The first epistle to Timothy is one of the three writings of St. Paul which are known as the Pastoral Epistles. This title was first applied to these Epistles in the eighteenth century. The name is very appropriate, since the aim of the Epistles was to give advice on matters of church organization to those who were in positions of responsibility in the church, and to whom the pastoral care of the various classes in the Christian community was entrusted. In a very real sense we have in I Timothy a short minister’s manual which treats of the office, qualifications, and duties of the Christian pastor.


The historical situation to which I Timothy refers merits some attention. Paul and Timothy had been working together for some time in Ephesus. Paul left for Macedonia (1:3) but hoped to return soon (3:14). Timothy had been left at Ephesus to organize the church, to refute false teachers who had been busy there, and to care for the well-being of “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:15). According to the Letter to Titus, Paul had been to Crete and had left Titus there to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5); later on Titus had to come over to Paul at Nicopolis, where Paul had determined to stay for the winter (3:12). According to II Timothy, Paul was a prisoner in Rome (1:8, 16–17; 2:9). He had already answered before the tribunal once, being forsaken by his friends, but God had delivered him “out of the mouth of the lion” (4:16–17). Only Luke was with him now. Titus had departed from Rome to Dalmatia (4:10), and Tychicus had been sent to Ephesus. Trophimus had been left sick at Miletus (4:20). This, in short, was the historical background from which the Pastoral Epistles were written.

None of the situations described here, however, fits in the picture of the life and travels of Paul as we know them from Luke’s description in the Acts, or from the other Pauline writings. This has given occasion to some scholars to deny the Pauline authorship of the Letters, and to doubt their authenticity. According to the Acts, Paul had been at Ephesus with Timothy, from which place he sent Timothy to Macedonia, and did not leave him at Ephesus after his own departure to Macedonia (see Acts 20:1 f.; 19:21, 22). This could not, therefore, be the same occasion to which 1 Timothy 1:3, 4 referred. According to Titus, Paul had been at Crete and Nicopolis for extended missionary work, of which Acts, however, makes no mention. According to II Timothy, Paul had been at Corinth, Troas, and Miletus, but his visits there cannot be the same as recorded in Acts 20:2, 5, 15 f. According to Acts 21:29, Trophimus left for Jerusalem together with Paul, but in 2 Timothy 4:20 he is mentioned as being left sick at Miletus.

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Are we driven to the conclusion that these letters are not from Paul? There is another and more satisfactory solution. The pastoral writings were composed during a major missionary enterprise of Paul, of which the Acts, which take place after his release from imprisonment in Rome, following his appeal to Caesar, make no mention. The journeys and work of Paul mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles cannot be dated in the period covered by Acts, but took place between his “first” and his “second” imprisonment to which II Timothy refers (1:8, 16–17).

That such was the case is borne out by the almost unanimous patristic testimony and tradition. Clemens Romanus, for instance, writing from Rome to Corinth (95 A.D.), asserts that Paul, after instructing the whole world (Roman empire) in righteousness, “had gone to the extremity of the West (was that Spain? compare with Romans 15:28) before his martyrdom.” The Canon of Muratori (170 A.D.) alludes to “the journey of Paul from Rome to Spain”; and Eusebius (beginning of the fourth century) clearly formulates the tradition as follows: “After defending himself successfully, it is currently reported that the Apostle again went forth to proclaim the Gospel, and afterwards came to Rome a second time, and was martyred under Nero.”

If this was so, and facts seem to bear it out, then the Pastoral Epistles reflect the historical situation in which they were written as belonging to the period after 62 A.D., and before the Apostle’s martyrdom in 66 or 67 A.D.


The internal evidence, that the writer calls himself Paul (1 Tim. 1:1; compare with 2 Tim. 1:1; Titus 1:1), and that there are many personal references contained in the Epistles, is confirmed by the external evidence that Paul was the author. The witness of the early Church to Pauline authorship of these particular Epistles and their place in the canon of the New Testament, is early, clear, and as unhesitating as that given to other Epistles of Paul. With the exception of the Canon of Marcion, the heretic, in the second century (which omits the Pastoral Epistles along with three Gospels and several other canonical N. T. writings), the Pauline authorship is endorsed by the Canon of Muratori (170 A.D.) as well as by Clement of Rome, the Epistle of Barnabas, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and so on. And it was not before the nineteenth century that the authenticity was doubted or questioned.

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Objections to the Pauline authorship were based on the ground, firstly, that the Letters could not be fitted into the history of Paul’s travels as recorded in the Acts; secondly, that they reveal a more advanced church organization than we find in the rest of the New Testament, and presumably too advanced for Paul’s day; and thirdly, that the language of these Epistles differ in many respects from that of Paul’s other recognized Epistles.

