The Pastoral letters: 1 Timothy, Titus and 2 Timothy
Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome ended in AD 61-62 and the Lord strengthened Paul so that ‘through me the message might be fully proclaimed’ and that ‘all the Gentiles might hear it’ (2 Timothy 4:17). In AD 62-67 Paul visited at least the following places: Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3), Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), Crete (Titus 1:5), Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), Troas (2 Timothy 4:13), Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20) and Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). Although intended for all Christians, the pastoral letters emphasize the pastoral duties of local church leaders such as the defence of doctrine as well as maintaining order and discipline in the local church (cf. Bailey & Constable 1999:458). 1 Timothy and Titus were probably written in AD 63-66 while Timothy 2 was written at the end of Paul’s life in about AD 67 or 68. Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome ended in AD 67 or 68 when he died as a martyr, but the Lord brought Paul ‘safely into his heavenly kingdom’ (2 Timothy 4:18).
Major themes of the pastoral letters
As an ‘old man’ (Philemon 9), Paul was concerned that the truth of the gospel be preserved and passed on to future Christians and local churches (cf. Litfin 1983:729). Timothy is therefore told to charge some ‘not to teach any different doctrine’ but to live ‘in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God’ (1 Timothy 1:3-4a, 11; cf. 1:18; 3:6-7, 11, 13, 16; 6:3). Titus is told to appoint elders to ‘give instruction in sound doctrine and to rebuke those who contradict it’ (Titus 1:9; cf. 1:14, 2:1, 7, 10; 3:9). Timothy is again told to ‘follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 1:13; cf. 2:2, 15-16; 3:10-11, 14; 4:2-4). In these pastoral letters the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to convey practical truths to leaders of local churches (cf. Bailey & Constable 1999:458).
Timothy was the son of a believing Jewish woman (Eunice) and a Greek father and he was the grandson of a Christian woman called Lois (Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy accompanied Paul on the second and third missionary journeys. After he was released from a Roman prison, Paul left Timothy behind in Ephesus to represent him and to combat false teaching (cf. Acts 20:29-30; 1 Timothy 1:20). While Paul visited other churches and places, Timothy was to remain in Ephesus until Paul returned (1 Timothy 3:14; 4:13; Constable 2015:1-2). Because of his Jewish background, and since Jews were in the places Paul was likely to go, Timothy was circumcised in terms of the Abrahamic covenant (Acts 16:3; Fruchtenbaum 2005:8-9).
Structure of the pastoral letters
With the help of Litfin (1983:730-731), this outline is suggested for 1 Timothy:
Introduction (1:1-2); Timothy’s challenging task and assignment (1:3-20); Instructions for local church life (2:1-4:5); Instructions for local church leaders (4:6-5:25); Instructions for groups in the local church (6:1-19); and Conclusion (6:20-21).
See the outline for Titus here.
Bailey & Constable (1999:478-479) suggests the following outline for 2 Timothy: Introduction (1:1-2); Thanksgiving for faithful fellow workers (1:3-18); Exhortations to persevere (2:1-26); Directions concerning the last days (3:1-4:8); Concluding personal instructions and information (4:9-22).
Titus came to faith during Paul’s first missionary journey and attended the meeting in Jerusalem as an uncircumcised believer (Acts 15; Galatians 2:1). During Paul’s third missionary journey, Titus was sent as Paul’s representative to the troubled church in Corinth, to bring order and to collect money for the poor believers in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 7:6-16; 8:1-24). After his release from Roman imprisonment, Paul left Titus behind in Crete to put what remained in order and to appoint elders (Titus 1:5). Only once Paul could send others to Crete could Titus re-join Paul in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). Because Titus had no Jewish background and came to faith in Christ during New Testament times, he was not circumcised in terms of either the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants (cf. Acts 15:1, 24; Galatians 2:3; Fruchtenbaum 2005:9).
Content of the pastoral letters
As an old man whose time of departure has come (2 Timothy 4:6), in his last three letters Paul emphasizes the life and leadership in the local church. In 1 Timothy, the local church must preach God’s truth to the world, while its leaders must expound the truth in the local church (1 Timothy 3:15; Constable 2017:5). Titus focuses on the organization and leadership within the local church so that these instructions can be carried out (Constable 2017:5). In 2 Timothy, the emphasis turns back to the leaders’ individual responsibilities and then on the life of the local church (Constable 2017:5). The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write all these things so ‘that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:17).
During his second Roman imprisonment in AD 67-68, Paul writes that he ‘fought the good fight’ and ‘I have kept the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7). He who once crossed through Asia Minor and Europe with the gospel of Christ was still the Lord’s prisoner, in chains as a worker who is not ashamed. Every Christian should grow in godliness (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16; 6:3-6, 11), good works (Titus 1:8, 16; 2:7, 14, 3:1, 8, 14) and fulfil their ministry despite suffering (2 Timothy 4:5). Paul writes as one who is ‘already being poured out as a drink offering’ who ‘has finished the race’ (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-7). His martyr’s death is not the end, however, because for Paul is laid up the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give him on that Day — and not only on him, but also to all who have loved the Lord’s appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).
Bailey, M.L. & Constable, T.L., 1999, Nelson’s New Testament Survey, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
Constable, T.L., 2017, Notes on 1 Timothy 2017 edition, Sonic Light.
Fruchtenbaum A.G., 2005, ‘The second missionary journey: Acts 15:36-18:22’, Ariel Ministries.
Litfin, A.D., 1983, ‘1 Timothy’, in J.F. Walvoord & R.B. Zuck (eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, pp. 727-748, David C Cook, Colorado Springs.
Tenney, M.C., 1985, New Testament Survey, revised edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids.
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