The three letters which follow are addressed, not to churches, but to two of Paul's colleagues, Timothy and Titus; but this does not mean that they were originally part of a personal correspondence. On the contrary, Timothy and Titus are addressed, not just as friends and partners in Paul's missionary activity, but as men who hold long-term responsibility in their respective churches of Ephesus and Crete, and to whom it is natural to send instructions about the correct ordering of the church. They are addressed, in fact, in their capacity as established pastors; and these three letters, which are noticeably similar in tone and presuppose similar situations in the churches to which they were written, have been known since the eighteenth century as the "pastoral" epistles.
The letters purport to have been written by Paul and were accepted as genuine by the church from at least the end of the second century. But in recent times their authenticity has been questioned. The language and style can be seen on a first reading to be different from that of the other letters attributed to Paul; the structure and the concerns of the churches addressed seem to reflect a somewhat later stage of development than one would expect to find in the period of Paul's main correspondence; and indeed the writer's presentation of the Christian faith has an unexpectedly steady, settled quality. For all these reasons it is widely believed that the letters must have been written by an imitator some decades after Paul's death, with the purpose of adapting the Pauline message to a somewhat different situation in the church, and of giving the authority of the apostle to a form of church organization which had not yet developed when Paul was alive but which (it was perhaps felt) he would certainly have approved of had he lived to see it.
An explanation of this kind has been suggested for the origin of the letter to the Ephesians (see above p. 617); but there the problem is very much simpler. That letter consists, in effect, of a treatise, given the form of a letter only by the addition of brief opening and closing greetings and of a very small amount of personal matter. Here, however, there is a comparative wealth of personal details. If these three letters were not written by Paul himself, the imitator must have been anxious to make his work look as convincing as possible by introducing (either from imagination or from some source now lost to us) fragments of the kind of private correspondence which Paul might have been expected to exchange with his friends. However, if this is really what happened, it is all the more puzzling that these details do not fit at all easily into the biography of Paul as we can reconstruct it from the other letters and from Acts. To take only the most obvious examples: nothing is known from the New Testament of any journey made by Paul to Crete, nor of a winter spent (or intended to be spent) on the Dalmatian coast at Nicopolis (Titus 3.12); there is no period in Paul's missionary work up to his imprisonment in Rome which would allow for Timothy assuming long-term responsibility for the church at Ephesus; and the vivid personal touches in 2 Timothy 4 are impossible to reconcile completely with the known events in Paul's life immediately preceding his trial at Rome. If, therefore, the letters are the work of an imitator, this writer must either have invented fresh episodes in the life of Paul without caring to match them with what could be known from existing letters, or else have assembled fragments of real biographical value with so little regard for their true sequence that the picture as a whole is a different one from that which emerges from the other documents.
These details are, of course, no less of a problem if the letters are genuine. The traditional explanation is that Paul must have been released after the imprisonment at Rome which is recorded at the end of Acts, have travelled widely for a few years, and then have been once more imprisoned, tried, and put to death. Outside these letters there is virtually no evidence that Paul had this spell of freedom. If, therefore, the letters were written by an imitator, we cannot assume that he did, and the personal details remain as baffling as ever. On the other hand, if they are genuine, we must write a further chapter to the life of Paul; and it is arguable that the undoubted differences of style and content between these and the other letters of Paul are due to the fact that Paul wrote the Pastorals somewhat later in his life.
There is one other possibility to be mentioned. There can be little doubt that when Paul wrote his other letters he had the help of a secretary; and since verbatim dictation of a work as long as, say, the letter to the Romans would have taken several days, it is possible that the secretary was occasionally given a fair amount of freedom in the actual composition. Now at least one of the Pastorals (2 Timothy) was written from prison, where writing or dictation might well have been difficult. If Paul, for these letters, used a different secretary, and was forced to give this secretary only the outlines of what he wished to say, then the result could well have been such as to raise doubts in the minds of modern readers whether the author can have been Paul himself.
