The two epistles Paul wrote to Timothy are not usually associated with theology as much as they are with church organization and practice. However, it is significant to notice how many doctrines of the Christian faith are supported by key verses from these epistles. Beginning with bibliology, the crucial passage for the inspiration of all of Scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It is stated here that all Scripture is inspired or "God-breathed" and for that reason is "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." These verses indicate that anything that goes under the name of "scripture" is God-breathed out, and God-originated, and hence is his Word. As such, it is reliable and trustworthy and must be inerrant. For this reason Paul also writes that we should work hard to present ourselves approved to God, so we do not have to be ashamed, correctly handling the Word as characterized by truthfulness ( 2 Tim 2:15 ). Paul also writes that the sacred writings of Scripture are able to give wisdom and to lead to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ ( 2 Tim 3:15 ). Consequently, the Scriptures for Paul were, as God's Word, the authoritative and inerrant foundation stone upon which all other Christian doctrines and ethics rest.
Theology. Regarding the doctrine of God proper, the two epistles to Timothy contribute mostly to our understanding of the attributes of God. He is called "the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God" ( 1 Tim 1:17 ). His oneness is again declared in 1 Timothy 2:5, where Paul says that "there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Stressing again some of the same characteristics, Paul describes God as "the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see" ( 1 Tim 6:15-16 a).
With regard to God's work in creation, Paul asserts that "everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer" ( 1 Tim 4:4-5 ). Apparently, there were hypocrites who were forbidding marriage and were advocating abstention from certain foods, things that Paul insists were among the good things created by God to be rightfully enjoyed. In another passage related to creation and in defense of his statement relative to the position of women in the church, Paul points out that "Adam was formed first, then Eve" ( 1 Tim 2:13 ). It is apparent that Paul believed Adam and Eve to be historical figures and that the order in which they were created indicated God's desire for male headship in the family and in the church.
The Doctrine of Sin. In regards to the doctrine of sin, Paul refers to the first sin of Adam and Eve as the origin of all kinds of sinning, from the love of money to the sin of apostasy, which he particularly stresses in 1 and 2 Timothy. He seems to take the blame for the first sin from the shoulders of Eve, and places it squarely on those of Adam. He points out that "Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" ( 1 Tim 2:14 ). Some believe that Paul is implying that Eve was not able to help herself, but Adam sinned deliberately with his eyes wide open. At any rate, the human race, according to Paul in Romans 5:12-21, fell in its head, Adam, and not in Eve.
In a context in which the apostle is speaking about godliness with contentment as great gain and about the fact that we cannot take anything out of this world with us when we die, he declares that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" and that some have even apostatized from the faith by longing for money ( 1 Tim 6:10 ). Paul does not say that such a love for possessions is the only source or root of all evil, but it is one, and an important one at that. It has caused people to covet first, then to rob and steal, to deceive, to kidnap, to murder, and even to apostatize from Christ.
Another emphasis in these epistles is Paul's stress on the danger of apostasy and falling away from the faith. Whether this is a falling out of grace and a loss of salvation or a falling away from grace of which one was never a part, Paul sees the danger as a very real and serious one, a danger about which he warns Timothy and desires that he will warn others. In the last days, some will fall away from the faith or apostatize ( 1 Tim 4:1 ). Others, according to the apostle, have already left the faith or have lost their way ( 1 Tim 6:21 ). In 2 Timothy 2:17-18, Paul even names two who have done this, Hymenaeus and Philetus, and states the heresy they were preaching. They were saying that the resurrection had already taken place; as a result, they were upsetting the faith of some. Another who may have committed the same sin of apostasy was Demas; because he loved the present world, he deserted Paul ( 2 Tim 4:10 ). It may be noteworthy that it is not said that he deserted Christ, but rather that he deserted the apostle.
Christology. Paul's doctrine of Christ emphasizes both Christ's divine and human natures. Paul's belief in Christ's divinity is seen in his references to Jesus as "Christ Jesus our Lord" ( 1 Timothy 1:2 1 Timothy 1:12 ; 2 Tim 1:10 ), and as "our Lord Jesus Christ" ( 1 Timothy 6:3 1 Timothy 6:14 ). On the other hand, Christ's humanity is seen elsewhere in Paul's writings to Timothy. According to 1 Timothy 2:5-6, we have "one mediator between God and men, the man, Christ Jesus." He "appeared in a body" ( 1 Tim 3:16 ) and "descended from David" with a human genealogy ( 2 Tim 2:8 ). In addition to all of this, the three great events in the earthly life of Christ are all referred to briefly in these rather short epistles. Christ's death is referred to in 2 Timothy 2:11, his resurrection in 2 Timothy 2:8, and his ascension in 1 Timothy 3:16. In addition, there is also a reference to his second coming to judge the living and the dead ( 2 Tim 4:1 ).
