September 30, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy

John F. FinkSt. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy is included as part of the Office of Readings next week, the 27th week in Ordinary Time. The six chapters in the letter are read a chapter a day, except that the sixth chapter is divided between Friday and Saturday.

The two letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus are called “pastoral epistles” because they are concerned with the work of a pastor as he cares for the community for which he is responsible. In Timothy’s case, this was the Church in Ephesus, in modern Turkey, that St. Paul established.

We first met Timothy in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 16. His mother was a Jew, and his father a Greek. He traveled with Paul on Paul’s second and third missionary journeys, and was frequently sent by Paul on special missions, as we learn from Acts (Acts 19:22) and Paul’s first letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:17) and Thessalonians (1 Thes 3:2).

Most modern biblical scholars question whether Paul actually wrote this letter. If he did, it obviously was toward the end of his life, perhaps between his first Roman imprisonment and his later execution. If he didn’t, the letter could have been written as late as the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century.

Whether Paul wrote it or not, the letter tells us something about early Christian life and is an important part of Scripture.

It reads as if it were written by Paul, beginning by repeating “the request I made of you when I was on my way to Macedonia, that you stay in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to teach false doctrines” (1 Tm 1:3). The aim of this instruction, he said, was “love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Tm 1:5).

Chapters 2-4 all concern problems of discipline in the Church. The letter asks, first of all, for prayers for kings and all those in authority because this is pleasing to God “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4).

It says that men should pray with uplifted holy hands, without anger or argument. Women, it says, should adorn themselves with proper conduct, “with modesty and self-control, not with braided hairstyles and gold ornaments, or pearls, or expensive clothes” (1 Tm 2:9).

It then says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet.” This is one of the reasons for doubt that the letter was written by Paul since women often played important roles in his communities.

Chapter 3 gives the qualifications for bishops and deacons, and Chapter 4 warns against false asceticism. Chapter 5 gives rules for widows—some of which might sound strange to us—and presbyters.

Chapter 6 begins with rules for slaves then turns to the right use of wealth. This is where we hear, “The love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith” (1 Tm 6:10).

The letter ends with personal exhortations to Timothy. †

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