From Paul (1). A private letter in antiquity almost invariably opened with the briefest formula: "From so-and-so, to so-and-so, greeting." All the letters of Paul are unusual in that he greatly elaborates this basic formula and inserts a fair amount of Christian matter in it—the opening of the letter to the Romans is a notable example. But not only are these openings all, by the standards of the time, unusually long; they also vary considerably from one letter to another. Normally it was only in the greetings of his more formal letters addressed to whole churches that Paul emphasized his authority as an apostle; in the more personal letters, such as Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and of course Philemon, he came nearer to the usual convention of writing simply, "From Paul to so-and-so". It is therefore all the more surprising to find the formal manner reappearing in the letters addressed to Timothy and Titus. It is a clear sign that from the outset the real people being addressed are the churches over which these "pastors" preside.
When I was starting for Macedonia, I urged you to stay on at Ephesus (3). The only departure of Paul from Ephesus to Macedonia of which we know anything from other sources is that recorded in Acts 20.1-5. But that Paul then left Timothy in Ephesus is hard to reconcile either with the account in Acts or with Paul's own letters to the Corinthians, and either this detail is inaccurate, or else it belongs to that later period of Paul's activity to which these letters (if they are genuine) must be assigned. In any case, the danger which Timothy was to resist is one which reappears several times in the Pastorals in much the same form, and may have been prevalent in many churches at the time these letters were written. It arose from studying those interminable myths and genealogies (4). It will appear from what follows that the trouble-makers, though they probably were not Jews themselves (unlike those in Crete, Titus 1.10), were interested in the Jewish scriptures, and their myths and genealogies (the phrase is a familiar and not too precise one in the polemical language of philosophers of the time) may well have been similar to the fantastic mythologies which later speculative thinkers constructed out of Old Testament materials (see above on Colossians 2). A true interpretation of Scripture, by contrast, presented it as a consistent and unified message, designed to make known God's plan for us; and to understand this plan, it was necessary to have, not intellectual ingenuity, but only faith.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes 'love' as the greatest of all God's gifts, exceeding in value even those spectacular manifestations of the Spirit which had so excited the members of the church in Corinth. Here the analysis is tamer and less original: love (5) is described as a necessary psychological consequence of a certain kind of behaviour and belief. The phrase a good conscience is not nearly so frequent in the New Testament as its currency in English would lead one to expect, and it occurs only in the later letters. Indeed the idea was something rather new in Greek moral thought. "Conscience" itself, in a fully moral sense, was a concept which appeared only a century or two before the time of Christ, and it was normally used in the "bad" sense, as equivalent to the consciousness of having done wrong, Its opposite (the consciousness of not having done wrong) did not play an important part in moral analysis until later times, and its emergence in the Christian moral vocabulary is more likely a relic of the Jewish concern for "cleanness" from any acts that were regarded as impure or sinful. A biblical phrase for this is used here—a clean heart; and doubtless a good conscience meant very much the same. It is hard to see how this slightly meritorious feeling can be reconciled with Paul's characteristic emphasis on the total incapacity of man to abide by God's commandments—but the underlying thought here is clearly the paramount necessity of sincerity. What the erroneous teachers were guilty of was its opposite, hypocrisy. They set out to be teachers of the moral law (7). The translators have inserted the word moral (which is not in the Greek), but in doing so they have not made the writer's meaning clearer; for the essence of a " moral" law is that, being an inner principle of behaviour instead of an external code of written commandments, it assists towards sincerity and discourages hypocrisy. It is possible that these teachers believed themselves to be expounding such a principle, and were guilty of hypocrisy in doing so. But it is perhaps more likely that they were taking as their rule of life an actual code of law, such as the Jewish law itself, and proclaiming this to be an adequate guide to good conduct. But of course the function of a code of law is only to define indictable offences. Good citizens, who do not commit such offences, are not helped by it (9). Indeed, they may actually be affected by it the other way; for (and this is the classic objection to any such law being used as an ultimate standard of moral conduct) they may be encouraged by it to feel that, since they have not transgressed it, their behaviour is irreproachable. It is by living, in this sense, "within " the law that people may fall into that kind of insincerity which the author is attacking here.
