Paul’s Letters

There is treasure hidden in Paul’s thirteen letters, but the path to find it is not obvious. Here is a tip: in the Bible, Paul’s letters are not sequenced in chronological order.

The Bible rarely gives us specific dates about events it addresses, which can be frustrating for modern readers. As an example, this is a very brief timeline of the first four decades of Christianity that is probably correct to within a few years:

27 AD to 30 AD           Ministry of Jesus

30 AD to 39 AD           Death, resurrection of Jesus; Christianity spreads among the Jews

40 AD to 48 AD           Christianity spreads increasingly to non-Jews

48 AD to 57 AD           Paul’s three missionary journeys

58 AD to 70 AD           Paul’s imprisonment; Paul’s death; Temple destroyed

Paul wrote his letters within the two decades of 48 AD to 68 AD. His thirteen generally accepted letters are arranged in the New Testament in two blocks: the nine written to churches, then the four written to individuals. The nine written to churches are generally placed in order by length. (This also assumes Hebrews was not written by Paul.)

First Timothy

The church in Ephesus was probably started at the end of the Second Missionary Journey by Priscilla and Aquila. Paul lived in Ephesus for more than two years during the Third Missionary Journey, and the church was well established by the time he wrote First Timothy. It appears that Paul’s instructions in the letter to Timothy were for all churches, not just the one in Ephesus.

The main purpose of the letter is to instruct Timothy about refuting false teachers. Paul does not give an exact description of these false teachings, but they seem to be along the lines of what would become known as “Gnostic” teachings: physical things are evil so Jesus cannot have come in the flesh, certain people possess critical secret knowledge that leads to salvation, and secret ways to have access to an unknowable God.

Paul opens his letter by reaffirming his own credentials and restating the true Gospel. Since Timothy had been Paul’s close companion for more than ten years, he certainly had heard all these things before and was totally convinced of their truth.

In the second chapter, Paul addresses matters having to do with orderly and proper worship that will lead to unity of the church, as the church in Ephesus had to blend people from various cultures, ethnic groups, economic circumstances, and social classes. Imagine an older, male Jewish goldsmith well-versed in the Old Testament worshiping alongside a young female slave who had previously worshiped at the temple of Artemis.

With those thoughts in mind, recognize that the third chapter is Paul’s instructions about appointing a new kind of leader. Roman leadership was dominated by rich people and government officials. The church was going to need a new type of leader, and it would have to cultivate, grow, and teach them to become the type of people they needed to be.

All of those thoughts lead to the rest of Paul’s teaching on growing and unifying a church. Through all his instructions, Paul’s love and concern for Timothy shine through.

Primary Scriptures:
First Timothy 1-6
Story Summary:
Paul’s first letter to Timothy, while Timothy is in Ephesus
Roman Empire; Asia; Ephesus
AD 30 Jesus crucified and resurrected; Pentecost; Holy Spirit arrives AD 48 Paul’s “famine visit” to Jerusalem; First Missionary Journey starts AD 50 Council at Jerusalem; Start of Second Missionary Journey. AD 53 Start of Third Missionary Journey AD 62 Paul writes 1 Timothy after being released from prison