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A Personal Word to Timothy: 2 Timothy 4:9-22

II Timothy 4:9-22

Since the book has been introduced elsewhere, it is not necessary to explore again the circumstances of the writing of this letter. However, it is necessary to rehearse some of the circumstances as background for the commentary below. It is my opinion that Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment around A.D. 62. He then traveled throughout the Roman empire, possibly even to Spain. It was in the middle of these travels that he wrote I Timothy. At some point, probably A.D. 64/65 Paul was rearrested, probably on the basis of his Christian disturbances in the empire. The circumstance of II Timothy is best understood on the background of a second Roman imprisonment. The result of Paul's trial was a guilty verdict and he was beheaded. It is best to date his death within the Neroian persecution around A.D. 65.

II Timothy 4:9-22 is the close of his letter. It has been personal and emotive. He realizes his impending death, and hopes to see Timothy again before his end comes. Thus, the end of the letter is intensely personal and informs Timothy of the movements of his friends and enemies as he prepares to come to Rome. Most importantly, he is informed about the status of Paul's legal situation. He knows, as a result, that he must hurriedly arrive in Rome before the trial is completed.

Paul's Personal Contacts (4:9-15)

No doubt the past few months had been full of comings and goings in the Christian community of Rome. Persecution was in full swing under Nero. It was difficult to see Paul during this imprisonment (in contrast to his house arrest under the first imprisonment, cf. Acts 28:30, 31). Onesiphorus went through a lot of effort to find Paul (II Tim. 1:16-18). Paul takes this opportunity to inform Timothy about some of his fellow workers who had recently been in Rome while Paul was there in addition to making certain requests of Timothy.

Paul's Requests (4:9, 11b, 13)

Paul requests Timothy to come to him quickly (4:9). The term Paul uses to make the request is the same one he used in 2:15, spoudazo. The word refers to diligence, earnestness and zeal. As the RSV translates it, "do your best to come to me" (4:9). Paul had first used this word adverbially when commenting on the zeal out of which Onesiphorus had searched him out in Rome (1:17), and he would use it again to request Timothy's presence in 4:21. The word conveys a sense of urgency. This is confirmed by the adverb tacheos (variously rendered "quickly," "shortly" or "soon"). At the least, Paul does not want Timothy to delay his departure (see the root in I Tim. 3:14; 5:22). This "quickness" is defined by 4:21 where Paul urges him to come "before winter."

Paul requests Timothy to bring Mark with him (4:11b). The travels of John Mark are well documented by the New Testament. We first meet him as the "assistant" hupereten; a keeper of documents in the synagogue, cf. Luke 4:20) of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). Paul was displeased by John Mark's return to Jerusalem before the completion of the mission and refused to take him on his second missionary journey (Acts 13:13; 15:37-38). But Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:39). The next time we meet John Mark is during Paul's first Roman imprisonment (Col. 4:10; Phm 24). John Mark had become one of Paul's trusted colleagues (as Col. 4:10 strongly indicates by urging the Colossians to "welcome" him). At some point between Paul's first imprisonment and his second, John Mark had also been a confidant of Peter during his Roman ministry (I Peter 5:13). At some point, however, John Mark had left Rome and now Paul urges his return with Timothy. Tradition records that Mark was a pioneer in Egyptian mission work (particularly Alexandria), but this cannot be verified. Paul wants John Mark with him because he is "profitable" (euchrestos) to his ministry. Paul uses this term twice elsewhere (II Tim. 2:21; Phm. 11). It is a recognition of God's ability to use Mark to further his cause (the ministry; diakonian). Paul may have struggled to recognize this usefulness since at one time he had no use for John Mark.

Paul requests Timothy to bring the cloak, books and parchments with him (4:13). During Paul's travels between his first and second Roman imprisonments, he had visited Troas (this would be his fourth recorded visit; cf. Acts 16:8; II Cor. 2:12; Acts 20:6,7). When he departed for other fields, he had left a cloak behind with Carpus (only appears here; the reference indicates a certain intimacy). A cloak (phelones) was a coarse outer garment which protected a traveler against the elements. Why Paul had left it in Troas is unknown, but some speculate that he had forgotten it (this seems unlikely if he had needed it for some reason), or that had left it behind because of the weather was too warm when he left (which seems most probable).

