1 Timothy

1 Timothy Introduction

Outline of contents


1:1–20 Paul and Timothy

1:1–2 Personal greeting

Paul begins, as in his other letters, with a reference to his apostleship. He establishes his authority by mentioning his special calling by God. Paul did not appoint himself and was not, therefore, writing on his own authority. He knew himself to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, using a form of wording which stresses that Jesus was Christ, i.e. Messiah. He expresses God’s part in it in a strong manner, the command of God, showing Paul as a man under orders. Note how Paul refers to God as Saviour, a thought which appears elsewhere in these personal letters.

The description of Timothy as my true son in the faith points to the intimate relationship between the two men and suggests also that it was through Paul that Timothy became a Christian. The linking of grace and peace in the opening of Paul’s letters is normal, but here he includes mercy as well (as in 2 Timothy). Paul speaks of God as Father (so familiar in his other letters) and of Jesus as Lord, which echoes the words of an early Christian confession (cf. Rom.10:9).

1:3–11 The gospel and its counterfeits

3–7 First, Paul reminds Timothy of the occasion when he left him at Ephesus with a particular task, which involved commanding others not to teach false doctrine. Wrong doctrines were already being circulated at this early stage in the church’s life, and this is a reminder that in every age truth is challenged by counterfeits. There is much about false teachings in this letter and in the one to Titus. Whereas these were specific to the times, they throw light on certain principles which are still relevant today in dealing with some types of wrong teaching. Whatever is meant by myths and endless genealogies (4), it is clear that Paul regarded them as the very opposite of the serious content of the gospel. In view of the fact that in Tit. 1:14 Paul mentions ‘Jewish myths’, it is probable that he had in mind mythical histories, like the Jewish Book of Jubilees. Note the contrast between controversies and God’s work. There was an unproductiveness about the false teaching which was the opposite of true faith. Paul draws attention to certain characteristics about the people who were promoting this teaching—their lack of meaning and their unsuitability to be teachers (6–7). What strikes us is the irrelevance of their teaching. Sandwiched in the centre of this passage (5), we find Paul’s statement about the nature of Timothy’s task (to produce love) and his advice on the nourishing of it (purity, a good conscience and faith). The test of a good discussion is not that we have enjoyed a verbal battle but that it has promoted mutual understanding and love; sincere, openhearted and based on faith.

8–11 In v 7 Paul mentions the desire of these false teachers to be teachers of the law and this leads him to discuss the nature and purpose of the law. Paul concedes here (as in Rom. 7:12) that the law is good, although elsewhere he makes clear that it cannot lead to salvation. The main function of the law is to condemn lawbreakers (9–11). The negative side of the law is most prominent. The various types of offenders mentioned are all those against whom the law can operate, as they have committed specific offences. Paul singles out extreme examples, but at least no-one could deny the point he makes—that all these offences are contrary to … sound doctrine.

Although the law has been superseded by the gospel, Paul does not deny that it has a continuing function. He gives a positive definition of sound doctrine as that which conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God (11). This means either that the gospel consists of a glorious theme or that it is provided for by a glorious God. The emphasis here seems to fall on God rather than on the gospel, but the divine origin of the gospel is undeniable. This is fully in line with Paul’s view of the gospel in his other letters.

1:12–17 Paul’s personal experience of Christ

Paul wants Timothy to know how highly he regards his calling to the service of Christ. This would have been an encouragement to him. Paul’s letters are full of sudden outbursts of praise to God. This thankfulness was spontaneous. Here is a realization of God’s mercy against the background of the past. Once a blasphemer and a violent man, Paul rejoices that God has chosen him for his service (12–13). The book of Acts provides the commentary here, for it describes Paul’s ruthless persecution of the Christians before his dramatic conversion (Acts 8–9). He never forgot the wonder of God’s choice of him. The word used here for service is very general and covers the many aspects of the apostle’s work. His recollection of what he had done through ignorance and unbelief served to heighten his awareness of the mercy and grace of God. What struck him was the abundance of that mercy. It reminds us that God does not hold our past against us when we are in Christ Jesus.

Some have found difficulty in Paul’s appeal here to a trustworthy saying (15), since he does not use this phrase outside the pastoral letters. There is, however, nothing here which is at variance with Paul’s teaching elsewhere. The fact that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners is at the heart of the gospel. But when Paul refers to himself as the worst of sinners (16), is he being over-dramatic? There is no need to think so in the light of the previous mention of his violent persecution of the church. His appreciation of the mercy of God was deepened by his own experience as a persecuter of God’s people. Those who are most conscious of their previous opposition to God usually become the most vocal in their understanding of God’s unlimited patience. Such people become exhibits of what God can do. The apostle could not have realized the full extent to which God’s mercy to him would lead others to faith in Christ, but he shows some glimpse of it. The trustworthy saying still deserves full acceptance as a concise summary of the main thrust of the gospel.

