The name Τιμόθεος (Timothy) is a combination of τιμή (“value”) + θεός (“God”), meaning “of value to God.” He was a mixed-race (Jewish-Greek) native of the Lycaonian city of Lystra in the southern Galatia province of eastern Asia Minor (modern-day central Turkey). While Timothy’s father was Greek, his mother Eunice was Jewish, as was his grandmother Lois (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5). Even though he had learned the holy scriptures from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15), he was not circumcised presumably because of his father.
Timothy was converted to Christ probably during the first missionary campaign of Barnabas and Paul in southern Galatia, as reference is made to “the disciples” in Lystra (Acts 14:20, 22), one of whom is later identified as Timothy (Acts 16:1).1 The young man’s faithfulness to the Lord and competence in the Lord’s work were observable enough for the brethren in the area to speak well of him (Acts 16:2). When Paul returned to Lystra early in the year 50, he was so impressed with Timothy that he invited the young man to join his mission team (Acts 16:3a). However, at least three requisites served as potential obstacles: (a) Timothy’s willingness; (b) his family’s support; and (c) circumcision.
As new converts, Timothy and his mother witnessed first-hand the severe maltreatment of those proclaiming the gospel in an anti-Christian world (Acts 14:19-20) and had even been assured, “through many afflictions we must enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22; cf. 2 Tim. 3:10-12).2 Nevertheless, Timothy readily joined Paul’s mission team and submitted to the painful surgery (Acts 16:3b), with no reported resistance from his family.
Since Timothy was half-Jewish, it was culturally expedient for him to be circumcised, thereby enhancing his effectiveness in advancing the gospel among fellow ethnic Jews (cf. 1 Cor. 7:19; 9:19-23). Titus, on the other hand, was a full-blooded Greek whose concession to this Jewish rite would have compromised the Christian faith and set a dangerous precedent (see Gal. 2:3-5).
How old was Timothy at this time? Later described as Paul’s “child” [τέκνον] (1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2, 18; 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1), he was obviously younger than the apostle. About thirteen or fourteen years after the partnership began, mention is made of Timothy’s “youth” [νεότης] (1 Tim. 4:12). While this descriptive term does not indicate an actual age, it was applied to young men of military age (ca. 20-45),3 and the comparable expression “young man” [νεανίας] (cf. Acts 7:58) referred to one between the ages of about 24 and 40 (BAGD 534). Therefore, when Timothy became Paul’s missionary apprentice, he was probably in his 20s.4
Of Value to Paul
Timothy became one of Paul’s closest companions and is mentioned by name in the openings of more Pauline letters than any of the apostle’s other coworkers (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Philem. 1). Timothy appears to have played a prominent role in the production of 2 Corinthians, Colossians, and the Thessalonian letters. However, even though he is named with Paul in the opening verses of Philippians and Philemon, the prolific use of the “I” form of address throughout the letters argues against any substantial contribution Timothy may have made, though he could have served as amanuensis.5 Two of Paul’s letters are addressed to Timothy, and the only writings in the Pauline corpus wherein Timothy is not named are the letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians, and Titus.6 He is also mentioned by name in Heb. 13:23.
Timothy worked with Paul in southern Galatia (Acts 16:1-6), in the Macedonian cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16:7–17:14), in the Achaian cities of Athens and Corinth (Acts 17:15–18:5; Rom. 16:21; 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 3:1-2), and in the Asian cities of Ephesus (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17) and Troas (Acts 16:8-11; 20:4-5). He also journeyed with Paul from Corinth to Jerusalem with financial assistance for needy saints (Acts 20:4).
Timothy served as a dependable representative of the apostle to the churches of Macedonia (Acts 19:22), including the cities of Philippi (Phil. 2:19) and Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:2); also to Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10). He was with Paul in Rome (Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; Philem. 1), served as an evangelist in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:2-3; 2 Tim. 4:5), and at some point was imprisoned but later released (Heb. 13:23).
Commendations of Timothy
Whenever Timothy was sent as Paul’s emissary, he was afforded elaborate commendations (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11; Phil. 2:19-24; 1 Thess. 3:2). Seeing that he was already known by the churches to whom these letters were written, why were these extensive acclamations given? In view of his comparative youth and apparent timidity and reserve (cf. 1 Cor. 16:10-11; 1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 1:7-8), it would help bolster his confidence and promote acceptance and respect. It would further justify Paul’s absence and remind these readers that Timothy is an authoritative representative in his own right, whose admonitions should be heeded. Titus, on the other hand, did not need such hefty commendations (2 Cor. 7:15; 8:17; 12:18).
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Timothy was regarded as Paul’s “child” [τέκνον] (1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2, 18; 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1), not only emphasizing the closeness of their relationship but perhaps identifying Timothy as one of the apostle’s early converts (compare 1 Cor. 3:1-2; 4:14-17; Phil. 2:22; Philem. 10).
2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
3 Herodotus, The Histories 4.3.1; 9.12.2; Thucydides, The Peloponnesian Way 2.8.1. The minimum age of military service in ancient Israel was 20 years old (Num. 1:3, 20, 22, 24, etc.). In the Roman army, the youngest recruits were around 18-20 years of age, serving at least twenty years plus five more as reservists (see James Lloyd, “Roman Army,” Ancient History Encyclopedia [30 April 2013], <web>).
4 According to a 5th-century tradition (Acts of Timothy), Timothy was killed in the year 97 at the age of 80. If true, this means Timothy was about 33 years old when his partnership with Paul began, and he was in his late 40s when Paul refers to his “youth” (1 Tim. 4:12).
5 See K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 246-53. Of all the Pauline writings, the letters to Philemon and the Philippians have the fewest first person plurals.
6 In the letter to the Galatians, Timothy may have been included among “all the brothers with” Paul (Gal. 1:2). When Ephesians was written, Timothy had probably been sent away to Philippi (Phil. 2:19-23), and when the letter to Titus was written, Timothy would have been left behind to work with the saints in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3).