by Ed Gallagher
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.1 Timothy 1:15
This lesson covers the three letters Paul wrote to his associates Timothy and Titus, collectively known as the Pastoral Epistles.
- 1 Timothy, written to Ephesus (1:3), location of Paul unknown, late in Paul’s life (AD 65)
- 2 Timothy, Timothy still at Ephesus (?), Paul in Roman prison (1:8, 16–17), late in Paul’s life
- Titus, written to Crete (1:5), Paul at Nicopolis (3:12), late in Paul’s life
When did Paul first meet Timothy? Paul had met Timothy (and circumcised him) during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3), around AD 50. He had been with Paul quite a bit, named as co-sender of six of Paul’s letters (2 Cor, Phil, Col, 1–2 Thess, Phlm). He was Paul’s emissary to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:2, 6) and the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10). Paul praised Timothy’s example to the Philippians (Phil 2:19–24). Timothy had apparently been with Paul in Ephesus during Paul’s third missionary journey (cf. Acts 19:22) in the mid-50s. Now, about a decade later, he is again in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3).
What do you know about Titus? We do not know how Paul met Titus, but they were close associates. Titus helped Paul iron out his complicated relations with the Corinthians (as discussed in this lesson; cf. 2 Cor 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18). Titus was a Gentile, who sometimes traveled with Paul. He “was not compelled to be circumcised” (Gal 2:1–3) as an example to other Gentiles (and Jews) that Gentiles did not need to become Jews to obey the gospel. He received this letter from Paul while on the island of Crete (3200 sq mi). (Paul was at Nicopolis in Greece; 3:12). Apparently after he finished his business in Crete, Titus went to Dalmatia (2 Tim 4:10; map).
Paul’s two letters to Timothy and his letter to Titus are collectively labeled the Pastoral Letters (since the eighteenth century). What does the term ‘pastoral’ imply about these letters? These letters are concerned with the proper functioning of the church, that is, with pastoral matters. This description applies less to 2 Timothy than to 1 Timothy and Titus.
In both 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul instructs his junior partners on the qualifications for church overseers (1 Tim 3:1) or elders (Tit 1:5). Titus is directed to appoint elders “in every city” of Crete (see the similar situation at Acts 14:23). Paul gives a similar list of qualifications in both passages, with a few minor differences. In both passages, elders/overseers are to be above reproach, husband of one wife, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, hospitable. Both lists also emphasize that these men should be good fathers, they should not be greedy, they should control their temper and be gentle/peaceful, and people should be able to see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Paul also advises Timothy that an overseer should not be a new convert and should be able to teach, whereas he says to Titus that an elder should exhort in sound doctrine.
The passage in 1 Timothy (3:8–13)—but not in Titus—continues with qualifications for deacons. Like overseers, deacons should also be not addicted to wine, not greedy, husband of one wife, managing their children well. Paul says that deacons should serve first and then be appointed. What is it that deacons are supposed to do? Paul actually doesn’t say in this passage what somebody does who is serving as a deacon. The word “deacon” itself means “servant.” We perhaps have a picture of deacons (without that word) in Acts 6, with the seven men appointed to distribute food to widows, thus freeing the apostles to focus on the ministry of the word.
Besides the section on elders, the rest of Paul’s letter to Titus warns against false teachers (1:10–16), gives brief instructions to different groups—older men (2:2), older women (2:3–5), young men (2:6–8), and slaves (2:9–10)—and concludes with reflections on the gospel and its implications for people’s lives (3:1–8) and further thoughts on handling false teachers (3:9–11).
In 1 Timothy, Paul addresses several other issues. One well-known passage is 2:9–15, on the topic of women (cf. 1 Cor 11:1–16; 14:34–35; 1 Pet 3:1–7). Paul also gives instructions for “a widows list” (5:3–16). As in his letter to Titus (2:9–10), so also in 1 Timothy 6:1–2 Paul instructs slaves.
These three letters share a concern for sound doctrine. What sort of false teaching does Paul have in mind in 1 Timothy 1:3–11? Paul says that these people have “strayed from” (v. 6) “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v. 5), so that they now engage in “fruitless discussion” (v. 6), being concerned with “myths and endless genealogies” (v. 4) and desiring to be “teachers of the law” (v. 7). Perhaps they are simply not content with what is taught in Scripture and want to speculate on things that are not known, and thereby cause division (cf. 6:3–5; 2 Tim 2:14, 23; Tit 1:13–14). At 1 Timothy 4:1–5, Paul attributes false teaching to demons (v. 1), and specifies the forbidding of marriage and abstaining from foods (v. 3). Note that the problem here would seem to be that one person is requiring others to remain unmarried and to avoid certain foods. Paul himself elsewhere (1 Cor 7:7) advised Christians to remain unmarried, but did not forbid marriage, and he allowed Christians to avoid certain foods (1 Cor 8; Rom 14).
Paul’s final letter appears to be 2 Timothy, since he expresses his conviction of his forthcoming “departure” (2 Tim 4:6–8). Here he is in a prison (1:8; 2:9; 4:16–18), apparently in Rome (1:17). He is less concerned here with the day-to-day business of the church (appointment of elders/deacons, role of women, providing for widows), but he still stresses the importance of guarding against false teaching (4:3–4). He also stresses the suffering that Christians will endure (3:12), and he encourages Timothy to suffer “for the gospel according to the power of God” (1:8; 2:3) inasmuch as he himself is suffering (1:12; 2:9; cf. Acts 9:16; Col 1:24).
Paul’s final three letters are not to churches but to his friends and coworkers, whom he encourages to continue in ministry even as his own ministry comes to an end. His major concerns are the proper functioning of the church and the preservation of the gospel in the midst of continuing battles with perversions of the gospel, battles that Paul had fought throughout his apostleship (as we see already in his letter to the Galatians).
Additional Questions for Discussion
In 1 Timothy 2:15, Paul says that “women will be saved through the bearing of children.” What does he mean by this?
Paul talks about widows in 1 Timothy 5:3–16. What rules for widows does Paul give? What seem to be his major concerns about widows?
Based on 2 Timothy 3:1–9, what does Paul expect society in the future to be like?
What role does Paul think suffering has in the life of the Christian? See 2 Timothy 3:10–12, along with 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:3, 9; 4:5.
How does Paul describe the Christian life in Titus 2:11–14, and how does this contrast with the lifestyle he describes in Titus 1:10–16?
Biblical scholars often question Pauline authorship of these letters. Wikipedia presents the basics of this view. This book chapter by L. T. Johnson contains a lengthy section on authorship that comes to fairly traditional conclusions.