2Timothy is the most personal of Paul’s letters. This is not the official correspondence of a founder to his church but the personal, indeed poignant, communication from a spiritual father to one he calls his “beloved child” (1,2). The text of the letter is interlaced with allusions to shared perceptions, values and even desires. Paul holds Timothy close to him in memory (1,3) as one who knows his family history (1,5; 3,15). They share knowledge (1,15.18), past experience (1,13; 2,2; 3,10), and present troubles (1,15). Much between them need not be spelled out but only suggested (11).
Paul’s own situation is not encouraging. He is in prison in Rome (1,17). He has already made one defense from which he emerged only like one “snatched from the jaws of a lion” (4,17). In contrast to his letters to Philemon and the Philippians in which he expressed genuine hope of release (Philem 22; Phil 1,12; 2,24), Paul here reveals no such expectations. He considers his life to be drawing to a close (4,6f). He has no more hope for human vindication, only divine (4,18). Worse, he is experiencing from humanity both abandonment and rejection. Everybody in Asia abandoned him (1,15). Nobody stood by him at his first defense (4,16). Some of his fellow workers seem to have left him for other mission fields, while others, “in love with this world”, have abandoned him altogether (4,10). Paul is therefore almost pitiably grateful for the ministrations of Onesiphorus who visited him in prison (1,16f). He derives comfort from the expectation of a visit from Timothy (4,9.21), his delivery of the books and parchments that Paul had left in Troas (4,13), and the prospect of benefiting from the services of Mark, who will accompany Timothy (4,11). Paul is not totally alone. He sends greetings to Timothy from some associates (4,21), and Luke remains as his companion (4,11). But Paul feels alone and abandoned, and this is what counts (11f).
Paul’s mission is also being threatened. The trials he had faced in the past (3,11) are not entirely over. Alexander the coppersmith did him much harm (4,14), he continues to “resist our words”, so that Timothy, too, must be wary of him (4,15). Within the Pauline communities, furthermore, there is the social disruption and confusion being generated by troublemakers such as Hymenaeus and Philetus (2,17). Paul clearly regards them contemptuously as ‘charlatans’ (goetai, 3,13) like those magicians who opposed Moses (3,8). Nevertheless, they are having a genuine impact, especially among the believers least able to resist them, uneducated women easily seduced by specious and flattering speech (3,6f). Paul fears that the time is such that distorted teaching proves more effective and popular than the sound doctrine proclaimed by him and his followers (4,3f). The opponents are indeed making progress (2,16f). After a lifetime literally ‘spent’ in preaching and teaching (4,6), does Paul face at the end not only personal rejection but also the utter failure of his mission (12)?
Timothy is discouraged in the face of such opposition, perhaps even wavering in his fidelity to his work as Paul’s representative (1,5.7; 2,1;3,12). Caught in his own fatigue, fear and fragility, Paul must somehow rally his beleaguered younger colleague to stand fast within truly threatening circumstances. That Paul could write at all is noble; that he wrote a letter such as this is inspired (12f).
2Timothy is a personal paraenetic letter. The word ‘paraenesis’ refers to moral exhortations. Timothy is addressed not only as a “beloved child” but above all as a “servant of the Lord”, as a teacher and preacher of the gospel (2,24; 4,5). Paul’s reminders and the model he presents therefore have to do with the proper fulfillment of that role. This helps explain a feature of 2 Timothy which does not at first sight seem to fit within the category of personal paraenesis. Much of 2 Timothy obviously consists of polemic against false teachers. We will see however that the polemic is not aimed directly at the opponents but is used as a contrast to the positive ideal of the teacher toward which Timothy is to strive. Just such a use of slander was a feature of Hellenistic protreptic discourses which encouraged young men to follow the way of philosophy. In 2 Timothy, Paul does not present simply a model of virtue for Timothy’s emulation, together with a series of maxims saying,’do this but avoid that’. He gives Timothy a model of the steadfast teacher, together with a series of maxims saying ‘teach this way and not that way (in the fashion of the opponents)’ (14).
b. Paul as Model Teacher (1,1-2,13)
Paul assumes the role of a father to his son. He calls Timothy “my beloved child” in the greeting (1,2) and in 2,1, “my child”. By explicitly noting Timothy’s female ancestors while neglecting the male, Paul places himself in the position of Timothy’s natural father (who was a Greek, Acts 16,1). Paul regards those whom he has called into “the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus” (1,1) to be like children whom he himself has begotten through the gospel (cf. also 1 Cor 4,15; 1 Thess 2,11; Philem 10). By assuming the role of a father, Paul also takes on the obligation of instructing Timothy in the moral life. It is his responsibility to shape the values and attitudes of his adopted son (15).
