1 Timothy
by Francis Foulkes ©



Some scholars do not believe Paul wrote this letter. There is strong evidence, however, that Paul was the author and this is the view of the present writer.
These three letters, addressed to Timothy and Titus, begin in a way similar to all the others that we regard as Paul's epistles: 'Paul, an apostle... to...'. In the early church (except amongst a few who themselves did not hold to genuine Christian teaching), we find no doubts about the letters. From then until the beginning of the last century Christians regarded them without question as the work of the apostle Paul. Last century and this, however, questions have been asked, and doubts raised as to whether these letters (at least in their present form), did actually come from the apostle Paul himself. God has spoken to men, and still speaks to us, through these epistles, however they came to be written. It is their spiritual value that matters most, and that does not depend finally on the question of who wrote them. Nevertheless the questions of authorship and date of writing are of historical importance, both as we try to understand the life and work of Paul, and as we study the growth and development of the early Christian church. We will try to set down very briefly the main reasons given for doubting Paul's authorship of the letters, and also an indication of ways in which these doubts have been answered.

a. The difference between these letters and the others

These three letters which we call the Pastorals are thought to be very different from the others which we regard as Paul's, in the following ways:

1. Style. Paul's other ten letters differ from one another in subject-matter but they have a similar style. It is a style that is full of fire and passion. The Pastoral Epistles, on the other hand, have more of a teaching style, less broken and irregular, less passionate.

2. The way in which doctrine is considered. Linked with the difference in style, there is a difference in the way in which Christian doctrine is treated. In the other epistles, the great Christian truths are set forward and argued, so that people may understand them and know the reasons for believing them. 1n these letters doctrine is regarded rather as given and established. There is no need to argue it out with great passion; the need is rather to urge men to hold fast to it.

3. The actual teaching presented. Some have argued also that the Pastoral Epistles do not present what we know from the other letters as typically Paul's teaching, but something different. It is said that the writer of the Pastorals presents God Himself and Jesus Christ with different points of emphasis. He says less about the Holy Spirit, less about the Christian life as life 'in Christ'. He regards the church in a different way - the guardian of Christian truth, rather than the 'body of Christ' in which He dwells and through which He does His work. The law is thought of in different terms. Moral duties are presented as ends in themselves, and not as coming from the great central principles of the Christian gospel as Paul presents them.

4. The words used. There are many words (about 175) used in these letters which are not used anywhere else in the New Testament; and altogether more than 300 words which are not found in the other ten letters that bear Paul's name. In particular there are many of Paul's favourite and most frequently used words which are not in the Pastorals at all, and some important words that Paul uses in the other letters which have different meanings in their use in the Pastoral.

It is impossible to deal with these arguments in any detail. Very briefly, they have been answered by saying:

1. The apostle wrote these letters with a very different purpose from that of his writing any of the earlier letters. He did not write these to establish Christian doctrine for the churches. He wrote them to his fellow workers, Timothy and Titus, who did not need arguments for the Christian doctrines, but only the stress on their duty to stand firmly for the truth of Christ, once given and revealed.

2. He had to deal with new subjects that required words that were not needed in the earlier letters. Furthermore, as far as his words and expressions are concerned, he had been influenced very much by living some time in Rome, just as the expressions used by an African who had lived for several years in England might be greatly affected by his going to live in America for two or three years.

3. Paul's increasing age had been realized before, but now he wrote as an old man, and so without some of the fire and power of argument which he had shown before.

4. There is no real difference between the doctrine shown in these letters and Paul's other writings. 1 Timothy 2:5-7, 2 Timothy 2:19-21, and Titus 3:4-7 are passages, for example, that bring us some of the great themes of Paul's epistles. Just as different doctrines needed emphasis in Romans and in Colossians and in the Thessalonian epistles, so there are different points of emphasis in the Pastorals; but the differences are not great enough to make it necessary for us to think that there was a different author.

It must also be remembered that Paul regularly used an amanuensis or secretary to write down his letters; usually he wrote just the last few lines himself. With the writing material of ancient times, it was not as easy to take down a dictated letter as it is for a secretary today. Some freedom was given to the secretary, so that he was not expected to set down word for word what the person giving the letter said. If (because of Paul's age or for some other reason) the secretary writing the Pastoral Epistles was given more freedom than usual, this would go a long way to account for the difference of style and expressions between these three and the other letters of Paul.

