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The First Epistle to Timothy is one of three letters in New Testament of the Bible often grouped together as the Pastoral Epistles, the others being Second Timothy and Titus. The letter, traditionally attributed to Saint Paul, consists mainly of counsels to his younger colleague and delegate Timothy regarding his ministry in Ephesusmarker (1:3). These include instructions on the forms of worship and organization of the Church, the responsibilities resting on its several members, including episcopoi (overseers or bishops) and diaconoi ("deacons"); and secondly of exhortation to faithfulness in maintaining the truth amid surrounding errors (iv.iff), presented as a prophecy of erring teachers to come.
  • "What is most baffling in the letters is that they do not adequtely define either the orthodoxy which they champion or the heterodoxy which they combat." TIB 1955 XI p. 383


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). In modern times, scholars have become divided over the issue of authenticity, with many 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-second century.Ehrman, Bart. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Oxford University Press. 2003. p. 393 ISBN 0195154622
"when we come to the Pastoral epistles, there is greater scholarly unanimity. These three letters are widely regarded by scholars as non-Pauline." Despite the challenge to Pauline authorship, the traditional view is still held by many New Testament scholars.

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 fragment. 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), 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'. Similarly M.W. Holmes argued that it is 'virtually certain or highly probable' that Polycarp used 1 and 2 Timothy.

Late in the second 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", despite the fact that Eusebius wrote in the 300s 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, a disciple of Justin Martyr turned heretic, as well as the Gnostic Basilides.

Marcion, an orthodox Bishop later excommunicated for heresy, formed a Gnostic canon of Scripture c. 140 around ten of the canonical Pauline epistles, excluding 1-2 Timothy, Titus and Hebrews. 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.). The question is indeed curious 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 whether it is a subtle hint of Marcion's heresy. However, the structure of the Church presupposed which 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.

The challenge to Pauline authorship

The modern challenge to Pauline authorship began with the work of German theologians F.D.E. Schleiermacher in 1807 and J.G Eichorn in 1812. (Eichorn extended Schleirmacher's critique of 1 Timothy to all three Pastoral letters.) This was argued in further detail by F.C. Baur in 1835.. Following these arguments, a large number of modern scholars continue to reject Pauline authorship, citing various and serious problems in associating it therewith. For example, Norman Perrin analyzed the Greek used by the author or authors of the Pastoral Epistles, finding that over 1/3 of their vocabulary is not used anywhere else in the Pauline epistles; more than 1/5 is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, while 2/3 of the non-Pauline vocabulary are used by second century Christian writers. Richard Heard, in 1950, had this to say: "The evidence of teaching as of style and vocabulary is strongly against Paul’s authorship, nor are these arguments seriously weakened by any supposition that the epistles were written late in Paul’s lifetime and to meet a new type of situation. The three epistles show such a unity of thought and expression that they must be the work of one man, but for the author we must look rather to one of Paul’s admirers than to Paul himself." Robert Grant noted the afore-mentioned parallels to Polycarp's Epistles and suggested he might be the author.
If “… the author of the Pastorals is seen as a separate individual, and not as a depleted or altered Paul, he assumes a new position of importance in the New Testament and in the history of the ancient church.
The New Testament thereby becomes enriched with an important type of personality distinct and different from any of the other great figures delineated therein, a type without which the origin of the catholic church is inexplicable.” TIB 1955 XI pp.

The defence of Pauline authorship

Scholars who hold to the minority position of Pauline authenticity of the epistle include Wallace, Knight, Fee, Witherington III, Johnson, Stott and Towner. Wallace, for example, writes that, "although the evidence against the authenticity of the pastorals is as strong as any evidence against the authenticity of any NT book (save 2 Peter), it still cannot overthrow the traditional view"

In addition, a number of computer studies, though they must be treated with caution, have indicated that the seven universally-accepted Pauline letters and 1-2 Timothy have a closer "affinity" than is often assumed. Thus:
  • Alivar has shown that the 'Timothy's' have greater 'affinity' to Romans, Ephesians and Colosians than do Romans,Ephesians and Colosians to other Pauline epistles eg 1 Corinthians or Galatians.
  • Smith corrected Morton, and showed that on his criteria 'the most likely interpretation is that St. Paul wrote all the Epistles'.
  • Barr writes 'In view of the distinctive patterns found in these corpora it cannot be held, ... that the Pastorals are pseudonymous writings ...'.


The dating of 1 Timothy depends very much on the question of authorship. Those who accept the epistle's authenticity believe it was most likely written toward the end of Paul's ministry, c.62-67 AD. Other historians generally place its composition some time in the late first century or first half of the second century AD, with a wide margin of uncertainty. The text seems to be contending against nascent Gnosticism(1 Tim 1:4, 1 Tim 4:3)(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. 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, this would constitute a terminus ante quem of 130-155 AD. However, Irenaeus (writing c. 180 AD) 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 . His mother Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are mentioned in 2 Tim. 1:5. All that we know of his father is that he was a Greek not a Jew ( ).

Paul's second visit to Lystra is when Timothy first connected with Paul ( ; ). Paul not only brought Timothy into the faith but he was Timothy’s main mentor in Christian leadership ( ), 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 ( ) and he worked with Paul in Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia, Troa, Philippi and Berea ( ) and continued on to do even more work in Athens, and Thessalonica for the church ( ; ) 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 ( , ). It is noteworthy that despite not being required due the ruling of the Jerusalem council; Timothy took circumcision himself 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 the 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" TIB 1955 XI p. 346


Regardless of whether this epistle is seen as a 4th missionary journey not recorded in Acts or as being written at some other point of Paul’s life, its intent seems clear that Paul is writing to encourage Timothy on his own ministry. Timothy is now pastoring in the Ephesus Church and Paul writes him to tell him to stay there and continue his good work there. Paul had planted the Ephesus church himself putting over 3 years of his blood and tears in to the effort ( ; ) and he is well pleased his former student is currently taking the post there. This is most likely a letter written in Paul’s late life and can be seen as being among his departing advice to his former student who has risen up in the ranks of church leadership himself. As Paul becomes more aware of his impending end, soon to be at the hands of Nero, he is setting things in order for the next generation.