The sudden doxology in v 17 is worth noting, for it has several significant features. Only here does Paul call God the King eternal (lit. ‘King of the ages’). The phrase may have come from the Jewish idea of the two ages—the present age and the age to come. The other adjectives used, immortal and invisible, draw attention to the exalted nature of God, and the description only points to his uniqueness.

1:18–20 A charge and a warning to Timothy

Paul now addresses a personal word to Timothy described as this instruction. The word used conveys a sense of urgency and is in the context of a military metaphor. But what were the prophecies once made about Timothy? Probably the allusion is to predictions regarding him which preceded his call to the ministry, perhaps given at his commissioning. It is clear that Timothy’s ministry had the support of other Christians apart from Paul himself. The fight the good fight metaphor is paralleled in other letters (cf.Eph.6:10–18), and finds another echo in 2 Tim. 4:7. Paul was aware that the Christian life is a spiritual conflict. For faith and a good conscience (19) cf. v 5.

The change of metaphor from a fight to a shipwreck is striking (19–20). The case of the two men mentioned is sad, for the shipwreck was caused by a definite rejection of faith. But what does Paul mean by handing them over to Satan? This is admittedly difficult, but the best solution seems to be to regard the church as God’s domain and the unbelieving world as Satan’s. Those who do not believe forfeit any right to remain in the Christian community. But Paul leaves the door open for them if they can be taught not to blaspheme. Some have seen this allusion as meaning the infliction of physical disaster, after the parallels in Acts 5:1–11 and 1 Cor. 11:30. But it is better here to think of moral and spiritual discipline. Paul addresses the same kind of question in 1 Cor. 15. Church discipline today is anything but uniform. Some church leaders may be too authoritarian; others seem to exercise no discipline at all. Paul’s emphasis is on the church’s responsibility for its erring members and also for the general good of the whole body.

2:1–15 Worship and women

2:1–8 Public worship

Paul is here concerned that the right approach should be made to public worship, especially to public prayer. He uses a number of words to denote prayer (1), but there is not a great deal of difference between them. Two important considerations which stand out are the inclusion of thanksgiving and the wide scope of the subject-matter. Not only is Paul anxious to include everyone, but draws special attention to those exercising authority (2). What is significant is that Paul makes no distinction between those rulers that are just and those that are not. He sees it as a Christian duty to pray for those whose actions affect every citizen. But the purpose of the prayer is that Christians may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (2). There are many cases, however, where the environment has been anything but peaceful but where in spite of this much godliness has developed.

There is an unexpected interjection in vs 3–7 in which Paul makes a theological statement. The connection between universal prayer and the statement about God’s desire that all men might be saved is not at first clear, but the link seems to be in the relation of the everyone in v 1 and the all men in v 4. But does this statement support universalism? It could be argued that what God wants must surely come to pass. But it is important to remember that both the OT and the NT speak of God’s ‘desire’ or his ‘will’ in quite varied ways, determined by the context. Sometimes God’s ‘will’ cannot be distinguished from his decree: what he wills to happen, happens. At other times God’s ‘will’ is his command (e.g. 1 Thes. 4:3). At still others, it refers to his stance. The God who cries, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of anyone … Repent and live!’ (Ezk. 18:32) is also the one of whom it is said that he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

It is of course possible to array these statements in some sort of contradictory pattern. In fact, they are part of a consistent biblical picture in which God is presented as simultaneously utterly sovereign and distinctly personal. To set his sovereignty over against his personal interaction with us his image-bearers is to destroy the biblical portrayal of God. In the context of 1 Tim. 2, Paul is anxious to stress divine compassion towards all people irrespective of race, status or condition. Probably he is combatting a tendency towards elitism that tries to limit God’s compassion inappropriately. Whatever Paul and other NT writers say about election, certainly it is integral to early Christian preaching that God desires all to come to a knowledge of the truth.

A second statement of a theological nature immediately follows (5–6). The first part emphasizes the unity of God in a way that would gain the support of both Jews and Christians. But the second statement is specifically Christian in drawing attention to the unique mediatorship of Jesus Christ. The mediator idea is not prominent in Paul, but it comes to the fore in the letter to the Hebrews. Here it is linked with the idea of Jesus giving himself as a ransom (6), reminiscent of the words of Jesus in Mk. 10:45. The ransom metaphor is drawn from the slave market, where a slave could obtain his freedom if someone paid the ransom price. Presumably, the proper time referred to here is the fullness of time mentioned in Gal.4:4. When Jesus came to bring salvation to humankind, it was the turning point of world history.

Paul’s reference to his appointment as a herald (7) echoes his constant awareness of the special commission which he had received. The additional reference to his position as a teacher … to the Gentiles points to a strong personal conviction of his special place in God’s plans.

