I Timothy Introduction

In Acts 16, we first learn of the young man Timothy. Paul had just let go his former coworker and assistant Barnabas, they having argued over taking John Mark, Barnabas’ relative and their former young assistant, with them on their second apostolic journey. Paul had insisted that he should not be trusted after he had abandoned the work on their first apostolic journey, thinking that he was no more dedicated now and would abandon them again. Barnabas was determined to give him another chance, however, and so he left and went back home with John Mark, whereas Paul chose Silas as his new companion. The two of them started off on Paul’s second apostolic journey. However, they still had no young assistant. This was the situation when Paul and Silas arrived at Lystra and Derbe, as we read in Acts 16:1-3.

1. Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3. Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

Here we learn that Timothy was already a young disciple, probably having believed along with his mother when Paul and Barnabas were there previously. He had been little more than a child at that time, but now he was a young man of fifteen or sixteen, well spoken of by all the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. He was a young man who had quite a reputation! He seems the perfect new assistant to Paul, and so he wants to take him with them on their apostolic journey.

However, there is a difficulty. Timothy’s mother was a Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. The difference between a Jew and Greek is not one of bloodline, as when we think of “Jew” and “Gentile,” but rather was one of culture, the Jews living the Jewish culture and customs, and the Greeks living according to the common, Greek culture and customs of the day. In the context of the Jewish community and the Scriptures, I believe this term often referred to Jews who had given up on the Jewish way of life and customs. In the Bible, it does not typically refer to Gentiles, who of course would (unless they were proselytes) live the common, Greek lifestyle of the day.

Therefore we learn that Timothy’s mother, a faithful Jewish girl herself, was saddled in marriage (perhaps without her consent, for remember that marriages were arranged in that day) to a man who had turned his back on his own people and their way of life. For this reason, Timothy’s father had failed to circumcise him properly, for circumcision was the father’s job. When Timothy was old enough to choose for himself, however, he had chosen his mother’s way of life, and had identified himself with the Jews.

Yet this left Timothy in a very strange position. Here was a man who believed in God and who kept the Jewish way of life, at least as far as it was possible to keep it outside the land, and yet who was not circumcised, as all such men were supposed to be. The rule for the Acts period for all ancestral Israelites outside the land was as Paul set it forth in I Corinthians 7:18-20.

18. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.

People tend to get quite confused here, and start to wonder how one could reverse a circumcision. What we need to understand is that circumcision was the introductory rite into keeping the law. To be circumcised meant to live circumcised, to live as a law-keeping Israelite. What Paul is saying here is that one who was keeping the law when he came to Christ should not stop keeping it, and one who was not keeping the law when he came to Christ should not start keeping it. This was the general rule for the Acts period believers.

Yet notice that Timothy does not fit neatly into either of these categories. He is literally uncircumcised. Yet when he came to faith in Christ, he like his mother was doing everything else in his power to keep the law. Therefore, according to I Corinthians 7:18-20, he should have continued to keep the law. And yet, there he was, not circumcised!

Paul agrees that Timothy should continue to keep the law, but he is well aware that the Jews in the area all know that Timothy, in spite of how commendable he is as an individual, has never been circumcised. If he becomes Paul’s assistant, this makes Paul almost his foster-father figure, and their first question will be if Paul has seen to it that his circumcision has now been taken care of. If it has not, Paul will be blamed for failure to keep the law. To avoid this possible problem, Paul does what his own father had not done, and circumcises him himself. This of course is much more serious as a young man than as an eight-day-old baby, so it shows that Timothy was indeed dedicated to serving God to go through such a procedure! Our impression of Timothy from this must indeed be a good one.

We next read of Timothy in Acts 17, and this passage too puts him in a good light.

13. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. 14. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there.

When trouble arises in Berea and Paul is forced to flee, both Silas and Timothy remain behind. Since Paul was the leader, the greatest amount of animosity would have been against him, but it was still a courageous act for both Silas and Timothy to remain behind in this very difficult situation. Clearly, we can credit Timothy with bravery.

The remaining times we read of Timothy in Acts are simply statements of when he rejoined Paul and when he accompanied Paul or where Paul sent him, so there is not much information about the man Timothy in these portions. However, we can learn more about the character of this faithful companion of Paul’s in the letters of Paul written during these times. First of all, we read of Timothy in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Timothy is listed as a co-author with Paul and Silas of the book. The book speaks of him internally as well, wherein Paul says of him in I Thessalonians 3:1-3:

1. Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2. and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, 3. that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.

