The letter to the Timothy (1)
Who is the Author?
The letter to Timothy immediately mentions Paul who is the Apostle of Christ as the author of this pastoral epistle: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.“
Rarely disputed, the external evidence for the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles is as good as for any other of his letters except Romans and 1 Corinthians.
G. D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (in New International Biblical Commentary), 23.
Irenaeus is the first explicitly to state they are Pauline, though there are virtually firm quotations from them in Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Heracleon, and perhaps 1 Clement. They are missing from Marcion’s Canon, however:
“Tertullian says Marcion rejected them, which is no wonder, since the content of 1 Timothy 4:1-5 is completely antithetical to Marcionism.”G. D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (in New International Biblical Commentary), 23.
Muratorian fragment (170 AD)
So while there are uses of 1 Timothy early on and throughout the church father era, the Muratorian Canon was also written. This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition. We see here it affirms Paul’s authorship: “As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. (42) First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; (43) next, to the Galatians, against circumcision; (44-6) then to the Romans he wrote at length, explaining the order (or, plan) of the Scriptures, and also that Christ is their principle (or, main theme). It is necessary (47) for us to discuss these one by one, since the blessed (48) apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor (49-50) John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians (51) first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, (52) to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, (53) to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans (54-5) seventh. It is true that he writes once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition, (56-7) yet it is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth. For John also in the (58) Apocalypse, though he writes to seven churches, (59-60) nevertheless speaks to all. [Paul also wrote] out of affection and love one to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy; and these are held sacred (62-3) in the esteem of the Church…”
There are quite a few opinions here from scholars, see an in-depth critique and response by Textual Critic Daniel Wallace.
The internal evidence is where the real issue of authenticity lay. Basically, there are three problems for authenticity: (1) historical, (2) theological, and (3) linguistic.
In sum, although the evidence against the authenticity of the pastorals is as strong as any evidence against the authenticity of any NT book (apart from 2 Peter), it still cannot overthrow the traditional view. The traditional view, however, must be modified by the substantial linguistic evidence against authenticity: an amanuensis (possibly Luke) had great freedom in writing these letters for the apostle Paul.
For more on the fine details read this in-depth article. Paul being the author is something we can remain confident in.
Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship
Interestingly, in P46 (the oldest Manuscript of the Pauline corpus, dated 200 AD), only the pastoral epistles are missing, there were originally five leaves at the end of the codex. It has been estimated that the pastorals would have taken ten leaves. Since codices were bound before being written in, it is possible that the scribe simply found himself in the embarrassing situation of having run out of room for the three pastoral epistles (which the scribe, with good reason, treated as a unit, hence leaving all of them out). And even if the scribe were unaware of the pastorals’ existence, this could be accounted for on two bases: 1. these letters were the only Pauline letters sent to apostolic delegates (and would thus probably have minimal circulation); and/or 2. By the end of the second century the pastoral epistles are firmly fixed in every Christian canon in every part of the empire and are never doubted by anyone until the nineteenth century. [G. D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (in New International Biblical Commentary), 23.]
1 Timothy 3:13-4:8
A small codex fragment of 1 Timothy dated to the third century written on both sides of the papyrus in a fairly large Biblical hand. The most significant fact is that this is the earliest witness of 1 Timothy to ever be published. Considering this was a pastoral Epistle, and not something you’d expect to be immediately as widely circulated as Romans or Ephesians, to have a manuscript 200-300AD is a great witness to the originals and probably not far off the time P46 was written.
To have even a partial of this verse is incredible. Considering how papyrus can deteriorate within a few hundred years, this is truly remarkable fortune and an incredible witness to Paul’s authorship as far away as southern Egypt.
Paul was a writer/composer
Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters (with or without a scribe, likely with a scribe for all of them?). It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.
Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD: “I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”
Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD: “For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”
Peter endorses Paul’s writings
If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”2 Peter 3:15-17
Audience & purpose
Timothy’s youth no doubt served him well, allowing for the energy and vigor he needed to serve his people. However, it also caused inevitable difficulties with elder Christians who may not have taken quickly to the leadership of such a young man because of his lack of knowledge and experience in leadership. It was important to Paul that Timothy set an example of consistent faith and a good conscience, remaining above reproach and exercising the spiritual gifts that God had given him (1 Timothy 4:12–16).
However, Paul knew that such a task would not be easy for the young man. Therefore, on two occasions Paul encouraged Timothy to “fight the good fight” (1:18; 6:12). Perseverance in what was good often became a slog for Timothy, one that required thick skin and a clear purpose.
