First Epistle to Timothy

The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy, usually referred to simply as First Timothy and often written 1 Timothy, is one of three letters in the New Testament of the Bible often grouped together as the Pastoral Epistles, along with Second Timothy and Titus. The letter, traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul, consists mainly of counsels to his younger colleague and delegate Timothy regarding his ministry in Ephesus (1:3). These counsels include instructions on the organization of the Church and the responsibilities resting on certain groups of leaders therein as well as exhortations to faithfulness in maintaining the truth amid surrounding errors. Most modern scholars consider the letter pseudepigraphical,[1] perhaps written as late as the first half of the second century CE.[2]


The author of First Timothy has been traditionally identified as the Apostle Paul. He is named as the author of the letter in the text (1:1). Nineteenth and twentieth century scholarship questioned the authenticity of the letter, with many scholars suggesting that First Timothy, along with Second Timothy and Titus, are not original to Paul, but rather an unknown Christian writing some time in the late-first-to-mid-2nd century.[3] Most scholars now affirm this view.[4]

Historical views

The genuineness of Pauline authorship was accepted by Church orthodoxy as early as c. 180 AD, as evidenced by the surviving testimony of Irenaeus and the author of the Muratorian. Possible allusions are found in the letters from Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (c. 95), Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians (c. 110) and Polycarp to the Philippians (c. 130),[5][6] though it is difficult to determine the nature of any such literary relationships. Modern scholars who support Pauline authorship nevertheless stress their importance regarding the question of authenticity: I.H. Marshall and P.H. Towner wrote that 'the key witness is Polycarp, where there is a high probability that 1 and 2 Tim were known to him'.[7] Similarly M.W. Holmes argued that it is 'virtually certain or highly probable' that Polycarp used 1 and 2 Timothy.[5]

Late in the 2nd century there are a number of quotations from all three Pastoral Epistles in Irenaeus' work Against Heresies. The Muratorian Canon (c. 170–180) lists the books of the NT and ascribes all three Pastoral Epistles to Paul. Eusebius (c. 330) calls it, along with the other thirteen canonical Pauline Epistles, "undisputed",[8] despite the fact that Eusebius wrote in the 4th century with little to no knowledge of the complex social structures which line the books of the New Testament. Exceptions to this positive witness include Tatian,[9] a disciple of Justin Martyr turned heretic, as well as the Gnostic Basilides.[10]

Marcion, an orthodox Bishop later excommunicated for heresy, formed an early canon of Scripture c. 140 around the Gospel of Luke and ten of the canonical Pauline epistles, excluding 1–2 Timothy and Titus. The reasons for these exclusions are unknown, and so speculation abounds, including the hypotheses that they were not written until after Marcion's time, or that he knew of them, but regarded them as inauthentic. Proponents of Pauline authorship argue that he had theological grounds for rejecting the Pastorals, namely their teaching about the goodness of creation (cf. 1 Tim 4:1 ff.).[11]

The question remains whether Marcion knew these three letters and rejected them as Tertullian says, since in 1 Timothy 6:20 "false opposing arguments" are referred to, with the word for "opposing arguments" being "antithesis", the name of Marcion's work, and so a subtle hint of Marcion's heresy. However, the structure of the Church presupposed is less developed than the one Ignatius presupposes (who wrote c.110), as well as the fact that not only is "antithesis" itself a Greek word which simply means "opposing arguments" but as it has been noted, the attack on the heretics is not central to the three letters.[12]

Critical Analysis of the Content of the Letter

"What is most baffling in the letters is that they do not adequately define either the orthodoxy which they champion or the heterodoxy which they combat."[13]


The dating of 1 Timothy depends very much on the question of authorship. Those who accept the epistle's authenticity believe it was written soon after Paul left Ephesus, which he did twice according to the Acts of the Apostles. This dates the epistle to either about the year 58 or 59, or about the year 64 or 65 AD. Those who have maintained the former opinion, among others, are Theodoret, Benson, Zachariae, Michaelis, Schmidt. Koppe, Planck, Grotius Lightfoot, Witsius, Lardner, Hug, and Prof. Stuart. The latter opinion, that it was written after Paul's first imprisonment at Rome, is maintained by Paley, Pearson, L'Enfant, LeClerc, Cave, Mill, Whitby, Macknight, and others.[14]

Secular historians generally place its composition some time in the late 1st century or first half of the 2nd century CE, with a wide margin of uncertainty. The text seems to be contending against nascent Gnosticism (1 Tim 1:4, 1 Tim 4:3)[15] (see Encratism), which would suggest a later date due to Gnosticism developing primarily in the latter 1st century. The term Gnosis ("knowledge") itself occurs in 1 Timothy 6:20.[16] If the parallels between 1 Timothy and Polycarp's epistle are understood as a literary dependence by the latter on the former, as is generally accepted,[6] this would constitute a terminus ante quem of 130–155 CE. However, Irenaeus (writing c. 180 CE) is the earliest author to clearly and unequivocally describe the Pastorals.


This historical relationship between Paul and Timothy is one of mentorship. Timothy is first mentioned in Acts 16:1. His mother Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:5. All that we know of his father is that he was a Greek not a Jew (Acts 16:1).

Paul's second visit to Lystra is when Timothy first connected with Paul (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:11). Paul not only brought Timothy into the faith but he was Timothy’s main mentor in Christian leadership (Acts 16:3), having done church planting and missionary journeys together. Timothy would have received his authority to preach in churches directly from Paul who of course was the greater known and accepted of the two and an apostle. Timothy’s official position in the church was one of an evangelist (1 Timothy 4:14) and he worked with Paul in Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia, Troa, Philippi and Berea (Acts 17:14) and continued on to do even more work in Athens, and Thessalonica for the church (Acts 17:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:2) not to mention his work in Corinth, Macedonia, Ephesus and greater Asia. Timothy was also noted for coming to Paul’s aid when Paul fell into prison (Philippians 1:1, 2 Timothy 4:13). It is noteworthy that, despite not being required due the ruling of the Jerusalem council, Timothy took circumcision himself in order to be a better witness among the Jews. According to church tradition he was loyal to Paul’s wishes and stayed and worked in Ephesus until he finally suffered a martyr's death himself.

If, however, "… the pastorals are best understood against the background of the second century, the evidence in the letters relative to church order ... clearly reflect a time when apostle and prophet have been succeeded by bishop (and archbishop?) and/or elder in a stabilized church organization fully committed to an authorized succession of ordained ministers. The local churches are no longer lay churches, nor are their needs now taken care of simply by itinerant missionaries. There is obviously hierarchical organization both in the local and ecumenical church. The chief function of the bishop (or archbishop?) is to transmit and maintain the true faith"[17]

The Pastorals are distinguished from all other New Testament letters in that they are addressed ... to a special functional class within the church, namely, the professional ministry. Thus these letters occupy the unique distinction of being not simply the only letters in the New Testament to be addressed primarily to clergymen, but also of being in this sense the first extant pastoral letters—that is, letters written by a pastor to pastors—in the history of the church.[18]

Key themes

The author of this epistle writes to Timothy concerning the organization of the church and Timothy's own leadership within the body. Major themes include the use of The Law (1Timothy 1:7–11), warnings against false doctrine such as Encratism, instructions for prayer (1Timothy 2:1–8), roles of women in the church, qualifications for leaders of the church (1Timothy 3:1–13), and the treatment of widows, elders, masters, youth, and church members in general (1 Timothy 5:1-5:20).

The structure for the role of women in the Church at Ephesus is laid out as well as a detailed list of qualifications for who can and cannot serve as Elders and Deacons in the church. Some feel he clearly teaches that women are not to have authority over men in the church structure (1 Timothy 2:12; see a similar earlier statement in 1 Corinthians 14:35) and that this is why he clearly excludes them from the roles of Elder/Bishop and Deacon in chapter three. People who hold to this stance point out that Paul’s use of the phrase “Husband of one wife” is gender specific and excludes women from that role. They would point out that in the Greek text it literally reads "Man of one woman". "μιας γυναικος ανδρα"(1 Timothy 3:2)[19] However, other scholars argue that this is a product of the time in which Paul lived and it is a cultural reference not meant to be eternally binding on the church. The treatment of this issue has also been pointed to as evidence that I Timothy is not Pauline, noting "the freedom granted [women] in the apostolic age to exercise the gifts of the Spirit, [and] Paul's insistence that in Christ there is neither male nor female, [which] had brought them into quick and widespread public activity." [20] The New Jerome Bible Commentary points out that the reasoning in I Timothy (the fall was Eve's fault) is non-Pauline: “Paul himself prefers to assign blame to Adam (as a counterpart to Christ – see Rom [Romans] 5:12–21; I Cor [Corinthians] 15: 45–49…)”[21] In fact, 1 Timothy 2:14 states, not that Eve disobeyed, but that she was tricked, holding true to Paul's assertion that Adam alone was the transgressor.[22]


I. Salutation (1:1–2)

II. Negative Instructions: Stop the False Teachers (1:3–20)

A. Warning against False Teachers (1:3–11)
1. The Charge to Timothy Stated (1:3)
2. Their Wrong Use of the Law (1:4–7)
3. The Right Use of the Law (1:8–11)
B. Paul’s Experience of Grace (1:12–17)
C. The Charge to Timothy Repeated (1:18–20)

