Pastoral Letters to Timothy and Titus
It is impossible to present Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, the so-called Pastoral letters, without dealing first with their authenticity. For over a century, many specialists have deemed it proven that they were not Paul’s but that they were written after the death of the apostles Peter and Paul, under the cover of their authority, to deal with the problems of a new generation of Christians.
However, all the hypotheses attributing these letters to a disciple of Paul writing long after him also raise serious objections. We will more readily accept their authenticity if we notice that they contain many medical terms which lead us to discern the collaboration of Luke, the physician (Col 4:14). Luke was with Paul when he wrote the second letter to Timothy (4:11). On the other hand, these letters are not only meant for Paul’s assistants. They could be a type of circular letter that Paul wrote upon their request in order to help them to structure and to discipline the communities.
These three letters are addressed to pastors of souls, more precisely to two close collaborators of Paul and this is why, as a whole, they are called Pastoral Epistles. Like Paul, his delegates Timothy and Titus were like itinerant ministers. Although they did not enjoy the title of apostles (they were more like evangelists: 2 Tim 4:5; Acts 21:8 and Eph 4:11), they had authority over the local churches and they were particularly interested in the guidelines concerning the choice and responsibilities of their ministers or pastors.
So the organization of the Church is based on two types of ministries. The first, with Timothy and Titus as examples, extends the mission of the apostles and it enjoys apostolic authority. The others remain involved with the community that presented them to exercise their responsibilities (see Acts 6:1-5 and 1 Tim 5:22). Whether they are called episcopes (overseers), presbyters (elders) or deacons (in charge of serving), these ministers who perform a special role for the proclamation of the Word and the Eucharist, continue to belong to their families and the community.
We will have to strive to understand this complementarity, considering the evolution of the Latin Church. Within a few centuries, it unified these very different ministries within the framework of a hierarchized clergy. See the commentaries on Numbers 4:1 and Hebrews 9:1 on this topic.
The choice of the people responsible for the churches was not the only objective of these letters. They provide guidelines for the life of Christian communities as they no longer expect an imminent return of Christ and they have to learn how to persevere. They also insist on fidelity to the tradition of the apostles. For the Greeks, the Christian message was just as difficult to accept, as it was for the Jews, and even people of good will heard the message (and distorted it), just as we do, through their own way of thinking. Some wanted to do better than the apostles, to choose what fit or did not fit the perspectives of their own culture. In the end, some people were taking the liberty of teaching their own doctrine. People are quick to replace the imitation of Christ by eloquent speeches!
Therefore, the successors of the apostles had to defend the doctrine—this term comes up more than once—that they had received and Paul reminds them that the cult of the Word of God goes hand in hand with the fidelity to the message received from the apostles.
1From Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus by a command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 2to Timothy, my true son in the faith.
May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy and peace.
•3When I left for Macedonia I urged you to remain in Ephesus to warn certain persons not to teach false doctrine 4or to concern themselves with fables and endless genealogies. These give rise to discussions rather than promoting a better service of God through faith. 5The aim of our warning is love which comes from a pure mind, a good conscience and sincere faith.
6Some have turned away from such a motivation and have strayed into useless discussions. 7They claim to be teachers of the Law when, in fact, they understand neither what they say nor the things they speak about.
8We know that the Law is good, as long as it serves its purpose. 9The Law is not for the righteous, but for the lawless and for the wicked and sinful, for those who do not respect God and religion, for those who kill their parents, for murderers, 10for those who indulge in unlawful sex and homosexuality, for kidnappers and exploiters, for liars and perjurers and for all that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11to the Gospel of the God of glory and happiness, which was entrusted to me.
12I give thanks to Christ Jesus, our Lord, who is my strength, who has considered me trustworthy and appointed me to his service, 13although I had been a blasphemer, a persecutor and a rabid enemy. However he took mercy on me because I did not know what I was doing when I opposed the faith; 14and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, together with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15This saying is true and worthy of belief: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. 16Because of that I was forgiven; Christ Jesus wanted to display his utmost patience so that I might be an example for all who are to believe and obtain eternal life. 17To the King of ages, the only God who lives beyond every perishable and visible creation—to him be honor and glory forever. Amen!
