Historical Commentary on the First Epistle to Timothy

By W. M Ramsay


AN expression like this brings us face to face with the difficulty which weighs, probably more seriously, than anything else with most of those who doubt or deny the Pauline authorship of this and the other Pastoral Epistles. The writer of these letters uses the word "Faith" in a different way from the writer of the earlier Pauline Epistles. That is admitted. Does it follow that different persons wrote the two series of letters? Is it necessary that, in the case of an idea so wide and comprehensive as Faith, a writer must always, in all circumstances and to all correspondents, throughout his life restrict himself to the same side and aspect of its connotation? No one can, I imagine, maintain that Paul must necessarily restrict himself to one use of the term, unless he is also prepared to maintain that Paul was unable to conceive any other aspect of the idea. It is quite common for a man of educated and thoughtful character to use sometimes in one aspect, sometimes in another, a word which expresses a wide and many sided idea; and it would be mere trifling to maintain that Paul, though quite conscious of the wide range of the word Faith, always restricted himself to one aspect and use of the term.

We have, therefore, to ask whether there is any probability that Paul was unconscious of the wide possibilities of the term "Faith." Can we suppose that he talked to other leaders, such as Philip at Caesarea, and James at Jerusalem, and remained ignorant or unconscious of the different aspect which the idea assumed to them? Even to his devoted follower Luke, as Professor Harnack1 points out, Faith wears a different aspect from what it wears to Paul.

Can we believe that he was able to think out his philosophy of religion, and not realise for himself that Faith was a many-sided idea? It seems to me sufficient to put these questions plainly in order to recognise what answer is necessary. Paul was fully conscious that Faith wore various aspects to different persons; and it is quite possible and probable that he should have used the word in different ways at different times.

In writing to converts from paganism it is highly improbable that any man would use this term with exactly the same force as he would in writing to Jews. The latter stood on a totally different moral and religious plane of thought; and the higher ideas of philosophic religion could never appear to them in the same way as to those who had been brought up in the colder and denser atmosphere of paganism. In his Epistles to the Galatians and Corinthians and Romans Paul had to rouse first of all in his readers a sense of personal religion, and of the direct relation of the individual to God, which is lacking in paganism and contradictory to its very essence; and he had to rouse and strengthen in the pagan converts an appreciation of the nature and meaning of sin and a desire for righteousness, of which previously even the germ did not exist in their minds. The Jew had already derived from his education in the Old Testament a keen desire for righteousness, a sense of the meaning of sin, and a certain strong abhorrence (more or less strong in different individuals) for sin, though he might often be proud and self-righteous. He was indeed often utterly blind to the sin in himself, but he was keenly alive at any rate to the sin of others.

The conscience and the consciousness of the pagan and the Jew were therefore absolutely different in these respects. Yet both required to have a deeper and stronger desire for salvation and consciousness of the need of salvation; and in both the motive· power had to be sought in Faith. The Faith which must be stirred to life in the Jew wore a different aspect from the Faith which must be put into the mind of the pagan.

That the term Faith is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews with a different significance from that which it bears in the Pauline letters is therefore quite natural, and would not constitute by itself (so far as I can judge) any argument against Pauline authorship, if the Epistle were written in the style of Paul. It is, however, written in the style of another man.

The Pastoral Epistles are written in the style of Paul; but the word Faith often wears a different aspect from his earlier letters, though in some cases it approximates closely to the same. old sense. This may be a perfectly natural transition. Paul was now writing to the superintendent of a group of Churches which were comparatively mature, but which consisted mainly of converted pagans; and the Faith to which he appeals is sometimes the same force as of old, sometimes the externalised result of the working of that force in their society and assembly.

It is not the case that this more externalised conception of Faith is absolutely new in the Pastoral Epistles. The transition, or rather the development, towards it can be observed in such passages as Ephesians iv. 4, "There is one body and one spirit,... one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God"; iv. 13, "Till we all attain unto the unity of the Faith "; Philemon 6, " The fellowship of thy Faith." These expressions would be quite natural in the Pastoral Epistles, and would there be taken by most readers without hesitation as implying a more objective meaning of the word than it bears in Galatians, etc.; but they are also quite closely akin to the earlier thought of Paul. In a word, they form the transition, and show how the usage of the Pastoral Epistles grew out of Paul's earlier usage; and in those Epistles, even without taking into account the intermediate group of letters, the varying sense of the word, sometimes more objective and externalised, sometimes more closely approximating to the earlier usage, is so apparent, that Riggenbach denies the existence of the former meaning, and maintains that Faith in the Pastoral Epistles always retains its old Pauline subjective sense. To do this he has to strain the interpretation of some passages in them just as much as several scholars force the natural significance of other passages when they contend that Faith in the Pastoral Epistles always bears the objective meaning.

