1 & 2 Timothy - Lesson 1

By John Harrison

An Introduction to Reading (and applying) Paul's Letters

Teacher's Note:

References/Resources for this lesson: Here are two helpful resources that go into further details about how to interpret and apply Paul's letters in such a way that respects both the historical context of those letters and the contemporary contexts in which we want to apply his teachings.

Introduction: (about 5 minutes)

    1. Welcome members and any visitors. Make any necessary class announcements.

    2. Lead the class in prayer. Include in your prayer the request that God will through this series on 1st and 2nd Timothy open up the class's heart to God's truth, edify their faith and promote the expression of Christian love.
    3. Explain to the class the overall objectives of this lesson.


    By the end of this lesson the learner will be able to:
  1. Identify three crucial things to be observed when interpreting Paul's letters.

  2. Describe the background information for Paul's two letters to Timothy.

  3. List three major themes that appear in 1st and 2nd Timothy.

  4. Explain to the class what they should expect from the overall study of 1st and 2nd Timothy.

    1. They should expect this study presupposes that the Scriptures are profitable for "teaching, reproof, correction, and training" (2 Tim. 3:16), so this will be a study that continually challenges students to reflect on the implications ofPaul's writings to their own life and faith.
    2. There is a great deal that Paul covers in his correspondence with Timothy. It is the intent of this study to focus on those teachings that match the overall lesson objectives.
    3. They should expect that this study will immerse them into the major theme sand most crucial points Paul is trying to convey to Timothy and to the churches where Timothy is ministering.
    4. They should expect that this study will challenge students to read Paul's words to Timothy with a high priority on their meaning in their historical context before applying the lessons to their own lives.
    5. Ask the class if they have any questions about these expectations.

Learning Experiences: (about 30 minutes)

Part 1: Three crucial things to remember when reading Paul's letters:

  1. Paul's letters are "occasional" letters. In other words, they were written with a specific occasion in mind. This is important to keep in mind especially when you come to passages where it is not immediately clear what Paul was trying to say or if something he says in these letters differ from what he writes in other letters. For example, in his earlier letter to the Corinthians Paul discouraged people from marrying if they were able to remain single, but in 1st Timothy Paul urges younger widows to marry. It is not that Paul is being inconsistent on this issue but rather what was going on in the church at the time he wrote 1st Timothy was different so he urged younger widows to marry rather than to expect the church to financially support them. Both 1st Corinthians and 1st Timothy need to be read in light of the occasion of what was going on in the church at the time.

  2. Each verse should be read in view of the entire letter. You may have often heard of people accusing others of "lifting verses out of context". What people generally mean by this is that someone is only focusing in on the words of one or two verses to the point that the overall message of a letter is obscured and verses are interpreted to teach something other than what its author intended. For example,Paul instructs men to "lift holy hands in prayer" (1 Tim. 2:8). If someone were to focus on this command alone and teach that because of this instruction Christian men today should lift their hands when they pray, then they would be ignoring that what Paul is basically concerned with in 1st Timothy is that Christians learn to be have peacefully in their assemblies. Paul is concerned with how men in Ephesus were treating each other, rather than whether or not they were lifting their hands up to pray. Instead of being seen as people who fuss and fight in their assemblies,Paul wants the men in the assembly to have their prayers honoring God, but that is not possible if they are guilty of shaming God by raucous behavior in the assembly.

  3. Remember to ask the "why" question. By asking "Why is Paul saying such and such,"the reader will move closer to identifying the universal principle which undergirds and justifies the specific behavior advocated by Paul. To read Paul's teachings and ignore the rationale for why he urges or condemns a specific action will simply lead the reader to misapply those teachings. For example, Paul clearly writes thatTimothy is to take a little wine for his stomach sake (1st Timothy 5:23). If a reader didn't explore the possible reasons why Paul gave Timothy those instructions, they may be misled to conclude that any Christian today who has stomach problems should drink wine to alleviate their pain. This is not only bad interpretation ofScripture, it could be harmful medically! Note to Teacher: Before moving onto the next section, if time permits you may want to ask the class what other things they believe are important to remember when reading one of Paul's letters.

Part 2: Background information to know about Paul's letters to Timothy:

1. When did Paul write these letters and from where? The background for when Paul wrote these letters is somewhat complicated because nothing in the recorded travels of Paul in Acts corresponds with the itinerary presupposed by these letters. Most scholars are convinced that the details of Paul's movements referred to in 1st and 2nd Timothy cannot be correlated to his movements recorded in Acts. Therefore, the theory is that after Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome, he went on to Spain and then returned east and went to Crete, Ephesus, and Greece before being arrested a second time, taken to Rome and eventually beheaded at the order of Nero sometime around A.D. 67-68. If this theory is true both letters were written somewhere in the mid 60s.In 1st Timothy, Paul indicates that he left Timothy in Ephesus as he travelled on into Macedonia (1:3). It is possible that Paul is still in Macedonia when he writes 1st Timothy. In 2nd Timothy, Paul is in Roman custody and is probably being held in Rome awaiting his trial (1:8, 17; 2:9), which he doesn't believe will result in him being set free (4:6).