The possibility of a good conscience, the description of the law as an excellent thing (8)—these sentiments would have come strangely from the author of the letter to the Romans. There are also two phrases in this paragraph which seem to belong especially to the language of the Pastorals. One is the wholesome teaching (10), which occurs frequently in these letters but in jo no other New Testament book. It was a common enough phrase in the mouths of moral philosophers, but seems (at least for Paul) a curiously tame way of describing the revolutionary truths of the gospel. The other is God in his eternal felicity (11). This rather ornate translation of a single Greek adjective at least brings out the fact that the expression is unusual in the New Testament—it belongs rather to the language of the Greek-speaking synagogue (as does the King of all worlds a few verses below (17)). It is small details such as these which build up the impression that the Pastorals, compared with the other letters of Paul, stem from a somewhat different cultural and religious background.
When Paul refers to his own conversion in other letters, he does so in order to justify his status as an apostle. Here the intention seems to be more general: Paul's conversion is put forward lor the inspiration and encouragement of all who enter the church. It did not matter what outrages they had committed in the past, provided only that (unlike, say, the persistent heretics, who had had their chance of learning the truth) they acted ignorantly in unbelief (13).
Here are words you may trust (15). This phrase occurs at least three times in the Pastorals, and its function seems to be to alert the reader to the fact that the writer is quoting a familiar piece of Christian doctrine. The only difficulty is that, since Greek manuscripts had nothing corresponding to inverted commas, it is not always clear which words belong to the quotation and which belong to the writer's commentary. Here, however, it is fairly clear that the quotation is 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners'. It was presumably a sentence much used in the worship or the teaching of the church, and is quoted here to show how Paul's conversion was typical of Christ's patience with all who were in future to have faith in him (16).
We have no other information about the circumstances of Timothy's first association with Paul, though Acts 13.1-3 may be an example of the kind of prophetic utterance (18) which is meant here. Another of Hymenaeus' errors (20) is mentioned in 2 Timothy 2.17. About Alexander we know nothing, unless he is the copper-smith of 2 Timothy 4.14. Consigning to Satan presumably involved excommunication: see above on 1 Corinthians 5.5.
First of all, then (1). The next two chapters turn from the danger of heretical teaching to questions of Church order. There is nothing surprising in the a early Christians having offered prayers for sovereigns and all in high office (2) (the word sovereigns is probably meant to include both the Roman Emperor and the vassal kings, such as the Herods, whom the Romans allowed to reign in eastern territories). Even though there were moments when the church had cause to regard the Roman administration as an agent of the devil, it was always conscious of the great benefits, in the form of a tranquil and quiet life, which the power of the empire afforded, and was glad to follow the example of the Jews, who regularly offered prayers (and even, in the temple, sacrifices) for the welfare of the Emperor. We happen to possess a prayerwhich was used by Christians towards the end of the first century, and which includes the words, "Give them, O Lord, health, peace, concord and stability, that they may exercise without offence the rule thou hast entrusted to them".
Such prayers were not only good in themselves: they helped to combat an exclusiveness which all too easily crept into Christianity. God's will it is that all men should find salvation (4). Taken out of context, this statement raises acute difficulties. It is hard to reconcile both with the observed facts that many men obviously do not find salvation, and also with the realization, which occasionally comes to the surface in the New Testament, that some men are apparently not intended to be saved. But here the purpose of the statement is probably not so much to lay down a general truth as to answer those who took the view that some classes of men were a priori outside the scheme of salvation. The Jews, for example, believed this of non-Jews, and the kind of speculative thinkers who are alluded to in these letters tended to believe it of all who could not qualify for salvation by pursuing the right kind of "knowledge". Christians, by contrast, were to think of salvation as in principle available to all; and so there was good reason to pray for all men (1).