He follows the conventional approach of this task by employing the motif of memory. Paraenesis is not a matter of new teaching but of recollecting traditional shared values. Paul first ‘remembers’ Timothy constantly in his prayers (1,3). As he does so, he also ‘remembers’ his tears – the first hint to us that all is not well with his delegate. Paul also ‘remembers’ the sincere faith held first by Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (1,4f).
Paul’s use of memory tells us something about its nature as well as about the nature of prayer. The memory he invokes is a form of anamnesis: not the mechanical recall of information from the past but the recollection of meaningful stories which shape individual and communal human identity. In this sort of memory the past is made alive and powerful for the present. It can therefore help to shape the future. Memory works the same way in prayer. By ‘remembering’ the other before the Lord, we make them present with us before God. Thus Paul’s ‘remembering’ Timothy’s tears means that he stands with him, sharing in his suffering before God (15f).
Timothy’s tears suggest that he is fearful. Paul therefore recalls the “sincere faith” of his maternal forebears, adding “and now, I am sure, dwelling in you”. This gives us a second glimpse of Timothy’s trouble. Paul protests overmuch; he really is not sure that Timothy continues the steadfast loyalty characteristic of his ancestors. This is therefore the part of Timothy’s past that Paul wants to make alive and powerful. “Hence I remind you” (1,6) is very strong in the Greek: “for this very reason”. Paul’s reminding is to ‘rekindle’ the gift from God that Timothy had received. The image is stronger: Paul fans the dying embers of Timothy’s commitment with fresh memory, so that his loyalty might again blaze into flame. “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (1,7). The word translated as ‘timidity’ simply means ‘cowardice’. The contrast is one between cowardice and power. Because Timothy is faltering in the face of opposition, Paul writes to bolster his courage and conviction. By reminding him of his past and of his present gift from God, he calls Timothy to his own best identity, so that he can act appropriately (16).
Paul’s own self-presentation as Timothy’s model: Paul elsewhere presents himself as an example and asks his churches to imitate him in various ways (see 1Cor 4,16; 11,1; Phil 3,17). Here Timothy is to imitate Paul’s manner of preaching even in the context of personal suffering. When Paul says in Romans 1,16 that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” he actually means that the good news is his source of boasting (see Rom 5,1-5; 1Cor 1,31; 2Cor 10,17). In the present context, however, genuine shame is the issue. If Timothy has grown cowardly in his work, it is because he is ‘ashamed’ of the good news. Paul’s suffering and his own make him waver in his loyalty to the task of preaching it. Paul’s command to him therefore is, “do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God” (1,8). It is not Timothy’s own resources which will enable him to endure but the power of God which works through the gospel. We remember how Paul has already contrasted Timothy’s personal cowardice to the power that comes from God’s gift. Paul’s imprisonment is itself a source of Timothy’s embarrassment. How convincing can this power of God be if the man who most emphatically proclaims it himself lies powerless in chains? Paul’s imprisonment is an embarrassment to his delegate because it calls into question the efficacy of the message they proclaim. Paul’s position is therefore awkward in the extreme. He must rally Timothy to new courage even as his own situation presents the most disheartening thing Timothy faces (16f).
Paul must try to show how his manner of suffering demonstrates rather than disproves the power of the good news. Like Timothy (1,6), Paul was appointed as a “preacher and apostle and teacher” (1,11), and now he suffers for that very reason. But he does not grow ashamed. Why? Because he knows the one in whom he has believed (1,12) and is convinced of his power to preserve what he first entrusted to Paul. How can he be so convinced? Because God had demonstrated this power in the good news itself. This is the God who “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1,10). The God who calls Paul and Timothy is a living God. His “promise of the life” (1,1) is secure, even when circumstances would appear to contradict it. For Paul the ultimate proof of God’s power is always the resurrection of Jesus (Phil 2,9-11; 3,21). He knows therefore that the fundamental pattern of the gospel – and by extension the pattern of Christian identity – is one that moves through suffering to glory. The power of God is revealed through the cross and the resurrection (see 1Cor 1,24) (17).