All these attempts to force a single uniform sense on the word do violence to the thought and manner of Paul. It is not a rational method to assume that he must always have used a wide idea like Faith in exactly the same shade of meaning. Faith has many sides and many aspects, and Paul was as fully conscious of its manifold nature as any modem commentator.

Moreover, it has been argued that Faith in the Pastoral Epistles has lost the unique and prominent position which it occupies in the early letters, and appears merely as one of the excellences of human character. This also is an exaggerated way of putting the case. Faith is emphasised in the earlier letters in a special degree, because it was so necessary in forming the basis of a religious sense among the recent pagan converts (as has been pointed out in the beginning of this Section); but even in First Corinthians occurs the sentence (xiii. 13): "But now abideth Faith, Hope, Love, these three; and the greatest of these is Love." At no time in his career did Paul think that Faith alone can be made the sufficing solitary basis of the Christian life. When he is urging the supreme necessity of Faith, he may be misunderstood as maintaining that Faith stands unique and alone, but when he comes to speak of Love, he places it even above Faith as a needed power in the heart and life of man.

Similarly, in writing to the Greek Churches of the Aegean world, after they had attained a certain stage of development, Paul found it needful to insist that the Christian life must bear witness to itself in works and in godliness. He had never thought or implied that Faith was sufficient which bore no fruit in life and in act. He had always understood Faith to be an intense overmastering fervour which necessarily worked itself out in character and conduct. But he could not do everything at one time for his new pagan converts. He must advance step by step. He must first get the motive power of Faith implanted in the pagan mind, and then in the next stage he proceeded to require the further proof and fruit of good works.

So far as the evidence of the Acts goes, Paul did not insist in the same way on the supreme necessity of Faith, when he was addressing a Jewish audience even in a synagogue of a Greek city. He spoke to the Jews more about the remission of sins: they were conscious of the nature of sin, and they desired righteousness. Both Jews and Greeks needed Faith; both needed the remission of sins; but it would be as idle and useless to talk to pagans about the remission of sins before they had begun to realise properly what sin is and what was the relation of each individual to God, as it was to talk to the Athenians about Resurrection, which they took for the name of a new Goddess. Faith alone could supply the force which might raise the pagan mind to a higher level of thought.

The conception of Faith expressed in those early letters to the pagan Churches implies an appeal to the individual alone. Each member of the Church is conceived as coming into direct relation for himself with God; and this idea is so strongly present in Paul's mind that the other relations of life hardly come into his conscious thought. Even marriage comes before· him in chapter vii. only as it affects the individual. The advice there given implies that each person, man or woman, is to regard the question whether he or she should marry from the individual point of view: does he or she gain more from being married or from remaining unmarried? That this advice may justly be called too hard and too narrow is beyond doubt: that it does not represent Paul's whole mind seems also beyond doubt. The question of marriage is a wider one. It concerns the family and the Church. It is not restricted to a calculation of individual advantage, nor did Paul ever think so; but he thought that it was necessary to lay strong emphasis on one aspect of the question on this occasion. He did not attempt to treat, or to lay down any principles about the family, when he was writing to the Corinthians. He was championing the freedom of the individual man or woman. Yet he was not blind to· the importance of the family in the organised Church; and it is in the Pastoral Epistles that this side of his religious thought comes into prominence. Without those Epistles we might take a maimed view of Paul's character and philosophy. They show in what way he regarded the family; and we now turn to this subject.


One of the most noteworthy features of the Epistle to Timothy, and in a less marked degree of all the Pastoral Epistles, is the emphasis which it lays on the family, as compared with the almost complete silence of the Apostle on this subject in his other Epistles. So far as I am aware, no one has mentioned this difference as a reason for denying the Pauline origin of the Pastoral Letters; and yet it is probably in this respect that difference of personality might most plausibly be found.

In the first place, we must observe the signs of this difference, and in the second place we can inquire whether the same person at different stages of his career could have varied so much in his outlook on life, on human nature and on society.

