First Epistle to Timothy

The First Epistle to Timothy[a] is one of three letters in the New Testament of the Bible often grouped together as the pastoral epistles, along with Second Timothy and Titus. The letter, traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul, consists mainly of counsels to his younger colleague and delegate Timothy regarding his ministry in Ephesus (1:3). These counsels include instructions on the organization of the Church and the responsibilities resting on certain groups of leaders therein as well as exhortations to faithfulness in maintaining the truth amid surrounding errors.

Most modern scholars consider the pastoral epistles to have been written after Paul's death, although "a small and declining number of scholars still argue for Pauline authorship".[3]



The authorship of First Timothy was traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul, although in pre-Nicene Christianity this attribution was open to dispute.[4] He is named as the author of the letter in the text (1:1). Nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship questioned the authenticity of the letter, with many scholars suggesting that First Timothy, along with Second Timothy and Titus, are not the work of Paul, but of an unidentified Christian writing some time in the late-first to mid-second centuries.[5] Most scholars now affirm this view.[6][7]

As evidence for this perspective, they put forward that the pastoral epistles contain 306 words that Paul does not use in his unquestioned letters, that their style of writing is different from that of his unquestioned letters, that they reflect conditions and a church organization not current in Paul's day, and that they do not appear in early lists of his canonical works.[8] Modern scholars who support Pauline authorship nevertheless stress their importance regarding the question of authenticity: I. H. Marshall and P. H. Towner wrote that "the key witness is Polycarp, where there is a high probability that 1 and 2 Tim were known to him".[9] Similarly M. W. Holmes argued that it is "virtually certain or highly probable" that Polycarp used 1 and 2 Timothy.[10] Scholars Robert Grant, I. Howard Marshall, and Hans von Campenhausen believe that Polycarp was the actual author of First Timothy, which would date its composition to c. 140.[4]

Marcion, an orthodox bishop later excommunicated for heresy, formed an early canon of scripture c. 140 around the Gospel of Luke and ten of the canonical Pauline epistles excluding 1–2 Timothy and Titus. The reasons for these exclusions are unknown, and so speculation abounds, including the hypotheses that they were not written until after Marcion's time, or that he knew of them, but regarded them as inauthentic. Proponents of Pauline authorship argue that he had theological grounds for rejecting the pastorals, namely their teaching about the goodness of creation (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1 ff.).[11] The question remains whether Marcion knew these three letters and rejected them as Tertullian says, since in 1 Timothy 6:20 "false opposing arguments" are referred to, with the word for "opposing arguments" being "antithesis", the name of Marcion's work, and so a subtle hint of Marcion's heresy. However, the structure of the Church presupposed is less developed than the one Ignatius of Antioch (who wrote c. 110) presupposes, as well as the fact that not only is "antithesis" itself a Greek word which simply means "opposing arguments" but as it has been noted, the attack on the heretics is not central to the three letters.[12]

Late in the 2nd century there are a number of quotations from all three pastoral epistles in Irenaeus' work Against Heresies.[13] Irenaeus also makes explicit mention of Timothy in his book and ascribes it as being written by Paul[14] The Muratorian Canon (c. 170–180) lists the books of the New Testament and ascribes all three pastoral epistles to Paul.[15] Eusebius (c. 330) calls it, along with the other thirteen canonical Pauline epistles, "undisputed".[16] Exceptions to this positive witness include Tatian,[17] as well as the gnostic Basilides.[18] Possible earlier allusions are found in the letters from Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (c. 95), Ignatius to the Ephesians (c. 110) and Polycarp to the Philippians (c. 130),[10][19] although it is difficult to determine the nature of any such literary relationships.



Modern scholars generally place its composition some time in the late 1st century or first half of the 2nd century AD, with a wide margin of uncertainty. The term Gnosis ("knowledge") itself occurs in 1 Timothy 6:20. If the parallels between 1 Timothy and Polycarp's epistle are understood as a literary dependence by the latter on the former, as is generally accepted,[19] this would constitute a terminus ante quem (cut-off date) of 130–155 AD. Likewise, there are a series of verbal agreements between Ignatius and 1 Timothy which cluster around a 14 verse section in 1 Timothy 1.[b] If these parallels between Ignatius and 1 Timothy represent a literary dependence by Ignatius, this would move the date of 1 Timothy even earlier. However, Irenaeus (writing c. 180 AD) is the earliest author to clearly and unequivocally describe the letter to Timothy and attribute it to Paul.[20]

The earliest known writing of 1 Timothy has been found on Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5259, designated P133, in 2017. It comes from a leaf of a codex which is dated to the 3rd century.[21]





The epistle opens by stating that it was written by Paul, to Timothy. Paul reminds Timothy that he has asked Timothy to stay in Ephesus and prevent false teaching of the law by others. Paul says that law is to be applied to sinners like rebels, murderers, and the sexually immoral.[22] The list of lawbreakers includes the Greek word ἀρσενοκοίτης, which is sometimes translated to mean "homosexual men"[23] although there is some debate on the topic.

