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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Timothy

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The sources from which to estimate the work and character of Timothy are the Epistles of St. Paul (which for our purpose are to be separated into the earlier Epistles and the Pastorals) and the Acts of the Apostles.

1. The course of his life.-Assuming that 2 Timothy contains reliable historical data, it seems probable that Timothy was born at Derbe or Lystra, his father being a Greek, his mother Eunice a Christian Jewess. His grandmother’s name was Lois, and from her he inherited the finest traditions of Hebrew piety (Acts 16:3, 2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:14-15). His name (Τιμόθεος) is no indication as to whether he was regarded as a Jew or as a Greek, but Acts 16:3 favours the latter view. Under whom he was converted to Christianity it is impossible to say, for there is no contradiction between 1 Corinthians 4:17 and Acts 16:1-3. It would appear that Paul on his second missionary journey found in Lystra, somewhat to his surprise, this highly esteemed believer, and, discerning in him an apt pupil and a promising helper, he had him set apart by the presbytery for the work of an evangelist (Acts 16:3, 2 Timothy 1:6-7). The opening years of Timothy were full of promise through his possession of a rich spiritual endowment. In preparation for his missionary work Paul had him circumcised, because the presence in his company of an uncircumcised son of a Greek father would prejudice his influence among the Jews. Much doubt is cast by some upon the motive assigned in Acts for this procedure, which is held to be very different in principle from Paul’s action in the case of Titus and towards Peter (Galatians 2:3-4; Galatians 2:11-14). We know, however, from 1 Corinthians 9:19 ff., that the Apostle varied his practice to suit circumstances, and we cannot argue unconditionally as to Timothy from Paul’s action with regard to Titus, who was a full Gentile and was under challenge as a test case.

Probably Timothy’s first missions were near his own home. Soon he became acquainted with the life of hardship and suffering that his master led, and so grew into his spirit that Paul calls him his ‘son in the Lord,’ and tells the Corinthians that he can interpret to them his mind and practice (2 Timothy 3:10-11, 1 Corinthians 4:17).

In the narrative of Acts, Timothy comes rapidly into prominence after the Apostle has crossed into Europe, where he now has Silas as his companion. In Philippi Timothy seems to have escaped imprisonment; in Berœa he stays on with Silas to finish the work, and later joins Paul in Corinth. He seems to have soon won his way into the trust and affection of the Corinthians, for when, after the departure of the Apostle to Ephesus, troubles break out in Corinth, Paul first sends Timothy to compose the disorder, giving him authority to speak in his name (1 Corinthians 4:17). But the situation was too difficult for Timothy to cope with, and he was replaced by Titus.

The two chief centres of Timothy’s subsequent activity were Macedonia and Ephesus (Acts 19:21-22, Philippians 2:19-20, 2 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 4:13). He took part in organizing the collection for the Church of Jerusalem, though he seems not to have accompanied Paul thither (Acts 20:4; Acts 20:13-16). But he rejoined him shortly after he reached Rome, and in the greetings of the Epistles to the Colossians and Philippians his name is associated with the Apostle’s (Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1).

The Epistles to Timothy, especially the First, present so many difficulties that they must be taken by themselves (see below). He is addressed as having charge of churches in the neighbourhood of Ephesus, and as being exposed to serious dangers and temptations. In the Second Epistle Paul, who is represented as being in prison, abandoned by his friends, his death impending, urges Timothy to return to Rome at once and bring Mark with him. The last glimpse that we get of Timothy is in Hebrews 13:23, where it is announced that he has just been set free from prison, into which he may possibly have been thrown on his visit to the dying Paul. He was evidently a friend and travelling companion of the unknown author.

2. In ecclesiastical tradition.-Timothy is called the first bishop of Ephesus (Eus. Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.) III. vi. 6), and in the Acta Timothei of the 5th cent. he is said to have been made bishop of Ephesus by Paul in the reign of Nero, to have become an intimate friend of the apostle John, and to have suffered martyrdom under Nerva on 22nd January, when Peregrinus was proconsul of Asia. These traditions are the weaving of the legendary spirit.

3. The Timothy of the earlier Epistles.-Paul holds Timothy in the strongest affection, and associates him with himself in six of his Epistles (1 and 2 Thess., 2 Cor., Romans 16:21, Phil., Col.). As his son in the gospel, he understands fully the Apostle’s mind and purpose, and is an example to the brethren of what Paul would have them become (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11, Philippians 2:19-23). He seems to have lacked strength of character, but his failure in reconciling the warring factions of Corinth did not cause him to lose the confidence of Paul or of the churches. He remains to the end lovable and beloved, the most intimate of his disciples, unselfish in his ministry (Philippians 2:19-23).

4. The Timothy of the Pastorals.-Many of the features of the earlier Timothy remain. He is the Apostle’s beloved or true son (1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:1), a close follower of, and moulded by, his teaching (2 Timothy 3:10-11), and the dying Apostle clings to him (2 Timothy 4:9-10). In 1 Tim., however, there is also an unfavourable view of his character. He seems to have grown languid in the performance of his duties (1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 4:14-16; 1 Timothy 6:3-16), to have yielded to the love of money (1 Timothy 6:11), to temper (1 Timothy 5:1), and to an ill-considered asceticism (1 Timothy 5:23). Even in 2 Tim. he is presented as timid (1 Timothy 1:7), and as shrinking from suffering (1 Timothy 2:3). The Apostle addresses him as a youth and with urgency. If this is an authentic attitude, it may possibly contain a reminiscence of disappointment at Timothy’s development as a leader and teacher (1 Timothy 4:11-16), or it may express an old man’s fear for a disciple who was diffident and prone to compromise, whom he had always guided as a father guides a son, and whom he knew to be at his best when under a leader.

Jülicher goes too far in saying that in 1 Tim. and 2 Tim. Timothy is addressed as the type of a young bishop. He has not the position of the monarchical bishop of the type of Ignatius or Polycarp. In 1 Tim. he is the representative of Paul in a circle of churches, an apostle with a special commission. In 2 Tim. his function as an evangelist is not unlike that which he exercised in the situations set forth in Acts and the earlier Epistles.

Literature.-See under Timothy and Titus, Epistles to, and, in addition, A. Jülicher, ‘Timotheus, der Apostelschüler,’ in PRE [Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.] 3 xix. 781-788.

R. A. Falconer.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Timothy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/timothy.html. 1906-1918.

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