Timothy’s cowardice was fed by his focusing on his own weakness and the imprisonment of Paul. He has forgotten the power at work in the gospel itself, the power of God’s word effective in the world (see 1Thess 1,5: 2,13). Paul therefore boldly presents himself as a model in 1,13f: “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us”. It is not only Paul’s personal manner of suffering that provides a model for Timothy to imitate, though that certainly is implied here (1,8-12; 3,10). Above all it is the “pattern of sound words”, by which of course Paul means the gospel message itself. Timothy too must follow the path of suffering before glory, which the gospel itself presents as the pattern of God’s power. Timothy is to “preserve what is entrusted to him”. By inserting the word ‘truth’ here, the RSV makes it seem as though the ‘truth’ were some content of doctrine or tradition. In fact, it is the very same term used in the previous verse, where Paul meant the preservation of his ministry and personal fidelity. It undoubtedly means the same thing in this verse. The ‘truth’ Timothy is to preserve through suffering is his integrity as a teacher. He is not able to do this by himself but only by the power of God at work in the gospel, which Paul here explicitly identifies as “The Holy Spirit who dwells within us” (1,14). Paul’s statement of confidence in 1,12 emphasizes the ‘power’ of God to preserve him to the end. Not content with offering himself as an example, Paul now proceeds to present other models for his delegate’s imitation (18):
Onesiphorus (1,15-18): Paul wants Timothy to learn how he must ‘take his share of suffering’ for the good news. Onesiphorus stands in contrast to “all those in Asia” who abandoned Paul. Instead, he ‘refreshed’ Paul by seeking him out in prison and serving him. By so doing he showed that he was “not ashamed of my chains” (1,16). As a result, Paul prays that Onesiphorus will receive mercy on that Day (1,18) just as Paul himself will be preserved by the Lord “until that Day” (1,12). As Onesiphorus showed mercy to Paul, so will God show mercy to him and his household (1,16.18), for he is, in fact, a God of mercy (1,2). In a word, Onesiphorus has shared in Paul’s suffering for the gospel and can expect a reward. Timothy should not miss the point. In case he does, Paul continues in 2,1, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, recalling again the empowering force of the gift (see 1,7.12.14). With such empowerment, Timothy will be able to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2,3). He will not only endure but will extend the mission by teaching others what Paul taught him and enabling them to teach still others (2,2) (19).
The soldier, athlete and farmer - three examples for Timothy’s imitation - they are stock examples from the repertoire of Hellenistic rhetoric. Paul also uses them in 1Cor 9,6-24. There he stresses the support due those laboring in such occupations. The soldier deserves his pay (9,6), the farmer a share in the crop (9,10), and the winning athlete his prize (9,24). In the present situation, Paul emphasizes the other aspect of the examples: to gain a reward, each must endure suffering. The soldier devotes himself to the discipline of the service, not his own interests (2Tim 2,4); the athlete must compete according to the rules (2,5); the farmer must work hard if he wants a share of the crop (2,6). When Paul tells Timothy to understand these things (2,7), this is what he intends: Timothy too must “take his share of suffering” before he can expect the reward of life promised by the gospel (19).
Paul has now presented Timothy with himself, Onesiphorus and three other examples of “not being ashamed of suffering”. He concludes the list with the most important model of all: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel” (2,8). Paul uses just such a series of examples in another captivity letter. In Philippians he encourages a unity of spirit that consists in looking to others’ interests more than one’s own. To show this, he gives examples of such selflessness in Jesus (Phil 2,5-11), Timothy (2,19-23), Epaphroditus (2,25-30), and finally himself (3,7-16). He then concludes: “Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who live as you have an example in us” (Phil 3,17). Here in 2 Timothy the list concludes with the remembrance of Jesus ‘according to’ Paul’s gospel (2,8). What is Paul getting at? Simply that Jesus also first suffered and then rose from the dead and that this is the pattern for Timothy as well (see also 3,12). What Paul wants Timothy to recognize is the ‘faithful word’ he now cites (2,11f) is the necessity of his participation in the very pattern of the Messiah: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him”. In contrast to the image of the soldier, athlete, and farmer, Paul stresses here the element of hope even more than that of suffering. All Timothy need do is remain faithful and endure with Jesus. There is meaning to his suffering (20).
Paul also recites the negative side: “If we deny him, he will also deny us”. We are reminded of the word of Jesus: “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8,38). If Timothy ‘denies’ the Lord he will in turn be ‘denied”. But for Paul it is unthinkable that God’s word should fail (Rom 9,6), “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11,29). So he concludes in typical fashion, breaking thereby the symmetry of the poem: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2,13). It is not Timothy’s fidelity to God that enables him to endure but God’s fidelity to Timothy. God cannot prove faithless to his own word and the “promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus” (1,1) (21).
It is this conviction above all which Paul wants Timothy to renew in his heart. Just as Jesus suffered, so now Paul is “suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal”, precisely for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ (2,9). But Paul is able to endure because he knows from the same gospel that a life spent for others has meaning, so that his suffering can mean gain for others. Paul’s endurance is therefore not a feat of stoic athleticism but a process of being shaped according to the pattern of the Messiah: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with it’s eternal glory” (2,10). The point, we learn, is not that Paul is in chains but that the Word of God cannot be chained (2,9) (21).
