Reflections on Ministry and its Rekindling: 2 Timothy 1:17 -- By: Gerald R. McDermott
RAR 11:2 (Spring 2002) p. 111
Reflections on Ministry and its Rekindling: 2 Timothy 1:17
Paul’s reflections at the beginning of his second letter to Timothy contain some of the New Testament’s most poignant insights into Christian ministry. As someone who has worked in churches for thirty years, I find these short paragraphs to be both comforting and bracing—words that suggest both why many ministries run aground and how men and women of the gospel can find the strength to weather the storms of ministry.
I will first discuss the authorship of this letter because without clarity on this point my interpretation of this passage will not make sense. Then I will comment on this passage verse by verse.
Many seminarians have been taught for forty years and more that it is doubtful that Paul is the author of this epistle. The arguments for such a view are strong: the language of this letter is quite different from that of the certifiably “Pauline” epistles, and Paul’s characteristic emphasis on salvation is absent.
But the distinguished New Testament scholar Gordon Fee has recently (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendricksen & Paternoster Publishers, 1995) made just as strong arguments supporting Pauline authorship. He says it is not so surprising that Paul would
RAR 11:2 (Spring 2002) p. 112
have used different vocabulary because it is well known that Paul often appropriated the language of his opposition in order to serve his own purposes. The fact that the “dikai” word group, so prominent in Romans and Galatians, does not appear in this epistle is not significant when one recalls that it does not appear in 1 or 2 Thessalonians, both of which are widely considered Pauline. Furthermore, this is a personal letter written to someone who already knows fully the content of the gospel, and the nature of the false teaching discussed here does not relate to the nature of salvation per se. But Paul does not completely ignore his favorite subject: the idea of preserving and reaffirming the gospel is, as Fee puts it, “at the heart of this letter.”
We all know that Timothy was one of Paul’s closest ministry associates. Fee says Timothy became Paul’s “most intimate and enduring companion.” We also know that Timothy had been left in Ephesus by Paul to stop some false teachers who were tearing the church apart.
According to Fee, Paul wrote this epistle from the Mamertine prison in Rome. Just a month ago I had the privilege of touring this tiny but intimidating jail. Paul was lowered through a hole in the ground, no more than three feet across, into a dark and filthy pit dug out from the rock a...
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