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New Testament: 2 Timothy

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St. Timothy

The Apostle Paul addresses Timothy as his "beloved child" and speaks of him as one whom he has ordained. This letter begins and unfolds as the most intimate of the three so-called Pastoral Epistles, which include also 1 Timothy and Titus. In its references to Paul and his suffering, the Second Letter to Timothy appears to have been written, at least in part, to elicit sympathy for the apostle. The letter is an exhortation not to be ashamed of the gospel and to stand firm even if that would mean suffering on its behalf.

So What?

The primary sources on the life and theology of the Apostle Paul are his seven undisputed letters (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon). In addition, the Acts of the Apostles is the chief secondary source. But 2 Timothy has also had an importance for understanding Paul, portraying him as an apostle who was not only a proclaimer of the gospel but one who was willing to suffer for it. Paul is portrayed as the ideal Christian and apostle.

Where Do I Find It?

The Second Letter to Timothy is the sixteenth book in the New Testament. Clustered with 1 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 letter, it was written by the Apostle Paul while he was imprisoned at Rome to Timothy, who appears to be at 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 Second Letter to Timothy is widely considered to be pseudonymous, written after the death of the Apostle Paul. 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?

By appealing for Timothy to imitate the Apostle Paul, who is in prison and faces possible martyrdom, the Second Letter to Timothy prescribes sound teaching, opposition to false teaching, and good order in the church.

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 readers (ostensibly Timothy, but implicitly more than him) to imitate Paul in his fidelity to the gospel, even in trying circumstances. 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.

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

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

Paul addresses Timothy as his "beloved child."

II. Thanksgiving (2 Timothy 1:3-7)

Paul gives thanks for Timothy and for the faith he holds, which was in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice as well. Paul asks that the gift for ministry that Timothy received from him be rekindled.

III. Exhortation to Timothy to Join Paul in Suffering (2 Timothy 1:8-10)

Paul is suffering as a prisoner, and he asks Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel.

IV. Paul as Model, Abandoned by Many, Refreshed by Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:11-18)

Paul suffers as a herald of the gospel and a teacher, and he asks Timothy to guard the faith he has received. Although some former associates have abandoned Paul, Onesiphorus has not.

V. Exhortation to Timothy as Leader (2 Timothy 2:1-26)

Timothy is exhorted to train others to join in teaching the faith, to suffer for the gospel, to lead people away from false teachers, to avoid the false teachers himself, and to set an example of virtuous living.

VI. The Characteristics of Apostasy (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

While living in the "last days," one can expect that false teachers will seek to lead people astray and have some success in it, but ultimately they will not succeed.

VII. Paul the Suffering Apostle (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Paul has suffered for the sake of the gospel, and Timothy is exhorted to be faithful to the gospel that Paul has proclaimed and taught, making use of the Scriptures.

VIII. Exhortation to Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

In spite of any opposition that might come, and despite the fact that some people will turn away to follow teachers they like, Timothy is to carry out his ministry fully and faithfully.

IX. Paul's Final Reflections (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Paul reflects on his imminent death, saying that he has "fought the good fight" and awaits his salvation in heaven.

X. Closing Comments and Instructions (2 Timothy 4:9-22)

Paul provides a summary of what has been going on concerning his friends and associates, indicating who has deserted him and who remains faithful to him. Before closing with greetings and a brief benediction, he also asks Timothy to come to visit him, bringing along a cloak, some books, and some parchments.

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

According to details within the letter itself, Paul is imprisoned (1:8, 16; 2:9; 4:16), presumably in Rome (1:17), and he writes to Timothy, who is at Ephesus (1:18; 4:12). Paul is at the point of martyrdom (4:6), and he calls upon Timothy to be faithful in ministry, proclaiming the gospel that he learned from Paul, and even being willing to suffer for it. If all that is so, the book would have been written late in Paul's career and after his arrival in Rome (Acts 28:16). It is more probable, however, that 2 Timothy is a deutero-Pauline book, written pseudonymously sometime after the death of Paul. It presupposes a background in which false teachers have entered the community for which the book was written. According to the writer, they "have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place" and are "upsetting the faith of some" (2:18), which may refer to a type of incipient Gnosticism. The writer seeks to combat the false teachers by appealing to Paul as a suffering apostle. The fact that Paul suffers for the faith attests that both he and his gospel are authentic. It was commonly thought in early Christianity that false teachers would not endure suffering.