In the concluding sentence (8) Paul returns to the theme of public prayer, drawing attention to three important conditions. First, the lifting up of holy hands suggests a believing approach, true holiness being attainable only through the righteousness of Christ. Secondly, true prayer cannot exist side by side with anger. Thirdly, prayer and disputing do not go together. Our attitude to others does affect our approach to God.

2:9–15 Advice to Christian women

Since this section follows immediately after the section on public worship, it has been suggested that the discussion about women must be regarded in this light. It seems probable, however, that Paul is thinking of the behaviour of women in a wider context, but the connection with the previous section must not be overlooked.

Paul first considers the matter of dress and ornaments (9–10). It seems that some women were drawing too much attention to themselves by the way they dressed. Bearing in mind the greater freedom that women had as a result of the gospel, there was no doubt need for advice on the way they were to present themselves. Paul urges modesty, decency and propriety, which are all against extravagance. Advice is given about such practical details as hairstyles, jewellery and dress. Paul is not against any of these things, but urges the greater value of a godly life. In other words the good deeds are to be more eye-catching than the outward appearance.

The second matter with which Paul deals (11–15) has given rise to much debate, since some have claimed that he is anti-women. But a careful understanding of what he teaches does not support this. If we suppose that women, newly emancipated through faith in Christ, had begun to dominate men and were in danger of bringing the church into disrepute, Paul’s advice becomes more intelligible. Women must first learn in quietness and full submission (11). Had Paul experienced unruly interruptions in public worship by women? The prohibition of women teaching men (12) seems to belong to the same context, although Paul here appeals more to what is appropriate and cites the Genesis story of creation.

Two facts are brought out—Adam’s priority and Eve’s weakness in being deceived. The first (13) points to God’s creative act in forming man before woman, although Paul does not here refer to the fact that Eve was intended as man’s helper and in no way inferior to him. According to Genesis it was Eve who was first tempted and fell (14), but Adam cannot be absolved of all responsibility. Indeed, in Rom. 5 Paul places the introduction of sin into the world firmly on Adam. Nevertheless, he here sees some significance in the part Eve played in the fall and implies that all women have somehow inherited this disadvantage.

It is v 15, however, which poses the most difficulty. Paul transfers his thought from Eve to women in general. But what does he mean by the words women will be saved through childbearing? If no more is meant than that in spite of Eve’s part in the fall, childbearing by women will not be adversely affected, this would fit in well with the Genesis account. But the addition of the words if they continue in faith are then perplexing, for it cannot be supposed that Christian women are promised any greater safety than others. Another possibility is that the childbearing refers to the special childbearing seen at the birth of Christ, in which case Paul is saying that through Christ will come salvation to women. The difficulty here is that women are in no different position from men as far as the basis of their salvation is concerned, although it may be that Paul only mentions women here because he is reflecting on Eve’s part in the fall.

The linking of faith, love and holiness with propriety is worth noting, since it provides a concise summary of Christian living. These qualities are certainly not confined to women. The application of these biblical truths to present-day church life causes much dispute. If we say that Paul was culturally conditioned, so that if he were writing today he would emphasize only the equality of the sexes, we make God’s revelation dependent on transitory fashion—changing from year to year. And who can tell what Paul would write were he here today? If, on the other hand, we insist on a precise application of each feature of first-century practice, we run the risk of being irrelevant to modern life and even ridiculous. Our task is carefully to discern the basic biblical principles which do not change and apply them sensitively to our present situation, bearing in mind that it is better, in the last resort, to appear ridiculous than to be disobedient to God’s loving purposes.

3:1–13 Requirements for church officials

3:1–7 Qualifications of overseers

The word overseer is not to be identified with ‘bishop’, although the later bishops exercised the role of oversight. The idea of an authoritative office such as seen in the role of bishop throughout Christian history does not belong to NT thought. Paul was writing of those whose job it was to supervise, but who did not possess an independent authority. There is no suggestion that there was only one bishop in each church and certainly no suggestion that an overseer, as happened in the case of the later bishops, would supervise several churches. But why does Paul cite a trustworthy saying (1)? Since this appears to be a commonly known saying, he was probably here using it to underline the importance of the overseer’s office for the benefit of those who were underestimating it. Paul sees the work as a noble task.

Such an office needs the right kind of people to fit it. It must be remembered that the early Christians came from numerous different backgrounds, and this accounts for the seemingly elementary character of some of the requirements, especially the negative ones in v 3. There are conditions about the personal life of prospective candidates. They must be temperate, self-controlled, respectable (2). They must be above reproach. All these qualities are to be expected in any serious Christian person but especially so in Christian leaders, for anyone whose moral and spiritual qualities do not commend them to their contemporaries are not going to have much influence as Christian ministers, and if they do, it is likely to be destructive.

