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 2 Timothy clearly points to Pauline authorship. Second Timothy 1:1 says, “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” Externally, 2 Timothy, and other pastoral epistles, are well attested for. William 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.3
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 Pastoral Epistles.4 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(1) The historical references in the Pastoral Epistles cannot be harmonized with the chronology of Paul’s life given in Acts; (2) The false teaching described in the Pastoral Epistles is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.5
How have these proofs been refuted? (1) As for the reasoning that the historical references in the Pastoral Epistles don’t match the Acts chronology, the book of Acts ends with Paul’s first Roman imprisonment; however, tradition says that Paul was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 the pastorals happened after Acts. (2) While critics declare that the false teaching that Paul describes is full-blown Gnosticism of the second century, although it certainly contained elements of it, there were marked differences as well. The false teaching in Ephesus also included strong elements of Judaism, as Paul declared that the false teachers were abusing the law and forbidding certain foods (1 Tim 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 the pastoral epistles is too developed for the first century is simply 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 do the pastoral epistles lack many of the great theological themes in Paul’s other letters? First, they do contain many theological themes, but they are only mentioned and not elaborated on. This is most probably due to the personal nature of the letters. Timothy and Titus were discipled by Paul and, therefore, didn’t primarily need doctrinal instruction; they needed personal instruction. (5) Finally, the variation in Paul’s 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 2 Timothy, 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 then 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 Tim 1:20). He then travels to Macedonia and leaves Timothy in Ephesus to complete the job of combating false teaching (1 Tim 1:3). At some point, Paul was again imprisoned in Rome. Radmacher comments, “Many believe that Paul was put in prison when Nero began his campaign of persecution, shortly after Rome burned in a.d. 64. Nero blamed the Christians for starting the fire, and executed many of them with extreme cruelty.”6 Paul writes 2 Timothy during his second imprisonment. Whereas in Paul’s first imprisonment, he was under house arrest, had many visitors, and expected to be released (Phil 1:19, 25, 26; 2:24; Philemon 22), in Paul’s second imprisonment, he had no such hopes. He tells Timothy that he was already being poured out like a drink offering and the time of his departure was at hand (2 Tim 4:6). Tradition says Paul was held in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, as he awaited trial and eventual execution. It was essentially a dark dungeon with a hole in the ceiling for light and to drop food. It would have gotten extremely cold in the winter, which is probably why Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak (2 Tim 4:13). Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he could not be executed by crucifixion, burning, or being thrown to the lions, but he could be decapitated. Tradition says he was beheaded by Nero in AD 67. While in prison, Paul writes to encourage Timothy to continue faithfully guarding and preaching the Word after his death, amidst false teaching and persecution (2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2-3, 3:1-9, 4:2). It is possible that Timothy was discouraged and in danger of weakening spiritually. Paul’s concern is evident in his his “encouragement to ‘stir up’ his gift (1:6), to replace fear with power, love, and a sound mind (1:7), to not be ashamed of Paul and the Lord, but willingly suffer for the gospel (1:8), and to hold on to the truth (1:13, 14).”7 He also writes to ask Timothy to visit him before winter—bringing his cloak, books, and Mark (2 Tim 4:9-13). Second Timothy is a highly personal letter, as Paul shares his last written words to his protégé.
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 everyone, 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 some of the historical background of 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 also a political center. 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. 10
The temple employed hundreds of sacred prostitutes and was therefore a haven for deplorable and perverse sexual acts in honor of Diana. Worshipers believed that participating in profane intercourse ensured their increased financial prosperity.11 No doubt, this would have been a difficult city for Timothy to minister in. Not only did he have to deal with conflict within the church from false teachers, but also the constant pull of the city’s official religions.
What are the major themes of 2 Timothy? As mentioned, Paul’s focus is encouraging Timothy to faithfully continue his ministry, even after Paul dies, as well as encouraging Timothy to visit before winter (cf. 1:13-14, 2 Tim 4:2-6, 9). During the course of the letter, several themes arise:
The theme of enduring suffering for Christ. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in prison awaiting execution, and everyone had turned their backs on him in order to avoid implication (1:15, 4:16). Timothy would also be tempted to escape the cross of Christ. Paul challenges him multiple times both by command and example to faithfully endure: In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul says, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel.” In 2 Timothy 2:3, Paul says, “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” In 2 Timothy 2:10 and 12, Paul shares some of his motivations for suffering—that the elect may obtain salvation and that those who suffer with Christ will reign with him. It is important for us to understand that “all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12); therefore, we must be willing to endure suffering for our Lord as well.
The theme of corruption in the church. Timothy is warned about vessels of dishonor in the house of God, which probably refers to false teachers and those with false professions (cf. 2:16-19). Timothy is encouraged to cleanse himself from the latter, so he could become a vessel of honor (2:20-21). Furthermore, he is warned to avoid foolish and ignorant controversies (2:23), and those with only an outward appearance of religion but deny the power thereof (3:5). It seems that the last days will be full of false teaching, false teachers, and false professions (3:1-9). People in the church will become treacherous like animals (3:1). They will be lovers of themselves and pleasure instead of God (3:2-4). It was not that Timothy was never to correct false teachers and those with false professions; rather, he was to gently instruct them and avoid quarreling with them—trusting that God is the one who brings repentance (2 Tim 2:24-26). As we get closer to the last days, corruption in the church will abound (1 Tim 3:1-9, cf. Matt 24); therefore, we must also be aware of it, avoid it, and correct it in order to help ourselves and others escape defilement.
The theme of guarding Scripture. Throughout 2 Timothy, there are over thirty-six references to God’s Word or an aspect of it.12 Paul continually emphasizes Timothy’s need to be faithful with Scripture. In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul says, “Hold to the standard of sound words that you heard from me and do so with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us.” Later, Paul encourages Timothy to teach this deposit to reliable people who will teach it to others (2:2) and to correctly handle it in order to be approved by God (2:15). In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul teaches the inspiration and usefulness of Scripture. God created Scripture, and Timothy was to use it to equip himself and others for every good work. He was to do this by focusing on preaching the Word, both in season and out of season, as the time would come when many would neglect or reject it (4:1-4). God’s Word was to be Timothy’s first priority in ministry. He was to protect it, by keeping it from decay and corruption and passing it on to the next generation of teachers, and we must do the same.
With both pastoral warmth and soberness, Paul wrote 2 Timothy to encourage and challenge Timothy during difficult times. This letter has continued to encourage and challenge distressed Christian workers throughout the centuries. It reminded them, as it reminds us today, that the godly will be persecuted, to not be surprised at corruption in the church, and that we must faithfully guard and teach God’s Word, as our primary endeavor. May God sharpen, refresh, and encourage you, as you drink deeply from Paul’s final letter.
Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown
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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 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2070). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
4 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10613-10615). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
5 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10613-10615). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
6 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (2 Ti). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
7 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 10845-10852). 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.
10 Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Purpose of God: Ephesians (p. 12). Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.
11 Accessed 1/25/2016 from http://www.cowart.info/Ephesus/ephesus.html
12 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 4:2). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines