Note: This is part 1 of 3 of a series, “Discipling Younger Men.”
This purpose of this post and the text two and is to encourage Christian men to reach out and disciple younger men. As to what we mean by “discipling younger men,” I hope to encourage us in ministering to young men in the church who are noticeably younger in age (i.e., probably younger than 18 years old) and have not yet reached the point where they can confidently make disciples on their own. But we won’t stop there—I hope to encourage us to disciple these young men further as they grow into being Christian men who in turn disciple others just the same.
While many are familiar with the Pastoral Epistles and have some idea of the relationship between Timothy and Paul, I never tire of looking at how the older Paul discipled the younger Timothy. Their discipleship relationship makes for a prime example for our study.
After getting a rough idea of the ages of Paul and Timothy, we will attempt to do a chronological walk through their relationship, looking more through the eyes of Timothy than Paul, and gather principles for discipling younger men along the way.1
The Ages of Paul and Timothy
Paul called himself “an old man” (presbytēs)2 in the sixth verse of Philemon, a letter written in AD 60, indicating that he was 60 years old or older at the time.3 About 30 years earlier, he was probably 30 years old when Luke described him as “a young man” (neanias), a term that could range from 20 to 40 years old.4 He was converted at this time (Acts 9:1–19a) and then spent roughly two decades in missionary ministry before Timothy joined him in Acts 16:1–5.
When we first see Timothy in Acts 16:1–5, Paul is traveling through Lystra during his second missionary journey in AD 50–52 (Acts 15:40–18:22). Paul is about 50 years old, and Timothy’s age is not described. We do find, however, in 1 Timothy, written about AD 65, that Paul told Timothy to let no man despise his “youth” (1 Tim 4:12; neotēs), a word indicating Timothy was probably maybe 30 to 35 years old.5 Timothy would therefore have been about 20 years old when he joined Paul in Acts 16 and was born around AD 30.
Digging further, there seems to be enough from Scripture to say that Timothy at least knew who Paul was by the time they met in Acts 16. Paul had previously made disciples in Lystra towards the end of his first missionary journey in AD 47–49 (Acts 14:7–23; cf. 13:1–14:28), which probably included Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice —they had been teaching Timothy the Scriptures since childhood and most likely believed the gospel when the apostle Paul came through their city, preaching that Jesus was the Son of God (cf. 2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).6 While there may not have been much of a personal relationship between the two (if any at all), it is quite possible that Timothy was in his mid to late teens when he first heard about Paul. After all, the apostle’s reputation would have included being stoned and left for dead after preaching in Timothy’s city (Acts 14:19–20).
Having explored the ages of Paul and Timothy, as best we can tell, Paul was about 30 years older than Timothy. Paul was somewhere in his late 40s when he first came to Lystra, and Timothy was in his mid to late teens. When Paul recruited Timothy in Acts 16, Paul was about 50, and Timothy was about 20. As we will see, this age difference made for a natural father/son discipleship relationship that would last until Paul went to glory. Perhaps this relationship meant all the more to Timothy since his own father was not a believer (cf. Acts 16:1).
Come back next week, and we’ll see the first of ten principles for discipleship in observing the relationship between Paul and Timothy in Scripture.
- The dating scheme that follows is approximate and not precise and comes from my accumulated study of the life of Paul and various books of the Bible. Exact precision is not necessary for our study, though we do at least want to have a good idea of the ages of Timothy and Paul at the outset (see below). Perhaps the resources I have leaned on most are the following: William W. Combs, “Life & Ministry of Paul: Class Notes” (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007); D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005); and Robert E. Picirilli, Paul the Apostle (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986 and 2017). [↩]
- All Scripture quotations are from the ESV. [↩]
- Picirilli, Paul the Apostle (2017), 18–19. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (WBC 46; Dallas, TX: Word, 2000), 258–59, explores the meaning of neotēs in biblical and extrabiblical literature, showing it can be used to describe either young children or even someone into their thirties or forties. He puts Timothy “in his late twenties to mid thirties” when he received 1 Timothy in AD 62. [↩]
- Paul said in 2 Tim 3:15 that he had been schooled in the sacred writings since “childhood” (2 Tim 3:15; brephos), a word that has the idea of infancy In every other NT instance always refers to a “baby” or an “infant” (Luke 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16; 18:15; Acts 7:19; 1 Pet 2:2), whether still in or just out of the womb. [↩]