Hello, my name is Timothy
Given the numerous mentoring examples in the Bible, it’s easy to see that God values the mentor-protégé relationship. It is a special bond at an intimate level between two people. Most of the Biblical examples give us just a snapshot – a mentoring moment or lesson taught – and then we must look at what happened next to the mentor and the protégé to find out how well the lesson was applied. However, there is one mentoring relationship in the Scriptures where we get to see much more than a glimpse. Paul and Timothy spent many years together, and much of their efforts and relationship is on display throughout the New Testament.
But who was Timothy? How did they meet? Why did they pair up?
We are first introduced to Timothy at the start of Paul’s second missionary journey:
Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers he traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.
Timothy was a young man stuck between two worlds. He believed in Jesus as the Messiah who would come from the Jewish half of his parents, but Timothy was also half Greek and grew up in a Greek city, surrounded by Grecian culture. Since no additional information is given about his father, we can’t be sure of how much influence that heritage had – but the fact that he had not been circumcised suggests that Timothy wasn’t raised in a strictly observant Jewish household. However, both worlds were still a part of him and people were aware of his mixed-race background.
Although such mixed marriages were illegal in Jewish law, rabbinic texts reckoned a person’s decent through the mother’s line; and as such, Timothy would have been considered to be a Jew by the Jewish community.
Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and were increased in number daily.
Was it necessary for Timothy’s salvation that he be circumcised?
No, not at all. Salvation from eternal separation away from God is only through believing (i.e. – trusting) Jesus for eternal life.
Then was Paul being inconsistent by circumcising Timothy? Was this an example of Paul “giving in” to local peer pressure?
No, not at all. Timothy was already a believer before he met Paul. However, given Timothy’s well known heritage, for him to come with Paul and have access to be a missionary in Jewish synagogues, he would need to be circumcised. Otherwise, the Jewish communities would consider Timothy an apostate, and they would not be willing to listen to what he had to say about Jesus.
Timothy was willing to endure significant physical pain in order to share the gospel message with those who would have looked down on him as a “half-breed”, the same way that Jews had historically looked down on Samaritans. In fact, by agreeing to be circumcised, Timothy boldly demonstrated an evangelistic principle which Paul would later pass on to the believers in Corinth:
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law. To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law – not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ – to win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak.
I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.
That is an incredible lesson for Timothy to grab a hold of so early in his mentoring relationship under Paul. And it’s certainly not the last time Timothy is a reflection of his mentor.