18Timothy, my son, I command you to fight the good fight, fulfilling the prophetic words pronounced over you. 19Hold onto faith and a good conscience, unlike those who, ignoring conscience, have finally wrecked their faith. 20Among them are Hymeneus and Alexander whom I have delivered to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
•1First of all I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone, 2for rulers of states and all in authority, that we may enjoy a quiet and peaceful life in godliness and respect. 3This is good and pleases God. 4For he wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. 5As there is one God, there is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6who gave his life for the redemption of all. This is the testimony, given in its proper time, 7and of this, God has made me apostle and herald. I am not lying, I am telling the truth: He made me teacher of the nations regarding faith and truth.
8I want the men in every place to lift pure hands in prayer to heaven without anger and dissension.
9Let women dress with simplicity and modesty, not adorned with fancy hairstyles, gold, jewels and expensive clothes, 10but with good works, as is fitting for women serving God. 11Let a woman quietly receive instruction and be submissive. 12I allow no woman to teach or to have authority over men. Let them be quiet. 13For Adam was created first and then Eve. 14Adam was not deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and fell into sin. 15But she will be saved through motherhood, provided that her life be orderly and holy, in faith and love.
Regarding overseers and deacons
•1If someone aspires to the overseer’s ministry, he is without a doubt looking for a noble task. 2It is necessary that the overseer (or bishop) be beyond reproach, the husband of one wife, responsible, judicious, of good manners, hospitable and skillful in teaching. 3He must not be addicted to wine or quarrelsome, but gentle and peaceful, and not a lover of money, 4but a man whose household is well-managed, with obedient and well-mannered children. 5If he cannot govern his own house, how can he lead the assembly of God?
6He must not be a recent convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7Moreover he must enjoy a good reputation among the outsiders, lest people speak evil about him and he fall into the snare of the devil.
8Deacons, likewise, must be serious and sincere and moderate in drinking wine, not greedy for money, 9they must keep the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. 10Let them be first tried and, if found blameless, be accepted as deacons. 11In the same way the women must be conscientious, not given to gossip, but reserved and trustworthy.
12A deacon must be husband of one wife, and must know how to guide his children and manage his household. 13Those who serve well as deacons will win honorable rank, with authority to speak of Christian faith.
•14I give you these instructions, although I hope I will see you soon. 15If I delay, you will know how you ought to conduct yourself in the household of God, that is, the Church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16How great indeed is the mystery of divine blessing!
He was shown in the flesh
and sanctified by the Spirit;
presented to the angels
and proclaimed to all nations.
The world believed in him:
He was taken up in glory!
•1The Spirit tells us clearly that in the last days some will defect from the faith and follow deceitful spirits and devilish doctrines, 2led by lying hypocrites whose conscience has been branded with the stamp of infamy.
3These persons forbid marriage and condemn the use of certain foods which God created for those who know the truth, and which the believers receive with thanksgiving. 4Everything created by God is good, and all food is lawful; nothing is to be rejected if we receive it with thanksgiving, 5for it is blessed with the word of God and prayer, and made holy.
6If you explain these things to the brothers and sisters, you will prove to be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the teachings of faith and the sound doctrine that you have followed. 7Reject irreligious fables and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness. 8Physical training is of limited value; godliness, instead, is useful in every way, holding promise for the present life and for the life to come. 9Here you have a sure doctrine you can trust. 10We toil and endure because we trust in the living God, the Savior of all, especially of those who believe.
Advice to Timothy
•11Command and teach these things. 12Let no one reproach you on account of your youth. Be a model to the believers in the way you speak and act, in your love, your faith and purity of life. 13Devote yourself to reading, preaching and teaching, until I come.
14Do not neglect the spiritual gift conferred on you with prophetic words when the elders laid their hands upon you. 15Think about it and practice it so that your progress may be seen by all. 16Take heed of yourself and attend to your teaching. Be steadfast in doing this and you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The widows in the Church
•1Do not rebuke an older man; on the contrary, advise him as if he were your father. Treat the young as your brothers, 2the elder women as mothers and the young girls as your sisters, with great purity.
3Take care of widows who are really widows. 4If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their family duties and give their parents financial help. This is correct and pleases God.
5A true widow is one who, in being left alone, has set her hope in God, praying day and night to God and asking him for help. 6On the contrary, a widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7Warn them about this that they may be blameless. 8Those who do not take care of their own, especially those of their household, have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers.
9Let no one be put on the list of widows unless she is sixty years old and has been married only once. 10She must be commended for her good works and the education of her children. Has she offered hospitality to, washed the feet of the saints, helped the suffering and practiced other good deeds?