In addition, the minister’s domestic life is equally important—he must be the husband of one wife (2) and must manage his children well (4). The former requirement would exclude any bigamists, but it is best to interpret the words as a condition that the minister must set a high example in marital relationships. Paul is not here dealing with the problem of those who were polygamists before they became Christians. It must nevertheless be recognized that positions of responsibility within the Christian church require people whose example others can follow.

The second requirement about managing his own family is especially worth noting since Paul seems to see the home as in some way typifying the church (5). Unruly homes do not offer the right kind of training experience for ruling the church. This is a principle which has often been overlooked when choice of prospective ministers has been made.

Further requirements are mentioned in vs 6 and 7. A recent convert is excluded, because of lack of Christian experience. It is worth noting that in the similar list in Titus this requirement is omitted, presumably because the church was so recent that it would have been difficult to apply. Where possible it is clearly undesirable for new Christians to be given too much responsibility until they are established. Paul especially mentions the danger of conceit. The same judgment as the devil is probably the best way to take the words which literally mean ‘the judgment of the devil’, which could possibly be the judgment meted out by the devil. The niv translation is to be preferred in view of the stress here on pride. A new convert in an exalted position may be tempted to fall into the same conceit as the devil did.

Another requirement is a good reputation with outsiders. Paul knows the danger of appointing officials whom their contemporaries will not respect. A great deal of damage has been done by those whose inconsistent living has been noticed and criticized by the non-Christian world. But what is meant by the devil’s trap? It seems best to understand this as the trap that the devil sets for those who do not match up to their Christian commitment, rather than the trap into which the devil himself fell, i.e. pride.

3:8–13 Qualifications of deacons

Paul mentions deacons in conjunction with overseers in Phil.1:1, and it is clear that the two offices were closely connected. Indeed the list of desirable qualities stated here is akin to that for overseers. Again, worthiness of the respect of others is of utmost importance, as are sincerity and general moral standards. Since candidates for both offices must be those not indulging in much wine, this suggests that excessive wine drinking was a problem among the people of Ephesus. Of greater importance is that the deacons must be of sound faith (9), a point often overlooked in appointments to the lesser Christian offices. For Paul the theological position was crucial. The testing referred to in v 10 is presumably by the Christian assembly to ensure that the necessary qualities are evident.

V 11 looks like an interlude, and some have suggested that it points to an order of deaconesses. Although such an order is not impossible, the primary reference is probably to deacons’ wives (as the niv). These must be serious in mind and careful in speech lest they detract from their husband’s work. The remaining requirements for deacons are closely paralleled in the section on overseers. Does the excellent standing (13) mean standing in the sight of the Christian community, or in the sight of outsiders, or in the sight of God? Of these the second seems most likely, not in the sense of providing for future promotion, but in exerting influence. This accords best with the reference to their assurance of faith.

3:14–16 God’s household

Here Paul breaks off his direct instructions to describe the nature of the church, putting his teaching into perspective. It is highly likely that Paul had already given the gist of these instructions to Timothy, but he wrote them down so as to give Timothy support during his absence. The use of the household metaphor to describe the church echoes v 5 and explains why Paul is concerned that an official should govern his family well. He now enlarges on the illustration by introducing a double metaphor—pillar and foundation (15).

Paul is not here laying more stress on the church than on the truth. If the meaning is that the church’s job is to bear witness to the truth as well as combating the false teachers, the word translated foundation must be understood in the sense of a ‘bulwark’ set to defend the truth.

The introduction here of what appears to be a hymn is unexpected. But it sums up what Paul describes as the mystery of godliness (16). He uses the word mystery in the sense of a secret which has now been revealed, but nowhere else does he link it with godliness. In view of his stress on service, he must have in mind the practical aspects of godliness. He assumes that the greatness of the mystery will be self-evident.

There is some question about the opening of the hymn since some texts read ‘God’ instead of He. The gist of the hymn is clearly related to Christ although he is not mentioned. It may be that he was referred to in an earlier part of the hymn, now lost. The first line points to the incarnation. There is also some dispute about the meaning of the second line (was vindicated by the Spirit). This could refer to the human spirit of Jesus (in which case the words should be translated ‘in the spirit’) and the statement would then point to his vindication by God at the resurrection. This would provide a good parallel with the first line. Less probably it could speak of the Holy Spirit as the agent in the vindication.

The third line is also difficult. It could be understood to refer to the glorification of Jesus, although this thought occurs in the sixth line. It could also refer to the triumphant Christ showing himself to the fallen angels, but this does not fit the context so well. It is not unlikely that a parallel was intended between lines 3 and 6, in which case the former interpretation is to be preferred. Certainly, lines 4 and 5 belong together, the preaching among the Gentiles and the believing in the world both refer to the apostolic ministry illustrated in Acts. It has been suggested that line 5 could be understood as ‘throughout the world’, but this is less likely. The concluding line was taken up in glory could refer to the ascension, but this would be strange after the reference to preaching. Perhaps all that is intended is to end with the glory of the Christ who is preached.