The books and parchments were not left in Troas (the grammatical structure indicates that only the cloak was left in Troas), but apparently left with Timothy for some purpose. Paul's concern here indicates his studious nature. "Books" translates the Greek term biblia from which our term "Bible" is derived. However, the reference is to books in general which may or may not include portions of Scripture. A parchment is a tanned animal skin which is used for writing. Scrolls were usually made from parchment, but some were made from papyrus rolls (a paper made from plants primarily from Egypt). The nature of Paul's reference infers that the biblia included both papyri and parchments, but that the parchments were special in some way. The exact nature of their specialty is speculative. Some have thought that it was copies of his previous letters (most scribes made copies of their correspondence), some have thought it was necessary evidence for his coming second defense, and some have thought he was going to use them as writing materials. None of these suggestions are particularly convincing though they are all possible.

Paul's Report on Friends (4:10-11a, 12).

Paul reports that Demas has forsaken him (4:10a). Demas appears three times in the New Testament (here, Col. 4:10; Phm. 24). During the first Roman imprisonment Demas appears as a trusted and faithful servant of God. However, during the second Roman imprisonment Demas appears as a deserter. Paul comments that Demas had "forsaken" (egkatelipen) him. The term literally means to leave in the lurch, to leave behind so as to desert or abandon. The word is fairly common in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34; Acts 2:27; Heb. 10:25; 13:5; and II Tim. 4:16). Demas had abandoned Paul in his time of need. Yet, this abandonment was not due to some lack of courage or boldness, but was the result of his love for the "present age" (ton nun aiona). The reference is best interpreted in the light of Paul's previous discussion of the rich in this present age (nun aioni) in I Tim. 6:17. Consequently, Demas deserted Paul because his love for riches, and moved to Thessalonica (which may have been his original home). Some within the tradition of the church have identified Demas as a shorten form of Demetrius and identified him with the Demetrius of III John 12. This is possible, but dubious.

Paul reports on the travels of Crescens, Titus and Tychicus (4:10b, 12). All that is known of Crescens is what is recorded in verse 10. He appears nowhere else in the New Testament though tradition unreliably names him as the founder of the church in Vienna. In this instance he had gone either to Galatia or Gaul (southern France; gallia). There is a difference in the manuscript traditions at this point, but Galatia is probably to be preferred. This better suits the context since Titus is sent to a previously evangelized region.

Titus had long been a companion of the apostle Paul. Apparently a recently converted Gentile, Paul took him to the Jerusalem Council of A.D. 49/50 as a test case for the Pharisaic teaching about circumcision (Gal. 2:3). Further, he had been the major communicant with the Corinthian church during their problems (II Cor. 2:12, 13; 7:6, 13-16; 8:16-24). Titus had been left in Crete during Paul's travels after his first Roman imprisonment (Titus 1:5), but he later met Paul in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). Apparently, he returned to Rome with Paul where Paul was imprisoned again. During this second imprisonment, Titus travels to Dalmatia which is the southern portion of the province of Illyricum. Illyricum is the of Macedonia and north of Achaia, directly across the Adriatic Sea from southern Italy. Paul had previously evangelized in this area (Rom. 15:19).

Tychicus is known to have been a constant companion of Paul. He was one of the "messengers" (apostoloi]) of the churches which carried the benevolent contribution of the Gentile churches to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4; II Cor. 8:23). Since he was from Asia, Paul sent him, along with Onesimus, with the letters to Ephesus (6:21) and Colossae (4:7). Tychicus may have replaced Titus in Crete (Titus 3:12), but it is certain that at some point he returned to be in Rome with Paul if he ever did go to Crete. Paul had recently sent him back to Ephesus.

The travels of these three fellow workers of Paul are interesting in several respects. First, each is sent to an area that Paul had personally evangelized. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that Paul wanted to send a last message to each of these regions and also to have his companions to explain the situation to them. Second, Paul had been left alone in Rome (with the exception of Luke), and this may have been his own devising. Perhaps he was fearful of the imprisonment and execution of his friends.

