First Timothy is a letter comprised of ministerial advice from a mentor, Paul, to his protégé, Timothy (I Timothy 1:1-2). Given this content, it is one of three New Testament writings grouped as the Pastoral Epistles (I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus). One of the issues addressed is that of age discrimination as Paul instructs Timothy not to let anyone discount him on account of his youth (I Timothy 4:12).
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. (I Timothy 4:12 NASB)From this account, some Christian organizations have incorporated the term “Young Timothy” into their programming. Paul’s protégé is forever linked with youth, perpetually frozen in time as a young pastor.
Benjamin Fiore (b. 1943) discerns:
II Timothy suggests the same youthfulness in mentioning his mother and grandmother at II Timothy 1:5, the threat of youthful passions at II Timothy 2:22, Timothy’s education, his teachers, and his childhood at II Timothy 3:14-15. In the letters’ concern for preserving the authentic Pauline tradition, Timothy represents the next generation. (Fiore, The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus (Sacra Pagina), 95)Few biographical details emerge within First Timothy regarding the letter’s recipient. Elsa Tamez (b. 1950) compiles:
An important figure is Timothy, described as a youth (I Timothy 4:12) ordained by the elders (I Timothy 4:14, 1:18) with stomach problems (I Timothy 5:23), who has the task of easing through the instructions sent to him. (Tamez, Struggles for Power in Early Christianity: A Study of the First Letter to Timothy, xxiii-xxiv)The admonition regarding Timothy’s age (I Timothy 4:12) does not seem to conform to the rest of the composite sketch First Timothy paints. Jouette M. Bassler (b. 1942) recognizes:
The reference to despising Timothy’s youth [I Timothy 4:12] comes somewhat as a surprise, for the letter has thus far projected an image of him as a mature, responsible church leader. It may simply be one of the numerous personal references that increase the verisimilitude of these letters (see, e.g., I Timothy 1:3, 6:12; II Timothy 1:5). Timothy was known to have been Paul’s younger coworker (Philippians 2:22) and Paul himself had instructed the Corinthian church not to let anyone “despise” him (I Corinthians 16:10-11), though he did not link this problem to Timothy’s age. On the other hand, the words may reflect a difficult issue that the church faced in its early years. The bishops and deacons, unlike the elders...did not have implicit or explicit age requirements (I Timothy 3:1-13). The “natural” subordinate relationship of youth to age could thus be overturned by the appointment of a youthful church member to one of these leadership positions...It was just the sort of situation...that led Ignatius of Antioch [35-98] to admonish the church in Magnesia (Asia Minor) in the early decades of the second century “not to presume on the youth of the bishop, but to render him all respect” (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians 3.1). Within I Timothy, however, the reference to Timothy’s youth seems to serve a more literary function, for it anticipates the next section where issues related to groups defined (in large part) by age are addressed. There the natural deference of youth to age is generally upheld (I Timothy 5:1-2) and while older widows are honored (I Timothy 5:9), younger ones are viewed as dangerously flighty (I Timothy 5:11). At the same time, however, “elders” are not beyond rebuke (I Timothy 5:19-20) and, as this verse [I Timothy 4:12] signals, leadership categories can supersede age categories in defining the social order of the church (I Timothy 5:22). (Bassler, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 86)It is not known whether Timothy has actually experienced criticism regarding his age or if his mentor merely anticipates it (I Timothy 4:12). Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) connects:
Paul apparently thought Timothy would encounter the same sort of obstacle he anticipated in the Corinthian church. Although the mandate dimension of this letter (written to Timothy but also for the church [I Timothy 1:1, 6:21) differs from that of I Corinthians (written directly to the church [I Corinthians 1:2]), the closest parallel to the kind of concern expressed here is I Corinthians 16:10-11...The issue of Timothy’s relative youth is not specifically mentioned in I Corinthians 16:10-11, but the possibility that the Corinthian church would scorn or despise him if he were sent in Paul’s place is paralleled in this text in the term “to look down upon” (cf. Titus 2:15). (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 313-14)It seems unlikely that the author would supply the church a reason to denigrate his charge if it is not already an issue. Doing so might create a problem that does not exist. Thus, in all likelihood, in this instance, age is an issue for Timothy.
Timothy is not to be disregarded because of his youth (I Timothy 4:12). The epistle uses the Greek verb kataphronéō which is translated “despise” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), “look down on” (NASB, NIV), “make fun of” (CEV), “put...down” (MSG) or “think less of” (NLT). J.N.D. Kelly (1909-1997) renders the word “underrate” (Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 103).