Faith as a Human Virtue
In the beginning of this letter, Paul places particular stress on the faith of Timothy’s grandmother and mother, as well as on his own service of God with a clear conscience like his fathers (1,3-5). Faith is rooted in the shared human experience of trust and loyalty and that is continuous with the faith in God found in Judaism. Paul perceives his faith in God through Christ as continuous with the faith he had in God as a young child, that is, as a Jew. It is continuous as well with the faith his ancestors (also Jews) had in God. He makes explicit here what is found also in his treatment of the faith of Abraham (Gal 3; Rom 4). Christian faith is not first of all ‘faith in Christ’ as a kind of confession, so that ‘Christian faith’ is essentially distinguished from that of Jews. Faith is essentially a response of trust and obedience and loyalty to God, and it is the same response, whether found in Abraham, Jesus, or those who have received the Spirit of Jesus. For Paul it would surely be a distortion of faith and of Christianity to reduce either to its point of distinction from Judaism. He would not recognise a ‘Christianity’ which defined itself exclusively in terms of a confessional ‘faith in Christ’ rather than an ‘obediential faith in God’ (22f).
In similar fashion, Paul asserts the continuity between this specifically ‘religious’ faith and the faith Timothy learned from his Jewish mother and grandmother. Paul suggests thereby that the human context of acceptance, trust, and loyalty nurtures and educates the human person in the attitude and disposition we call faith. Timothy learned the Scriptures ‘from childhood’ (3,15), as well. Faith, too, can be learned by influence and imitation. We have learned how nearly impossible it is for those who have never experienced a human context of trust to hear the word of God’s acceptance of them in the gospel. Being born and raised in the atrmosphere of rejection, betrayal and neglect is not the best preparation for hearing the good news.
Surely there is no better justification for the understanding of the church as ‘the family of God’ or as the ‘household of God’ than this: precisely such a human community of trust and acceptance makes the message of God’s goodness to humans credible. The gospel thrives best in the seedbed of human fidelity (23).
The Call and the Gospel
By no means does Paul reduce Christian identity to a community of human loyalty. As emphatically as anywhere else in his letters we find here the insistence that Christians have been ‘called’ beyond the frame of their merely human potential. He calls this a ‘holy calling’. In the early Christian argot, this was shorthand for the origin and nature of Christian identity. It was based not in their own achievements (“not in virtue of our own works”) but by “his own purpose and... grace” (1,9). In 2 Timothy, of course, the particular focus of ‘the call’ is the ministry to which Timothy has been appointed. Both he and Paul have been ‘appointed’ (1,11), or gifted, as preachers and teachers of the gospel (1,6f). Paul stresses first the ‘gift’ aspect of their vocation; their ministry was not a matter of natural selection on the basis of rhetorical talents or administrative abilities or interests. Although mediated by human hands, it is God’s gift (1,6). The calling is in virtue of the “grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2,1). For Paul to speak of the gift (or grace) of God is naturally to speak of the Holy Spirit. So we find him twice making this connection: Timothy was given the Spirit (1,7) and the Holy Spirit dwelt in them (1,14). And as for all early Christians, to speak of the Holy Spirit was to speak of the power of God. Timothy has been gifted with power (1,7) in which he can be strengthened (2,1) (23f).
We find here the difference between human potential and the power of God. The calling of Paul and Timothy is not definded in terms of a human career or profession. It is defined by “the life and immortality brought to light through the gospel” (1,10), the “promise of the life in Christ Jesus” (1,1), and the “salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory” (2,10). The hope by which they live and the hope they extend to others is a hope based in God’s own life, however inexplicable and elusive that might appear to us now. It is for this reason that Paul himself can have hope even in the most discouraging of human circumstances. His hope is not in his own or Timothy’s human potential but in God. Therefore it thrives, in particular since Paul had learned what Timothy had not and most of us never do: that the path of those called by God must follow the one who calls and that the gospel proclaimed also provides the pattern of meaning: “if we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2,11) (24).
c. Timothy the Teacher (2,14-4,5)
Polemic in ancient rhetoric was so common that it became stereotyped. The opponents were by definition charlatans who preached but did not practice. They all exemplified the classic threefold categories of vice: they were lovers of pleasure, lovers of money, lovers of glory. Their minds were corrupt. They were ignorant and their teachings destructive (26).
A secondary use of polemic is also well-attested in Hellenistic literature. It is found in the protreptic discourses written to encourage young men to take up the way of philosophy. In such discourses the model of the ideal philosopher (such as Socrates or Diogenes) was presented for imitation. Then the ideals of the philosophic life were spelled out by means of contrast to the qualities of the charlatans. Frequently the negative and positive images were arranged antithetically (27).
It is the second use of polemic we meet in 2 Timothy 2,14 – 4,5. Paul addresses Timothy as a preacher and teacher, as well as one who is to instruct others how to teach (2,2). Timothy is therefore to ‘remind’ them of the attitudes and actions which should be theirs as teachers (2,14), just as Paul has been ‘reminding’ Timothy, and in fact does so here again under the guise of instructions for others. We notice that after his initial statement warning those Timothy is to instruct (2,14), Paul shifts immediately to the singular second person imperative: “present yourself to God” (2,15). In fact, it is Timothy who is the object of Paul’s instructions throughout this section. There is a regular alternation of polemic describing the negative practices Timothy is to avoid (2,14.16f.23; 3,2-9.13; 4,3f), with positive instructions to Timothy, ‘but you do this’ (2,15.22.24; 3,10.14; 4,1f.5). The pattern is interrupted only by short digressions (2,19-21.25f; 3,15f), and is concluded by the final solemn charge to Timothy: “You always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4,5). The function of the polemic in 2 Timothy is not directly to discredit the opponents (Timothy did not need that) but to present the dark shadow of the ideal Timothy himself is to pursue. We do not conclude from this literary arrangement that the opponents were not real, they obviously were. But the literary function warns us to be careful in sorting out what is typical of all charlatans and what is unique to the rivals of Paul and Timothy (28).