Paul reports that only Luke is with him (4:11a). Luke had been a constant companion with Paul since his stay in Troas on second missionary journey (Acts 16:8-11). He traveled with him from Troas to Philippi (Acts 16:10-12), and then from Philippi to Jerusalem on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:5-21:17). He was present with Paul on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:2ff) and during his first Roman imprisonment (Col. 4:14; Phm. 24). Luke, a physician, remained with Paul in Rome. The reason may have been that Luke was not as actively involved in courier and communication duties as some of the others like Titus and Tychicus. Luke was a personal friend of Paul who had written his story in the book of Acts. It is possible Luke stayed to testify or aid Paul in his upcoming trial (one of the many purposes of the book of Acts).

Paul's Warning (4:14-15).

Paul condemns Alexander the coopersmith (4:14). The exact identity of Alexander is uncertain. However, he seems to have lived in Asia (possibly even Ephesus itself), and consequently may be same as the Alexander who attempted to disassociate Judaism from Paul's preaching during the Ephesian riot (Acts 20:33). Most probably, he should not be identified with the libertine apostate of I Tim. 1:20. Whoever he is, he did "much evil" to Paul. Paul had "many adversaries" in Ephesus (I Cor. 16:9), and had to endure his ministry in the city "through the plots of the Jews" (Acts 20:19). In addition, Paul tells the Corinthians that he almost lost his life while in Asia (II Cor. 1:8-11). Further, it is important to remember that it was Asian Jews who began the Jerusalem riot in which Paul was arrested (Acts 21:27). Is it possible that Alexander was the ring leader of these Asian Jews? Whatever the case may be, Paul is certain that God will judge his evil works. He will be repaid for his sin with eternal judgment (cf. the term here in Rom. 12:17).

Paul warns Timothy about Alexander (4:15). Alexander also posed some danger to Timothy himself. The term "beware" means to be on guard against (the noun form of this verb means "prison") or avoid. In this warning we see the reason why Alexander is so opposed to Paul and might be hostile to Timothy as well. He has always "withstood" (resisted) Paul's words or message. The reference is to Paul's preaching (see logos in 4:2; I Tim. 5:17). Alexander, then, is a determined opponent of the gospel. It is unnecessary to associate Alexander with the Roman trial.

Paul's Roman Trial (4:16-18)

It is impossible to determine how long Paul has been under arrest in Rome. But there are indications that it has not been too long (see comment on 4:20 below). Paul's attention now turns to inform Timothy about the state of his legal situation.

Paul refers to his "first defense" (apologia) as something with which Timothy was familiar either by experience or by well-known legal procedure. Some have argued that Paul is referring to his first Roman imprisonment (Act 28:16), but this is now generally rejected since it is inconsistent with the fact that Paul had many friends during this first imprisonment (Acts 28:30, 31). Most agree that Paul is referring to the two stages of the Roman judicial system. The first stage is called the prima actio (the first action) which is like a modern grand jury and constitutes a preliminary investigation. If the judge was not satisfied, he would declare an adjournment (ampliatio) and call for a second hearing. The second stage is called the secunda action (the second action). This is the equivalent of the modern trial in which a verdict is handed down. Paul had already been through the prima action and was now awaiting the second stage, the actual trial itself which could possibly bring Paul face to face with the Emperor himself.

Paul's First Defense (4:16-17a).

Paul stood alone at his first defense (4:16a). It is difficult to believe that no one stood (paraginomai; to stand by, support or second) with Paul during the prima action, but the circumstances of the city under Neroian persecution may help to account for the fact. Onesiphorus, it must be remembered, went through considerable effort and danger to find Paul in Rome (II Tim. 1:16-18). To have stood by Paul in court would surely have meant certain death (especially if the assistant was not a Roman citizen). The result was that they deserted (see word in 4:10) him.

Paul prays for those who forsook him (4:16b). In distinction from Paul's consignment of Alexander to God's judgment, he raises a prayer for those who deserted him at the first defense. This reminds us the words of Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34), and those of Stephen at his stoning (Acts 7:59,60). Paul recognized his friends had forsaken him out of a moment of weakness rather than, as Demas had, out of a love for the present age. Consequently, he seeks the forgiveness of their sin.

Paul acknowledges the Lord's presence (4:17a). Paul was not alone since the Lord stood by him (paristemi). The verb has the sense of to render aide or help to another, to stand by for help (cf. Rom. 16:2). Paul thinks of some active role which the Lord played in his first defense. The Lord had actually empowered (endunamosen) him to endure it. This verb is one of Paul's favorite descriptions of God's activity within a Christian's life (Rom. 4:20; Eph. 6:10; Phil. 4:13; I Tim. 1:12; II Tim. 2:1), as are the related noun dunamis (power; II Tim. 1:7,8; 3:5), verb dunamoo (to power; Col. 1:11; Eph. 6:10; Heb. 11:34) and verb krataioomai (to strengthen; Eph. 3:16; I Cor. 16:13). Paul here relies on the strength which only God can give to endure hardships (II Cor. 1:3, 4).

