First Epistle to Timothy

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The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy, usually referred to simply as First Timothy and often written 1 Timothy, is one of three letters in the New Testament of the Bible often grouped together as the Pastoral Epistles, along with Second Timothy and Titus. The letter, traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul, consists mainly of counsels to his younger colleague and delegate Timothy regarding his ministry in Ephesus (1:3). These counsels include instructions on the organization of the Church and the responsibilities resting on certain groups of leaders therein as well as exhortations to faithfulness in maintaining the truth amid surrounding errors.


The actual author of First Timothy has been traditionally identified as the Apostle Paul. He is named as the author of the letter in the text (1:1). Nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship questioned the authenticity of the letter, with many scholars suggesting that First Timothy, along with Second Timothy and Titus, are not the work of Paul, but rather are unattributable Christian writing some time in the late-first-to-mid-2nd centuries.[1] Most scholars now affirm this view.[2][3] As evidence for this perspective, they put forward that the Pastoral Epistles contain 306 words that Paul does not use in his unquestioned letters, that their style of writing is different from that of his unquestioned letters, that they reflect conditions and a church organization not current in Paul's day, and that they do not appear in early lists of his canonical works.[4]

Historical views

The authenticity of Pauline authorship was accepted by Church orthodoxy as early as c. AD 180, as evidenced by the surviving testimony of Irenaeus and the author of the Muratorian fragment. Possible allusions are found in the letters from Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (c. 95), Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians (c. 110) and Polycarp to the Philippians (c. 130),[5][6] though it is difficult to determine the nature of any such literary relationships. Modern scholars who support Pauline authorship nevertheless stress their importance regarding the question of authenticity: I. H. Marshall and P. H. Towner wrote that "the key witness is Polycarp, where there is a high probability that 1 and 2 Tim were known to him".[7] Similarly M. W. Holmes argued that it is "virtually certain or highly probable" that Polycarp used 1 and 2 Timothy.[5]

Late in the 2nd century there are a number of quotations from all three Pastoral Epistles in Irenaeus' work Against Heresies. The Muratorian Canon (c. 170–180) lists the books of the NT and ascribes all three Pastoral Epistles to Paul. Eusebius (c. 330) calls it, along with the other thirteen canonical Pauline Epistles, "undisputed".[8] Exceptions to this positive witness include Tatian,[9] a disciple of Justin Martyr turned heretic, as well as the Gnostic Basilides.[10]

Marcion, an orthodox Bishop later excommunicated for heresy, formed an early canon of Scripture c. 140 around the Gospel of Luke and ten of the canonical Pauline epistles, excluding 1–2 Timothy and Titus. The reasons for these exclusions are unknown, and so speculation abounds, including the hypotheses that they were not written until after Marcion's time, or that he knew of them, but regarded them as inauthentic. Proponents of Pauline authorship argue that he had theological grounds for rejecting the Pastorals, namely their teaching about the goodness of creation (cf. 1 Tim 4:1 ff.).[11]

The question remains whether Marcion knew these three letters and rejected them as Tertullian says, since in 1 Timothy 6:20 "false opposing arguments" are referred to, with the word for "opposing arguments" being "antithesis", the name of Marcion's work, and so a subtle hint of Marcion's heresy. However, the structure of the Church presupposed is less developed than the one Ignatius presupposes (who wrote c. 110), as well as the fact that not only is "antithesis" itself a Greek word which simply means "opposing arguments" but as it has been noted, the attack on the heretics is not central to the three letters.[12]


Modern scholars generally place its composition some time in the late 1st century or first half of the 2nd century AD, with a wide margin of uncertainty. The text seems to be contending against nascent Gnosticism (1 Timothy 1:4, 1 Timothy 4:3)[13] (see Encratism), which would suggest a later date due to Gnosticism developing primarily in the latter 1st century. The term Gnosis ("knowledge") itself occurs in 1 Timothy 6:20.[14]Template:Better source If the parallels between 1 Timothy and Polycarp's epistle are understood as a literary dependence by the latter on the former, as is generally accepted,[6] this would constitute a terminus ante quem of AD 130–155. However, Irenaeus (writing c. AD 180) is the earliest author to clearly and unequivocally describe the Pastorals.[citation needed]

The earliest known writing of 1 Timothy has been found on Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5259, designated P133, in 2017. It comes from a leaf of a codex which is dated to the 3rd century[citation needed]


This historical relationship between Paul and Timothy is one of mentorship. Timothy is first mentioned in Acts 16:1. His mother Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:5. All that we know of his father is that he was a Greek, not a Jew (Acts 16:1).