11Do not accept younger widows; they may have other desires than for Christ and want to marry; 12then they deserve condemnation for breaking their first commitment. 13Besides they form the habit of being idle, going from house to house. And it is not just idleness! They become gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.
14So I want young widows to marry and have children, to rule their household and give adversaries no grounds for criticism. 15Some have already strayed to follow Satan. 16If any Christian woman has widows in her family, let her assist them; in this way the church will not be burdened and may assist those who are truly widows.
Regarding the presbyters
•17Let the elders who preside well receive double compensation, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18Scripture says: Do not muzzle the ox while it threshes grain, and: The worker deserves his wages.
19Do not accept accusations against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20If he continues to sin, rebuke him in the presence of the community, as a warning to the rest.
21I urge you, in the presence of God and Christ Jesus and of the holy angels, to obey these rules with impartiality, without making distinctions. 22Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, thus becoming an accomplice in the sins of others. Keep yourself free from blame. 24The sins of some people are plain to see, even before they are examined; the sins of others are known only later on. 25Likewise good deeds are conspicuous; even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.
23(Do not drink only water but take a little wine to help your digestion, because of your frequent illness.)
1Let those who are slaves always show respect to their masters, so that no one may speak ill of God and his teaching. 2Those whose masters are Christians should not show less respect under the pretext that they are members of the church. On the contrary, they must give a better service since they are doing good works on behalf of believers and dear friends.
Love of money
Teach and stress these things. 3Whoever teaches in some other way, not following the sound teaching of our Lord Christ Jesus and true religious instruction, 4is conceited and understands nothing. This one is crazy about controversies and discussions that result in envy, insults, 5blows and constant arguments between people of depraved minds and far from the truth. For them, religion is merely for financial gain.
6In reality, religion is a treasure if we are content with what we have. 7We brought nothing into the world and we will leave it with nothing. 8Let us then be content with having food and clothing. 9Those who strive to be rich fall into temptations and traps. A lot of foolish and harmful ambitions plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10Indeed, the love of money is the root of every evil. Because of this greed, some have wandered away from the faith, bringing on themselves afflictions of every kind.
11But you, man of God, shun all this. Strive to be holy and godly. Live in faith and love, with endurance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of faith and win everlasting life to which you were called when you made the good profession of faith in the presence of so many witnesses.
13Now, in the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Jesus Christ who expressed before Pontius Pilate the authentic profession of faith: 14preserve the revealed message to all. Keep yourself pure and blameless until the glorious coming of Christ Jesus, our Lord, 15which God will bring about at the proper time, he, the magnificent sovereign, King of kings and Lord of lords. 16To him, alone immortal, who lives in unapproachable light and whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honor and power for ever and ever. Amen!
17Command the rich of this world not to be arrogant or to put their trust in the uncertainty of wealth. Let them rather trust in God who generously gives us all we need for our happiness. 18Let them do good, be rich in good deeds and be generous; let them share with others. 19In this way, they shall heap up a sound capital for the future and gain true life.
20Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you; avoid useless and profane words, as well as discussions arising from false knowledge. 21Some have lost the faith in accepting such knowledge.
The grace of God be with you all.
• 1.3 In this first chapter we have a mixture of various topics: it practically repeats what Paul said in other letters where the commentaries have already been given.
We will note only what refers to false prophets. Since the apostles who had seen Christ were dead, some people forgot that all of faith is based on what Christ taught. Instead of reading and actually living the Gospel, certain people began to discuss and work out religious theories. See Introduction to Colossians.
The aim of our warning is love which comes from a pure mind (v. 5). Timothy must be firm in eliminating these discussions that weaken the Church and prevent development of the love that saves people. Even bloody wars came out of sterile religious arguments. The center of the paragraph is doubtless verse 15: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The new masters remain with their theories instead of facing the reality of sin. It is the reality of our sin that makes the grace of God a grace, and our salvation a true salvation.
• 2.1 Heading the rules for every category of believers, we find rules for the community assemblies with two outstanding points:
– praying for rulers;
– the behavior of women in church.
I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made (v. 1). Paul wants Christians to be in solidarity with their compatriots, loyal toward their nation and praying for them. In spite of its sins and superstitions, the pagan world was religious. Religion accompanied their every action. This explains why, some years later, Christians were persecuted as rebels and traitors because they did not worship the emperor, nor his gods. Perhaps this insistence on prayer for rulers is due to the fact that the paragraph was written when there already was some suspicion about Christians: it was necessary to remove these suspicions.