If, however, I Timothy is post Paul, then Timothy represents all the "Timothies" of the church whom the writer is exhorting to preserve Pauline Christianity against incipient heresies.

  • "The Pastorals are distinguished from all other New Testament leters 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." <<SMALL>TIB 1955 XI p. 344/>

Key themes and words

The themes in this book circulate around church structure more than any other issue in the letter. Paul gives an example warning to Timothy not to let false doctrine such as Encratism take hold.

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. It is a notably a hotly debated issue in the church as to what Paul meant in this book in regard to the women’s role in the church. What provoked this reversion from Paul’s revelation, in Galatians, that in Christ Jesus there is no male or female, to this banal legalism? Had the women, having been led to expect an imminent end of the world, begun to abandon their “wifely duties”? Some feel he clearly teaches that women are not to have authority over men in the church structure ( ) 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"( ) However, more liberal scholars debate this, arguing 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. Many churches have now embraced the ordination of women based on this modern outlook. 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 aspostolic 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." TIB 1955 XI p. 349. TNJBC also 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…)” TNJBC 1990 p. 897

The treatment of widows, elders, masters, youth, and church members are spelled out; as well as a healthy warning against greed being given to the rich.

Key words and phrases in this book include; “fight the good fight”, “This is a faithful saying”,” let no one despise your youth”, doctrine, elder/bishop, deacon, fables, guard.


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 (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. TIB = The Interpreters Bible, The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard versions with general articles and introduction, exegesis, [and] exposition for each book of the Bible in twelve volumes, George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, Walter Russell Bowie, Associate Editor of Exposition, Paul Scherer, Associate Editor of Exposition, John Knox Associate Editor of New Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Samuel Terrien, Associate Editor of Old Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Nolan B. Harmon Editor, Abingdon Press, copyright 1955 by Pierce and Washabaugh, set up printed, and bound by the Parthenon Press, at Nashville, Tennessee, Volume XI, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles (The First and Second Epistles to Timothy), and the Epistle to Titus (Introduction and Exegesis by Fred D. Gealy), Philemon, Hebrews
  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 978-0199267828
  3. Berding, K, (1999), Polycarp of Smyrna's View of the Authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy,Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Nov., 1999), pp. 349-360.
  4. Marshall, IH and Towner, PH (1999), 'The Pastoral Epistles', T&T Clark, ISBN 0567086615, p.3
  5. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5
  6. Moffatt, James. An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament. 1911: p. 420.
  7. Knight, George William, (1992), The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary On the Greek Text, ISBN 0802823955
  8. 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."
  9. Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters of Timothy (The Anchor Bible Commentary; New York: Doubleday, 2001), 42-44.
  10. Perrin, Norman. The New Testament, an Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. 264-5. Harcourt College Pub: 1974. ISBN 0-15-565725-9.
  11. Heard, Richard (1950), An Introduction to the New Testament by Richard Heard, chap. 18
  12. Grant, Robert. A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, chap. 14
  13. Wallace, Daniel B. 1 Timothy: Introduction, Argument, Outline.
  14. Fee, GD, (1995), 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary, Paternoster Press, ISBN=978-0853646679
  15. Witherington, Ben, III (2006), 'A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John: 1 (Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians Set)', IVP Academic, ISBN 978-0830829316
  16. Johnson, Luke Timothy, (2001), 'The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary', Anchor Bible, ISBN 978-0385484220
  17. John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (Leicester: IVP, 1996), 23.
  18. Towner, Philip H., (2006), The Letters to Timothy and Titus, New International Commentary on the New Testament, ISBN 978-0802825131
  19. Thomson, N, How to read an article which depends on statistics, Literary and Linguistic Computing, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1989
  20. Alviar,JJ, (2008), Recent Advances in Computational Linguistics and their Application to Biblical Studies, New Test. Stud. 54, pp. 151-52, Fig.4
  21. Smith, MWA, (1987), Hapax Legomena in Prescribed Positions: An Investigation of Recent Proposals to Resolve Problems of Authorship,Literary and Linguistic Computing, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1987
  22. Barr, GK (2002), The Impact of Scalometry on New Testament Letters,The Expository Times, 2002; 114; 3, DOI: 10.1177/001452460211400102
  23. Gnostics, Gnostic Gospels, & Gnosticism
  25. TIB = The Interpreters Bible, The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard versions with general articles and introduction, exegesis, [and] exposition for each book of the Bible in twelve volumes, George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, Walter Russell Bowie, Associate Editor of Exposition, Paul Scherer, Associate Editor of Exposition, John Knox Associate Editor of New Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Samuel Terrien, Associate Editor of Old Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Nolan B. Harmon Editor, Abingdon Press, copyright 1955 by Pierce and Washabaugh, set up printed, and bound by the Parthenon Press, at Nashville, Tennessee, Volume XI, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles [The First and Second Epistles to Timothy, and the Epistle to Titus (Introduction and Exegesis by Fred D. Gealy)] , Philemon, Hebrews
  26. Nestel-Aland novum Testamentum, Graece et Latine, United Bible Societies, London, printed in Germany, 1969
  27. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Union Theological Seminary, New York; NY, Raymond f. Collins [First Thessalonians]; Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. (emeritus) The Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC, with a foreword by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, S.J.; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1990

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