The greeting is very similar to that of the first letter, and has the same unexpected appearance of formality; but the usual prayer for the recipient which follows has a personal warmth which is sustained throughout this letter. There is a natural tie between the two men even in the piety they have inherited. Paul has the traditions of worship (which here means not only what is done in church or synagogue, but the whole fashioning of a life in the service of God) which came to him from his Jewish forefathers (3) and which are supplemented and perfected, rather than replaced, by his Christian devotion; while Timothy has the example of his mother and grandmother, who may indeed have been converted to Christianity when Timothy was still young, or who may equally have been models of that traditional Jewish piety which Christianity inherited and only partly modified (we know from Acts 16.1 that Timothy's mother was Jewish).
Timothy's faith and piety, then, had for long been habitual to him. In addition, he had received, by the laying on of hands, both a commission and a gift (6) to enable him to perform that commission.But this too, for all its supernatural origin, was something which (as modern experience will endorse) could in due course be taken for granted and lose its potency unless constantly "stirred up" by an effort of the will; and to assist this process of "stirring up" the writer devotes a few words to the Spirit which is imparted with the gift. As is explained, for instance, in Romans 8, the function of the Spirit in human conduct is to provide a new motive, and the kind of behaviour which it inspires is not craven (7) ('slavery' in Romans 8.15) but strength, love, and self-discipline; and this relates the gift to that aspect of the Christian life which really demands such strength: fearless testimony to our Lord (8).
To what does a Christian testify? The main headings of his testimony are set out in terms which can be paralleled in (or may in fact be drawn from) other Pauline writings, (i) The phrase, not for any merit of ours but of his own purpose and his own grace (9), is a basic Pauline proposition; (ii) the long perspective of this salvation, beginning from all eternity and now manifested in a decisive revelation, is familiar from Ephesians and Colossians (though the words used in this translation, now at length brought fully into view (10), must not be taken to exclude a still more complete revelation which is promised for the future); and (iii) 1 Corinthians 15 provides a full commentary on he has broken the power of death. The only word which belongs to a slightly different world of ideas is Saviour. This was soon to become a standard title of Christ, just as it already was of the gods of many contemporary religions and indeed of great benefactors such as the Roman Emperor. But it was never used by Christ of himself, and it is rare in Paul. Its occurrence here (and twice in the Letter to Titus) may be an example of the way in which Christianity, which was at first preached in the exclusive idiom of Palestine, gradually accepted the terminology of a more cosmopolitan society.
The Gospel (11), which Paul has a special charge to proclaim, and which is the cause of his present plight (12), is here described under a new metaphor (which is also hinted at in 1 Timothy 6.20). Both Greek and Roman law defined the conditions under which a sum of money or a valuable object might be placed on deposit with another person: the man who accepted the deposit was obliged to keep it intact and return it on demand. The Gospel is such a "deposit". It has to be "kept safe"—that is, untainted by deviations of doctrine—and held in readiness for the great Day. Thus both Paul and Timothy (and presumably their successors) have the responsibility to keep safe what has been put in their charge,or to guard the treasure (14) (both phrases are the same in the original). Faith in God will enable them to do it.
Nothing further is known about Phygelus and Hermogenes (15). Onesiphorus (16) had evidently shown particular loyalty to Paul during Paul's imprisonment (or one of his imprisonments). It is not clear whether he was still alive. If not, this is the first example of Christian prayer for the dead (for which there is plenty of evidence a century or two later). The prayer (18) itself looks conventional—the clumsy double use of the Lord suggests that the writer is somewhat carelessly adapting a traditional (perhaps Jewish) formula.
The metaphor of the "deposit" is taken up once more. Timothy received the deposit of 'sound teaching' (which he now has to entrust to others) on a solemn occasion, in the presence of many witnesses (2). What was this occasion? Possibly his baptism; but more probably the rite of commissioning or "ordination" which had placed him in a position of special responsibility. The devotion required of him is illustrated by three examples which were doubtless proverbial: the soldier must be completely at his commanding officer's disposal (4), the athlete cannot qualify for a prize (5) unless he has undergone a certain period of intensive training, a farmer (6) can lay first claim to his crop only if he has been working on the land himself.
The theme of the gospel (9), from which the sound teaching flows, can be summed up in a number of ways. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, born of David's line (8), is one way (Romans 1.3-4 contains a similar formulation); another way is to state the consequences of Christ's work for those who
believe in him. Here are words you may trust (11). This phrase usually introduces a quotation; and from the structure of the following verses it seems that we are being given, once again, a fragment of an early hymn which puts together, without much sense of logical connection, a number of familiar Christian ideas. 'If we died with him, we shall live with him' is reminiscent of Paul's exposition of baptism in Romans 6; 'if we endure, we shall reign with him' (12) is similar to Romans 8.17 and reminiscent of Luke 22.28-9. If we deny him, he will deny us recalls a saying of Jesus (Matthew 10.33); but here this seems on the face of it to be contradicted by the last two lines. However there is a difference, more clear in the Greek than can be expressed in English. If we are faithless does not mean, if we renounce our faith, but rather, if we waver in our faith. When this happens to us (as it is bound to) we can be sustained by the thought of the faithfulness of God, who has made us a promise in Christ, and cannot allow it to come to nothing without "denying himself".
Timothy's constancy, devotion and firm hold on sound teaching are now set in a context which makes them specially relevant. In the first letter the heretical thinkers who were causing trouble in the church were characterized by their interest in 'myths and genealogies' and by their tendency to indulge in unnecessary ascetic practices. Here they reappear in much the same guise: Timothy has to resist those who are disputing about mere words (14) and indulging in empty and worldly chatter (16). Two such people are named (one of whom, Hymenaeus, was mentioned in 1 Timothy 1.20) and their error is described: they are saying that our resurrection has already taken place (18). Many people who were accustomed to Greek ways of thinking must have found the Christian picture of the after-life (which the Christians had inherited from the Jews) both strange and naive, and have been tempted to reformulate it in more congenial terms. Paul had to face precisely this difficulty in 1 Corinthians 15. Here, the proposed reinterpretation probably took its start from the experience of baptism. Christians, when they were baptized, "rose" with Christ. This, in orthodox Christian teaching, was no more than a foretaste of that future "resurrection" when Christians would rise in bodily form to sit beside Christ at the Last Judgement. But the heretics perhaps hoped to avoid the apparent naivety of this doctrine by concentrating on the foretaste to the exclusion of the future consummation. They held that what was meant by "resurrection" was simply the new quality of life which flowed from conversion and baptism, and that it was therefore unnecessary to believe in what they felt to be a primitive concept of future "resurrection". For their purpose, it was sufficient to point to the experience they had had already. All that a sophisticated Christian could expect to understand by the word "resurrection" had already taken place.
The writer attacks this view, not by seeking to refute it (as Paul might have done in the earlier letters), but by appealing to the strength and durability of the church which is entrusted with the true tradition. In a metaphor which appears frequently in the New Testament, the church is likened to a building of which God has laid a foundation (19), and of which Christians are the stones. The building is imagined as bearing inscribed upon it the text, 'The Lord knows his own'. This comes from the story of Korah (Numbers 16.5), who was the Old Testament prototype of all apostates; and the words, spoken as a threat by Moses to Korah, were an appropriate warning to any Christian who was tempted to depart from the sound teaching entrusted to the church. A second "inscription" is added (19), this time more freely constructed out of biblical phrases, and expressing a more general warning to those who belong to the building; and the metaphor is then given a new twist. The building is now a great house (20), and the Christians are the various utensils in it. Given their place on the shelves, so to speak, it is up to them (presumably, in this context, by the consistency of their beliefs)to make themselves of use to the Master (21).
A personal word for Timothy: being young, he is subject to wayward impulses (22); but he is also warned, once more, against foolish and ignorant speculations (23)—not, this time, because of the errors of doctrine they lead to, but because of their moral consequences. The kind of discipline he must be prepared to exercise is that appropriate to a servant of the Lord (24): its very gentleness may save others from the devil's snare (26).
As in the previous letter, the appearance of heresy and immorality is seen, not as a passing hazard to the progress of the young church, but as a necessary feature of the final age of this world (1). The sketch of human depravity which follows is written in terms which were probably quite conventional; on the other hand, the subversion of some of the women in the congregation is a detail which may well be drawn from the actual experience of the church. Jannes and Jambres (8) are the names which tradition gave to two of Pharaoh's magicians, who performed miracles identical with those of Moses (Exodus 7.11), but were powerless to avert the fate ultimately coming upon Egypt—their successes were short-lived (9).
The persecutions and sufferings that are mentioned here (11) seem to belong to the earlier period of Paul's work (Acts 13.50; 14.5-6,19). Timothy's home was in the region of Lystra (Acts 16.1), and he might well be expected to remember what Paul suffered there.