Paul's Confidence (4:17b-18).

Paul acknowledges the purpose of the Lord's presence (4:17b). God does not strengthen without purpose. His purpose here is expressed that the clause "that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear." The term plerophorethe is better translated "fully completed or performed." It is not that the gospel had not been fully known before, but that before Paul's defense the message (kerugma) had not run its full course. Paul's mission was completed by his ministry before the imperial tribunal. He had now effectively preached to "all the Gentiles." This is a general reference to Paul's commission as apostle which he has now completed (cf. Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Paul did not lose this opportunity to fulfill his destiny as the apostle of the Gentiles, that is, to preach before the imperial seat.

Paul acknowledges the Lord's deliverance (4:17c). Paul, using the imagery of Daniel in the lion's den, gives God the glory for his deliverance. The term "delivered" is in the aorist tense, and consequently looks back to a particular occasion. In the context that circumstance is his first defense. Consequently, he looks back optimistically upon his first defense. This has caused considerable interpretative difficulties. If Paul has been handed over for trial, his first defense did not end in the best possible way (that is, acquittal). What deliverance does Paul mean? It is most likely that Paul means that he was not judged guilty at this hearing, and that now he looks optimistically at the possibility of actually speaking with the Emperor himself. He regards the secunda action as a deliverance because of the opportunity it will offer to preach the gospel to the highest ranks of the empire.

Paul is confident about his future deliverance (4:18). As Paul took confidence from his past deliverance so he also takes confidence from the assurance of a future deliverance. Some have misunderstood this to mean that Paul expected to be released from prison. But this contradicts the previous section in the letter (4:6-8). On the contrary, Paul expects to be delivered not from the Roman sword but, through death, from Death itself. He will be delivered from all sin and death through the resurrection (cf. I Cor. 15:53-57). In that setting he will be rescued (sosei, saved) in the heavenly kingdom which is the eternal state of heaven. Paul's confidence as he faces trial and execution rests upon the promise of the resurrection that he has in Christ (II Tim. 1:9, 10). The contemplation of this glorious hope causes Paul to break out in a doxology. The strength which God supplies, the deliverance he effects and the rescue he promises brings glory to God throughout all ages. To God belongs all the glory.

Paul's Final Greetings (4:19-22)

While Paul has reported on several activities of friends and fellow workers, he now takes the occasion to greet friends of his who are in Ephesus with Timothy. It is also the ideal time for some of Timothy's friends to send their greetings to him.

Paul's Greetings (4:19-20).

Paul greets Prisca and Aquila (4:19a). Paul first met this couple in Corinth where he worked as a tentmaker in their shop (Acts 18:1-3). They moved to Ephesus as Paul returned to Jerusalem after his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18,19). They were still there when Paul returned on his third missionary journey (I Cor. 16:19). It was probably during this period in Ephesus that they risked their necks for Paul (Rom. 16:3-5). They soon moved to Rome where Paul greeted them in his Roman letter from Corinth (Rom. 16:3). At some point, they moved back to Ephesus and thus the occasion for the present greeting.

Paul greets the household of Onesiphorus (4:19b). Onesiphorus had been with Paul for a period of time in Rome (II Tim. 1:16, 17), but had now returned to Ephesus. Nothing else is known about this individual.

Paul reports on the travels of friends (4:20). Apparently, Timothy needed to be brought up to date about the conclusion of Paul's travels since his first imprisonment. This indicates that Paul had only been recently arrested, and that the prima actio had proceeded quickly. Otherwise, Timothy would have had sufficient time to know these details.

