1 Timothy

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This is a letter addressed to Timothy in Ephesus from Paul, who's left Ephesus for Macedonia. Paul intends to return but isn’t sure when this will be possible, so in the meantime he's sent instructions to Timothy about what he should do in his absence. The letter is addressed to Timothy, but Paul isn't just talking to him. Strong themes in the letter are the character of those who are in leadership positions, and the importance of distinguishing between true and false teaching.

Reading time: 16 minutes
Short of time? Just read 1.1–20; 3.1–16; 6.2–21
Letter

5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2.5–6)

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: he was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3.16)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6.10)

1 Timothy contains two particularly controversial pieces of teaching: one on women and teaching in 2.8–15, and one on homosexuality in 1.10. There are many different interpretations of these passages and people often disagree about what they are saying. If you are meeting in a book group you may want to decide at the start whether you are going to talk about them or whether you will decide to concentrate on what the rest of the book says.

1 Timothy 1.1 gives its author as the apostle Paul.

Many scholars believe 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were not written by Paul, despite their introductions. The letters have a different style of writing (i.e. different words used and different sentence structures) and a different focus. 

1 Timothy is particularly focused on church order and leadership, which suggests that it was written to later church communities whose concerns have passed beyond the immediate questions of who Jesus was and what he had done for them, to questions of how churches relate to each other. 

You might like to think about authorship as you read and ask whether the ‘voice’ of the author sounds similar to what you know of Paul from elsewhere. 

What do we know about him?

Paul is probably the best–known of all the early Christians. Before encountering Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he was a zealous Pharisee who sought to maintain the purity of Judaism. After his experience on the Damascus road, he turned his zeal to proclaiming Jesus Christ among the Gentiles. This brought him into conflict with some other early Christians, not least Peter, who thought that followers of Jesus should convert to Judaism. He travelled around the Roman Empire (though primarily in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey – and Greece) proclaiming the good news and founding communities of Christians as he went. He also wrote a large number of letters, 13 of which are preserved in the New Testament. 1 Timothy has traditionally been thought to be one of these.

Timothy, here not the author but the recipient of the letter, was born in Lystra in Asia Minor of a Jewish mother and Greek father. Acts 16.1–3 recounts his meeting with Paul in Lystra and Paul’s desire to take him with him on his journeys. Paul often sent Timothy to communities he had founded to take letters to them and so that he could report to Paul about what was going on. Two letters in the New Testament (1 and 2 Timothy) are reputed to be letters of encouragement from Paul to Timothy in Ephesus. Christian tradition identifies Timothy as the first Bishop of Ephesus.

This letter feels as though it is written to a more mature Christian congregation who have begun to ask questions about order, leadership and authority, as well as how to tell what teaching is reliable.

Those who think it is by Paul would date it to between AD 61 and 64; those who think it is not by Paul would date it much later, towards the end of the first century AD.

What were people feeling?

The letter suggests that the recipients of the letter – including Timothy – were feeling a mixture of confidence about their faith and anxiety about how Christian communities might work.

A letter. There are various features that mark it out as a little different from other Pauline letters. One of these is that it is addressed to one person (i.e. Timothy) not a whole community (like Galatians or Thessalonians). You don’t have to read for long, however, before it becomes clear that this letter is not just written to Timothy.

1.1–2 Introduction
1.3–20 The need to oppose false teachers
2.1–15 Instructions on prayer, worship and discipleship
3.1–13 Expectations of bishops and deacons (or overseers and servants)
3.14–16 The reason why Paul is writing
4.1–5.2 The duties of ministry
5.3–6.2 The importance of order
6.2–21 True and false teaching and a final blessing

As you read, there may be names of people and places you don't know. Here are some of them.

Place

Ephesus, Macedonia, Asia Minor

The names of people and peoples

Hymenaeus, Alexander, Pontius Pilate, Timothy

Other words

Bishop, deacon, Gentiles

Notice that one of the strands running through the book is the danger that comes from deviating from true teaching. As you read, reflect on how you might be able to tell the difference between true and false teaching.

Also look out for Paul’s instruction to bishops and deacons – in these he is laying out the characteristics of good leadership. Ask yourself what you think makes for a good leader – does it match what Paul says? In your view, has he missed anything?

You may or may not want to ask yourself what you think Paul means in 1 Timothy 2 about women and silence.

Think about your church today. How much of its order and leadership would Paul recognise, do you think?

  • Were there any parts of the book that you particularly liked or that inspired you?
  • Were there any parts of the book that you disliked or that troubled you?
  • What did you think the book was about?
  • You can decide whether or not you want to talk about Paul’s attitude to women in 1 Timothy 2! If you decide to do it, you may be some time ...
  • Discuss leadership – what do you think Paul’s vision of leadership was, and how much do we live up to that vision in our churches today?
  • There is a strong emphasis on true and false teaching in this letter. How do you think we tell the different between the two in practice?
  • Did you read anything in the book that touched you, expanded your faith or made you think more deeply about your life and how you live it?

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