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New Testament: 1 Timothy

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Summary

St. TimothyThe letter is addressed to Timothy in Ephesus, from which the Apostle Paul has departed for Macedonia. Paul plans to return, but he may be delayed, so he sends instructions to Timothy and expects him to carry them out while he is away. Much of the letter contrasts true and false teachers and prescribes a specific church order. Although the letter is addressed to Timothy, the author sometimes "talks past" him to a larger community that is to hear certain exhortations. For example, all are to honor elders who rule well, preach, and teach; and slaves are to obey their masters.

So What?

The First Letter to Timothy is significant for its emphases on the goodness of God, the goodness of the creation, and living in the world (rather than fleeing from it). It is strongly anti-gnostic (even if Gnosticism was not fully developed when it was written). Its information on the ordering of the church in its time and place, as well as its teaching on order, have had major importance throughout church history.

Where Do I Find It?

The First Letter to Timothy is the fifteenth book in the New Testament. Clustered with 2 Timothy and Titus (the other two "Pastoral Epistles"), it stands near the end of the "Pauline corpus," the collection of letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (the books of Romans through Philemon).

Who Wrote It?

According to the first three verses of the letter, it was written by the Apostle Paul, apparently located in Macedonia, to Timothy in Ephesus. Yet, this letter is generally regarded as pseudonymous, written after the death of Paul by an anonymous writer who sought to impersonate Paul in a post-Pauline situation.

When Was It Written?

The First Letter to Timothy is widely considered to be pseudonymous, written after the death of the Apostle Paul. Paul likely died during the reign of the emperor Nero, somewhere between 62 and 65 C.E. Since the letter has terminology that is found generally in certain Christian writings of the second century, it is considered to have been written late in the first century or even early in the second.

What's It About?

The First Letter to Timothy is primarily about leadership in the early church: it exhorts its readers to resist false teaching, hold on to the faith as delivered, exhibit good conduct, and order the church in such a way that all of this can be accomplished.

How Do I Read It?

Read the letter as one written to impersonate Paul in a situation that the author faced in his own time and place. Seeking to represent Paul in order to give authority to what he has to say, the author calls upon his readers to respect "the faith" that has been transmitted to them and to reject false alternatives that claim to convey a higher knowledge than that which has been received. In order to do this letter justice, one should read it (as well as the other Pastoral Epistles) in light of the seven undisputed letters of Paul, where one finds quite different emphases and teachings. As a canonical text, it has importance, but it does not necessarily express the last word on matters (such as teachings concerning the role of women) that are treated differently in other parts of Scripture.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament

 

I. Opening (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

Paul sends greetings to Timothy, his "loyal child in the faith."



II. Call to Oppose False Teachers (1 Timothy 1:3-20)

Timothy is to oppose persons who teach doctrine different from that delivered by Paul and to "fight the good fight" in imitating Paul.



III. Instructions on Prayer and Worship (1 Timothy 2:1-15)

While gathered for corporate worship, men are to pray for the civil order. Women are to be silent, comport themselves with modesty, and bear and nurture children.



IV. Expectations of Bishops and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13)

To qualify for the office of bishop (episkopos, "overseer"), a man must be virtuous in general and have the skills to manage a household. To be a deacon (diakonos, "minister," "servant"), one must also be virtuous and tested.



V. The Church as Bulwark of Truth (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

The letter gives instruction in matters of behavior, for sound teaching and good behavior must be held together in the church, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth."



VI. Duties of Ministry (1 Timothy 4:1-5:2)

Timothy must oppose false teachers who reject marriage and forbid the eating of certain foods. He is to insist on the goodness of what God has created, serve as an example in speech and conduct, and carry out his ministry with boldness, including the public reading of Scripture and teaching.



VII. Attending to Order and Duties (1 Timothy 5:3-6:2a)

Timothy is to take care of matters of order in the community, including making a roster and arranging financial support of women who qualify as true "widows," the honoring and financial support of elders who govern and teach, and the honoring of masters (especially Christian masters) by Christians who are slaves.



VIII. True and False Teaching (1 Timothy 6:2b-21a)


Once again a distinction is made between true and false teaching and teachers. The latter seek controversy and are addicted to vices of various kinds (including greed), but Timothy is to "fight the good fight of the faith," keep the faith confessed from the beginning, and urge good conduct within the community, including generosity.



IX. Benediction (1 Timothy 6:21b)

The letter concludes with a brief benediction.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament

According to details within the letter itself, the Apostle Paul has left Ephesus, where he has carried on a ministry, and has gone to Macedonia. He tells Timothy to remain at Ephesus and to carry on instruction in sound teaching, oppose false teachers and their teaching, and supervise the ordering of the church. Some scholars have sought to find a place for the letter within a chronology of Paul's lifetime, such as after Paul's departure from Ephesus to Macedonia, according to Acts 20:1. But that does not work since, according to the narrative of Acts, Timothy did not remain in Ephesus (at Acts 20:4 he is already with Paul). Moreover, Timothy is regarded as a young man in the letter (1 Timothy 4:12), but he would be mature at the time presupposed by Acts 20. It is more probable that 1 Timothy is a deutero-Pauline book, written pseudonymously sometime after the death of Paul. Further information from within the book shows that it presupposes a background in which false teachers have entered the community for which the book was written. They teach an ascetic form of Christian life, opposing marriage and forbidding the eating of certain foods (4:3). They promote a highly speculative system of teaching with "myths and genealogies" (1:4), which the author says is "falsely called knowledge" (gnosis, 6:20), and which may be some form of incipient Gnosticism.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament

The author of the letter. According to the first three verses of 1 Timothy, it was written by Paul. More likely, however, this letter was written in Paul's name by an anonymous writer (making it a pseudonymous work) after the death of Paul. The author sought to impersonate Paul in a post-Pauline situation. Reasons cited for that view depend on an assessment of the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) as a group. The reasons are as follows: (1) the Pastorals do not appear as known Pauline letters in the earliest sources; (2) the Pastorals contain 901 different Greek words, but once the 52 proper nouns (names and places) are removed, there are 849 left; of the 849, some 306 (36%) do not appear within the seven undisputed letters of Paul; (3) the Pastorals assume and prescribe a church order with ecclesiastical offices (bishop, presbyter [=elder], and deacon) firmly in place, which is not evident in the undisputed letters of Paul; (4) the Pastorals contain teachings otherwise unknown in the undisputed letters of Paul (such as an emphasis on "piety" or "godliness," and "faith" understood as the Christian faith that is transmitted by tradition, not simple trust); and (5) the Pastorals cannot be fitted well into the chronology of what we know about Paul's career.


Knowledge (gnōsis). The term appears in 6:20. Is this evidence of the existence of Gnosticism at the time, and is 1 Timothy therefore an anti-gnostic work? Generally it is thought that there was a proto-Gnosticism or incipient Gnosticism in the first century, but the great gnostic systems arose in the second century. Scholars debate the extent that any of the New Testament books address (or even reflect) Gnosticism, and this passage is key for the discussion.


False teaching addressed by the author. The problem one faces in trying to discern the nature of the false teaching addressed is that the author does not provide much information about its content but prefers to attack the persons considered false teachers. He even tells Timothy to avoid them and not to engage them (6:20). A few things stand out: they teach an ascetic form of Christian life, opposing marriage and forbidding the eating of certain foods (4:3), and they promote a highly speculative system of teaching with "myths and genealogies" (1:4).


The Pastoral Epistles. These three books--1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus--share much in common in terms of language, style, and theological themes. Each is written to a pastor from a pastor. One cannot discuss the theology of one of them in isolation from its two companion pieces.


The roles of office bearers in the church. The terms "bishop," "elder," "deacon," "women," and "widow" appear in 1 Timothy (3:1, 8, 11; 5:3, 17, and elsewhere). At least in the case of the first three mentioned, it appears that these are fixed offices in the church at the time of the letter's composition. But their interrelationships and functions are not clear, nor is it clear whether or not the "women" mentioned are counted among the "deacons," even though they appear to carry on diaconal work. There is a roster of "widows" who receive financial support. But whether one can speak of an "order of widows" (as did some Christian writers in the second century) is not clear. The duties and relationships of bishop, elder, and deacon, and how important these offices are in the ordering of the church, have been major issues in ecumenical conversations among Christians.


The scope of redemption. In 1 Timothy 4:10 the author says that God is "the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." Interpreters have sought to come up with interpretations to get around the "all" of the statement, such as the idea that the "all" simply means both Jew and Gentile. But the distinction between Jews and Gentiles does not seem to be an issue in the Pastoral Epistles. Another interpretation is that the passage speaks of God as Savior of all in this world--one who rescues or heals all--whether they believe or not. All such attempts avoid the implicit universal scope of redemption that the passage seems to affirm. The passage must of course be assessed in light of the larger canonical context of Scripture as a whole.


The silencing of women. Women are to keep silent in the church and have no authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-14). This passage has been a major text for those churches and persons who oppose the ordination of women.


Slavery. The author takes it for granted that some Christians are slaves (1 Timothy 6:1-2; see also Titus 2:9-10), and that some Christians are slave owners (6:2). He assumes that slavery may be preserved. Slaves and slave owners are exhorted to be respectful of one other. These texts have been used in support of slavery as an institution.

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament

Christ. Four major christological titles appear in the Pastoral Epistles: "Christ," "Lord," "Savior," and "Mediator." The title "Son of God," used often in the seven undisputed letters of Paul, does not appear. Among the Pastoral Epistles, the term "mediator" appears as a christological title only in 1 Timothy 2:5. It refers not so much to Christ's nature as to his function in giving himself as a "ransom" for the salvation of humanity. There is an implicit affirmation of Christ's preexistence and incarnation (1 Timothy 3:16; see also 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 2:11), his true humanity is maintained (1 Timothy 2:5; 6:13; see also 2 Timothy 2:8), and his death is acknowledged (1 Timothy 2:6; see also 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 2:14). He has been exalted to heaven and reigns in the present era (1 Timothy 3:16; see also 2 Timothy 1:10; 2:12). Finally, he will appear at the end of time (1 Timothy 6:14; see also 2 Timothy 4:8), when he will judge both the living and the dead (see 2 Timothy 1:18; 4:1, 8).


Ethics. While there are special expectations for office holders in the church, there are general ethical teachings that apply to all believers. These include good works in general (1 Timothy 2:10; see also 2 Timothy 2:21; 3:17; Titus 3:1), moderation (1 Timothy 6:8), generosity (6:17-18), and care of the elderly (5:4). The love of wealth is to be avoided (6:9-10; see also 2 Timothy 3:2).


God and creation. The author affirms that God the Father is one, and that God has not only created all things but has created them good (1:2; 2:5; 4:3-4; see also 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4-5), that God "gives life to all things" (1 Timothy 6:13) and "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (6:17). Stress is placed on the goodness of marriage and having children (1 Timothy 3:2-5; 5:10, 14; see also Titus 2:4) and the legitimacy of secular authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2; see also Titus 3:1-2).

AUTHOR: Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus and former Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament