The First Letter Of Paul To Timothy - Introduction
This letter from Paul to his “loyal child” Timothy ( 1.2 ) presents Paul as a wise and sure teacher who hands on to his student his deposit of tradition, his “sound teaching” ( 1.10;4.6 ) so that his legacy will be passed down with fidelity to the next generation. (On the authorship and date of this letter, see p. 349 NT.) The text presents a vision of household ethics that brings together instructions on Christian “godliness” (or “piety”; 2.2 ) for the individual, with a church order of regulations and qualifications for various roles in the church, designated “the household of God” ( 3.15 ). This advice is set in a dual context formed by the positively remembered relationship between Paul and Timothy, and, negatively, by the frequent allusions to purveyors of alternate teachings in or near Timothy's church in Ephesus. (For further information on Timothy, see the Introduction to 2 Timothy, p. 357 NT.)
After an opening greeting ( 1.1–2 ) the author launches (without the customary thanksgiving) into the body of the letter, which is roughly arranged with alternating sections of contrast between true and false teachers ( 1.3–2.15; 4.1–5.2; 6.2b–21a ) and instructions for church order and governance, understood as the means for living in the church of God ( 3.1–16; 5.3–6.2a ). The letter concludes with summary exhortations to Timothy to guard this tradition with which he has been entrusted ( 6.11–21 ). As with all Pauline letters a final benediction ( 6.21 ) seals the letter, perhaps in anticipation of liturgical use.
Although the author names two of his Christian opponents ( 1.20 ), exactly what they taught, and why, is only hazily sketched here, in vituperative terms: they have “deviated” from the truth ( 1.6 ); they have “suffered shipwreck” ( 1.19 ). No definitive reconstruction is possible from these verbal assaults, but it seems that these opponents have some connection with Judaism and Torah observance, “myths and endless genealogies” ( 1.4 ), and ascetic practices, such as preventing marriage and abstaining from certain foods ( 4.3 ). Recent research has suggested a link between the Christians whom this author opposes and those who held to the traditions found in the later apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, which validates women's ministries and which, in asceticism and renunciation of marriage, also claimed Paul as their champion.
The structure of this epistle is discursive, alternating sections that contrast true and false teaching with others providing instruction for church order and governance. At times Timothy is directly addressed, but more often he recedes into the background, and the author speaks to a more universal audience. As ethical instruction (parenesis), 1 Timothy is cast in characteristic forms of Greco‐Roman moral exhortation: letters between friends about progress in the ethical life, lists of virtues and vices, and contrasts between illustrious examples and notorious counterexamples. Likewise, the content is in many ways similar to contemporaneous moralizing literature: the emphasis on decorum and decency, on the hierarchical, orderly disposition of the patriarchal household, on reliable speech, and against accumulation of wealth. But the letter's theological universe, which is punctuated by shorthand terminology and quotations from established traditions, is distinctly Christian.