On his second missionary journey, Paul came to the cities Derbe and Lystra that were about fifty kilometers from one another (At 16:1). This was his second mission trip to these two cities, plus the city of Iconium to the north of Lystra. He visited these three cities with Barnabas on his first mission journey out of Antioch of Syria (At 13:1-3).
While on this second mission to the three cities about two years after the first trip, he encountered a young disciple in the city of Lystra by the name of Timothy. We are not told how long Timothy had been a disciple, though we assume that from the influence of his mother he was a disciple for at least two years, assuming that his mother became a believer during the first mission trip. She was “a certain Jewish woman who believed” (At 16:1).
Timothy’s father, however, was a Greek. When Luke recorded this historical information concerning Timothy, he did not state that the father was a believer, as was the mother. We thus assume that the father was not a believer, for he had some influence over the household because Timothy was not circumcised. Therefore, Timothy grew up in a religiously divided family, assuming that the father carried on after the heritage of Greek mythology. Nevertheless, though Timothy was young, his mother and grandmother did a good work by influencing him to believe in Jesus as the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus as the Messiah. Contrary to the religious influence of his father, Timothy’s mother taught the young man the religious heritage of Israel.
On his mother’s side of the genealogy, Timothy was a Jew. His grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, had handed down to Timothy a “genuine faith” from his Jewish heritage and knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures (2 Tm 1:5). Paul wrote that “from a child you [Timothy] have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Tm 3:15). There is no historical evidence of a synagogue existing in the city of Lystra, and thus, we assume that both Lois and Eunice, as Jews, carried on with their teaching of the Scriptures in the home concerning the prophecies and fulfillment of Jesus as the Messiah.
Since Timothy’s father was a Gentile, and his mother a Jew, he grew up in a culturally mixed family. When one grows up in such a family, the child usually has to make a decision as to which culture he or she belongs. In this situation, Timothy would eventually during his childhood have to determine whether he was a Greek after the influence of his father, or a Jew after the influence and teaching of his mother’s religious heritage. It seems that Timothy made this decision before the arrival of Paul on his second visit, for he was already an active disciple. From the time of the first visit of Paul two years before, until Timothy encountered Paul on the second visit, Timothy had grown to be a very active believer in the area of Lystra and Iconium.
Nevertheless, there was still some Gentile influence of his father that had to be overcome before Timothy could join in the ministry with Paul. So Paul “took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those regions, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (At 16:3). It is not recorded in the New Testament, nor is there any archaeology evidence, that there was a synagogue of the Jews in either Derbe or Lystra. Nevertheless, there were certainly many Jews living in the area. The Gentile father was known in the region, and for this reason, and in order for Timothy to be accepted among the Jews to whom Paul was going to preach, Timothy had to conform to the religious rite of circumcision, though the Sinai law with circumcision, had been nailed to the cross (Cl 2:14).
What is interesting concerning the commitment of Timothy before the arrival of Paul was the great reputation Timothy had with the church that existed in Lystra and Iconium. Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (At 16:2). Iconium is about twenty-five kilometers north of Lystra, Timothy’s home town. Timothy was known by the church in both of these cities, and thus we must assume that he made the journey between the two cities on a regular basis. His faith and dedication as a young disciple had moved him to go beyond Lystra in order to reach out to those in Iconium. When Paul was made aware of this faith and dedication, he “wanted to have him go with him” (At 16:3). We must note, therefore, that Timothy had already proved his commitment to evangelistic work long before Paul showed up.
[Next in series, March 25.]