First Timothy Was Written To Timothy

[[NB: I blogged briefly about this in December 2006 with Who were the Pastoral Epistles written to? though I made no conclusions there.]]

That may not seem like much of a headline, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to after reading three articles by Jeffrey T. Reed:

Reed, Jeffrey T. “Cohesive Ties in 1 Timothy: In Defense of the Epistle’s Unity”, Neotestamentica 26/1: 192-213. 1992.

—– “To Timothy or Not? A Discourse Analysis of 1 Timothy” in S.E. Porter and D.A. Carson (eds.) Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research (JSNTSup 80; Sheffield: JSOT Press): 90-118. 1993.

—– “Discourse Features in New Testament Letters, with Special Reference to the structure of 1 Timothy”, Journal of Translation and Textlinguistics 6: 228-52. 1993.

There are two basic options when one considers intended audience of First Timothy: Timothy (as the letter states) or the Ephesian church. If you would’ve asked me two or three years ago, I’d have told you that I thought that First Timothy, though explicitly addressed to Timothy, was really intended for the Ephesian church and was primarily a way for Paul to disseminate information about church structure and the like. This is the same way that Dibelius and Conzelmann (Hermeneia) approach First Timothy; as well as Barrett, Hanson, and Spicq (If I’m understanding Reed 1993a, p. 91 note 2 properly).

But in reading Reed’s stuff (particularly 1993a, though the others have things to say about it) I’m convinced otherwise. Why? The short list:

  • There are no second person plural verbs in First Timothy.

  • There is only one second person plural pronoun in First Timothy, and that is Paul’s somewhat formulaic end of “Grace be with you (pl.)”

  • The Ephesian church is not a named participant within the text of the letter.

  • The second person singular verbs logically resolve to Timothy as subject.

  • The first person singular verbs logically resolve to Paul as subject, and typically occur in exhortations to the addressee (Timothy).

In other words, I really do think that First Timothy is a personal letter, both in structure/address and in reality. Paul wrote the letter to Timothy to tell him to do things, and provided some background for those things. Would others have benefitted from reading the letter? Sure; there is stuff in there that would benefit, say, elders of the church. But the only one who would benefit or receive instruction from the whole of the letter is Timothy.

If you’re wondering about all of this, or if you’re unconvinced, I’d recommend Reed 1993a above (“To Timothy or Not?”).