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

The author of the letter. According to data within 2 Timothy, it was written by Paul while he was imprisoned at Rome (1:1, 8, 16-17; 2:9; 4:6) to Timothy, who appears to be at Ephesus (1:18; 4:12). Luke is with Paul in Rome (4:11), and Paul asks Timothy to come to him (4:9). 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.

Hagiography. This is literature that honors saints by telling of their deeds and virtues. Most distinctive of this letter among the three Pastoral Epistles is its warm and sympathetic picture of the Apostle Paul, who is portrayed as imprisoned and in danger (2 Timothy 1:8, 16; 4:16). To Timothy he says, "Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra" (3:10-11). Paul is portrayed here as an example in virtually all things that are related to the faith and life of the Christian. There are places among the undisputed letters where Paul sets himself up as an example (for example, 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17), but this passage in 2 Timothy is most explicit concerning the characteristics of Paul that should be emulated. Second Timothy is an early form of Christian hagiography (one of the very first, if not the first), a literary piece written to praise a saint. Many hagiographies have been written since.

The inspiration of Scripture. One of the best known verses of 2 Timothy is at 3:16, on the inspiration of Scripture. Issues that typically arise in discussions of the verse are: what is meant by "Scripture" in this particular verse (is it Old Testament only?) and what is meant by "inspiration"?

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. At the same time, 2 Timothy differs from the other two Pastoral Epistles in that it has nothing to say about ecclesiastical offices and has a "thanksgiving" section at the outset.

Pseudonymity. Although the issue of pseudonymity has to be dealt with in the case of each of the three Pastoral Epistles and some other writings in the New Testament, it is particularly acute with this letter. Toward the close of it (2 Timothy 4:9-18) there are particular details mentioned that are so specific (such as Paul's having left a cloak at Troas) that some interpreters think that a pseudonymous writer could not have written them. On the other hand, studies have shown that verisimilitude is one of the most important and most common features of pseudonymous writing in antiquity. If you are going to do it, do it well!

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. There is an implicit affirmation of Christ's preexistence and incarnation (2 Timothy 1:9-10; see also 1 Timothy 3:16; Titus 2:11), his true humanity is maintained (2 Timothy 2:8; see also 1 Timothy 2:5; 6:13), and his death is acknowledged (2 Timothy 2:11; see also 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14). He has been exalted to heaven and reigns in the present era (2 Timothy 1:10; 2:12; see also 1 Timothy 3:16). Finally, he will appear at the end of time (2 Timothy 4:8; see also 1 Timothy 6:14), when he will judge both the living and the dead (2 Timothy 1:18; 4:1, 8).

Salvation. People commit "sins" (2 Timothy 3:6; see also 1 Timothy 1:15; 5:22, 24) due to serving the self and its passions (2 Timothy 3:2-5; see also Titus 2:12). The result is a life leading away from eternal life and toward judgment and eternal death. Salvation consists primarily of the divine rescue of persons from mortality--with its sins, ignorance, and unbelief--for life in the eternal and heavenly kingdom of God (2 Timothy 1:10; 4:18). Christ gave himself as a ransom for all (see 1 Timothy 2:6), thereby bearing the divine judgment against sins for the benefit of others (see Titus 2:14). Being raised from death, he "abolished death and brought life and imperishability to light" (2 Timothy 1:10), exposing life and immortality for all to see as a possibility for themselves. Finally, he will come to rescue his people and save them for his heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).

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