The term is forceful. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) probes:
καταφρονειν, “to despise, treat contemptuously,” can be a strong word, denoting disgust and even hatred. Jesus said that no one can serve two masters; he will be devoted to and love one, and hate (μισειν) and despise (καταφρονειν) the other (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Jesus also says not to despise little children (Matthew 18:10). To the rich Corinthians who were abusing the Lord’s Supper Paul says that by doing so they are despising the church and humiliating the poor (I Corinthians 11:22). Peter describes those who “indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (II Peter 2:10). The only other occurrence of the word in the Pastoral Epistles is when Paul tells slaves not to despise their masters because they are Christians (I Timothy 6:2), although καταφρονειν does occur as a variant for περιφρονειν where Paul tells Titus not to let anyone disregard or despise him (Titus 2:15). The strong connotation that καταφρονειν carries helps to explain why throughout the Pastoral Epistles Paul instructs Timothy on issues that Timothy already knows. Since Timothy was meeting extreme opposition, being ignored because of his age, this epistle must carry the apostle’s full authority and transfer that authority to Timothy in the eyes of the Ephesians. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)Jerome D. Quinn (1927-1988) and William C. Wacker (b. 1951) support:
In this letter, “disdain” translates the verb kataphroneitō (contrast the periphroneitō of Titus 2:15 and Jerome [347-420]’s comment in Titum [Patrologia Latina 26.589-90], who says the kata- compound denotes contempt in its proper sense, as when a martyr despises and scorns all the torments inflicted in him as of no account). In the eight other New Testament uses, Matthew 6:24 = Luke 16:13 (Synopsis of the Four Gospels §224) as well as Matthew 18:10 (in a context of leadership, a little child, and greatness!) have the verb refer to a person, and in the first examples cited, to “masters” (kyriois), as in I Timothy 6:2...it refers to “masters” (despotas). The uses in Romans 2:4 (of the riches of God’s goodness and I Corinthians 11:22 (the churches of God) are somewhat different, as are Hebrews 12:2 (Christ “despising the shame” of the cross) and II Peter 2:10 (persons despising the lordship or rule of authority of Christ? See Carl Schneider [1900-1977], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3.632-33). Ignatius of Antioch [35-98]’s Epistle to the Smyrnaeans uses the verb of Peter and those with him who saw the risen Jesus and thereafter “despised even death” (kai thanatou katephronēsan). The three uses in The Shepherd of Hermas, similarly, do not have a personal object (Mandate 7.2 [but note the passive]; 9.10; and 10.3.1). (Quinn and Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 382)D. Edmond Hiebert (1910-1995) interprets:
The verb “connotes that the contempt felt in the mind is displayed in injurious action” (Newport J.D. White [1860-1936]). He is not to allow them to push him around because of his youth. (Hiebert, First Timothy (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 85)Timothy’s age is underscored grammatically (I Timothy 4:12). Aida Besançon Spencer (b. 1947) acquaints:
The cause (your youth) of the negative opinion is emphasized by being placed before the verb (despise) [I Timothy 4:12]. (Spencer, 1 Timothy (New Covenant Commentary), 113)Timothy’s issue is his “youth” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, RSV), that he is “young” (CEV, MSG, NIV, NLT, NRSV), or that he exhibits “youthfulness” (NASB). The term encompasses a broad range of ages.
William D. Mounce (b. 1953) researches:
νεότης, “youth,” occurs in the New Testament elsewhere only in the phrase “since my youth” [Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21; Acts 26:4]. The rich young ruler says that he obeyed the commands since his youth (Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21), and Paul speaks of “my manner of life from my youth [ἐκ νεότητος] spent from the beginning [ἀπ’ ἀρχης] among my own nation” (Acts 26:4). Paul was a youth when Stephen was stoned (cognate νεανίας: Acts 7:58; cf. Acts 20:9 [Eutychus]; Acts 23:17 [Paul’s nephew]; cf. also the cognate νεανίσκος). The phrase ἐκ/ἀπὸ νεότητος, “from youth upwards,” is common in extrabiblical Greek (James Hope Moulton [1863-1917] and George Milligan [1860-1934], 424). The Didache says that “from their youth thou shalt teach them [i.e., sons and daughters] the fear of God” (4:9). These passages show that νεότης can refer to a very young person. Henry George Liddell [1811-1898], Robert Scott [1811-1887], Henry Stuart Jones [1867-1939] and Roderick McKenze [1897-1937] (1170), moreover cite several references where νεότης refers to young men of military or athletic age (e.g. Pindar [522-443 BCE] Isthmian Odes 8.75; Herodotus [484-425 BCE] 4.3; 9.12; Thucydides [460-395 BCE] 2.8, 20). E.K. Simpson [b. 1873] (69) cites several secular references: Aulus Gellius [125-180] (10.28) says soldiers are iuniores “up to forty-six”’ Josephus [37-100] notes that although Antonia “was still a young woman,” she refused to marry; he calls Agrippa “youthful” when he was almost forty (Antiquities 18.6§§143-239); in describing Flaminius Polybius says, “he was quite young, not being over thirty” (νέος ἡν κομιδη πλείω γὰρ των τριάκοντ’ ἐτων οὐκ εἱχε; The Histories 18.12.5; Loeb Classical Library translation). Irenaeus [130-202] (Adversus Haereses 2.22.5) preserves a fragment from The Relics of the Elders that states “But that the age of thirty years is the prime of a young man’s ability, and that it reaches even to the fortieth year, every one will allow” (translation J.B. Lightfoot [1828-1889], Apostolic Fathers, 554). (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)George W. Knight, III (b. 1931) bounds:
νεότης (Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21; Acts 26:4) and the related adjective νέος are used of “children, youths, and of men at least as old as 30” (Henry George Liddell [1811-1898], Robert Scott [1811-1887], Henry Stuart Jones [1867-1939] and Roderick McKenzie [1897-1937] s.v. νέος). The phrase “wife of your youth” (ἐκ νεότητος σου) is used in the Septuagint (Proverbs 5:18; Malachi 2:14) and shows the second category of usage. The third category extends into and somewhat beyond the age of thirty and is evidenced by the following: Polybius [200-118 BCE] (18.12.5) speaks of Flaminius as “young” because he is only thirty, and Irenaeus [130-202] (Adversus Haereses 2.22.5) explicitly says that one could be called “young” up to forty (cf. John Henry Bernard [1860-1927], E.K. Simpson [b. 1873], JN.D. Kelly [1909-1997])...Luke called Paul a “young man” (Acts 7:58) when he was of the same age range as Timothy is now. Timothy’s age, in his thirties (the estimate most would agree on), might seem to be a handicap in the Ephesian community, where some of the other believers and other elders are older. (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 205)William D. Mounce (b. 1953) adds:
The cognate νεόφυτος, “neophyte,” “new convert” is found in the prohibition that neophytes should not be deacons (I Timothy 3:6), but this refers to spiritual and not physical age. William Mitchell Ramsay [1851-1939] says that the cognate νέος, “new,” was used of fully grown men of military age (The Teaching of Paul in Terms of the Present Day [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1913] 41; cited in James Hope Moulton [1863-1917] and George Milligan [1860-1934], 424). Ramsay also mentions the Νέοι, a social club of young men over twenty years old as distinct from the ’Έηβοι (adolescents) and the Γερουσία (“Council of Elders”; “Senate”; “Sanhedrin”; Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, 2 volumes [Oxford: Clarendon, 1895, 1897] 1:110-11; cited in Moulton and Milligan, 24). Moulton and Milligan (424) cite a passage in which the νέοι are later described as ἀνδρων, “men” (Wilhelm Dittenberger [1840-1906], Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum, 524 [second century B.C.])...Irenaeus [130-202] (Adversus Haereses 2.22.5) says Jesus suffered when he was thirty [Luke 3:23], “being in fact still a young man.” While there is a problem in using cognates to define related words, the meaning of νέος supports the conclusion that Timothy was in his late twenties to mid thirties. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 259)Aida Besançon Spencer (b. 1947) contextualizes:
According to the Mishnah, twenty was the age to pursue a calling and thirty for authority (Mishnah ‘Abot 5:21). (Spencer, 1 Timothy (New Covenant Commentary), 113)William Victor Blacoe (b. 1954) augments:
Youth (Greek neotes νεότης) means newness as respecting youthfulness. The Latin translation of this word is “adulescentiam” – from which the English word adolescence is derived. The word referred to “grown up military age, extending to the 40th year.” For example, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) used this Latin word to describe himself when he was 27 years of age; the word is also applied to Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) when he was 33 or 35 years of age. “We may therefore presume that Timothy was now between thirty and forty.” (Blacoe, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Understanding the New Testament), 74)Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) condenses:
Among the various Greek schemes (more or less detailed) for classifying age groups (e.g. Dio Chrysostom [40-120] 74.10; Philo [20 BCE-50 CE], On the Creation 105; cf. On the Embassy to Gaius 227), a more basic distinction between “young” and “old” existed that placed youth at the age of forty and under (e.g., Irenaeus [130-202], Against Heresies 2.22.5; see also Josephus [37-100], Antiquities of the Jews 18.197; cf. I Clement 21.6-8). See further I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934], 239. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)It appears that forty was always the new forty as even in the ancient world this age denoted youth.
The scope of the Greek allows for a Timothy that is older than a present-day literal reading might envision. Walter L. Liefeld (b. 1927) clarifies:
If, as is probable, Timothy was in his thirties, words such as “young” and “youth” [I Timothy 4:12, 5:1, 2, 11, 14] might give the contemporary reader the wrong impression, since we generally reserve these words for people in their teens and early twenties. (Liefeld, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (NIV Application Commentary), 165)Thomas D. Lea (b. 1938) agrees:
We need not take Paul’s description of Timothy as “young” [I Timothy 4:12] to picture him as a teenager or a young adult in his early twenties. Acceptable estimates of Timothy’s age could easily place him between thirty and thirty-five years old. Some Christians in Ephesus could chafe at receiving instructions from a man even this young. (Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. [b. 1947], 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (New American Commentary), 137-38)Though it is impossible to determine Timothy’s age precisely, it has not deterred speculation. Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) records scholarly estimates:
E.K. Simpson [b. 1873] (35-40 years old); Burton Scott Easton [1877-1950], 146 and Raymond F. Collins [b. 1935], 128 (20s); Joachim Jeremias [1900-1979], 34 (30s). (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)In addition to linguistic clues, many have attempted to gage Timothy’s age by piecing together a timeline. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) reconstructs:
Timothy started serving with Paul during the second missionary journey about A.D. 49 (Acts 16:1). Allowing for that journey, the third journey, the imprisonments (including the Roman one), and the time required for subsequent release and time spent in Ephesus (c. A.D. 62)...thirteen years or so had passed. Combined with the fact that Timothy must have been old enough in Acts 16 to have been an effective helper, this suggests that Timothy was now in his late twenties to mid thirties. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)Thomas C. Oden (b. 1931) assumes:
“That Timothy must have been thirty to thirty-five is based on the date of his joining Paul (ca. 49-50) and the date of this letter (ca. 62-64)” (Gordon D. Fee [b. 1934], p. 71). “Indeed this particular age [thirty] is stamped as full and complete by the mystery of Christ’s assumed manhood” (Jerome [347-420], Letters, LXXXII.8, p. 173). (Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 126)Dick France (1938-2012) concludes:
At the time of this letter Timothy must have been at least thirty, and it was ten or fifteen years since Paul had recruited him as his associate [Acts 16:1-3]. He was not the sort of ‘recent convert’ mentioned in I Timothy 3:6. But for all his experience he was still a ‘youth’ (I Timothy 4:12) in comparison with at least some of the ‘elders’ over whom he had responsibility, and in a culture which valued the wisdom of age he may well have found it difficult to maintain his authority; indeed some of the people whose teaching he had been appointed to oppose may well have used his age against him. (France, Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews (Daily Bible Commentary: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer), 46)Some of his parishioners have the impression that Timothy is too young (I Timothy 4:12). Though reality may not coincide with the perception, it is still a very real obstacle for the pastor.