It can be said, moreover, that we find in these letters many features which are like the features of the apostle's other writing. In the Pastorals we frequently have lists of good qualities or of vices, such as we often find in Paul's letters. There are a number of the illustrations that Paul loved to use, the athlete, the soldier, the vessels used for honourable purposes, the seal, the steward. There are similar references to Paul's past life, arising from his sense of unworthiness. In fact, in these letters as in the other ten, there is the same strange combination of authority and deep humility.

It has been asked whether the apostle Paul would have written to his close friends and fellow workers, Timothy and Titus, in the way in which these letters are written. To illustrate only from I Timothy, would the apostle need to emphasize as he does in 2:7: 'I was appointed a preacher and apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth'? Would he need to tell Timothy how people 'ought to behave in the household of God' (3:15) in case he should be delayed in reaching him again to give further instructions? Such questions are answered by saying that though Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, there are many indications that the churches to which they were ministering were in the apostle's mind. He expected these letters would be read to them, and he wrote accordingly.

b. Indications of a date later than Paul's life. Next, people argue that there are certain things in these three letters which point to a date of writing after the end of the apostle's life.

1. The false teaching. In studying these letters, it is readily seen that there were Jewish features in the false teaching which Timothy opposed (for example, see 1 Timothy 1:7-11 and Titus 1: 13-14), and there were Gentile features such as the prohibition of marriage and the eating of certain foods (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and the notes on this passage). There was boasting in the possession of 'knowledge' that the others did not possess (1 Timothy 6:20). It has been said that the combination of these features is seen in the sects of Gnosticism which were of such influence in the second century, and the Pastoral letters must have been written at that time.

It is doubtful, however, whether much weight can be given to this argument. There are real similarities between the false teaching of which these letters speak, and that which Paul opposed among the Colossians. The false teaching in Colossae also had Jewish and Gentile features, and a similar boast in its 'wisdom and knowledge' (see Colossians 2:1-4, 8, 16 -23). There are indications of similar teaching in other parts of the New Testament, and so there are no good reasons on these grounds for insisting on a second- century date.

2. The life of the church. Is the life of the church, as indicated in these letters, more developed and organized than at any time in the life of Paul. Some would argue that it is, and would add that the apostle himself was not worried about organizing the church, its ministry, its provision for the poor, and such matters. In the Pastoral Epistles, we have rules concerning the treatment of widows, rules concerning the choice and discipline of bishops or elders, deacons and perhaps deaconesses. Timothy and Titus, furthermore, as their work is pictured in these letters, are said to be more like bishops of the second century, than any Christian ministers of the first century.

Against these arguments, it can be pointed out that according to Acts 14:23 and 20:17-35, Paul was concerned about the appointment of elders, and about how they should teach and how they should live. The church had been concerned about widows from the earliest times (Acts 6), and it is not surprising if, before the death of Paul, a system had been worked out for regulating their support and their duties. It is certainly true too that attention needs to be given to the ordering of the inner life of the fellowship of Christian believers quite soon after the first converts respond to the preaching of the gospel. We can easily understand that the apostle Paul, especially in the last few years of his life, had to turn his attention more and more to these matters. We can say also that the picture of church life and ministry which the Pastoral Epistles give is not as developed a picture as Ignatius of Antioch gives us in his letters written about the year 110. These letters survive for us today and show that there was a single bishop as leader of the church in each place to which he wrote.

3. Personal references in the epistles. Perhaps the most serious difficulty in the way of accepting Paul's authorship of the Pastoral Epistles as they stand is in connection with the personal references in the letters:

(a) Paul's movements of which Acts tells us nothing. In the first place, the three letters tell us of movements of the apostle and work done by him which the book of Acts does not mention. For example, when was Paul in Crete? When could he have spent a winter in Nicopolis? When did he leave Timothy in Ephesus and himself go to Macedonia (Titus 1: 5; 3: 12; 1 Timothy 1:3)? How could he have written from prison in Rome if he had been recently in Troas and Miletus (2 Timothy 4:13,20), when we know that a long time passed between the end of Paul's third missionary journey, and his arrival in Rome?

Sometimes these questions are answered by saying that the apostle was released from imprisonment in Rome, did a further period of service in the Roman provinces of Asia, Greece and Macedonia, and in Spain, then was imprisoned a second time and put to death. He did certainly expect to be released from Rome (Philemon 22); there was no real charge against him (Acts 25:26 and 26:31), and certain early Christian writers say that he fulfilled the desire to go to Spain which he expressed in Romans 15:28. We cannot be sure about such a release from imprisonment. The book of Acts is certainly not a full record of the apostle's life and work. There may have been work in Crete, and the movements of which the three letters speak, even though we do not know of them from Acts or from the other epistles.

