Historical Context

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Timothy’s History

In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Paul reminded Timothy both of those from whom he hard learned the truth and of Timothy’s acquaintance with the Scriptures from childhood. While information on Timothy in the Scriptures is somewhat limited, we can piece together something of a chronology of Timothy’s life.

In Acts 16:1, we learn that Paul first met Timothy in Lystra. Timothy’s mother was a Jewish-Christian, but Timothy’s father was an unbelieving Gentile. So Timothy’s childhood knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures likely came from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), who helped to instill the Scriptures in Timothy. By the time Paul met Timothy, Timothy was already well-known to the Christians in the area of Lystra and Iconium. Since Paul desired to have Timothy as a traveling companion, Paul had Timothy circumcised (since many of the Jews knew Timothy had a Gentile father), and Timothy began to travel with Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 16:1-5).

Timothy was still with Paul in Acts 17 when Paul was chased out of Thessalonica by a Jewish mob. Paul fled to Berea, where many of the Bereans believed as Paul preached the gospel. When the Thessalonian Jews came to Berea to once more cause trouble for Paul, Paul left Timothy and Silas behind in Berea. Paul traveled on to Athens with instructions for Timothy and Silas to rejoin Paul as soon as they could (Acts 17:14-15). Here we see that Timothy was not only a companion of Paul, but Timothy was a co-laborer and was even left to carry on the mission when Paul had to flee Berea. While we don’t know the details of what Timothy and Silas did in Berea, we do learn that they rejoined Paul in Corinth in Acts 18:5.

In Acts 19:22 we again find Paul sending Timothy to carry on the work of the ministry, as this time Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia while Paul prepared to travel to Jerusalem, and then from Jerusalem on to Rome. But in Acts 20:4 we learn that Timothy was part of a group of men who were making their way toward Jerusalem with Paul.

To this brief summary of Timothy’s life from the book of Acts, we can add other evidence from Paul’s letters. Timothy is listed as a co-author of 6 of Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon). We also see Paul sending Timothy to visit churches when Paul was unable to do so. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul sent Timothy to visit the church at Corinth, and Paul specifically sent Timothy to encourage and strengthen the faith of the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 3:2-6). And in the Pastoral Epistles, Paul referred to Timothy as my true child in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2), my child (1 Timothy 1:18), and my beloved child (2 Timothy 1:2).

Paul’s Imprisonment during 2 Timothy

What we know for certain of Paul’s life comes from the book of Acts and from his letters. The book of Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome, and 2 Timothy seems to have been written while Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting his death. However, it seems most likely that these were two different Romans imprisonments. So Paul’s first Roman imprisonment is recorded at the end of the book of Acts, but in the book of Philippians (likely written during this Roman imprisonment), Paul expects to be released from prison and to be able to see the Philippian Christians again (1:25-26).

So if Paul was released from this first Roman imprisonment, he would have had a continued ministry of 4 or more years before being imprisoned in Rome again and executed. We know that Paul originally wanted to go from Rome to Spain (Romans 15:24-28), but since Acts does not cover this part of Paul’s life, we are forced to speculate concerning what Paul did between these two Roman imprisonments.

Since Paul indicated in 2 Timothy 4:6 that the time of his departure had come, we assume that Paul wrote 2 Timothy during this second Roman imprisonment, shortly before his death.

Explore more…

Genre Analysis
Literary Context
Translation & Notes
Word Study
Exegetical Outline
Preaching Outline

Or return to the passage overview