For there is one God (5). The point is supported with a sentence which looks like a fragment of an early creed. Concise formulations of this kind normally come into existence when there is some heretical tendency abroad which needs to be refuted. Is there a particular heresy in mind here? The significant words seem to be one mediator. Much religious speculation in the first and second centuries after Christ was concerned with the question of" mediators" between the supreme, inaccessible God and the earth-bound existence of human beings. Jewish writers often described Old Testament figures such as Moses or Enoch in this way (there is a striking example in Galatians 3.19), or thought of supernatural beings like angels, or abstractions like "wisdom", as fulfilling this function; and more philosophically minded thinkers postulated a whole series of such entities mediating between God and man. It is against such a background that we should probably seek to understand the significance of the unusual phrase one mediator (whether it was the writer's own or, as suggested, a quotation from an existing creed). The rest of the passage uses normal New Testament vocabulary. The word translated win freedom (6) means literally "ransom" and may go right back to some words of Jesus (Mark 10.45: 'to give up his life as a ransom for many'). Proof of the divine purpose represents an attempt by the translators to make sense of the single Greek word martyrion, "testimony".
We are now given a few glimpses of the customs of the early church. Jews and Greeks alike normally prayed with hands "lifted up"; and the Christians evidently did the same. They also accepted with little modification the place accorded to women in ancient society. It is true that the context here seems to be that of the meetings of the congregation for worship; but what is said about women's conduct and dress is very much the kind of thing which was a commonplace among popular teachers of the time, and most of the language is applicable to (he status of women generally as this was understood in the time of the writer. This somewhat inferior status was taken for granted; but possibly the new freedom and importance which was being accorded to women in Christian congregations made ii necessary to reaffirm the conventional view Irom time to lime. Two traditional Jewish arguments are adduced, based on the narrative in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, in Jewish thinking, were conceived of both as individual historical persons and as type-figures representing the whole human race (see above on Romans 5.12). So here: as a matter of history Adam was created first, but (since Adam is also representative Man) this priority over women is shared by all his male descendants. Equally it was Eve who first yielded to the deception of the serpent (14); but all women, since they necessarily share Eve's propensity to evil, must take second place. Yet there is one thing—this was a commonplace of both Greek and Jewish thought—which gives women a unique status: motherhood (15) (literally, "childbirth"). This goes some way to compensate for their Eve-like susceptibility; and, taken in this sense, she will be saved through motherhood is a fairly obvious statement. But in Christian language "saved" means a great deal more than this, and the writer hastens to avoid misunderstanding by adding the qualification that for Christian salvation other things of course are necessary.
There is a popular saying: 'To aspire to leadership is an honourable ambition' (1). This is an unusual interpretation of the Greek text and demands a few words of explanation. In a number of manuscripts the first phrase is identical with that in 1.15, 'Here are words you may trust'; and this phrase appears to be one which the writer regularly uses to indicate that he is quoting some well-known article of faith. But at this place the formula seems inappropriate. Neither the paragraph which precedes it nor the one which follows it contains the kind of quotation one would expect. However, other manuscripts offer the formula in a slightly different form: There is a popular saying. For various reasons the NEB translators believed that this is more likely to be the correct reading here; and this reading also has the advantage that it gives a more suitable lead into the quotation (if it is one) which follows, 'To aspire to leadership is an honourable ambition'; for this certainly sounds much more like a popular saying than an article of the Christian faith. The difficulty is that the Greek word translated leadership is anything but a "popular" one: it never occurs in this sense in secular Greek, and it is very unlikely that it would have figured in a popular saying. The NEB rendering is therefore not fully satisfactory, and the verse remains exceedingly puzzling. At any rate, the important point for the writer was the appearance in the saying of a word for leadership (episkope) which was a form of the Greek word that had already become a technical term for an official of the church, episkopos (bishop). The play upon the word is reflected in the NEB by the translation, Our leader, therefore, or bishop (2). From the general saying about leadership the writer finds that he can move easily to the character required by a particular kind of leader, namely a Christian bishop.
