Commentary On 1 Timothy

I. Opening Greeting (1:1-2)

This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope.

2 I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith.

May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace.

Notes

1:1 apostle of Christ Jesus. This probably means "an apostle sent by Christ Jesus." (For a discussion of Paul's apostolic authority, see my article, "Authority," in DPL 54-59.)

appointed by the command of God. The Greek word epitagē [TG 2003, ZG 2198] denotes a divine command (see MM 246); cf. Esth 1:8, LXX, "for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace." "Appointed" is therefore extraneous. The genitive can denote source, "the command from God," but it is more likely possessive, "God's command."

God our Savior. Since the noun "savior" (sōtēros [TG 4990, ZG 5400]) lacks an article, it should probably not be capitalized as though it were a title. The emphasis is on God's saving activity. Something such as "our saving God" catches the nuance. God's saving activity is set over against the imperial cult, which lifted up the Roman emperors as saviors. God alone is the one, true savior of the world. For an overview of the imperial cult in Asia from the first through the third centuries, see Kearsley 1986:183-192.

1:2 to Timothy. Although only one individual is addressed here, the intended audience is broader than Timothy. We know this from Paul's final greeting, where he uses the second-person plural: "May God's grace be with you all" (6:21; see note; cf. 2 Tim 4:22). Paul's letters to Philemon (Phlm 1:25) and Titus (Titus 3:15) also have a plural greeting and hence a wider audience in view.

my true son in the faith. "True son" echoes the legal language of a legitimate heir (Keener 1993:608). The noun "faith" lacks an article (en pistei [TG 4102, ZG 4411]) and so the phrase should be translated as either (1) "through faith" (i.e., Timothy became Paul's spiritual son through faith in Christ) or (2) "in the sphere of faith" (i.e., Timothy is Paul's son in the household of faith).

Commentary

Paul began his letter in the conventional way of his day by identifying the sender ("Paul") and the recipient ("to Timothy") followed by a greeting ("grace, mercy, and peace..."). His expansions of this stereotypical opening invariably provide some insight into his top concerns. First, Paul refers to himself as "an apostle of Christ Jesus." That Paul would do this in a letter to a longtime friend and coworker such as Timothy is noteworthy. Yet, a look at Paul's parting greeting makes it clear that the Ephesian congregation, and not merely Timothy, was the intended audience of this missive (see note on 1:2). Paul may have started his letter by addressing it to Timothy, but he closed it with "may God's grace be with you all." Paul's mention of heretical inroads at Ephesus and the need for decisive action to stop them (1:3) puts the phrase "an apostle of Christ Jesus" in its proper light. His stand-in, Timothy, was in a position to speak out against unorthodox teaching. So Paul began in a way that would bolster Timothy's authority in the eyes of the Ephesian congregation (as well as encourage Timothy to act accordingly). The Ephesian church must understand that whatever Timothy did, he did so with the full force of apostolic authority.

Paul's up-front mention of his apostleship is strengthened by the phrase "appointed by the command of God... and Christ Jesus." A warning bell is sounded. Paul's orders come from God and not from the church. The theological point is a bit stronger than Paul's usual expression, "by the will of God" (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1). Paul's orders come in the form of a royal command that can't be ignored (see note on 1:1). Apostleship and authority are closely linked. Paul's warrant to exercise authority stems from his status as an apostle. To be an apostle is to be personally chosen and commissioned by Christ to speak on his behalf (1:12; Acts 9:15). "We are Christ's ambassadors," Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:20; "God is making his appeal through us." Apostleship is what gave Paul (and his representatives) the right to call believers to account (e.g., 1 Thess 2:7).

Paul's apostleship also came by the command of "God our Savior" (1:1). The emphasis is on God's salvific activity: "our saving God." The phrase is quite rare in the New Testament. Outside of the Pastorals it appears only twice (Luke 1:47; Jude 1:25). Yet the idea of a God who saves is thoroughly Pauline. God initiates and Christ mediates salvation. It is effected "through Christ" (Gr., dia + the genitive; NLT, "by"). That's why Paul says, "by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope." Salvation includes being delivered from God's wrath "by [Christ]" (Rom 5:9) and receiving God's salvation "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:9). The expression "God our Savior" is thoroughly Jewish. It finds its roots in God's act of delivering his people from bondage in Egypt (Exod 14-15). It then becomes a central theme of Jewish piety. God's acts of deliverance on Israel's behalf are recalled throughout the hymnody of the Old Testament (e.g., Pss 22:23; 72:18; 78:13, 49-50; 95:2; 106:12; 118:15-16; 119:123).

The title "Savior" was prominent in the religious piety of the day. It was the rare Greek letter that did not give thanks to some god or goddess for deliverance from peril on land or at sea (e.g., "I thank the lord Serapis that when I was in peril in the sea, he saved me immediately" [Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin 2.423]). The literary works of the oriental cults lauded the saving quality of a god or goddess. The highly popular Egyptian goddess Isis, in particular, was lifted up as the savior of humankind. She was the "holy and eternal guardian of the human race," who watched over the human race "always on land and sea, driving away from them the tempests of life and stretching out over them [her] saving right hand" (The Initiation of Lucius 11.25). That the phrase "God our Savior" appears in a letter to a pastor and church located in a city that was temple-warden of the emperors is hardly surprising. The emperors were likewise deemed saviors of the world. Julius Caesar, for example, is referred to in an Ephesian inscription as "the God made manifest... and common savior of human life" (Deissmann 1978:344). While the Ephesian populace looked to the imperial cult for a savior, believers are reminded that true salvation is found in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ alone.

Paul's apostleship also comes, literally, "by the command... of Christ our hope." The expression "Christ our hope" is unique to 1 Timothy. The closest parallel is in Colossians, where Paul was combating a very similar type of heresy: "Christ lives in you.... the hope of glory" (Col 1:27, my translation). "God our Savior" is a present reality that will find its completion solely in and through "Christ our hope." The term "hope" (elpis [TG 1680, ZG 1828]) is not a matter of mere wishful thinking. When connected with God's action through Christ, the term refers to that which is certain. In the context of 1 Timothy, Christ is our hope because he is the "one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity" (2:5), who "came into the world to save sinners" (1:15), who "gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone" (2:6), and whose "appearing" we await (6:14, RSV). Meanwhile, we "hold tightly to the eternal life" God has given us (6:12).

Paul addressed this letter "to Timothy, my true son in the faith." Elsewhere he is called Paul's "beloved" child (1 Cor 4:17; 2 Tim 1:2). "True son," however, is quite appropriate here (see Introduction under "Audience"). The Greek term gnēsios [TG 1103, ZG 1188] means "genuine," "true born," or "the real thing." Though appearing only four times in the New Testament (1:2; 2 Cor 8:8; Phil 4:3; Titus 1:4), it is quite common in other first-century letters.

"Faith" is a key theological concept in the Pastorals. "The faith" is particularly important. It appears 19 times in 1 Timothy (1:2, 4, 5, 14, 19 [2x]; 2:7, 15; 3:9, 13; 4:1, 6, 12; 5:8, 12 [translated "pledge"]; 6:10-12, 21). Timothy was brought up in the truths of "the faith" (4:6) and is a "true son in the faith" (1:2). Leaders are required to hold to the deep truths of the faith (3:9). The false teachers, by contrast, had suffered shipwreck as to their faith (1:19), had turned away from the faith (4:1), and had wandered from the faith (6:10, 21). "The faith" has a decidedly ethical dimension. To refuse to provide financially for relatives and immediate family is to deny "the faith" and be worse than an unbeliever (5:8).

Paul rounds off his salutation with the greeting, "May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace." The typical Greek salutation closed with a simple "Greetings" followed by a wish for good health (e.g., "Before all I pray for your health"). Paul Christianized the greeting ("grace, mercy, and peace") and combined it with a health wish of the greatest magnitude ("from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord"). "Grace and peace" (or some variation thereof) was Paul's consistent greeting. "Grace" (charis [TG 5485, ZG 5921]) is a favorite Pauline idea that appears nearly 100 times in his writings. Its usual sense has to do with God's unmerited favor. "Peace" (shalom [TH 7965, ZH 8934], translated by the Gr., eirēnē [TG 1515, ZG 1645]) was the typical way Jews greeted one another. It takes on added significance for the Christian in that justification by faith results in peace with God as an objective state (Rom 5:1). "Mercy" (eleos [TG 1656, ZG 1799]) is an atypical addition. Theologically it has to do with having pity on the needy and the helpless (whether they are friend, foe, or indifferent; cf. Matt 5:7). It finds an epistolary parallel only in 2 Timothy 1:2; Jude 1:2; and 2 John 1:3. Paul's greeting points to a sizable Jewish constituency in the Ephesian church. It may well reflect the unprecedented three months Paul spent in proclaiming the gospel at the local synagogue.

"God" as a source of peace was a typical Jewish thought. "The Father," however, brings Paul's greeting into the sphere of the familial—exactly the way Jesus taught his disciples to address God in prayer. Yet, while God is our father, Jesus is not described as our brother. He is, rather, "our Lord"—placed last for emphasis. God as "Father" of the church and Jesus as her "Lord" capture two distinctives of the Christian faith. That we find them placed side by side here points to an early perception of divine equality between God the Father and God the Son.