Pneumatology. It is interesting to note that Paul, who believed strongly in the doctrine of the Trinity and had much to say in other epistles about the Person of the Holy Spirit, did not say much in his epistles to Timothy about him. In both of the letters to Timothy, his salutations mention God the Father and God the Son, but do not include God the Spirit. Paul does refer one time to the Spirit's revelatory work regarding the future, noting that "The Spirit explicitly says" that in the future some will fall away from the faith. Thus, his work on revelation, spoken of in other Pauline epistles, is not overlooked in the pastorals.
However, even though the Person of the Spirit is overlooked in these epistles, his work of sanctification, or separation from sin unto holy living, is not. Even when dealing with this doctrine, Paul stresses more human responsibility with regard to it rather than the Spirit's. This is seen in instructions such as the following: "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness" ( 2 Tim 2:19 ); "a man should cleanse himself from these things" the secular babblings and the ungodliness and the gangrenous words of the heretics, cited in 2 Timothy 2:16-17; and a youth should "flee the desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace" ( 2 Tim 2:22 ). It is important to remember that the sanctified life taught in the Bible demands the work of God and the cooperation of the individual Christian. The theology of the Bible includes both the declarations of the Bible relative to God's work and the demands of the Scriptures stating our responsibilities. These latter are the things stressed in 1 and 2 Timothy.
Even in regard to eternal life and spiritual gifts, Paul in these epistles stresses more of the human obligations relative to them than God's declared promises. Note 1 Timothy 6:12, where Paul commands Timothy to take hold of eternal life to which he had been called. Even though Timothy already possessed it, Paul exhorts him to lay hold of it, use it, live in the light of possessing it, and make it real and applicable in his life. In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul tells Timothy "to fan into flame the gift of God, " which was in him by the laying on of Paul's hands. He had been given a gift, but now he had to stir it up or exercise that which had been given to him by the Spirit. The spiritual gift, the charisma [cavrisma] of God, is not identified here, but is reminiscent of the charismata or other spiritual gifts apportioned out by the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12. The implication is that what we do not use, we may lose.
Soteriology. The doctrine of salvation is seen from various angles in 1 and 2 Timothy. The universal purview of the atonement provided by God for humankind is seen in several verses. In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul claims that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, himself being one of the worst. Paul also writes that God desires all humankind to be saved, not just a few ( 1 Tim 2:4 ). In 1 Timothy 4:10, the surprising declaration is made that the living God is the Savior of all humankind, especially of those believing. This latter verse has been interpreted in different ways. One thing is clear: God is not going to save all humankind; for other Scriptures state conditions that must be met before the universally applicable salvation becomes a reality in individual lives. Others have taught that the verse means that God wants to save all humankind and provides it for all, but it becomes applicable only for those who continue receiving it. Possibly, the best explanation is that God's salvation is one salvation that includes the many blessings of common grace bestowed upon all and intended to bring all to repentance. Even on this view, the salvation does not become effectual until those blessings are actually appropriated by faith.
Along with this emphasis on human response are certain verses that speak of salvation for those who have been "called to a holy life" by God, "because of his own purpose and grace" ( 2 Tim 1:9 ) and for those who have been chosen that "they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory" ( 2 Tim 2:10 ). In this way, both the free will of man and the sovereignty of God are seen as operative in the salvation of humankind as Paul presents it in 1 and 2 Timothy.
A strong soteriological emphasis in these epistles, which is found elsewhere in the Pauline writings, is that we are not saved by our own good works, but for the purpose of good works. The same emphasis found, for example, in Ephesians 2:8-10 and in all of the practical sections of Paul's writings, is stressed heavily in 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul clearly states that God has saved us, "not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace" ( 2 Tim 1:9 ). The Agent of this salvation is asserted to be God in 1 Timothy 4:10 and 2 Timothy 1:8-9, and Jesus Christ in 2 Timothy 1:10, where he is called "our Savior."
With this emphasis that humankind cannot save itself, goes the stress also on the fact that our salvation is for the purpose of good works; and this is a major theme in 1 and 2 Timothy. Often, this emphasis takes the form of laws or commands. For example, Paul commands Timothy to "keep this command, " probably a reference to the whole Christian way of life ( 1 Tim 6:14 ). Timothy is told to instruct the rich "to be rich in good deeds" ( 1 Tim 6:18 ). In addition, "everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness" ( 2 Tim 2:19 ). We are also to cleanse ourselves from empty and worldly chatter so we can be vessels for honor, sanctified and useful to the master, having prepared ourselves for every good work ( 2 Tim 2:21 ). Along with these are commands to "flee the evil desires of youth" and to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace ( 2 Tim 2:22 ).
While noting Paul's commands to Timothy and Christians in general, it is important to interpret correctly his words relative to law in 1 Timothy 1:8-10. Paul is not ruling out all relevance of the law for righteous people, only, in the idiom of his days toning down the first part of the statement to put greater stress on the latter. The law is not primarily for the righteous, but for the unrighteous; however, it still retains a didactic function for believers. The law teaches them how to love Christ and their neighbor. In no way can it be for any sinner a way of salvation from the wrath of God.