Erastus is known to us as the treasurer of the city of Corinth (Rom. 16:23). This fact has been confirmed by the discovery of an inscription on a stone near the theater of Corinth which states that Erastus the aedile (treasurer) of the city had laid the pavement at his own expense. This treasurer was also a Christian and fellow worker of the apostle Paul. That he traveled with Paul is indicated by the fact that Paul left him in Corinth. The Erastus of Acts 19:22 is best identified with the treasurer of Corinth.
Trophimus was also a constant companion of Paul's. He, like Tychicus, was an Asian representative for the benevolent contribution to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). This is further confirmed by the fact that he was seen with Paul in Jerusalem and this was the occasion of the Jerusalem riot (Acts 21:29). Apparently Trophimus had traveled with Paul between his imprisonments, but fell sick at Miletus, an Asian city SW of Ephesus, just prior to Paul's arrest. The fact that Timothy was probably unaware of Trophimus indicates that Paul had not stopped at Ephesus during that last part of his voyage to Rome.

Timothy's Greetings (4:21).

Paul encourages Timothy to come before winter (4:21a). It is because of his recent arrest, and the swiftness of the trial that Paul wants Timothy to come quickly. In order to arrive in time, he must leave before winter since travel across the seas would be almost impossible during the winter.
The brothers greet Timothy (4:21b). Since Timothy has been in Rome before (cf. Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; Phm. 1), he has several friends for whom Paul conveys greetings. All four names are Latin in origin. This may indicate that they were native residents of Rome as well as Gentiles. Nothing else is known about these individuals. The reference to "all the brothers" indicates that Paul still has a relationship with his brothers even though no one had stood with him at his first defense (4:16).

Paul's Benedictions (4:22).

Paul prays for the presence of Jesus with Timothy (4:22a). It is interesting to contrast this benediction with Gal. 6:18 and Phm. 25 where Paul prays that the "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." Here Paul's prayer is a little different. He prays not for the presence of Christ's grace, but for the presence of Christ himself. There is a sense in which Christ is present with his people (with individuals!, note the singular "spirit") now though there is also a sense in which he is absent (II Cor. 5:8, 9). His dwelling presence is through the indwelling Spirit of God (Eph. 2:22; cf. II Tim. 1:7,14).

Paul prays for grace among the Christians (4:22b). The "you" is plural. Consequently, it is not a prayer just for Timothy, but for the whole church in Ephesus. This conclusion is also found in I Tim. 6:21, Titus 3:15 (with the addition of "all") and Col. 4:18. It is a prayer for God's gracious strength which he provides in times of need (Heb. 4:16). The final "amen" may or may not have been part of the original letter since the manuscripts are considerably divided. Most likely it is not original since it is difficult to understand why or how it would have been omitted.


Some have seen in Paul's words a reflection on Ps. 22. There are many similarities of language and thought. Paul uses the term "forsaken" which is found in Ps. 22:1. He evidences that no one was there to help him just as the Psalmist in 22:11, "there is none to help." Just as the Pslamist prayed to be saved "from the lion's mouth" (22:21), so Paul rejoices in his deliverance from the lion. Paul sees the trial as falling out to the spreading of the Gospel to all Gentiles just as the Psalmist sees the result of the righteous suffering to be that "all the ends of the world shall...turn to the Lord" (22:27). The Psalmist, just like Paul, reflects on the Lord's kingdom (22:28).

As Paul was facing death, he reflects on the same Psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross. The joy and confidence of the situation is not found in the suffering of Paul or the Psalmist (who spoke of the Messiah), but in the expectation of deliverance. Neither one, however, received deliverance from a violent, physical death. Rather, God heard their prayers (cf. Ps. 22:21; Heb. 5:7) and answered them with the promise of the resurrection and glorification. They were delivered from death (and the present age) through death. Through his resurrection the Messiah had abolished death. The endurance of suffering for the sake of Christ derives its joy in the hope that is set before us. We suffer with confidence because we know that "he who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus" (II Cor. 4:14). Consequently, Paul's letter does not end in despair and gloom, but with the confidence of the presence of Christ and his grace even though he knows his death is imminent.


Barclay, William. The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.

Bernard, J.H. The Pastoral Epistles. Cambridge: University Press, 1899.

Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1957.

Kelly, J.N.D. The Pastoral Epistles. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1963.

Simpson, E.K. The Pastoral Epistles. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954.

Spain, Carl. The Letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus. Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Co., Inc., 1970.

First appeared as "A Personal Word to Timothy (II Tim. 4:9-22)," in Studies in Timothy and Titus. 12th Annual Lectureship of the East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions. Knoxville, TN: School of Preaching, 1986. Pages 227-238.


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