The designation of youth is subjective. What is young to some may be old to others. C. Michael Moss (b. 1950) asserts:
Age is relative. The elders at Ephesus, as well as many members there, could very well look at Timothy as a young man. He might, after all, be the age of some of their children. (Moss, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus (College Press NIV Commentary), 92)John Phillips (1927-2010) illustrates:
Forty is considered old for most professional athletes, yet it is considered young for the chief executive of a corporate conglomerate and very youthful indeed for a president or prime minster. (Phillips, Exploring the Pastoral Epistles: An Expository Commentary, 127)Noticeably, Timothy is young as compared to Paul. Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) elucidates:
The words “let no one despise your youth” [I Timothy 4:12] (cf. Ignatius of Antioch [35-98] Epistle to the Magnesians 3:1) do not suggest that Timothy is either very young or a mere babe in the faith...By the time the present letter was written, Timothy was likely thirty-five or thirty-six, which certainly was young in comparison to Paul’s age. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 257)Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) adds:
The detail is consistent with the Pastor’s presentation of Timothy as Paul’s true son (I Timothy 1:2). Timothy is portrayed as a younger man to whom the ministry of Paul, the old man, has been entrusted. (Collins, I & II Timothy and Titus: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 128)Timothy may also be younger than many of his parishioners. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) understands:
Timothy was dealing with people whom Paul had personally evangelized many years earlier and who had been leaders in their church for some time. It would have been natural for them to have looked down on any younger person who was correcting them. There is no similar injunction to Titus, who was probably older than Timothy and did not have to deal with this particular problem. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 259)Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) considers:
The sense of the command, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young [I Timothy 4:12],” may compare his age to Paul’s, or to that of older people in the church over whom he would exercise some delegated apostolic authority. Each possibility would apply, as well as the simple fact that he was standing in for Paul in a situation where anti-Pauline sentiments might have been on the increase. In any case, if the noun translated “youth, state of youthfulness” is a reference to an age group, Timothy would probably have been less than forty years old. Attempts at greater precision are speculative since we do not know his age at the time he was called. But the possibility that “youth” means here simply “younger than me” or “younger than the elders in the church” should not be ruled out. Either way, the parallel in I Corinthians 16:10-11 (Titus 2:15) suggests that Paul’s practice of dispatching coworkers authorized to act in his place (instructing, disciplining) meant putting them into very ticklish ministry situations. In this case, the explicit reference to Timothy’s youth adds the burden of crossing the cultural line of age veneration. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)If Timothy’s parishioners’ definition of youth is consistent with most, it simply means that the pastor is younger than them.
Though the sentiment is often absent in contemporary American society, it is natural to venerate elders. Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) compares:
For a similar description of youth being despised, see Diodorus Siculus [90-30 BCE] 17.7.1; Romans 2:4; I Corinthians 11:22; Ceslas Spicq [1901-1992], Theological Lexicon of the New Testament 2:280-84; Carl Schneider [1900-1977], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3:631-32. The situation faced by Titus, which the similar command of Titus 2:15 addresses, may not be precisely that of youthfulness...Paul’s own insistence on the selection of older leaders (I Timothy 3:6) underlines the potential for disrespect in the case of the younger Timothy. For the veneration of age in Greco-Roman culture and Hellenistic Judaism, see Ceslas Spicq [1901-1992], 511-512. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)William Barclay (1907-1978) attends:
The Church generally liked its office-bearers to be people of maturity. The Apostolic Canons laid it down that a man was not to become a bishop until he was over fifty, for by then ‘he will be past youthful disorders’. Timothy was young in comparison with Paul, and there would be many who would watch him with a critical eye [I Timothy 4:12]. When the British politician the elder William Pitt [1708-1778] was making a speech in the House of Commons at the age of thirty-three, he said: ‘The atrocious crime of being a young man...I will neither attempt to palliate or deny.’ The Church has always regarded youth with a certain suspicion, and under that suspicion Timothy inevitably fell. (Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (New Daily Study Bible), 110)Age’s twin is experience and the criticism against Timothy may reflect a perceived deficiency in this resource as well. Robert W. Wall (b. 1947) suggests:
To be sure, Timothy’s precise age cannot be determined, but perhaps his youthfulness [I Timothy 4:12] refers to a lack of work experience, especially when compared to the absent Paul or even to the elders of the congregation. The Roman world considered apprenticeship and field experience requirements of mature instruction; rather than a reference to chronological age, Paul’s exhortation may reflect concern for an incomplete or inadequate résumé for a congregational leader. The earlier catalogs of virtues were focused on what sort of person leads a sacred household rather than on expertise gained from experience, but even they assumed a level of real-world experience, since virtue is not formed in a vacuum. (Wall with Richard B. Steele [b. 1952], 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Two Horizons New Testament Commentary), 123)In all likelihood Timothy has at least a decade of experience. As such, this criticism, if it exists, is more imagined than real.
Timothy is not the first Biblical hero to be underestimated due to youth. Much to his chagrin, Goliath famously undervalues David (I Samuel 17:43-44) and pays for his miscalculation with his life ((I Samuel 17:1-54).
Nor is Timothy the last to be castigated for his lack of years. The problem still persists into the present day. Thabiti M. Anyabwile (b. 1970) admits:
Some pastor search committees will not consider a man younger than age forty. Of course, that would have meant the end of Timothy’s candidacy, not to mention Jesus’s [Luke 3:23]. Then there are those committee members who will look at a young pastor and conclude, “He’s young but we’ll train him and fit him to our tastes.” There are also members of churches who disregard a pastor’s instruction because “he is so young and inexperienced.”...In a million ways youth can be despised. (Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 131)N.T. Wright (b. 1948) empathizes:
I Timothy 4:12 warns Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he’s young; he must keep his nerve, and trust that God will be at work through him when he does what he’s been called to do. Some clergy feel the pressure of their youth, not least in the kind of parish where the average age of the congregation is twice their own. ‘We’ve been here in this church for fifty years,’ they seem to be saying, ‘and don’t you try to tell us what to think or do!’ But there are other pressures too, on clergy, not least because most of the time they are not directly responsible to anybody else; nobody is telling them to do these four things this morning, those five this afternoon, and to finish off the rest this evening. Rather, a generalized mass of possible tasks stares up at them from a crowded desk and a flashing answerphone. How many people, faced with all that, will have the courage to obey even the first of Paul’s instructions? (Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters, 51)
Isaiah prophesies that a “a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6 KJV) and, thankfully, there are many biblical examples of youthful leaders. Wayne Rice (b. 1945) catalogs:
We have a treasure trove of biblical heroes to inspire teenagers who want to do something significant with their lives for God: Moses, Joseph, Samuel, Esther, David, even Jesus himself, who at age twelve declared “I must be about my father’s business [Luke 2:49].” King Josiah began his successful thirty-one year reign in Jerusalem when he was eight years old [II Kings 22:1; II Chronicles 34:1]. Joan of Arc [1412-1431] was only nineteen when she was martyred for her faith. There are many examples in history of teenagers who showed remarkable competence and courage as they assumed roles that day are more or less reserved exclusively for adults. And young people today are just as capable, if not more so. (Rice, Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again): From Bells and Whistles to Flesh and Blood, 45)Though priests had a twenty-five year window between the ages of twenty-five to fifty to serve publicly, this did not prevent anyone from doing great things for God (Numbers 8:24-25). Doug Fields (b. 1962) contends:
Jesus never said, “Take up your cross and follow me when you’re and adult.” The Bible is clearly devoid of any age requirement for serving. God shattered age limits with biblical heroes like David, Jeremiah, and Mary. A sign of a healthy church is one that helps all Christians, regardless of age, to discover their gifts and express them through serving in ministry. (Fields, Purpose-driven Youth Ministry: 9 Essential Foundations for Healthy Growth, 175)The complaint against Timothy’s youth (I Timothy 4:12) may represent a real concern on the part of the congregation but it is equally possible that it is used for convenience to mask other perceived flaws. Timothy may be facing a problem that many do when following the founding pastor of a church. He finds himself in the unenviable position of following a legend. Regardless of skill level, this scenario presents its own unique obstacles.
All pastorates come with their own intrinsic challenges. His age is just one of the many obstacles Timothy will have to overcome to adhere to his calling. Timothy may have problems, but according to Paul (and implicitly to God), however, his youthfulness is not one.
Why would parishioners resent Timothy’s youth (I Timothy 4:12)? What are the limitations of the young? What should a young person be prohibited from attempting? What are the advantages to being young? How important is experience? How does your church view its youth; is discrimination against youth still an issue in churches? What constitutes young to you? When have young people successfully led organizations? Do you prefer your leaders to have discernible age? What is the youngest pastor you have encountered; did his or her age influence your perception? How young is too young to serve as pastor? Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your age? What can Timothy, and other young pastors, do to deflect criticism?
Timothy must not be intimated by the criticism as the stakes are too high. George W. Knight, III (b. 1931) assesses:
The admonition of the apostle is that Timothy not let this become a factor, since the apostolic instruction and admonition are at stake. (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 205)Timothy must not only avoid falling prey to the criticism, he cannot believe it to be true. He cannot allow people tell him that he cannot do something which God has called him to do. Youth is not only not worthy of criticism, it is also no excuse for being for being ineffective.
