Like 1 Timothy, this book is addressed to Timothy, whom Paul calls ‘beloved child’. Whereas 1 Timothy feels as though there is a wider audience beyond just Timothy, 2 Timothy reads much more as a personal letter and is the most intimate of the three letters to Timothy and and Titus. There is a strong theme of suffering that runs all through the letter and of standing firm despite that suffering.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1.7)
Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. (2 Timothy 1.14)
16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3.16–17)
The trickiest thing about the book is whether Paul wrote it or not (for more on this see below). This feels like such a personal book and if Paul did not write it, it raises the question of who did and why they felt able to claim it was by Paul.
2 Timothy 1.1 gives its author as the apostle Paul.
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are widely thought by scholars not to have been written by Paul despite their introductions. The reason for this is a different style of writing (i.e. different words used and sentence structures) and a different focus.
2 Timothy is a very personal letter but still, many would argue, feels very different from the rest of Paul’s letters; others maintain that 1 Timothy and Titus might be written by someone other than Paul but that 2 Timothy is by Paul himself; others still attribute all three to Paul.
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.
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. 2 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 that 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.
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.
As the primary recipient of this letter appears to be one person – Timothy – the question is more, 'What was he feeling?' The answer, if we read between the lines of 2 Timothy, seems to be that he was anxious about any future suffering he might face and in need of reassurance.
This is an epistle. 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). It is one of the most personal and intimate of the letters attributed to Paul (with the exception of Philemon).
1.1–2 Opening greeting
1.3–7 Thanksgiving for Timothy’s faith
1.8–18 Reflections on suffering based on Paul’s suffering
2.1–26 Reflections on leadership
3.1–9 What false leaders look like
3.10–17 The need to remain faithful to the gospel
4.1–5 Keep preaching the gospel
4.6–22 Farewells and greetings
There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Ephesus, Troas, Miletus, Antioch, Asia, Asia Minor, Corinth, Galatia, Lystra, Miletus, Thessalonica
Alexander, Eunice, Lois, Onesiphorus, Prisca, Aquila, Jannes, Jambres, Demas, Hymenaeus, Levites, Mark, Moses, Philetus, Timothy, Titus, Tychicus
2 Timothy 2 offers Timothy advice on leadership – look out for it as you read and ask whether there is anything to be learnt from it about leadership today.
Other intertwined themes are God’s word and proclaiming the gospel. Keep an eye open for them throughout the book.
There are lots of personal notes in the book (including the request to bring Paul’s cloak that he left behind) – look out for them as you read.
Notice the strand of faithfulness in suffering that runs through the book. What do you think about the advice Paul offers? Can you imagine offering this kind of advice today?