We need not go into much detail here. The first point has already been treated in our discussion of the historical setting. As to the second, the ecclesiastical objection is based on the fact that the Letters make mention of bishops or overseers, and elders or presbyters, and deacons in what seems a firmly established church organization of a later day. However, already on his first missionary journey Paul was ordaining elders in every city (Acts 14:23); in his Letter to the Ephesians he refers to pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11); in Philippi bishops and deacons were serving the church (Phil. 1:1); and, after all, it was a very simple organization with these few offices in which bishops and elders were interchangeable terms (Titus 1:5, 7), not yet reflecting any sort of episcopal hierarchy as was the case in later ages.

The linguistic objection to the Pauline authorship is based on differences in style and vocabulary with the usually recognized Pauline writings. This has been regarded as a strong evidence against the authenticity and genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles. Harrison (in his The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles) mentions 175 hapax legomena (words occurring only once in the New Testament) in the Pastoral Letters of which I Timothy alone has 96. This however cannot be a conclusive criterion. The statistical method for proving or disproving authenticity of writings cannot be regarded as convincing. The Letters of Paul differ largely from one another according to subject and mood. Vocabulary as well as style are determined by a large number of personal factors. A man’s vocabulary may change with the passing of years, or a writer’s amanuensis may be a different person each time. Statistically speaking, a similar objection to authenticity can be launched against any of Paul’s Letters. Each has a significant number of hapax legomena: I Corinthians has 100, II Corinthians has 91, Romans has 94–461 in all for his first ten recognized Epistles. Moreover, there is no contradiction in any of the Pastoral Letters against anything Paul has written in his other Letters. All are true to the spirit and genius of the great missionary apostle.

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The key word of this Epistle seems to be in 3:15: “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” This practical motive is obvious throughout the Epistle. The Letter can be divided into three parts:

1. Duty towards vindication of the sound doctrine in the church against error and heresy (1:3–20).

2. Regulations for the organized life of the church (2:1–3:16) as regards public prayer (2:1–8), the place and duties of women in the church (2:9–15), and the qualifications for office-bearers in the church, bishops and deacons (3:1–16).

3. The walk and work of the minister in the church (4:1–6:19) as exemplary servant of Jesus Christ (4:1–16), in his relation to individual members of his flock—older people, widows, elders, slaves, and the rich (5:1–6:2 and 6:17–19), and his duty toward the evil and also his calling to a holy walk (6:3–16, 20–21).


The Letter focuses attention on three main subjects. The first is church organization. The church is the house of God (3:15). The offices therein are those of bishop, elder, and deacon. Bishop and elder seem to signify the same office, for the duties assigned to each are identical (compare 1 Tim. 3:2–7 with Titus 1:5–9). There are various fixed places of worship where prayers are offered (2:1, 8), the Word is read, and preaching is done (4:13, 16). Some elders are entitled to preach (5:17), whereas all bishops have to watch over the interests of the church, combat error and heresy, and see that discipline is enforced (3:2; 5:20).

The second subject is false teaching or heresy within the Church. There seems to have been some Jewish error allied with Gnosticism which presented a grave danger to the Church, which stood in contrast with the apostolic teaching, the doctrine according to godliness and true faith. The seducers are false teachers of the law (1:7), given to fables and genealogies (1:4–7); and as gnostics they teach a rigid ascetism, renounce marriage and the use of certain foods (4:3, 7–8), and profess a science (gnosis) falsely so-called (6:20), thereby departing from the faith and inclining to evil (4:1–2). The warning is sounded against this sinful heresy on several occasions in I Timothy and the other Pastoral Letters.

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The third subject concerns qualifications for office-bearers. Special emphasis is laid on the spiritual nature of offices held in the church of God. Only holy men may exercise holy offices. A high standard of spiritual life and consecration to the cause of God is required. The aspirants must first be proved (3:10). Bishops must be blameless, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, not given to wine or covetousness, monogamous, apt to teach, having a good report from them that are without (3:1–8). Deacons likewise must lead irreproachable lives, and their wives must be of the same caliber (3:8–13). These are high demands for a high calling! Yet especially in church service must God be honored in sincerity.


The following commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles will be found useful: Calvin, New Testament Commentaries (1833); Alford, The New Testament (ed. 5, 1863); Ellicott, The Pastoral Epistles (ed. 4, 1864); Plummer, Expositor’s Bible (1888); Wohlenberg, in Zahn’s Kommentar zum N.T. (1906); White, in Expositor’s Greek Testament (1910); M. Dibelius, in Lietzmann’s Handbuch zum N.T. (1913); Parry, The Pastoral Epistles (1920); Lock in International Critical Commentary (1924); Bouma, De Brieven van Paulus aan Timothëus en Titus (in: Komm. op het N.T.) 1942; Jeremias, Die Briefe an Timotheus und Titus (in: Das N.T. Deutsch) 1953; Simpson, The Pastoral Epistles (1954); Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (in: Tyndale N.T. Comm.) 1957.


Theological Seminary

Stellenbosch, South Africa

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