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Introduction to Paul's Second Letter to Timothy

Julian Spriggs M.A.


The hotly debated question of the authorship of the three Pastoral Epistles is described in the article about 1 Timothy. This page also looks at the events of Paul’s final years, and gives a possible reconstruction of his last three years.

Historical Setting

The Book of Acts concludes with Paul in prison in Rome waiting for his appeal to the emperor to be heard. The normally accepted date for this imprisonment is from AD 60 to 62. From the end of Acts, it appears that Paul was being held in a form of house arrest, with a soldier guarding him, and able to receive visitors (Acts 28:16, 23, 30). It appears that after two years, Paul was released and able to continue his ministry, visiting places including Ephesus, Crete, and possibly Spain. This is sometimes called the fourth missionary journey. The letters of 1 Timothy and Titus were probably written during this period.

Paul was finally martyred during Nero’s persecution of the Christians following the fire of Rome in AD 64. The Book of 2 Timothy was probably written during a second period of imprisonment in Rome. It appears that this second imprisonment was in much more severe conditions. The preliminary hearing has already taken place (4:16), and Paul is now waiting for the full trial. He is not expecting acquittal, so death is certain (4:6-8). As a Roman citizen, Paul would not have been crucified, but beheaded by the sword. There is very strong evidence from history that Paul was put to death near to Rome.

When he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul had been left all alone, apart from Luke (4:11), many had deserted him, including Demas, and others had departed, perhaps on ministry, including Crescens, Titus and Tychicus (4:10). At his first defence all had deserted him (4:16), and someone called Alexander the coppersmith did him great harm (4:14).

Paul knows well that the time of his departure has come, to be poured out as a libation (4:6). He can look back on his life with satisfaction, knowing that he had fought the good fight and finished the race (4:7), and can now look forward to receiving the victory crown of righteousness (4:8)

Reason for writing

Paul’s thoughts are also on the future of the gospel after he departs. With urgency, he writes to Timothy, who he gives special responsibility with the apostolic gospel. He hands over his apostolic commission as apostle to the Gentiles, so Timothy can continue Paul’s work, after his martyrdom.

On a human level, Timothy is not suitable for this task. He is prone to illness, he is still young (1 Tim 4:12, 2 Tim 2:22). When Paul first met him on the second missionary journey, he was probably in his early twenties, so would now be about 35. He is shy, retiring and reserved, and tended to shrink back from difficult tasks (1 Cor 16:10-11, 2 Tim 1:7-8).

Paul’s gospel is now committed to Timothy. He had to assume responsibility for the gospel, through preaching and teaching. He had to defend it against attack and falsification by false teachers, and to ensure accurate transmission to future generations.

The book contains many exhortations to Timothy. Many are to do with teaching, preserving the Gospel and scripture.
1. Gospel, truth, faith, word of God, pattern of sound words, scripture (1:8,10,11,13,14, 2:8,9,15, 3:14-16, 4:2)
2. Teaching and preaching (1:11, 2:2, 3:16, 4:2-3)
3. Avoiding controversy (2:23)
4. Righteousness and lifestyle (2:22)
5. Associated persecution and suffering (1:8,12,16, 3:11,12, 4:5-6)

The climax of the book is the solemn charge Paul gives to Timothy. There are three witnesses: God, Christ Jesus and his appearing, and the kingdom (4:1). “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. ... As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (4:1-2, 5). Timothy must guard the gospel, be willing to suffer for it, continue in it without unbelief, and to proclaim it in season and out of season.

Biography of Timothy

Timothy was a resident of Lystra (Acts 16), which is a city in the Roman province of Galatia. Lystra was a rather insignificant town, at least eight miles (12 km) from the great east-west trade route. It was in a rich fertile area, on a small mound, with a couple of small rivers flowing past. The ruling class were the local aristocracy of Roman soldiers who lived there. There was a group of Greek educated residents who were called the Hellenes. These were not a racial group, but rather an educated and generally well-to-do segment of the population. Timothy, whose father was a Hellene (Acts 16) probably belonged to the educated and upper income bracket, a member of the Greek or Roman ruling class. He was probably not a believer. The majority of the people were from the uneducated Anatolian tribe which had its own language (Acts 14).

