As we look at Paul’s life, it is difficult to determine what happened in the three- to five-year period between his two imprisonments. We usually date his first imprisonment in Rome between 60 and 62 CE. Luke suggests at the end of the Acts that Paul was released from this imprisonment, but his martyrdom didn’t occur until 67 CE., under Nero’s persecutions. What did Paul do during this five-year period?
Clement, the Bishop of Rome, wrote about Paul’s visit to Spain in his letter to the Corinthians. As this is a source very close to the time, I think Paul did make that trip.
Did Paul visit Spain? According to the Epistle to the Romans, written several years earlier, this was his plan. What happened to Paul during this time also brings to mind the authorship of the pastoral epistles 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Most scholars would suggest that these letters are pseudonymous; that is, they were not written by Paul but by later authors who used Paul’s name to ensure that they would be acceptable to the local churches. This was a fairly common practice in that era.
I am going to suggest that these pastoral letters were indeed written by Paul. They may have had extensive editing by scribes at a later time, as they were copied and passed from church to church.
Assuming that Paul wrote these letters, it would appear that Paul took Timothy and Titus to their respective missions – Timothy to Ephesus and Titus to the island of Crete. Paul then wrote the letters to his two disciples as he made his way to Spain, giving Timothy and Titus their orders for their respective missions.
About 25 years ago, I was asked by the Bishop of Toronto to lead an ordination retreat, as five young people were being prepared for ordination as deacons in the Church of Jesus Christ. As we gathered at St. John’s Convent in Willowdale, we used 2 Timothy as our retreat text, which talks about the ministry in the church and what is required to be an ordained minister.
If this letter was written by Paul, it would be his last epistle. He was in prison in Rome, awaiting execution. Compare this description of his imprisonment to that in the Acts of the Apostles. They are very different. In the Acts, Paul is under house arrest, and he has visitors who seem to come and go at random. In 2 Timothy, he is in a dungeon, with few visitors, no communications and little freedom. Only Luke is with him (4:11). I have often wondered why Luke didn’t continue this part of Paul’s life in the Acts. For some reason, he ended the Acts rather abruptly at Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. There seems to have been much more to Paul’s life journey.
Timothy is listed as the first Bishop of Ephesus. He died about 97 CE. He was like a son to Paul and is mentioned often in the epistles and the Acts. This second letter to Timothy is Paul’s final word to his “son,” with exhortations about his need for endurance and faith in the midst of adversity. It was Paul who laid hands on Timothy for this work and mission (2 Tim 1:6). God’s gifts to Timothy through the laying-on of Paul’s hands were the gifts of power, love and self-discipline. (1:7.)
All of us are called to be ministers in God’s church. May I suggest you read these three pastoral epistles to help us understand what it means to be a minister in God’s church. Those of you who are ordained, I beseech you to read these letters once a year, to be reminded of your call to ordained ministry. To those five deacons who were with me 25 years ago, congratulations on reaching your 25th anniversary of your ordination! I pray your ministry has been rewarding and full of His presence as you have walked with Him along this road of life. May this life be a continuous search for what it means to be ordained in His church and committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. And may we continue to dialogue with His holy word.
As you read these pastoral letters, there are three questions I suggest you keep in mind: what does it mean to be a minister today (both lay and ordained)?; how do I listen to that still, small voice of Jesus in the midst of a very noisy world?; and what do the scriptures tell us about living in faith for today?
Enjoy the dialogue.