In the last issue we left the apostle Paul on the verge of release from prison in Rome. From a letter to his helper Timothy we know that he was held captive a second and final time. What happened between these two periods in prison forms a very important, though little known, part of Paul’s life. During this time he demonstrated his ongoing care for the churches, traveling to several cities and writing the personal letters that became the New Testament books of 1 Timothy and Titus.
People and Places
In his second letter to Timothy, written from prison, the apostle mentions his final detention and impending death. He also mentions a visitor, Onesiphorus, who according to Paul was with him in Rome at his first imprisonment and who helped him later in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:16–18). Thus we know that Paul went to Ephesus after his first stay in the capital. This is confirmed in the first letter to Timothy, where the apostle writes, “I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). We know that the Church experienced increasing internal difficulties with the spread of heretical teachings, and this becomes clear throughout Paul’s letters.
During the interval of freedom between Roman imprisonments, Paul was also in several places with other colleagues. He was in Crete with Titus (Titus 1:5), in Troas with Carpus (2 Timothy 4:13), in Corinth with Erastus and in Miletus with Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). Further, he tells Titus that he will spend a winter in Nicopolis on the Adriatic Sea, where his “true child in a common faith” should come (Titus 1:4; 3:12).
When Paul was in Rome during his first imprisonment, he indicated at different times that when set free he would go to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28), Philippi (Philippians 1:26; 2:24) and Colossae (Philemon 22), and if to Colossae, then he might possibly go to nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 2:1; 4:12–13). Whether he actually made these journeys is not known for sure, though his words indicate his genuine concern for all the churches and for the preaching of the good news far and wide (see also 2 Corinthians 11:28; 1 Corinthians 9:16).
A common theme in 1 Timothy and Titus concerns the selection and ordination of Church leadership for the effective organization of local congregations. Paul gives instruction to two men facing similar problems though in very different places—Ephesus and Crete. They are to choose certain qualified men for the work of ministerial service, and similar men and women as deacons.
“An elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. . . .”
The character traits of those suitable for ministerial work make for a list of very demanding attributes (1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). Such persons are to be of good reputation, experienced in the faith, sober minded, hospitable, capable of teaching and sound in doctrinal understanding, faithful husbands, and responsible fathers in charge of their own homes. They cannot be drunkards, materialistic, aggressive or argumentative. In sum, they must be exemplary individuals, chosen after careful consideration (1 Timothy 5:22).
If complaints against elders should arise, Paul determined that the right course would be to establish the facts in the presence of two or three witnesses. He did this to avoid partiality toward either party—members or ministers. Ministers are to be respected for the work they do and rewarded accordingly, both financially and in terms of honor shown (1 Timothy 5:17–21).
With such leadership in place, the congregations would have the best possibility of stability in the midst of religious and philosophical confusion. And such a world it was. Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, housed the cult of the mother goddess Artemis, and was a hotbed of competing ideas. Crete was known for an unsavory approach to life. The Cretan poet Epimenides (ca. 600 B.C.E.) said all Cretans were “liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons.” Paul mentions this to Titus (1:12) because it seems that the Cretan mentality had infected members of the long-established Jewish community and that it had perhaps rubbed off on some in the early Church.
Battling Heresies and Heretics
A second dominant theme in both letters concerns the need to be on guard against encroaching heresies. The longer the Church existed, the more it seems that it came under pressure from those with opposing doctrines. It’s apparent that by the 60s C.E. the teachings of the early Church were being subverted throughout the Roman world and that Paul believed the way to counter the trend was through ministerial intervention and sound teaching.
Paul advises his younger helpers about dealing with such difficulties. He tells Timothy to warn those followers involved in doctrinal diversions “[not] to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). To Titus he says, “There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:10–11; see also 3:9). This desire for gain is not a mark of a true teacher of Christ. As Paul writes to Timothy, “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).
Paul names two individuals who caused division with their heretical ideas—Hymenaeus and Alexander—who “concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:19–20, New King James Version). Paul mentions Hymenaeus again in his second letter to Timothy, where the problem is defined: the heretic was teaching “that the resurrection has already happened,” with the result that he was “upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:17–18). Under these circumstances Paul acted decisively to protect the Church. He says, “I have handed [Hymenaeus and Alexander] over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). It was no doubt a form of excommunication for the purpose of reform. This accords with his advice to Titus in such situations: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10–11).
The Godly Community
A third theme in these two pastoral letters is encouragement to teach all members of the congregations about their responsibilities in the Church community (1 Timothy 5:1–15; Titus 2:2–10). Whether older or younger, men or women, ordained or not, all need to play a harmonious role.
