First Timothy Written to Timothy?

Yep, back on this horse again (see here). The pastor of the church I attend has begun a series on First Timothy. This week we were on 1Ti 1.3-9, but during the sermon I drifted a bit (not much, don’t worry) to think about the intended recipient.

Many people say that First Timothy was written not really to Timothy, but primarily to the church in Ephesus. That is, there is so much in the letter that likely would’ve been elementary to Timothy (who had been Paul’s right-hand man for years by this point) the only reason for it being in there is for Paul to communicate to the church at Ephesus what he had in store for them — what Timothy was going to do — so that Timothy would then be in the clear, authority-wise, to go ahead and do it. (Or something like that)

But, if you look at the overall structure of the grammar in the letter, particularly person/number quality of verbs, it really does sound like it was written to Timothy and not to a group that included Timothy as leader.

In church today, I realized (duh) that communication today is much different than communication in the early Christian era. I agree that Timothy likely knew what his job was, and what Paul expected him to do. But with Paul gone, and for all intents and purposes out of reliable, regular contact; what better form for Timothy to have with him then a letter that clearly, plainly spelled out what Timothy was to do in order to get the Ephesian church back in line?

While Timothy knew the task, what would he do when he was challenged, say, six months into the task, by the false-doctrine purveyors he was attempting to extricate from the church? He could re-consult the letter, and say, "No, Paul really does want me to do this. It really is important. It really is tough. But he’s clear, this is what I’m to do."

This has much in common with P.Tebt.703 (and also here), which was a letter written from a superior to his lieutenant. In simple language it laid out clearly and plainly the expectations the superior has for his underling. The underling surely knew what he was supposed to do, but (as with First Timothy) the letter could also be consulted in the midst of the task to clarify or recall those long-since-forgotten (or at least hazily-remembered) instructions of the superior. After all, he couldn’t send an email, make a phone call, or do a google search to remind himself.

I’m not saying this is exactly the sort of purpose for which First Timothy was written. But it does help me (at this point, anyway) make more sense of the grammar and tone of the letter which seems to say so many things that would be so obvious to Timothy, at least at the time of writing. I’ll have to re-check some commentaries (particularly Witherington and Towner, which as I recall reference P.Tebt.703) to recall once again how the bring P.Tebt.703 into the discussion.

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