18 October 2010

2 Timothy 4:5-17

"The Lord stood by me and gave me strength." (v.17)


This letter belongs to a small group generally known as the Pastorals: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These epistles clearly state they have come from Paul, but their authorship is not as straightforward as that.

It was a common practice in the ancient world to write a letter in the name of a person who had died as a tribute to them. It was intended to flatter rather than deceive. And there was, of course, the added benefit of giving more authority to the letter by attributing it to a well-known person.

The language, style of writing and general outlook of these Pastorals seem quite different from that of Paul, which is known to us from letters which undoubtedly come from Paul. Although, it is highly likely that he did not normally actually write his own letters; he used an amanuensis - a professional letter writer. This can sometimes account for slight differences in language and style.

A greater question mark over Paul's authorship comes from identifying when Paul could have written the various epistles. At its simplest, if Paul was executed following his imprisonment in Rome, he did not write the Pastorals; only if he was released from imprisonment and went on a further mission to Spain can we see the opportunity for him to write these letters, despite the heavy personal references and instructions in today's passage. (Several of these personal references are to people known elsewhere in the New Testament, especially in the Acts of the Apostles, such as Titus, Mark and Luke; others are not so well-known.)

What is Pauline, however, is the conviction that God's grace alone was sufficient to see Paul through his imprisonment. Human resource deserted Paul, but God gave strength so that Paul's mission to the Gentiles might be enabled. In this way, the letter becomes a sound defence of that very mission to the Gentiles - non-Jewish people who became Christians. At Paul's insistence, they were welcomed into the new Christian community without having to submit to the Jewish Law.

To Ponder

What are your own experiences of being deserted by those who you hoped would be your support?

What was your response?

In what ways have you experienced God's grace standing by you and giving you strength?

Is it right to expect this all the time, or only when it enables God's purposes to be fulfilled?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr David Calvert

David is a retired Methodist minister whose active ministry included a mixture of circuit ministry and theological education..