Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 1)

From our upcoming book, “Who Were the Apostles?” we present to you a biography of the life of a young preacher named Timothy.  This biography will be presented in seven sections.

The Selection of Timothy

The very first thing said in the Bible about Timothy was that he was a disciple from the Derbe/Lystra area.  That is, he was a Christian when Paul arrived there with Silas on his second missionary journey.  It is generally assumed that Timothy was converted by Paul, because the apostle calls him “my own son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).*[1]  If this is indeed the case, Timothy must have been converted some years earlier during the first missionary journey, either around the time when Barnabas and Paul were thought to be Greek gods,*[2] during their visit to Derbe,*[3] or their return visit to Lystra.*[4] Regardless of when it took place, Timothy owed his spiritual mindset to his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice, who made certain that he was familiar with the Scriptures from the time he was a child.*[5]  It was from this knowledge of the Scriptures that he was “thoroughly furnished into all good works.”*[6]

This young man,*[7] before Paul’s arrival on the second journey, had already become well-known among the brethren in his hometown of Lystra,*[8] but also in Iconium, some 30-40 miles away.  According to McGarvey, this is a strong implication that Timothy had already begun preaching the gospel in local congregations:

…he was well spoken of by the brethren.  The fact that he was thus attested not only at … Lystra, close about his home, but also at the distant city of Iconium, renders it probable that he was already a young preacher, and that the imposition of hands by the elders of the church, which is mentioned later [1 Timothy 4:14], had already taken place.*[9]

Even though Barnabas was no longer with Paul, his effect was still being felt.  The apostle Paul looked at Timothy as someone who would be useful in spreading the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike—just like Barnabas viewed Paul (Acts 11:20-26).  Timothy was already well-known and well-respected by the local brethren, but Paul decided he needed another co-worker, and Timothy was the man he chose.  This wasn’t a slight to Silas, any more than the addition of Luke less than ten verses later was a slight to Timothy.  Paul was always looking for Christians who could be of help in spreading the gospel and encouraging new congregations.

Timothy was much like the church: he was half-Jew, half-Gentile.  His mother was a Jew, but his father was a Greek.  That obviously wasn’t an issue with the brethren in Lystra and Iconium (with whom he was well-respected), but it was an issue with many of the non-Christian Jews who knew that his father was a Gentile (Acts 16:3).  So, in order to eliminate a possible point of contention with the Jews they wanted to convert, Paul circumcised Timothy.*[10]

It is interesting that immediately after Paul circumcised Timothy, we’re told that they went around to the cities delivering the decrees from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem—the letter that said Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised to be right with God.

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *The validity of this translation is not as certain as many have assumed.  Paul does not use the word “my,” nor is there anything in the text to show possession.  The New King James Version renders it more literally: “a true son in the faith.”  It is possible that Paul is simply calling Timothy “a true [or genuine] son [of God] in the faith.”  2 Timothy 1:2 says “my beloved son,” but just like with 1 Timothy 1:2, there is nothing in the Greek to demand the word “my” be added.  It literally says, “To Timothy, a beloved son” (see the NKJV).  However, Timothy is called (in Greek) “my son” by Paul (2 Timothy 2:1) and his relationship with Paul is described as “a son with the father” (Philippians 2:22).

[2] *Acts 14:6-18.  Some have suggested that when Paul was stoned and left for dead, he was brought to Timothy’s house, causing a deep impact on the younger man and a desire to help Paul in any way he could.  No evidence was given for that suggestion, and so it remains in the arena of supposition.

[3] *This preaching visit in Derbe (Acts 14:20-21a) seems to be the least likely of the three suggestions for the time of Timothy’s conversion.  Though Paul and Silas met up with Timothy in “Derbe and Lystra,” the young disciple was well-reported by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium—no mention of his being known in Derbe.

[4] *Acts 14:21b-23

[5] *2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15, Acts 16:1.

[6] *2 Timothy 3:15-17.

[7] *There is no consensus on what his actual age was.  The estimates range from late teens to early 40s.  The word translated “youth” (1 Timothy 4:12) speaks of the earliest years of accountability in the other places where it appears in the New Testament.  It is said that men were considered “youths” or “young men” until around age 40 [some say closer to 30].  Paul says “let no man despise your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12) around AD 60-63.  The events in Acts 16 took place closer to AD 48-50.  Using the information at hand, knowing that at least a decade after Timothy joined Paul (more likely closer to 15 years), he was still called a “youth,” it leads us to the conclusion that Timothy was most likely in his late teens or early twenties when we first meet him in Acts 16.  Barton W. Johnson, in his The People’s New Testament with Notes, suggests that he was twenty years old.  The apocryphal Acts of Timothy claims that he was killed around AD 97 at the age of 80, which—were it true—would mean he was born in AD 17, and was 31 when Paul met him, and in his mid-40s when Paul called him a “youth.”  While this is possible, it doesn’t agree with the general usage of the word in Greek, nor elsewhere in the New Testament.

[8] *Given that Timothy was well-known in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2), and that Luke records that Timothy was a disciple that was in the area of “Derbe and Lystra” (Acts 16:1), the most logical conclusion is that Timothy was from Lystra.

[9] *J.W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, Vol. 2, p. 79.

[10] *This was done, not as a matter of doctrine, but as a matter of expediency.  As a half-Jew, he would have been tolerated in the synagogue as a spectator, but because he was also an uncircumcised half-Gentile, he would not have had the opportunity to speak there.  The non-Christian Jews in the area would have looked down on him as no better than a Samaritan (half-breed).  Later on, Paul refuses to circumcise Titus, who was a full-blooded Gentile, because that would have been trying to bind the Law of Moses on a Gentile.

 

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