The Pastoral Epistles

The Letters to Timothy

During Year C of the Lectionary, Proper 19 (closest to September 14) through Proper 25 (closest to October 26) the Epistle readings are from Paul’s letters to Timothy. These epistles (along with Titus) are called the “pastoral epistles” because they deal with pastoral oversight of the New Testament church.

There is some dispute among Biblical scholars whether Paul actually wrote these letters. According to Raymond Brown (An Introduction to the New Testament, 1997), the majority of scholars who accept a post-Pauline date of composition for the Pastorals favor the period 80-100. Scholars supporting a date in this mid range can draw on the description in 2 Timothy 1:5 of Timothy’s Christian mother and grandmother who passed on their faith, as alluding to the original audience being third generation Christians.

Who was Timothy, and why did Paul write to him?

As noted above, it is believed that Timothy was the son of a Jewish Christian mother and a Gentile father. He is first mentioned in Acts 16:1. Paul probably met Timothy on his first missionary trip, which included a stop in Lystra (in today’s Turkey) where Timothy lived. On Paul’s secondary trip, he again visited Lystra and invited Timothy to join him in ministry (around 50 CE). Timothy took the role of troubleshooter, carrying letters to problem churches and helping work out solutions in the communities he visited, including Corinth in Greece as reported in 1 Corinthians 4:17. As Paul was in prison in Rome (around the mid-60s), he continued to write to Timothy, then pastoring in Ephesus, Turkey.

The content of the letters, while sent to Timothy, primarily concern the maintenance of order in the church and its offices, alongside a concern with protecting doctrine from influences and practices that are considered outside the true faith.

Timothy apparently also went to Rome on Paul’s request. Church leaders later wrote that when Timothy returned to Ephesus, he became the first bishop of that church and was martyred in 97 CE during a wave of Roman persecution.

An overview for the coming week’s New Testament readings:

  • Proper 19: 1 Timothy 1:12-17 – Paul thanks God for judging him as trustworthy in spite of his persecution of God’s people in former days. Paul feels that the grace of the Lord has been given to him.  These “comfortable words” can also be found following the absolution in Rite 1 (BCP 332).
  • Proper 20: 1 Timothy 2:1-7Paul urges that prayers be offered for all persons and for all in high office. It is God’s will that all should find salvation and come to know the truth. The rubrics on page 383 of the Book of Common Prayer set forth the topics of intercessory prayer. The church must pray for “the Nation and all in authority,” “the welfare of the world,” and other people, places and institutions each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.
  • Proper 21: 1 Timothy 6:6-19Paul reminds Timothy of his calling to run the race of faith and take hold of eternal life. Timothy is to speak to those who are wealthy, and to tell them to fix their hopes on God rather than on money, to give away and to share, so that they may grasp the life that is truly life.
  • Proper 22: 2 Timothy 1:1-14 – After beginning with a prayer, Paul thanks God for the sincerity of Timothy’s faith and urges Timothy to keep before him the sound teaching he has had, and to live by faith and love that are ours in Jesus Christ.
  • Proper 23: 2 Timothy 2:8-15 – Paul writes from prison, reminding Timothy that even though he is wearing chains like a criminal, the word of God is free. He urges Timothy to continue to proclaim the glorious salvation in Christ Jesus and to work to be worthy of God’s approval, and to be forthright in speaking the truth.
  • Proper 24: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 – Paul tells Timothy to remember from whom he learned the truths of the faith, and to proclaim the message, to use every gift at his command, and to teach with the necessary patience. He must keep calm, face the hardships, and work for the spread of the gospel. Today, Scripture is read at every service of worship “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • Proper 25: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 – Paul, imprisoned in Rome, is secure in the knowledge that his rewards are waiting for him. The Lord gave Paul strength to preach the gospel, and rescued him from the lion’s jaws. The Lord will continue to be with Paul and keep him safe until the Lord’s heavenly reign begins. Paul’s faith in proclaiming the gospel is remembered.

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Wife, mom, grandmother; author, educator, consultant; trying to make a difference one action at a time. Christian formation has been my vocation for 40+ years - and counting!
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