The chapter goes on to give a list of the qualities which are to be expected both in the bishop and in the deacons (8) (another word which by this time had become a technical title in the church: in ordinary Greek usage it meant one who performs comparatively menial duties such as waiting at table). It can be seen at once that there is very little difference between the two lists; and in fact the qualities in both of them are very similar to those which would normally have been looked for in the holder of any responsible office in the ancient world. In other words, what we are being given is not (what we might have hoped for) a picture of the specific offices of bishop and deacon, with the duties and resources required of these ministers, but a fairly conventional account of what the men ought to be like who are entrusted with any responsible office whatever in the church. The only obscurity is in the words faithful to his one wife (12): we cannot be sure whether this is aimed at marital unfaithfulness, at a tendency to marry again after the first wife's death (which Paul certainly tried to discourage at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 7.27), or even at polygamy. There is also a slight ambiguity in verse 11. The Greek word translated their wives means literally "women". In Greek this would be a perfectly natural way of referring to the deacons' wives (so the main text in NEB), but it could also be taken to mean, "if they are women" (i.e. deaconesses, so the footnote).
These qualities, though applicable in many walks of life, are mentioned here to show how men ought to conduct themselves in God's household (15). This is a new image for the church; but it leads easily (since the Greek for household is the same as the Greek for house) into the more familiar idea of the church as a "building". The building which the church is most often said to replace is the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. But here it is just possible that another building is in mind. The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the largest and most famous buildings of antiquity (it became one of the "wonders of the world") and will have been for most Ephesians the most impressive religious monument in their experience. This too the church replaces; and the classical architecture of that temple may possibly have suggested to the writer the two architectural terms pillar and bulwark.
The chapter ends with what was probably a familiar summary of the mystery of our religion (16). The lines have a discernible rhythmical pattern; a nd since each phrase looks more like a statement of belief than an attempt to advance fresh leaching, it seems likely that the writer is quoting an existing hymn or creed rather than composing something new. Each line is a succinct statement about Jesus Christ, and the stanzas can be set out in groups of two or (as here) three lines each (i) Manifested in the body is a clear description of Jesus' earthly life; vindicated in the spirit is a little more allusive. Outwardly, Jesus' life and work appeared a failure, a failure which could be interpreted as God's judgement passed against Jesus. But the Christian faith was that this was not so. God did not condemn Jesus; he accepted him and endorsed his acts. By the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, and by the power now released in the church, God vindicated him. Yet this vindication was only apparent (as we say) to the eye of faith. Jesus was not yet vindicated in such a way that 'every eye shall see him' (Revelation 1.7)—that belonged to the future. Meanwhile, he was vindicated in the spirit—that is to say (and here a number of interpretations are possible) that it was only "by the spirit" that men could know that God had vindicated him (1 Corinthians 2.10-16); or, that men were led to believe that God had vindicated him by the mighty acts performed by the Holy Spirit through the church; or again, that it was in the spiritual sphere, not yet in the fully visible and material sphere, that the vindication had taken place. Seen by angels possibly continues this thought. Many of the supernatural powers, Paul believed, apparently drew the wrong inference from the crucifixion (see above on 1 Corinthians 2.8), and the vindication needed also to be "seen" by them, (ii) The second three lines sum up the mission of the church. It was Paul's constant source of pride and confidence that the gospel had now been preached, not to the Jews only, but among the nations, and that Jesus' prophecy of a world-wide proclamation was already, in a sense, nearing fulfilment (see above on Romans 15.19). The complement to this was Jesus' present ascendancy in the universe: glorified in high heaven.
The Spirit says expressly (1). When the early church found itself confronted by persecution, heresy and counter-propaganda, it did not regard these things as either unexpected or intolerable. Christ had said that such things were bound to happen before the end could come (Mark 13.7); and the church therefore tended to see its tribulations as a necessary part of the ordained pattern of history which would immediately precede the end. It was moreover a fairly common theme of contemporary Jewish "apocalyptic" writing that the final age of world history would be marked by a kind of intensification of evil. Thus although we cannot identify in any known writing the prophecy alluded to here, we can recognize, in outline, a belief which was widely held both inside and outside the church, and which found expression in many writings believed to have been inspired by the Spirit. This view of the ultimate course of history tended naturally to be expounded in vivid and mythological terms. It was believed, not simply that men of their own nature were likely to get worse and worse, but that objective forces of evil would progressively assume control over men's minds and bodies. The phrase rendered in after times was almost a technical term for this final age, which would be characterized by subversive doctrines inspired by devils (compare 'all the powerful signs and miracles of the Lie' in 2 Thessalonians 2.9) and by the fact that some men would already have become committed servants of the devil, a sign having been branded on their conscience (the word here is equivalent to "consciousness"), or even—in the more picturesque language of the Revelation (7.3)—on their foreheads.
