We now begin our study of the three letters which Paul wrote between his two imprisonments in Rome. They are called “Pastoral Epistles” because they were written to two individuals who functioned as pastors, namely Timothy and Titus. While Paul wrote these letters to these men, he also intended that the letters should be read to the churches, hence they are instructive for the church of all ages. The order in which they were written is I Timothy, Titus, and II Timothy. The first of them deals especially with the institution of the church, including the labors of the office bearers, the ministers, elders, and deacons.
THE HISTORICAL SETTING
If we examine the three Pastoral Epistles from the point of view of the places and travels referred to in them, we soon learn that they deal with a time in Paul’s life quite different from the events recorded in the Prison Epistles, which coincided with the events recorded in the Book of Acts.
To illustrate this point, we quote from the book, New Testament Survey by Tenney. “The chronological relations of the Pastorals to the Prison Epistles seem clear from their reference to Paul’s companions. Many of these are identical with those of the Prison Epistles, but are located in places which show that they had left Paul’s immediate vicinity. Timothy had been left at Ephesus while Paul was en route to Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3), whereas on the last trip that Timothy took with Paul the order of procedure was from Macedonia to Asia (Acts 20:4-6), and Timothy did not remain in Ephesus. Demas had deserted Paul (II Tim. 4:10), whereas the Prison Epistles included him among the group at Rome (Philemon 1:24). Titus was left in Crete (Titus 1:5) and then went to Dalmatia (II Tim. 4:10), but on none of the journeys in Acts did Paul go to Crete, nor did he have Titus with him when he finally did go there during the voyage to Rome. Mark was in Asia (II Tim. 4:11) where Paul had recommended him in one of the Asian letters (Col. 4:10). Luke was still with him (II Tim. 4:11), Tychicus had gone on his errand to Ephesus (II Tim. 4:12). Paul himself had visited Ephesus (I Tim. 1:3), Crete (Titus 1:5), Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), Corinth (II Tim. 4:20), Miletus (II Tim. 4:20), and Troas (II Tim. 4:11), and was presently located in Rome (II Tim. 1:17). He was in prison (II Tim. 1:16) and was quite sure that the end of his life was not far away (II Tim. 4:6, 7). Altogether the situation was very different from that described by the Prison Epistles.”
The question then arises, to what time in Paul’s life do the Pastoral Epistles refer? The answer is given this way: Paul wrote the Prison Epistles during his first imprisonment in Rome. After this period of time, Paul was released for approximately two or three years during which he traveled extensively and wrote these three Pastoral Epistles. He was once again captured and confined to a prison for a brief time after which he was beheaded.
Hendriksen, in his Bible Survey, suggests the following chronology in the life of Paul.
1. Immediately after his release, Paul sends Timothy to Philippi with this good news (Philippians 2:19-23).
2. Paul himself started on his journey toward Asia Minor, and on the way to that destination he leaves Titus on the Island of Crete to bring to completion the organization of the churches which had been established on that island (cf. Acts 2:11 and Titus 1:15).
3. The apostle arrives at Ephesus, travels on until he reaches Colosse just as he had intended to do (Philemon 22) and returns to Ephesus.
4. At Ephesus he is joined by Timothy, who brings news from the congregation of Philippi (see 1 above). Paul asks Timothy to remain at Ephesus, which was in need of his ministry (I Tim. 1:3, 4).
5. Paul himself goes to Macedonia, just as he had planned (Phil. 2:24; I Tim. 1:3). He expects to return to Ephesus at a later date (I Tim. 4:13). From Macedonia he writes two epistles which resemble each other very closely: I Timothy and Titus (This is just a possibility. There are many who think that Titus was written a little later, and from Ephesus).
6. The apostle journeys to Nicopolis (in Epirus), located on the east coast of the Ionian Sea. Here he spends the winter and is joined by Titus, Titus 3:12.
7. Paul (and Titus?) journeys to Spain, Romans 15:24.
8. Having returned to Asia Minor (see 5 above), he leaves Trophimus sick at Miletus, south of Ephesus (II Tim. 4:20).
9. At Troas he visits Carpus, at whose house he leaves his cloak (II Tim. 4:13). He is rearrested. Cruel Nero was reigning. This was the monster of iniquity who murdered his step-brother, his own mother, his wife Octavia, his tutor Seneca, and many others. Christianity had become a forbidden religion. Accordingly, sometime between A.D. 65 and 68 the apostle was again made a prisoner, probably at Troas.
10. By way of Corinth, where Erastus remained (Rom. 16:23; II Tim. 4:20), Paul is brought to Rome. His second imprisonment was severe and brief (II Tim. 1:16, 17; II Tim. 2:9). He was condemned to death and beheaded on the Ostian Way, about three miles outside of the capital. Just before he died he wrote II Timothy, death already staring him in the face. His shout of triumph was, “For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come” (II Tim. 4:6).
AUTHORSHIP AND DATE
Following the above chronology, Paul was released from his Roman prison between A.D. 64 and 67. Allowing time to travel to Macedonia, he must have written the letter some time around A.D. 65.
It is interesting to note that the Pauline authorship has been and is today questioned not only from the liberal higher critics, but also from conservative quarters. It has not gained acceptance, nevertheless they do make considerable noise.
You may ask, what possible arguments can be produced to question the authorship of Paul? Let’s briefly review the line of thinking, outlined in Harrison’sNew Testament Introduction. 1. Certain historical data cannot be fitted into Paul’s labors prior to his journey to Rome—e.g., he left Trophimus at Miletus (II Tim. 4:20) and he left books and cloak at Troas (II Tim. 4:13), which cannot be harmonized with his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20). 2. Paul emphasized in his other letters that the Lord would soon return. Here the author stresses the need for organizational unity in the church, as if the church will continue for a long time. 3. The style and language of these letters is different from Paul’s writings. Here they point out style of argument, difference of vocabulary, etc. 4. It is suggested that the doctrinal emphasis is different from Paul’s. Many great themes of Paul are omitted here and the author deals with a heresy, Gnosticism, which did not arise in the early church until the second century.
What do these critics suggest? Two possibilities: one is that Paul wrote certain fragments and someone else filled in the details; the other is that some other writer took Paul’s name for himself in order to have the prestige and authority of the apostle. Such a person lived during the second century and thereby allowed for its inclusion in the canon of the Bible.
The answer to this is obvious. First, we accept divine inspiration which attributes authorship to Paul: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; unto Timothy, my own son in the faith” (I Timothy 1:1, 2). Secondly, we have the testimony of the early church fathers. Quotations of these Pastoral Epistles as being written by Paul appear in the early writings of Iranaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. The same is true of Polycarp and Clement of Rome. Besides this, the Holy Spirit led the early church to include these books in the canon of inspired Scripture, and our Reformed confessions ascribe them to Paul (Netherland’s Confession Article 4).
When Paul left Timothy behind at Ephesus, in order that he might continue the work in that congregation, and Paul went on into Macedonia, two things must have given rise to his writing Timothy this letter.
First, Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father. He knew Timothy needed encouragement to face the difficulties that were in the church of Ephesus. Since Paul could not return immediately (I Timothy 3:14 and I Tim. 4:3), the letter had to suffice for the time being.
Let’s review some things that contributed to the close working relationship that Paul and Timothy enjoyed.
2. Upon the recommendation of the church at Lystra, Paul took Timothy along on his second missionary journey. Timothy became Paul’s student and was thereby groomed for the ministry (Acts 16:1-3).
3. Timothy assisted Paul in. the ministry in Macedonia, Achaia, and Ephesus, for three years (Acts 19).
4. He was delegated to the Jerusalem conference and accompanied Paul to the city (Acts 20:4).
6. After Paul was released from prison, Timothy stayed in Ephesus while Paul went into Macedonia.
7. He probably joined Paul at Rome during his second imprisonment (II Tim. 4:11, 21).
This indicates that there must have been a wonderful working relationship between Paul and Timothy. Now that Paul realized he might not be able to assist Timothy much longer, he committed to writing advice for young Timothy and through him to the church of all ages.
Secondly, the circumstances in the church at Ephesus demanded attention, and Timothy had to be encouraged to deal with them. From the epistle itself (I Tim. 1:4, 6, 7, 20 and I Tim. 6:20), we take note of doctrinal errors that were there. Timothy needed personal encouragement for he tended to be timid (II Tim. 1:6, 7) and even suffered physical discomfort (I Tim. 5:23).