New Testament Introduction

Louis Berkhof

The First Epistle to Timothy


The first Epistle to Timothy may be divided into four parts:

I. Introduction, 1:1-20. The apostle begins by reminding Timothy that he had been left at Ephesus to counteract prevalent heresies, 1-10. He directs the attention of his spiritual son to the Gospel contradicted by these errors, thanks the Lord that he was made a minister of it, and charges Timothy to act in accordance with that Gospel, 11-20.

II. General Regulations for Church Life, 2: 1—4: 5. Here we find first of all directions for public intercession and for the behavior of men and women in the meetings of the church, 2:1-15. These are followed by an explicit statement of the qualities that are necessary in bishops and deacons, 3:1-13. The expressed purpose of these directions is, to promote the good order of the church, the pillar and ground of the truth, essentially revealed in Christ, from which the false brethren were departing, 3:14—A: 5.

III. Personal Advice to Timothy, 4: 6—6: 2. Here the apostle speaks of Timothys behavior towards the false teachers, 4: 6-11; of the way in which he should regard and discharge his ministerial duties, 12-16; and of the attitude he ought to assume towards the individual members of the church, especially towards the widows, the elders and the slaves, 5: 1—6: 2.

IV. Conclusion, 6: 3-21. The apostle now makes another attack on the heretical teachers, 3—10; and exhorts Timothy to be true to his calling and to avoid all erroneous teachings, giving him special directions with respect to the rich, 11-21.


1. This letter is one of the Pastoral Epistles of Paul, which are so called, because they were written to persons engaged in pastoral work and contain many directions for pastoral duties. They were sent, not to churches, but to office-bearers, instructing them how to behave in the house of God. It is evident, however, that, with the possible exception of II Timothy, they were not intended exclusively for the persons to whom they were addressed, but also for the churches in which these labored. Cf. as far as this Epistle is concerned, 4:6, 11; 5:7; 6:17.

2. From the preceding it follows that this letter is not doctrinal but practical. We find no further objective development of the truth here, but clear directions as to its practical application, especially in view of divergent tendencies. The truth developed in previous Epistles is here represented as the “sound doctrine” that must be the standard of life and action, as “the faith” that should be kept, and as “a faithful word worthy of all acceptation.” ‘rhe emphasis clearly falls on the ethical requirements of the truth.

3. The letter emphasizes, as no other Epistle does, the external organization of the church. The apostle feels that the end of his life is fast approaching, and therefore deems it necessary to give more detailed instruction regarding the office-bearers in the church, in order that, when he is gone, his youthful co-laborers and the church itself may know how its affairs should be regulated. Of the office-bearers the apostle mentions the ἐπίσκος and the πρεσβύτεροι, which are evidently identical, the first name indicating their work, and the second emphasizing their age; the διάκονοι, the γυνᾶικες, if 3 :11 refers to deaconesses, which is very probable (so Ellicott, Alford, White in Exp. Gk. Test.) and the χήραι, ch. 5, though it is doubtful, whether these were indeed office-bearers.

4. Regarding the style of the Pastoral Epistles in general Huther remarks: “In the other Pauline Epistles the fulness of the apostles thoughts struggle with the expression, and cause peculiar difficulties in exposition. The thoughts slide into one another, and are so intertwined in many forms that not seldom the new thought begins before a correct expression has been given of the thought that preceded. Of this confusion there is no example in the Pastoral Epistles. Even in such passages as come nearest to this confused style, such as the beginning of the first and second Epistles of Timothy (Tit. 2: 11 if.; 3: 4 if.) the connection of ideas is still on the whole simple.” Comm. p. 9. This estimate is in general correct, though we would hardly speak of Pauls style in his other letters as “a confused style.”


Paul addresses this letter to “Timothy my own son in the faith,” 1: 2. We find the first mention of Timothy in Acts 16:1, where he is introduced as an inhabitant of Lystra. He was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father, of whom we have no further knowledge. Both his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois are spoken of as Christians in II Tim. 1: 5. In all probability he was converted by Paul on his first missionary journey, since he was already a disciple, when the apostle entered Lystra on his second tour. He had a good report in his home town, Acts 16: 2, and, being circumcised for the sake of the Jews, he joined Paul and Silas in their missionary labors. Passing with the missionaries into Europe and helping them at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, he remained with Silas in the last named place, while Paul pressed on to Athens and Corinth, where they finally joined the apostle again, Acts 17:14; 18: 5. Cf. however also I Thess. 3: 1 and p. 222 above. He abode there with the missionaries and his name appears with those of Paul and Silvanus in the addresses of the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. We next find him ministering to the apostle during his long stay at Ephesus, Acts 19: 22, from where he was sent to Macedonia and Corinth, Acts 19: 21, 22; I Cor. 4:17; 16:10, though it is doubtful, whether he reached that city. He was again in Paul’s company, when II Corinthians was written, II Cor. 1:1, and accompanied the apostle to Corinth, Rom. 16: 21, and again on his return through Macedonia to Asia, Acts 20: 3, 4, probably also to Jerusalem, I Cor. 16: 3. He is then mentioned in the Epistles of the imprisonment, which show that he was with the apostle at Rome, Phil. 1: 1; Col. 1:1; Philem. 1. From this time on we hear no more of him until the Pastoral Epistles show him to be in charge of the Ephesian church, I Tim. 1: 3.