When, therefore, the church was overtaken by some crisis, the correct approach was not just to hope that it would soon blow over, but to see in it one of the predicted signs of the times—and this attitude prevailed right through the New Testament period (see 1 John 2.18 for a late example). And so here: the "erroneous doctrines" of certain trouble-makers, which were mentioned at the beginning of the letter (1.3), were not just a passing threat to the peace of the church, but were to be seen in the same serious context; and the nature of this menace (assuming that the heretics in this chapter are the same persons as those referred to earlier) is now sketched in for us in more detail. They forbid marriage and inculcate abstinence from certain foods (5). Those philosophies which regarded everything in the material world as evil, and saw the liberation of the soul from all earthly limitations as the only purpose of life, tended naturally to discourage their followers from assuming the cares of married life. Detailed descriptions of such philosophies and of their followers are available to us only from the second century A.D., but it is intrinsically probable that the interest in 'myths and genealogies' discussed above had a similar tendency and carried with it the same kind of asceticism. This seems, at any rate, a more likely explanation of why these men "forbade marriage" than pressure from the Jewish side, for the Jewish attitude to marriage was distinctly positive, and only one Jewish sect is known of which discouraged it. Abstinence from certain foods is more difficult to pin down: there were so many possible motives for it. It could have been another instance of asceticism inspired by philosophy; but equally, it could have been the influence of any religion, such as Judaism, which held certain foods to be ritually unclean. Whatever form it actually took in Ephesus, it is attacked in this letter in terms that would be appropriate to a polemic against Jewish ordinances. It is stated in Genesis (1.31) that God saw that his creation was good (4); and this statement is invoked as making invalid the detailed prohibitions of the Law of Moses. Believers who have inward knowledge of the truth (3)—i.e. Christians—may partake of any food, provided only (as in Romans 14.6; 1 Corinthians 10.30) that they say grace. And grace, according to Jewish custom, and doubtless also among (Christians, included a verse of Scripture. Thus the food was hallowed by God's own word and by prayer (5).
On such matters Timothy (like Paul himself on similar topics, as in 1 Corinthians 7) was not to exercise strict authority, but was to give advice, like a good servant (6). (The word for servant is the same as that rendered 'deacon' above although it had already become an official title in the church, it could still be used in its ordinary Greek sense ) The advice was to spring, not from any new Christian insight, but (and this is characteristic of the atmosphere of the Pastorals) from the sound instruction which you have followed (7). By contrast, the teaching of the heretics sounded like godless myths, fit only for old women—the last phrase being a stock term of abuse that had long been used by rival philosophers against each other. Keep yourself in training for the practice of religion. The athletic metaphor was a commonplace, but this writer also sees its dangers. On the one hand, the heretics were turning this training into an excessive asceticism; and on the other hand, athletic achievement tended to take an unduly prominent part in the Greek system of education, and serious-minded pagan thinkers were often induced to point out its limitations in terms very similar to those used here.
Here are words you may trust (9). The phrase, as usual, clearly indicates a quotation; but once again it is hard to be sure which words should be put in inverted commas. The sentence which follows may well be the saying referred to (the footnote in NEB gives another possibility), amplifying the idea of the Christian's 'training'. On Saviour of all men, see above on 2.4.
