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Introduction to Paul's Second Letter to Timothy

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Authorship

The hotly debated question of the authorship of the three Pastoral Epistles is described in the article about 1 Timothy. This page also looks at the events of Paul’s final years, and gives a possible reconstruction of his last three years.

Historical Setting

The Book of Acts concludes with Paul in prison in Rome waiting for his appeal to the emperor to be heard. The normally accepted date for this imprisonment is from AD 60 to 62. From the end of Acts, it appears that Paul was being held in a form of house arrest, with a soldier guarding him, and able to receive visitors (Acts 28:16, 23, 30). It appears that after two years, Paul was released and able to continue his ministry, visiting places including Ephesus, Crete, and possibly Spain. This is sometimes called the fourth missionary journey. The letters of 1 Timothy and Titus were probably written during this period.

Paul was finally martyred during Nero’s persecution of the Christians following the fire of Rome in AD 64. The Book of 2 Timothy was probably written during a second period of imprisonment in Rome. It appears that this second imprisonment was in much more severe conditions. The preliminary hearing has already taken place (4:16), and Paul is now waiting for the full trial. He is not expecting acquittal, so death is certain (4:6-8). As a Roman citizen, Paul would not have been crucified, but beheaded by the sword. There is very strong evidence from history that Paul was put to death near to Rome.

When he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul had been left all alone, apart from Luke (4:11), many had deserted him, including Demas, and others had departed, perhaps on ministry, including Crescens, Titus and Tychicus (4:10). At his first defence all had deserted him (4:16), and someone called Alexander the coppersmith did him great harm (4:14).

Paul knows well that the time of his departure has come, to be poured out as a libation (4:6). He can look back on his life with satisfaction, knowing that he had fought the good fight and finished the race (4:7), and can now look forward to receiving the victory crown of righteousness (4:8)

Reason for writing

Paul’s thoughts are also on the future of the gospel after he departs. With urgency, he writes to Timothy, who he gives special responsibility with the apostolic gospel. He hands over his apostolic commission as apostle to the Gentiles, so Timothy can continue Paul’s work, after his martyrdom.

On a human level, Timothy is not suitable for this task. He is prone to illness, he is still young (1 Tim 4:12, 2 Tim 2:22). When Paul first met him on the second missionary journey, he was probably in his early twenties, so would now be about 35. He is shy, retiring and reserved, and tended to shrink back from difficult tasks (1 Cor 16:10-11, 2 Tim 1:7-8).

Paul’s gospel is now committed to Timothy. He had to assume responsibility for the gospel, through preaching and teaching. He had to defend it against attack and falsification by false teachers, and to ensure accurate transmission to future generations.

The book contains many exhortations to Timothy. Many are to do with teaching, preserving the Gospel and scripture.
1. Gospel, truth, faith, word of God, pattern of sound words, scripture (1:8,10,11,13,14, 2:8,9,15, 3:14-16, 4:2)
2. Teaching and preaching (1:11, 2:2, 3:16, 4:2-3)
3. Avoiding controversy (2:23)
4. Righteousness and lifestyle (2:22)
5. Associated persecution and suffering (1:8,12,16, 3:11,12, 4:5-6)

The climax of the book is the solemn charge Paul gives to Timothy. There are three witnesses: God, Christ Jesus and his appearing, and the kingdom (4:1). “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. ... As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (4:1-2, 5). Timothy must guard the gospel, be willing to suffer for it, continue in it without unbelief, and to proclaim it in season and out of season.

Biography of Timothy

Timothy was a resident of Lystra (Acts 16), which is a city in the Roman province of Galatia. Lystra was a rather insignificant town, at least eight miles (12 km) from the great east-west trade route. It was in a rich fertile area, on a small mound, with a couple of small rivers flowing past. The ruling class were the local aristocracy of Roman soldiers who lived there. There was a group of Greek educated residents who were called the Hellenes. These were not a racial group, but rather an educated and generally well-to-do segment of the population. Timothy, whose father was a Hellene (Acts 16) probably belonged to the educated and upper income bracket, a member of the Greek or Roman ruling class. He was probably not a believer. The majority of the people were from the uneducated Anatolian tribe which had its own language (Acts 14).

