St. Paul mosaic

Studying 2 Timothy 1 3-14

We’re studying 2 Timothy 1:3-14 this week. It’s the opening appeal of this brief pastoral letter, that highlights themes of memory, spiritual gifts, and steadfastness in sound teaching. [Some questions on the text are here.] Here are a few notes on the text:

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: The second letter to Timothy is one of the “disputed Pauline epistles.” My recollection from seminary is that a hefty percentage of scholars take it as not having been written by Paul himself, more than think of 1 Timothy that way.

What difference does that make? None, as far as its being in our Bibles goes. But it means we have even less clarity than usual on when it would have been written, and really to whom, and why – other than what we can tell from the letter itself. And we may need to think of at least some of it in the way we think of the book of Jonah: that is, the way we think about the truth of something imaginary.

At least in our imaginations, then, we can see Paul, in prison, writing to his protégé Timothy, with pastoral advice for ministry, set in a theological frame constructed by his understanding of his Christian faith. The letter reportedly has the form of a “last will and testament,” so conveying the feeling of final words or a final blessing from the spiritual father to the spiritual son.  

I think some readers have strong feelings about Paul in general, and about the pastorals in particular. Something for us to keep an eye on.

CLOSER READING: We pick up after the opening exchange of “from” and “to” and greetings – “grace, mercy, and peace,” – the “mercy” seems a little unexpected.

The phrase translated “I am grateful” or in some other versions “I give thanks” (v3) is more precisely a construction with “I have” and the word translated, in lots of other contexts, “grace.” We will, in fact, run into it again in v9. Here, an idiom, presumably. But it echoes.

Verses 3-5 are one long sentence. It launches an insistent appeal to memory – the root shows up four times in words in this first paragraph. Paul remembers Timothy in prayer and remembers his tears and remembers his faith and his grandmother’s faith and his mother’s faith and so wants Timothy to remember to rekindle the gift of God …

Faith dwells in people like Lois (means something like “the best”) and Eunice (means “good, great victory”) and in Timothy (means something like “honors, honoring God”). The way the Holy Spirit dwells in us (v14). The way someone dwells, makes a home, in a house.

V6 uses a verb that occurs in the Bible only once, “rekindle,” literally “make fire alive” – so, a lovely word. The gift of God (fire, that can be made alive) is in Timothy “through the laying on of my [Paul’s] hands,” so Paul really does look like Timothy’s spiritual father, a transmitter of [spiritual] life, much as Lois and Eunice have been transmitters of physical and spiritual life on the maternal side.

Is the gift going out or in danger of going out because of cowardice? Neglect due to holding back? Why v7?? Specifically not a spirit of “cowardice,” “timidity” but of power and of love and of … most translations give us “self-discipline” or “self-control” – it seems to be the kind associated with moderation or prudence – that is, it is something to do with wisdom. [We could think Aristotle, and the book of Proverbs, and maybe also Ecclesiastes 8:2-5.] That nuance seems important.

This indwelling faith and this spirit, then, opposes having any shame (v8) in connection with “the witness of/about the Lord” and “his prisoner” – making Paul more a prisoner of the Lord than anyone else, perhaps. Another reframe.

In light of that, the spirit of power and love and prudence will impel suffering bad things together for the gospel – another verb that is unique to this letter.

Vv8-11 are another long sentence, that moves from the power of God to an identification of God – the one saving / having saved and calling / having called us – and to a description of that saving and calling – not according to works but rather according to his providence and grace – and then to a description of that providence and grace, a gift given to us before eternal time [pause … think about that … God calls us as an exercise of a providence and grace that God has given us before the beginning of time … this (a) makes me cry and (b) sounds like Ephesians 1:4] – and then further describing the revelation of this providential purpose and grace as having been made to appear through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus – and then a further description of the activity of that savior, who is the one who made death inoperable [really put a spanner in those works] and brought to light life & immortality through the gospel – and then an addendum, a gospel which Paul was appointed a proclaimer and apostle and teacher of.

That is the whole reason he is in prison now. So, not ashamed. Because why would anyone be ashamed of that? Because, when you put it that way …

Then vv12-14 develop the idea of a deposit. Something [valuable] given to someone to guard or keep safe. Paul has trusted … God? Christ? … with his trust. But also has entrusted something to Timothy, sound (hygienic) words, maybe, or whatever those contain … or, that gift that is in him by the laying on of Paul’s hands … which by the Holy Spirit Paul urges him to guard / keep safe.

Sacred fire, that needs to be tended and kept burning. An inheritance, that needs to be properly appraised and used.

Saint Paul writing

Images: “Casa de Convalescència, arrambador ceràmic” Enfo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; “Saint Paul Writing His Epistles,” Valentin de Boulogne / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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