The epistle details the roles of men and women in its second chapter, particularly the verse 1 Timothy 2:12. In the NIV translation this verse reads:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.[24]

The epistle justifies this by saying that Adam was formed before Eve, and that Eve was tricked by the serpent.[25]

Leaders of the church are to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of respect, avoiding overindulgence in wine and managing their affairs well.[26] Timothy is advised to avoid false teachings and focus on the truth.[27]

The author discusses a list of widows to be supported by the church, setting restrictions on the types of women to help: only old widows who never remarry and who prioritize their family are to receive help. Widows younger than sixty have sensual desires that may cause them to remarry.[28]

Slaves should respect their masters, especially if their masters are believers.[29] People should avoid envy and avoid the temptation to focus on becoming rich because "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."[30]

In closing, Timothy is told he should continue to "fight the good fight of the faith" by helping others to be virtuous and by running his church well.[31]


Extract from 1 Timothy 3:16 in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus: "Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated..."
  1. Salutation (1:1–2)
  2. Negative Instructions: Stop the False Teachers (1:3–20)
    1. Warning against False Teachers (1:3–11)
      1. The Charge to Timothy Stated (1:3)
      2. Their Wrong Use of the Law (1:4–7)
      3. The Right Use of the Law (1:8–11)
    2. Paul's Experience of Grace (1:12–17)
    3. The Charge to Timothy Repeated (1:18–20)
  3. Positive Instructions: Repair the Church (2:1–6:10)
    1. Restoring the Conduct of the Church (2:1–3:16)
      1. Instructions on Public Worship (2:1–15)
        1. Concerning Prayer (2:1–7)
        2. Concerning the Role of Men and Women (2:8–15)
          1. Men: Pray in a Holy Manner (2:8)
          2. Women: Quiet Conduct (2:9–15)
      2. Instructions on Church Leadership (3:1–13)
        1. Qualifications of Overseers (Elders) (3:1–7)
        2. Qualifications of Deacons (3:8–13)
      3. Summary (3:14–16)
        1. Conduct of the Church (3:14–15)
        2. Hymn to Christ (3:16)
    2. Guarding the Truth in the Church (4:1–16)
      1. In the Face of Apostasy (4:1–5)
      2. Timothy's Personal Responsibilities (4:6–16)
      3. Spiritual Exercises (4:7–9)
    3. Dealing with Groups in the Church (5:1–6:10)
      1. Men and Women, Young and Old (5:1–2)
      2. Widows (5:3–16)
        1. Older Widows (5:3–10)
        2. Younger Widows (5:11–16)
      3. Elders (5:17–25)
        1. The Reward of Elders (5:17–18)
        2. The Reputation of Elders (5:19–20)
          1. The Reputation of Elders Protected (5:19)
          2. The Sins of Elders Publicly Rebuked (5:20)
        3. The Recognition of Prospective Elders (5:21–25)
      4. Slaves (6:1–2)
      5. False Teachers (6:3–10)
  4. Personal Instructions: Pursue Godliness (6:11–21)
    1. Fight the Good Fight (6:11–16)
    2. A Final Word to the Wealthy (6:17–19)
    3. Guard What has been Entrusted (6:20–21)



Several composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, set a line from the epistle as a Christmas cantata, including Stölzel's Kündlich groß ist das gottselige Geheimnis beginning with 1 Timothy 3:16.

See also



  1. ^ The book is sometimes called the First Letter of Paul to Timothy, or simply 1 Timothy.[1] It is most commonly abbreviated as "1 Tim."[2]
  2. ^ Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians chapter 11, shares the phrase "Jesus, who is our hope" with 1 Timothy 1:1. Ignatius' Letter to Polycarp chapter 3 shares the phrase "teach strange doctrines" with 1 Timothy 1:3 as a description of theological opponents. Ignatius' Letter to the Ephesians chapter 14 has the phrase "faith and love toward Christ Jesus," which parallels "faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" from 1 Timothy 1:14. This same passage of Ignatius goes on to say "the end is love," which parallels 1 Timothy 1:5, "The end of our instruction is love."


