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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Commentary on The Pastoral Epistles

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1 Timothy

( 1:1–2 )

The form of the opening greeting is familiar to readers of NT epistles. It follows the conventions of letter-writing of the first few centuries CE, with the sender naming himself and greeting the recipient of the letter. Here, the writer names himself as Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus, as he does with minor variations in the other two letters. The recipient here is Timothy, well known from Pauline epistles and Acts as Paul's companion and fellow-worker (e.g. Rom 16:21; 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10; Col 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1; Acts 16:1 ). Several points stand out in this introduction: Paul's authority is stressed and is in no doubt; not only is he an apostle of Christ Jesus, he is commanded by God. The formality of the greeting, unexpected in a letter between friends and colleagues, has contributed to the belief that the letter is inauthentic. At the heart of the greeting two unusual epithets are employed, God is called ‘our Saviour’ and Christ, ‘our hope’. Outside the Pastorals, only in Cor 1:27 is Christ identified as ‘hope’ and there it is ‘Christ the hope of glory’; God our Saviour is found in the Pastorals a number of times, but elsewhere in the NT only in the Magnificat (Lk 1:47 ) and in the doxology of the epistle of Jude (Jude 25 ). The writer wants to make it clear that the message he brings is the true message of salvation, so he presents himself as the apostle Paul, commissioned by God the origin of salvation. Hope and salvation are closely connected; the work of salvation started at the incarnation will be continued through the church and completed at Christ's return.

v. 2 , Timothy, the recipient of the letter, is called a ‘loyal child in the faith’ as is Titus in Titus 1:4 . The word gnēsios, translated ‘loyal’, implies legitimacy in the Greek. In distinction to others who will be invoked, later (e.g. Hymenaeus and Alexander, 1:20 ), Timothy is Paul's legitimate successor. He is a child and therefore inferior to Paul, but the tradition passed from one to the other is true and authoritative. The threefold salutation is slightly different from those found in other Pauline letters. Grace and peace are familiar; here, mercy is added in the middle of the formula, where ‘to you’ is found elsewhere (e.g. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3 ). Mercy is a particular concern in the Pastoral Epistles, where the word appears five times of the ten occurrences in the whole Pauline corpus. God the Father, or Creator, and Christ Jesus our Lord are invoked again at the end of the salutation as the origins of Christian ‘virtues’.

( 1:3–7 )

The situation envisaged at the opening of the letter is that Paul has left Timothy behind in Ephesus while he has travelled on into Macedonia. Such a situation cannot be fitted into any reconstruction of Paul's life that can be pieced together either from his own letters or from the narrative in Acts. They provide the kind of personal details that lead some readers to argue for authenticity, while others claim that it is exactly the kind of information a pseudonymous author would include to add verisimilitude to his pretence, bringing the characters to life by placing them in relationship to one another in a real setting.

Having established his credentials, the author introduces one of the main concerns of his letter; he wants to combat false teaching and to discredit the teachers. The teachers cannot be identified with any certainty, nor what they were teaching. 1:3–11 provides clues about the teaching; we are told that the opponents occupy themselves with ‘myths and endless genealogies which lead to speculations’ (v. 4 ). It may be that a Gnostic group was teaching in the author's community and perverting the faith as he understood it by mythological speculations about creation and salvation. Because his readers must have known who he was referring to, he does not need to identify his opponents specifically, but sets his view of Christian virtues such as love, a pure heart, and a good conscience against the vices of speculative theory and vain discussion.

( 1:8–11 )

Here he adds a further dimension to the description of his opponents. They desire to be teachers of the law, presumably the Jewish law, without understanding what it is they are talking about; its true meaning is to regulate the behaviour of lawless and disobedient people. The vices listed in vv. 9–10 are an odd collection, including specific acts such as murder, matricide, and parricide alongside general characteristics such as sinfulness, unholiness, and profanity. At different levels such behaviour would incur disapproval in almost any society, not just under Jewish law. The list is obviously meant to be contrasted with the list of virtues in 1:5 . The writer's central theme, that good doctrine leads to good behaviour, is contrasted with the effects of following unsound teaching. He does not explain this teaching very clearly; but simply by placing the lists alongside one another he points up the contrast.

The qualities belonging to the faith, such as love issuing from a pure heart and a good conscience, are not typical of the teaching in Paul's genuine letters. Paul would certainly not dissent from the ideas expressed, but he uses different language to describe them. The Pastor's view of the law is very different from Paul's own too. For Paul the law symbolized the old dispensation, and its relationship to salvation brought through Christ was extremely complex; it was God-given but restrictive and negative in its effects (e.g. Rom 7:4–25; Gal 3:1–14 ). The Pastor, on the other hand, sees it in a much more mundane way: it is a God-given guide to behaviour, which, when abused, works against sound teaching.

