TIMOTHY, LETTERS TO
Two inspired letters of the Christian Greek Scriptures addressed to Timothy by the apostle Paul, who identifies himself as the writer in the opening words of each letter. (1Ti 1:1; 2Ti 1:1) The first letter was evidently written from Macedonia. A basis for assigning an approximate date for the composition of this letter is found in the first chapter, verse 3, which reads: “Just as I encouraged you to stay in Ephesus when I was about to go my way into Macedonia, so I do now.” There is no mention of this in the book of Acts, which covers a period from the time of Jesus’ ascension to heaven in 33 C.E. until the second year of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, about 61 C.E. Accordingly, it seems that it was sometime after his being released that Paul encouraged Timothy to stay in Ephesus, and then Paul apparently departed for Macedonia. This would place the time for the writing of First Timothy between the date of the apostle’s release from his first imprisonment at Rome and his final imprisonment there, or about 61-64 C.E. The second letter was composed at Rome during Paul’s final imprisonment (likely c. 65 C.E.) and not long before his death.—2Ti 1:8, 17; 4:6-9.
Authenticity. The authenticity of First and Second Timothy is well established. All outstanding ancient catalogs, starting with the Muratorian Fragment of the second century C.E., list both letters as canonical. Most important, these letters are in complete agreement with the rest of the Scriptures and quote from them. They contain quotations from or allusions to Numbers (16:5; 2Ti 2:19), Deuteronomy (19:15; 25:4; 1Ti 5:18, 19), Isaiah (26:13; 2Ti 2:19), and the words of Jesus Christ (Mt 10:10; Lu 10:7; 1Ti 5:18). Noteworthy are the frequent references to faith (1Ti 1:2, 4, 5, 14, 19; 2:7, 15; 3:9, 13; 4:1, 6, 12; 5:8, 12; 6:10-12, 21; 2Ti 1:5, 13; 2:18, 22; 3:8, 10, 15; 4:7), as well as the emphasis on right doctrine (1Ti 1:3, 4; 4:1-3, 6, 7; 6:3, 4, 20, 21; 2Ti 1:13; 3:14, 15; 4:3, 5), conduct (1Ti 2:8-11, 15; 3:2-13; 4:12; 5:1-21; 6:1, 2, 11-14; 2Ti 2:22), prayer (1Ti 2:1, 2, 8; 4:5; 5:5; 2Ti 1:3), and faithful endurance through suffering (2Ti 1:8, 12; 2:3, 8-13).
Background for First Timothy. In about 56 C.E., when meeting at Miletus with the older men of the Ephesus congregation, the apostle Paul said to them: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Ac 20:29, 30) Within a few years the situation regarding the teaching of false doctrines did become so serious that Paul encouraged Timothy to stay in Ephesus, that he “might command certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies.” (1Ti 1:3, 4) Timothy, therefore, had to wage spiritual warfare inside the Christian congregation to preserve its purity and to help its members to remain in the faith. (1:18, 19) His applying the things mentioned in the apostle’s letter would serve to protect members of the congregation from falling away.
For the congregation to prosper, prayer could not be overlooked. So that Christians might go on leading a calm and quiet life, without interference, it was proper for them to pray concerning kings and men in high governmental station. Regarding those representing the congregation in prayer, Paul wrote: “I desire that in every place the men carry on prayer, lifting up loyal hands, apart from wrath and debates.” This meant approaching God in a pure way, without any feelings of animosity or anger toward others.—1Ti 2:1-8.
Timothy also had to be alert that women kept their God-assigned place (1Ti 2:9-15), that only qualified men served as overseers and ministerial servants because such would serve as a strong bulwark against apostasy (3:1-13; 5:22), that deserving widows received assistance from the congregation (5:3-16), that due consideration was given to the older men presiding in a fine manner (5:17-19), that slaves conducted themselves aright toward their owners (6:1, 2), that all were content with what they had instead of seeking to be rich (6:6-10), and that the rich did not rest their hopes on material things, being instead rich in fine works and manifesting generosity (6:17-19). Timothy himself had to be “an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness” and also had to be concerned about continuing to make advancement.—4:12, 15, 16; 6:11-14.
Background for Second Timothy. In 64 C.E. a great fire ravaged Rome, destroying about a fourth of the city. Rumor had it that Caesar Nero was responsible for it. To protect himself, Nero placed the blame upon the Christians. This appears to have prompted a wave of violent governmental persecution. It was likely about this time (c. 65 C.E.) that the apostle Paul was again imprisoned at Rome. Though forsaken by many, suffering in chains, and facing imminent death (2Ti 1:15, 16; 4:6-8), the apostle wrote an encouraging letter to Timothy, one that prepared his younger fellow worker to resist apostate elements inside the congregation and to stand firm in the face of persecution. (2:3-7, 14-26; 3:14–4:5) By learning about Paul’s circumstances, Timothy would have been able to draw encouragement from the apostle’s good example of faithful endurance under great tribulation.—2:8-13.
