Overview of the Book of 1 Timothy

Overview of the Book of 1 Timothy

Overview of the Book of 1 Timothy

Author: The author is the Apostle Paul.


To guide Timothy as he opposed false teachers in Ephesus.

Date: A.D. 62-64

Key Truths:

  • False teaching in the Church must be resisted.
  • Legalistic teachings lead people away from the true Gospel.
  • Worship and Church authority must be carefully ordered.
  • Various groups within the Church have special needs.
  • Love for money has no place in the ministry of the Gospel.


According to the salutations of the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus), the apostle Paul is their author. In modern times, however, some interpreters have argued that Paul himself did not compose these letters but that someone else wrote under Paul's name, a practice known as pseudepigraphy. Arguments against Paul's authorship are advanced on several grounds. Some of the more significant include: (1) denials of early church knowledge of these letters, (2) the close correspondence between these letters and the Christian writings of the early second century, (3) different manners of dealing with heresy than found in Paul's other letters, (4) the difficulty of locating these letters in the known circumstances of Paul's life, and (5) the differences in writing styles and vocabulary between these letters and Paul's other epistles.

In response to these objections to Paul's authorship it should be noted that Paul himself urged his readers to reject the practice of pseudepigraphy as deceptive forgery (2 Thess. 2:2-3) - even the Pastoral Epistles contain warnings about deceivers (1Tim. 4:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:13; Tit. 1:10). This makes it unlikely that an early Christian attempt to honor Paul or to make use of his authority in order to combat heresy would have employed pseudepigraphy. Moreover, the early Church refused to receive as canonical all of the gospels, apocrypha, and acts that they knew to be pseudonymous, and there is no clear evidence that any pseudonymous epistles were ever produced in the early centuries of the Church. In recorded instances in which pseudonymous writings were discovered in the early Church, the writings were sometimes tolerated if their content was considered harmless, but never accounted canonical status. They were always condemned if found to teach error.

That the Pastoral Epistles were included in early lists of canonical books and ultimately affirmed as genuine strongly indicates that the early Church firmly believed the Pastoral Epistles to be genuine. Some scholars, however, argue that the early Church cannot be proven to have known these epistles. For example, they take issue with Polycarp's use of 1 Timothy the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians ch. 4, which appear to quote 1 Timothy 6:7 ("we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it") and 10 ("the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil"). Although these formulaic statements did not originate with Paul, there is sufficient data to indicate that Polycarp's use of them depended on 1 Timothy. Specifically, both Paul and Polycarp used both these statements in close proximity to one another (within three verses in 1 Timothy, and in consecutive sentences in Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians), and both included them in the context of discussing righteousness and obedience to God. Interestingly, some critical scholars have suggested that Polycarp himself wrote the Pastoral Epistles, demonstrating how close a correspondence there is between Polycarp's teaching and the content of the Pastoral Epistles. That Paul's authorship of the Pastoral Epistles has been denied both on the basis that Polycarp had no knowledge of them and on the basis that Polycarp had full knowledge of them as their author calls into serious question the means and standards by which Pauline authorship has been denied.

Similarly insubstantial are the objections to Paul's authorship based on the Pastoral Epistles' linguistic style (which may be a bit higher than his earlier writings), approach to heresy (which appears less specific than in his earlier writings), and lack of relationship to known facts about Paul's life. Recent studies have demonstrated that the vocabulary, style, and theology of the Pastoral Epistles are quite compatible with the rest of Paul's writings, and indeed that the Pastoral Epistles vary from one another as much as they vary from Paul's other writings. Paul's language and approach to dealing with heresy in these letters may differ slightly from his earlier writings, but this should not be surprising given that the Pastoral Epistles were written: (1) later in Paul's life, (2) to address different problems, and (3) to individuals who were close associates of Paul rather than to Churches. It should not be thought unusual that Paul would write differently at various stages in his ministry, or that he preferred one style of communication to Churches and another to individuals. Moreover, Pauls less specific treatment of heresy in these letters may simply indicate that he knew that Timothy and Titus were already aware of the specifics. Finally, known facts about Paul's life at this stage are few, and are not directly in conflict with any information in the Pastoral Epistles.

Time and Place of Writing:

Some information in the Pastoral Epistles has led to the suggestion that these letters were written during what may have been Paul's fourth missionary journey. Acts ends not with Paul's death, but with his house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16, 30-31). While the late-first-century writing 1 Clement suggests that Paul was martyred in Rome, it does not link his martyrdom with the imprisonment recorded in Acts 28. The fourth-century Church historian Eusebius preserved a tradition that Paul was released from that imprisonment, continued his missionary labors, and was martyred by Nero on his second visit to Rome. This tradition is supported by Philippians and Philemon, which, if they were written during the Roman imprisonment recorded in Acts 28, provide evidence that Paul expected to be released (Phil. 1:25-26; Philemon 1:22), as well as by the Pastorals themselves. A fourth missionary journey and a second imprisonment after the one recorded in Acts 28 combine to form the most probable setting for the Pastorals.

If there were two imprisonments in Rome, Paul was released from his first around A.D. 62. According to later tradition he was martyred by Nero, who died in A.D. 68. Under this scenario, 1 Timothy, composed while Paul was still in the midst of his fourth missionary journey, was probably written during the earlier part of this period, between A.D. 62 and 64.

Paul may have written from Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3) in northern Greece.

