Lesson 4 of 5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in 1 Timothy

The author of the letter

According to the first three verses of 1 Timothy, it was written by Paul. More likely, however, this letter was written in Paul’s name by an anonymous writer (making it a pseudonymous work) after the death of Paul. The author sought to impersonate Paul in a post-Pauline situation. Reasons cited for that view depend on an assessment of the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) as a group. The reasons are as follows: (1) the Pastorals do not appear as known Pauline letters in the earliest sources; (2) the Pastorals contain 901 different Greek words, but once the 52 proper nouns (names and places) are removed, there are 849 left; of the 849, some 306 (36%) do not appear within the seven undisputed letters of Paul; (3) the Pastorals assume and prescribe a church order with ecclesiastical offices (bishop, presbyter [=elder], and deacon) firmly in place, which is not evident in the undisputed letters of Paul; (4) the Pastorals contain teachings otherwise unknown in the undisputed letters of Paul (such as an emphasis on “piety” or “godliness,” and “faith” understood as the Christian faith that is transmitted by tradition, not simple trust); and (5) the Pastorals cannot be fitted well into the chronology of what we know about Paul’s career.

Knowledge (gnōsis)

The term appears in 6:20. Is this evidence of the existence of Gnosticism at the time, and is 1 Timothy therefore an anti-gnostic work? Generally it is thought that there was a proto-Gnosticism or incipient Gnosticism in the first century, but the great gnostic systems arose in the second century. Scholars debate the extent that any of the New Testament books address (or even reflect) Gnosticism, and this passage is key for the discussion.

False teaching addressed by the author

The problem one faces in trying to discern the nature of the false teaching addressed is that the author does not provide much information about its content but prefers to attack the persons considered false teachers. He even tells Timothy to avoid them and not to engage them (6:20). A few things stand out: they teach an ascetic form of Christian life, opposing marriage and forbidding the eating of certain foods (4:3), and they promote a highly speculative system of teaching with “myths and genealogies” (1:4).

The Pastoral Epistles

These three books–1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus–share much in common in terms of language, style, and theological themes. Each is written to a pastor from a pastor. One cannot discuss the theology of one of them in isolation from its two companion pieces.

The roles of office bearers in the church

The terms “bishop,” “elder,” “deacon,” “women,” and “widow” appear in 1 Timothy (3:1, 8, 11; 5:3, 17, and elsewhere). At least in the case of the first three mentioned, it appears that these are fixed offices in the church at the time of the letter’s composition. But their interrelationships and functions are not clear, nor is it clear whether or not the “women” mentioned are counted among the “deacons,” even though they appear to carry on diaconal work. There is a roster of “widows” who receive financial support. But whether one can speak of an “order of widows” (as did some Christian writers in the second century) is not clear. The duties and relationships of bishop, elder, and deacon, and how important these offices are in the ordering of the church, have been major issues in ecumenical conversations among Christians.

The scope of redemption

In 1 Timothy 4:10 the author says that God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Interpreters have sought to come up with interpretations to get around the “all” of the statement, such as the idea that the “all” simply means both Jew and Gentile. But the distinction between Jews and Gentiles does not seem to be an issue in the Pastoral Epistles. Another interpretation is that the passage speaks of God as Savior of all in this world–one who rescues or heals all–whether they believe or not. All such attempts avoid the implicit universal scope of redemption that the passage seems to affirm. The passage must of course be assessed in light of the larger canonical context of Scripture as a whole.

The silencing of women

Women are to keep silent in the church and have no authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-14). This passage has been a major text for those churches and persons who oppose the ordination of women.

Slavery

The author takes it for granted that some Christians are slaves (1 Timothy 6:1-2; see also Titus 2:9-10), and that some Christians are slave owners (6:2). He assumes that slavery may be preserved. Slaves and slave owners are exhorted to be respectful of one other. These texts have been used in support of slavery as an institution.

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