Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
DIG: Who did Timothy replace on Paul’s Second Missionary Journey? Why was Timothy viewed as a Jew and not a Gentile? Since Paul was the emissary to the Gentiles, why did Paul circumcise Timothy (Romans 16:1)? How might his decision be justified?
REFLECT: When have you given up some personal rights in order to better represent Yeshua to others? How might you need to do so now? Are you more person-oriented (like Barnabas) or task-oriented (like Paul)? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your type? What does this tell you about God’s use of various types of people? Think of one of your dearest friends. What are the unique qualities you most appreciate about this person? What have you learned about yourself through this rare relationship? What elements of your life and your past – things you have often deemed to be a negative or a drawback – could God use to make you more effective in ministry, even to make you a better friend?
The decision by the Jerusalem council (to see link click Bs – The Council at Jerusalem) to release Gentiles from observance of all the 613 commandments of the Torah, and the Oral Law (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Ei – The Oral Law), set in motion a time of transition for the congregation of God. Gentile believers were no longer merely a sect of Judaism. Faith in Jesus Christ was rapidly becoming a predominantly Gentile movement. The story, as told in Acts, shifts attention to the gospel’s penetration deep into the Roman world and to the widening ministry of Paul.362
According to the plan, Paul proceeded northward, this time on foot, through the Cilician gates to the cities where he and Barnabas had established churches on their First Missionary Journey. This time Paul and Silas (15:40-41) went from east to west and therefore reached the towns in the reverse order from their first visit: Derbe first, then Lystra, and finally Iconium.
Now Paul and Silas, having crossed the rugged Taurus Mountains, came to Derbe and Lystra in south Galatia. There was a disciple there named Timothy (16:1), who was already a believer when Paul arrived, probably accepting Yeshua in Paul’s First Missionary Journey to Lystra three years earlier. We know it was Paul who led him to the Lord (First Timothy 1:2) and then he became a traveling companion during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. Timothy’s name appears seventeen times in ten different letters of Paul, more than any of his other companions. Two of Paul’s letters, First and Second Timothy, were addressed to him. Paul wanted Timothy to take the place of John Mark, just as Silas took the place of Barnabas. Timothy was continually well-spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium (16:2). Even though he was probably only in his late teens or early twenties, this shows that he had the approval of the churches in his own area. In fact, the elders at the church at Lystra may very well have commissioned him (First Timothy 4:14 and Second Timothy 1:16).363
We know that Timothy, his name meaning God honoring, was trained in the Hebrew Scriptures from childhood (Second Timothy 3:14-15). He was the son of a woman, Eunice (Second Timothy 1:5), who was a Jewish believer, probably as a result of Paul’s First Missionary Journey, for Paul called him my dearly loved son and faithful child in the Lord (First Corinthians 4:17a). His grandmother was also Jewish and her name was Lois. They were excellent spiritual models (Second Timothy 1:5). Young Timothy undoubtedly witnessed Paul’s stoning in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; Second Timothy 3:10-11), but he was drawn to the apostle by the Lord. Timothy possessed spiritually valuable abilities, but he needed encouragement to use them (First Timothy 4:14; Second Timothy 1:6). He was Paul’s favorite companion and coworker (Philippians 2:19-23), perhaps the son Paul never had but always wanted. Timothy’s biological father, however, was Greek. The word father is in the imperfect state, which shows that he had already passed away.
Because his father was Greek, it put the Jewishness of Timothy into question. Many Christians believe that Timothy was a Gentile. Nevertheless, while legal responsibilities and entitlements are passed from father to son, Jewish and non-Jewish descent are always traced through the mother, not the father. The child of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father is Jewish, the child of a Gentile mother and a Jewish father is Gentile. If a Gentile woman converts to Judaism, she is a Jew, and her subsequent children are likewise Jewish.
In Ezra we read: Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Isra’el. So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these women and their offspring, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Torah.” The phrase and such are born to them, implies that the children of Jewish fathers and Gentile mothers are Gentiles and not Jews. That is why on Ezra’s return, the Jews confessed their sin of marrying Gentile women (Ezra 10:1-4).
