Introductory Issues of 2 Timothy
The author of the letter
According to data within 2 Timothy, it was written by Paul while he was imprisoned at Rome (1:1, 8, 16-17; 2:9; 4:6) to Timothy, who appears to be at Ephesus (1:18; 4:12). Luke is with Paul in Rome (4:11), and Paul asks Timothy to come to him (4:9). 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.
This is literature that honors saints by telling of their deeds and virtues. Most distinctive of this letter among the three Pastoral Epistles is its warm and sympathetic picture of the Apostle Paul, who is portrayed as imprisoned and in danger (2 Timothy 1:8, 16; 4:16). To Timothy he says, “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra” (3:10-11). A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church is portrayed here as an example in virtually all things that are related to the faith and life of the Christian. There are places among the undisputed letters where Paul sets himself up as an example (for example, 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17), but this passage in 2 The companion on Paul’s later journeys for whom two pastoral epistles are named is most explicit concerning the characteristics of Paul that should be emulated. Second Timothy is an early form of Christian hagiography (one of the very first, if not the first), a literary piece written to praise a saint. Many hagiographies have been written since.
The inspiration of Scripture
One of the best known verses of 2 Timothy is at 3:16, on the inspiration of Scripture. Issues that typically arise in discussions of the verse are: what is meant by “Scripture” in this particular verse (is it Old Testament only?) and what is meant by “inspiration”?
The The Pastoral Epistles are the New Testament letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. They are described as pastoral because they are addressed to individual persons rather than churches; they deal with matters of leadership and church governance.
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. At the same time, 2 Timothy differs from the other two Pastoral Epistles in that it has nothing to say about ecclesiastical offices and has a “thanksgiving” section at the outset.
Pseudonymity is the use of a false (“pseudo”) name. Some of the books of the Bible are ascribed pseudonymously to a well-known figure (such as Paul) in order to give them greater credibility or to apply a person’s ideas to new circumstances.
Although the issue of pseudonymity has to be dealt with in the case of each of the three Pastoral Epistles and some other writings in the New Testament, it is particularly acute with this letter. Toward the close of it (2 Timothy 4:9-18) there are particular details mentioned that are so specific (such as Paul’s having left a cloak at Troas) that some interpreters think that a pseudonymous writer could not have written them. On the other hand, studies have shown that verisimilitude is one of the most important and most common features of pseudonymous writing in antiquity. If you are going to do it, do it well!