There is one rather strange and difficult verse relative to the salvation of women: 1 Timothy 2:15 (NASB)"But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." It is obvious that physical salvation from death in childbirth is not meant here, since godly women do die in childbearing. Spiritual salvation through childbirth is contrary to many other portions of Scripture that never include this as a condition for salvation. It is probably that the definite article with "childbearing" is the important item here, and that the intent of the verse is that the woman will be saved, even though she fell into transgression in the beginning, through THE Childbearing, the incarnation of Christ as promised to Eve in Genesis 3:15. The woman's continuance in faith, love, and sanctity with self-restraint are then assumed, by these interpreters, to be evidences of a living faith within the saved woman.
Ecclesiology. First Timothy 2:8-15 gives a number of instructions relative to the respective positions of men and women in public worship. Important themes are those of the leadership of men an the submission of women, and all that those roles may entail. It is important for the theologian to stress that this does not mean that men are superior to women, only that, for the purposes of getting the divine mission of the church (and the family) completed, God has assigned the leadership role to men, as a general rule. Some have taken these to be cultural instructions for Paul's day only; however, it is important to notice that Paul grounds his directions here on Adam's being created first and then Eve and also on Eve's being deceived, not Adam.
Specifically, the men in every place are to lead in prayer ( 1 Tim 2:8 ) and the women are to "learn in quietness and full submissiveness" ( 1 Tim 2:11 ). Paul goes on to say, using the Greek present tense to clarify his injunctions, that he does not allow a woman to continue teaching or to continue exercising authority over a man ( 1 Tim 2:12 ). It goes without saying that there may be times when no qualified men are available. Then Paul permits, in those emergency situations, the women to take charge; but this is not to be the usual or the norm. That the apostle is not forbidding all teaching for women is clear from Paul's favorable reference to Timothy's grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. As believers ( 2 Tim 1:5 ) who were undoubtably the responsible parties, through their teaching, for Timothy's good knowledge of the Scriptures from childhood ( 2 Tim 3:15 ). Thus, apparently it was all right for the women of a household to teach the children in it.
Furthermore, to these instructions regarding a woman's service in the church, Paul adds some instructions regarding her dress for worship ( 1 Tim 2:9-10 ). She is to adorn herself with proper clothing "modestly and discretely, not (primarily) with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness." In keeping with the manner of speaking of the time, he does not forbid all outward adornment, but desires that a woman's primary attractiveness come from the good words of a godly character.
The officers in the early church organization, according to Paul, were elders or bishops, deacons, and possibly deaconesses. The title "elder" referred to the honor and respect due the office of pastor while the title "bishop" or "overseer" stressed the function of the office. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the apostle lists those qualities that should characterize the men appointed to such an office. In keeping with his instructions discussed earlier, these are male in nature. The stipulations for deacons are given in 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12-13. There is some question as to whether the references to women in verse 11 refer to the wives of the deacons, or to the deaconesses. Since there does not appear to be a word for "deaconess, " and the word for "deacon" had to serve for both, there was no clear way here to distinguish deaconesses. (See Rom 16:1 , where the masculine word for "deacon" is used of Phoebe. ) Those who believe Paul was addressing another office in the early church point out that he does not single out the wives of the elders or overseers for special instructions. Consequently, why should he insert material relevant to deacons' wives? It is possible, therefore, that he was referring to a third church office in 1 Timothy 3:11, namely, deaconess.
Eschatology. Both of Paul's epistles to Timothy place some emphasis on prophecy and the doctrine of the Lord's second coming. First Timothy 4:1-5 speaks of the great apostasy that will transpire in the latter times. The other more extensive prophetic passage is 2 Timothy 3:1-13, which speaks of the last days as "terrible times" and then lists a number of characteristics of the people who will live in those last days just prior to Christ's return. Again, deception of people living at that time is a primary concern of Paul's.
The second advent of Christ is called by Paul "the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( 1 Tim 6:14 ). The Greek word used for Christ's "appearing" refers to his glorious second coming to this earth to reign. Two other places where this same word occurs with the same reference are 2 Timothy 4:1 and 8. In 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul solemnly charges Timothy in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and "in view of his appearing and his kingdom" to do various things. In 2 Timothy 4:8, he declares that there is a reward awaiting him on a future day and for all those who have longed for the Lord's appearing, that is, his glorious return. Paul also reminds Timothy that God will bring about this return when the situation is ripe for it ( 1 Tim 6:15 ), even as he did the first coming, as declared by Paul in Galatians 4:4.
In addition to the above, Paul makes it very clear that the doing of good works by believers is the way to store up treasure for themselves for the future, so that they may lay hold of that which is life indeed ( 1 Tim 6:19 ). He speaks of receiving in the future the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to him and to all those who love the Lord's appearing ( 2 Tim 4:8 ).
Walter L. Gerig
Bibliography. H. A. Kent, Pastoral Epistles; R. C. Lenski, Interpretation of Colossians, Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon; W. Lock, International Critical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Timothy, First and Second, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".