Thursday, March 12, 2009

Explanatory Notes: 1 Timothy 1:1-2

I will be presenting in a couple weeks on 1 Timothy 2 to a women in minstry class, so I thought I might take the chance to do some explanatory notes on 1 Timothy. I also hope maybe to do several Viola chapters later in the day, since the next few are short ones.
1:1 Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus according to the command of God, our Savior, and Christ Jesus, our hope, to Timothy, our genuine child in faith. Grace, mercy, peace [be to you] from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

We find differences in scholarly opinion on whether 1 Timothy is as it appears to us, a letter from Paul to Timothy, or whether this letter is "pseudonymous." In that case, 1 Timothy would date to a few decades after Paul's death and would mean to extend Paul's voice to the Christian situation around the end of the first century. The divide among scholars largely falls along presuppositional lines. Those who allow for the possibility of pseudonymous writings in Scripture fairly consistently decide in favor of 1 Timothy's pseudonymity, while obviously those who do not believe pseudonymity to be compatible with Scripture consistently conclude against it.

In our explanatory notes we will explore what the text might mean in both scenarios.

Paul identifies himself as an apostle in most of his writings after the Thessalonian letters. He understands an apostle to be someone to whom the risen Jesus has appeared (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:1) and then commissioned to take the good news to others (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:18). The fairly consistent use of "Christ Jesus" ("Messiah Jesus") in 1 Timothy is interesting, as Paul elsewhere tends to alternate more freely between Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus.

The reference to God as Savior is not found in the rest of the Pauline writings with the exception of Titus. The two uses of the word outside the pastoral epistles are in Philippians 3:20 and Ephesians 5:23, where it is used of Christ. It is also used strikingly of Christ as God in Titus 2:13. The word was sometimes used in the Roman context of the emperor. The addition of "mercy" to the prescript or greeting of the letter is unique here among Paul's writings also, outside of 2 Timothy.

The letter identifies Timothy as Paul's "true child" and for contemporary readers of the New Testament will evoke images of the relationship between Paul and Timothy depicted and implied elsewhere. Acts 16 tells of Paul joining Timothy to his mission in the city of Lystra in Lacaonia in Asia Minor and of having him circumcised because his mother was Jewish.

Timothy appears as cowriter of several of the Pauline writings, including 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and the Thessalonian letters. Paul indicates that Timothy went to various locations like Corinth and Philippi on Paul's behalf, and very well may have delivered some of Paul's letters. We wonder if he may have helped at least as Paul's secretary at times, if not in the actual composition of the content.

1 comment:

Richard Fellows said...


my only quibble here is with your statement that Luke presents Timothy's Jewish mother as being the reason for his circumcision. (The principle of matrilineal descent did not come in until later). Actually Luke says that he was circumcised "because they all knew that his father was a Greek". There is a hint here that Timothy would have passed himself off as a circumcised Jew (and perhaps had attempted to do so) if the Jews in the region had not found out that his father was a Greek (and that therefore he was uncircumcised). I have proposed that they found out about Timothy's Greek father (and therefore his uncircumcised state) through the "spying" of the "false brothers" of Gal 2:4-5. Tertullian also blames the "false brothers" for the circumcision of Timothy, but the theory is particularly attractive if we equate Timothy with Titus, who is the subject of Gal 2:3-5.

It is normally supposed (correctly I think) that Paul circumcised Timothy to make him acceptable to the Jews that Timothy was to evangelize. A Timothy would be able to be a "Jew to the Jews in order to win Jews". This suggests that Timothy was a missionary partner of Paul from the start. This is confirmed by the fact that Timothy is a co-sender of Paul's letters and is described as "co-worker of God in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ" (1 Thess 3:2). Timothy was therefore a high ranking evangelist and there are two important implications:

Firstly, he was not the young timid subordinate whom the Pastoral Epistles patronize. I doubt that Paul would have circumcised someone as junior as the Timothy of the PE. Commentators find the circumcision of Timothy surprising because their view of Timothy is conditioned by the PE.

Secondly, he was not a new convert from Lystra. He was from Antioch, as I argued before.