From I Tim. 4:14, and II Tim. 1:6 we learn that he was set apart for the ministry by Paul with the laying on of hands, in accordance with prophetic utterances of the Spirit, I Tim. 1: 18, when he probably received the title of evangelist, II Tim. 4: 5, though in I Thess. 2: 6 he is loosely classed with Paul and Silas as an apostle. We do not know when this formal ordination took place, whether at the very beginning of his work, or when he was placed in charge of the church at Ephesus.

The character of Timothy is clearly marked in Scripture. His readiness to leave his home and to submit to the rite of circumcision reveal his self-denial and earnestness of purpose. This is all the more striking, since he was very affectionate, II Tim. 1: 4, delicate and often ill, 1 Tim. 5 : 23. At the same time he was timid, I Cor. 16:10, hesitating to assert his authority, I Tim. 4:12, and needed to be warned against youthful lusts, II Tim. 2: 22, and to be encouraged in the work of Christ, II Tim. 1: 8. Yet withal he was a worthy servant of Jesus Christ, Rom. 16: 21, I Thess. 3 : 2; Phil. 1: 1; 2:19-21; and the beloved spiritual son of the apostle, I Tim. 1: 2; II Tim. 1: 2; I Cor. 4:17.


1. Occasion and Purpose. This letter was occasioned by Paul’s necessary departure from Ephesus for Macedonia, 1: 3, the apprehension that he might be absent longer than he at first expected, 3:14, 15, and the painful consciousness that insidkus errors were threatening the Ephesian church. Since Timothy was acquainted with these heresies, the apostle refers to them only in general terms which convey no very definite idea as to their real character. The persons who propagated them were prominent members of the church, possibly even office-bearers, 1: 6, 7, 20; 3:1-12; 5:19-25. Their heresy was primarily of a Jewish character, 1: 7, and probably resulted from an exaggeration of the demands of the law, a mistaken application of Christian ideas and a smattering of Oriental speculation. They claimed to be teachers of the law, 1: 7, laid great stress on myths and genealogies, 1:4; 4: 7, prided themselves like the rabbis on the possession of special knowledge, 6: 20, and, perhaps assuming that matter was evil or at least the seat of evil, they propagated a false asceticism, prohibiting marriage and requiring abstenence from certain foods, 4: 3, and taught that the resurrection was already past, most likely recognizing only a spiritual resurrection, II Tim. 2:18. The charge entrusted to Timothy was therefore a difficult one, hence the apostle deemed it necessary to write this Epistle.

In connection with the situation described the purpose of Paul was twofold. In the first place he desired to encourage Timothy. This brother, being young and of a timid disposition, needed very much the cheering word of the apostle. And in the second place it was his aim to direct Timothy’s warfare against the false doctrines that were disseminated in the church. Possibly it was also to prevent the havoc which these might work, if they who taught them were allowed in office, that he places such emphasis on the careful choice of office-bearers, and on the necessity of censuring them, should they go wrong.

2. Time and Place. The Epistle shows that Paul had left Ephesus for Macedonia with the intention of returning soon. And it was because he anticipated some delay that he wrote this letter to Timothy. Hence we may be sure that it was written from some place in Macedonia.

But the time when the apostle wrote this letter is not so easily determined. On what occasion did Paul quit Ephesus for Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind? Not after his first visit to Ephesus, Acts 18: 20, 21, for on that occasion the apostle did not depart for Macedonia but for Jerusalem. Neither was it when he left Ephesus on his third missionary journey after a three years residence, since Timothy was not left behind then, but had been sent before him to Corinth, Acts 19: 22; I Cor. 4:17. Some are inclined to think that we must assume a visit of Paul to Macedonia during his Ephesian residence, a visit not recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. But then we must also find room there for the apostles journey to Crete, since it is improbable that the Epistle of Paul to Titus was separated by any great interval of time from I Timothy. And to this must be added a trip to Corinth, cf. above p. 168. This theory is very unlikely in view of the time Paul spent at Ephesus, as compared with the work he did there, and of the utter silence of Luke regarding these visits. We must date the letter somewhere between the first and the second imprisonment of Paul. It was most likely after the apostles journey to Spain, since on the only previous occasion that he visited Ephesus after his release he came to that city by way of Macedonia, and therefore would not be likely to return thither immediately. Probably the letter should be dated about A. D. 65 or 66.


There was not the slightest doubt in the ancient church as to the canonicity of this Epistle. XVe find allusions more or less clear to its language in Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ilegesippus, Athenagoras and Theophilus. It was contained in the old Latin and Syriac Versions and referred to Paul by the Muratorian Fragment. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian quote it by name, and Eusebius reckons it among the generally accepted canonical writings.

The great abiding value of the Epistle is found in the fact that it teaches the Church of all generations, how one, especially an office-bearer, should behave in the house of God, holding the faith, guarding his precious trust against the inroads of false doctrines, combating the evil that is found in the Lords heritage, and maintaining good order in church life. “It witnesses,” says Lock (Hastings D. B. Art. I Timothy) “that a highly ethical and spiritual conception of religion is consistent with and is safeguarded by careful regulations about worship, ritual and organized ministry. There is no opposition between the outward and the inward, between the spirit and the organized body.”.