It has been already pointed out in Section XIII2 that in the Pastoral Epistles, and nowhere else in his letters, Paul shows an appreciation of the maternal feeling and of the tie that binds together mother and child, and finds in the maternal instinct the Divine force and motive power through which the salvation of the woman is wrought out, " if she continue in faith and love and thanksgiving with sober-mindedness."

All that was said in that Section may be assumed here as lying at the basis of our inquiry. The writer who ignores the fact of motherhood has not a broad or a deep conception of the importance of family-life; whereas the writer who lays emphasis on the maternal instinct as the central fact and the strongest force in woman's nature is in the way of learning that society must be founded on the family, and not on separate single individuals, if it is to be a well compacted structure.

It is evident in the description of a Bishop's or a Deacon's qualifications that his position as the head and guide of a family constituted a most important element in his personal authority. Not merely should Timothy in selecting bishops look for " the husband of one wife";3 the Bishop (or the Deacon) must be "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity." No one can properly "take care of the Church of God," unless he knows how to guide his own family rightly. Here is almost an explicit. recognition of the fact that the Church rests on the family, and is the family "writ large." The Church is the family of God,4 and its members are His children. The latter expression, that the individual Christian is the child of God, may be used without implying in the writer much regard for the importance of the family, for he may be one of those who hold that children ought to be the charge of the community. But no one can logically think of the Church as the family of God, unless he has a very strong sense of the importance of the family as the unit in the composition of the Church.

"Forbidding to marry " is mentioned as a doctrine of the most detestable, character and a " falling away from the faith." A true conception of marriage implies the realisation of the importance of the family as the foundation on which the Church rests.

On the other hand a totally different theory is assumed, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians " Art thou unconnected with a wife? seek not a wife: but and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned" (vii. 27 f.), and when he goes on to describe the mutual relation of a married pair as tending to distract their attention from pleasing God, and to make them " careful for the things of the world, how they may please " one another. He had then in his mind no thought of marriage and family life as the basis and the essential factor in the constitution of the Church. He who rather depreciates the married state as only the second best, and as a concession to the weakness and imperfection of human nature, has an essentially different conception of the nature of the family from that which animates the Epistle to Timothy. In this Epistle the family duty is the most binding and sacred. To learn and to practise that duty is the first lesson that children must learn (v. 4). He who neglects that duty " hath denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever " (v. 8).

So convinced is the writer of this Epistle of the rightness of marriage, that he expresses the desire that the younger widows should marry, and· devote themselves to the family life. Only after they are sixty should they be admitted to consecrate themselves to prayer and works of charity, to living the Divine life apart from the work of "ruling their own household" (1 Tim. v. 14),5 and the special duties of their divine life are " that they may train the young women to love their husbands, to love their children" (Tit. ii. 5). In other and weaker but more modern words, the woman's separate career, the occasion when she is free " to live her own life " (according to the favourite phrase of the present day), begins in the later years of her life in the world. The earlier part of her life is to be passed in the duties of the family: "she shall be saved through the fact and the spirit and the force of motherhood."6

Is this Pastoral ideal of Christian life irredeemably opposed to the theory and idea that is expressed in First Corinthians? That they are opposed to and inconsistent with one another, so that the same person could not at the same time express them in two letters, must be admitted. But they are not inconsistent in the sense that a philosophic thinker on religion and society could not develop from the "Corinthian" to the "Timothean" point of view; and I think both that the development can be observed in Paul's own writings, and that the traces of the earlier spirit and temper can be detected in the Pastoral Epistles.

In the first place, however, we must always remember that in First Corinthians Paul was emphasising individual liberty against the despotic and arbitrary suggestions of the Corinthian Church.7 He regarded their suggestions, too, as a slight on himself, both on his authority and on his life; and there is a touch of personal feeling running through great part of the letter which leads him to emphasise strongly what he has to say in correction of their ideas. Now when a person is speaking very emphatically he almost inevitably omits to take sufficient account of the opposite point of view, and his expression is apt to become a little hard in tone. That Paul himself was aware of this as he proceeded in his letter is evident from the noble and exquisite panegyric on love, which he introduces in the latter part of the Epistle, and which seems unquestionably intended to soften and correct the slight hardness which is perceptible in some of the earlier chapters.