Paul’s concern for the state of the Thessalonian believers induced him to send Timothy to them. He commends Timothy as a “brother and minister of God,” as well as “our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ.” Certainly, Timothy was all these things. His job among them was to establish and encourage them concerning their faith. The implication of this would be that this young man Timothy was capable of establishing these believers in their faith. This would be in spite of the fact that many of them were much older than he was! He is also to encourage them in their faith, again showing Paul’s confidence that he can do this in spite of his young years. This young man must indeed have been a most impressive individual.

Timothy is also a co-author of II Thessalonians, though that book has nothing else to say of him. Next, we read of Timothy in I Corinthians, which was written several years later than I Thessalonians. Paul says the following to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 4:16-17.

16. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. 17. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.

Here Paul, as Christ’s apostle, urges the Corinthians to imitate him, since his ways reflected the character of Jesus Christ. Since he was no longer among them for them to see him and imitate him, however, he is sending them Timothy. He describes him as his beloved and faithful son in the Lord. Some would suggest that this means that Paul was the one who led Timothy to faith in Christ. While this is doubtless true, I do not believe that this is what is meant here. One of the Hebrew ideas of a “son” is of one who shows forth the character of another. Timothy was a son of Paul in that he shared the same, Christ-like character that Paul had. Therefore, as the Corinthians watched Timothy’s conduct, they would remember Paul’s conduct, and would be able to imitate it. Thus Paul says that Timothy will remind them of his ways in Christ. Moreover, Paul preached what he practiced, and Timothy’s ways would remind them of his teaching as well.

Paul mentions Timothy again in I Corinthians chapter 16 and verses 10 and 11.

10. And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. 11. Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren.

This is the first indication we have (although it is repeated in other places) that Timothy had one flaw in his character: a tendency to timidity and fear. Paul therefore commands the Corinthians to give Timothy no reason to be afraid. Moreover, he also commands them not to despise Timothy. Timothy was such a young man, perhaps still short of twenty, that it would be easy for these much older men to despise him and his ministry. Since he was the representative of God among them, however, this would be a grave mistake, and Paul commands them not to make it. Instead, they should show him all due deference, and send him on his way in peace back to Paul.

Timothy is listed as a co-author of II Corinthians as well.

1. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia:

Since Timothy is called “brother” here, this may be a clue to the identity of the unnamed “brother” mentioned in II Corinthians 8. If so, this is another glowing commendation of Timothy.

18. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, 19. and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind,

The “him” mentioned here is Titus. Timothy and Titus being sent together to the Corinthians would be a most reasonable guess, and certainly the high praise this brother gets here would fit well with what is said of Timothy elsewhere.

Timothy is mentioned again in Romans, but only in passing as Paul’s “fellow worker” in Romans 16:21. This brings us up to the great dispensational dividing line of Acts 28:28. We know that Paul was in Rome when this took place soon after his arrival there. In the two years that followed while he was in
his own, hired house, he wrote the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. In these books, Timothy is mentioned first in Philippians, in which he is actually listed as a co-author with Paul in Philippians 1:1.

1. Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the hallowed ones in Christ Jesus, the ones being in Philippi, together with the over-watchers and servants:

Paul is planning to send Timothy to the Philippians shortly after sending this letter, as we can see from chapter 2. In this portion, Paul speaks at length of Timothy’s good character in Philippians 2:19-22.

19. Now I am expecting in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be of good cheer, when I know of your state. 20. For I have no man equally sensitive, who will genuinely care for your state. 21. For all are seeking their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ. 22. Now you know the proof of him, that as a child for the father, he slaves with me in regard to the gospel.

We can see from this portion that Paul trusts Timothy to accurately report to him the state of the Philippians. He gives Timothy the highest praise, saying that he has “no one equally sensitive,” in the fact that he trusts that Timothy will sincerely care for their condition. The problem with others, he reveals, is that “all are seeking their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ.” Yet clearly Paul believes Timothy to be an exception to this. He will genuinely care for the Philippians, and will seek the things of Jesus Christ among them, not simply the things that benefit himself. Paul and the Holy Spirit writing through him clearly viewed Timothy as a most extraordinary character.

