Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Background of the Letters to Timothy & Titus: What Happened After Acts?

The historical record of Acts concludes with Paul having been incarcerated in Rome for two whole years (Acts 28:30), with no information about the outcome of his trial or of his death. If, at the time of writing, the apostle was still confined to house arrest and his future still uncertain, the abrupt ending is understandable. There was nothing further to report.
Although weighty attention in Luke’s writings is given to Jerusalem, nothing is said of the fall of Jerusalem (summer of 70), presumably because it had not yet occurred. There is no mention of the Neronian persecution (64-68), even though the story of Acts ends in Rome. While Luke tells of the martyrdoms of both Stephen and the apostle James (Acts 7:57-60; 12:2), there is no record of the death of the Lord’s brother James (who was killed in Jerusalem in the summer of 62), even though he is a prominent figure in Acts (1:14; 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).
Despite Luke’s long-time relationship with Paul, he betrays no knowledge of the apostle’s letters or even mentions that Paul wrote letters. While this raises some intriguing questions, the further in history Luke-Acts is chronologized the more inexplicable this becomes. By the mid-60s the Pauline writings were recognized (at least from Asia Minor to Rome) as a well-known collection and regarded as scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Paul’s correspondence to Timothy and Titus, unlike his other extant writings, do not fit the framework of Acts. The simplest explanation is that they were penned after Acts was completed, thus comprising the final documents in the Pauline corpus. Near the end of his two-year detention in Rome, the apostle was anticipating probable release (Philem. 22; Phil. 1:19, 25-26; 2:24). That he did stand trial before Caesar is presupposed by the divine promise of Acts 27:24, and Paul later speaks of his “first defense” and deliverance (2 Tim. 4:16-17). It would appear that he did in fact regain his freedom and traveled to places like Macedonia, Greece, Asia Minor, Crete, and possibly also to Spain (1 Tim. 1:3; 3:14; Tit.1:5; 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:13, 20; cf. Philem. 22; Rom. 15:28). Imprisoned again at Rome, he writes his final apostolic manuscript as he anticipates almost certain death (2 Tim. 1:16-17; 2:9; 4:6-8). According to early and consistent tradition, during Nero’s reign Paul suffered martyrdom, which would have been no earlier than summer of 64 and no later than summer of 68.
On the night of 18 July 64 a fire broke out in Rome, and five days later at least three of the city’s fourteen sections were destroyed. Nero blamed Christians for the disaster and instigated brutal hostilities against them that lasted until his suicide on 9 June 68 (cf. Tacitus, Annals 15.38-44; Suetonius, Life of Nero 16.2). It is unclear whether the persecution began immediately or took about a year to actuate; the excesses of the brutalities appear to have been diminishing by 67 (see Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.1.3; 2.25.1-8; I Clement 5.1-7; the Acts of Paul; the Acts of Peter; and John Chrysostom, Oppugnatores Vitae Monasticae 1.3).
Provenance, Destination, and Dates of the Pastorals
Spring 62 (the close of the Acts narrative and completion of the prison epistles) would be the earliest possibility for Paul’s release from his first incarceration in the imperial city. His second Roman imprisonment and subsequent death would be no later than summer 68, allowing up to six years for further travels, evangelistic endeavors, and writing projects.  
Prior to his initial arrival in Rome, he had expressed his desire to take the gospel as far west as Spain, soliciting the support of the Roman Christians (Rom. 15:23-29). Although unforeseen circumstances altered the original plan, it is entirely possible that he went on to achieve this goal. It would have taken less than a week to sail from Italy to Spain. Clement of Rome, near the end of the first century, affirms that Paul preached the gospel in the extreme west of the Roman Empire, which at the time would have included Spain (I Clement 5.1-7). The second-century Muratorian Fragment (lines 38-39) and Acts of Peter take Paul’s Spanish journey for granted, as do the fourth-century testimonies of Cyril of Jerusalem and John Chrysostom.
Paul had also made tentative plans to return to the provinces of Macedonia and Asia (Phil. 2:24; Philem. 22). While the order of events is uncertain, Titus accompanied him to Crete and was left there to continue this work (Tit. 1:4-5). Paul also traveled to the west coast of Asia Minor, leaving Trophimus in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20b) and Timothy in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). While in the vicinity he may have followed through with his plans to visit Philemon in Colosse (Philem. 22) before heading to the port city of Troas (2 Tim. 4:13). From Troas it was a day’s journey across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:11), where Paul surely fulfilled his wish to see the brethren in Philippi (Phil. 1:24-26; 2:24).
From Macedonia (most likely) Paul wrote 1 Timothy, sending the letter to Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3); he hoped to join Timothy again in Ephesus but understood he might be delayed (1 Tim. 3:14-15; 4:13). On his way to Nicopolis Paul wrote his letter to Titus, sending it to the island of Crete (Tit. 1:5; 3:12). The location of Nicopolis is uncertain, since different cities shared this same name in various places. It is possible that this particular Nicopolis was in Thrace (near the borders of Macedonia) or in Cilicia, but more likely in the province of Epirus in northwestern Greece (see BDAG 673). The apostle wanted Titus to join him in Nicopolis, where he planned to spend the winter (Tit. 3:12); sometime afterwards Titus would head north to Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10) in the southern region of the ancient province of Illyricum (cf. Rom. 15:19). Paul may have also made a trip to Corinth while he was in the area (2 Tim. 4:20a).
There is no way of knowing for sure how long this limited period of freedom was for the apostle, but composing the letters of 1 Timothy and Titus would have been no earlier than 62 and not much later than 64. At some point Paul ended up back in Rome as a prisoner and wrote 2 Timothy (2 Tim. 1:8, 16-17; 2:9). He implies that his upcoming trial is the second one, and this time his death seems imminent (2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16). Luke is presently with him as Tychicus is sent to Ephesus (no doubt to deliver the letter), and Paul requests Timothy and Mark to join him before the onset of winter (2 Tim. 4:9-21). Onesiphorus, who had ministered to Paul in Ephesus, arrived in Rome for a visit (2 Tim. 1:16-18), whereas others were not as loyal (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:10). Reportedly the apostle was executed in Rome near the end of Nero’s reign (64-68) and his corpse buried in the Ostian Way (Caius, Disputation Against Proclus; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 2.25.5-6; Jerome, De Viris Illus.). The writing of 2 Timothy, therefore, would fit into this timeframe.
Implications for World Evangelism
Around the time the historical narrative of Acts comes to a close, Paul claims that the gospel has been preached in all the world (Col. 1:5-6, 23). While there may be a hyperbolic element here, the extent of the gospel’s proclamation seems to have been much greater than what is specifically documented in the New Testament. One cannot escape the fact that the message of Christ is universal in scope (Mark 16:15), and its incredibly widespread dissemination in just three decades cannot be denied.
One might argue that by the time Colossians was written, the Great Commission had been fulfilled. Yet the letters to Timothy and Titus, verifying the continued evangelistic efforts of Paul and his coworkers, demonstrate that the task was far from finished. The book of Acts is structured according to six general time periods, each of which ends with a summary statement of the progress made (6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). If these six periods are symbolically relevant, seeing that the number seven represents completeness, Acts ends with the Lord’s work unfinished.
The final period of the missionary enterprise did not end with Paul’s imprisonment or even his death. In fact, it has still not ended. The story continues. You and I are part of it. As long as there are unsaved people on the planet, especially those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s cause must carry on, even until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
--Kevin L. Moore