Timothy had a grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, who were Jewesses (Acts 16) and they were believers before him (2 Tim 1:5). We do not know how they heard the Gospel or when they became believers. It could have been on Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 14:8) or before that (Acts 2). However, they taught Timothy the scriptures from an early age (2 Tim 3:15). Lystra was an almost exclusively Gentile city, with only very few Jewish families. There was no synagogue. Perhaps Lois and Eunice were the only Jews in the city.

Timothy, it seems, became a believer on the first missionary journey through Paul (1 Tim 1:2). He would have been quite young, probably in his late teens or early twenties. He witnessed all that went on in the city of Lystra during Paul’s visit, including the healing of the lame man and Paul and Barnabas being worshipped as Greek gods (3:10, Acts 14:8-20). In the few years between the first two missionary journeys Timothy grew strong in his faith and made quite a reputation for himself. “He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). He also made some sort of public stand of witness, probably baptism (1 Tim 6:12).

When Paul arrived at Lystra on the second missionary journey, he desired Timothy to accompany him. It was probably at this time that Paul and the elders laid hands on him, to see his ministry released and confirmed by prophetic utterance (1 Tim 1:18, 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6), a ministry that needed to mature and grow (1 Tim 4:15). Paul also at this time had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3), so that his ministry would extend into the Jewish communities and synagogues.

Timothy quickly became a significant member of Paul's apostolic team, and was given a number of missions to accomplish, as Paul's representative. He was not a pastor of a church, but sent to churches to sort out various problems. He at was given at least six such commissions:
1. Left with Silas in Beroea (Acts 17:14-15)
2. Sent to Thessalonica (1 Thess 3:6)
3. Sent to Macedonia from Ephesus (Acts 19)
4. Sent to Corinth from Ephesus (1 Cor 4:17, 16:10)
5. Sent to Philippi (Phil 2:9)
6. Left behind in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3)

His tasks included
1. Helping to establish churches, as in Boroea ( Acts 17:14-15)
2. Enquiring about church’s welfare (1 Thess 3:6)
3. Seeking to correct false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3)
4. Dealing with false teachers (2 Tim)
5. Bringing encouragement and news of Paul (Phil 3).

Paul had a very high regard for him, calling him his “fellow worker” (Rom 16:21), “beloved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Cor 4:17), and “God's servant” (1 Thess 3:2). Paul's highest recommendation of Timothy was to the Philippians. “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare. They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy's worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served me with the Gospel.” (Phil 2:20-22)

As Timothy grew in his ministry, Paul invested increasing authority in him, so that when he was sent to a place on behalf of Paul, Paul would give him authority and instruct him to “Remind people and charge them” (2 Tim 2:14), “Convince, rebuke, exhort” (2 Tim 4:2), “Charge certain persons not to teach different doctrines” (1 Tim 1:3), “Command and teach these things” (1 Tim 4:11), “Teach and urge these duties” (1 Tim 6:2).

Paul sent for Timothy during Paul's last imprisonment (2 Tim 4:9,13), shortly before his martyrdom.

We can find out a little of Timothy's character by what Paul says about him and to him. The church at Corinth was told to receive Timothy in such a way that he would be put at ease among them and that he was to be respected by them (1 Cor 16:10). This, with the instructions of Paul in the two letters to Timothy, suggest a young man who is a little unsure of himself, rather timid and liable to hold back, rather than push himself forward. Paul gives him the following instructions:
“Let no one despise your youth” (1 Tim 4:12)
“Practice preaching, teaching, public reading” (1 Tim 4:13,15)
“God has not given us a spirit of timidity” (2 Tim 1:7)
“Share in suffering” (2 Tim 1:8)

It may be that his stomach problem was due to a nervous disposition (1 Tim 5:23). It does seem clear that he was growing into the ministry and was tempted to neglect the giftings and ministries he had received. He was a number of times exhorted to “get on with it!”
“Do not neglect the gift” (1 Tim 4:14)
“Practice these duties” (1 Tim 4:15)
“Rekindle the gift” (2 Tim 1:6)
“Study” (2 Tim 2:15)

It seems that Timothy heeded Paul's word to “share in suffering” (2 Tim 1:8), for in Hebrews the author declares that he had just been released from prison (Heb 13:23). We do not know how he finished his life.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.