The following paragraphs return to questions of church order, and afford a glimpse of the circumstances in which Timothy had to learn to exercise his authority. It is possible that seniority was normally regarded as a qualification for leadership (this would partly account for the emergence of the word "elder" as a title in the church); in which case Timothy's youth would have made it harder for him to get his authority accepted. His normal duties included public reading of the scriptures (13), preaching (exhortation) and teaching, and his authority stemmed from the fact that he had originally been commissioned with the laying on of hands (14). There are several descriptions in Acts of the ceremony by which hands were laid on a Christian minister to commission him for a particular task—on occasion under the guidance of prophecy, as in Acts 13.1-3. It was with the same gesture that Moses commissioned Joshua (Numbers 27.22-3) and the people of Israel commissioned the Levites (Numbers 8.10); and the church, inspired perhaps by these precedents, and perhaps also by the similar "ordination" of Rabbis which was by this time an accepted institution among the Jews, had come to recognize the rite as one which conferred a spiritual endowment on its ministers. Nevertheless, we must not too hastily read back into this passage the form which was subsequently taken by Christian "ordination". For one thing, 2 Timothy 1.6 refers to an occasion when Paul alone laid hands on Timothy, without the elders as a body being present; for another, the Greek of this passage is capable of another interpretation altogether (see the footnote in NEB). Here, once again, the exact details of early church order arc accidentally withheld from our curiosity.
Never be harsh with an elder (1). The word here seems to connote, not an official of the church, but any elderly man over whom Timothy, himself much younger, may have had to exercise his authority. The question of widows is more complicated. Women married young in the ancient world: they were free to do so straight after puberty, and there was a correspondingly high risk of them being widowed quite early in life. Often they would marry again, or they might have grown-up children to support them. But equally often they fell into real poverty. In addition, they had no adequate protection at law and their difficulties made them proverbially unfortunate members of society. The charitable support of needy widows was of concern to both Jewish and Christian communities, and indeed was held to be one of the most meritorious activities of religious people (compare James 1.27). But for any community which took this responsibility seriously it was essential to discriminate between those widows who were really in need and those who had other means of support; and to this the writer turns first. It was the prime duty of a widow's relations to make provision for her (8), not only on social grounds, but because this was in the spirit of the Fifth Commandment (for this God approves (4)); whereas any widows who had no such means of support were to be treated as widows "in the full sense" (or, granted the status of widow (3), as the NEB somewhat formally expresses it). The church, in any case, would be well rewarded for such charity, since the widow would have abundant time for prayer.
In verse 9 we learn that there was a roll (9) on which widows' names were entered; but judging by the qualifications required, and by the fact that some sort of commitment or troth to Christ is alluded to (12), it looks as if this was not so much a roll of those who genuinely needed support from the church as a distinct "order" of widows entrusted with specific duties. This is the only reference to such an institution in the New Testament, but there is some evidence for its existence in the following centuries, and the conditions for belonging to it are rather what one would expect for such an order—being over sixty, or having washed the feet of God's people (a customary act of hospitality in the eastern part of the empire). The paragraph as a whole is a little complicated only because it refers to widows in three senses: (i) in the ordinary sense of any bereaved wife; (ii) in the full sense of the term (3), that is, widows in genuine need of support; and (iii) the roll of those widows who were given responsible tasks in the church.
The writer then turns again to elders (17); but this time they clearly cannot be just "older men", but are persons who have specific duties and receive a regular stipend. We learn with surprise that they are also to be paid according to merit. Paul uses the same passage of Scripture, 'You shall not muzzle a threshing ox' (Deuteronomy 25.4) to support the principle that 'those who preach the Gospel should earn their living by the Gospel' (1 Corinthians 9.14), but says nothing there about "double stipends": his concern is whether it is right for them to be paid ai all. The other saying quoted here 'the worker earns his pay' was used by Jesus (Luke 10.7). But this writer is not necessarily thinking of Jesus' teaching: the sentence has a proverbial ring, and may have been endorsed, rather than invented, by Jesus.