Original Audience:

First and Second Timothy were written to the man whose name they bear. Timothy was a native of Lystra, a Roman colony in the province of Galatia. His father was a Gentile and his mother a Jew (Acts 16:1). Little is known about his father, who apparently never became a Christian, but his mother and grandmother were probably converted to Christianity as a result of Paul's visit to Lystra on his first missionary journey (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy had from his childhood been instructed in the Jewish Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-15), and these two women were undoubtedly influential in Timothy's own conversion to Christianity.

When Paul returned to Lystra on his second missionary journey, some of the Christians called his attention to a young believer named Timothy, and Paul decided to take him along on his journey (Acts 16:1-3). Since Paul would be evangelizing Jews, he circumcised Timothy according to Jewish custom (Acts 16:3). Paul and the elders of the Church also laid their hands upon Timothy to set him apart and equip him for ministry (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14).

Timothy traveled with Paul throughout most of Paul's second and third missionary journeys (Acts 17:14-15; 18:5; 19:22; 20:4-6), and apparently for part of his fourth. He seems to have become Paul's protege, and Paul spoke of himself as Timothy's "father" (Phil. 2:22) and of Timothy as his "son" (1 Tim. 1:2, 18; 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1). As Paul's coworker, Timothy served as his representative in the Churches of Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:2, 6), Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10), Philippi (Phil. 2:19, 23), and Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3).

If Timothy had a fault, it was that he was burdened by what Paul characterized as a "spirit of timidity" (2 Tim. 1:7). Paul felt it necessary to ask the Church in Corinth to receive Timothy in a manner that would set him at ease (1 Cor. 16:10-11). In his letters to Timothy, Paul exhorted him not to let anyone despise him on account of his youth (1 Tim. 4:12), not to neglect the spiritual gift that he had received (1 Tim. 4:14), and not to be ashamed to speak out boldly for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8).

Apart from the enigmatic statement in Hebrews 13:23 that Timothy had been "released" (presumably from prison), little is known about what happened to Timothy after the writing of 2 Timothy.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to care for the Church as his special representative (1 Tim. 1:3), and he wrote this letter to help Timothy deal with a variety of doctrinal issues that were raised by false teachers there. Paul had established the Ephesian Church early on his third missionary journey, spending about three years there (Acts 19; 20:31). At the close of that journey he had warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers, some coming from the leadership itself, would plague the Church (Acts 20:29-30). This epistle indicates that his prediction had come true (1 Tim. 1:6, 19; 4:1-2; 6:3-5, 10, 21).

Paul described the false teaching in Ephesus as coming from within the Church itself (1 Tim. 1:6, 19; 4:1; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 2:18; 4:4). It was characterized by a concern with myths (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4), genealogies (1 Tim. 1:4), quarrels about words (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:14, 23), controversies (1 Tim. 1:4; 6:4), knowledge (1 Tim. 6:20), meaningless talk (1 Tim. 1:6), and godless chatter (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16). The false doctrines included prohibitions against marriage and certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3), as well as the belief that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Tim. 2:18). The false teachers wrongly interpreted Jewish law (1 Tim. 1:7) and accordingly placed restrictions on prayer (1 Tim. 2:1-7).

Specific leaders of the movement included Hymenaeus (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17). Those who sought leadership positions in the movement apparently did so for financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5, 10). The false teachers had been divisive (1 Tim. 6:4-5) and seem to have been particularly effective in deceiving women (1 Tim. 2:14; 2 Tim. 3:6-7).

A number of these features - the specific doctrinal teachings, the interest in myths and genealogies and the concern for "knowledge" (the Greek word is gnosis) - suggest that the false teaching in Ephesus may have been an incipient form of Gnosticism, a heretical movement that became a strong competitor to the developing orthodox church in the second and third centuries. However, some of the more characteristic aspects of later Gnosticism are lacking here, and some assert that the movement in Ephesus can be explained in terms of Jewish and Hellenistic influences. These two suggestions need not be seen as contradictory, for Gnosticism itself was a product of both Jewish and Hellenistic ideas. But in spite of all that Paul said about the false teaching in Ephesus, its precise nature remains elusive.

First Timothy is noteworthy for its interest in Church organization. It provides the longest description in the New Testament regarding the qualifications for being an overseer/elder (1 Tim. 3:2-7). It also provides evidence for a distinction between those elders who primarily rule and those who primarily teach (1 Tim. 5:17). It gives comments about supporting and rebuking elders (1 Tim. 5:17-20) and includes the only explicit description in the New Testament of the qualifications for deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13). Paul's specific directives to Timothy also contain much practical advice on how a church leader is to function.

This epistle is also characterized by its emphasis on sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:9-11; 3:9; 4:6; 6:3-4), and it contains two theological meditations on the salvation God has accomplished in Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 1:13-16; 2:3-6). These include affirmations of salvation by grace (1 Tim. 1:13-16), Christ as the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5) and the substitutionary atonement of Christ (1 Tim. 2:6).

First Timothy also includes a meditation on the work of Christ that affirms his incarnation, resurrection, and ascension (1 Tim. 3:16), an anticipation of the second coming of Christ (1 Tim. 6:14), a marvelous doxology (1 Tim. 6:15-16), and evidence of the expansion of the concept of "Scripture" beyond the Old Testament to include elements of Christian tradition (1 Tim. 5:18).

Also distinctive about 1 Timothy are its comments about women (1 Tim. 2:9-15), including a lengthy section on proper care for widows in the church (1 Tim. 5:3-16), and the background information it provides about Timothy, including probable references to both his baptism (1 Tim. 6:12) and his ordination (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14).

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament


Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.