Timothy had a grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, who were Jewesses (Acts 16) and they were believers before him (2 Tim 1:5). We do not know how they heard the Gospel or when they became believers. It could have been on Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 14:8) or before that (Acts 2). However, they taught Timothy the scriptures from an early age (2 Tim 3:15). Lystra was an almost exclusively Gentile city, with only very few Jewish families. There was no synagogue. Perhaps Lois and Eunice were the only Jews in the city.

Timothy, it seems, became a believer on the first missionary journey through Paul (1 Tim 1:2). He would have been quite young, probably in his late teens or early twenties. He witnessed all that went on in the city of Lystra during Paul’s visit, including the healing of the lame man and Paul and Barnabas being worshipped as Greek gods (3:10, Acts 14:8-20). In the few years between the first two missionary journeys Timothy grew strong in his faith and made quite a reputation for himself. “He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). He also made some sort of public stand of witness, probably baptism (1 Tim 6:12).

When Paul arrived at Lystra on the second missionary journey, he desired Timothy to accompany him. It was probably at this time that Paul and the elders laid hands on him, to see his ministry released and confirmed by prophetic utterance (1 Tim 1:18, 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6), a ministry that needed to mature and grow (1 Tim 4:15). Paul also at this time had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3), so that his ministry would extend into the Jewish communities and synagogues.

Timothy quickly became a significant member of Paul's apostolic team, and was given a number of missions to accomplish, as Paul's representative. He was not a pastor of a church, but sent to churches to sort out various problems. He at was given at least six such commissions:
1. Left with Silas in Beroea (Acts 17:14-15)
2. Sent to Thessalonica (1 Thess 3:6)
3. Sent to Macedonia from Ephesus (Acts 19)
4. Sent to Corinth from Ephesus (1 Cor 4:17, 16:10)
5. Sent to Philippi (Phil 2:9)
6. Left behind in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3)

His tasks included
1. Helping to establish churches, as in Boroea ( Acts 17:14-15)
2. Enquiring about church’s welfare (1 Thess 3:6)
3. Seeking to correct false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3)
4. Dealing with false teachers (2 Tim)
5. Bringing encouragement and news of Paul (Phil 3).

Paul had a very high regard for him, calling him his “fellow worker” (Rom 16:21), “beloved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Cor 4:17), and “God's servant” (1 Thess 3:2). Paul's highest recommendation of Timothy was to the Philippians. “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare. They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy's worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served me with the Gospel.” (Phil 2:20-22)

As Timothy grew in his ministry, Paul invested increasing authority in him, so that when he was sent to a place on behalf of Paul, Paul would give him authority and instruct him to “Remind people and charge them” (2 Tim 2:14), “Convince, rebuke, exhort” (2 Tim 4:2), “Charge certain persons not to teach different doctrines” (1 Tim 1:3), “Command and teach these things” (1 Tim 4:11), “Teach and urge these duties” (1 Tim 6:2).

Paul sent for Timothy during Paul's last imprisonment (2 Tim 4:9,13), shortly before his martyrdom.

We can find out a little of Timothy's character by what Paul says about him and to him. The church at Corinth was told to receive Timothy in such a way that he would be put at ease among them and that he was to be respected by them (1 Cor 16:10). This, with the instructions of Paul in the two letters to Timothy, suggest a young man who is a little unsure of himself, rather timid and liable to hold back, rather than push himself forward. Paul gives him the following instructions:
“Let no one despise your youth” (1 Tim 4:12)
“Practice preaching, teaching, public reading” (1 Tim 4:13,15)
“God has not given us a spirit of timidity” (2 Tim 1:7)
“Share in suffering” (2 Tim 1:8)

It may be that his stomach problem was due to a nervous disposition (1 Tim 5:23). It does seem clear that he was growing into the ministry and was tempted to neglect the giftings and ministries he had received. He was a number of times exhorted to “get on with it!”
“Do not neglect the gift” (1 Tim 4:14)
“Practice these duties” (1 Tim 4:15)
“Rekindle the gift” (2 Tim 1:6)
“Study” (2 Tim 2:15)

It seems that Timothy heeded Paul's word to “share in suffering” (2 Tim 1:8), for in Hebrews the author declares that he had just been released from prison (Heb 13:23). We do not know how he finished his life.