Paul's second visit to Lystra is when Timothy first connected with Paul (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:11). Paul not only brought Timothy into the faith but he was Timothy's main mentor in Christian leadership (Acts 16:3), having done church planting and missionary journeys together. Timothy would have received his authority to preach in churches directly from Paul who of course was the greater known and accepted of the two and an apostle. Timothy's official position in the church was one of an evangelist (1 Timothy 4:14) and he worked with Paul in Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia, Troas, Philippi and Berea (Acts 17:14) and continued on to do even more work in Athens, and Thessalonica for the church (Acts 17:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:2) not to mention his work in Corinth, Macedonia, Ephesus and greater Asia. Timothy was also noted for coming to Paul's aid when Paul fell into prison (Philippians 1:1, 2 Timothy 4:13). Despite not being required due to the ruling of the Jerusalem council, Timothy took circumcision himself in order to be a better witness among the Jews. According to church tradition he was loyal to Paul's wishes and stayed and worked in Ephesus until he finally suffered a martyr's death himself.[15]

If, however, "the pastorals are best understood against the background of the second century, the evidence in the letters relative to church order ... clearly reflect a time when apostle and prophet have been succeeded by bishop (and archbishop?) and/or elder in a stabilized church organization fully committed to an authorized succession of ordained ministers. The local churches are no longer lay churches, nor are their needs now taken care of simply by itinerant missionaries. There is obviously hierarchical organization both in the local and ecumenical church. The chief function of the bishop (or archbishop?) is to transmit and maintain the true faith."[16]

The Pastorals are distinguished from all other New Testament letters in that they are addressed ... to a special functional class within the church, namely, the professional ministry. Thus these letters occupy the unique distinction of being not simply the only letters in the New Testament to be addressed primarily to clergymen, but also of being in this sense the first extant pastoral letters—that is, letters written by a pastor to pastors—in the history of the church.[17]

Key themes

The author of this epistle writes to Timothy concerning the organization of the church and Timothy's own leadership within the body. Major themes include the use of The Law (1Timothy 1:7–11), warnings against false doctrine such as Encratism, instructions for prayer (1Timothy 2:1–8), roles of women in the church, qualifications for leaders of the church (1Timothy 3:1–13), and the treatment of widows, elders, masters, youth, and church members in general (1 Timothy 5:1–5:20).


Template:Ordered list[citation needed]


Several composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, set a line from the epistle as a Christmas cantata, including Stölzel's Kündlich groß ist das gottselige Geheimnis beginning with 1 Timothy 3:16.

See also


  1. Ehrman, Bart. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Oxford University Press. 2003. p. 393 ISBN 0-19-515462-2
    "when we come to the Pastoral epistles, there is greater scholarly unanimity. These three letters are widely regarded by scholars as non-Pauline."
  2. Collins, Raymond F. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. 2004. p. 4 ISBN 0-664-22247-1
    "By the end of the twentieth century New Testament scholarship was virtually unanimous in affirming that the Pastoral Epistles were written some time after Paul's death. ... As always some scholars dissent from the consensus view."
  3. David E. Aune, ed., The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 9: "While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphal, i.e., written by unknown authors under Paul's name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus)."
  4. Stephen L. Harris, The New Testament: A Student's Introduction, 4th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 366: "In the opinion of most scholars, the case against Paul's connection with the pastorals is overwhelming. Besides the fact that they do not appear in early lists of Paul's canonical works, the pastorals seem to reflect conditions that prevailed long after Paul's day, perhaps as late as the first half of the second century C.E. Lacking Paul's characteristic ideas about faith and the Spirit, they are also un-Pauline in their flat style and different vocabulary (containing 306 words not found in Paul's unquestioned letters). Furthermore, the pastorals assume a church organization far more developed than that current in the apostle's time."
  5. 5.0 5.1 Holmes, MW, "Polycarp's 'Letter to the Philippians' and the Writings that later formed the NT", in Gregory & Tuckett (2005), The Reception of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers OUP, p. 226 ISBN 978-0-19-926782-8
  6. 6.0 6.1 Berding, K. (1999). "Polycarp of Smyrna's View of the Authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy". Vigiliae Christianae. 53 (4): 349–60. doi:10.2307/1584486. JSTOR 1584486.
  7. Marshall, I. H. and Towner, P. H. (1999), The Pastoral Epistles, T&T Clark, ISBN 0-567-08661-5, p. 3
  8. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5
  9. Moffatt, James. An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament. 1911: p. 420.
  10. Knight, George William, (1992), The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary On the Greek Text, ISBN 0-8028-2395-5
  11. John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (Leicester: IVP, 1996), 23.
  12. W. Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament, ET 1968, p. 207: "Can we find, nevertheless, in the light of the contents of the letters, a common key to the understanding of all three? One common factor is to be found in the attack upon heretics, but this does not really stand in the forefront of any of the letters. I Tim. and Tit. are concerned rather with codified 'rules' or 'rules' required to be codified, for the ministry among other things. 2 Tim. also deals with the ministry, not in the sense of laying down rules, but rather that Timothy in fulfilling his ministry should follow the example of Paul."
  13. Kirby, Peter. "Gnostics, Gnostic Gospels, & Gnosticism." Early Christian Writings
  14. "1 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,".
  15. "Apostle Timothy of the Seventy", Orthodox Church in America
  16. The Interpreter's Bible p. 346.
  17. The Interpreter's Bible p. 344.

External links

First Epistle to Timothy
Preceded by
Second Thessalonians
New Testament
Books of the Bible
Succeeded by
Second Timothy