4:1–16 Approaching threats

4:1–5 The nature of the threats

There is here another prediction about false teachers, who are to come in later times (i.e. later than the apostle’s own time). We note first that the Spirit is the revealer of these (1). He brings to mind the teaching of Jesus (cf. Mk. 13:22). Paul himself had previously been led by the Spirit to expect false teachers (cf. 2 Thes. 2:1–12). There is a connection here with the hymn just quoted in that the false teaching will challenge its substance. Paul connects the opposing teaching with deceiving spirits and demons, and sets out in the clearest possible way the contrast between the Spirit mentioned in 3:16 and 4:1 and the Satanic activity described immediately afterwards.

What is said about the false teaching here is threefold (2–3). First, it comes through hypocritical agents. They are propagating falsehood instead of truth, although the suggestion is that they think they are advancing truth. Their consciences are so hardened that they have ceased to be able to distinguish between the two. The second feature is the prohibition of marriage, and the third is the insistence on certain food restrictions. These features were common among groups which stressed the value of abstinence as a means of salvation. Paul’s answer to this gives a positive rebuke to those who refuse what God has intended. Marriage is an ordinance of God, and foods are provided by the Creator. Believers should receive it all with thanksgiving (4). This is in harmony with the Jewish requirement that before the eating of food there should be a benediction. Any teaching which involves a niggardly view of God is to be rejected. If the word of God and prayer in v 5 refer to the saying of grace before meals, the reference to the word would be to the use of Scripture in the grace. But the allusion may be to the creative word of God in Gn.1.

4:6–16 How Timothy is to deal with the threats

What Paul advises Timothy has relevance for all servants of God called on to deal with wrong teaching, although the advice here is of special value for dealing with errors similar to those Paul is countering. Timothy is to point out to the Christian brethren what Paul has just said about the approaching threat (6). In order to do this effectively Timothy must draw on his knowledge of the truth. (For an echo of this cf. 2 Tim. 3:15, where his early training is mentioned.) To this must be added the value of the tuition he has received from the apostle. Paul assumes that Timothy will know how to deal with the false teachers. He thinks it necessary to warn Timothy about wasting his time with myths and tales which have no basis in truth (7). Clearly, Timothy will require wisdom to distinguish between what he needs to point out and what he needs to avoid. Paul makes a comparison between physical and spiritual exercise as a comment on training in godliness (8). Although the value of the former is recognized (was Timothy inclined to neglect it or to make too much of it?), it is surpassed in value by godliness, which has a future as well as a present value.

A problem arises over the trustworthy saying in v 9, for it is not certain whether this relates to v 8 or v 10. V 10 contains the more theological statement and could well have formed a proverbial saying. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that the second half of v 8 has the nature of a proverbial statement and that v 10 is really a development of this. The two verbs labour and strive are both strong verbs and suggest that godliness deserves the utmost effort in its pursuit. When Paul says that God is the Saviour of all men and then singles out believers in a special way, he seems to be using the word Saviour in the sense of both preservation and spiritual salvation. In 2:3–4 Paul stresses the universal scope of salvation, but here he focuses on the need for faith for its realization. The theme of hope in God is a frequent one in Paul’s writings. Here the basis of the hope is the living God, which is reassuring since there is no possibility of any change in him.

The remainder of this section is directly addressed to Timothy. Irrespective of his personality, there is to be a note of authority in his teaching (11). The apostle is clearly anxious for Timothy’s teaching to convey the same kind of authority as his own. But he recognizes there may be a problem owing to Timothy’s youth (12). But youth need be no hindrance provided the behaviour inspires confidence. Paul gives guidance here in five areas. Speech is important but must be linked with life, that is a combination of right words and right actions. Add to this combination of outward qualities, the inward qualities of love, faith and purity and this sums up the example of an acceptable Christian life.

V 13 recommends three public activities. The reading of Scripture is presumably public reading with a view to instruction of the hearers, few of whom would have been capable of reading for themselves. This practice carried on the procedure of the synagogue, where public reading of Scripture formed an important part in Jewish worship. The word translated preaching represents the Greek word for ‘exhortation’, while the word for teaching is in all probability related to the passing on of Christian doctrine. All three of these activities are of the greatest relevance to the Christian pastor.

Following these positive recommendations there comes a negative one—Do not neglect your gift (14). The gift (charisma) is connected with the endowment of Timothy by the Holy Spirit at his setting aside for service. While this took place at the laying on of hands, the most important aspect was the gift itself. There may be a suggestion here that Timothy was not making the fullest use of his spiritual gifts, but since the word is in the singular it is best to suppose that his gift of ministry is particularly in mind. The laying of hands on Saul and Barnabas at the commencement of their missionary labours (Acts 13:1–3) furnishes the background for the present statement, since it was also connected with prophecy and the Spirit. Timothy is reminded of the occasion when he was set aside for ministry and is urged to take courage from it (see also 2 Tim. 1:6).