Obed, the son of Bo’az and Ruth the Moabitess is Jewish not because of his father Bo’az, but because Ruth became a Jew before he was born, not by some formal conversion process (there was none at that time) but with her confession (see the commentary on Ruth An – Your People Will Be My People and Your God My God). Because marrying outside the Jewish community violates the Oral Law, I think the most likely explanation for Timothy’s mixed heritage is that Timothy’s mother, Eunice, like many Jews today, was assimilated into the dominant Gentile culture around her and simply did not observe halakhah, or the rules governing Jewish life. The conclusion that Timothy was a Jew is important for understanding 16:3.
Paul wanted this man to accompany him, replacing John Mark, and he took him and circumcised him, which implies that he had an expert mohel (circumciser) perform the operation. While Paul had both Jewish ritual knowledge (22:3) and at least some manual dexterity (18:3), circumcising an adult is not a simple operation and normally requires a specialist. So Paul had Timothy circumcised for the sake of the unbelieving Jewish people in those places (Romans 16:1). Paul didn’t want Timothy’s uncircumcision to provide a stumbling block for the gospel. The Good News itself contains the stumbling block of Messiah’s death (1 Cor 1:23), and effective proclaimers of the gospel will remove all other stumbling blocks that they can. That is the point: Paul anticipated a problem and solved it.364
Paul’s pattern in the book of Acts was to first visit Jewish synagogues wherever he went (see Bo – Paul’s Message in Pisidian Antioch). So without circumcision, it would have limited Timothy’s ministry to the Jews. Therefore, Paul was not violating the position he took back in Acts 15, because the issue there was whether circumcision was required for Gentiles such as Titus . . . and the answer was no (Acts 15:19). But Timothy had Jewish origins (see above) and according to God’s covenant with Abraham, circumcision was required for Jews and Jewish believers (see the commentary on Genesis El – God’s Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham). This is also a good example of Paul using his own principle of First Corinthians 9:20, “To the Jewish people I identified as a Jew, so that I might win over the Jewish people. To those under Torah I became like one under Torah (though not myself being under Torah), so that I might win over those under Torah.” This was especially necessary for they all knew that he had Jewish origins on his mother’s side, but that his father was Greek (16:3). This was the reason Timothy was not circumcised. His Greek father was against it because Greeks were against those kinds of practices. In fact, when the Greeks controlled the Land they outlawed circumcision even for Jews. Consequently, Timothy’s not being circumcised was well known among the Jewish population and for the sake of obedience to the Abrahamic Covenant, and evangelism to unbelieving Jewish people in those areas, Timothy submitted to circumcision.
As they were traveling through the cities, they visited the churches that they established (see Bm – Paul’s First Missionary Journey) and were continually handing down the ruling (see Bt – The Council’s Letter to the Gentile Believers) that had been decided upon by the emissaries and elders in Jerusalem, for them to keep (16:4). The circumcised Timothy was also with them at that point. So the ruling said that there was no need to circumcise Gentiles; however, Timothy was traveling with Paul and had just recently been circumcised. This showed that Paul saw no inconsistency with what the rulings of Jerusalem said about the circumcision of Gentiles and the circumcision of Timothy because his Jewish origins required it. In addition, instead of making Timothy a sideshow to the gospel in terms of whether he was a Jew or not, Paul permitted circumcision so that the gospel would remain the focus of their ministry.
In the years that followed, Timothy played an important part in the expansion and strengthening of the churches. He traveled with Paul and was often his special ambassador to the “trouble spots” in the ministry, such as Corinth. He became a shepherd of the church at Ephesus (First Timothy 1:3), and probably joined Paul in Rome shortly before the apostle was martyred (Second Timothy 4:21).365
This is a transition statement that provides reasonable clues to the development of Luke’s material that follows, Paul’s ministry in Asia and a shift to Gentile missions. The decision by the Jerusalem council, far from dividing the congregations of God, helped to unite it, for it made clear that idolatry and immorality were all that Gentile believers must avoid to have fellowship with Jewish believers. So Messiah’s communities were strengthened in the faith and now with the basis of salvation settled, the congregations of God kept increasing daily in number (16:5). They flourished. Now, more than ever, they were prepared to carry on when Paul left.