George T. Montague (b. 1929) presumes:
Timothy is to command and teach these things [I Timothy 4:11]. Conforming to the style of the advice-giving letter of elder to younger (like Pseudo-Isocrates to Demonicus), Paul repeats advice given before. It is likely that Timothy needs the boldness that comes from assurance of his authority. In light of his youth [I Timothy 4:12], he may well be intimidated by the older men in the community. (Montague, First and Second Timothy, Titus (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture), 99)Anthony B. Robinson (b. 1948) and Robert W. Wall (b. 1947) supplement:
Sometimes, but not always, such tentativeness is amplified by a particular personal characteristic that flies in the face of culturally established patterns of authority, where age (as in Timothy’s case [I Timothy 4:12]) or gender (in the case of some women in ministry). Such culturally established markers, Paul indicates, are not to be heeded, because the work and the way of life of the pastoral leader are what matters. (Robinson and Wall, Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day, 121)E. Glenn Hinson (b. 1931) pronounces:
Timothy, now in his thirties, should stop hiding behind the excuse, “I’m too young.” He should be an example of believers in all dimensions of Christian life—speech, conduct, faith or faithfulness and sexual purity [I Timothy 4:12]. A weighty expectation! (Watson E. Mills [b. 1939], Mercer Commentary on the New Testament, 1256)Thomas C. Oden (b. 1931) advises:
The importance of the office of teaching is so great that the youthful pastor must learn rightly to resist those who might undercut or demean them solely on the basis of their younger age or limited experience (I Timothy 4:12). When thirty-year old pastors are called upon to guide and teach elders twice their age, they must keep in mind the firmness of their authorization [I Timothy 4:11]. The youth of pastors “will not be despised if they do not by youthful vanities and follies make themselves despicable (Matthew Henry [1662-1714], p. 821). (Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 126)The criticism against Timothy is especially problematic as the issue cannot be immediately resolved. Barring the magic of Hollywood as seen in movies like Big (1988) or 13 Going on 30 (2004), Timothy simply cannot age instantaneously. There are, however, ways in which Timothy can compensate for his youthfulness.
Paul not only acknowledges the problem but also provides some advice as to how to solve it by counteracting the criticism (I Timothy 4:12). The solution is not in words, through public confrontation, but via deeds, providing a good example. Timothy should live a life above reproach.
Timothy, like all pastors, is to be an “example” (ESV, CEV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “ensample” (ASV) to his flock (I Timothy 4:12). He is to practice what he preaches. Paul appeals to character which transcends age and credentialing.
William D. Mounce (b. 1953) evaluates:
“Let no one treat you contemptuously because of your youth, but be an example for the faithful in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” [I Timothy 4:12]. Charles J. Ellicott [1819-1905] translates: “Let the gravity of thy age supply the want of years” (61)...On the one hand, Timothy should not allow himself to be despised (cf. similar injunction in I Corinthians 16:11) while, at the same time, he must be a good example. Both sides of the coin are necessary for successful ministry. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 257)Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) informs:
Timothy is called to be a typos, a “type” or “example” of faith in words, behavior, love, faithfulness and purity [I Timothy 4:12]. In short, he, like Paul...is to be a moral and theological exemplar of the gospel that he preaches, an embodiment of it. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 258)Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) educates:
To overcome any liabilities associated with youth, Paul urges Timothy to become “an example for the believers” (Titus 2:7). The task of “modeling” was intrinsic both to formal and informal ancient education. Paul assumed this role in relation to Timothy (I Corinthians 4:17) and within the churches (Philippians 3:17; I Thessalonians 1:7; II Thessalonians 3:9), and in these letters to delegates, Timothy and Titus were to do the same (Titus 2:7). Elsewhere it was a responsibility to be taken up by believers in general (e.g., I Thessalonians 1:7), and expected of church leaders (I Peter 5:3). To be a model or set an example meant more than simply presenting a pattern that others were to mimic: “The more life is moulded by the word, the more it becomes typos, a model or mould.” It was a case of living out life as faith in the gospel had shaped it. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314-15)In doing so, Timothy is to do as his mentor, Paul, has done. J.N.D. Kelly (1909-1997) associates:
To offset the handicap of youth, Timothy is invited to be an example to believers [I Timothy 4:12]. This is a truly Pauline touch; the apostle expected the Christian leader to be a model to others (Philippians 3:7; II Thessalonians 3:9). (Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 104)Aida Besançon Spencer (b. 1947) details:
The manner of responding to negative opinions of his youth was not by speech (reprimanding such views) but by example [I Timothy 4:12]. A typos was a pattern or model “in conformity to which a thing must be made,” an archetype. Paul had already referred to himself as an “example” or prototype (hypotypōsis) of a sinner saved from punishment by Christ Jesus showing compassion toward him by forgiving him [I Timothy 1:16]. Paul has used Timothy as a model in other letters: with himself, of believers who persevere despite suffering and who work [Philippians 1:1, 3:11-19; II Thessalonians 3:7-12]. Paul had sent Timothy to Corinth as a model of someone who shares in Christ’s sufferings [I Corinthians 4:10-17]. (Spencer, 1 Timothy (New Covenant Commentary), 113)In the process of modeling right behavior, Timothy will prove his critics wrong. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) follows:
On the one hand, Timothy is to let no one despise him because of his youth [I Timothy 4:12]. The parallel imperative (I Timothy 4:12b) suggests that the way to do this is to be such a good example that accusations have no credence. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)Benjamin Fiore (b. 1943) bolsters:
Timothy can avoid scorn for his youth by not giving occasion for such scorn. Thus he is to demonstrate personal excellence and be exemplary in his ministry (I Timothy 4:12-16). He is also expected to avoid youthful passions (II Timothy 2:22), unsubstantiated accusations against elders (I Timothy 5:19), prejudice (I Timothy 5:21), and an imprudent selection of leaders (I Timothy 5:22). This advice to a young leader parallels that found in Isocrates [436-338 BCE], Ad Nicocem and Demonicus and in the kingship treatises of Plutarch [45-120] and Dio Chrysostom [40-120] . (Fiore, The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus (Sacra Pagina), 94)William Barclay (1907-1978) approves:
The advice given to Timothy is the hardest to follow, and yet it was the only possible advice. It was that he must silence criticism by conduct. Plato [427-347 BCE] was once falsely accused of dishonourable conduct. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘we must live in such a way that all men will see that the charge is false.’ Verbal defences may not silence criticism; conduct will. (Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (New Daily Study Bible), 110)Paul’s instruction still holds true; it is best to answer criticism with actions. Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) affirms:
Nothing bridges the generation gap in the church like the spiritual maturity of the younger. At a more important level, nothing proves the veracity of the gospel as well as evidence of its life-changing power. (Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus (IVP New Testament Commentary), 109)Paul is not just content to relay that Timothy ought be an example; he also lists five areas of emphasis (I Timothy 4:12). Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) inventories:
Paul depicts this life by attaching a string of five short prepositional phrases enumerating five of its elements [I Timothy 4:12]. The first phrase, “in speech,” is thought by some to refer to the specific kind of speech involved in preaching or teaching (e.g., I Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9). But while this might be included in the sense of what one professes, alongside of “conduct,” the broader sense of “speech” is more likely. “Conduct,” that is, manner of life, how one lives, was a natural counterpart to “speech” in Greek and Jewish moral teaching. Together they encompassed most of the observable life, and especially for the teacher, the manner of life was to correspond to what was proposed. In Timothy’s case, coherence of speech and behavior was to command the respect of one assigned to represent the apostle and his teaching in the community...The next two qualities in effect repeat the more widely used “speech/conduct” model specifically in terms of Christian maturity. Paul frequently summed up authentic spirituality in terms of “faith” (=belief in God)...and “love” (=the outworking of faith in service.)...Added to this pair is the fifth phrase, “impurity.” In this context, the reference is either to the sexual purity (chastity) required especially of young men (I Timothy 5:2), or to purity of motives. Given the concern that Timothy not give grounds for his youth to be criticized, emphasis on the need for sexual probity is most fitting...Paul calls Timothy to display a balanced and authentic Christian lifestyle. It will not only bear the traditional marks of consistency (speech/conduct), but also the stamp of spiritual coherence (faith/love) from which the opponents had deviated in their teaching and behavior. Any lingering questions related to Timothy’s relative youth were finally to be laid to rest by his refusal to slip into unchaste tendencies of speech, conduct, or inappropriate interaction with members of the opposite sex [I Timothy 4:12]. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 315-16)Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) scrutinizes:
If anastrophē [“conduct”] denotes behavior or way of life in general, these terms specify the qualities that Paul particularly wants to be modeled to the community [I Timothy 4:12]. We are not in the least surprised to find pistis [“faith”] and agapē [“love”], for these attitudes are the “goal of the commandment” that Timothy is to proclaim (I Timothy 4:5). More startling is the inclusion of “purity” (hagneia), which in the moral literature is frequently narrowed to sexual purity, or chastity (e.g., Philo [20 BCE-50 CE], On Abraham 98; On the Contemplative Life 68; Josephus [37-100], Antiquities 19:331). In Polycarp [69-155]’s Philippians 5:3, hagneia is among the first responsibilities of the young men. Is this another possible allusion to Timothy’s youth? (Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Anchor Bible), 252)Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and John J. Pilch (b. 1936) correlate:
The five specific areas in which the leader is to set an example [I Timothy 4:12] correspond to the three symbolic body zones that characterize biblical perception of the human person: speech (mouth-ears), conduct (hands-feet), love (heart-eyes), faith (heart-eyes); and purity (hands-feet). Three-Zone Personality. When all three symbolic zones are mentioned, the author intends to describe a total, complete picture. In this instance, Timothy, that is, the local Jesus-group leader is to be totally perfect in all dimensions of human life and behavior. In this regard, Timothy represents an ideal rather than a real figure, the ideal leader. (Malina and Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Deutero-Pauline Letters, 129)This list is not intended to be exhaustive but does highlight issues that would be especially relevant to a youth. Donald Guthrie (1915-1992) discusses:
The qualities in which Timothy is to excel are those in which youth is so often deficient [I Timothy 4:12]. Yet for that reason they would stand out more strikingly. It would become evident to the Christian believers that authority in the community is contingent on character, not on age. Every young man called to the ministry or any position of authority would do well to heed Paul’s five-fold enumeration here. The first two, speech and life (i.e. manner of life, or behaviour) apply to Timothy’s public life, while the other three are concerned with inner qualities (love, faith and purity) which nevertheless have a public manifestation. (Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 109)The issues Paul addresses are critical to the rest of the letter. Timothy is being asked to do what his older congregants have failed to do. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) diagnoses:
While in I Timothy 4:6-16 Paul is speaking directly to Timothy, the historical situation at Ephesus is never far in the background; between the lines can be seen a constant comparison between what the Ephesian church was doing wrong and what Timothy should do correctly. Every one of the five qualities enumerated in this verse [I Timothy 4:12] is missing from the lives of the opponents. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 257-58)In short, Timothy must live better than his adversaries, not stooping to their level.
There are many benefits to this strategy. For one, Paul’s approach incorporates responding positively, not negatively, to criticism. D. Edmond Hiebert (1910-1995) observes:
“But be thou an ensample to them that believe” [I Timothy 4:12]. This positive injunction balances the previous negative. His life is to be such as will such every such adverse reaction about his youth. (Hiebert, First Timothy (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 85)Paul’s prescription is often counterintuitive. R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) and Bryan Chapell (b. 1954) confess:
The natural inclination when our leadership is challenged is not godliness but the opposite—to become defensive and respond with sarcasm or a putdown or to pull rank and become “presidential” (“I’m the chief here!” “Ever hear of the cloth?”) or to become coldly above it all, aloof, or grieved (“How could you ever question me?”). Any young believer (and some old ones too) can easily succumb to such responses. But ministry is thus diminished. (Hughes and Chappell, 1–2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Preaching the Word, 122)Paul’s proposal also focuses Timothy inward, not outward. Timothy cannot control others’ prejudice or their response to his ministry. The only thing Timothy can control is his own behavior. Youth is often the time in life when others’ opinions matter most. Yet Timothy cannot regulate public opinion. He must respond by affecting the only thing he can: his own conduct.
“Let no one despise your youth, but until I arrive set a pattern for believers in speech, in public conduct, in love, faith, and purity [I Timothy 4:12].” In other words, pay attention to yourself and to your own way of being in the world. Again, Paul’s emphasis is on self-management, self-awareness, and Timothy’s controlling what he has control over — that is, his own behavior. Sometimes we clergy members get wrapped around the axle concerning the behavior of others. We can point it out. We can offer sound teaching. But we can’t often change other people’s behavior, at least not directly. But what we can change and pay attention to is our own behavior. And sometimes that is our very best point of leverage for supporting change in the congregation: taking responsibility for our own behavior, setting “a pattern for believers in speech, in public conduct, in love, faith, and purity [I Timothy 4:12].” (Robinson and Wall, Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day, 121)Paul’s words kill two birds with one stone: he simultaneously affirms Timothy while rebuking the congregation (I Timothy 4:12). It must not be forgotten that in writing, Paul publicly endorses his protégé.
Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) perceives:
As implied by the plural “you” in I Timothy 6:21, the Ephesian Christians will here this letter read to them though it’s addressed to Timothy. So the command, “No one I to be despising your youthfulness,” is indirectly addressed to them [I Timothy 4:12]. (Gundry, Commentary on First and Second Timothy, Titus)Thomas D. Lea (b. 1938) grants:
These words [I Timothy 4:12] produced encouragement in Timothy himself, but they could also set in order some dissident, fault-finding elements of the congregations. After all, Paul was bestowing his full blessing on Timothy, and he wanted the Ephesians to learn from what the young disciple did. (Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. [b. 1947], 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (New American Commentary), 137)Gordon D. Fee (b. 1934) expounds:
We now discover what is probably a hidden agenda that made it necessary for Paul to write this letter—Timothy’s youthfulness [I Timothy 4:12]. To say, don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, is very likely two edged. It is first of all a word of encouragement to Timothy, because he was in fact a younger man...and perhaps timid (cf. I Corinthians 16:10-11; II Timothy 1:6ff)...But for the same reasons, it is likewise a word to the community, to let them know that, despite his youth, he has Paul’s own authority to command and teach these things (I Timothy 4:11)...On the contrary, not only are they not to look down on him because he is young, but they are to “look up” to him. He is to set (literally, “become”) an example for the believers. That the people of God are to learn Christian ethics by modeling after the apostolic example is a thoroughgoing, and crucial, Pauline concept (see I Thessalonians 1:6; II Thessalonians 3:7, 9; I Corinthians 4:6, 11:1; Philippians 3:17; cf. II Timothy 1:13). (Fee, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Understanding the Bible), 106-07)Had Timothy verbally defended himself it might have added fuel to the fire and, at least in his critics’ minds, served to prove their point. Instead, Paul, who has seniority over all involved, defends his younger charge.
All Timothy can do is live well and the situation in which he finds himself is one of the hardest times to do so. In the face of criticism, Timothy is hard pressed to behave in a Christian manner. How Timothy responds is part of the modeling that he is called to demonstrate for his congregation (I Timothy 4:12). His actions in these moments will speak volumes.
Is Paul’s interjection into the situation, as a “father” to Timothy (I Timothy 1:2), indicative of Timothy’s being too young for his position? When has someone publicly endorsed you? What young person can you be encouraging? When have you seen someone refuted by compliments bestowed on their opponent? Were you Timothy, how would you handle this unwarranted criticism? How do your typically respond to judgment, positively or negatively? How would the solution be different with another demographic; e.g. how would one respond to the claim of being too old? When are the young an example to all? When do you try to set an example? Is it ever better to respond to criticism with words than deeds?
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” - John Locke (1632-1704), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, p. 24