In vs 15–16 Paul suggests ways by which Timothy can develop the gift mentioned in v 14. Paul puts emphasis here on wholeheartedness. The word translated be diligent could mean meditate, but the more usual meaning is ‘practice’, which draws attention to the value of persistence, an echo of the idea of athletic training alluded to in v 6. The Christian minister cannot avoid being in the public eye, and whatever progress or otherwise that he makes will be witnessed. Paul is expecting Timothy to make real progress.

The watching and persevering of v 16 reemphasize the same point. Paul is not urging self-examination but constant alertness, both in life and doctrine. The two things belong together. Right doctrine without a godly life is of no value; while a godly life without right doctrine is not possible. Paul was aware of the danger of neglecting his own salvation (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27). If the minister does not take care to persevere, others are unlikely to be influenced by him.

5:1–6:2 Instructions about various classes

5:1–2 Various age groups

A general principle is here set out which applies to people of different ages. Timothy is to treat other people as he would members of his own family. This principle excludes the idea of superiority and promotes a more natural approach. The verb rebuke used here is a strong one implying censure, and this is to be avoided with older men. Paul adds a caution about the younger women, where the maintenance of purity in relationships is essential.

5:3–16 Instructions about widows

5:3–8 Needy widows. Paul is concerned first about widows with no means of support. At a time when there was no welfare state the alleviation of poverty was a real problem and Paul recognized that the Christians had a responsibility in this. But if a widow had a family to support her it would clearly have been wrong for the church to intervene. Indeed, family support is pleasing to God. Social responsibility is seen as a religious requirement. The teaching here is in line with the fifth commandment, requiring the honouring of parents. In v 5 Paul is describing a needy widow of a particularly devout kind who is prepared to rely on God. This description is no doubt intended to contrast vividly with the pleasure-loving widow of v 6.

Paul was aware that there were widows who lived for pleasure. He certainly did not expect the church to provide for such a life-style, particularly if any element of immorality is implied by the words. The idea of being dead even while she lives is paradoxical, but the deadness is spiritual. Timothy is to give clear instructions in such matters so as to help such women to avoid blame. In this essentially practical issue Paul is not only concerned for the individual but also for the impact of a bad example on the believers as a whole (7–8). Failure of Christians to provide for their own families is seen to have disastrous consequences—a denial of the faith and an example worse than unbelievers. In no stronger terms could Paul have expressed the importance of social responsibilities within Christian families.

5:9–10 Widows in Christian work. It is not clear whether there was a distinct order of widows which performed specific duties, but the statement here about the enrolment of widows over sixty might suggest that. The age limit is somewhat perplexing, since Paul surely did not mean that no widows under that age were entitled to the church’s help. The enrolment must have been for some kind of specific Christian work. The past experience required is of an essentially practical kind. It reflected on the vital social impact of Christian women in the early church.

5:11–16 Younger widows. The younger widows presented a different problem because of the possibility of remarriage. This excluded them from the official list mentioned in v 9. There is no suggestion here that any younger widow who was poverty-stricken would not qualify for some help. Paul seems to be thinking of those who offer for Christian work (as dedication to Christ suggests; v 11) but who would be placed in a difficult position if they wanted to marry. This is the understanding of their first pledge in v 12, that is their commitment to some kind of Christian work. If they forsook this to marry they would incur censure (judgment). The twin dangers of idleness and gossiping may be connected with their visiting programme (13). In other words, they could not be trusted with confidences, although why young widows are specially singled out for this warning is not clear.

The positive advice for younger widows to marry and to devote themselves to domestic responsibilities (14) may seem to contradict Paul’s preference for the unmarried state (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8–9), but it should be remembered that these widows would have been classed among those who could not ‘control themselves’. Again Paul’s major concern is to avoid reproach on the church. The reference to the enemy (14) and to Satan (15) points clearly to the possible results of the younger widows acting in an unwise way. Satan is ever ready to seize opportunities to slander God’s work.

Paul again states here what he has already said in vs 4 and 8 to the effect that relatives should help widows, rather than that the church should be burdened (14–16). The responsibility for helping widows in the family was not necessarily left to women (as v 16 might imply). Some of the ancient scribes realized the difficulty and emended the text to include the men.

