Historical Commentary on the First Epistle to Timothy

By W. M Ramsay


This letter contains not merely much advice to Timothy as to what he should do and what sort of teaching he should give, but also counsel as to the manner and spirit in which he should perform his duties in the Church of Ephesus. The second kind of advice is quite as important as the first, and it is never far away from Paul's mind as he writes. It lurks in, or is at points quite plain in, almost every paragraph; but in iv. 6-16 it is specially clear. To do his work is for Timothy not merely the way of usefulness, but also the way of salvation. He must have the knowledge of what is right to teach; education, insight, some philosophic aptitude, are good, and in a certain degree indispensable for one in such a. position, who had to meet those clever false teachers; but these more purely intellectual qualities will have little practical effect without that emotional force which imparts power to the employment of the knowledge. It is characteristic of Paul, and shows the same point of view as appears in the earlier letters, that this driving power, this emotional force, is found by him in the desire for salvation. Timothy is to work to save others in order that he may save himself: "To this end we labour and strive because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe " (iv. 10).

In the last two Sections we saw that the mind of Paul, while he was writing the Pastoral Epistles, was strongly possessed with the importance of the family in the Church as a working organisation, and that he was not at the moment thinking so much about the individuals who made up the congregation, but rather of the families as the units out of which the Church was built up; whereas in the earlier Epistles he had in mind more the individuals to whom he addressed himself, and his aim was to awaken in each person, taken singly and alone as an individual, the idea of his own personal relation to God, and the consciousness of sin, and so to stimulate in each an intense desire for his personal salvation and a hope of attaining it. In our study of the development of Paul's thought it seemed natural, and in a sense necessary, that his earlier view should be completed by a clearer realisation, expressed in the Epistles to Timothy, of the relation in which individuals stand to one another in the family and in the congregation.1

Now we see that even in the Pastoral Epistles, where Paul is stating so strongly the duty of the individual to the family, he never loses hold on his old idea of what was fundamental: the individual Christian stands in direct relation to God, and must work out his own salvation as the prime purpose which God intends him to achieve. He attains this purpose through full recognition of and respect to his position in the family and the congregation. Nothing can atone for neglect of the duty which each individual owes to the family: there is nothing which is more binding on the individual. With regard to the woman that is to Paul self-evident: she shall be saved through her relation to the family, for the strongest force in her nature runs in this channel.2 But equally in respect of the man, he who subordinates his family duty to any other " hath denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

"Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee." Such is the conclusion of the paragraph: Timothy shall attain salvation through the diligent and whole-heartedly enthusiastic discharge of his duties (iv. 15) as teacher, and worker in the congregation (iv. 13), as prophet and guide of the people (iv. 14), provided that his words and actions show him to the Faithful as an example of love and faith and purity (iv. 12) and hope (iv. 10). Here we have the "three things that abide, faith, hope, love" (1 Cor. xiii. 13); and with them is ranked purity: the addition is in perfect accord with the character and teaching of the New Testament generally.

This passage must at once recall to the reader the statement about women in ii. 15: they shall attain salvation through the force of motherhood, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety. The parallelism is evident, and must be intentional. The difference of career which Paul marks out for men and for women is in accordance with his whole view of life. The care of the family is to absorb the energy of women until the age of sixty. Thereafter she is free to give herself to public work for the Church. A man like Timothy (not of course every one of the Brethren), is to give all his time and energy and thought to reading, to exhortation, to teaching; so that all may observe how much progress in them he makes, and see the way in which his powers and gifts develop in the course of his career. Now development proceeds rapidly and easily only when the individual has found his true line of work.

The true life of the individual, therefore, is the service of the family and of the congregation. There is no inconsistency between the more individual tone of the earlier Epistles and the more congregational and family tone of the Pastorals. In serving others we save ourselves. Yet, according to Paul, the starting-point of the true life is found in the consciousness of sin and the intense desire for salvation. From the beginning of his career to the end that conviction is shown in his actions and is expressed in his writings.

We now come to the details stated in this paragraph regarding the conduct and spirit which should be shown in Timothy's work.