Faithfulness to Christ does not prevent loyalty to the nation unless the nation becomes an idol, and this happens when, in the name of the nation, people are asked to obey its rulers blindly. We cannot give up criticizing their errors, nor stop considering as our brothers and sisters those who do not agree with us.
We should pray for rulers. Does that mean that we cannot look for more honest and better rulers? Of course, we can: see Romans 13.
Verses 9-14 concern women, and to understand why the letter is so strict, we must recall that there was a lot of talk about freedom in the Church, and there were abuses.
On the other hand, we always have a hard time accepting the demands of the Gospel when society teaches us something different. Jesus’ attitude regarding women was revolutionary and liberating, and at the beginning, the Church followed his example (see 1 Cor 7). Before long, they went back to the usual way of giving a very limited place in society to women and that applied also in their religious assemblies.
In the whole history of the Church there was a great respect for the dignity of women and there were many initiatives favoring them; yet there were few periods when women enjoyed equality with men. In many places women were more emancipated during the Middle Ages than closer to our times, in the 19th century. Likewise, in urban societies dealing with business, in the world and in the Church, women occupied a place very different from that granted them in more closed societies.
In fact, the Church alone does not change the world and society until people have learned to know the human reality better.
This passage, reminding us of 1 Corinthians 11:1-10 and 14:34, opposes women’s emancipation with the same biblical arguments commonly used by the Jewish masters.
God wants all to be saved (v. 4). Paul repeats in his own way the passage from the last words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: the Gospel must be preached to everyone, to all the nations. Perhaps only a minority will believe but this evangelization is necessary so that all humanity may reach the goal fixed by God.
• 3.1 Here Paul deals with leaders, bishops and deacons (see commentary on Tit 1:6 and Phil 1:1).
• 14. This short paragraph reminds us that, if indeed we are in charge of the Church of God, we are neither its founders nor its masters. The Church was born through a merciful intervention of God, when he decided that his Son should identify with the human race, as is expressed in this short poem.
Here we use divine blessing (v. 16) for a word that we translated elsewhere as “piety” or “religion” (see 2:2; 4:7; 6:3; 5, 6; 2 Tim 3:5 and Tit 1:1). In those years, the word was mostly used to mean a loving attitude toward the Father and neighbors, characteristic of true believers who simply imitate God’s example.
The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (v. 15). We must understand this phrase as referring to the concepts of that time: from above, from a world in which everything is truth, God lowers his Truth to the earth, as a column or a visible sign on which we can lean. In spite of all the infidelities of the Church, God uses it to preserve true knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Spirit in the world. Without this knowledge, people cannot be free, nor can humanity reach its maturity.
• 4.1 After the death of the apostles, new masters who tamper with the faith appear in the Church.
One of the numerous errors of these people is to despise all that comes from the body: they condemn marriage, forbid meat and wine. Concerning marriage, see the Introduction to Colossians. For those who said matter comes from evil powers whereas souls come from God who is good, having children was to imprison in an evil body souls which later would have to be saved. This is why they condemned, not sexual relations but marriage and procreation. In this contempt of the body and of a nature created by God, there is nothing Christian (see Col 2:23).
In the last days (v. 1): these are the days beginning with Jesus’ resurrection and stretching to his second coming (Heb 1:2; James 5:3).
The Spirit tells us clearly. The prophets of the Church often predicted that people would come to preach their own theories, and not authentic faith.
The believers receive with thanksgiving (v. 3). From the beginning, it was the custom in Christian families to give thanks to God at the family meal.
Train yourself in godliness (v. 7). Here we have another danger. Contrary to teachers who despise life and want us to live as strange characters, there are others who are totally absorbed in external things. In the Greco–Roman world there was much enthusiasm for sports and races. Without despising the body we are asked to check if we give each part the importance it deserves and the time corresponding to it.
• 11. Faced with all these false teachers, Timothy must be an example of a true apostle.
Let no one reproach you on account of your youth. Usually, in the Christian communities and in the Jewish ones, the leaders were older men. This is why they were called “elders“ or “presbyters” (which means the same thing). Timothy, who is visiting the church on behalf of Paul, has authority over these elders, even though he is much younger than they are. The example of his sincere faith and profound knowledge of the Bible will be his strength.