A somewhat similar consideration must be applied in the case of First Timothy. If, in writing to the Corinthians, Paul had to champion the right of personal freedom against a tendency to despotic regulation of the individual life after the fashion of the Roman Emperors, who thought and provided for their people, in the Pastoral Epistles he has to plead on behalf of law and general principles of order against the Greek tendency to assume too much liberty for individual caprice. Those Epistles lay down the general principles on which alone good administration of the Greek Churches could be conducted. They legislate for the average man and woman. But would it be safe to assume that the writer had forgotten about the exceptional man and woman? that he had no thought for the Divine inspiration which moves the individual occasionally, and which in his earlier letters Paul regards as a supreme law for the person on whom it falls? The Pastoral Epistles omit practically this whole side of Church life; but it does not follow that the writer was careless or incredulous of its reality and power. When the inspiration comes, it manifests itself in power; and when it is true, it is not lawless. Although it constitutes and sanctions exceptional cases, it does not override the law; it is in addition to the' law and supreme in itself.

In the second place, Paul in writing to the Ephesians regards marriage in a wider view. He compares the relation of husband and wife to the union of soul and body, of Christ and the Church. Such comparisons leave no room for the idea that marriage is merely the poorer way of life, to which a man or a woman falls back who is not strong enough for the higher life. They imply that the union of marriage is the divine life and the true harmony of human nature. Soul is not without body, Christ is in the world through the Church, husband and wife are one existence on earth. In this view the married pair and not the individual must be the unit in the constitution of the Church; and thus emerges the conception which guides the thought of the Pastoral Epistles, that the Church is made up of families and that the family forms the basis on which the Church is organised.

Yet in this orderly development of idea from Corinthians through Ephesians to Timothy the unity of individual opinion is clearly evident. We have not here an idea developed by a succession of writers: we have the growth of an idea in one writer's mind. The features of the same individual remain in the several stages. The writer of First Corinthians  had a certain consciousness of the wider idea which he afterwards declared to the Ephesians, as appears from xi. 11," Howbeit, neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord." We must read these words in the light of the later Epistles; and in the same connexion we must take Galatians iii. 28.8

Again, in the later and in the earlier Epistles alike we recognise the same strong personality, filled with the prejudice of his early education in Tarsus (where the strictest seclusion and veiling of women, in an Oriental and not a Greek fashion, was practised) and expressing it in words so strong as to be almost repellent to the modem and Western mind, that the woman was created for the man, that the head of the woman is the man, that the wife shall fear her husband, that she learn in quietness with all subjection.9 And even in the instructions regarding widows in First Timothy there appears in v. 11 a trace of the early opinion that marriage is a mere concession to weakness and less honourable than the life of individual service to the Church.

There is, therefore, a fundamental uniformity, amid divergences, in the Pauline view of marriage as it is expressed in all the Epistles; and there is no serious difficulty in reconciling the language of all, and no reason to infer difference of authorship from the divergences. The two who marry agree to live one life, and not to lead their separate lives, to work with and for each other, to make the family unity and harmony the object-not merely an important object, but the decisive and guiding principle-of their lives. They agree not to pursue separate and inconsistent aims, but to merge their work in the union of the family. This unity and harmony, Paul in all stages of his thought proposes to attain through the absolute subjection of the woman to the man, and not through the mutual harmonising and common development towards a higher ideal on the part of both alike, though there are occasionally found in him some slight traces of. the latter idea, which is more in accordance with our modern view. The unity which is attained by subjection of one partner to the other is not so noble an ideal as that which is sought through the growing harmoniousness of two equal partners; but it is easier to attain, and it was in accordance with the facts of ancient society, pagan and Jewish alike.

In the Pastoral Epistles Paul hardly alludes to the voluntary consecration of his whole life by the individual, separate and single, to the work of the Church-except in the case of widows over sixty years of age. Yet in writing to the Corinthians he had laid strong emphasis on this single life as the best and noblest of all. Are we to infer that he had abandoned entirely his earlier opinion, and that he had now in his later years been brought by the experience of life to hold the view (which, as I believe, the Corinthians had expressed in their letter to him) that it was right and expedient to prescribe marriage as the universal rule of the Christian life? That would be a change of attitude too complete to be-reasonably explained as the natural development of thought in the case of a man like Paul; and, if it were necessary to put this interpretation on the Pastoral Epistles, I should find it impossible to regard Paul as their author.

