A critical review of the claim for the early dating of 1st Timothy and Titus in a paper read by Michael Phelan at a Coventry Bible convention in October 1989, on the evidence of a change after the end of the Acts.


The original paper, called Section 1, comprises twenty-three pages apart from notes. A much enlarged further study followed later as Section 2, mainly concerned with the probable order of the biblical books generally. The opening paragraph of Section 2 informs us that the Author "simply drew on Scripture texts" in Section 1, which he felt "prove the point"; something not exactly evident.

This review is intentionally limited to the features stated and is not concerned with other aspects, some of which could be worthy of consideration. It is taken for granted that a change did occur at Acts 28.28.; also that the 2nd Epistle to Timothy and that to the Philippians are accepted as the last and first respectively of the post Acts Pauline letters. Though the Author of the paper would have Paul also writing a prison epistle to Titus from Rome; and unless it was dispatched at the Three Taverns it would be the first after Acts 28.28.! Apart from this detail we are in basic agreement. We are also agreed that "if ITimothy and Titus were written during the Acts, then they were not written with us, or the time in which we live, in mind" lpl6.

It is suggested at 2pp 32 & 68 that if "spiritual gifts" were withdrawn after the close of the Acts era the apostolic writings afterwards could not be inspired. But this is to confuse two quite different things. The miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were for a particular witness and were manifest to all: the inspiration of Scripture was a secret process, applying equally to the OT writings. However, it is clear that no acknowledged inspired writings were made after Malachi and before the first NT book, or after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70.

It needs to be recognised at the outset that historical references in an epistle not only must predate its writing, but may do so by very many years. It does not follow either, where previous and current instructions are compared, that the former belong to the recent past; nor is the intervening of Acts 28 between them always of consequence. This possibility is exemplified in Paul's final epistle where he recalls his earliest vicissitudes at Lystra, which Timothy knew well, 2Tim.3.10/11.

With reference to Paul's discourse at Miletus with the Ephesian elders, far too much has been built upon two declarations there made. Firstly, when Paul mentions that they are unlikely to see him again, this is just an ordinary human opinion uttered under stress; something similar to David who said, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul"; yet that never happened. Acts 20.25. is well given in the Amplified Version thus - "and now observe, I perceive that all of you, among whom I have gone in and out proclaiming the kingdom, will see my face no more".

The second declaration is entirely different as it rests on the spiritual gift of prophecy. It was thus known to Paul that "imprisonment and afflictions" lay ahead for him. But of course, "there is no hint at all that this would be anything but permanent", just as there is no hint either that it was otherwise; that is an invalid supposition. Paul himself expected to be released when he wrote to Philemon, as also he indicated in Philippians 2.24..

This unwarranted conclusion seems to be the only ground for advancing an unusual theory (also held apparently by the late Hugh Schonfield), that Paul's Roman imprisonment was continuous until his death. The understanding that Paul was at one time released, which is held by the great majority of Bible students and theologians of every hue, our Author calls "The Two Captivities Theory". Then he affirms that the apocryphal Epistle of Clement "is in fact the only piece of evidence to support the Theory"; and he assumes "the absence of Biblical evidence for two Roman imprisonments of Paul." Finally, on l53, he claims, "This 'Two Captivities' theory has I believe already been discredited by our previous findings". What findings, we ask ? Where are they ?

It is to be regretted that a study of mine, regarding verses 30 and 31 of Acts 28, for which evidence exists of displaced MS fragments, should be used to add weight to a viewpoint not supported by me. My case is that "proclaiming" the kingdom relates to conditions pre-Acts 28, not afterwards.

Now it was pointed out above that in Paul's last letter he refers to events of which Timothy was well informed. But he also tells Timothy some things he did not know; namely, that "Erastus remained at Corinth", and linked to it that "Trophimus I left ill at Miletus". Of course, as with Titus at Crete, Paul could have left an assistant in place by distant instructions, but to leave one sick could only be done in person and at liberty. It would appear that a journey had been undertaken of which the earlier part was known to Timothy, but later details are here given to him. Yet had not Timothy been with Paul at Rome when he wrote to Philemon, to Philippi, and to Colosse?  What is more, there was healing from Paul for Publius's father at Melita; but not for Trophimus at Miletus!  Here is the Biblical evidence for two Pauline imprisonments at Rome and an intervening release.

An indication of a post Acts placing, while not a proof, is absence of miracle cures; though an earlier dating would be settled by their occurrence. A sounder basis for establishing the pastoral epistles as after Acts is their treatment of marital relationships, which accords with the later major epistles and is at variance with Paul's original advocating of celibacy. The identifying of every detail of the Apostle's tours, either before or after Acts, is unnecessary. The placing of the pastorals can best be done by means of internal literary evidence. Attention has been unduly focussed on features suggestive of earlier writing and too little on positive alternative evidence.

The certainty of Paul's release from prison having been established, the simpler explanation in the introduction to 1st Timothy can be accepted; namely, that during a tour of Paul with Timothy they together reached Ephesus, Timothy being left there while the Apostle went on to Macedonia. The reason he was left there is stated in 1Tim.1.3/4, which in the ASV(&RV) reads, "that thou mightest charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine, nor to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questionings rather than a dispensation of God which is in faith".

This has been problematic to manuscript copyists and translators alike, as witnessed by the diversity of readings extant. It has also been largely ignored by dispensationalists, who really ought to know better. Here we find that familiar Greek word oikonomia, which can mean Stewardship (see Lk.16.2. also lCor.9.17.), and is so given here by the CV, Weymouth. Cunnington and Rotherham.

Who then is the Steward here ? Clearly neither Paul nor Timothy: and the offenders are stated in the plural. No, this is not a Stewardship but is "God's dispensation", as given also by Darby and Alford. But the preferable term is "God's administration" as in Amp.NT, Bowes, Fenton and NAS. Need it be pointed out that this is the one and only Administration of God, dealt with in detail in Ephesians and Colossians, and that thus 1Timothy was written after Acts 28.28. ?

There must be a definite reason why Timothy, so closely associated with Paul's ministry for many years, needed this list of basic instructions for his conduct and witness. Paul, who intends to join him anon, gives interim rules on how to behave in a Godly household, though this has been badly construed as "the house of God" - which in Scripture would mean the Temple at Jerusalem. Timothy is told that a "house of God" is a pillar and a base of the truth, being an assembly of a living God. [there are no articles here; "The Assembly of God" is an Acts period term] The households of Nymphas and of Philemon would have been outcallings of God on this pattern.

This concern of the Pastoral Epistles with corrections and behavioural rules suggests that some major event had upset previous patterns of conduct. Was not this the event which occurred at Rome after Acts 28.28.? When this happened no one had any idea what to do, as the Old Testament had nothing to say on the matter. They were all in the dark; they needed a light, an Epiphany like the star that guided the wise men at Bethlehem. Such an epiphaneia is alluded to in just one place.

What the Jews at Rome rejected and was comnissioned to the nations was the sOtErion of God, a Greek word meaning "salvation bringing". An allusion to this moment and its result occurs in a verse reading, "For the grace of God has appeared (epipane) bringing salvation (sOtErion) to all men". It is Titus 2.11., which is a parenthesis between vv.10 and 12, the "instructing" linking "the doctrine of God our Saviour", a term used five times in both epistles. The verb implies the noun epipaneia, marking the beginning of the administration of grace; so Titus cannot be placed in the Acts era.

An epiphany literally means a shining upon; and Rotherham uses for the noun "forthshining", and for the verb "shone forth". It needs to be just enough light to perceive a situation; it may not be a "great light", so "blazing forth" is not ideal. Because there are many epiphanies each one has to be defined. At Christ's second coming there will be the epipaneia of His Parousia which will eliminate the Antichrist, 2Thes.2.8.. But this one is not that mentioned in 1Timothy and Titus.

In these two epistles reference is made to another epiphany or appearing, which is what marks the close of the administration of grace and the advent of the revival of the kingdom of the heavens. Timothy is urged to "keep the conmandment without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" lTim.6.14.. This is the blessed hope of Titus 2.13., but is more suitably translated as - "awaiting the blessed expectation, namely, the forthshining of the great God's glory and of our Saviour Jesus Christ". Though inseparably linked in a single forthshining, it has two aspects, more clearly seen in 1Timothy where "the great God" is expanded in verses 15 & 16. Rotherham and the Diaglott put in parenthesis the words "King of Kings and Lord of Lords", which designate Christ, since "whom no man has seen" does not apply to Him.

These two epistles complement each other, like Ephesians and Colossians, and present truths not found elsewhere though they have problems and, like all epistles, have transitional elements.

In 1939/40 in The Word of Truth, Otis Sellers considered these difficulties, and the series "The Unfolding of the Secret" is recommended, as also is Seed and Bread No.17 on The One Mediator.

M. S. Lloyd Glasgow March 1993

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