Who was Timothy?
Timothy was one of the best known of Paul's companions and fellow-laborers. He was evidently one of Paul's own converts, as the apostle describes him as his beloved and faithful son in the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17); and in 1 Timothy 1:2 he writes to "Timothy my true child in faith"; and in 2 Timothy 1:2 he addresses him as "Timothy my beloved child." He was a resident, and apparently a native, either of Lystra or Derbe, cities which were visited and evangelized by Paul on his 1st missionary journey (Acts 14:6).
It is probable that of these two cities, it was Lystra treat was Timothy's native place. For instance, in Acts 20:4 in a list of Paul's friends there are the names of "Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy"; this evidently infers that Timothy was not "of Derbe." And in Acts 16:3, the brethren who gave Paul the good report of Timothy were "at Lystra and Iconium"; the brethren from Derbe are not mentioned. Lystra was evidently Timothy's native city.
Converted at Lystra
In 2 Timothy 3:10,11 Paul mentions that Timothy had fully known the persecutions and afflictions which came to him at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra. These persecutions occurred during the apostle's first visit to these towns; and Timothy seems to have been one of those who were converted at that time, as we find that on Paul's next visit to Lystra and Derbe, Timothy was already one of the Christians there: "He came also to Derbe and to Lystra: and behold a certain disciple was there, named Timothy" (Acts 16:1). Timothy was now chosen by Paul to be one of his companions. This was at an early period in Paul's apostolic career, and it is pleasing to find that to the end of the apostle's life Timothy was faithful to him.
His Father and MotherTimothy's father was a heathen Greek (Hellen, not Hellenistes, a Greek-speaking Jew); this fact is twice mentioned (Acts 16:1,3). His mother was a Jewess, but he had not been circumcised in infancy, probably owing to objections made by his father. Timothy's mother was called Eunice, and his grandmother Lois. Paul mentions them by name in 2 Timothy 1:5; he there speaks of the unfeigned faith which was in Timothy, and which dwelt at the first in Eunice and Lois. It is evident that Eunice was converted to Christ on Paul's 1st missionary journey to Derbe and Lystra, because, when he next visited these cities, she is spoken of as "a Jewess who believed" (Acts 16:1).
Becomes a Co-Worker with PaulOn this 2nd visit to Derbe and Lystra, Paul was strongly attracted to Timothy, and seeing his unfeigned faith, and that from a child he had known the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:15), and seeing also his Christian character and deportment, and his entire suitability for the work of the ministry, he would have him "to go forth with him" (Acts 16:3). Timothy acquiesced in Paul's desire, and as preliminaries to his work as a Christian missionary, both to Jew and Gentile, two things were done. In order to conciliate the Jewish Christians, who would otherwise have caused trouble, which would have weakened Timothy's position and his work as a preacher of the gospel, Paul took Timothy and circumcised him.
CircumcisedPaul was willing to agree to this being done, on account of the fact that Timothy's mother was a Jewess. It was therefore quite a different case from that of Titus, where Paul refused to allow circumcision to be performed (Acts 15:2)--Titus being, unlike Timothy, a Gentile by birth. The other act which was performed for Timothy's benefit, before he set out with Paul, was that he was ordained by the presbytery or local council of presbyters in Derbe and Lystra.
Showing the importance which Paul assigned to this act of ordination, he refers to it in a letter to Timothy written many years afterward: "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery" (1 Timothy 4:14). In this ordination Paul himself took part, for he writes, "I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6). "2 Timothy 1:6 should be viewed in the light of 1 Timothy 4:14.
Probably it was prophetic voices (through prophecy; compare 1 Timothy 1:18, `according to the prophecies which went before in regard to thee') which suggested the choice of Timothy as assistant of Paul and Silvanus, and his consecration to this work with prayer and the laying on of hands (compare Acts 13:2 f). The laying on of hands by the presbyters (1 Timothy 4:14), and that by Paul (2 Timothy 1:6), are not mutually exclusive, especially since the former is mentioned merely as an accompanying circumstance of his endowment with special grace, the latter as the efficient cause of this endowment. The churches in the neighborhood of Timothy's home, according to Acts 14:23, had been furnished with a body of presbyters soon after their founding" (Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, II, 23).
Thus, prepared for the work, Timothy went forth with Paul on the apostle's 2nd missionary journey. We find Timothy with him at Berea (Acts 17:14), having evidently accompanied him to all places visited by him up to that point, namely, Phrygia, the region of Galatia, Mysia, Troas, Neapoils, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica and Berea. Paul next went--and went alone, on account of the persecution at Berea--to Athens (Acts 17:15); and from that city he sent a message to Silas and Timothy at Berea, that they should come to him at Athens with all speed.
They quickly came to him there, and were immediately sent on an errand to the church in Thessalonica; "When we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone; and sent Timothy, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: that no man should be moved by these afflictions" (1 Thessalonians 3:1,2,3 the King James Version). Timothy and Silas discharged this duty and returned to the apostle, bringing him tidings of the faith of the Christians in Thessalonica, of their love and of their kind remembrance of Paul, and of their ardent desire to see him; and Paul was comforted (1 Thessalonians 3:5,6,7).
Paul had left Athens before Silas and Timothy were able to rejoin him. He had proceeded to Corinth, and it was while the apostle was in that city, that "when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was constrained by the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 18:5). Timothy evidently remained with Paul during the year and six months of his residence in Corinth, and also throughout this missionary journey to its end. From Corinth Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans, and he sent them a salutation from Timothy, "Timothy my fellow-worker saluteth you" (Romans 16:21).