The impression of the false teachers given by Paul’s polemic: In the broadest sense, of course, they are simply ‘opponents’ (2,25). Paul places them in a category of derision by calling them ‘charlatans’ (goetai, 3,13). We expect them to be preachers without practice and are not surprised when Paul tells us that they are “holding the form of religion by denying the power of it” (3,5). But because of their appearance they can fool the unwary; they are, therefore, ‘deceivers’ (3,13). Paul has little respect for their ideas or their intelligence. They have “swerved from the truth” (2,18); they are foolish (2,23), “of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith” (3,8). They are ignorant (3,9). They peddle myths (4,4). They not only deceive others, they are themselves deceived (3,13) (28).
In the ancient world it would follow from such corruption of mind that their morals also would be corrupt. Although they pretend to be religious, they are actually godless (2,16) and wicked (3,13), if not also subversive (2,22). The long list of vices in 3,2-4 includes the classic triad: they are lovers of self (vainglory), lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure. Such vice-lists are ordinarily stock and predictable. This one, however, is notable for its focus on misanthropic vices: they are “proud, arrogant, abusive … inhuman, implacable... fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless...”. This concentration suggests that Timothy’s opponents belong to the category of sages who specialized in harshness. Their misanthropy paraded as a hatred of vice and luxury (28f).
This suggestion is given support by their style of teaching. To the stereotype we can perhaps chalk up the charge that they pander to their hearers (4,3), are deceptive (3,13), and teach myths (4,4). All false teachers do that. Neither can we gain much specific information from the charge that their teaching is “empty and profane” (2,16). To call their teaching ‘useless’, likewise, is to state the obvious, for in the realm of Hellenistic moral discourse, to be ‘useless’ was the very essence of false teaching (see James 2,14-16). More helpful is the characterization of their teaching as a “disputing about words” (literally, ‘word chopping’, 2,14), and “controversies [that] breed quarrels”(2,23). Their style matches the harshness of their vices. The opposing teachers are harsh and disputatious (29).
Because the opponents are not really philosophers but religious teachers, their allegiances are defined in terms taken from the symbolic world of Torah. They are working for Satan or at least have been caught in “the snare of the devil” (2,26). They stand in the tradition of the apocryphal Egyptian magicians Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses at the court of Pharaoh (see Exod 7,11). The difference between Moses and those magicians was the source of their power: Moses’ came from God, theirs from technique. Moses therefore liberated the people; the magicians were shamed. Just so, Paul says, the wizardry of these opponents will quickly be made plain to all as foolishness (3,9).
Obvious reason for concern: Even though Paul declares, “they will not get very far” (3,9), the opposition is already enjoying considerable success. Paul says candidly in 2,16 that they are advancing ever more in godlessness, and in 3,13 he remarks again on their progression “from bad to worse”. In Hellenistic moral discourse, vice was often compared to disease, as virtue was to health. The true philosopher was therefore a ‘physician of souls’ who could diagnose vice and provide guidance to virtue. Paul gives Timothy a vivid image both of the opponents teaching and its success when he says “their talk [spreads] like gangrene” (2,17). If they were not enjoying success, in fact, there would be no need to take notice of them or so carefully craft advice to Timothy in contrast to them and their methods. As it is, Paul says that they are “upsetting the faith of some” (2,18). Paul obviously thinks this is by ‘deception’ (3,13), but he recognizes that they are having a real impact on the stability of the community (29f).
The precise target of the opposing teachers (including Hymenaeus and Philetus 2,17) were those Paul calls gynaikaria (‘weak women’) (3,6). Paul is not a misogynist, we have seen already that he praises Lois and Eunice for the role they played in Timothy’s upbringing (1,5; 3,15). He has specific sorts of women in mind. He says that they are “burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (3,6f). He is describing the problems of women of a certain wealth and social position in the ancient world. It is being undereducated and deprived of useful employment which makes one vulnerable in this way (30f).