Fearless in the strength of Jehovah, Paul exhorted Timothy: “Stir up like a fire the gift of God which is in you through the laying of my hands upon you. For God gave us not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind. Therefore do not become ashamed of the witness about our Lord, neither of me a prisoner for his sake, but take your part in suffering evil for the good news according to the power of God.”—2Ti 1:6-8.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF FIRST TIMOTHY
Counsel to a Christian elder regarding his responsibilities
Written by the apostle Paul evidently sometime after his release from his first imprisonment in Rome
Counsel for Timothy’s own spiritual well-being
Wage spiritual warfare, maintaining faith and a good conscience (1:18, 19)
Your concern should be, not with bodily training, but with godly devotion; do not let others look down on your youth but rather be a good example and make advancement (4:7b-16)
Do not appoint someone hastily to a position, so as to avoid being a sharer in sins of others (5:22)
Warnings against corrupting influences in the congregation
Command certain ones not to teach different doctrines, nor to pay attention to false stories and genealogies (1:3, 4)
Certain ones have deviated from love and unhypocritical faith; they want to be teachers of law but lack understanding of its intent (1:5-11)
In later periods of time there will be a falling away from the faith (4:1-5)
Counteract wrong influences; be nourished with words of faith; reject false stories (4:6, 7a)
False teaching breeds envy, strife, abusive speeches, suspicions, violent disputes, and the use of what is godly for selfish gain (6:3-5)
Qualifications for those appointed to serve as overseers and ministerial servants
Overseer’s qualifications include his being irreprehensible; having only one wife; being sound in mind, orderly, hospitable, qualified to teach, self-controlled as to drink and temper, reasonable; not loving money; presiding well over his household; not being a new convert; and having a good reputation outside the congregation (3:1-7)
Ministerial servants must be serious, not double-tongued, not heavy drinkers, nor greedy of dishonest gain, first tested as to fitness, free from accusation, presiding well over their households (3:8-10, 12, 13)
Instructions regarding various congregation needs
Prayers should be offered for all sorts of men—including rulers, to the end that Christians may live peaceably with godly devotion; it is God’s will that all sorts of men should be saved (2:1-4)
There is only one God and one mediator, Jesus Christ, so men offering prayers should lift up “loyal hands, apart from wrath and debates” (2:5-8)
Women should dress in a modest, becoming manner, reflecting reverence for God; they may not teach in the congregation or exercise authority over a man (2:9-15)
Only widows aged 60 and over who have a fine reputation and no living children or grandchildren should be included on the list of those to receive material help from the congregation (5:3-16)
Elders working hard in speaking and teaching should be viewed as deserving of “double honor” (5:17, 18)
Do not accept an accusation against an older man unless there are two or three witnesses; practicers of sin must be reproved before all onlookers (5:19-21)
Slaves should be exemplary in subjection to their owners, especially if their masters are fellow believers (6:1, 2)
All should be content if they have sustenance and covering; the love of money is a root of injurious things, and those determined to be rich come to spiritual harm (6:6-10)
Wealthy ones must not be arrogant, trusting in riches; rather, they should be ready to share generously with needy ones (6:17-19)
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HIGHLIGHTS OF SECOND TIMOTHY
Encouragement and counsel to help Timothy remain firm in the difficult times ahead
The last inspired letter written by Paul, during his second imprisonment in Rome
Encouragement for Timothy to keep making progress
“Stir up like a fire the gift of God” that you received; do not be ashamed of the witness about Christ or of Paul as a prisoner; take your part in suffering for the good news (1:6-8)
Guard the pattern of healthful words (1:13, 14)
Like a soldier, be single-minded; like an athlete in the games, contend according to the rules; be like the hardworking farmer; endure faithfully (2:3-13)
Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, handling the word of truth aright (2:15)
Flee from desires of youth, but pursue godly qualities in company with those who call on the Lord out of a clean heart (2:22)
Counsel to help Timothy stand firm against false teachers
In the last days there will be critical times hard to deal with because of the wicked attitudes of people; they will be lovers of money and of pleasures rather than lovers of God; shun such people (3:1–7)
These corrupted men will go on resisting the truth; but stick to what you have accepted as true because you learned it from people you knew well and from the inspired Scriptures (3:8-17)
Persevere in preaching the word, evangelizing, fully accomplishing your ministry—even though times are coming when men will not want to listen to healthful doctrine but will prefer having their ears tickled by teachers of their own choosing (4:1-5)
Paul’s circumstances as a prisoner
Paul was appointed an apostle of Jesus Christ; he is now suffering because of this but is not ashamed (1:11, 12)
As a prisoner in chains, he was virtually abandoned by all from the district of Asia, but Onesiphorus diligently searched for him and brought him refreshment (1:15-18)
Recognizing his death to be imminent, Paul confidently looks forward to the day when Jesus Christ will give the crown of righteousness to him as well as to all others who have loved his manifestation (4:6-8)
No one took his side in his first defense; nevertheless, Paul was strengthened by the Lord Jesus Christ; he is confident that the Lord will save him for His heavenly Kingdom (4:16-18)