Paul reminds Timothy of part of his reason for writing to him: “so that . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:14–15). He tells him to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). That Timothy and Titus were both younger men is shown by Paul’s addressing each as “my true child” (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4) and by his urging that no one be allowed to despise their youth and/or authority (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:15).
To Titus Paul says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7–8).
It’s clear from the extensive instructions given that Paul speaks from a great deal of personal experience in handling problems in human relationships. For example, he advises Timothy how to approach older and younger men and women as their teacher. He says, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1–2).
Titus must teach older men to demonstrate serious-mindedness, dignity and self-control, having faith, love and steadfastness. Older women are to be taught likewise, with the additional cautions to avoid gossip and too much wine. They also have the opportunity to contribute to the community of believers by teaching younger women about marriage, motherhood and running a home. Self-control is also high on the agenda for younger women, as it is for younger men (Titus 2:1–6).
Paul’s emphasis to Timothy as regards the women in the Church is similar in parts but different in others in that it also concentrates on the care of widows. He is careful to distinguish those who are really in need of Church help and those who are young enough to remarry, have children and take care of themselves. He is also concerned that all in the Church should carry out their obligations to widows within their individual families. Not to do so is a serious failing: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
Slaves or bondservants were a part of the Roman-dominated world, and Paul addresses the matter of how those slaves who were also followers of Jesus should behave. He says that they should “regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled” (1 Timothy 6:1). To Titus he writes, “Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9–10). Was this because Paul approved of slavery? No, for he writes elsewhere, “If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.” But showing that there is something far more important than station in life, he prefaces that comment: “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it” (1 Corinthians 7:21). In the case of those slaves whose masters are also believers, he says, “Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved” (1 Timothy 6:2).
All of this instruction paints the picture of a community that is being taught to be at peace with itself, knowing that it lives temporarily in a difficult world that will be eclipsed by the coming of Christ: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).
Sometime during his travels, probably after his winter stay in Nicopolis, en route to or at Troas, Paul was taken prisoner and transported once more to Rome (2 Timothy 4:13). There he wrote the last letter that we have, known as 2 Timothy. The situation vis-à-vis the followers of Jesus had changed. Nero had now launched his persecution against the growing numbers of Christians (these were not likely the same as the followers of Jesus, but more probably those who followed some of the corrupters of the faith that Paul warned Timothy and Titus about). As we now know, “Christian” was not a term that the followers of Jesus used of themselves. Yet the antagonism that these “Christians” caused in Rome spread, and Paul was evidently caught in the net. He writes to Timothy that he is suffering imprisonment in Rome, “bound with chains as a criminal” for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1:17; 2:8–9). Paul has had one hearing during which time no one came to his defense. He has been remanded and awaits his sentence (2 Timothy 4:16).
As noted earlier, he has been visited and encouraged by Onesiphorus. Now he turns to encouraging Timothy, his “beloved child.” It is remarkable that under these difficult prison conditions Paul is able to write with such clear focus and conviction. He has been deserted by many of his helpers: “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15). Demas, who won praise in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, has also left him and gone to Thessalonica “in love with this present world.” Two other helpers who are without condemnation have traveled to distant places: “Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia” (2 Timothy 4:10). In his lonely state, with only Luke remaining, Paul is anxious to see Timothy and Mark in Rome soon. He asks for his cloak left behind in Troas—protection, no doubt, against the dank cold of prison life—and for his books and parchments. This may be a reference to his copies of Hebrew and Greek texts and his collected letters.
Facing almost certain death, Paul reminds Timothy again of his continuing ministerial responsibility to protect the flock in the face of spreading heresies. He knows that false teachers will continue to arise and that people will warm to such imposters. He warns his colleague of this reality, as he had the Ephesian elders in earlier days. But with his approaching death, the apostle says that he is prepared for the inevitable: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6).
Paul’s remarkable life in God’s service, from his unique calling on the Damascus road, to the revelations in Arabia; the 14 silent years until his rediscovery by Barnabas; the appearances before rulers, a king and an emperor; the journeys on foot of ten thousand miles; the beatings; the shipwrecks; the persecutions—all of this he summarizes in the statement: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8).
Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome around 67–68 C.E. on Nero’s orders but while the emperor was absent from the capital. It’s further said that a Roman matron named Lucina sought out his body for burial in her vineyard. A church was built on the site in the time of the emperor Constantine and included a tomb with an inscription on marble that read Paulo Apostolo Mart[yri], “the martyr, the Apostle Paul.” Today it lies underneath the church of San Paolo Fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls).
There is no separate confirmation of any of the traditions surrounding the apostle’s death and burial. What is known is found in Luke’s extensive account of Paul’s life, aided by the content of the apostle’s own letters.
Next time we continue the story of the apostles with Jesus’ brother James.