1 and 2 Timothy are letters written by Paul not to a particular church, but to his apprentice, Timothy. Most scholars who hold to Pauline authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy date them close together near the end of Paul’s life. However, the analysis here separates them by a considerable time, with 2 Timothy near the end of Paul’s life and 1 Timothy much earlier.
There is no hint in 1 Timothy that Paul is in prison. In other letters, where Paul is in prison, he says so or alludes to it multiple times, so this fact alone tends to date 1 Timothy prior to Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea in 57 A.D. Paul says he urged Timothy to stay at Ephesus while he went to Macedonia (1 Tim 1:3). These are events from Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 20:1). This provides the reason for the letter, instructing Timothy in how to manage the church in Paul’s absence. Timothy is still quite young (1 Tim 4:11-15). Timothy would have needed this letter toward the beginning of his time in Ephesus, not years later, so it is best to assume that Paul wrote it very shortly after his departure. Since Paul spent three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31) and his departure was toward the end of his third missionary journey, the best date for 1 Timothy would be around 56 or early 57 A.D.
2 Timothy is written by Paul from Prison, in difficult circumstances (2 Tim 1:8, 1:12, 1:16, 2:3, 2:9). Unlike Paul’s other prison letters, we can state with some confidence that this was not prison in Caesarea, but in Rome, since Onesiphorus found him there in 2 Tim 1:17.
2 Timothy was definitely written after the other prison letters of Colossians and Ephesians. Luke and Demas are with Paul in Col 4:14, but in 2 Tim 4:10-11 Demas “has forsaken” Paul and only Luke remains with him. Paul says in the past tense in 2 Tim 4:12 that “Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus”, while in Col 4:7 and Eph 6:21-22 Tychicus is being sent.
Paul’s outlook for his own life has darkened considerably from his earlier prison letters, and he doesn’t expect to live much longer (2 Tim 4:6-8). This may have been due to an unfavorable first legal hearing (2 Tim 4:16) occurring in between the earlier prison letters and this one. These circumstances can only have come about after the upbeat end of the account in the book of Acts. Therefore, we should consider 2 Timothy to be chronologically the last letter of Paul that appears in the Bible, written around 63 A.D.
What was the acceptance rate of 1 Timothy as canonical by those early and later witnesses of the text? Polycarp uses the letter very early on however, heretics like Marcion rejected it because it was hard for him to use with lines like 1 Timothy 4:1-5 which were antithetical to Marcionism . Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of this pastoral epistle as canonical in the eyes of the church fathers.
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
We see in 2 Peter 3:15-17 accredit the works of Paul as scriptures, and Peter, being the lead apostle, can testify to apostolicity. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, Paul has called himself inline with the apostles (Romans 1:1 for example) and several times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 we see Paul associate himself with the Apostles as those to whom the risen Jesus appeared to. So Paul is an apostle and in Galatians 2:6 the Apostles Peter and James reviewed what Paul was preaching and added nothing to his message, meaning what he was preaching was inline with them.
We have no early opposition to the authorship of 1 Timothy, nor any early documents to say this document was not written by Paul or is heretical. So we stand by Paul being the author and fulfilling the apostolic criteria based on historical data.
As stated on the exchange in the beginning of Galatians 2, Paul got his message verified by the apostles. Paul also has a consistent message in 1 Timothy doctrinally with what Jesus on standing firm in the faith, standing firm in the truth even if not everyone in God’s community accepts you (Jesus & the Pharisees is such a scenario).
There has been no challenge by the early church fathers to 1 Timothy, even heretics like Marcion tried to use the document. 1st century Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John even makes use of the letter in the 1st century going into the second. There is a strong church agreement on from these disciples of the disciples all the way through the church fathers (Even Peter as we’ve discussed affirms Paul’s writings as scripture).
This would be highly relevant in Christian circles and especially for figures like Timothy who was young and who would have to preach to those older than him who, perhaps would feel more “experienced” and perhaps “wiser”. That cannot be easy then and isn’t necessarily easy today. And the affirmation to stand firm in the faith, not to get frustrated or play any over the top authority cards would be important to pastors of any age and to the christian congregation that could fall into such action.
Paul is called by God (Acts 9), claims in many of his letters to be sent as an Apostle for Christ Jesus (Romans 1 for example). He has the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired. 1 Timothy falls into this bracket. Paul claims in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that all scripture is God breathed (and elsewhere we argue for Paul’s authorship of that letter) and Paul, also being the author of this letter is sharing God’s instruction as God’s messenger to us (Acts 9:15). So if Paul is the author, then authority and inspiration to which Paul is given on behalf of God is one we should follow. Simply put, If Paul is the author, it is an inspired work.