5:17–20 Elders

This is the first mention of elders in this letter, but it is clear from the context that they are church officials and not simply men of advanced age. The term is sufficiently wide to include both overseers and deacons, already mentioned in 1:3. The double honour (17) is somewhat perplexing. It would seem that some kind of remuneration is in mind, and the double could stand for generous provision. On the other hand, the use of the word honour may suggest that more than remuneration is in mind, and that respect as well as salary is included. The quotations (18; one from Dt.25:4 and the other paralleled in Lk.10:7) are intended to support the idea of reward for work done, a principle which has not always been followed in the history of the Christian church. This linking of an OT quotation with a saying of Jesus is significant since it reflects the high regard in which the teaching of Jesus was held.

Yet Paul recognizes that more than financial support is needed. An adequate moral standard must also be maintained. But care must be taken over any accusations (19–20). The two or three witnesses are to ensure some kind of protection against false accusation from a single individual. This advice follows the normal Jewish practice. Where evidence for malpractice is forthcoming it must be presented publicly, i.e. before the whole church. Paul again shows his concern for the reputation of the church. Discipline is not only for the benefit of the individual but to provide a warning for others.

5:21–25 Personal advice to Timothy

The charge in v 21 is expressed in a surprisingly strong manner. Why the solemnity? Perhaps Timothy was not too strong at doing things without partiality or favouritism. Perhaps he was too weak to take the advice in vs 19–20. In the light of a similar strong charge in 2 Tim. 4:1 (but without reference to angels) we may wonder why angels are mentioned here. It is possibly an allusion to the belief that angels watched over human affairs (see e.g. Mt. 4:6, quoting Ps. 91:11–12; Mt. 18:10).

The warning against hasty laying on of hands (22) could refer to the ordination of elders or to the restoring of those who have had to be disciplined. The second part of the verse suggests that those who lay hands on unworthy people share the responsibility for their unworthiness. The personal advice to Timothy to keep himself pure reinforces this, for purity is required of those who lay the hands as well as those on whom the hands are laid.

The advice about purity is immediately followed by advice about drinking wine (23), and this may suggest that Paul may have been afraid that Timothy would get caught up in the ascetic practices of the false teachers. There may be, however, no connection between this verse and the preceding one. The reference to water-drinking is possibly because Timothy’s ailments had been caused by contaminated water or perhaps because he was under tension. We do not know. Paul does not advise against drinking any water and suggests the supplementing of a little wine. Timothy’s health was evidently not robust.

It would seem that vs 24–25 follow from v 22. Paul mentions two different aspects of sins. Some sins are easily recognizable, and no-one is surprised at the subsequent judgment on them. Others are described as those which trail behind them. These sins may not be at once apparent but will nonetheless be revealed later. The judgment here is most probably the judgment of God rather than the judgment of Timothy and others. The setting of good deeds in contrast to sins is intended to highlight the need for caution in assessing good deeds as well as sins.

6:1–21 Miscellaneous instructions

6:1–2 About slaves and masters

In the early history of the church there were many Christian slaves and some Christian slave owners in the communities, and it was essential that right relationships should be maintained where both slaves and masters were on equal terms within the Christian fellowship. On the one hand, some Christian slaves continued to serve under non-Christian masters, and these were required to treat those masters with full respect. As so often in this letter, the concern is to maintain both the honour of the name of God and of the Christian doctrine. In these early times any action or attitude which caused others to think less of what the church stood for was to be avoided.

It was perhaps even more difficult for Christian slaves with Christian masters to strike the right balance, since they were also Christian brothers and sisters. But Paul suggests that in such cases the slave should give better service because a brother in Christ was to benefit from it. On the other hand, it was possible that the slave himself would also benefit. This is not to deny that the system itself should have been challenged, but in those days it was not immediately practical to overturn it.

6:3–5 About false teachers

Paul cannot leave the subject of those who are leading others astray, and he comes back to the theme here. He assumes that there will be a clear dividing mark between what is false and what is sound. This is salutary in any age where there has been a blurring of understanding of Christian doctrine. Paul has no place for compromise. His description of the false teachers is specific—they are conceited, they lack understanding, they have an unhealthy interest in controversies, and they are thoroughly evil in their speech and attitudes (4). He could not have been more devastating. What he says illustrates a universal principle—that teachers without adequate understanding or moral calibre are not likely to maintain sound doctrine. Further, where godliness is seen as a means of financial gain, it will never lead to truth. But the matter of gain is a theme of its own and Paul comes to this next.

6:6–10 About money

The important element in v 6 is contentment. Godliness in itself brings great satisfaction. The Christian gospel provides an adequate basis for contentment. This translates the idea of gain into spiritual terms and provides a fitting introduction to the discussion of money. The reference to food and clothing (8) echoes the words of Jesus in Mt. 6:25–34 in a passage on worry, the antithesis of contentment. Material possessions are seen in their true light, only in view of their irrelevance either at entry to or departure from this world (7). There is a parallel here to Jb.1:21.