  1. ^ ESV Pew Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 2018. p. 991. ISBN 978-1-4335-6343-0. Archived from the original on 3 June 2021.
  2. ^ "Bible Book Abbreviations". Logos Bible Software. Archived from the original on 21 April 2022. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  3. ^ Drury, C., 73. The Pastoral Epistles, in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), [The Oxford Bible Commentary], p. 1220
  4. ^ a b Grant, Robert M. (1963). "Chapter 14: The Non-Pauline Epistles". A Historical Introduction to the New Testament. Harper and Row. The Pastorals have certainly been regarded as Paul's since the latter half of the second century, for they were so used by Theophilus of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons and are to be found in the Muratorian list. Before that time they were open to criticism.
  5. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2003). The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Oxford University Press. p. 393. ISBN 0-19-515462-2. [W]hen we come to the Pastoral epistles, there is greater scholarly unanimity. These three letters are widely regarded by scholars as non-Pauline.
  6. ^ Collins, Raymond F. (2004). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-664-22247-1. By the end of the twentieth century New Testament scholarship was virtually unanimous in affirming that the Pastoral Epistles were written some time after Paul's death. [...] As always some scholars dissent from the consensus view.
  7. ^ Aune, David E., ed. (2010). The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 9. While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphal, i.e., written by unknown authors under Paul's name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus).
  8. ^ Harris, Stephen L. (2002). The New Testament: A Student's Introduction (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. p. 366. In the opinion of most scholars, the case against Paul's connection with the pastorals is overwhelming. Besides the fact that they do not appear in early lists of Paul's canonical works, the pastorals seem to reflect conditions that prevailed long after Paul's day, perhaps as late as the first half of the second century C.E. Lacking Paul's characteristic ideas about faith and the Spirit, they are also un-Pauline in their flat style and different vocabulary (containing 306 words not found in Paul's unquestioned letters). Furthermore, the pastorals assume a church organization far more developed than that current in the apostle's time.
  9. ^ Marshall, I. H.; Towner, P. H. (1999). The Pastoral Epistles. T&T Clark. p. 3. ISBN 0-567-08661-5.
  10. ^ a b Holmes, MW, "Polycarp's 'Letter to the Philippians' and the Writings that later formed the NT", in Gregory & Tuckett (2005), The Reception of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers OUP, p. 226 ISBN 978-0-19-926782-8
  11. ^ Stott, John (1996). The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus. Leicester: IVP. p. 23.
  12. ^ Marxsen, W. (1968). Introduction to the New Testament. ET. p. 207. Can we find, nevertheless, in the light of the contents of the letters, a common key to the understanding of all three? One common factor is to be found in the attack upon heretics, but this does not really stand in the forefront of any of the letters. I Tim. and Tit. are concerned rather with codified 'rules' or 'rules' required to be codified, for the ministry among other things. 2 Tim. also deals with the ministry, not in the sense of laying down rules, but rather that Timothy in fulfilling his ministry should follow the example of Paul.
  13. ^ "Philip Schaff: ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus - Christian Classics Ethereal Library".
  14. ^ "Philip Schaff: ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus - Christian Classics Ethereal Library".
  15. ^ "Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Caius/Fragments of Caius/Canon Muratorianus - Wikisource, the free online library".
  16. ^ Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5
  17. ^ Moffatt, James (1911). An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament. p. 420.
  18. ^ Knight, George William, (1992).
  19. ^ a b Berding, K. (1999). "Polycarp of Smyrna's View of the Authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy". Vigiliae Christianae. 53 (4): 349–60. doi:10.2307/1584486. JSTOR 1584486.
  20. ^ "Philip Schaff: ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus - Christian Classics Ethereal Library".
  21. ^ "5259. 1 Timothy 3:13–4:8" (PDF). 5259. 1 Timothy 3:13–4:8.
  22. ^ 1 Timothy 1
  23. ^ Magnuson, Ken (2020). Invitation to Christian Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues. Kregel Publications. p. 243. ISBN 9780825434457. OCLC 1202739047.
  24. ^ 1 Timothy 2:12
  25. ^ 1 Timothy 2:13–14
  26. ^ 1 Timothy 3
  27. ^ 1 Timothy 4
  28. ^ 1 Timothy 5
  29. ^ 1 Timothy 6:1–2
  30. ^ 1 Timothy 6:10
  31. ^ 1 Timothy 6:11–20
First Epistle to Timothy
Preceded by New Testament
Books of the Bible
Succeeded by