First Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus have been called “the Pastoral Epistles” since the 1700’s.1 Paul wrote “1 Timothy and Titus shortly after his release from his first Roman imprisonment (ca. A.D. 62–64), and 2 Timothy from prison during his second Roman imprisonment (ca. A.D. 66–67), shortly before his death.”2 These letters are unlike Paul’s other letters in that they were written to individuals instead of churches. He writes to his apostolic representatives, Timothy and Titus, who are serving in Ephesus and Crete. He gives them instructions on how to care for the churches.
Internal and external evidence for 1 Timothy clearly point to Pauline authorship. First Timothy 1:1 says, “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope”. Externally, it is as well attested as any of Paul’s epistles, except for Romans and 1 Corinthians.3 MacDonald comments,
Irenaeus is the first known author to quote these Epistles directly. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria ascribed them to Paul, as did the Muratorian Canon. Earlier fathers who seem to have known the Letters include Polycarp and Clement of Rome.4
Ignoring internal and external evidence, critical scholars have attacked Pauline authorship. They declare that a second-century follower of Paul’s must have written the letter (as well as 2 Timothy and Titus).5 They offer five proofs for this:
(1) The historical references in the Pastoral Epistles cannot be harmonized with the chronology of Paul’s life given in Acts; (2) The false teaching described in the Pastoral Epistles is the fully-developed Gnosticism of the second century; (3) The church organizational structure in the Pastoral Epistles is that of the second century, and is too well developed for Paul’s day; (4)The Pastoral Epistles do not contain the great themes of Paul’s theology; (5) The Greek vocabulary of the Pastoral Epistles contains many words not found in Paul’s other letters, nor in the rest of the NT.6
How have these proofs been refuted? (1) As for the reasoning that the historical references in the pastorals don’t match the Acts chronology, the book of Acts ends with Paul’s first Roman imprisonment; however, tradition says that Paul was eventually released. Philippians 1:19-26 and Philemon 22 support that this was Paul’s expectation. Therefore, the background to 1 Timothy happened after Acts. (2) While critics declare that the false teaching that Paul describes was full-blown Gnosticism of the second century, it certainly had elements of it, but there were marked differences as well. The false teaching in Ephesus also had strong elements of Judaism, as Paul declared they were abusing the law and forbidding certain foods (1:7, 4:2). The teaching seems to be very similar to that attacking Colosse. It had elements of Gnostic doctrine and that of the Judaizers (cf. Col 2:16). (3) The argument that the church structure in 1 Timothy is too developed for the first century is just not accurate. In the second century, bishops, or overseers, commonly had authority over a number of churches. That wasn’t true in the New Testament. Bishops, elders, and pastors are terms that Scripture uses synonymously for the same position (cf. Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20:17, 28, 1 Peter 5:1-2). A plurality of elders served in churches, which is consistent with Paul’s teaching (Acts 14:23, Phil 1:1). (4) Why does 1 Timothy (and other pastoral epistles) lack many of the great theological themes in Paul’s other letters? First, it does have many of the themes “such as the proper function of the law (1:5–11), salvation (1:14–16; 2:4–6); the attributes of God (1:17); the Fall (2:13, 14); the person of Christ (3:16; 6:15, 16); election (6:12); and the second coming of Christ (6:14, 15).”7 However, these themes are only mentioned and not elaborated on. This probably happens because of the personal nature of the letter. Timothy had been discipled by Paul, and he didn’t primarily need doctrinal instruction. He needed personal instruction. (5) Finally, Paul’s different vocabulary is relative to his audience and purpose. A personal letter should look different from a doctrinal letter. We see similar differences in an academic paper versus a casual letter between friends.
As a background to the letter, one must begin with Paul’s visit with the Ephesian elders before his first Roman imprisonment. In Acts 20:28-31, he warns the elders that savage wolves would arise, even from among their number, to destroy the flock. It seems that after Paul was released from Rome and visited Ephesus, this prophecy had already come to fruition. He returns to a cesspool of false teaching, and no doubt, some of the elders were propagating it. He disciplines two of these leaders, Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:20). He then travels to Macedonia and leaves Timothy the job of combating false teaching (1:3). He writes from Macedonia to encourage Timothy and give him instructions on how to minister to God’s household—the church (1 Tim 3:15). It is clear from the contents of the letter that, though Paul writes primarily to Timothy, he also intends to address the Ephesian congregation. In closing the letter, Paul says, “Grace be with you all” (1 Tim 6:21)—referring to all the Ephesians.
Who was Timothy? Timothy was from Lystra (Acts 16:1–3), a city in Galatia (part of modern Turkey). His name means “honoring God” or “one who brings honor to God.” Timothy was raised in a Christian home. His mother was a Jewish Christian woman; his father was Greek and probably a pagan (cf. Acts 16:1, 2 Tim 1:5). He learned the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother as a child (2 Tim 1:5, 2 Tim 3:14-15). Some believe that Timothy was led to Christ by Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6, 7) since he always calls him his “genuine child in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). Whether that happened or not, by Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy had matured in the faith and was well spoken of by everybody, and therefore, Paul took him as his protégé in the ministry (Acts 16:1-3). Timothy was probably in his mid-thirties, as Paul told him to not let anyone look down on his youth (1 Tim 4:12). A man was considered a youth until his forties in the Greek world. He struggled with timidity—maybe a fear of incompetence in the ministry (2 Tim 1:7), and he had reoccurring stomach issues. Paul told him to no longer only drink water but to have a little wine for the frequent infirmities (1 Tim 5:23). Timothy is seen throughout the NT narrative assisting Paul in various ministries including being sent to other troubled churches (1 Thess 3:1, 1 Cor 4:16-17, 16:10-11, Phil 2:9-24).
