1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

1 and 2 Timothy

Paul's first letter to Timothy reveals the struggle in their ministry with certain "teachers of the law." These teachers are not only asserting erroneous doctrines, Paul says, but are caught up in speculation about myths and genealogies. Paul reminds Timothy that "God's plan" for them works through faith. "This instruction has love as its goal, the love which springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a genuine faith." Those who have lost track of these essentials, Paul claims, "have gone astray into a wilderness of words." Therefore, Paul urges Timothy to "fight the good fight with faith and a clear conscience."

Paul reminds Timothy that sovereigns and all those in high office are to be included in the prayers of the congregation. He also emphasizes the high standard of conduct that is to be expected of men and women in the congregation, and of bishops and deacons. In this letter Paul restricts women from teaching and leading prayers, which suggests that in some churches they were doing just that. He includes women, however, among the deacons of the church.  In this letter Paul says women are to keep quiet, obey men, and devote themselves to service, because Eve led Adam into sin. 

These statements may reflect editing of an earlier draft of this letter, as Paul’s practice in working closely with women church leaders seems to reflect a diffferent view. If Paul did write these words, then he was probably responding to a situation where he felt a more subordinate role by women was required to keep the peace. in any case, we should not confuse the views attributed to Paul in this letter with the will of God. Furthermore, all those who argue that women should obey men because of the story of Eve (in Genesis 3), should be reminded that in the first creation story (in Genesis 1), man and woman are each made in the image of God.

Paul urges Timothy to treat older men in the congregation as his father, older women as his mother, and younger men and women as his brothers and sisters. He also provides Timothy with detailed instructions about enrolling widows, having families support their widows, and encouraging younger widows to remarry. Furthermore, Paul specifies that a bishop must not have more than one wife. (As deacons also are only to be allowed one spouse, it seems likely that there are Christians aspiring to these offices in the church who have more than one spouse.)

Paul's primary concern in this letter to Timothy is with false teaching. Some of Paul's opponents are forbidding marriage and insisting on abstinence from certain foods. This sounds like the same concern as Colossians 2:16 where Paul urges: "Allow no one, therefore, to take you to task about what you eat or drink, or over the observance of festival, new moon, or sabbath." Once again, Jewish Christians who are teaching a gospel of perfection are threatening to undo Paul's hard work among congregations that contain Gentile as well as Jewish Christians. "Everything," Paul tells Timothy, "that God has created is good, and nothing is to be rejected provided it is accepted with thanksgiving."

Paul castigates the teacher who opposes him as "a pompous ignoramus with a morbid enthusiasm for mere speculations and quibbles." (So much for loving one's enemies!) Paul also warns against preachers who promise riches to those who turn to God in faith. "The love of money is the root of all evil," he reminds Timothy, "and in pursuit of it some have wandered from the faith and spiked themselves on many a painful thorn." Therefore, Timothy is to "shun all that and pursue justice, piety, integrity, love, fortitude, and gentleness." Paul's advice in this regard seems to hold up well in our time. We might, therefore, be encouraged to embrace Paul's challenge to Timothy to "run the great race of faith and take hold of eternal life."

Paul's second letter to Timothy is written while he is a prisoner in Rome. Paul praises Timothy for his faith, "a faith that was alive in Lois your grandmother and Eunice your mother before you." But he despairs of what is happening in the churches he has founded: "As you are aware, everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me." It is hard for us to imagine that Paul is losing the struggle against the "circumcision party" in the church, but that seems to be the case. 

Paul reaffirms to Timothy his gospel message: "Jesus Christ, risen from the death, born of David's line." Thus, we see that even near the end of his life Paul has no knowledge of any teaching about the virgin birth of Jesus, which is reported in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Paul tells Timothy that he is critical of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who are apparently church leaders known to them both, because in teaching "that our resurrection has already taken place they are wide of the truth and undermine people's faith." In addition, Paul reminds Timothy again of the turmoil that is to be expected in "the final age of this world." People will "love nothing but self and money" and "their pleasures more than their God." Moreover, Paul warns Timothy, "persecution will indeed come to everyone who wants to live a godly life as a follower of Christ Jesus." Therefore, Paul urges Timothy to "stand by the truths" he has learned from Paul.

Titus

In the letter to Titus, Paul expresses concern about the teaching being promoted by "Jewish converts, who are undisciplined, who talk wildly and lead others astray" by "paying heed to Jewish myths and to human commandments." Titus is urged to "rebuke them sharply, so they may be restored to a sound faith." Above all, Titus is to "avoid foolish speculations, genealogies, quarrels, and controversies over the [Jewish] law" because these arguments are "unprofitable and futile." Most of this letter, however, concerns other practical instructions.

The leaders of the churches, who are now described as elders, are to have unimpeachable character. This includes having only one wife (apparently women are not being permitted to be elders) as well as children who are also believers and well behaved. A bishop "must not be overbearing or short-tempered or given to drink; no brawler, no money-grubber, but hospitable, right-minded, temperate, just, devout, and self-controlled." In addition, of course, a bishop "must keep firm hold of the true doctrine, so that he may be well able both to appeal to his hearers with sound teaching and to refute those who raise objections." These restrictions concerning the office of elder seem sensible, although it is surprising that Paul thinks it necessary to specify that drunkards, brawlers and money-grubbers should not be allowed to be elders in the church.

In addition, Paul counsels that all those "who have come to believe in God" should "be sure to devote themselves to good works." All Christians are "to be ready for any honorable work" and "to slander no one, to avoid quarrels, and always to show forbearance and a gentle disposition to all." Finally, everyone is to have respect for authority. Slaves are to obey their masters and to be absolutely trustworthy, and Christians are to be "submissive to the government and the authorities and to obey them." 

The radical message of Jesus of Nazareth, which inspired a challenge to the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem that led to his crucifixion, has now been transformed into a teaching about being good citizens of the Empire! It seems even slavery is justified! Statements such as this are seen by many as evidence that Paul didn’t write this letter.  Whether he did or didn’t, there is no reason to conclude that these view are the word of God, as they deny the freedom that Paul and many other Christians have found in Christ Jesus. 

Philemon

In his greeting Paul expresses his gratitude for all the love that Philemon has shown toward him. It appears from the tone of the letter that Onesimus, who is a slave of Philemon's, has run away to Paul and become a disciple. Paul appeals to Philemon to receive Onesimus back "as more than a slave: as a dear brother,  very dear to me, and still dearer to you, both as a man and as a Christian." He asks Philemon to welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul himself and expresses confidence that Philemon will, in fact, do even more than Paul has asked. His language suggests that he expects Philemon to free Onesimus, but Paul does not explicitly say this.

Paul may be a visionary in many respects, but he remains a loyal citizen of Rome. He does not urge Philemon to free Onesimus from slavery, for he does not want to imply that Christian faith challenges the laws of the Roman Empire. Paul preached that Jews and Gentiles of the Roman Empire were joined into a new humanity in Jesus Christ. He dedicated his life to building up the church within the Greek-speaking urban culture of educated Jews and Gentiles. The dominance of Paul's letters in the New Testament demonstrates that he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. 

Yet, Paul's words are certainly not the word of God.  God's judgment of slavery in the principle of Christian liberty would not become clear to the church until the nineteenth century, when Christians led the fight to abolish this heinous institution. 

 Bob@rtraer.com © Robert Traer 2016