On Paul's 3rd missionary journey, Timothy again accompanied him, though he is not mentioned until Ephesus was reached. This journey involved much traveling, much work and much time. At Ephesus alone more than two years were spent. And when Paul's residence there was drawing to a close, he laid his plans to go to Jerusalem, after passing en route through Macedonia and Achaia. Accordingly he sent on before him "into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timothy and Erastus" (Acts 19:22).Later Career
To Corinth Again: From Ephesus Paul wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:8), and in it he mentioned (1 Corinthians 16:10) that Timothy was then traveling to Corinth, apparently a prolongation of the journey into Macedonia. After commending him to a kind reception from the Corinthians, Paul proceeded to say that Timothy was to return to him from Corinth; that is, Timothy was to bring with him a report on the state of matters in the Corinthian church.
In Greece: Soon thereafter the riot in Ephesus occurred; and when it was over, Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia and Greece. In Macedonia he was rejoined by Timothy, whose name is associated with his own, in the opening salutation of the Second Epistle, which he now wrote to Corinth. Timothy accompanied him into Greece, where they abode three months.
In Jerusalem: From Greece the apostle once more set his face toward Jerusalem, Timothy and others accompanying him (Acts 20:4). "We that were of Paul's company" (Acts 21:8 the King James Version), as Luke terms the friends who now traveled with Paul--and Timothy was one of them--touched at Troas and a number of other places, and eventually reached Jerusalem, where Paul was apprehended. This of course terminated, for the time, his apostolic journeys, but not the cooperation of his friends, or of Timothy among them.
In Rome: The details of the manner in which Timothy was now employed are not recorded, until he is found once more with Paul--during his 1st imprisonment in Rome. But, from that point onward, there are many notices of how he was occupied in the apostle's service. He is mentioned in three of the Epistles written by Paul at this time, namely, in Colossians 1:1, and Philemon 1:1, in both of which his designation is "Timothy our brother," and in Philippians 1:1, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus." In Philippians 2:19, there is the interesting notice that, at a time when Paul's hope was that he would soon be liberated from his imprisonment, he trusted that he would be able to send Timothy to visit the church at Philippi:
To Visit Philippi: "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will care truly for your state. .... But ye know the proof of him, that, as a child serveth a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send forthwith."
Appointed to Ephesus: Paul's hope was realized: he was set free; and once again Timothy was his companion in travel. Perhaps it was in Philippi that they rejoined each other, for not only had Paul expressed his intention of sending Timothy there, but he had also said that he hoped himself to visit the Philippian church (Philippians 1:26; 2:24). From this point onward it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to trace the course of Paul's journeys, but he tells us that he had left Timothy as his delegate or representative in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3); and soon thereafter he wrote the First Epistle to Timothy, in which he gave full instructions in regard to the manner in which he should conduct the affairs of the Ephesian church, until Paul himself should again revisit Ephesus: "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly" (1 Timothy 3:14).
His Position in Ephesus: "The position which Timothy occupied in Ephesus, as it is described in 1 Timothy, cannot without doing the greatest violence to history be called that of a bishop, for the office of bishop existed only where the one bishop, superior to the presbytery, represented the highest expression of the common church life. The office was for life, and confined to the local church. This was particularly the case in Asia Minor, where, although as early as the time of Revelation and the time of Ignatius, bishoprics were numerous and closely adjacent, the office always retained its local character. On the other hand, Timothy's position at the head of the churches of Asia was due to the position which he occupied as Paul's helper in missionary work. It was his part in the apostolic calling, as this calling involved the oversight of existing churches. Timothy was acting as a temporary representative of Paul in his apostolic capacity at Ephesus, as he had done earlier in Corinth, and in Thessalonica and Philippi (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Philippians 2:19-23). His relation was not closer to one church than to the other churches of the province; its rise and disappearance did not affect at all the organization of the local congregations" (Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, II, 34).
Paul Summons Him to Rome: From the Second Epistle still further detail can be gathered. Paul was a second time imprisoned, and feeling that on this occasion his trial would be followed by an adverse judgment and by death, he wrote from Rome to Timothy at Ephesus, affectionately requesting him to come to him: "Give diligence to come shortly unto me" (2 Timothy 4:9). The fact that at that time, when no Christian friend was with Paul except Luke (2 Timothy 4:11), it was to Timothy he turned for sympathy and aid, closing with the request that his own son in the faith should come to him, to be with him in his last hours, shows how true and tender was the affection which bound them together. Whether Timothy was able to reach Rome, so as to be with Paul before his execution, is unknown.
Mention in Hebrews 13: One other notice of him occurs in Hebrews 13:23: "Know ye that our brother Timothy hath been set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you." As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is not Paul, it is problematical what the meaning of these words really is, except that Timothy had been imprisoned and--unlike what took place in Paul's case--he had escaped death trod had been set free.
His Character: Nothing further is known of him. Of all Paul's friends, with the exception, perhaps, of Luke, Paul's beloved friend, Timothy was regarded by him with the tenderest affection; he was his dearly loved son, faithful and true. Various defects have been alleged to exist in Timothy's character. These defects are inferred from the directions and instructions addressed to him by Paul in the Pastoral Epistles, buy these inferences may be wrong, and it is a mistake to exaggerate them in view of his unbroken and unswerving loyalty and of the long and faithful service rendered by him to Paul, "as a child serveth a father" (Philippians 2:22).
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The following article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain. John Rutherford International Standard Bible Encyclopedia