The only specific thing mentioned about the ‘opponents’ teaching is: they were saying that “the resurrection is past already” (2,18). In Corinth, a ‘realized eschatology’ led to attitudes of enthusiasm. It also led among some to the breakdown of moral standards, and the rejection of social conventions. It also appeared to lead to several forms of sexual expression. Among some it led to promiscuity. If the body had no future, it made sense to treat it indiscriminately (1Cor 6,16). For others, the ‘angelic life’ apparently demanded abstention from sex altogether, leading to the slogan “it is well … not to touch a woman” (1Cor 7,1). Paul rejected altogether the option of sexual promiscuity. The option of celibacy he strongly qualified, allowing it for the sake of the mission, but also insisting that marriage was indissoluble except under the most extraordinary circumstances (1Cor 7,10f) (31f).
Could any of these options have had particular appeal to the leisured women of households who were chronically open to esoteric teachings? Paul’s phrase “driven by various impulses” bears a sexual connotation, and it is easy to see something more than spiritual seduction taking place. But he also lists “burdened with sins”. It would appear that a version of realized eschatology which made celibacy the norm for the Christian life would have a strong attraction for such women. It would offer them two things: freedom from the guilt and desires associated with sexual drives, and also perhaps, freedom from the obligations of the household (32).
One way of picturing the ideal Paul presents to Timothy is simply to reverse everything negative said about opponents. Many of the commands directed at the delegate are negative: he is to ‘avoid’, ‘shun’, ‘not do’ what the opponents do (2,14.22-24; 3,5). There is even a different spatial image for Timothy. While the opponents are said to ‘advance’ and ‘make progress’, Timothy is to ‘stand fast’ and ‘be steady’ (3,14; 4,5). In contrast to their life of vice, Timothy is to ‘pursue’ virtues such as “[justice], faith, love, and peace” (2,22). Rather than be avid for ‘novel desires’, Timothy is to align himself with “those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart” (2,22.19), and “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus” (3,12). In a word, he is to affirm the shared traditions of the community he serves (32f).
Most of all, Timothy is not to define himself or his message in terms of his hearers’ expectations, as would a mere rhetorician or sophist. Those expectations themselves could be volatile and unworthy (4,3f). He is rather to be a servant of God (2,24) and work as one answerable to God. He seeks therefore to be ‘approved’ by God and an unashamed workman (2,15). In contrast to the charlatans who are themselves deceived even as they deceive, he “rightly handles the word of truth”. For the expression, ‘rightly handle’, Paul uses another medical term whose exact meaning is somewhat obscure, but which seems to involve the act of cutting or surgery – a stark image in contrast to the spread of gangrene! For Paul the battle here truly is one for ‘the truth’. It goes far beyond doctrinal niceties. It involves the integrity of the Christian experience and the authentic expression of the gift received from God. It is much more an existential than an abstract truth. It means living in accord with God’s claim on the world (33).
Timothy is answerable to God as judge: In 2,21 he calls the vessel which is cleansed from sinners and holy, “useful to the master”. And his final charge to Timothy is made before “God and... Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom” (4,1). Because he is answerable to God – and is empowered by him – Timothy can “fulfil your ministry” and “do the work of an evangelist” (4,5); he can “preach the word, be urgent, convince, rebuke, exhort” (4,2). Notice that he has not just one way of preaching. He fits the speech to the need: for this person, rebuke; for that one, persuasion. Not their desires but their needs dictate the flexibility in style. And because he is not dependent for his success on the response of the listeners, he can do this faithfully “in season and out of season” (4,2); not circumstances but the truth of God’s word shapes his preaching and teaching. Timothy will not therefore – at least ideally – be swayed by adverse circumstances or the success of the opposition (33f).
The most striking contrast to the false teachers, however, is found in the manner of Timothy’s teaching. In his final charge, Paul reminds him to be “unfailing in patience and in teaching” (4,2). The phrase could equally be translated, “unfailingly patient in your teaching”. The word for patience here is not the ordinary one meaning ‘endurance’, but rather a term which connotes ‘tolerance, long-suffering, magnanimity’. Even in the face of opposition and rejection, Timothy is not to respond in kind, growing crabbed and spiteful. He is not to imitate the bellicose words and hostile attitudes of the opponents. Paul tells him explicitly that: “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2,25). By advocating gentleness in teaching, Paul is faithful to his own manner in his churches. Among the Thessalonians Paul says he was “gentle ... like a nurse” (1Thess 2,7). With the refractory Corinthians Paul claims that he was meek “with the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor 10,1); so much so that the Corinthians took advantage of it. Paul also here aligns Timothy with those moral teachers who regarded vice as best cured not by cautery or surgery but by the gentler arts of persuasion and care. Paul is not interested in winning a war of words. He wants to convert and heal even the harsh opponents (34).