(b) Comparison with movements recorded in Acts. There is another difficulty of a different kind. While there are some activities of Paul mentioned in the Pastorals of which Acts does not speak, there are personal references which are spoken of in these same letters, and these correspond so closely to the apostle's situation at some earlier stage that it is hard to think that they could belong to a period of his ministry after the record of Acts closes. His companions at the time of his captivity of which 2 Timothy 4:10-12 speaks are the same as those who were with him when he was writing to the Colossians (4:7,10,14) from prison. Tychicus is again sent to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12 and see Ephesians 6:21 and Colossians 4:7). Trophimus is with Paul again in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20 and Acts 20:4,17). We may ask whether these are not in fact references to the same situations to which Acts and the earlier epistles refer.

(c) The difficulty of fitting the different personal references together. There are difficulties, especially in connection with 2 Timothy 4, in fitting together the different personal references. At one point in this chapter Paul speaks of his death as very near (verse 6); then he asks Timothy to come before winter (verse 21), as if there might be a few months before he could expect him to arrive.

c. Different solutions to the problems

The difference of the Pastoral Epistles from the other letters that bear Paul's name, the possible need to date them to a time later than Paul's own lifetime, and most especially the nature of the personal references in these three letters, have led to a number of different suggestions concerning the way in which they were written.

1. It is suggested that the letters as a whole were written in Paul's name after he died by one who wanted to bring Christian people back to the great principles of Paul's teaching, and who wanted in the name and in the spirit of the great apostle, to give guidance for the life of the congregation, the choice of its ministers, the opposing of false teaching, and other matters. On this view it is held that the names of people and the references to the movements of the apostle were brought in so as to give the letters a greater likeness to a real-life situation in which Paul was involved.

Although such a view provides an answer to some of the difficulties which have been expressed, on this basis it is hard to explain the features of the epistles which are so typical of Paul himself, and it is not easy to think of a person simply inventing in his own mind the kind of personal references that we have in the Pastorals - the request to bring a cloak and some books and parchments left at Troas (2 Timothy 4:13), the instruction to 'speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way' (Titus 3:13), and such like.

2. It is suggested that while most of the three letters are not Paul's own writing, there are in them fragments of letters that were written by him. One of the most important books making this suggestion is The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles by P. N. Harrison (Oxford, 1921). He suggests that part of Titus 3 and 2 Timothy 1 and 2, and much of 2 Timothy 4, were originally pieces of several letters written at different times by the apostle. They have been taken and used by a later writer who added the rest of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus himself, dealing with the problems of his time in the way in which he felt that the apostle himself would have done.

This suggestion certainly helps us with some of the difficulties, but it leaves us with a number of problems and creates others. There are still passages - such as 1 Timothy 5:23 - which it is very hard to think of anyone else writing in the name of Paul. Would a later writer have made a reference to Paul's work in Crete if he had never been there? It is asked also why a person writing like this in Paul's name would have written three letters to serve his purpose, two as to Timothy and one as to Titus, and not have fulfilled his aim by writing just one. And how did these genuine fragments (obviously incomplete letters as they stand), and no other material come to be taken up into the letters composed?

3. In spite of the difficulties, many people still believe that the letters as they stand are Paul's, and that each of the difficulties mentioned has a possible explanation. It may be true that it was easier for a person in those days than in the present to write in the name of another, and not be thought dishonest and a deceiver. Nevertheless many feel that there are greater problems raised by thinking that a person wrote these letters in Paul's name, than by believing that Paul wrote them himself.

4. One final suggestion may be made. If Paul indeed wrote these letters to Timothy and Titus, who would have been more concerned to keep these letters, and offer them for the use of others, than Timothy and Titus themselves? It is not hard to imagine that Paul wrote a number of letters to these close companions of his at different times. It is not hard to imagine that they could have put parts of different letters together to make them one - this could explain in particular the difficulties of 2 Timothy 4. It is not hard to imagine that they would have felt themselves free to do a little editing of the letters to make them suitable and useful for Christians of a wide circle to read. Some such suggestion seems the most likely to be correct and the one most free of difficulty.