2 Timothy: Introduction

May 1, 2010

Paul had worked together with Timothy for well over a decade before he wrote his second letter to the young evangelist.   He had first encountered Timothy in Lystra in about AD 51 (Acts 16), as a young man of around 20 years of age — perhaps younger.    Timothy so impressed the apostle that Paul persuaded the young believer to accompany him on his second missionary journey.

Timothy’s mother was a Jew, but his father was a Gentile.  No other mention is made of Timothy’s father in scripture.  But it is apparent that Timothy’s grandfather gave Timothy’s mother to a Gentile in marriage — something that was  forbidden in Mosaic law.  Some even hold that Timothy would have been forbidden to enter the Jewish assembly as a result.   Yet Paul chose Timothy as his apprentice in the ministry.

Even from the early days of their partnership, Paul trusted Timothy with important missions (generally along with another partner – Silas, Erastus…) to address needs in churches including Corinth, Thessalonica, Berea, and Macedonia.  But Paul and Timothy also spent much time together as they built and strengthened churches together.  Paul, who had no wife and no children of his own, considered Timothy as his own son.

Timothy was with Paul during his first imprisonment, where he was included as a co-author of the letters of Philippians, Colossians,  and Philemon.  Timothy is also mentioned as co-author of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 2 Corinthians.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy appears to have been written from Macedonia .  That may have been Paul’s visit mentioned in Acts 20, around AD 58-59.  Perhaps more likely, it was during a later visit after being released from his first imprisonment.  If that were the case, the letter would have been written a year or two before Paul’s second imprisonment, during the time after the close of the book of Acts.

That Paul endured two separate imprisonments in Rome is established by several facts.  In this final letter, Paul spoke of having previously been saved from the mouth of the lion.   It is evident that during that event, Paul expected to be released and to return to his missionary work.   He even requested that Philemon prepare for him a guest room in anticipation of a visit.  In contrast, Paul had no such optimistic expectation of release in his second imprisonment.  (History records that Paul was beheaded under Nero’s rule in around AD 65-68.)

Furthermore, as Scofield explains in comments on Acts 28:30:

It has been much disputed whether Paul endured two Roman imprisonments, from A.D. 62 to 68 or one. The tradition from Clement to Eusebius favours two imprisonments with a year of liberty between. Erdman (W.J.) has pointed out the leaving of Trophimus sick at Miletus, mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:20 could not have been an occurrence of Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem, for then Trophimus was not left ; Acts 20:4; 21:29 nor of the journey to Rome to appear before Caesar, for then he did not touch at Miletus. To make this incident possible there must have been a release from the first imprisonment, and an interval of ministry and travel.

For yet more evidence of a second imprisonment, consider the case of Demas. He was with Paul during his first imprisonment (Col 4:14, Phm 1:24).  But at the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, Demas had deserted Paul.  Paul attributed his desertion to his having loved this present world.  So it seems that Paul’s circumstances were quite different during that time, and formerly loyal friends were distancing themselves to save their own skin.

Knowing that he was facing martyrdom, Paul’s thoughts turned to his protégé.  Clearly Paul felt an urgent need to encourage Timothy to remain faithful in the current and future trials.  Now more than ever, Paul must have felt the pressure of his concern for the churches. So he began to write perhaps the most poignant of his letters, an intensely personal and heartfelt message to the one he considered his son.

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