three Pastoral Epistles are themselves the work of different authors, for each of these Epistles contains a large number of words absent from the other two.

7 . The true explanation of the marked difference of style of the Pastorals from the other Pauline writings appears to be that, while the earlier Epistles were written to Churches at an early stage of their development, and thus dealt mainly with fundamental discussions of doctrine, these were written to individuals who presided over well-established Christian communities, and therefore they deal chiefly with practical virtues and ecclesiastical organizations. Such newness of subject would compel even a much less versatile writer than St. Paul to enlarge and modify his phraseology.

The following judgment of the late Dr. Hort will, we believe, be increasingly accepted: ‘In spite of by no means trivial difficulties arising from comparison of the diction of these with other Epistles, I believe them to be his, and to be his as they now stand.’

The First Epistle to Timothy and that to Titus are devoted chiefly to instructions as to the governance of the Church. The Second Epistle to Timothy is the outpourings of the Apostle’s heart, when he felt his death to be imminent (2 Timothy 4:8 ), to one who had been his faithful companion and assistant for many years; it shows tender anxiety for his ‘beloved child’ ( 2 Timothy 1:2 ), whose strength and weaknesses he well knew, and upon whose piety and wisdom so much of the Church’s future, after his own decease, would depend.

Charles T. P. Grierson.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Timothy, Epistles to'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​t/timothy-epistles-to.html. 1909.
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