One of Timothy's responsibilities was evidently that of arbitrating between members of the church. Elders were doubtless particularly vulnerable because of their public position, and they were entitled to at least the protection customary under Jewish law: more than one witness was necessary to substantiate a charge (Deuteronomy 19.15). But once a charge was proved, they (or indeed any Christian: it is hard to know exactly whom verse 20 applies to) must be judged with all severity and impartiality (21). One way of avoiding scandal was of course to exercise great care in the choice of those who were to be ordained in the first place, and from the text it appears that powers of discretion rested with Timothy. But once again this detail of church order is made uncertain by an ambiguity in the Greek: see the alternative rendering in the footnote in NEB.
Stop drinking nothing but water (23). Whether it was a personal trait of Timothy's or the influence of the over-ascetic heretics which prompted this warning we do not know. The medicinal qualities of wine were well known in antiquity. As Plutarch aptly put it, "the most useful of drinks and the pleasantest medicine".
The reason why Christian slaves must count their own masters worthy of all respect (1) is obvious enough: insubordination would profit no one. But if the masters are believers (2) the matter is clearly more delicate. Slaves may find it difficult to think of the same individuals both as the masters whom they must obey and at the same time as their Christian brothers. The key to their difficulty is the service which Christians are in all circumstances to offer to each other (Galatians 5.13).
If anyone is teaching otherwise (3). With the heretics once again in mind, the writer contrasts good religious teaching with the intellectual extravagances of those whose real concern is at the level of verbal questions and quibbles (4). He has, indeed, a still more damning criticism to make. Their ultimate motive is no better than that of any free-lance wandering philosopher: they
hope to make money out of their teaching—they think religion should yield dividends (5). Such a mercenary attitude needs no refutation; but the idea of dividends puts the writer in mind of what was probably a current philosophical maxim about religion in general (the phrase, the man whose resources are within him (6), was a familiar one in the language of Stoic teachers (7-10)); and the critique of wealth which follows includes a number of more or less proverbial sayings.
But you, man of God (11). The remainder of the letter consists of a personal address to Timothy who, by virtue of his particular office and responsibility, merits the title given to Moses, Samuel and many other Old Testament figures, Man of God—unless it is meant in a more mystical sense, in so far as any Christian, by virtue of his incorporation into Christ, has become a man enjoying a special relationship with God. Run the great race of faith (12). This phrase is familiar in its traditional form, "Fight the good fight"; but the Greek word (agon) means, not a battle, but a competition, and the metaphor, like many others in the New Testament, derives from athletics. You confessed your faith nobly before many witnesses. To what occasion does this refer? Timothy's ordination? A trial in which he was arraigned for his faith? Possibly; but the moment at which every Christian had publicly to "confess his faith" was his baptism, and it is probably of the vows he made at his baptism that Timothy is being reminded. The word confession (13) is picked up in an appeal to the example of Christ. If the translation, before Pontius Pilate, is correct, the allusion is to Jesus' bearing at his trial; on the other hand, the Greek words could also mean," in the time of Pontius Pilate " (which reappears as "under Pontius Pilate" in the Apostles' Creed), in which case the reference is a general one to Jesus' passion and death. The ultimate motive of Christian steadfastness is here, as so often in the New Testament, the expectation of the imminent coming of Christ in glory—until our Lord Jesus Christ appears—and if it was asked (as perhaps it was being increasingly asked) when that appearing would come to pass, the answer given was essentially the answer given by Jesus himself: in God's own good time (15). And in a string of phrases (15-16) which very probably derive from the worship of Greek-speaking synagogues, God is praised with the traditional attributes both of the Lord of the Old Testament and of the divinities of Hellenistic religions.
After some conventional thoughts on wealth (17-19), the letter ends with a personal postscript (20-21) (in the manner, for instance, of Galatians 6.11-18), underlining the most urgent point in the letter. (On the metaphor underlying that which has been entrusted to you, see below on 2 Timothy 1.12.) Just as, in the following century (when this kind of thinking became more powerful and systematic) many religious systems claimed to offer a kind of "knowledge" which would enable the soul to rise above the realm of earthly things, so, we may assume, the false teachers in Ephesus made similar claims for their own speculations. In so doing, they shot far wide of the faith.