Finally, Paul reminds the Philippians that they know Timothy, as he had served with Paul all the way back when he first came to minister to them in Philippi. Timothy had slaved with Paul as a child for the father, helping him in his work in regard to the gospel. Again, this is high praise of Timothy, and made to people who knew him and who knew the truth of it.

Timothy is again listed as a co-author with Paul in the letter to the Colossians 1:1.

1. Paul, a commissioned one of Jesus Christ in harmony with the will of God, and Timothy the brother,

Finally, Timothy is listed as co-author with Paul of Philemon.

1. Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer,

This closes out our record of Timothy up to the time Paul wrote the two books to him. To learn more about the background of the books of Timothy, we must consider Paul’s movements after the books of Acts was completed. Paul’s two years in Rome during which he wrote the four books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon close out the record of the book of Acts, and we do not have a historical record of anything that happened after this point. However, we can find hints of what happened next from things mentioned elsewhere. For example, we know that Paul had to appear before Caesar before he left Rome, for we read the following record during the harrowing days Paul spent on board ship in the storm on the way to Rome in Acts 27:23-24.

23. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, 24. saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

This angel clearly reveals that the plan is that Paul must appear before Caesar, and so we can assume this happened before he left Rome. He must have been released then, for we read of the plan after Paul left Rome in the book of Romans 15:23-28.

23. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, 24. whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. 25. But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. 27. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. 28. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain.

This shows that the plan was for Paul to go to Jerusalem, then Rome, then Spain. His journey from Jerusalem to Rome was perhaps not as he imagined, since he went there several years after Jerusalem and in chains. Yet ultimately the plan was followed, and so when Paul was released from Rome after appearing before Caesar, there can be little doubt but that he continued with his plan and went from there to Spain.

After Spain, Paul’s movements become more difficult to trace. The only information we can gather is from the books that Paul wrote after this time, which books are I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus. From these books, we would gather that Paul returned east to many of the places where he had worked in the Acts period to minister to those people once again. He had written to them during his two years in Rome the great truths of the new dispensation of grace, but now they needed help learning how to put those truths into practical effect, and realizing how they should now live. From Titus we learn that Paul visited the island of Crete, perhaps on his way back from Spain.

Titus 1:5. For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—

From this reference, it is clear that Paul himself visited Crete. This was an island, and a place we have no record of Paul visiting in the Acts period. He ministered there for a time, and yet, perhaps because of other pressing duties, was not able to finish the work himself. Thus, he left Titus to complete what still needed to be done.

We cannot trace Paul’s movements from there for certain, but it seems likely that he would have returned at some point to Antioch in Syria, his home base. From I Timothy, we learn that at some time after that he went into Macedonia, probably to the Philippians, Thessalonians, and Bereans, while he sent Timothy into Asia to Ephesus.

I Timothy 1:3. As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine,

From this, it appears that Paul sent Timothy into Asia to visit Ephesus. He clearly was not able to go there himself, as in Acts 20:25 he had revealed to the elders there that they would not see his face again. Paul then was going to travel into Macedonia. Timothy might have been inclined to join him there, but Paul urges him here to stay where he was, as his work there was not by any means complete.

We cannot really tell where Paul was for certain when he wrote II Timothy. Many have suggested Rome, but I do not believe we have sufficient evidence for that. It appears Timothy himself was just leaving Ephesus, having seen his ministry completely fail. Yet Paul urges Timothy to stand firm and to come to him.

These were Paul’s movements, yet the point of these movements was to teach these people the new way of living in this new dispensation. Whether it was to believers from the Acts period who now found themselves living in the new dispensation, or whether it was to the new believers of the dispensation of grace period, this ministry was important and necessary. We always need to put the truths we learn from the Scriptures into practice, and that is the point of I Timothy.

If we divide Paul’s books into periods, early (Acts period) books, prison epistles, and later (post-Acts period) books, this belongs to the final division. The first epistle to Timothy was one of the latest books of the Bible written, perhaps the second to last book of Paul. This book was probably written around 67 A.D., and was followed only by II Timothy. It fits the following structure of Paul’s latest books:

A. I Timothy. Organization. Instruction to leaders and for choosing leaders.
B. II Timothy. What to do when the organization fails. Discipleship. Passing on the truth from one person to the next.
A. Titus. Organization. Instruction to leaders and for choosing leaders.
B. Philemon. What to do when relationships among believers fail. Grace. Accepting our fellow believers in spite of wrongs done against us.