Do not neglect the spiritual gift (v. 14). If someone was named to a ministry or an official position in the church, this was considered as a spiritual gift: for example, presbyters, deacons, bishops, prophets. While other gifts, such as healing the sick, came directly from the Holy Spirit, ministries were received through a laying on of hands. An apostle or a prophet would lay his hands on the candidate to transfer to him the authority that he had received in a similar way. Thus, in the Church, every leader receives his authority from Christ through a succession of people going back to the apostles.
On this occasion the prophets present would also address the candidate with exhortations and warnings (see 1:18).
Devote yourself to reading, preaching and teaching until I come (v. 13). This counsel is always valid. To be steadfast in reading and study is what costs most in the majority of liberal professions. Very few people are courageous enough to persevere in study once they have passed their examinations. This is so, even in the Church. The “pastors,” clergy and lay, are constantly tempted in thinking such and such an activity is pastorally useful, that leisure is “relaxing” even at the cost of postponing study and meditation on the Word. The Church is always lacking people able to express their faith creatively—a gift that springs from spiritual knowledge and habitual contact with the Word of God: smiles, goodwill and psychology cannot replace this charism.
• 5.1 From the beginning, women had their own unique role in the Church. Some of them, called widows occupied an official position.
Paul sees three kinds of widows: some did not need help from the Church because they had relatives; others did need Church assistance. Finally, there were some, with or without the help of the Church, who were in charge of certain functions.
They deserve condemnation… (v. 12). This means that by leaving her position and marrying, the “widow” of the third category broke a commitment she had made publicly. The “widows” were dedicated to the service of Christ in the same way as religious women of today.
A true widow is one who, in being left alone, has set her hope in God (v. 5). We should read what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 concerning the greater freedom celibates have to serve the Lord. Every baptized person is called to belong totally to Christ. If, through circumstances of life, we are alone again and free from family responsibilities, this may be an invitation from God to dedicate ourselves completely to the service of the Church and to constant prayer.
If today retired Christians looked into their lives in the light of God’s presence, the Church would have more leaders and missionaries than are necessary.
• 17. Paul speaks again of the elders or “presbyters” who are in charge of the local community. Paul wants the community to help its leaders spiritually and financially.
We have already noted that the elders who were in charge of the community and who presided at the Eucharist were chosen from the most esteemed believers. This paragraph shows that the primary service expected from them was the preaching of the Word.
Let the elders who preside well receive double compensation (v. 17). It is rather astonishing to see that in many parishes the council consists of more lay people competent in social or material matters than persons of the Word, learned or prophetic, capable of giving life to the community.
They must fulfill their duties. Rebuke him in the presence of the community as a warning to the rest (v. 20): the first Christians were no angels. Sometimes their enthusiastic and sincere faith needed strong discipline in order for them to remain faithful to their commitments. Besides when have leaders of communities not caused problems?
In verse 18 note the quotation of the Gospel: “the worker deserves his wages” (Lk 10:7). This passage shows us that when this letter was written, towards the year 90, the Gospels were already considered “Scripture.”
At the beginning and end of the chapter, the author insists on faithfulness to tradition. Faith is not a doctrine that can be adapted to one’s tastes. Leaders are required to have a respectful and humble attitude towards this treasure entrusted to them to be transmitted to others. We can already see two faults:
– instead of deepening faith, some multiply words;
– some replace surrender to God’s Word with a critical attitude that attempts to judge faith and decide if it agrees with their own ideas.
Money is mentioned twice (6:10 and 6:17-19). After the first years of enthusiastic faith, the Church finds that, even for believers, everything is lost when love for money persists. That is the drama in certain countries where solid Christian groups have been caught up with the best of society in the pursuit of money: faith continues to be important for them but this faith only motivates fidelity to religious practice. Money that has become our security lessens our trust in God (6:10) and isolates us from others.
The pastors of the Church should be the most aware of the danger (6:11). Salvation for them will be to place themselves in the less secure areas of life and society, where an act of faith is constantly necessary to overcome difficulties and joyously accept sacrifices (v. 12). It is not in seeking first of all our personal fulfillment that we become God’s agent and a witness of Christ, as he himself has been the witness of the Father (6:13).
Paul calls upon Timothy to avoid all those dangers and remain true to faith and free from greed. By doing so, he will be “a man of God,” a witness of Christ.