*Prepared for the 2018 FHU Lectureship.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Slaves of Christ

     The epistle to the Philippians opens with Paul and Timothy both described as “slaves [douloi] of Christ Jesus.”1 While all Christians are to be Christ’s slaves (1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6; 2 Tim. 2:24), other than the apostle himself and Timothy (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:1), Epaphras is the only individual specifically identified as such in the Pauline writings (Col. 4:12). In the opening of the letter to Philemon, Paul is designated “a prisoner of Christ” with Timothy “the brother.” Due to the sensitive nature of the correspondence, it is understandable why the word “slave” is not used as a descriptive term.
     J. Murphy-O’Connor considers the title “slave of Christ Jesus” to be honorific, calling to mind the great servants of God in the OT (Letter-Writer 48). L. A. Jervis considers that the unique positioning of Timothy’s name along with this designation draws attention to his equality with Paul and to their shared commitment to the service of Christ (Purpose of Romans 71). Yet Timothy’s subordinate status in relation to Paul is evident in the letter body (Phil. 2:22) and elsewhere (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2). Moreover, in the first-century Greco-Roman world, in the context of a Roman colony like Philippi (cf. Acts 16:12, 21), the word “slave” would be more humbling than honorific.   
     Adopting such a title challenged societal norms where prestige and advancement were highly valued (cf. Phil. 3:7-8). Paul “introduces the countercultural mind-set that he will establish in the letter. Over against the Philippians’ quest for honor, Paul and Timothy are models of an alternative set of values.”2 The apostle makes sure his readers know that the Lord Jesus Christ took on the “form of a slave [doulos]” (Phil. 2:7). When he says concerning Timothy, “he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22), the verb is douleúō, connoting service as slaves. The difference is that a slave of Christ is one who gives himself up willingly and fully to the will of another (cf. Rom. 6:17-20).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 J. W. Thompson and B. W. Longenecker, Philippians 26.

