(1 Tim. 4:12) How old was Timothy?

CLAIM: Paul refers to Timothy’s “youthfulness.” We picture a “youth” to be in their teenage years. However, Timothy was the leader of the church in Ephesus, which must have been quite large. Was a teenager leading a church of this size?

RESPONSE: While the term “youth” can describe a very young person (Lk. Mk. 10:20; Lk. 18:21; Acts 20:19; 23:17), this word has a wide semantic range. Indeed, Paul is called a “young man” (cognate neanias) when he watched Stephen martyred, and this was after he had been excelling in his academic and religious studies for years (Gal. 1:13-14). Paul was no child at this point in his life.

In this culture, someone could be called a “youth” (neotēs) until they were “up to forty years old.”[1] According to Irenaeus, “Thirty is the first stage of a young man’s age, and extends to forty, as all will admit.”[2] Josephus calls a 40-year old man a “youth” (Antiquities 18.143ff). Earle comments, “The word for ‘youth’ (KJV) is neotēs, ‘used of grown-up military age, extending to the 40th year.’”[3]

Paul picked up Timothy on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1). 1 Timothy was written 13-14 years later. If Timothy was sixteen years old, when Paul first worked with him, he would be somewhere “his late twenties to mid thirties.”[4] Paul probably gave this command, because older men were considered to be wiser than men in their thirties, and he wanted to encourage Timothy to stand up for himself.

[1] Donald Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 14, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 111.

[2] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5. Cited in John R. W. Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 35.

[3] Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 374.

[4] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2000), 258.