See our discussion of authorship for the pastoral epistles in our introduction to 1 Timothy. In sum, though there is great dispute, we believe that the evidence is on the side of Pauline authorship, with the help of an amanuensis (perhaps Luke).
The date of 2 Timothy is shortly before Paul’s death (cf. 1:16; 2:9; 4:13). In many respects, this epistle is his last will and testament. In our view, Paul died in the summer of 64 CE. He has already gone through a preliminary trial (4:16-18), and the outcome is not promising (4:6). This letter should be dated within weeks of Paul’s actual death, for Paul’s request that Timothy try to come before winter (4:21) would hardly have been uttered in the spring, and could not have been written in the late autumn.
1. Timothy, one of Paul’s longtime companions, who joined the apostle on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:2), had been with Paul toward the end of the apostle’s first Roman imprisonment (cf. Phil 2:19-24).
2. When Paul was released, he took Timothy and Titus with him back to Asia Minor, after they left Titus on Crete.
3. They went by way of Ephesus en route to Macedonia. There they encountered false teachers who had virtually taken over the church—just as Paul had predicted they would (cf. Acts 20:29-30).
4. Paul had to press on to Macedonia (cf. Phil 2:24), but the situation at Ephesus needed help. He left Timothy in charge of the church, giving him instructions to deal with the heretics who had become leaders in the church (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-4).
6. After the winter of 63-64 CE, Paul attempted to return to Ephesus by way of Troas. There he was re-arrested at the instigation of Alexander the metalworker (cf. 4:13-14).2
7. He has been brought to trial in Rome and has already had a preliminary hearing (4:16-18); he knows that his end is near (4:6).
8. Consequently, Paul wishes to write to Timothy before he dies. He is suffering in chains, in a cold dungeon (cf. 1:16; 2:9; 4:13). His purpose in writing is really twofold: (1) he is lonely and he wants Timothy to come to Rome (1:4; 4:9, 21), since only Luke is with him (4:11) and no one else could minister to his needs as well as could Timothy (cf. Phil 2:20); (2) since he is about to die, he must encourage Timothy to continue in the work of the ministry (see “theme”).
The theme of this short epistle is bound up with the fact that this is both Paul’s last letter and it is to his closest companion. Although the apostle could have dwelt on his own accomplishments, he is more interested in making sure that Timothy is prepared to carry on the work. The double emphasis seen throughout is on endurance and faithfulness to the truth. The theme might be summed up this way: “Persevere in the proclamation of the gospel.”
After a brief salutation to Timothy (1:1-2), Paul commences the body of this his final epistle. The body of the letter (1:3–4:8) begins with personal encouragement (1:3-18), continues with exhortations toward faithfulness in the ministry (2:1-26), and concludes with a very somber commission in the light of the dawning eschaton (3:1–4:8).
Paul begins by encouraging Timothy in light of his own desperate situation (1:3-18). He offers thanks for Timothy (1:3-7), expressing a desire to see him once more (1:4) and reminding him to “fan into flame the gift of God” (1:6) because “God did not give us a spirit of timidity” (1:7). This naturally transitions into Paul’s own courage as an example for Timothy to follow (1:8-12), followed by what Paul is courageous about, viz., the gospel (1:13-14). Timothy thus is exhorted to be brave in his ministry in the face of opposition—themes which will recur throughout this short letter.
This first section is concluded with a heart-wrenching explanation of Paul’s present situation (1:15-18). When he was arrested in Asia Minor, no one came to his aid (1:15)—since they apparently were ashamed of his imprisonment (cf. 1:8, 16). And when he got to Rome he was locked up and kept out of circulation so that only with difficulty could he be found (1:16-17). But one man, Onesiphorus, was faithful and searched until he found Paul (1:16-17).
After this intensely personal introduction, Paul now proceeds to exhort Timothy in his own ministry with some specifics (2:1-26). He first exhorts him to a life of perseverance (2:1-13). He must pass on the faith to other faithful men (2:1-2); endure hardship (2:3-7)—like a good soldier (2:3-4), like an athlete (2:5), like a farmer (2:6); and “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David; such is my gospel” (2:8, NET).
Second, he exhorts him to a life of faithfulness (2:14-26). Timothy must be faithful in his ministry (2:14-19), especially as a craftsman who properly handles “the word of truth” (2:15); and he must be faithful in his conduct (2:20-26), for an unclean instrument (2:20-21) cannot be used by God (2:21). The emphasis on Timothy’s character is, like the first epistle, set against the backdrop of the false teachers who have fallen into the trap of the devil (2:21-26). The implication is that since Timothy’s doctrine is correct, if his lifestyle does not match it he will become ineffective in combating error (2:21, 25).
In the last major section Paul charges Timothy to a ministry of the word in the light of the dawning eschaton (3:1–4:8). He begins with an explicit prediction of godlessness in the last days (3:1-9), thus bridging the previous section (Timothy’s faithfulness in the light of the false teachers, 2:21-26). Because of this overall context, it is apparent that Paul especially has in mind godless teachers when he describes their character (3:1-5). This is also seen in the following ways: (1) their character is the same as the present false teachers who were plaguing the Ephesian church (cf. 1 Tim 4:1-5; 6:3-10); (2) they gain control of weak-willed women (3:6-7)—just as the false teachers mentioned in 1 Timothy apparently had; and (3) the illustration of Jannes and Jambres, as leaders of the opposition against Moses (2 Tim 3:8), makes better sense if false teachers are in view. Paul concludes this eschatological warning with the firm conviction that the false teachers’ folly will be exposed (3:9).