He should never neglect the charisma, the gift which has been bestowed on him, viz., the power of hearing the Divine voice and catching the Divine inspiration. Here is one of the rare references in the Pastoral Epistles to the gift of inspiration and prophecy; and this gift is alluded to as being so important that no one ought for even a moment to imagine that the paucity of references to it implies any weakening of Paul's earlier belief in its power and immense value. The importance of this gift, and the fact that it is granted to individuals by direct action of. God, are assumed in the Pastoral Epistles as familiar and fundamental matters, which do not need to be emphasised.

It has, however, been inferred from this and the companion passage, 2 Timothy i. 6, that the gift of prophecy appears in the Pastorals only to embrace a qualification for the work of teaching. Now it is of course true that both these passages refer to Timothy and that Timothy was a teacher; but this gives no justification for the inference that the author of the Pastoral Epistles regarded prophecy as confined to teachers and as merely a qualification for the teacher's duty. In 1 Timothy i. 18 "the prophecies that went before on thee " are much more likely to have been made in the open congregation and to be of the same general type that are alluded to in 1 Corinthians. Even if that passage did not occur, and if the two about Timothy stood alone, it would be absolutely irrational to draw such a sweeping negative inference from the silence of the Epistles. It would be equally absurd if some one were to argue that the writer of the Pastorals set no store by the Eucharist and regarded it as a worthless and useless ceremony, because he never alludes to it as part of the Church ritual.

In truth, there is no reason to think that the writer of the Pastoral Epistles differed a whit in regard to either prophecy or the Eucharist from the views stated in the earlier letters of Paul.

Discrepancy has been found between 1 Timothy iv. 14 and 2 Timothy i. 6, because in the latter the gift of the Spirit is described as being in Timothy" through the laying on of my hands," while in the former it was given him " by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." The variation might more reasonably be used as a proof that in both cases the laying on of hands is regarded by Paul as a mere accompaniment, and not the cause, of the communication of the Spirit to Timothy: the cause was the Divine power alone, but the occasion was on a solemn assembly of the congregation when the presbyters and Paul laid their hands on him. That he sometimes thought and spoke only of the presbyters' hands, sometimes only of his own hands, is in full agreement with many similar variations, where sometimes one detail or aspect of a scene, sometimes another, is emphasised. The situation is similar to that described in Acts xiii. 2-4, when Barnabas and Saul were sent forth from Antioch (1) by prophecy, (2) at the orders and through the action of the Holy Spirit, (3) with the laying on of hands of the officers representing the whole congregation.3

This passage of Acts shows, further, what is the meaning of the expression "by prophecy" in 1 Timothy iv. 14. The appointment of Timothy was preceded and marked out by prophecies, as in fact Paul expressly states in 1 Timothy i. 18. Then followed the solemn meeting in which the action and command of the Spirit, declared through prophecy, was brought into effect and recognition through the laying on of hands by Paul and the presbyters.

The question has also been discussed whether this occasion was at Lystra, when Timothy was first chosen as Paul's companion and coadjutor, or at Ephesus, when Timothy was appointed to superintend that Church, or whether both times are referred to. There is no improbability in the supposition that in both cases, at Lystra and at Ephesus, the same events and a similar ceremony took place in the congregation. The context of 2 Timothy i. 6, however, seems to show clearly that Paul there was thinking of the scene at Lystra: the reference to the faith of Timothy's mother and grandmother is decisive. In the passages of 1 Timothy i. 18, iv. 14, there is more temptation to understand that the appointment at Ephesus is referred to, yet even in them I am rather disposed to accept the view of Dr. Hort4 that the reference is to the original choice of Timothy at Lystra.

It may be asked whether this view is consistent with the account in Acts xvi. 1-4, where no reference is made to any action except report by the Brethren and selection by Paul. But consideration shows beyond all question that that passage gives a very much abbreviated narrative of the facts. It is impossible to suppose either that Timothy's appointment and mission was unaccompanied by religious ceremonies, or that Luke could have imagined that there was no ceremony of consecration and ratification by the local Church. The truth is that we must here apply the principle of judging which has been used consistently and frequently in St. Paul the Traveller : it was Luke's method, after once describing the procedure in a situation, to assume that the same is understood by the reader in similar situations that follow. There was much that could be assumed as familiar to the audience which he addressed, though now it is unfamiliar to us and has to be slowly recovered from comparison and analogy. We understand, therefore, that the choice of Timothy by Paul was the result of a long process, prophecies designating him, inquiry, testimony, and the final ceremony of appointment by the laying on of hands. This is sometimes spoken of by Paul, as it is by Luke, as the act of Paul alone; at other times participation on the part of the congregation or elders is mentioned.

The meaning of the command in iv. 14 is much the same as in 1 Thessalonians v. 19f., "Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings": except that there the Apostle makes more explicit the fault of belittling and thus discouraging the manifestations of Divine inspiration in others, while here he refers to the fault of allowing the gift to grow weak in oneself by want of attention to it. It is a power which is strengthened by cultivation and practice, and is lost if not used.

Those who set so much store on verbal variations and differences between the Pastoral and the earlier Epistles may find some cause for suspecting difference of authorship in the fact that the word in the earlier Epistle is "make light of," whereas that used to Timothy is " pay no heed to,"5 although the meaning is practically the same. But no one who has any literary feeling will object to Paul for possessing a rich vocabulary, and for being sensitive to delicate shades of meaning. In the earlier case he censures those who make light of and depreciate with censorious criticism the prophecies uttered by others in the congregation: in the later cases he warns Timothy against failing to cultivate with due care the power of prophecy in himself.

Again, Timothy is advised to show a proper sense of the dignity of his office, and is not to permit over-familiarity or any want of respect towards himself from any member of the Ephesian Church. Yet this self-respect is not to be exaggerated into over-estimation of his office. In the opening of the next paragraph v. 1-3, we find the counsel that Timothy should show due respect to those who are older than himself. The elder men he is to exhort as fathers, elder women as mothers. One who has been familiar with the ordinary Greek usage in modern times can feel no doubt that these verses imply that Timothy should actually address men and women distinctly older than himself by the titles " father " and " mother"; while he was advised to salute those who were approximately of the same age with himself as "brother," and "sister." It is evident how far this usage is from the Roman Catholic custom that the priest is saluted as " father " even by those who are older than himself, and regards all members of the laity as his children.

Evidently, Timothy is ranked in this Epistle as among the younger, not among the elderly, members of the congregation; that appears both in iv. 10 and in v. 1-3. What this implies must be considered in a separate Section.


In the classification of the citizens of a Greek city there were usually two divisions, the " young men " and the " old men ":the most common terms for these two classes are νέοι or νεώτεροι and γέροντες or πρεσβύτεροι. These two divisions of the full-grown citizens were united in separate associations or colleges. The associations of young men were closely connected with the gymnasiums, and their amusements were athletic; they had officials, elected by themselves, managing the common funds and the common business; they voted statues to deserving persons, such especially as had given service or brought honour to the Neoi; they passed decrees, and sometimes imitated the constitution of the city by having their own Senate and Ecclesia. The Neoi evidently did not correspond to what we call young men: they were full-grown men of military age; and as they grew beyond the military age, they passed direct into the category of the elderly men,6 Presbyteroi or Gerontes, who also had their own club, their own amusements suitable for advancing age, with their own funds and officials. The association of Gerontes or Presbyteroi were by far the most influential, and apparently the most wealthy. A society which united in its membership all the men of most experience, and most of those who had held the higher magistracies, naturally exercised great influence in a city.

Those whom we should call " young men " were called by the Greeks Epheboi. They were regarded as being still in the stage of education in classes7 under teachers for purposes of physical, moral and intellectual training. The Epheboi also had their special organisation, their Senate and their Ecclesia, in which evidently they practised themselves with a view to their subsequent life as citizens. They elected their officials, awarded honours and passed decrees. As they grew they passed about the age of twenty into the class of the Neoi.