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Wednesday, 8 November 2017

They Returned …

     Contrary to popular misconceptions, Paul’s approach to missionary work did not merely involve baptizing people and starting churches. Sufficient resources were invested for adequate instruction and edification, requiring extended periods of time (cf. Acts 14:3; 18:11; 20:27, 31). When this luxury was not afforded, ample follow-up work was necessary in order to establish these churches. When only a brief time was spent in a given location, it was typically because of forced departure rather than by design.1

The Galatia Campaign

     When Paul and Barnabas reached the city of Derbe, the end of the first missionary campaign’s evangelistic trail, they did not continue eastward towards home. “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith …” (Acts 14:21-22a).2 Not long thereafter Paul says, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36). This plan was carried out on multiple occasions (Acts 15:41–16:6; 18:23).

The Macedonia Campaign

     On the second missionary tour at least three churches were started in the province of Macedonia, beginning at Philippi (Acts 16:12-40). We don’t know how long Paul and his fellow missionaries were in that city; the only time indicators are “some days” and “many days” (Acts 16:12, 18). Seeing that they were compelled to leave prematurely, one member of the mission team appears to have stayed behind to continue the work. The pronominal “we” (inclusive of Luke) at the beginning of the account (Acts 16:10-16) switches to the third person “they” at departure (Acts 16:40; 17:1), implying that Luke remained in Philippi – potentially, in view of the next “we” section (Acts 20:6), for about seven years. There were also follow-up visits (Phil. 2:19, 24; etc.), noted further below.
     Next was Thessalonica, where converts were made but again the missionaries were forced to leave prematurely (Acts 17:1-10). Nevertheless, Timothy returned soon with a letter (1 Thess. 1:1; 2:17; 3:1-6) and probably a second time a few months later with another letter (2 Thess. 1:1). The three-man mission team also worked together in nearby Berea until Paul was forced to leave, while “both Silas and Timothy remained there” (Acts 17:10-14). After regrouping in Athens, Silas and Timothy went back to Macedonia (1 Thess. 2:17–3:2; Acts 18:5).
     In total, Timothy made four or five documented return trips to Macedonia (1 Thess. 3:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Acts 19:22; 20:1-4; Phil. 2:19-23), Silas at least one (Acts 18:5), while Paul revisited these brethren no fewer than four times (Acts 19:21; 20:1, 3; Phil. 2:24; 1 Tim. 1:3; cf. 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5; 9:2-4).

The Achaia and Asia Campaigns

     Paul stayed in Corinth at least a year and a half, “teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). He later returned for a three-month visit (1 Cor. 4:19; 16:5-6; Acts 20:2-3) and possibly again a few years later (2 Tim. 4:20). Follow-up work was also done by Apollos, Timothy, Titus, and others (Acts 19:1; 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Cor. 7:13-15; 8:16-24; 12:18). While Paul’s first trip to Ephesus was brief, leaving Aquila and Priscilla there to initiate this work, he soon went back for an extended three-year mission (Acts 18:18-21; 19:1; 20:31; 1 Cor. 16:8) followed by multiple return visits (Acts 20:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:3; 3:14; 4:13).


     The biblical pattern of missionary work has never been a quick and easy enterprise. While baptizing penitent believers is essential, converts must be sufficiently taught, grounded in the faith, and trained in discipleship (Matt. 28:18-20). This requires extensive follow-up work, with churches not only started but established as faithful, growing, self-sustaining communities. As we pray for laborers to be sent out into the Lord’s harvest fields (Luke 10:2), may we never discount the importance of missionaries returning to the mission field.

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Cf. Acts 13:50; 14:5-6, 19-20; 16:30; 17:10.
     2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV; emphasis added in italics.

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