Introduction to 2 Timothy

The Pastoral Letters
2 Timothy is one of the three letters in the New Testament which usually go by the title “Pastoral Letters”. They are all written to an individual who has been a companion of Paul’s on his missionary journeys (see box on the right for references to Timothy) and who is now carrying on the job of leading and teaching the churches. They all have very similar concerns about false teachers and church leadership, for example. 2 Timothy is written to Timothy while he is, at Paul’s request, working in the church in Ephesus. 1 Timothy and Titus were probably written at about the same time, while 2 Timothy is written a year or so later. Like all Paul’s letters they are what is described as ‘occasional’. In other words, a specific situation (or ‘occasion’) has arisen in the local church which Paul decided needed to be commented upon. All three letters are very personal but 2 Timothy supremely so; Paul describes Timothy as, “my dear son” (1:2) and earnestly encourages him to join Paul where he is (4:9, 21). As a personal letter it is also a very passionate one; it is full of Paul’s love of the gospel and of his fellow workers. Talking of his faith at the end of his life he says, (1:12) “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Even here, at the end of his life, there is no dimming of Paul’s desire to see the gospel spread and Christians grow in their faith.

Timothy in the NT
Acts 16:1,2 Meet him in Lystra. A Jewish mother and Greek father. Mother - Eunice, grandmother - Lois. Remains in Beroea with Silas. Joins Paul in Athens. With Paul in Corinth. Co-author with Paul. In Ephesus with Paul on his 3rd missionary journey.

2 Tim 1:5 Acts 17:14 Acts 17:15 Acts 18:5 1 & 2 Thess Acts 19:22

1 Cor 4:17 1 Cor 16:10

Sent twice by Paul to Corinth. Acts 20:4 With Paul in Troas and accompanies him to Jerusalem. Phil, Col, Phi Co-author of these letters with Paul. Heb 13:23 Mentioned as ‘our brother’ who has just been released from prison. Timothy is mentioned in all but three of Paul’s letters: Galatians, Ephesians and Titus.


Why was the letter written?
There seem to be two major reason why all of the Pastoral Letters, including 2 Timothy were written. Firstly, to combat the rise of false teachers (e.g. 4:3-5). Secondly, instructions concerning church life and the conduct of Christians. The Apostolic age is coming to an end and Paul is keen to impress upon Timothy the need to persevere in the faith and to ensure that there is continuity in teaching (2:2). So Paul encourages Timothy to stand firm and “not be ashamed” of the gospel (1:8). He charges him with the awesome responsibility of continuing the mission that Paul had, of bringing the gospel to the world. So he reminds Timothy of things he already knows and entrusts him with the task of passing these things on to the next generation.

Some commands:
Do not be ashamed Follow the pattern Be strengthened Entrust Share in suffering Remember Jesus Christ Remind others Avoid babble Flee youthful desires Pursue righteousness Continue Preach the word Reprove Rebuke Exhort Be sober-minded Endure suffering Do the work of an evangelist Fulfil your ministry 1:8 1:13 2:1 2:2 2:3 2:8 2:14 2:16 2:22 2:22 3:14 4:2 4:2 4:2 4:2 4:5 4:5 4:5 4:5

When was it written?

The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16-31) for a period of two years. The traditional understanding is that he was released from prison and continued to spread the gospel, probably going to Crete and perhaps further afield. He was, however, finally re-arrested and martyred in A.D. 66/7 during Nero’s persecution of the church. There seems to be no good reason not to accept this version of events. 2 Timothy has the feel of a letter written at the end of a life (4:6-8) and while Paul may have come through one trial (4:16) he knows that another is on its way. It seems reasonable, therefore, to see this letter as having been written sometime soon before A.D. 67, but exactly when is not clear - suggestions range from A.D. 64 through to 67. The actual date is not that important, but the context of Paul’s imminent death is.

As with all biblical books, having a basic knowledge of the structure helps us when we try to understand the message of the book as a whole and how the author develops his argument. Perhaps because 2 Timothy is such a personal and passionate letter, there are many suggestions as to how we can divide the book up; the one below is perhaps as good as any. 1. 2. 3. Greeting: 1:1-2 Thanksgiving: 1:3-5 Encouragement to Timothy: 1:6-2:13 3.1. Appeal for Spirit-inspired boldness: 1:6-14 3.2. Examples: 1:15-18 3.3. Appeal to suffer as a good soldier: 2:1-13 3.3.1.Be strong in grace: 2:1,2 3.3.2.Suffer hardship: 2:3-7 3.3.3.Reasons to suffer and persevere: 2:8-13 4. Timothy’s Responsibilities: 2:14-26 4.1. Warning against false teaching: 2:14-19 4.2. The honourable servant: 2:20-26 5.

The Presence of Evil in the Last Days: 3:1-9


Encouragement to Persevere: 3:10-17 6.1.Paul’s example: 3:10-13 6.2.Timothy’s background: 3:14,15 6.3.Scripture’s efficacy: 3:16,17 “Bishop Handley Moule confessed that he found it difficult to read Paul’s second letter to Timothy ‘without finding something like a mist gathering in the eyes’. Understandably so. It is a very moving document.”
John Stott, Guard the Gospel p.13


Paul’s Closing Remarks: 4:1-22 7.1.Final charge to Timothy: 4:1-5 7.2.Paul’s final testimony: 4:6-8 7.3.Request for Timothy’s presence: 4:9-13 7.4.Warning against Alexander: 4:14-15 7.5.Paul’s defence and the Lord’s provision: 4:16-18 7.6.Final greetings: 4:19-22

To think about…
In chapter 2:1,2 Paul encourages Timothy to not only be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, but also to entrust “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses … to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” How do you think this transmission of the faith down the generations should best be done? Is this the responsibility of a small group in the church or is it one which we all share? What are you doing to ensure that you have a clear grasp of “the pattern of sound teaching” as Paul describes it (1:13)? And how are you making sure this sound teaching is passed on to the next generation?

In conclusion
In this letter, Paul is very aware of his own mortality and coming death (4:6-7). But he is also aware of the return of Christ (4:8) and what that will mean for the faithful servant of God. Both of these things add to the poignant and personal nature of the letter, and to its emotional impact. Our society is one which tries to put off facing death until the last minute, and hides death away. In the church we also do not talk as much about the return of Jesus as we should (for all sorts of reasons). However, both of these things are certain and, as with Paul, should be recognised by us perhaps as a spur to faithfulness and perseverance so that at the end of our lives we may be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).

Copyright © 2013 Simon Marshall


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