2. Who is Paul writing to? Paul is writing to Timothy. This is the same Timothy who joined Paul and Silas on Paul's second missionary trip (Acts 16:1-3). While we don't know a lot of Timothy's personal details, we are told that his mother was Jewish and his father was a Greek.Paul found Timothy to be very competent as his representative, since he often sentTimothy to visit and encourage churches which Paul had established (1 Cor. 16:10; 1 Thes. 3:2). What is important to remember about Timothy as far as reading these two letters is that Timothy is an "apostolic representative." He is not an apostle ofChrist, like Paul, but he exercises Paul's authority over churches in Paul's absence.This is an important distinction to keep in mind because Paul is not simply instructing Timothy to be an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5), let alone what we today would call a "preacher. " Instead, Timothy is authorized by Paul to appoint and reject overseers (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and to even hold a type of trial over those elders who are accused of wrong doing (1 Tim. 5:19-22). This type of authority belongs to the role of the apostle or to someone like Timothy or Titus (Tit. 1:5) whom Paul appoints to carry out his authority over churches.It should also be noted that while these letters are addressed to a specific individual, there are certain aspects of them that indicate that Paul knew these letters would be read out loud to a larger group. Note that Paul concludes both letters with a blessing to a plural "you" (1 Tim 6:1; 2 Tim 4:22).3. Why is Paul writing?This is a crucial question to answer before applying Paul's teachings to ourselves. A concise answer can be given now, but it will be fleshed out in more detailed as we go through the entire study. In 1st Timothy 3:15 there is something of a purpose statement for why Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy. Paul states that he writes"these things," which includes not only the instructions in chapters two and three but also the entire letter, so that Timothy (and the rest of the church in Ephesus) will know how to behave in the "house of God," meaning the assembly of Christians when they come together as Christ's community. It seems that Paul's major concern in 1st Timothy is that false teachers (most likely overseers) have led some Christians(particularly women, slaves and the rich) to believe that Christians are freed from the social conventions of the world and no longer have to respect domestic, political,or social expectations (e.g. socially accepted virtues, marriage, raising children,loyalty to one's master, etc.). Through his first letter to Timothy, Paul will remindChristians that they must live in such a way that their godliness is evident even to outsiders. Paul has two reasons for writing 2nd Timothy. First, he wants to encourage Timothy to carry out his ministry duties with faithfulness and courage despite hardships and opposition (1:6-14). Second, Paul is imprisoned in Rome awaiting a trial and feels abandoned by several co-workers (1:15; 4:10), so he wants Timothy to come join him (4:9). Luke is still with Paul but Paul wants the company of Timothy and Mark,presumably John Mark of Acts 13:13 and 15:37-40. He also wants Timothy to bringPaul's cloak and scrolls to him (4:13).

Part 3: What are the major themes stressed in these letters?

  1. False teaching must be stopped because it results in people deserting the gospel,the faith and pure lives (e.g. 1 Tim 1:4-7; 4:1-3; 6:3-5; 2 Tim 2:14-18; 3:6; 4:3-4).
  2. Christians, especially their leaders, must behave in ways that would be acknowledged as godly even by non-Christians (e.g. 1 Tim 2:8-18; 3:1-15; 4:11-16; 5:1 ? 6;2; 6;11-19; 2 Tim 2:15. 22-26; 4; 2-5).
  3. Because there are people who are deceptive and morally corrupt, the faithful servant of God must endure hardship for the sake of the truth of the gospel (e.g.1 Tim 1: 18-19; 4: 10,16; 6:11-12; 2 Tim 2: 1-7; 11-13; 3:10-11; 4:5).

Assignment: (5 minutes)

Tell the class that next week you will be examining: "What we should teach at church" (1Tim. 1:1-20). Ask the students to come up with a list of "Dos and Don'ts" based on 1st Timothy 1 of things that should and should not be taught as a part of Christian faith. At the beginning of the next lesson you will ask the class what are some of the things that they have on their list.

Lesson Wrap-up: (5 minutes)

Review with the students this lesson by asking them to answer these questions:

  1. What are the three crucial things that we should remember to do when we read one of Paul's letters?
  2. When and why is Paul writing these letters to Timothy?
  3. What are three major themes we will see repeated in these letters?

Back to 1 & 2 Timothy

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.