The quest for riches brings with it temptation, a trap and many harmful desires (9). Looked at in the light of death the whole process of seeking riches looks foolish. The consequence of ruin and destruction (i.e. irretrievable loss) shows the futility of the pursuit of wealth for its own sake. When Paul describes the love of money as a root of all kinds of evil (10), it is important to draw a distinction between money itself and the love of it. As a commodity there is nothing wrong with it, but when it becomes the object of overriding desire it leads to evil. There is no suggestion that love of money is the sole or even main cause of evil. Paul’s concern here is to point out the spiritual risks involved in money-grabbing. This is what he means by wandering from the faith. Paul does want us to see, however, that wherever any kind of evil occurs, money easily gets mixed up with it. Illicit sex becomes the business of prostitution; the problem of drug abuse is as strongly empowered by money as it is by addiction; the love of power is inevitably tied to the deployment of wealth, and so on. It is significant that Paul speaks of those concerned as having pierced themselves with griefs. The results are seen as self-inflicted—the inevitable result of loving the wrong thing.

6:11–16 About seeking the right things

Here is Paul’s solemn charge to Timothy himself. There is both a negative and a positive side (11). The fleeing from all this, although primarily referring to the seeking after wealth, probably includes all the previous advice about what to avoid. The positive side is expressed in spiritual terms. The six words of v 11 sum up the character of the Christian of which Timothy is to be an example. Paul adds to this another positive appeal—the Christian life involves a fight (12). When Paul urges Timothy to take hold of the eternal life to which you were called he is thinking more of the final enjoyment of that eternal life rather than of its initial acceptance.

It is perhaps surprising to find a reference to Pontius Pilate in v 13, but the historic event of the trial of Jesus provides the best example of the kind of good confession which Paul wants to see in Timothy. The fact that he gives a charge shows how seriously he regards the matter of Timothy’s behaviour. This command has given rise to various suggestions. Some see it as referring to some kind of baptismal or ordination charge, but this does not fit the context. It may refer to the advice of vs 11–12 or to the whole of Paul’s advice to Timothy in this letter. The reference here to the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (14) gives a future aspect to the preceding statement. The idea of being without spot or blame at that appearing can be paralleled elsewhere in Paul’s letters (cf. 1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 2:15–16; 1 Thes. 3:13; 5:23).

The insertion of a doxology at this point (15–16) is typical of Paul. But there are features here which are unusual. The use of the word blessed is not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters outside the Pastorals. Indeed the whole doxology has the appearance of a Christian hymn which Paul is quoting. The description of God as only Ruler is unexpected as the word Ruler usually refers to a prince rather than a king, but here it clearly carries a unique meaning as the word only shows. Since King of kings and Lord of lords occurs in Rev.17:14 and 19:16, it may have been a well-known Christian expression. There are parallels in the OT (cf. Dt.10:17, Ps.136:3). The use of the word immortal for God has already appeared in 1:17. Is Paul implying that no-one else has immortality? He seems to mean that God alone is inherently immortal, whereas all other immortality is derived. The idea of God as living in unapproachable light is probably derived from Ps.104:2, but Paul may have had in mind the vivid description of God’s glory in Ex. 33:17–23, since Moses was informed that he could not see God. The combining of honour and might (‘power’) in a doxology is also found in Rev. 5:13.

6:17–19 About wealth again

The previous section concerned those desiring to be rich, but this concentrates on those who are already rich. Paul points out two dangers—arrogance and dependence on money. It is too easy for those who have material possessions to imagine that money will secure anything, and a true hope in God is ousted. There is no suggestion here that riches themselves corrupt or that people should not enjoy what God has given. But recognition that everything has come from God would deal with the dangers. The positive demands on wealthy people are clear—there must be goodness and generosity, qualities which normally accompany each other.

The statement in v 19 is reminiscent of the teaching of Jesus in Mt. 6:20. There is here a mixture of metaphors between treasure and a good foundation. But the contrast is clear between life propped up by material resources and true life which will continue in the age to come.

6:20–21 Concluding words to Timothy

Timothy has already been charged to guard what has been entrusted to him. Paul evidently feels it is of such importance that he must underline it. Again he warns against getting involved with the false teaching. The words falsely called knowledge may echo the claim of the teachers to special ‘knowledge’ in the same way as the later Gnostics. The words translated opposing ideas was used by the later heretic Marcion to describe his teaching. But it was no doubt similarly used at a much earlier date, and certainly the false teaching alluded to in Colossians shows that similar teaching was current in Paul’s lifetime. The fact that Paul describes the false teaching as a wandering from the faith shows it to be a false trail. It is noticeable that the concluding greeting Grace be with you is in the plural, which may suggest others besides Timothy were included. But it was not unknown for the plural to be used for an individual.

cf. compare

lit. literally

OT Old Testament

NT New Testament

niv New International Version

Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (1 Ti 1.1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.