Timothy was reckoned by Paul to be among the Neoi, or Neoteroi, the men of active age, who should address a Presbyteros by the title "father." Hence the advice, "let no one despise thy youth." This expression has given rise to much discussion, and unnecessary difficulty, as if it were strange that Paul should about A.D. 65 consider Timothy among the Neoteroi. We have only to ask the question, Could Paul by any possibility have regarded him as one of the elderly men or Presbyteroi? The answer must obviously be in the negative; and the inevitable inference is that he was one of the Neoi.

The arguments against the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, based on the "youth" of Timothy, are the emptiest and most ignorant in the whole series of reasoning on that side. The view of Paul was inevitable according to ancient standards of judgment; and it appears not simply in one place (which has been pictured by imaginative commentators as an ignorant imitation of 1 Corinthians by the forger of the Pastorals), but consistently in the advice about conduct in v. 1-3. Paul thought and spoke of him as a Neos, placed in the rather difficult position of exercising authority over Presbyteroi.

It is probable that Timothy was very young when Paul first chose him in A.D. 50. Until Paul took him he was under the care of his mother and his grandmother, as is evident from the comparison of Acts xvi. 2 with 2 Timothy i. 5, 1 Timothy iv. 6. Paul wished to have the moulding of his character, and therefore selected one who was little more than a boy. He may have been only eighteen at the time, and it is highly improbable that he was more than twenty.

On the other hand, when Paul left him in charge at Ephesus, we may assume confidently that he was above thirty years old. Not even a companion of long standing could very well be selected for such responsibility as head over Presbyters· and elderly men at an earlier age.

That appointment was probably made in A.D. 65, and if he was about twenty in A.D. 50, he must have been about thirty-five in A.D. 65. That was an early age for one who had to undertake such duties as Timothy had to perform. He had to exercise some superintendence over the teachers (1 Tim. i. 3). He had to exhort the elders, both men and women (but he was forbidden to rebuke them, as being too young to take such a tone to them); the younger men and women he addressed and exhorted as brethren and sisters (1 Tim. v. 1-3). He was even expected to reprove the sinful publicly. We, who are accustomed to entrust such duties to boys fresh from college, hardly realise how serious a matter it was in that age and country, when the respect paid to age and experience was so much greater than it is among us. We admit peers to the House of Lords at twenty-one, if their fathers have died, and entrust them at that age with the supreme duties of the legislature, without any sense of incongruity on the ground of youth. Such a thing was impossible to ancient feeling, which regarded seniority as a necessary qualification for a place on such a body.

The very word νεότης, used about Timothy's not yet advanced age, has been counted among the words used only here and never elsewhere by Paul in his letters. But the circumstances prove that, if Paul was speaking so much about the classification by age, there was every reason why he should have occasion to use the noun to designate the position of Timothy among the Neoi, as he uses it in Acts xxvi. 4 to designate his own early position in Jerusalem.

Titus, like Timothy, was warned to maintain the dignity of his office, which was similar in Crete to that which Timothy filled in Asia. But how different in character are the words in which the warning was conveyed !

Throughout Titus ii. it is evident that the person addressed must rank among the Presbyteroi, for he is conceived as entitled to address both the elderly and the younger men and women in the same tone, and not like Timothy, who as a younger man was expected to use a different style to the elderly from what he used to those of vigorous age. It was only the man of mature age who was justified by ancient manners in addressing both the mature and those of vigorous age in the same tone and fashion. Slaves are classed in this chapter of Titus alongside of the classes of free citizens, and no difference in the tone of address to them is prescribed. Then Paul sums up in the concluding sentence:" These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no man despise thee." The conclusion is in perfect agreement with the spirit of the whole chapter. Any possible disrespect to Titus would not arise from his being one of the Neoi, but from some other cause; it is not merely younger men that fail to make themselves sufficiently respected; men of mature age and assured standing often prove unfit to adapt themselves to a. position of authority, and unable to catch that tone of dignity and self-respect, combined with respect for others, which impresses all, and is well received, yet never admits too much familiarity on the part of any (except those who are lost to shame).