This warning of eschatological doom becomes the framework for urgency in the proclamation of the word (3:10–4:8). Paul uses himself as a model of how one ought to persevere in spite of persecutions—just as Timothy had witnessed in the past (3:10-11). In fact, the measure of one’s godliness is seen by the level of persecution he is subject to (3:12). Paul is certainly promising Timothy no rose garden!
Paul’s commission of Timothy now becomes more direct (3:14–4:5). He is to proclaim the word of God fervently and frequently (4:1-5) because the scriptures carry with them the authority of God (3:16) and are indeed the tool of the ministry (3:17). Again, this charge is given in light of eschatological realities, both positive (4:1) and negative (4:3-4).
The reason for such a somber charge to Timothy is now stated bluntly: Paul is about to die (4:6-8). Thus the charge to Timothy to proclaim the word in the present time is bracketed by Paul’s past example and his future home-going.
The apostle to the Gentiles concludes his last epistle (4:9-22) with some personal instructions and information (4:9-18), followed by final greetings (4:19-21) and a benediction (4:22). Yet these personal instructions must not be overlooked, for they give the real purpose of the epistle: “Do your best to come to me quickly” (4:9). So many friends had left Paul—either on assignment or out of shame (4:10-13)—that only Luke was still with him (4:11). Paul wishes for Mark to come, since some time after his defection on the first missionary journey, he had become useful to Paul (4:11).3 The dispatch to Timothy to come should apparently commence shortly after Tychicus arrives (4:12).4 En route to Rome, Timothy is to pick up Paul’s cloak and parchments (perhaps portions of the OT) which he apparently had to leave with Carpus in Troas (4:13) when Alexander the metalworker instigated his arrest (4:14).5 Hence, when Timothy sees Carpus he should stay away from Alexander (4:15).
Before getting to his final greetings, Paul lets Timothy know that he was all alone in the preliminary hearing (4:16-18). What he does not tell us—for he does not know it— is that he will die in a matter of weeks (summer, 64 CE).6 Most likely, Timothy never saw Paul alive again.7 Thus Paul’s life ends in service to his Lord and in emulation of his Lord, for the Lord Jesus, too, was all alone in his death, his friends having deserted him.
I. Salutation (1:1-2)
II. Encouragement In Light of Paul’s Situation (1:3-18)
A. Thanksgiving for Timothy (1:3-7)
B. Encouragement of the Heart: Courage (1:8-12)
C. Encouragement of the Mind: Sound Doctrine (1:13-14)
D. Explanation of Paul’s Situation: The Faithfulness of His Friends (1:15-18)
1. Examples of Unfaithfulness in Asia (1:15)
2. Example of Faithfulness in Rome: Onesiphorus (1:16-18)
III. Exhortation To Faithful Endurance (2:1-26)
A. Exhortation to Endurance (2:1-13)
B. Exhortation to Faithfulness (2:14-26)
1. Teach Others (2:1-2)
2. Endure Hardship (2:3-7)
3. Remember Jesus Christ (2:8-13)
1. Faithfulness in Ministry (2:14-19)
2. Faithfulness in Conduct (2:2-26)
a. Analogy: A Clean Instrument (2:20-21)
b. Commands Flee Youthful Lusts and Pursue Righteousness (2:22-26)
IV. Commission in Light of Eschatological Realizations (3:1–4:8)
A. Godlessness in the Last Days (3:1-9)
B. Proclamation of the Word in the Light of the Eschaton (3:10–4:8)
1. The Character of the Godless Teachers (3:1-5)
2. The Victims of Godless Teachers (3:6-7)
3. The Folly of the Godless Teachers (3:8-9)
1. The Example of Paul in the Past (3:10-13)
2. The Commission of Timothy in the Present (3:14–4:5)
3. The Exodus of Paul in the Future (4:6-8)
a. The Value of Scripture Explained (3:14-17)
b. The Proclamation of Scripture Commanded (4:1-5)
V. Concluding Remarks (4:9-22)
A. Personal Instructions and Information (4:9-18)
B. Final Greetings (4:19-21)
C. Benediction (4:22)
1 Apparently he also got to Miletus, just fifty miles from Ephesus, where Trophimus had to be abandoned in poor health (2 Tim. 4:20). Most likely, Paul was forced to leave Miletus before reaching Ephesus. If Paul was arrested at Troas (see point 6), he may have been taken down to Miletus before sailing for Rome.
2 Although this is not directly stated in the text, it can be inferred from (1) the fact that Paul had to leave both his cloak and his parchments (probably portions of the OT) with Carpus (4:13)—two items he could hardly do without! (2) immediately following this verse he blames Alexander the metalworker for his woes (4:14). Although some think this Alexander is the same as the one mentioned in 1 Tim. 1:20, this is improbable on other fronts: (1) the Alexander of 1 Tim. 1:20 is known absolutely, while the Alexander here is called “the metalworker”; (2) Paul warns Timothy to be on his guard against this Alexander—a needless reminder if he is the same man Paul excommunicated in Ephesus.
4 Timothy’s departure is not directly tied to Tychicus’ coming however because otherwise Paul would not say “do your best to get here before winter” (4:21). The intended terminus a quo was Tychicus’ coming, and the intended terminus ad quem was winter. Perhaps Tychicus is actually the bearer of this epistle, but Timothy would still need to get his affairs in order and make a relatively smooth transition before departure.
7 In fact we may conjecture that he was unable to avoid Alexander the metalworker when he arrived in Troas, for a year later he too is in a Roman prison, though just getting released (cf. Heb 13:23 and our discussion of that text in the introduction to Hebrews).