Additionally, it is helpful to understand a little about Ephesus—the city Timothy ministered in. Ephesus was a port city located at the mouth of the Cayster River, on the east side of the Aegean Sea—making it rich for commercial trade. Emperor Augustus declared it the capital of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in 27 BC8; therefore, it was a political center as well. But it was probably best known for religion. The temple of Artemis (or Diana) was in Ephesus. The statue of Diana was a multi-breasted, crowned woman—symbolizing fertility. It had close links to local commerce and was a major tourist attraction.9 R. C. Sproul adds,
The temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the world. It was 425 feet in length and 220 feet in breadth. Architecturally it was composed of 127 white marble columns, each 62 feet high. It was opulently decorated with ornate carvings and priceless paintings. Its chief attraction, however, was an image of Diana said to have fallen directly from heaven to earth. The temple was so popular among pagans that Ephesus emerged as the religious centre of all Asia.
The temple employed a great many prostitutes and was therefore a haven for deplorable and perverse sexual acts in honor of Diana. Worshipers believed that participating in profane intercourse ensured them of increased financial prosperity.10 No doubt, this would have been a difficult city for Timothy to minister in. Not only did he have conflict from within the church with false teachers, but also the constant pull of the world.
Again, Paul writes this letter to encourage Timothy to complete his ministry in Ephesus (cf. 1 Tim 1:3, 18-20, 4:14-16). Maybe, Timothy felt like giving up and especially needed to hear this encouragement. Many helpful themes arise from Paul’s instructions:
The theme of church order. This could be called the major theme of the epistle. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul says, “in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth.” In chapter 2, Paul gives instructions on corporate prayer, the roles of males and females in public worship. In chapter 3, he gives requirements for overseers and deacons. In chapter 5, he gives instructions on the social ministry of the church—focusing on widows—and also how to minister to elders, including the need to pay them. This is important to consider because the church is not only an organism, as we are the body of Christ, but also an organization with order. Our God is a God of order, and we see this both in the Old Testament and the New. This is clearly demonstrated in the OT regulations for sacrifices and temple worship. Similarly, 1 Timothy, and other pastoral epistles, lay out regulations for the church in the New Covenant.
The theme of contending for the faith. Timothy is continually encouraged both in 1 and 2 Timothy to hold on to the doctrinal deposit passed to him and to contend for it (1:18, 6:12, 2 Tim 1:12, 2 Tim 4:7). He is commanded to fight the good fight of the faith (6:12), which includes correcting false teaching (1:3). Without this, many are deceived, and generations can potentially lose sound teaching. This is something that needs to be heard today. Often to preach doctrine is considered unloving, as true doctrine says what is true and what is false. In 1 Timothy, Paul even named those who were leading others astray (1 Tim 1:20). Christians in every generation must fight this battle and hold on to the faith.
The theme of becoming a good minister. In 1 Timothy 4:6 (NIV), Paul says, “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” He then goes on to describe characteristics of good ministers that Timothy should practice, like disciplining himself to godliness, setting an example in his conduct and pursuit of holiness, preaching and teaching the Word, among other things. In 1 Timothy 6:11 (NIV), Paul calls Timothy a “man of God,” which is a designation used only of him in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, it was used of prophets and those who spoke for God. In 1 Timothy 6:11-16, Paul gives him further instructions on how to continue his walk as a man of God. All believers have been called to speak for God and minister to others. Studying these instructions will help saints to become men and women of God—good and faithful ministers.
The theme of being faithful with riches. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul warns Timothy about teachers who use godliness as a means of financial gain (v. 5). In contrast with false teachers, Paul says godliness with contentment is in fact great gain (though not necessarily financially), and that with food and covering, believers should be content (v. 6-8). He then details the dangers of loving and pursuing money (v. 9-10). Finally, he gives instructions to wealthy believers to put their hope in God instead of riches and to be rich in good deeds (v. 17-19). Ephesus was a wealthy city in the ancient world, and no doubt, many believers were wealthy. In fact, some were even wealthy slave owners (1 Tim 6:1-2). This is important to hear because many Christians in developed nations are also wealthy. To make over $50,000 a year places one in the top 1% of the world population.11 Many believers intimately know the temptation of pursuing and hoping in wealth, and therefore, need to hear and heed Paul’s instructions on money.
In 1 Timothy, Paul encourages his disciple, Timothy, to be faithful with the ministry God has given him. He gives him instructions on how God’s household should be run and protected. Since the Church today is susceptible to the same dangers as the Ephesian church and because we are all called to minister to and with her, this is a relevant message that deserves focused study. May God, through the grace of his Word, make you a faithful minister in his household to the glory of his Name.
1 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2069). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
2 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10639-10640). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
3 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10613-10615). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
4 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2070). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
5 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10613-10615). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
6 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10613-10615). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
7 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10650-10654). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
8 MacArthur, John (2003-08-19). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 9706-9708). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
9 Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Purpose of God: Ephesians (pp. 12–13). Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.
Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines