Perhaps one of my favorite sections of the Bible (as if you can pick one!) are the pastoral epistles. In this section, you find Paul counseling young leaders of the church on who they should be, how they should structure the church, and special issues like how to take care of widows or who to appoint as fellow leaders.
That being said, the pastoral epistles have perhaps drawn some of the sharpest controversy. While Paul instructs Timothy and Titus about who other leaders of the church should be like, he excludes women from holding these positions. He also thinks that the whole world will be saved, which throws Calvinists into a tailspin of exegetical hoops. And what’s this deal with “one-woman man?” Does this mean those who aspire to ministry can’t be pastors if they were divorced against their will? What if they desired to be single?
It is my hope and desire in this series through the pastoral epistles—1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus—that we will see Paul, Timothy, and Titus in their historical context, addressing real cultural issues, in order that God’s church may flourish from their time, to now, and until his return.
The first step to understanding these letters is to look at their broader context. Understanding the context will help us to be better able to interpret Paul’s instructions and commands. For the time being, I will only be focusing on 1 Timothy.
As mentioned before, Paul is the author of these epistles. The most immediate evidence for this understanding comes from verse 1. The church has been in almost total agreement with this understanding. However, with the rise of critical scholarship, this assumption has come under attack. Critical scholars often cite that “Paul’s” writing style and vocabulary are unusual from his other “verified” letters. Space does not allow me to dive into all the intricate arguments. However, the one faulty underlying assumption they hold to is that writing style and vocabulary cannot change. When you get the chance, compare your writing from your freshman year of high school to your writing from fifth grade. The way you communicated “Billy hit the ball and ran really fast” is probably now, “Bill struck the baseball and zoomed through all the bases.” If these letters do come later in Paul’s life (as will be argued later), then it would only be natural for “young Paul’s” writing to be different from “elder Paul’s” writing.
Now, Paul sent the first two letters of the pastoral epistles to Timothy. We don’t know much about Timothy outside of these letters. However, what we do know is that while Paul traveled on his missionary journeys, Timothy was his faithful companion. This is evident by the familial language of “father” and “son” through the letters. Not only that, but Timothy had his feet in both camps so to speak. His mother (and grandmother) were Jewish. They converted to Christianity at some point. Because of their faithfulness and deep rootedness in the Scriptures, they instructed Timothy and he, too, was converted. Now, his father was gentile. It is perhaps possible that he, too, also converted because of these women’s faithful ministry. This family dynamic equipped Timothy to minister to both Jews and gentiles effectively.
Fourth Missionary Journey
These letters were written during Paul’s fourth missionary journey. This position is sometimes unpopular to hold because it places this letter’s writing around 62-68 AD. When we arrive at the end of Acts, we see that Paul is under house arrested. We know from church tradition that he was martyred at some point. However, what is uncertain is whether he was martyred during the time of his house arrest or later. It seems, according to the end of Romans, Paul had aspirations to travel to Spain. We do know that the gospel did take root there and there seems to be some historical testimony (compare to 1 Clement, Eusebius, Philippians, and Philemon) that Paul did indeed make another missionary trip. Though unpopular, this picture highlights a beautiful picture of the gospel going further than anyone could’ve imagined and the chains of arrest could not stop it.
Serial Church Planter
Paul was a serial church planter on his missionary journeys. Wherever he went, he sought to establish churches as witnesses to their communities and fulfill of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Based on the instructions given throughout these letters, it appears that Paul left Timothy in charge of some of these new church plants because of the honorable testimony he received. However, as often happened when Paul left a new area, false teachers swept in. Since these churches were young and under threat of false teachers, Paul had to exhort Timothy to stand fast and taught him to structure the church for sustainability and faithfulness.
Apostleship & Family
This brings us to our text: 1 Timothy 1:1-2.
To begin, Paul affirms (to many of us, re-affirms) his credentials to his new audience. Paul is asserting his authority to write this letter as an apostle. This affirmation means that the readers and hearers of the letter should listen to him as he proclaims the Word of the Lord as one sent by God. Interestingly, he affirms that his apostleship comes “by the command” of God his savior and Christ Jesus the hope. In short, Paul did not choose to be an apostle. In fact, it was completely contrary to his nature. We read in Acts that Paul was on his way to persecute “those of the Way” when Jesus appeared to him. This encounter—and the subsequent ministry of the Christians—brought Paul to faith and repentance. Perhaps one of the greatest persecutors of “the Way” has now become one of the greatest advocates. He could not have done this in his own accord, but only through God’s “command.”
In this section, we observe Paul’s foundness of Timothy: “my true child in the faith.” While we will learn later that Timothy’s relationship with his mother and grandmother was strong, we observe now that Paul’s spiritual relationship to Timothy is similar. Paul’s title of Timothy communicates to us that Timothy matured in the faith under Paul’s instruction. It also communicates that Timothy traveled with Paul wherever he journey.
Living as Exiles
As Paul opened his letter, I open this series to you, fellow readers, in the same way. May the grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Christ Jesus our Lord be with us as we study the pastoral epistles in their original context and seek to apply them to our life together today.