From early childhood you have been familiar with the sacred writings (15). The Old Testament was as normative for the early Christians as it was for the Jews. Admittedly, the Christians had a new revelation by which to interpret it, and often drew quite new inferences from it. But the New Testament itself provides clear evidence that they regarded the Old Testament as uniquely inspired and made use of it for the teaching of both morals and doctrine.
All these injunctions are now summed up with a fresh note of urgency. I charge you solemnly by his coming appearance and his reign (1). As so often in early Christian moral teaching, belief in the imminent end of the world is a powerful stimulus. The period immediately preceding the end is to be marked by an upsurge of evil and apostasy (see above on 1 Timothy 4.1-2); and when this writer says, the time will come (3), he is evidently not brooding on a distant future, but is pointing to the premonitory signs already manifest in the present. Those who stop their ears to the truth and turn to mythology (4) do not merely represent a danger which has to be resisted: they are themselves a signal that the crisis is near. Therefore Christians must keep calm and sane at all times (5).
The letter suddenly becomes very personal—so personal that, if Paul is not the author of the whole letter, it is often felt that these verses at least must be a genuine fragment of his correspondence, worked in here by a later writer. The metaphor, being poured out on the altar (6), occurs also in Philippians 2.17; while the athletic comparison, which is common both in Paul and in other contemporary writers, bears a rather unusual emphasis, not so much on the contest itself as on the reward at the end of it, here called the garland of righteousness (8): the victor's garland is the symbol that Christians, both as a result of their own prowess, and also (and still more) owing to the gracious act of God in Christ, will be counted "righteous"—a destiny (it must be quickly added) by no means reserved for Paul alone, but promised to all who confess Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and have set their hearts on his coming appearance.
The main part of the letter has consisted of advice and instructions to Timothy in Ephesus, and seems to presuppose that he is permanently established there. Nevertheless, Paul is now anxious for a visit from him. Do your best to join me soon (9). The reason is that Paul has only one companion left; the rest, for one reason or another, have dispersed. It is just possible to fit all these movements into the period of Paul's first (and only recorded) imprisonment in Rome. Demas, Luke, Mark, and Tychicus (10, 11) were all with Paul when he wrote Colossians (also from prison), and all but one of them could by now have left. Crescens is otherwise unknown;Titus had not been heard of for some time, unless his presence in Dalmatia is to be connected with a projected visit of Paul's to Nicopolis, mentioned in Titus 3.12. The only real difficulty is Paul's stay at Troas. He can hardly be referring to the occasion when he was there waiting for news from Corinth, several years before his imprisonment in Rome (2 Corinthians 2.12); and none of his recorded journeys subsequently took him to Troas. The easiest explanation would certainly be that Paul made a journey back to Asia after being released from prison, in the course of which he could have visited both Troas and Miletus.
Alexander the copper-smith (14) may be the same Alexander as was mentioned in 1 Timothy 1.20 (where he was already punished with excommunication). The scriptural phrase (2 Samuel 3.39; Psalm 28.4), Retribution will fall upon him from the Lord, is sufficient condemnation, but clearly the man is still influential, and Timothy has to be warned against him.
Exactly what stage in the proceedings is indicated by the first hearing of my case (16) would be uncertain even if we could be sure that these were genuine words of Paul. It seems unlikely (in view of the closing scenes in Acts) that Paul was left so much in the lurch during his first trial in Rome; therefore (on the traditional view) the trial in question must be a second one which, unlike the first, ultimately led to Paul being put to death. Such a trial (according to Roman practice) could well have begun with a preliminary hearing before a magistrate. If this were not decisive (as would appear to have been the case here) the hearing would be adjourned for a fuller trial; and Paul looked forward to this more public occasion as an opportunity for making the full proclamation of the Gospel for the whole pagan world to hear (17)—in Philippians 1.12-18 he expresses very much the same idea. Meanwhile, the immediate danger had passed—Paul was rescued out of the lion's jaws. And the Lord will rescue me (18): nothing that men could do to him could in any case prevent him from entering into the heavenly reign of Christ.
Prisca and Aquila: see above on Romans 16.3. (19)
Onesiphorus: already mentioned at 1.16 above.
Erastus: possibly the same as in Romans 16.23. (20)
Trophimus: an Ephesian, according to Acts 20.4; 21.29.
Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia (21) are not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, though there is an early tradition that the second bishop of Rome, after Peter, was named Linus.