Now compare this with the tone in the corresponding passage of 1 Timothy; and one must be struck with the difference amid similarity. The summing up comes first. "These things charge8 and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity." It is well worthy of careful observation how this slight difference in the position of Timothy and of Titus affects the expression throughout the Epistles. The difference apparently was due solely to difference of age, for, if there was any advantage on either side, Timothy seems to have possessed more rather than less authority in other ways, owing to his long and intimate association with Paul: certainly he plays a far more conspicuous part both in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of Paul. The words παραγγέλλω, παραγγελία, referring to the delivery of a message or the announcement of some teaching, are regularly used about Timothy's action, while ἐπιταγή (used also of God), ἐλέγχω, παρακαλέω express the style of teaching and preaching that Titus is to assume. The word ἐλέγχω is a strong one: it is once used of Timothy, where the occasion shall demand a specially strong exercise of his authority,9 but it is three times used to describe the fashion of teaching recommended for Titus (i. 9, 13, ii. 15). The neutral term παρακαλέω is used, as might be expected, about both, twice about Timothy, three times about Titus. As the latter's epistle is much shorter, this implies that, if any difference exists, the word was felt to be more suitable for Titus. Διδασκαλία and διδάσκω are often used of Timothy, never of Titus; a young man may teach an old man, or vice versa ; but although Paul speaks of the true and salutary teaching (διδασκαλία) which Titus is to enjoin, he avoids the verb and except once (Tit. ii. 7) even the noun about Titus's work, and favours them regarding Timothy. He uses λαλεῖν, to preach, twice about Titus, but not about Timothy.

This examination might be carried further, but enough has been said to prove that in an almost perfect identity of subject and instruction the writer of 1 Timothy and Titus (which we may safely take to be almost exactly contemporary) varies the language to suit the varying relation of the two men to those over whom they were to be in authority. Such delicate variations, carried out consistently through two Epistles and differentiating so clearly yet with such slight touches the two persons addressed, afford the most conclusive proof that these are real letters addressed by one man to two known persons; and that they cannot be mere compositions of scraps or pure forgeries addressed to names taken out of past history.

I have taken no account of 2 Timothy in the comparison, as it belongs to a different moment, later in Paul's life, when the: feeling and the circumstances had changed. The comparison would, therefore, have to reckon with more complicated factors, if 2 Timothy were contrasted with Titus.

Some variations in terms, wholly devoid of significance, occur in these sections of the two letters. The younger class is called in I Timothy νεώτερους and νεώτερας in Titus νεώτερους and νέας. The old women are called πρεσβυτέρας to Timothy, and πρεσβύτιδας to Titus. Such variations show how the same person may change his terminology from moment to moment.




1) I do not mean, of course, that this is absent from the earlier Epistles, but it is not emphasised so strongly, though it is apparent in them, e.g., in Ephesians.

2) Section XIII., EXPOSITOR, October, 1909, p. 343 ft.

3) Such seems to be the meaning of xiii. 3: St. Paul the Trav., p. 66.

4) Ecclesia, p. 184.

5) ἐξουθενέω and ἀμελέω.

6) There are some examples of an intermediate class of ἵνδρες between the Neoi and the Gerontes; but this is rare and exceptional. Generally, we find the double, not the triple classification of the full-grown men. On this subject many authorities have written: references may be found in Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, i. p. 110 ff.

7) For example, at Chios the Epheboi are divided into three classes, νεώτεροι, μέσοι and πρεσβύτεροι :C.I.G. 2214.

8) The translation" command" in R.V. is too strong: παραγγέλλω is rather to announce, to charge, than to command: cp. 1 Tim i. 6, To τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη. Compare also i. 3, v. 7, vi. 17; the same verb is suited to Timothy; but in the case of Titus ἐπιταγή (a much stronger term 1 Tim. i. 1) is used, never παραγγέλλω, παραγγελία.

9) I Tim. v. 20: "them that sin reprove in the sight of all."