Exposition of 1 Timothy

Occasion and Purpose

The occasion for 1 Timothy is stated at the outset of the letter as follows: “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3–4; see vv. 18–20)., WUNT 166 (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2004), 17. The question is whether this occasion constitutes the purpose for the letter in its entirety or whether Paul has other purposes besides instructing Timothy on how to deal with these false teachers. Contrary to those who emphasize the ad hoc nature of the LTT, it is likely that Paul’s purpose is broader than merely dealing with the opponents. 39 (1996): 3–13; contra G. D. Fee, “Reflections on Church Order in the Pastoral Epistles, with Further Reflection on the Hermeneutics of Ad Hoc Documents,” JETS 28 (1985): 141–51; Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, NIBCNT 13 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 5–14, who claims that “the whole of 1 Timothy . . . is dominated by this singular concern” of refuting the false teachers and that “the whole of chs. 2–3 is best understood as instruction vis-à-vis the behavior and attitudes” of the false teachers (“Reflections,” 142–43). See also the critique by A. J. Köstenberger (“1–2 Timothy, Titus,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 12: Ephesians–Philemon, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005], 514), who observes that Fee unduly diminishes the structural markers in 2:1 and 3:15–16 that set off chaps. 2 and 3 from chaps. 1 and 4–6, respectively (see the further interaction under the heading “Reflections”; Köstenberger, “1-2 Timothy, Titus,” 520). See also F. A. Tomlinson, “The Purpose and Stewardship Theme within the Pastoral Epistles,” in Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, ed. A. J. Köstenberger and T. L. Wilder (Nashville: B&H, 2010), esp. 52–53.

While chapters 1 and 4–6 are concerned primarily with the challenge of the false teachers, chapters 2–3 focus on general ecclesiastical matters. This is indicated by the phrase introducing 2:1–3:16 (“First of all, then”; 1 Tim 2:1), which suggests the beginning of a new unit, (“I urge”), which is found in 1 Tim 2:1, is used regularly by Paul in transitioning to the “business portion” of a letter (1 Cor 1:19; 2 Cor 2:8; 6:1; Eph 4:1; 1 Thess 4:1; Phlm 10). as well as the closing words of the same unit: “But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15; emphasis added). This solemn affirmation, as well as the following hymn in 1 Tim 3:16, suggests that Paul’s instructions in this letter possess abiding relevance for the church rather than being limited to the specific occasion.

Also, in keeping with the genre of these letters, Paul’s apostolic office (1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1; Titus 1:1) requires that his letters be applicable to the church as a whole, transcending the scope of any one local congregation. As Paul writes elsewhere, the church, “God’s household,” is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). For this reason, the LTT should be considered foundational documents for the church, not merely ad hoc instructions dealing with local circumstances that lack lasting implications for the church overall.

Following the confession in 1 Tim 3:16, Paul returns to the matter of false teachers (4:1). Yet even where the apostle addresses local circumstances requiring resolution, such as principles for the care of needy widows (5:3–16) or sinning elders (5:17–25), the truths and principles Paul enunciates as an apostle are true and therefore binding—not merely for Timothy and the church of Ephesus at the time of writing—but also for every church, “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (3:15). 73 (2001): 205–24; in response to K. Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church. Parts I and II,” EvQ 72 (2000): 151–67, 195–215. For this reason Paul’s purpose for writing 1 Timothy is both to instruct Timothy on how to deal with false teachers and to provide guidelines on a variety of matters of perennial significance for the church., WBC 46 (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), 185. See also Col 4:16.

The Opponents

In keeping with Paul’s prediction (Acts 20:28–31), the opposition in Ephesus may have arisen from within the church’s ranks rather than having invaded it from the outside. It is even possible—if not likely—that some of the false teachers were former or current elders. Timothy, Titus, 7–9. Alternatively, the scenario envisaged by Paul in his farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 may have materialized at a later time.

In dealing with these false teachers, Timothy finds himself confronted with ascetic elements such as the prohibition of marriage 380) and later Gnosticism (Irenaeus, Haer. 1.24.2). Even Paul at times extols the advantages of celibacy (1 Cor 7:1–7), though he never forbids marriage; to the contrary, he highly extols it (e.g., Eph 5:21–33). See P. H. Towner, 1–2 Timothy & Titus, IVPNTC 14 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994), 25, who argues that perhaps there was a “growing suspicion that marriage belonged to the old order which had passed away, or that the model for living in the resurrection age was to be found in descriptions of life before the fall into sin.”
See also R. B. Hays, 1 Corinthians, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 114, who comments with regard to 1 Cor 7:1–7,
This sort of [sexual] asceticism was “in the air” in ancient Mediterranean culture. The Stoic and Cynic philosophical schools . . . debated whether a philosopher should marry or whether the unmarried state was more conducive to the pursuit of wisdom. In Greek popular religion, virginity and sexual purity were often associated with those set aside for the service of the gods, particularly for women who were prophets—the priestess of the oracle at Delphi, for example. In Paul’s day, even Judaism, which classically had celebrated procreation as the duty of everyone, developed ascetic movements such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae about whom Philo of Alexandria wrote glowingly. . . . [S]exual abstinence was widely viewed as a means to personal wholeness and religious power