The possibility of change (or repentance) is suggested already by Paul’s image of the great house containing both precious and lowly vessels (2,20f). As in his other use of this metaphor (Rom 9,20-23), things get a bit complex, but the central point is clear enough. Pots don’t change, people can: “If anyone purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work” (2,21). Change is possible. Paul’s first application of this is to Timothy: he is to avoid those who are unworthy and purify himself. But if it works for Timothy it can work as well even for those caught in the devil’s snare (2,26). Timothy’s gentle manner of teaching is intended to change others, not conquer them. If he can demonstrate to them the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor 10,1), they may then have an example of the true servant of God to imitate: “God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil”(2,26). Paul adds a final phrase, “after being captured by him to do his will” God will give them repentance so that they can do his will. And in this context, “doing the will of God” is exactly what “the knowledge of the truth” is all about (34f).
Two sources for his teaching: Paul himself and the Scriptures (3,10-17): The statement concerning the role of the ‘sacred writings’ in Timothy’s own formation (3,14-17) is remarkable. We see first that Timothy is able to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (3,14), precisely because he knows its origin. Here again we encounter the importance of Timothy’s childhood experiences of trust and loyalty. The medium of his instruction was the Scripture. “All Scripture is inspired by God”. Paul is here referring to Torah (no other ‘Scripture’ was available to him) and is making what was in his understanding an inarguable and unremarkable claim. Torah is God’s word. God is Spirit. Therefore, Torah is ‘inspired of God’. For Paul Torah stands as God’s Word and therefore as normative for all of human life. Those who cite this text today make the same claim. But for Paul Torah needed qualification by the new and surprising work of the Spirit in a crucified and raised Messiah. Torah was not a closed norm but one open to new meanings. Saying that texts are inspired by God does not close a discussion but opens it (35f).
The functions Paul assigns to Torah: How can Torah “instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3,15)? If we read only Paul’s Letter to the Galatians we might suppose such a statement to be impossible, for in that place, the choice between Christ and Torah appears to be mutually exclusive. In Paul’s overall understanding, however, Christ and Torah do not oppose each other but illuminate each other. The true ‘end’ of Torah is to reveal the Messiah and God’s way of making humans righteous by the response of faith (see Rom 3,21.31; 10,4). More than that, Torah remains for Paul the indispensable framework for the Christian understanding of life before God. Not even the ‘law of love’ can be grasped without reference to it (Rom 13,8-10: Gal 5,14). So Paul can say of the ascription of righteousness to Abraham in Genesis, “the words ‘it was reckoned to him’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also” (Rom 4,23). Likewise of the stories of the wilderness, “these things... were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1Cor 10,11), and in Rom 15,4: “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope”. Torah therefore has a direct didactic function even for those who live by faith in a crucified Messiah (36f).
Torah therefore is useful (‘profitable’ 3,16) in two ways. First, it provides the Christian teacher and preacher with a source of instruction. Its stories, sayings, and commandments are appropriate to the diverse moments and moods of Christian pedagogy: teaching, reproof, correction. But the second level of usefulness is even more important. The Scripture is not only a storehouse of proof texts. It is a whole world of meaning which can form the Christian teacher himself or herself: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (3,17), just as the vessel once cleansed and sanctified is “ready for any good work” (2,21). As always in this letter, Paul’s concern is not so much for the content of Timothy’s teaching, as his character and aptitude as a teacher.
Another source of information and imitation: Paul himself (3,10-12). Paul reminds Timothy how he had ‘observed’ in Paul three levels of truth. The first was the most external: “my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life”. The second level is that of the interior disposition corresponding to that teaching: “my faith, my love, my steadfastness”. The third level brings us again to the immediate concern Paul has for Timothy in this letter: “my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra, what persecution I endured” (3,11).
The preacher who truly preaches a crucified Messiah and righteousness by faith preaches an affront to the measurement of the world and will suffer persecution (see Gal 6,12-14). The teacher who advances the paradoxical interpretation of Torah based on the cross will have less ‘wisdom’ than scribes and sophists and will appear as foolish in their eyes (see 1 Cor 1,18-25). The servant of God who approaches the opposition with the gentleness and meekness of Christ will also inevitably experience the sufferings of Christ, for such is the way the world treats what it sees as foolishness and weakness (see 2 Cor 10-13) (37).
Two pieces of encouragement: The first is that his suffering will fit the pattern of God’s work in the world, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3,12). Notice the importance of “in Christ Jesus”; not every form of spirituality elicits opposition – the spirit of the crucified Messiah does, for it is an affront to every human pretense of power and self-interest. The world today as then is deeply offended by the proposition that rights are not supreme, that the self is not ultimate, that true life is found by sacrificing one’s life for others. Timothy’s suffering is therefore at least in this sense meaningful. Secondly, Paul can point to his own experience of liberation, “yet from them all the Lord rescued me” (3,11). The one working through Paul and Timothy is more powerful than the forces of evil. God is “able to guard [him] until that Day” (see 1,12f). We can see how central is Paul’s concern for Timothy’s suffering when he closes this section with the instruction not only to fulfill his ministry and do the work of an evangelist, but also to “endure suffering” (4,5) (38).
d. Paul the Model of Suffering (4,6-22)
In his final words, Paul presents himself once more to Timothy as the model of one who suffers for the Lord in hope. The literary fashioning is evident at once from the way Paul joins together the first of his personal statements and his solemn charge to Timothy with the connective ‘for’ (4,6). Timothy is to endure suffering and fulfill his ministry because Paul is now at the point of death. Timothy must carry on the work since Paul will no longer be able to. Timothy is to be faithful to the end in the manner Paul is now showing him (42).
