Questions From Readers
● How old was Timothy when Paul counseled him, “Let no man ever look down on your youth”? (1 Tim. 4:12)—C. S., United States.
The general impression is that Timothy at this time was quite young, perhaps a teen-ager, but not so. While the Scriptural record does not state his age at this time in so many words, there are enough facts to approximate his age.
According to the best information at hand, Paul began his second missionary journey in about A.D. 49. Toward the beginning of it he met Timothy, who by now already was a mature Christian and no mere boy, as can be seen from Luke’s account: “A certain disciple was there by the name of Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman but of a Greek father, and he was well reported on by the brothers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul expressed the desire for this man to go out with him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for one and all knew that his father was a Greek.” It is reasonable to assume that for Timothy to have such a reputation he must have been at least in his late teens if not in his early twenties.—Acts 16:1-3.
The words of Paul at 1 Timothy 4:12, that Timothy should not let anyone look down on his youth, were written from twelve to fifteen years later, between A.D. 61 and 64. It therefore follows that Timothy must have been some thirty years old at that time. But even at this age Timothy would feel relatively young as compared with the older men he was authorized to appoint as overseers in the various congregations; besides, he was without doubt a rather diffident young man.—1 Cor. 16:10, 11; 1 Tim. 1:3; 3:1-15.
At that time and place it was common to speak of a person of his age as a youth or even a boy. Thus we are told: “The term pais (‘boy’) . . . is sometimes extended to an older period of life. Eusebius, for example, calls Origen a boy when he was a theological teacher, and certainly above eighteen . . . and Constantine speaks of himself in the same way at the outbreak of the Diocletian persecutions when he was almost thirty.” Thus also we find a writer referring to his “early years,” meaning anywhere from eighteen to forty years of age.—Schaaf-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, p. 1117.
In the Hebrew Scriptures we also find the terms “child” and “boy” used in a relative sense. For example, Reuben refers to Joseph as “the child” although he was seventeen years old. (Gen. 37:2, 30) At Genesis 44:20, 22, Judah speaks of Benjamin, who by that time must have been thirty years old, as “a child” and “the boy.” Similarly, when Jeremiah said, “I am but a boy,” he may well have been such only in his own estimation. In fact, it may be questioned whether Jeremiah would have been commissioned for his weighty assignment had he been literally a boy, a lad, hardly in his teens.—Jer. 1:6.
From the foregoing, however, we must not conclude that Jehovah God does not use persons of tender years to serve him. Samuel was quite young when he was serving at the tabernacle and Jehovah’s angel appeared and gave him the warning message regarding Jehovah’s judgments upon his people. According to Josephus, Samuel was twelve years old at this time, and that may well have been. We know that Jesus was of that age when he so amazed the teachers in the temple with his questions and answers.—1 Sam. 1:24; 3:1-18; Luke 2:42-47.
Years later, during Jesus’ ministry, in fact, toward its close, there were boys in the temple hailing Jesus, saying: “Save, we pray, the Son of David!” When the chief priests and scribes objected, Jesus answered them: “Did you never read this, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have furnished praise’?” (Incidentally, “babes” and “sucklings” are here used also in a relative sense.)—Matt. 21:15, 16.
Clearly, when reading such expressions as that made by Paul regarding Timothy, we must take into consideration the context to see whether they are meant to be taken literally or in a relative sense.
● Does Zephaniah 2:3 mean that, even if one is in the truth, doing God’s will, he is not sure of receiving eternal life?—H. B., Puerto Rico.
This scripture reads: “Seek Jehovah, all you meek ones of the earth, who have practiced His own judicial decision. Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.” The King James Version says, “It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger.”
The Hebrew word translated by the English expression “it may be” in the King James Version is ulaí. This Hebrew word does not convey any idea of positiveness. It may be rendered “perhaps,” “probably,” “it may be,” or “maybe.” It is translated in the New World Translation as “maybe” at Genesis 43:12 and; 1 Kings 18:27. It is rendered “perhaps” in Joshua 9:7. At Zephaniah 2:3 it is rendered “probably.” In agreement with this thought the Revised Standard Version of 1952 renders Zephaniah 2:3 as follows: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the wrath of the LORD.”
Sometimes ulaí expresses doubt, but it may also express hope. Hope is apparently indicated at Genesis 16:2, where we read: “Hence Sarai said to Abram: ‘Please now! Jehovah has shut me off from bearing children. Please, have relations with my maidservant. Perhaps I may get children from her.’ So Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” Hope is also expressed at Amos 5:15, which says: “Hate what is bad, and love what is good, and give justice a place in the gate. It may be that Jehovah the God of armies will show favor to the remaining ones of Joseph.”
Zephaniah 2:3 shows that those who start out to seek righteousness and meekness are not guaranteed that they will be hid in the day of Jehovah’s anger just because they have started out on a right course. But there is hope of their qualifying to be hidden. Being concealed is a probability.
Yet there is a considerable element of uncertainty indicated by the wording of this text. That uncertainty, however, does not apply to God in the sense that he is incapable of concealing faithful seekers of righteousness and meekness at Armageddon. Not at all. The point is that God is not obligated to do so, and that is the thing that causes or leaves room for uncertainty. We cannot take preservation for granted as if it were something due, something owed us. It all depends upon God’s mercy, his undeserved kindness to us sinners, for really our sins deserve death for us. However, the only way by which we can Scripturally hope for mercy to us on God’s part is by our seeking Him and righteousness and meekness, before it is too late. Then it may be that he will show consideration for our repentance, conversion and dedication to him. The Scriptures give us reason to believe he will probably do so.