( 1:12–17 )

1:3–11 and 18–20 provide a framework for these verses. This biographical section, illustrating God's mercy to his apostle Paul, has the effect of giving Paul tremendous prominence. The section takes the form of a thanksgiving, and describes the radical volte-face of the sometime persecutor turned faithful disciple. The story is familiar not only from Acts ( 9:1–22; 22:3–21; 26:9–20 ), but also from 1 Cor 15:8–10 and Phil 3:1–5 . The story of the complete conversion of the persecutor is a tale worth telling. But here more than anywhere else the fate of Paul is inextricably linked with the story of salvation. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.’ Paul's sinfulness is vividly described: ‘I formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence’, but he ‘received mercy’ because he acted out of ignorance. The sharp contrast between the persecutor and the believer is shown to be an intentional part of God's plan so that Paul might be an example for others, to demonstrate above all the perfect patience of Jesus Christ. So the tale serves a dual purpose; Paul is a typical example of a convert, but his special case gives him a special position as an apostle as the next few verses show. Paul himself talks of his former life in 1 Cor 15:9 and Phil 3:4–8 , to make a similar point, but here the language is stronger and less forgiving. Acts is much closer to this passage when it speaks of the ignorance of unbelievers before their conversion (e.g. 3:17; 13:27; 17:23 ).

The central Christian belief (v. 15 ), that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, is introduced by a formula that assumes general acceptance. The formula is found five times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8 ), often, as here, drawing attention to a significant doctrinal statement. It is not clear why the author uses the phrase with some doctrinal assertions and not with others. Often, as in this case, it seems that a quotation is being employed. The significance of the expression, ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners’, lies in the second half of the statement: the writer is not so much interested in the pre-existence of Christ, which may be implied, as in the soteriological effect of his coming (cf. 3:16 and 2 Tim 1:10 ). It introduces the idea of Paul's sinfulness which in turn shows him as a prototype believer and recipient of grace. Patience or forbearance (makrothumia) is a defining characteristic of God in relationship with his people in the Jewish Scriptures. The words found in Ex 34.6–7 where God is described as ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation’ are repeated and echoed frequently in later Jewish writings to contrast the long-suffering constancy of God with the sinfulness and fickle nature of his people (Jon 4:2; 2 Macc 6:14–16; Wis 11:23; 12:16 ). Here the attributes have been transferred to Christ, through whom God is working out salvation. Eternal life is in the future, it is a focus for belief grounded in Christ ‘our hope’ ( 1:1 ) for the future and based on what has already been achieved.

( 1:18–20 )

This section follows awkwardly from the doxology in v. 17 and it is far from clear what ‘these instructions’ refers to. It may look back to 1:3 where Timothy is urged to give certain instructions, or forward to the injunction to ‘fight the good fight’ later in the same verse. The word paraggelia, translated here as ‘instruction’, occurs with its cognates six times in 1 Timothy (cf. Tim 1:3; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17 ) demonstrating how important was the passing on of sound doctrine through properly commissioned people. The prophecies referred to in v. 18 are not to be understood as scriptural prophecies, but recall prophetic experiences such as that described in Acts 13:1–3 and referred to in 1 Tim 4:14 .

The imagery of fighting or warfare was widespread among philosophers and religious groups in the ancient world and is found elsewhere in the NT epistles (1 Cor 9:7; 2 Cor 10:3–6; Eph 6:10–17; 2 Tim 2:3–7 , where the image is linked with that of athletic competition). The repetition of the virtues of faith and a good conscience from 1:5 provides a framework for the central section of this chapter. Further emphasis is given by reference to two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who have ‘reject[ed] conscience’ and ‘suffered shipwreck in the faith’. They have therefore been ‘turned over to Satan’. As in 1 Cor 5:5 , this is a powerful image describing the radical effects of exclusion from the Christian community. Hymenaeus is mentioned again, alongside Philetus, at 2 Tim 2:17 , where their talk is said to spread like gangrene. Alexander the coppersmith is mentioned in 2 Tim 4:14 where he is said to have done Paul great harm. It is impossible to say whether both refer to the same man. Their rejection of the faith is to be contrasted with the steadfastness of Paul and Timothy; by the end of the first chapter, we are left with a clear impression of the apostle and of his legitimate successor; they are the transmitters of the true teaching of the church.

Greeting and Warnings ( 1:1–18 )

The opening greeting recalls that in 1 Timothy, but the call is by the will of God rather than by his command (cf. 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1; Eph 1:1 ). Paul is said to be an apostle for the sake of the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, which expands the idea of Christ Jesus, our hope, in 1 Timothy. ‘In Christ’ is an authentically Pauline expression, but there is no sense that the author has grasped the deep metaphysical meaning of life in Christ as understood by Paul himself. Timothy is called ‘beloved’ rather than ‘loyal’ or legitimate child here (see 1 TIM 1:1–2 ). Thus we already have a hint of the different tone of the letter; there is not so much concern about passing on the authentic tradition.

Paul's letters often open with a thanksgiving like this, but different Greek words are used here, perhaps because the Pauline word eucharisteō which originally meant ‘give thanks’ had acquired special eucharistic connotations by the time this letter was written. The tension Paul himself clearly felt between his Jewish ancestry and his Christian faith is lacking here ( 1:3; cf. Rom 9–11 ). Timothy's own ancestry in the faith is exemplary: his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice were believers before him. Meanwhile, the closeness of the relationship between Paul and Timothy is emphasized by Paul's constant prayers for Timothy and by the emotional memory of tears and the anticipation of joy when they meet again. This, together with the naming of Timothy's mother and grandmother, provide the kind of personal details that add to the sense of authenticity. But the very fact that three generations of Christians within one family are mentioned implies a post-Pauline date; 3:15 makes it clear that Timothy had been brought up as a Christian from childhood.

From 1:6 it seems that Timothy received the laying on of hands from Paul himself rather than from the council of elders as was suggested by 1 Tim 4:14 . They may refer to two separate occasions where authorization or commissioning was given for different purposes, or they may simply reflect the different tones in 1 and 2 Timothy, the latter being more personal, the former more formal and official. What is certain in both cases is that through the laying on of hands God's Spirit is passed from one to the other, whether from Paul the apostle or from the council of elders. The qualities imparted by the laying on of hands are both new and familiar in these epistles. Self-discipline translates one of the sōphrosunē words familiar from the other two epistles, and together with the spirit of power and love is contrasted with the spirit of cowardice. The idea of cowardice is linked with that of shame in the next paragraph, with the mention of Paul's imprisonment. The Pastor instructs Timothy not to be ashamed of bearing witness to the gospel or of Paul's imprisonment (cf. Rom 1:16 ). Philippians presents a clear account of his imprisonment and of its effects on Paul and his fellow Christians. Neither 1 Timothy nor Titus mentions it, but here it adds to the sense of authenticity. Paul has by now acquired the status of a hero, someone of whom his successors must not be ashamed; another indication of the late date of these letters.

The link between God's saving work in the past and the present sufferings of the apostle are continued in the kerygmatic passage that follows in 1:8–14 . It is a summary of the theological doctrine of the kind the Pastor makes in 1 Timothy and Titus (cf. 1 Tim 2:5–6; 3:16; 6:13–16; 2 Tim 2:11–13; Titus 3:4–7 ). Like those passages, it depends on Pauline teaching, it uses some Pauline language, but is subtly and markedly different from Paul. For example, Paul rarely uses the verb ‘to save’ in the past tense (a notable exception being Rom 8:24 , where it is in the context of future hope). The ideas expressed in v. 10 are based on the teaching in Romans 16:25–7 , ‘the proclamation of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret but is now disclosed’. The notion that God's plan of salvation was a mystery hidden from people for generations before the appearance of Christ was one that quickly took root. It created a historical schema which could link events and prophecies from Scripture not only with Christ's life and death, but into the present and up to his future reappearance. Although the idea has Pauline roots, it is expressed here in language typical of the Pastorals: Christ is described as Saviour, his appearance as epiphaneia, a word found in the NT only in the Pastorals (cf. 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13 ) and in 2 Thess 2:8 . Christ's death had the effect of abolishing death and through the gospel he brought life and immortality. The Greek word translated ‘immortality’ actually means ‘incorruptibility’, an associated but not identical idea. Immortality, translating a different Greek word, is said in 1 Tim 6:16 to belong to God alone. Paul himself talked of resurrection rather than immortality, so again we are presented with Pauline ideas presented in un-Pauline terms.

( 1:11–14 )

We are brought into the present by the reference to Paul's appointment as apostle and teacher, both familiar terms, and herald, already used once in a similar way in 1 Tim 2:7 (elsewhere in the NT only in 2 Pet 2:5 ). In Greek the word is related to the verb ‘to preach’, and to ‘proclamation’. This triple role has led to Paul's imprisonment, but Paul can remain steadfast because of his trust in God and his assurance of vindication. ‘What has been entrusted to me’ is a better translation of 1:12 and refers back to 1 Tim 6:20 ; with the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit, the sound teaching will continue uncorrupted. The line beginning with Christ, and passing to Paul, now continues through Timothy.

( 1:15–18 )

Paul is presented in these verses as being held in a prison in Rome, where he was visited by the faithful Onesiphorus. The example of Paul's faithfulness and that of Onesiphorus (cf. also 4:19 ) is contrasted with the behaviour of those in Asia who have turned against Paul, including two individuals, Phygelus and Hermogenes. Nothing else is known about these two men, but the verb used for ‘turn away’ is found also in 4:4 and Titus 1:14 where it has a sense implying the rejection of true teaching, rather than personal rejection. (A man named Hermogenes the coppersmith is mentioned in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, 3:1 , where he is a companion of Paul but a hypocrite and flatterer. Onesiphorus is also mentioned in the next paragraph.) Ephesus, where Timothy receives these letters, was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, the western part of modern Turkey.

Greetings and Instructions on Dealing with Deceivers ( 1:1–16 )

( 1:1–4 )

The opening greeting of Titus is longer and fuller than its counterparts in 1 and 2 Timothy and includes a summary of the gospel message. Paul is named again as the sender, but here he is called slave as well as apostle as in Rom 1:1 . Faith and knowledge of the truth are said to accord with godliness or eusebeia (cf. 1 Tim 2:2 , etc.). The idea of God's plan of salvation is clearly set out again, here strengthened by the assertion that God never lies. This is never explicitly said of God elsewhere in the NT but it is a thought underlying the notion of prophecy fulfilment throughout the NT. God's plan of salvation includes his promises in the past, and their fulfilment in the work of Christ, and in the work of those who proclaim the gospel, as well as the hope of eternal life. Both God and Christ are named as Saviour, because Christ carried out God's work of salvation on earth. The title ‘Saviour’ is used frequently in the Pastoral Epistles; in Titus, for example, God and Christ are each described as Saviour three times. Two elements of the blessing are present in v. 4 , rather than three as in 1 and 2 Timothy.

Titus, like Timothy in 1 Tim 1:2 is called ‘my loyal child’, in other words, legitimate successor. From Paul's own letters he is known to be a Greek whom Paul and Barnabas took to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1, 3 ) and who was associated with the Corinthian church (2 Cor 7:6–16; 8:6, 16–17, 23; 12:18 ). In 1 Tim 4:10 , he is said to have been sent to Dalmatia. Like the setting of 1 and 2 Timothy, this setting is fictitious.

( 1:5–9 )

The situation envisaged at the beginning of the epistle is that Paul has instigated a successful mission in Crete and it is now Titus' job to continue the work, ‘putting it in order’. (Crete is mentioned elsewhere in the NT only in Acts 27 , when Paul did not visit the island intentionally, but his ship was wrecked as it sailed past.) Putting things in order consisted first in appointing elders in every town (cf. Acts 14:23 ), which in turn would discourage opposition. Qualifications are given for elders here which resemble those given in 1 Tim 3 for bishops (episkopoi) and deacons. The use of the conjunction ‘for’ at the beginning of v. 7 heading the list of qualities necessary for an episkopos implies an overlap in their roles; perhaps, as in Jewish communities of the diaspora, the episkopos was drawn from the ranks of the elders. In 1 Tim ( 5:1, 17, 19 ) it is not clear that this was the case; there a council of elders with an episkopos at its head may have been envisaged. The episkopos is the steward of God's household, a favourite image of the church in the Pastorals (e.g. 1 Tim 3:4; 5:12, 15 ). Paul, who was fond of using metaphors of service and slavery to describe his own role, used it of himself once in 1 Cor 4:1 . But there he is the steward of the mysteries of God. To the exemplary character of the episkopos, familiar from 1 Tim 3 , is added the necessity of his having ‘a firm grasp of the word’, that is, a clear understanding of the Christian message. This will enable him not only to present the church's teaching clearly but also to refute those who contradict it.

( 1:10–16 )

The character of those who contradict is then set out. That some of them are Jewish Christians now seems clear (v. 10 ). This fits with the impression given in 1 and 2 Timothy but not made explicit there. They are native Cretans, converted to Christianity from Judaism and now apparently reverting in some way to their old faith and possibly advocating the circumcision of Gentile Christians. But as in 1 Tim 1:4 and 2 Tim 4:4 , it is their teaching of Jewish myths that occupies the author's attention. Since we are given no further information, however, it is not possible to know whether these were Gnostic myths or more traditional scriptural myths. They also imposed Jewish commandments on their followers; perhaps food laws which the author did not accept (cf. 1 Tim 4:3–5 ), and which may be alluded to in 1:15 . Ascetics, whether Jewish or not, who refused to eat certain foods were condemned in 1 Tim 4:4 , for ‘all things created by God are pure’. Here such people are condemned as having corrupt consciences; this is very strong condemnation for people whose understanding about purity is different from one's own. But it is the obverse of believing that sound faith leads to good behaviour. However, it contradicts Paul's teaching on such matters in Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8–10 where he is able to accommodate both points of view.

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