III. Positive Instructions: Repair the Church (2:1–6:10)

A. Restoring the Conduct of the Church (2:1–3:16)
1. Instructions on Public Worship (2:1–15)
a. Concerning Prayer (2:1–7)
b. Concerning the Role of Men and Women (2:8–15)
1) Men: Pray in a Holy Manner (2:8)
2) Women: Quiet Conduct (2:9–15)
2. Instructions on Church Leadership (3:1–13)
a. Qualifications of Overseers (Elders) (3:1–7)
b. Qualifications of Deacons (3:8–13)
3. Summary (3:14–16)
a. Conduct of the Church (3:14–15)
b. Hymn to Christ (3:16)
B. Guarding the Truth in the Church (4:1–16)
1. In the Face of Apostasy (4:1–5)
2. Timothy’s Personal Responsibilities (4:6–16)
3. Spiritual Exercises (4:7–9)
C. Dealing with Groups in the Church (5:1–6:10)
1. Men and Women, Young and Old (5:1–2)
2. Widows (5:3–16)
a. Older Widows (5:3–10)
b. Younger Widows (5:11–16)
3. Elders (5:17–25)
a. The Reward of Elders (5:17–18)
b. The Reputation of Elders (5:19–20)
1) The Reputation of Elders Protected (5:19)
2) The Sins of Elders Publicly Rebuked (5:20)
c. The Recognition of Prospective Elders (5:21–25)
4. Slaves (6:1–2)
5. False Teachers (6:3–10)

IV. Personal Instructions: Pursue Godliness (6:11–21)

A. Fight the Good Fight (6:11–16)
B. A Final Word to the Wealthy (6:17–19)
C. Guard What has been Entrusted (6:20–21)

See also


  1. David E. Aune, ed., The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 9: "While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphical, i.e. written by unknown authors under Paul's name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus)."
  2. Stephen L. Harris, The New Testament: A Student's Introduction, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), 366.
  3. Ehrman, Bart. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Oxford University Press. 2003. p. 393 ISBN 0-19-515462-2
    "when we come to the Pastoral epistles, there is greater scholarly unanimity. These three letters are widely regarded by scholars as non-Pauline."
  4. Collins, Raymond F. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. 2004. p. 4 ISBN 0-664-22247-1
    "By the end of the twentieth century New Testament scholarship was virtually unanimous in affirming that the Pastoral Epistles were written some time after Paul's death. ... As always some scholars dissent from the consensus view."
  5. 1 2 Holmes, MW, "Polycarp's 'Letter to the Philippians' and the Writings that later formed the NT," in Gregory & Tuckett, (2005), The Reception of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers OUP, p.226 ISBN 978-0-19-926782-8
  6. 1 2 Berding, K. (1999). "Polycarp of Smyrna's View of the Authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy". Vigiliae Christianae. 53 (4): 349–360. doi:10.2307/1584486.
  7. Marshall, IH and Towner, PH (1999), 'The Pastoral Epistles', T&T Clark, ISBN 0-567-08661-5, p.3
  8. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5
  9. Moffatt, James. An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament. 1911: p. 420.
  10. Knight, George William, (1992), The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary On the Greek Text, ISBN 0-8028-2395-5
  11. John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (Leicester: IVP, 1996), 23.
  12. W. Marxsen, "Introduction to the New Testament", ET 1968, p.207: "Can we find, nevertheless, in the light of the contents of the letters, a common key to the understanding of all three? One common factor is to be found in the attack upon heretics, but this does not really stand in the forefront of any of the letters. I Tim. and Tit. are concerned rather with codified 'rules' or 'rules' required to be codified, for the ministry among other things. 2 Tim. also deals with the ministry, not in the sense of laying down rules, but rather that Timothy in fulfilling his ministry should follow the example of Paul."
  13. The Interpreters Bible, Volume XI, "Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles", (Introduction and Exegesis by Fred D. Gealy), Philemon, Hebrews 1955 XI p. 383
  14. "1 Timothy 1 Barnes' Notes". Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  15. "Gnostics, Gnostic Gospels, & Gnosticism".
  16. "1 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,".
  17. The Interpreter's Bible p. 346.
  18. The Interpreter's Bible p. 344.
  19. Nestel-Aland novum Testamentum, Graece et Latine, United Bible Societies, London, printed in Germany, 1969
  20. The Interpreter's Bible p. 349.
  21. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Union Theological Seminary, New York; NY, Raymond f. Collins, p. 897, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1990
  22. The Interpreters Bible p. 349.
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First Epistle to Timothy
Preceded by
Second Thessalonians
New Testament
Books of the Bible
Succeeded by
Second Timothy
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