All of Paul’s language in 4,6-8 points to the immediacy of his death. He is ‘already’ being sacrificed and the time of his departure (or ‘release’) is here (4,6). He had used this language of sacrifice also in Philippians, but there it was in the form of a conditional, “if I am spent in sacrifice” (Phil 2,17). Here it is a present reality almost completed. His life follows the trajectory of the Messiah’s as he endures all things “for the sake of the elect” (2 Tim 2,10). Paul also returns to the image of the athlete introduced in 2,5. He had told Timothy that the athlete must compete by the rules if he wishes to be crowned. Now he states confidently, “I have fought a noble fight, I have run the race”. He adds also a final phrase which explicates how he had “played by the rules” of his Christian identity: “I have kept the faith” (4,7). The phrase could in this context equally well be translated, “I have remained loyal”, for this is exactly what Paul has been encouraging Timothy to do. Because Paul has so struggled, he is certain that he will be given the ‘crown of righteousness’. The significant thing is that it is rewarded by the ‘righteous judge’ and therein lies his confidence: Paul has earlier averred, “he cannot deny himself” (2,13). Paul makes sure that Timothy does not miss the point, for he immediately generalizes his expectation. The just judge will give this crown also to “all those who have loved his coming” (4,8). The ‘struggle’ side of the athlete’s example was held before Timothy in 2,5; here the ‘reward’ side is stressed. If Timothy holds on, he too will be rewarded (42f).
A similar paraenetic purpose is served by Paul’s second statement in 4,16-18. He acknowledges that nobody stayed with him in his first defense – they all abandoned him (4,16). Paul, in a word, faces circumstances far more severe than those faced by Timothy. Yet he does not lose courage. Why? “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the message fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it” (4,17). Paul was ‘strengthened’ by the presence of the Lord even though he was abandoned by people, and he was able to “fulfill his ministry” to the Gentiles. The point could hardly be missed by Timothy, who has been repeatedly told that he also had received a spirit of power (1,7), that the Lord was powerful to preserve him (1,12), and that he should ‘grow strong’ in the grace of Christ Jesus (2,1). Once again, Paul holds out the possibility of release. He was “rescued from the lion’s mouth” at the first defense (4,17) as he had been in all his previous sufferings (3,11). And this should give Timothy some encouragement. Paul’s deeper hope, however, is not based in the vagaries of the judicial system: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil [deed] and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen” (4,18) (43f).
For Paul the horizon of hope is not simply this life with its transitory success and failure. In an earlier letter he had mocked such a closed horizon: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied”, and again, “if the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15,19.32). If ‘liberation’ is only within the horizon of human potential, then suffering is meaningless. But, in fact, Paul lives and dies in the sight of one who is a ‘master’ (2,21) and a ‘just judge’ (4,8). He is convinced that the one who died for all will also come “to judge the living and the dead” (4,1). Paul is certain: “on that Day” he will be adequately rewarded for his life and death in the service of Jesus and the elect; not with an athlete’s crown, but with a share in ‘his heavenly kingdom’, a kingdom that absolutely transcends all human capacities and cravings because it is of God. Paul is confident of this because, as he has already told Timothy, “If we have died with him,we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2,11f). For Paul, this “saying is sure” (2,11) (44).
Despite this confident vision of what awaits him at his death, Paul by no means neglects the very human dimensions of his situation. Throughout the letter, as we have seen, he has been urging Timothy to fight this good fight with and for him. Even now, the battle continues against Alexander the coppersmith, “who greatly resists our words” and against whom, therefore, Timothy must ‘guard himself’ (4,15). But Paul also wants Timothy to be with him in his final days. He had earlier reminded Timothy of how Onesiphorus had “not been ashamed of my chains” when he had visited and refreshed Paul in prison (1,15-17). Now, Paul wants Timothy to join him. His need is all the greater since he had either sent off, or been abandoned by, nearly all his co-workers, save Luke. Paul’s overwhelming desire to be joined by Timothy is manifest: “do your best to come to me soon” (4,9); “Bring [Mark] with you” (4,11); “bring … the books, and …parchments” (4,13); “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” (4,19); “Do your best to come before winter” (4,21) (44f).
At the beginning of this letter, Paul laid great emphasis on the network of faith and loyalty which had shaped the character of Timothy. At the end of the letter, he calls for the same loyalty to be shown him. He too needs the support of the one he taught, as he lives out the most painful final lesson of the Christian teacher (45).