There is, however, no reason to regard the Pastoral Epistles as containing a complete statement of Paul's views on the Christian life, or to conclude that any principle which is not laid down in them was rejected by him. They set forth the main and guiding principles of Church organisation in respect of the average and general mass of cases. They do not legislate for the exceptional cases. Even in writing to the Corinthians Paul admits that the choice of solitary self-consecration to the Divine work must, in the nature of mankind, be a rare and exceptional thing. Such cases form and declare a rule for themselves. Paul's opinion, and the practice of the Church (as in the case of the four unmarried daughters of Philip, the prophetesses), were well known; and therefore it was unnecessary (and perhaps, in the Hellenic congregations, inexpedient) to weaken the declaration of the general rule by devoting attention to the exceptions. The Greek spirit was of itself too prone to look to the exception and neglect the rule.

It is an interesting illustration of this subject to note how many of the words peculiar to the Pastoral Epistles (either as used nowhere else in the New Testament or as not used by Paul except in these Epistles) belong to the relationship and duties of the family. Paul had no reason and little opportunity for using them in his other letters, since they are taken from a circle of ideas which the other letters hardly touch upon. If we include also terms that belong to the kindred sphere of household economy and sanitation, we have such words as10 grandchild, grandmother, to rule-the-household, to have-dominion-over a man, maternity, bear children, suitable-for-old-wives (is not here used in direct relation to family), youth (is not used here in direct relation to family), parents (includes grandparents v. 4), bring-up-children, use-hospitality-to-strangers (refers to the household economy), give-charity (refers to the household economy v. 10), wax-wanton-against (the antithesis of the true family instinct), idle, tattlers, busybodies three vices of the household life), to be-a-drinker-of-water, stomach, master (of household), to do-good and ready-to-distribute and willing-to-share (three words describing a generous and charitable household life), layup-in-store, gangrene (is not here used in direct relation to the household), silly-women, lovers-of-pleasure, conduct (is not here used in relation to the family life), parchments, cloak, self-willed, soon-angry, brawler (and other faults of life),11 aged-women.

This list is a fair example of the causes which largely explain the difference of vocabulary between the Pastoral and the earlier Epistles. Some of these words express ideas which are expressed by different terms in the other Epistles; but the majority are the names of things or the statement of acts which do not appear in Paul's older writings. It is absurd to quote such words as grandchild, grandmother, parents or grandparents (one single term), as in any way bolstering up a presumption against the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. Where could these words occur in the earlier letters? Every Epistle has its own special terms. Paul had a rich vocabulary, and often varies his way of naming the same ideas or actions or things.




1) I have not been able to find the passage.

2) EXPOSITOR, October, 1909, p. 34.3 ff.

3) In the translation " man of one woman " the sacredness of the family tie is emphasised equally strongly, though from a different point of view.

4) Hence the Christian was called οἰκέτης θεοῦ in Lycaonia: this phrase implies that the Church was the οἴκος θεοῦ: see Luke the Physician and other Studies, p. 408.

5) οἰκοδεσποτεῖν. In an unpublished inscription of Derbe, which I copied in 1901, a woman is called ἡ καλὴ οἰκοδεσποτίς. This is probably an allusion to the phrase of First Timothy. The word is not elsewhere used by Paul; but that is natural, since the importance of the family in the Christian life never forms a topic in any of the earlier letters.

6) Taking this idea in the wide sense described in Section XIII., which includes as part of its scope the narrower and more literal sense of the term τεκνογονία.

7) In this place I can only assume what is said in Sections XXV., XXVI., of Historical Commentary on First Corinthians in the EXPOSITOR, Oct. 1900.

8) Neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, no male and female. In Section XL. of my Historical Commentary on Galatians, p. 385 ff., the bearing of this verse is treated at length.

9) 1 Cor. xi. 39; Eph. v. 23, 33; 1 Tim. ii. 11.

10) ἔκγονον, μάμμη, οἰκοδεσποτεῖν, αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, τεκνογονία and τεκνογονέω γραώδης, νεότης, πρόγονοι, τεκνοτροφέω, ξενοδοχέω, ἐπαρκέω, καταστρηνιάω, ὑδροποτεῖν, στόμαχος, δεσπότης, άγαθοεργεῖν, εὐμετάδοτος, κοινωνικός, θησαυρίζω, γάγγραινα, γυναικάρια, φιλήδονοι, άγωγἡ, μεμβράναι, φελόνη, αυθάδης, ὄργελος, πάροινος, πρεφβῦτις.

11) There is opportunity in the lists of vices in other letters to introduce words of this class; but the vocabulary of vituperation is rich.